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It was a huge week for Apple users, with the releases of OS X 10.9 Mavericks and iOS 7.0.3, an overhaul of the MacBook Pro, the unveiling of the Mac Pro, the iPad mini with Retina display, and the all-new iPad Air. Apple also redesigned its iWork and iLife apps for iOS and Mac and is now giving them away with device purchases. But that’s not all — Take Control is celebrating its tenth anniversary with the release of “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks.” Alas, not all went perfectly, so Joe Kissell details the significant failings of Apple Mail in Mavericks and Adam Engst explains the confusing new way of activating system control utilities. Changing gears, we’re giving away three bags of Tonx coffee in our latest DealBITS drawing, and in FunBITS, Michael Cohen looks at Scribd and Oyster, two services aiming to be the Netflix of ebooks. Notable software releases this week include Alfred 2.1, SpamSieve 2.9.10, ChronoSync 4.4.2 and ChronoAgent 1.4.3, DEVONthink and DEVONnote 2.7.1, Safari 6.1, Pixelmator 3.0, BusyCal 2.5.3, iMac SMC Firmware Update 1.1, iMac 10.8.5 Supplemental Update 1.0, Carbon Copy Cloner 3.5.3, Scrivener 2.5, Hazel 3.2, Voila 3.6, iTunes 11.1.2, and iBooks Author 2.1.

Josh Centers 5 comments

DealBITS Drawing: Win Free Tonx Coffee

We Apple users﹡ love our coffee, and now you have the chance to get some of the best coffee beans in the world for free. Tonx is a subscription coffee service that scours the world for the best beans, roasts them, then sends them to you immediately.


If you’d like to win one of three 12-ounce bags of Tonx’s latest roast (a $19 value), enter at the DealBITS page before 4 November 2013.

Tonx takes coffee seriously. They don’t just ship the best beans, they write articles about coffee in their new newsletter, The Frequency, they offer tips for brewing the best coffee, and — little secret — they offer subscribers discounts on brewing equipment.

If you want to take your morning cup to the next level, a Tonx subscription is a no-brainer. The service is simple and beautifully designed — easy to subscribe, easy to cancel. With Tonx, you’re just a few clicks away from some of the best coffee you will ever drink.

But don’t take my word for it, enter to win one of three 12-ounce bags — about two weeks’ supply — and also sign up for a free trial. All information gathered is covered by our comprehensive privacy policy.

﹡If you don’t believe me about the prevalence of coffee fiends among the Apple intelligentsia, ask Marco Arment, Marco Tabini, Shawn Blanc, and Federico Viticci. Those oily little beans fuel much of the Apple-related content you love to read. John Gruber of Daring Fireball even included “have a way of making fussy coffee” in his three keys to Internet success.

Josh Centers 14 comments

iOS 7.0.3 Adds iCloud Keychain and Disables Animation

Hot on the heels of updating almost everything, Apple has released iOS 7.0.3, finally adding the iCloud Keychain feature, making it possible to disable motion effects that were making some users sick (see “iOS 7 Animations Cause Nausea for Some,” 25 September 2013), and fixing an accelerometer calibration issue (for more information on that, read “The iPhone’s Positioning Sensors Were Never Good,” 18 October 2013). You can download the 92.8 MB update in Settings > General > Software Update.

iCloud Keychain is a feature built into Safari in iOS 7 that stores and generates secure passwords, syncing them to Safari in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. It’s similar to products like 1Password and LastPass, but not as full-featured or compatible with other Mac Web browsers.

Many users railed against the flashy animations in iOS 7, such as icons swooping in from the Lock screen and folders “zooming” into view, with some people being annoyed by waste of time and others being made physically ill. You can now disable these animations in iOS 7.0.3 by visiting Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion, and turning on the switch. In prior versions of iOS 7, this switch merely eliminated the parallax effect, whereas now it knocks out the animations as well. A brief video by Federico Viticci demonstrates the difference. The Bold Text setting in Settings > General > Accessibility now also affects the dial pad text (see “Peering at iOS 7 for the Vision Impaired,” 19 September 2013).

