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Last week resolved a big unknown in the Mac community: Would Macworld Expo survive without Apple as an exhibitor? We were there and can confidently report that the show, while certainly different, was as vibrant as it has ever been. We identify the gems from the exhibitors who chose to appear, Tonya offers a peek at Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac, and Adam looks at the show in general, including a special discussion with Mac luminary Bill Atkinson about his new iPhone app and how the iPad actually predated the iPhone. Also in this issue, Glenn covers the hum around Google Buzz and speculates on a version of Hulu for the iPad and iPhone, and Doug McLean notes the release of Aperture 3. Lastly, notable software releases this week include Microsoft Office 2004 11.5.7, Google Chrome 5.0.307.7, VueScan 8.6.11, Digital Camera Raw Compatibility Update 3.0, 2009 Aluminum Keyboard Firmware Update 1.0, and Mac Pro Audio Update 1.0.

Doug McLean 8 comments

Apple Releases Aperture 3

It has been nearly two years since Apple last released a major update to its professional photo editing program Aperture, a wait so long that many were beginning to wonder if the program had been shelved. But with last week’s debut of Aperture 3, with over 200 new features, it’s clear that Apple hasn’t forgotten about its powerful photo management and editing software.

Many of Aperture’s new features have been lifted from iPhoto ’09 and enhanced, improving the program’s ease of use for amateur photographers looking to take their photos to the next level. Of these features, support for Faces and Places are the most recognizable transplants. As in iPhoto ’09, Faces in Aperture enables users to identify and tag friends or family members in photos based on facial features. Faces also receives some fine tuning in Aperture 3, including the capability to limit the events Aperture searches within for face matches (to avoid scanning your entire library). Also, a new Unnamed Faces view displays all your unmatched faces in one place (this is possible in
iPhoto ’09 via a smart album).

Places in Aperture, as in iPhoto ’09, enables users to sort and tag photos by the location in which they were taken. Cameras with geotagging capabilities automatically assign location information to photos, but if your camera, like most, doesn’t support geotagging, you can instead manually tag photos or groups of photos in several ways: by searching iPhoto’s location database, by dragging and dropping thumbnails onto an interactive map, or by separately importing GPX files from a GPS logging tool and matching your photos to the GPS data.

Aperture’s third major feature addition is Brushes, which is aimed at providing a higher level of photo-editing sophistication. The Brushes feature enables users to apply filters and effects only to specific areas of a photograph instead of the entire image. Fifteen Quick Brushes cover the most basic editing tasks users are likely to need, including burning, dodging, smoothing areas, sharpening details, or reducing color saturation. A Detect Edges option makes it easier to make adjustments in tight spots by preventing your brush strokes from bleeding over to other undesired areas. Finally, brush strokes can be turned on or off individually, making changes non-destructive and worry-free.

In addition to these major feature additions, Aperture 3 also includes the capability to save adjustment presets (sequences of changes or brush strokes that can be applied as unified blocks to subsequent images), improved library management capabilities, and support for 64-bit mode in Snow Leopard. Also improved are the slideshow options (including HD support), the full-screen editing and viewing modes, and options for exporting to MobileMe, Facebook, and Twitter. The Aperture library is also now capable of storing and letting you work with video files as well as still images.

(Shortly after putting out Aperture 3, Apple released the Aperture SlideShow Support Update 1.0 which fixes an issue with playing back video clips in Aperture 3 slideshows when working in Snow Leopard. The 62.33 MB update is free and available via Software Update or the Apple Support Downloads page.)

Aperture 3 is available now, requires that you are running at least Mac OS X 10.5.8 on an Intel-based Mac, and costs $199 new or $99 as an upgrade from a previous version. A free 30-day trial is also available on Apple’s Web site (look for the Free Trial button in the upper right hand corner of the main Aperture page).

Glenn Fleishman 7 comments

What’s the Google Buzz? Tell Me What’s A-Happening

I’ll admit, I was dismissive while watching Google’s launch of Google Buzz last week. The service, as explained and demonstrated, seemed like Google was trying to sell us on wanting something that many of us already have. The Google hammer was in search of something to strike, but we already have perfectly fine hammers and a ready supply of nails.

Buzz most closely resembles Facebook comment threads. Post a thought or a link or a photo, and your friends respond or mark that they “like” the thread. Buzz also has the asymmetry of Twitter: you follow people and, separately, people follow you; this is in contrast to Facebook’s symmetrical relationships, in which people join each other’s circles at the same time.

The idea behind Buzz is to create social networking within your existing Google universe, using Gmail as the hub. Google is rolling out Buzz gradually, and it hit my Gmail login a day after the launch.