Apple says that the update fixes an issue where text messages would fail to send, something that caused great consternation (see “Four Problems with iOS 7: Crashing, Messages, Siri, and Audio,” 2 October 2013). We certainly hope the other problems mentioned in that article have been resolved as well, but the release notes don’t comment on them.

iPhone 5s users who weren’t making full use of the Touch ID sensor may appreciate the fact that the “Slide to Unlock” switch on the Lock screen is now delayed when Touch ID is enabled, making it more obvious that the fingerprint scanner works from this screen.

Making a comeback in iOS 7.0.3 is the capability to search the Web and Wikipedia from the Spotlight search screen, which was mysteriously removed in iOS 7.0. Other welcome fixes include increased stability when using iWork apps, plus removal of a pair of bugs that could allow users to bypass the Lock screen passcode and prevent iMessage from activating.

Overall, iOS 7.0.3 fixes many of the major complaints about iOS 7. Assuming that all goes well over the next few days with the 7.0.3 update, anyone running an earlier version of iOS 7 should make sure to update — and those who held off upgrading to iOS 7 because they weren’t enamored of the animation should now find the tweaked operating system more attractive.

Adam Engst 16 comments

Apple Releases OS X 10.9 Mavericks for Free

Breaking from tradition, Apple last week released OS X 10.9 Mavericks with no more specific advance notice than the “fall” promise from June’s Worldwide Developer Conference. A more interesting first is that Mavericks is free to all Mac users, at least those who can access the Mac App Store, which goes back to 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.

At the company’s special event, which also saw announcements of the new Mac Pro, new MacBook Pro models, new versions of iLife and iWork, and the new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, Apple’s Craig Federighi recapped the main enhancements in Mavericks, including under-the-hood improvements like better battery life, more efficient memory use, and faster graphics. He also zipped through a demo of the new Maps and iBooks apps, showed off Safari’s new Shared Links and enhanced Reader view, and responded to interactive
notifications from Messages, including a cute message, presumably from his wife, using the jokey username “Hair Force Two” (Federighi has made a number of jokes about his stylish coiffure in the past). Other features we’re excited about include better support for multiple monitors, the elimination of the stitched-leather look of Calendar and Contacts, Finder tabs, and document tagging. See “Apple Previews OS X 10.9 Mavericks” (10 June 2013), for our initial coverage, which is still a fine overview.

Most surprising for those of us watching, though, was that Apple has made Mavericks completely free, eliminating even the $19.99 cost of 10.8 Mountain Lion. And, Apple released Mavericks immediately, unlike in previous years, when there were always several days of advance notice before actual availability. Nevertheless, we were able to put the finishing touches on Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks” once we were able to determine final pricing information and Mac App Store links. Unfortunately, Sharon Zardetto’s “Take Control of iBooks” is not quite done, so we’ll keep it at the pre-release
price until we can make it available in its entirety.

Mavericks may not cost anything, but the $64,000 question remains: should you jump on the Mavericks upgrade right away? Our answer is a qualified yes, unless you rely on Apple Mail and Gmail — for details, see “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation” (22 October 2013). Assuming you don’t use Gmail, the answer is yes because Mavericks runs on any Mac that can run Mountain Lion, has performed generally well in our testing, and is an obvious win for laptop users because of the improved battery life in particular.

But we need to qualify that recommendation with a caveat: clicking that Download button in the Mac App Store willy-nilly could result in a world of hurt if you have a mission-critical app that turns out not to be compatible with Mavericks, or if some deep-seated disk corruption chooses such a moment (when a vast number of files are being touched) to bite you. Just proceed with due caution and full backups — we put an insane amount of work into “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks” because the devil is in the details, and there can be a lot of details.

Tonya Engst 6 comments

The Feel-Good Mavericks Upgrade

The release of Apple’s new OS X 10.9 Mavericks has in some ways been routine for us, because Mavericks marks the seventh time that we have published (and I’ve edited) Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Upgrading to…” ebook. “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks” has been available for several weeks now, first in its 1.0 early-bird version, then in its 1.1 release-day version, and now in its 1.2 older-and-wiser version.