Google’s hammer bent a lot of nails in the first few days of operation, revealing private information in public ways and freaking out plenty of users. Google is hammering more gently now and trying to straighten those nails as it backs off from its naive first efforts at creating an exponential network effect.

Exposing One’s Private Matters — When I started using Buzz, I wasn’t automatically connected to my contacts nor offered a chance to connect. My experience wasn’t the norm, however. Most people had their most frequent email and chat partners set up as part of their Buzz social network. Horrifically, this happened in at least some cases when Gmail users did not activate Buzz.

This created a great danger, because not only does your automatically generated social web see everyone you’re in regular contact with – whether or not that’s appropriate – but a privacy setting buried in a profile feature allowed anyone to see your list of contacts as well. For those who weren’t using Buzz or were unaware of this setting (as I was), private and sometimes deadly information – for those in repressive regimes – could have been widely exposed without the user’s knowledge.

By Sunday, Google had backed off from this approach entirely. New Buzz users will be presented with a list of common contacts with checkmarks next to each. You must uncheck the boxes to omit specific contacts, and then click Follow Selected People to activate Buzz. You can also click Turn Off Buzz to avoid enabling the feature in Gmail.

At present, it’s still tedious to turn off Buzz, although Google says it will improve this and add a Buzz-specific tab in Gmail settings. If you click Turn Off Buzz – a tiny link at the bottom of the Gmail page – you disable just the display of the Buzz link, but this doesn’t prevent people from following you or viewing who you follow. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends you avoid creating a Google profile in the first place or set it to private status – a
multi-step process that’s not at all obvious within Gmail.

Google was eager to build its network of interconnected users too fast, and should have consulted with privacy experts and anyone with any common sense outside the company.

Buzzing In — If Google’s privacy blunders don’t deter you, you can enable Buzz when Google makes the feature available to your account. The company is rolling the feature out in waves. When the feature is available, the next time you log into Gmail, you are presented with information that explains how to proceed.

After you’re set up, a new Buzz link appears beneath the Inbox link in the left navigation bar. When I clicked it, I saw a largely empty screen that invited me to get started, but this may have changed.

Once I was connected with a few other people, most of us floundering around trying to figure out if Buzz was worthwhile, I started some “buzzes,” which are really just individual threads, much like threaded email.

You can tie in Flickr and Twitter from the outside world, and Picasa and Google Reader from the Googleverse. Posting a photo to Flickr or Picasa, updating your Twitter status, or adding a link to a public section in Reader all add new Buzzes. (Google Buzz no longer automatically shares your publicly shared Picasa and Reader items; in some cases, people didn’t know these items were public, because of security-through-obscurity: if you didn’t know someone’s Gmail address, you wouldn’t have seen the “public” information.)

Of course, as one colleague on Twitter noted, “So if I ‘buzz’ you on Google and follow you on Twitter, I’ll see everything you post 2x, right? I like your posts, but not that much.” I agree! [This is already an issue with Twitter and Facebook for those following people like me, who update Facebook only with Twitter posts. It’s why asymmetry in social networking is so important. -Adam]

Buzz has a distinctly different approach from Twitter and Facebook. Buzz is (so far) on a single site without a third-party developer API, acting as an adjunct to the increasing universe of Gmail options, like Google Chat.

In contrast, Twitter and Facebook exist on their own and have their own sites, but third-party desktop and smartphone software extend access, and Twitter and Facebook’s authentication systems let you use your identity on those services to prove who you are for commenting and on other sites.

Buzz Up or Buzz Down — It’s far too soon to tell whether Buzz is a buzz kill or the next great thing. At launch, the only reason I can see to use it is to have a private or public conversation outside Facebook, but one that requires all participants to be Gmail users.

But Google’s privacy missteps around Buzz led me to revise my Google profile to set many previous public aspects of my identity to private status, remove all my followers and people I follow, and disable Buzz.

Glenn Fleishman 6 comments

Hulu Working on iPhone App?

Hulu is the poster child for what’s missing in the iPhone OS’s Mobile Safari. Hulu is a streaming video service owned by major TV networks that lets you watch new and old TV shows and movies, with a mandatory requirement to view ads. It requires Adobe Flash.

Since the iPad was announced – see “The iPad Arrives,” 27 January 2010 – one of the biggest debates about the device’s future market share and efficacy is its lack of Flash support. John Gruber explained before the iPad launch the background of why Apple won’t support Flash.

Flash can be used for many purposes, and Flash is used for all kinds of interactive games, multimedia content, and esoteric purposes – as well as horrible restaurant sites – all over the world.