It started about six months ago for us, with discussions about if anyone is still running earlier versions of Mac OS X, such as 10.4 Tiger. From there, we moved on to talking about if anyone still wanted to get a fresh start with a clean install, instead of merely running the installer over their current system, or if people wanted advice on the smartest way to upgrade with the safety net of a bootable duplicate. Then we agonized over whether there would be anything new to say about the upgrade to Mavericks. As it turned out, the answer to all three questions was a resounding “Yes!”

The ways in which “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks” remains relevant came home for me yesterday. It was Sunday afternoon and our 14-year-old son Tristan was eager to install Mavericks on his MacBook. Since Adam and I were juggling weekend errands with the need to finish the book’s 1.2 update, Adam shared a copy of the ebook with Tristan via Google Drive and let him loose on the project.

While Tristan worked through the 1.1 version, I was editing the latest additions to version 1.2. The ebook now suggests three reasons why you might not want to upgrade right away (two of which emerged since version 1.1): no Sync Services, no Theater option in Messages, and bad behavior on the part of Apple Mail, especially if you use Gmail. (For details, read Joe’s TidBITS article about the Mail problem, “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation,” 22 October 2013. It has received 92,000 page views, and its comment count is at 280 and climbing.) Joe also added more detail about iCloud Keychain and iBooks, and some tips about multiple monitors, to his chapter about post-installation

Tristan popped in on Adam a few times to get help finding a spare external hard drive and tracking down a DVD containing Apple Hardware Test, but otherwise did the entire upgrade by himself. As Tristan later said, “Every 2 or 3 years, it’s really good to do this kind of work on your computer.” (Thank you, Joe, because that realization will never come from a parent lecture.) Joe’s advice worked perfectly, and Tristan’s upgrade went well (he uses Gmail, but not Apple Mail).

We’ve been publishing “Take Control of Upgrading to…” for 10 years now (see “Celebrating Ten Years of Take Control,” 28 October 2013), so we’ve had plenty of time to refine how we walk people through the upgrade experience. But what we’ve known since 2003 is that we want readers to finish reading the ebook feeling comfortable, confident, and competent. That could be as simple as getting the good feeling of competence that comes from hearing the post-install startup chime and seeing your Mavericks Desktop for the first time, as Tristan did. Or perhaps your feeling of confidence will be delayed until you work through the troubleshooting chapter and learn how to deal with a
gray screen appearing after installation. Or maybe you’ll feel comfortable only once you finally get your user accounts right, turn on FileVault, and find the new-in-Mavericks checkbox that unhides your ~/Library folder. Whatever your situation, there’s plenty of advice in “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks” to ensure a successful upgrade for any Mac user, of any age.

Josh Centers 5 comments

New Retina MacBook Pro Models Thinner, Lighter, and Cheaper

Apple has overhauled its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop line, making the models thinner and lighter, and outfitting them with faster processors, PCIe-based flash storage, and Thunderbolt 2. They are available to order immediately. The remaining relic is the popular entry-level 13-inch, which starts at $1,199 with a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 4 GB of RAM, Intel HD 4000 graphics, a built-in SuperDrive, and a 500 GB 5400-rpm hard drive. Unless you need the disk space for a low price, this is the model to avoid, as it’s clearly the thing of the past.

The updated 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display weighs 3.46 pounds (1.57 kg) and is only 0.71 inches (1.8 cm) thick, but still offers up to 9 hours of battery life. Internally, it boasts new dual-core Intel Haswell chips, Intel Iris graphics, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Thunderbolt 2, and faster PCIe flash drives.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 and includes a 2.4 GHz dual-core Intel i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of flash storage. For the mid-range $1,499 model, you get a 2.4 GHz dual-core Intel i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. Optional upgrades include a 2.6 GHz Intel i5 for $100 and a 2.8 GHz dual-core Intel i7 for $300.

The beefiest 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,799 with a 2.6 GHz Intel i5 and 512 GB of storage; it can be upgraded to a 2.8 GHz Intel i7 for $200 and to 1 TB of storage for an additional $500. In all three models, you can upgrade RAM to 16 GB, with the jump from 4 GB to 8 GB priced at $100, and the jump from 8 GB to 16 GB at $200.