But the single biggest use of Flash embedded in Web pages is to play video, most of which is already encoded in H.264, part of the MPEG4 set of standards, which Apple uses for nearly all its audio and video purposes.

With YouTube, for instance, Flash acts just as a wrapper for H.264 video. YouTube has a pilot project that allows H.264 video to play using the in-progress HTML5 rendering standard. YouTube users view over 12 billion videos each month, or about 40 percent of all online video watching in the United States. (HTML5 doesn’t yet and will likely never specify a particular video format; H.264 patent, fee, and licensing issues prevent its use in projects like Firefox and Chrome that release all their source code.)

But Hulu is an edge case: the site needs a wrapper, even though it’s “just” playing video. Where YouTube can use JavaScript to overlay ads on top of a standard video player on whatever browser video is playing, Hulu relies on commercial revenue to operate. Its custom Flash player doesn’t let you skip commercials; a standard video player would let you skim back and forth unless a TV show or other video were broken into multiple pieces that loaded only in sequence. That would be annoying and would undoubtedly reduce usage.

It should come as no surprise that Hulu is considering developing an iPad-specific app – TechCrunch reports a “rumor… from an industry insider,” which is hardly definitive, but the idea is logical. Hulu should make itself available on every major platform.

Hulu feeds out just 3 percent of U.S. online video, over a billion videos in December 2009, but it’s the largest single site for legal licensed streaming TV viewing. The other network sites, like Fox, Viacom, and Turner Network each have just about one-third Hulu’s traffic.

I can’t imagine Hulu taking sides in a technology war, when Flash is a delivery mechanism, not a religious commitment. The recent change in AT&T’s rules for applications that work over its 3G network provide more impetus for Hulu. AT&T says it’s now fine for apps to stream video over 3G, so long as they conform to new rules. Sling Media was the first firm approved to use the new guidelines; Hulu might be among the next batch.

Given that the average Hulu user watches about 23 videos per month, according to comScore, an iPhone OS app could dramatically expand Hulu’s reach. I wonder if Hulu would restrict an app to the iPad – perhaps due to processing power limits – when there are tens of millions of U.S. iPhone and iPod touch users also eager to join in.

Tonya Engst 12 comments

Microsoft Releases Office 2011 Details at Macworld Expo

In contrast to the absence of most of the larger Mac software developers at this year’s Macworld 2010 Conference and Expo, Microsoft had a booth on the show floor and briefed us regarding their plans for Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, due by the end of 2010.

Microsoft has a different software release model than several of its competitors that we Mac users pay attention to. At one extreme, Google often makes major changes to its Web and desktop applications with no advance notice, no choice, no fanfare, and minimal documentation. Google Buzz, a Twitter-like instant-messaging adjunct to Gmail, is a recent example of such a change (see “What’s the Google Buzz? Tell Me What’s A-Happening,” 14 February 2010).

In the middle ground is Apple, which offers its users a choice about whether or not to install an update, and pre-announces major upgrades, such as new releases of Mac OS X, without all the details revealed. Other large changes, such new versions of iLife and Aperture, may appear without warning. Smaller updates arrive via Software Update with no notice and relatively little explanation.

At the far end is Microsoft, which sees its primary Office customers as huge corporations with tens of thousands of computers, not individual users. For the most part, those large customers want what Google and Apple do not provide: detailed information about what’s coming and when it will arrive. This curiosity is warranted by a need to plan how to deploy the update, and train employees to use the new software.

Microsoft does sometimes update Office via an update mechanism similar to Apple’s Software Update, but those updates are typically for compatibility, reliability, or security – not to add new features that a typical user would notice. When Microsoft prepares a new version of Office it generally provides a lot of advance notice and puts effort into documenting changes, especially changes that a larger organization would care about.

During our media briefing it didn’t surprise me to learn that – as announced in August 2009 – Microsoft still plans to replace Entourage with Outlook in Office 2011 (covered in “Outlook for Mac Due with 2010 Office Release,” 13 August 2009). Microsoft also still intends to restore Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to the Office suite, after having removed it from Office 2008 because of difficulties in making it compatible with Intel-based Macs (see “Microsoft Fixes Office 2008 Bugs, Announces VBA Return,” 19 May 2008). The new version will have the advantage of greater compatibility with the Windows version of VBA than was available in
Office 2004, leading one snarky friend at the show to comment that we’ll once again have to worry about VBA macro viruses from Windows users.

Microsoft continues to struggle with helping users find the many available features in Microsoft Word (hint: choose Tools > Customize and explore the Customize dialog). This time around, the Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) will try the Ribbon approach introduced in recent versions of Word for Windows.