The redesigned 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (now the only 15-inch MacBook Pro) features Intel Crystalwell quad-core processors, PCIe flash storage, Thunderbolt 2, and up to 8 hours of battery life. It’s the same thickness as the 13-inch model, but weighs an extra pound to clock in at 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg).

The low-end model of the 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, and features a 2 GHz quad-core Intel i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris Pro graphics. Optional upgrades include a 2.3 GHz Intel i7 for $100, 2.6 GHz Intel i7 for $300, 16 GB of RAM for $200, and either 512 GB of storage for $300 or 1 TB for $800.

For the higher-end model’s $2,599 price point, you get a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and, in addition to the Intel Iris Pro graphics, an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M with 2 GB of RAM. For an extra $200, you can upgrade to a 2.6 GHz Intel i7 and for $500, a 1 TB flash drive.

The transition to Retina displays in the MacBook Pro line has happened fairly quickly, and prices have dropped over time (for the previous pricing, see “Apple Tweaks MacBook Specs and Prices,” 14 February 2013). That said, the move to flash storage is unfortunate in some ways, as it’s still so expensive per gigabyte. Apple charges a $500 premium to jump from 256 GB to 500 GB — sticker shock for users accustomed to 500 GB or 1 TB of hard disk space. Of course, flash storage is one of the main places Apple boosts its profit margin — the same is true in the iPad and iPhone lineups, where relatively small increases in storage have large price jumps.

Josh Centers 3 comments

Apple Announces iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina Display

Apple has announced two new models of the iPad: the iPad Air starting at $499 and the iPad mini with Retina display, starting at $399. The iPad Air ships on 1 November 2013 with no pre-order available, while the iPad mini with Retina display will ship at an unspecified time in November. The first-generation iPad mini will remain available at a lower $299 price point, and, perplexingly, the iPad 2 lives on for $399. However, with the dismal iOS 7 performance on these older iPads, I wouldn’t recommend anyone purchase the iPad 2 or iPad mini at this point unless low price is paramount (and even then, a used third- or fourth-generation iPad might be
a better deal).

Both new iPads feature Apple’s new A7 system-on-a-chip found in the iPhone 5s, 2048-by-1536 resolution Retina displays, new MIMO Wi-Fi technology that uses multiple antennas for faster speeds, wider LTE support, ten hours of battery life, and redesigned 5-megapixel rear cameras with larger pixels and better low-light sensitivity.

One of the LTE carriers added for the new iPads is T-Mobile, which is offering 200 MB of data per month — for life, even if you stop being a T-Mobile customer. The company will also offer, in addition to traditional monthly subscriptions, day and week passes. One day of 500 MB will cost $5 and a week of 1 GB will run you $10.

Interestingly, neither of the new iPad models features the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor of the iPhone 5s. This would have been welcome, as typing passcodes on the larger screen is a pain, and would have been an incentive to upgrade for users of the third- and fourth-generation iPads.

But perhaps the most surprising change to the lineup is the newly dubbed iPad Air, so called because it’s the thinnest, lightest, full-size iPad ever, at only 7.5 mm thick and weighing in at only 1 pound (453 grams). By comparison, the iPad 2 is 8.8 mm thick and 1.33 pounds (603 g). The iPad Air features the M7 motion processor featured in the iPhone 5s, which constantly stores movement data while using minimal battery power. Also included are dual microphones and improved backside illumination.

The iPad Air is available with 16 GB of storage for $499, with 32, 64, and 128 GB options available for an extra $100 premium each. The 16 GB LTE iPad Air starts at $629, and is again available in 32, 64, and 128 GB variations, each for another $100 premium.

The iPad mini with Retina display is understandably thicker and heavier than its predecessor but gains only 0.3 mm of thickness to 7.5 mm, and 0.05 pounds (22.6 g) to 0.73 pounds (331 g). The new iPad mini starts at $399 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model and $529 for the LTE version. As with the iPad Air, 32, 64, and 128 GB jumps in storage are available, with an additional $100 premium for each tier.

Both iPads will be available in two colors: space gray with a black front and silver with a white front. Also available are new plastic Smart Covers for $39 and new leather Smart Cases for $69 for the iPad mini and $79 for the iPad Air, both of which will be available on 1 November 2013.