Many Windows users find the Ribbon distracting. However, if left enabled, it appears below the toolbar region in a document window and works much like the Formatting palette in Word 2008, providing controls based on what you are doing or have selected in the document below. Your toolbars and the Ribbon automatically fit themselves into the top of the window, so you don’t have to arrange them independently on your screen. Regrettably, I forgot to ask if you’ll be able to move the toolbars or Ribbon to the side of the window, something that might be particularly welcome when working on a laptop.

Office 2011 will also have collaborative capabilities along the lines of Google Docs, which will allow more than one user to edit a document at the same time. While editing, each user sees which other users are active in the document. In Word, the system uses a “paragraph lock,” so that only one user may edit a given paragraph. Microsoft said that the documents would sync every 30 seconds.

This feature will require using the .docx format introduced with Word 2008 for Mac, and either a SharePoint server or the SkyDrive service to host the shared document. The Internet-hosted SkyDrive service, comparable to Dropbox or the iDisk feature of MobileMe, provides 25 GB of storage space at no cost, enabling organizations without SharePoint to take advantage of collaborative editing. Although this collaboration option should work with Excel and PowerPoint, Microsoft didn’t share any specifics.

Although Microsoft didn’t discuss new changes in Excel or PowerPoint, the company representatives did talk about the new Outlook email and personal information management client. In a major change from Entourage, it will store email messages as individual files instead of in a single database file, which enables Time Machine to back up email messages without wasting space and Spotlight to index messages individually. The new Outlook will also import .pst files, making it possible to bring in email messages from the Windows version of Outlook.

Another new Office feature that may interest larger organizations is Information Rights Management (IRM), which makes it possible to specify what a recipient can do with an Office document or message. For instance, a recipient might not be allowed to copy or forward a message containing confidential business plans, or print a spreadsheet containing account numbers.

Microsoft did not provide pricing details, but said that Office 2011 will be available in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season.

With companies like Adobe, Quark, and FileMaker sitting out Macworld Expo, it was noteworthy that Microsoft supported the Mac community by showing up, setting up a booth (with a fun pictorial history of Office), and offering a look at what’s to come well in advance of Office 2011’s release.

And in an indication that Microsoft’s MacBU doesn’t take themselves too seriously, it had marketing people dress up in huge costumes representing the four Office application icons, an act deserving special recognition given that the mascots couldn’t see well enough to walk through the crowded show without helpers leading them by the hand.

Adam Engst 26 comments

Macworld Expo 2010 Reboots

If, last week, you heard a faint Macintosh startup chime from the direction of San Francisco, it was the sound of Macworld Expo rebooting after the crash caused by the disappearance of Apple from the exhibitor list. The good news is that although the show was notably smaller than previous incarnations, in terms of floor space and exhibitor count, the reboot was successful. Macworld seems essentially unaffected – indeed, even improved in places – without Apple’s presence (for my take on this event last year, see “Thoughts on the Past and Future of Macworld Expo,” 12 January 2009).

Let’s acknowledge up front that the tenor of the show was different without a Steve Jobs keynote to introduce new Apple products, and the show floor also felt different without the massive Apple booth. But the assumption on the part of many people was that those two undeniable facts would detract from the show, whereas I’d say that the reverse was, in fact, true.

The problem is that, as I’ve said many times, there’s a significant separation between Apple and the ecosystem that has grown up around the company. Apple’s withdrawal from the show was entirely rational from Apple’s perspective – the Apple retail stores really do provide far more exposure (and sales) than a booth at Macworld could.

And although Apple could have announced both Aperture 3 and the iPad in a Macworld Expo keynote, it undoubtedly relieves some pressure on the company to have products ready for the exact date of the show. One could even argue that having the iPad intro two weeks before Macworld Expo was actually better, since it gave show planners, software developers, and case makers time to come up with strong stories about their iPad plans.

Although it has been impossible for most show-goers to avoid the Apple booth in previous years – people were drawn to it like moths to the flame, despite the ease of seeing Apple products in stores – the lack of the big Apple booth on the floor this year meant that attendees focused instead on all the other exhibitors. That in turn meant that exhibitors were nearly universally happy with their traffic. (I say “nearly” only because I couldn’t talk with all exhibitors, but the many that I did ask were in complete agreement about the success of the show, and most said that they were already planning to return in 2011.)

For instance, the guys at audio software maker Rogue Amoeba were handing out CDs of demo software, and had gone through between 2,500 and 3,000 CDs toward the end of the second day. Regardless of the overall attendance, there is a limit on how many individuals can walk by any given booth, so they were extremely happy to have distributed so many CDs in only two days. And frankly, the smaller show floor made it easier to see everything, though it certainly would have been better if some long-standing exhibitors like Adobe, Canon, and FileMaker had been present.

Speaking of overall attendance, one long-time exhibitor I spoke with estimated the attendance at between 20,000 and 25,000, down slightly from last year, but clearly enough to provide exhibitors with a large enough audience. IDG World Expo is saying only “more than 20,000” until the attendance figures have been audited.

The exhibitor count was also down to 250 from over 400 last year, not surprisingly, with many vendors – particularly large- and medium-sized ones – choosing to sit the show out. They were replaced largely by many iPhone app developers jammed into a tightly packed central location, sharing space at small cocktail tables. Unfortunately, none of the iPhone app developers I spoke with had been able to see (due to normal lags in App Store reporting) a sales spike that might have pushed an app into the best-selling lists, which is often a self-fulfilling prophecy for continued sales.

Nonetheless, several developers pointed out that while they normally are forced to compete for press attention with tens of thousands of developers and 140,000 apps, exhibiting at Macworld reduced the competitive landscape to roughly 100 developers. Plus, one iPhone app developer from Hawaii noted that the opportunity to interact with customers was tremendously welcome, given the way the App Store separates customers from developers and seems to engender negative comments without context.

Covering the show as press was in some ways easier than in the past; along with the smaller show floor, a media reception the day before the show opened was a nice way to get together with other media people, and IDG World Expo wasn’t nearly as tight with media badges as had been the case when Apple wanted to restrict access to the keynote. IDG even went so far as to open the floor to press early on the first day, but unfortunately failed to publicize it well, leading to much consternation on the part of exhibitors seeing empty aisles and normal attendees being held at the door.

It’s important to realize that Macworld Expo is far more than just the show floor. I don’t have any hard data about number of attendees at the conference sessions, but in general, those sitting in on them had positive things to say. Beyond normal professional training, they can be tremendously useful for people in the Apple Consultants Network, who must take certification tests in various subjects. I was told by one ACN member that a couple of days of sessions at Macworld Expo can be cheaper and better than Apple’s own training for test preparation.

But it’s really the business networking arena where Macworld shines. Consultants and end users alike want to talk with experts from the companies whose products they use and recommend (video software maker Telestream staffed their booth only with a tech support guy and a quality assurance engineer, and both principals of the two-man company BusyMac were fielding calendaring questions nearly non-stop.) And while TidBITS staffers may be somewhat unusual, nearly everything we did at the show in some way cemented business connections and furthered our overall publishing goals; it’s just easier and faster to do some sorts of business in person.

Plus, there’s the serendipity factor of meeting people. Along with our many colleagues in the Mac industry who we see regularly at the show, we ran into a guy we knew from monitor maker SuperMac who had left the Mac world 17 years before to work as a policeman. And I spent time talking not just with executives at companies like MacSpeech and The Omni Group, but also with the marketing manager of the Indian company Global Delight about the latest beta of Voila, a screenshot utility about which I’d provided some constructive criticism in previous versions. It’s very much a two-way communication street at the show.

The highlight of my week came the day before the show actually opened, when I paused to look at some gorgeous photographs spread out on a table in the speaker lounge. Before I knew it, Bill Atkinson (creator of QuickDraw, MacPaint, and HyperCard, and an accomplished nature photographer) appeared out of nowhere to explain how the photographs came from his new iPhone app, PhotoCard, which enables users to send an email (for free) or paper (for a small printing and mailing fee) photo postcard, using either a personal photo or one of 150 of Bill’s nature photos. And when I say “explain,” I mean it in spades. Without prompting, Bill explained in detail how he’d built the back end,
tweaked the Indigo printing process for the ultimate quality, and created a system that could serve as a marketplace for other fine art photographers.

Needless to say, Bill had seen the iPad at its introduction, and he felt it was an extremely positive move for the future of computing, showing that much of the complexity of maintaining and using a computer can be eliminated by rethinking user interfaces. He said, interestingly, that Apple had been working on the iPad well before the iPhone’s release, but that the necessary technology just wasn’t available, so Steve Jobs decided that Apple would instead focus on the iPhone as the first member of a family of iPhone OS devices. And, reportedly, Steve told Bill that the hardest engineering task in iPad development was getting the price down to the $499 level; technology development may be hard, but doing it within tight price constraints
requires more than technical wizardry.

After Bill finished his whirlwind technical discussion of everything related to PhotoCard and the iPad, we went on to talk about his goals with HyperCard, how I’d started TidBITS in HyperCard format back in 1990, and why he left Apple for General Magic in part to create a device that would facilitate the passing of short notes called “telecards.” It was fascinating to think about how his work was too early – the cellular infrastructure wasn’t in place – but how it presaged SMS text messaging and Twitter, and may have even informed some of Apple’s iPad design.