Which iPad model should you buy, assuming you’re looking for one? Unless you want the larger screen (perhaps for easier onscreen typing), the iPad mini with Retina display looks like the way to go. It’s still thinner and lighter than the iPad Air, and is $100 cheaper. The processor, battery life, and camera are identical on the two models, and the iPad mini nominally has a nicer display due to the finer resolution — 326 pixels per inch versus the iPad Air’s 264 ppi.

Is it worth upgrading from an existing iPad? Obviously, we haven’t been able to spend any time with these new models yet, but the promised performance improvements seem compelling, particularly for those accustomed to an original iPad or iPad 2. And for those who were interested in the first-generation iPad mini but held off because of its older processor and lack of a Retina display, the new iPad mini is tremendously attractive.

Josh Centers 6 comments

Details Emerge about the New Mac Pro

After titillating power users at the Worldwide Developer Conference this past June with a redesigned Mac Pro (see “Apple Gets Around to a New Mac Pro,” 10 June 2013), Apple has finally announced details. The round tower of power will become available sometime in December 2013, and pricing will start at $2,999 for a model that features a 3.7 GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, 12 GB of RAM, dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors — each with 2 GB of RAM — and 256 GB of PCIe flash storage. Check Apple’s site for full specs.

If you need even more power, for $3,999, you can buy a model with a 3.5 GHz six-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics processors with 3 GB of RAM each, and 256 GB of PCIe flash storage. The flash storage on both models can be increased to 512 GB or 1 TB, and RAM can be increased to 32 or 64 GB — pricing on these upgrades isn’t yet available.

On the display side, the new Mac Pro can run up to three 4k displays (monitors with roughly 4000 pixels horizontally) or six Thunderbolt displays. Standard ports include four USB 3.0 ports, six Thunderbolt 2 ports, dual gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI 1.4 UltraHD, along with a combined optical/digital audio output/analog line out minijack and a headphone minijack with headset support. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are built in too. What you won’t find in the box with a new Mac Pro are a keyboard and a mouse.

At Apple’s special event, Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller bragged, “People have been blown away by this new design.” (He also mistakenly called Batman “The Black Knight,” leading to an awkward moment.) The Mac Pro is a stunning object — it’s a 9.9-inch tall, 6.6-inch wide (25.1 by 16.8 cm) cylinder, encased in gleaming black polished aluminum. Apple showed a video of the Mac Pro being manufactured, causing several of us to lust after the shiny chrome look that comes earlier in the process.

It’s not just pretty. While the old Mac Pro required eight fans, the new cylindrical design needs only one, and the new Mac Pro is one-eighth the volume of the previous model. At idle, it also draws only 43 watts, and drops its sound production from 30 dBA to a mere 12 dBA — making it as quiet as the Mac mini. By comparison, a pin drop typically sounds off at 10 dBA.

A promotional video showed creative professionals enthusing about the new Mac Pro. Grammy-award-winning producer Stuart Price said, “The new Mac Pro is blazing fast and shockingly quiet. You have to not hear it to believe it. This is the perfect computer for the recording studio.” Hollywood filmmaker Dean Devlin said of it, “The Mac Pro makes real-time 4k editing a reality. It’s more powerful than I ever imagined and will change the way I make movies.”

That’s an indication of who Apple thinks will be buying the new Mac Pro — creative professionals who are processing video, mixing audio, or pushing pixels in a big way. But the price will send many long-time Mac Pro users straight into the arms of the iMac, which has excellent performance and supports multiple monitors for a lot less money. That’s not a bad thing, just an indication that the new Mac Pro is really aimed at those who need the ultimate in performance.

Jeff Carlson 5 comments

Mysterious Mac Pro Posters Appear

I just received an unexpected and mysterious package from Apple, a tall narrow box that looked like it might hold two or three stacked AirPort Extremes. Opening the box revealed a curious cylinder.

New-age Monolith? Perhaps the “donut holes” removed from the middle of new Mac Pros? Well, that was close.