Somehow that segued into a conversation about features that he had pulled out of MacPaint and his efforts to create a “learning processor,” and from there into educational philosophies about how we learn. Nearly two hours after we started, I had to pull myself away to meet Tonya at a media reception, but the time spent talking with Bill was an utterly unexpected bonus. Obviously, that’s not something that can be replicated for everyone, but that sort of serendipitous meeting happens all the time at Macworld Expo.

And, luckily, it appears that Macworld Expo 2010 was easily successful enough to enable IDG World Expo to schedule Macworld Expo 2011 for January 25th through 29th next year. That will include another Saturday for the show floor, and I hope IDG does some local advertising to encourage San Francisco residents to attend; the show floor was definitely less full on Saturday, but the fact that it was open hadn’t been promoted strongly other than via social media.

TidBITS Staff 1 comment

Cool Products at Macworld Expo 2010

The mood of Macworld Expo 2010 was vigorous and crowds were larger than expected, despite the lack of many new products – the kind that usually compel attendees to spread the word and seek out a company’s booth. Most of the offerings were existing versions or incremental updates to products already familiar to us.

Many of those products that were new weren’t yet released, such as DocMoto, a full-featured document management system that may prove highly attractive to design businesses, architectural offices, legal firms, and any other organization that creates numerous document-based projects. We would have bought some things on the spot if they were available, such as the stylish and functional iKit AutoCharge Dual USB Car Charger.

Still, among the few new things that were shipping, those that are still forthcoming, and existing products we weren’t yet familiar with, we found some that merit attention.

Kanex HDMI connector for iMac — When Jeff pointed out Kanex’s latest offering, it took a few tries before Adam saw just what he was gesturing at. The Kanex XD is a little gray box that takes advantage of the Mini DisplayPort connection on the back of the 27-inch iMac and lets you hook up a Blu-ray player, PlayStation 3, Xbox, or other HD devices and use the iMac as an HDTV. (This feature is available only on the 27-inch iMac model.) The Kanex XD also makes it possible to connect computers using DVI video output to Apple’s 24-inch LED Cinema Display. The Kanex XD costs $149.99 and is expected to be available in April 2010.

FastTrac — It takes some level of obsession to be a programmer, but the folks at Juicy Development have taken their obsessions to a new level with FastTrac. The iPhone app attempts to optimize your visit to Disneyland by cutting the time you spend waiting in line for the park’s attractions. Using years of data about rides, crowds, holidays, and maintenance schedules (culled by Disney veterans and fans, since Disney itself doesn’t release such data), FastTrac plots an optimized schedule of the rides you want to hit. It can take unexpected ride closures into account, knowing the average repair time of each ride, and generate new
schedules within the park. According to Juicy Development, testing during the busy spring break yielded 27 rides at Disneyland, more than double the typical 12 rides. The company is working on adding restaurant information to the app, as well as support for Disney’s California Adventure, Walt Disney World, and SeaWorld parks. FastTrac is available from the App Store for $4.99.


iPhone Gloves — Although Californians at Macworld Expo were scratching their heads, attendees arriving from colder climates were excited about several offerings of gloves that can be used with the iPhone and iPod touch. Dots Gloves and Telefingers showed off their warm wares, but iTouch Gloves impressed us (and lots of attendees) with their capacitive-leather gloves that don’t rely on active fingertip areas to work. A patented TouchTec process makes it possible to swipe a touchscreen using any part of the glove. iTouch’s offerings sell for between $99 and $195, and they look good, too. We’re
still trying to figure out how they make capacitive leather… do they start with capacitive cows? (In South Korea, sausages are substituted.)

U-Socket — We’re all tired of power bricks, even smaller ones. If FastMac has its way, we’ll be able to charge many devices with just a cable. The company’s U-Socket is a new kind of dual-socket 110 volt power outlet you can swap out for any standard one in your home – or, in an ideal world, in every airport and hotel in which you stay and need power. The U-Socket adds two powered USB ports offset vertically and horizontally between the two AC jacks. The USB ports draw energy only when a device like an iPhone or iPod is plugged in. The U-Socket costs $19.95 and is currently awaiting UL approval before shipping in the first quarter of


Trexta iPhone Case — Looking for an iPhone case that you can really customize? Instead of waiting for a manufacturer to come up with something you like, simply grab some pens and draw yours. Trexta showed off a line of iPhone cases covered in drawing paper, ready for your own doodles and other creations. They come in packs of five, but as far as we can see, they aren’t yet available for purchase. Trexta doesn’t yet have photos posted, but GeekSugar has plenty.

Personal Scanners Everywhere — Looking to create the paperless office? You’ll need a scanner of some sort, and three different exhibitors had scanners to show off. Fujitsu debuted the $295 ScanSnap S1300, which provides multi-page, double-sided, color scanning in a mobile device that can even operate from USB bus power. Just two booths away, The Neat Company was demoing their Neat scanners and associated software.

And Apparent, makers of the IntelliScanner barcode readers, introduced the $129 Doxie, a svelte mobile scanner with a “feminine” character hammered home by the pink hearts on the case; it comes with six “skins” – alternate stickers – if you’re not a teenage girl. Similarly, if you can’t stomach clicking a big heart button in the software to scan, an “International Business” theme will bring the interface back to earth. Along with support for local applications, Doxie’s software can also send scans to Google Docs, Scribd, Backpack, Flickr, Evernote, and other Internet-based services. Our only question – did Apparent ever look up the meaning of “doxie?”

Pulse Smartpen — If you’re a student or a journalist, you spend much of your life taking notes, and the Pulse smartpen from Livescribe could be a boon. Bringing new meaning to the word “convergence,” the Pulse smartpen records audio as you take notes on special paper, enabling both the transfer of notes to a special application and time-syncing of the notes to the audio. Adam was on the interviewee side of the equation during the show, and it was seamless for the Brazilian journalist asking the questions to take notes in normal ink while recording everything Adam said for future reference. Prices range from $149.95 to $249.95 depending on storage

Canson Papershow — Working along much the same lines as Livescribe’s Pulse smartpen was Canson’s Papershow, a $199.99 kit composed of a camera-equipped Bluetooth pen, special paper, and software (both Mac and Windows) that transfers everything written on the paper to appear on a computer screen. It would be ideal, for instance, for annotating the slides in a presentation in real time. Annotated slides can be printed or exported as PDF, so meeting attendees can focus on the presentation rather than on taking their own notes.

ScreenGuardz Privacy — Having an iPhone handy is great for accessing all of your important information whenever you want, but often you’re doing so in public. If you’d rather not reveal the email message you’re composing to the person next to you on the bus, consider applying a ScreenGuardz Privacy screen cover. The protective film for the iPhone 3G or 3GS limits viewing from four angles, which means you can switch between horizontal and vertical positions; typical two-way privacy film makes one position difficult to view. The ScreenGuardz Privacy film includes one protector and costs $19.95.

Microvision ShowWX Laser Pico Projector — Imagine a small device, about the size of an iPhone, capable of projecting high resolution video as large as a 100-inch television set. The Microvision ShowWX projector uses scanning lasers to project colorful images on any surface. By using laser projection instead of alternative technologies like LCDs, the images are always in focus with a wider color range than other pico (extremely small) projectors. The projector includes a number of connectivity options, including an iPhone/iPod cable, and runs between 90-120 minutes on battery. It’s not hard to imagine the day when these are included in our mobile devices,
although the lack of flat, white surfaces in the world might be a little limiting. It’s due in March 2010.

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Bonus Stories for 15 February 2010

Our staff and contributors have been overwhelming us with great content of late, prompted in large part by Apple’s iPad announcement, but in case you read TidBITS only in email, we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss these great articles simply because timely Macworld 2010 news took over this week’s issue. These articles will likely appear in the future, but if you want to read them now, just visit our Web site (where you can make comments too!).

Does the iPhone OS Need Multitasking? — A common complaint about the iPhone OS is that it doesn’t allow multitasking. But the situation isn’t that simple, since the iPhone OS does have some forms of multitasking, and even the term “multitasking” has many different meanings. Adam explores all the possibilities, and the likelihood of seeing support for them in the future. (Adam C. Engst, 8 February 2010)

Zombie Authors Threaten Fiction Ebook Market, from the Grave! — Chris Pepper looks at what’s happening with books and reading, and ponders the impending impact on living authors, who are at risk of having their livelihoods (if not their brains) eaten by zombies like Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Jules Verne. (Chris Pepper, 3 February 2010)

(Not) Getting Things Done with Bumptop for Mac — Frustrated by the way the Desktop doesn’t work with Spaces for organizing files and folders used in different projects, Jeff Porten takes the desktop replacement Bumptop for a spin. Alas, its representation of the physical world ends up being more trouble than it’s worth. (Jeff Porten, 3 February 2010)