Opening the tube revealed a set of large Mac Pro posters and a sheet that reads:

It’s the computer we were insane to build. The one that turns conventional thinking on its head, then kicks the living $#&% out of it. We challenged all our assumptions. Abandoned our preconceptions. And blew away limitation after limitation. This is the new Mac Pro. It’s like no Mac we’ve created before. And we can’t wait to see what you create with it.

The posters measure 36-by-25 inches and are printed on a heavy poster stock. They depict various images of the upcoming Mac Pro.

What strikes me more than the images is the tube: it’s not some cheap mailing tube you’d get in an office supply store.
It’s heavy-duty cardboard, dark gray on the outside and white on the inside, with glossy reflective caps. And in a very Apple touch, the way the caps fit is nearly seamless — it took some work to get my fingernails under the cap to open it up.

Sending unannounced marketing materials isn’t unprecedented for Apple. I still have the Think Different booklet Apple mailed out in 1998 that started the push to redefining the company’s identity after Steve Jobs returned.

Other journalists received the tubes, too, though I don’t know the rhyme or reason behind who gets them. I’m sure I received mine because I’m the Mac columnist at the Seattle Times, but my column appears only once a month, so I can’t imagine Apple is picking me for my high traffic.

Then again, I just wrote a short article with photographs of a poster tube unboxing. Well played, Apple.

Michael E. Cohen 29 comments

New Free iLife and iWork Apps Share across Devices and Platforms

In an announcement that will almost certainly cause developers of competing products to experience heart palpitations, Apple has announced that its iLife apps — iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand — and its iWork apps — Pages, Numbers, and Keynote — will be available for free to purchasers of new Apple hardware, whether iOS devices or Macs. In addition, all of these apps have been redesigned, providing cross-platform sharing of documents and media.

Here’s a rundown of what Apple announced as new in the iLife and iWork suites; additional details will no doubt be emerging soon.

iPhoto — Although the Mac version of iPhoto appears largely unchanged (although better performance under OS X 10.9 Mavericks is touted), the iOS version of iPhoto gains many new organizational and presentation options, such as organizing photos by month; filtering them by type, caption, or other criteria; and tagging for sorting pictures to albums.

More advanced editing tools have also been added to the iOS version, including tools like sharpen and saturation brushes, and many new effects (you can now adjust an image’s “aura” or apply “artistic” filters, among many others).

For the first time, users can create photo books and order them printed right from within iPhoto for iOS. And, if you are one of those users who have wondered where the Photos app’s slideshows went, you can find them in the new iPhoto, along with other projects, such as Web journals and the aforementioned photo books.

It doesn’t seem as though there’s any connection between your iPhoto libraries on the Mac and iOS, unfortunately, making it impossible to work on your collection of photos on multiple devices.

iMovie — The Mac version of iMovie sports a new interface, with streamlined browsing of clips and the capability to share a clip on the Web or via email without making a separate movie project. An equally streamlined editor gives better access to effects, as well as easy-to-use speed controls, audio filters, picture-in-picture and side-by-side presentations, and an Adjustments Bar with color controls, stabilization controls, and color matching between clips.

A big new feature, iMovie Theater, shares edited movies and trailers (yes, iMovie still offers the capability for making trailers from any of 29 available templates) among all of your devices, including Apple TV, via iCloud.

Like its Mac sibling, iMovie for iOS also has updated sharing capabilities, making it possible to share clips directly from the app’s Video browser via iMessage, email, the Web, and iMovie Theater. The redesigned editor bears a resemblance to the new Mac version, including an Adjustments Bar, and offers eight themes, advanced audio editing capabilities, support for editing slow-motion video from the iPhone 5s, and special effects like picture-in-picture, cutaways, and split-screen. You can also create trailers within the iOS app, using any of 14 templates.

GarageBand — Last updated in 2010, the new Mac version of GarageBand comes with an entirely new library of sounds and loops and the option to buy additional ones through in-app purchasing. Smart Controls automatically appear tailored for the selected software instrument, amp (including 35 stompboxes), or effect. A virtual session drummer is available, using samples from actual session drummers and recording engineers. One virtual drummer is included, but others can be added via in-app purchase.

You can create and mix as many as 255 audio tracks, and apply Flex Time to fix the timing for those tracks that don’t sync up with the rest. Plus, GarageBand now also offers a direct upload to SoundCloud as well as iCloud synchronization among your other devices that have GarageBand installed.