Greenpeace Hitching Itself to Apple’s Star? — Greenpeace recently released its latest consumer electronic company rankings, with Apple topping one list and moving up on another. Greenpeace has previously garnered attention for its cause by slamming Apple; now the organization appears to be soliciting attention by praising Apple. To what degree does Greenpeace depend on Apple, and does that dependence shape its ranking methodology? (Doug McLean, 2 February 2010)

Prepare Your Enterprise for the iPad — As with the iPhone, the iPad’s undeniable consumer appeal means that IT departments shouldn’t be surprised when users start bringing them to work. (Rich Mogull, 2 February 2010)

Find Free and Inexpensive Wi-Fi — Why pay for Wi-Fi? This article is our ongoing guide for finding free Wi-Fi in the United States, with reminders about how to use Wi-Fi services that your broadband provider may already offer you. We also offer tips about paying the least for the best. (Glenn Fleishman, 23 December 2009)

TidBITS Staff No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 15 February 2010

Microsoft Office 2004 11.5.7 — Microsoft’s latest update for Office 2004 for Mac, Microsoft Office 2004 11.5.7, addresses a handful of significant security vulnerabilities surrounding specially crafted Office files that could enable an attacker to view, change, or delete data by executing remote code. The update addresses those issues by altering the way files are opened and parsed. It is rated Important for Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac and requires that you’ve previously installed the Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.6 Update. The update is available from Microsoft’s Web site and via the Office 2004 version of Microsoft AutoUpdate. (Free, 9.4 MB)

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Google Chrome 5.0.307.7 — Google’s latest release of Google Chrome for Mac adds several features that are necessary for the browser to be considered a viable alternative to Firefox or Safari. The latest version includes support for extensions (similar to add-ons in Firefox that extend your browser’s functionality), the capability to sync bookmarks, and new bookmark, cookie, and task managers. Also, gesture support has been expanded to enable users to pinch-to-zoom, and use Command-three-finger-swipe to navigate pages in new tabs. Be aware though, Chrome is still in beta testing and therefore may be prone to buggy behavior. (Free, 18.8 MB)

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VueScan 8.6.11 — Listed by TidBITS Talk members two years running as a top productivity software pick in our annual TidBITS Gift Guide (see “TidBITS Gift Guide 2009,” 7 December 2009, and “TidBITS Gift Guide 2008,” 8 December 2008), Hamrick Software’s scanning utility VueScan has been recently updated. The latest version addresses a compatibility issue with certain Dell all-in-one printers, a connectivity issue with the Photosmart D5400 printer, a failure of the skew box to update properly, and an interface problem with the multi-crop box. ($39.95 new, free update,
9.1 MB)

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Digital Camera Raw Compatibility Update 3.0 — Apple has released its latest Digital Camera Raw Compatibility Update, which extends Aperture 3 and iPhoto ’09 support for a handful of cameras. Newly supported cameras and file formats include the Canon PowerShot S90, Canon sRAW, Canon mRAW, Leica D-LUX 4, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. The update is available via Software Update and the Apple Support Downloads page. (Free, 6.43 MB)

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2009 Aluminum Keyboard Firmware Update 1.0 — Apple has released a firmware update for the 2009 Aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard that improves battery performance when using them in conjunction with other Bluetooth devices such as the Magic Mouse or some Bluetooth headsets. Apple notes that your keyboard must be connected or paired to be able to perform the update. More information regarding installation instructions is available on Apple’s Web site. The update is available via Software Update and the Apple Support Downloads page. (Free, 1.14 MB)

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Mac Pro Audio Update 1.0 — Apple’s Mac Pro Audio Update 1.0 for early 2009 Mac Pro models comes only with terse release notes, stating that the update “reduces processor utilization during audio activities such as playing or recording music.” More information regarding installation steps is available on Apple’s Web site. The update is available via Software Update and the Apple Support Downloads page. (Free, 1.64 MB)

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ExtraBITS for 15 February 2010

Just two quick links this week – Macworld’s Best of Show slideshow highlighting their top picks for Macworld 2010 Conference and Expo, and Apple’s countdown to the 10 billionth song sold via iTunes.

Best of Macworld Expo Slideshow — Were you unable to make it to Macworld Expo last week? Catch up on what you missed with Macworld’s Best of Show slideshow, highlighting 11 products cherry-picked by Macworld’s editors.

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iTunes’s 10 Billionth Song Contest — Apple has announced it will award a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card to the customer who purchases the 10 billionth song on iTunes. Not surprising with such a large reward, the list of rules is long and labyrinthine, but entering is as easy as purchasing a song. With roughly 9,913,000,000 songs already downloaded, and the current purchase rate being about 150 songs per second (there’s a nifty counter on Apple’s site), the winning purchase should happen soon!

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