One major new feature in GarageBand for iOS is the capability to use other sound apps on your iOS device with GarageBand — including effects and specialized instruments — via a new Inter-App Audio feature (sounds like Audiobus to us — see “FunBITS: The World of Audiobus and iPad Music Apps,” 9 August 2013). The editor has been considerably beefed up, providing as many as 32 tracks (the poor Beatles had only 4 tracks available to them in the Abbey Road studios), and a Note Editor that you can use to drag notes into place (or delete an off-key clinker).

Pages — After stagnating as Pages ’09 for over four years, the Mac version has finally been refreshed and the year moniker dropped: it’s now just Pages for Mac. Instead of littering your screen with the floating inspectors of the previous version, Pages now provides a format panel that offers tools based upon what is selected, and optional coaching tips to help you find your way around the new interface. Similarly, change tracking and comments are still available, but now both comments and tracked changes appear integrated into the document and show themselves only when you summon them.

The internal format for Pages documents has been changed to provide complete compatibility with the iOS and iCloud versions of Pages; however, that change does mean that older Pages documents may lose some features and have others modified when opened in the latest version of the app. You can export a document in Pages ’09 format if you need to share with a user who hasn’t upgraded; you can also export, as before, in Word, PDF, text, or EPUB format. The good news is that if you don’t like the new version, you can still find the old iWork apps under /Applications/iWork ’09/ — which seems to be a quiet admission from Apple that the new iWork still needs work.

Speaking of the Web-based iCloud version of Pages, you can now share a link with other users, even non-Mac users, and each edit the same document separately, or at the same time with real-time updating. It’s about time Apple acknowledged that collaboration is key!

Pages for iOS has been brought in line with the iOS 7 interface, and its tools and templates have been adjusted accordingly, including some welcome conveniences, such as placing the toolbar on the virtual keyboard instead of at the top of the page.

Like the Mac version, Pages for iOS also provides coaching tips to help you find your way around the interface. Styles and layouts have been enhanced, as well, but if you want to create custom styles or layouts you’ll have to do that on the Mac to get them on your iOS device. Added to the capability to export documents in Word or PDF format is the capability to export a document directly to EPUB and open it in an appropriate iOS app of your choice. Pages ’09 export is also available.

Numbers — Like Pages, the Mac version of Numbers also sports a simplified interface, with context-sensitive tools replacing floating inspectors and coaching tips to help you figure out which tools do what. Conditional highlighting and animated charts make data visualization more dynamic, and complete cross-platform compatibility between your Mac, iOS devices, and iCloud make it possible to continue your work as you move from device to device.

Of course, the cross-platform capability means a file format change has come to Numbers too; fortunately, you can export in the old Numbers ‘09 format if necessary. The same sharing capability that is available in Pages has come to Numbers as well, including real-time collaboration on the Web using Numbers for iCloud: those working with Windows users no longer need export in Excel format because Windows users can now access and edit those documents in their Web browsers when you send them a link.

As with Pages on iOS, Numbers for iOS has undergone an iOS 7 facelift, with the concomitant interface simplifications and integrated coaching tips to help you navigate the new and altered capabilities of the app. Among other features are the capability to create interactive forms that you can link into a spreadsheet, so you can do things like enter your shopping list, add prices on your iPhone as you walk the aisles of the grocery store, and have the data appear in your household budget spreadsheet. Interactive charts have also been added to the selection of 2D and 3D charts available in the previous version.

Keynote — The upgraded Keynote for Mac gets the same simplification makeover as the other iWork apps for Mac, and, yes, you’ll find coaching tips come with it, too. You’ll also find new effects and transitions to explore, and an updated Presenter Display with which you can edit your notes while you present — and you can even use as many as six displays simultaneously.

The file format has changed with this version as well, but you can export to Keynote ’09 format if you have the need. And, while you can export to and import from PowerPoint as you previously could, you can also make use of Keynote in iCloud to collaborate with Windows users directly, using a shared link and a Web browser. Complete compatibility with the iOS version of Keynote is, of course, included.

Keynote for iOS has also been redesigned to look at home in iOS 7, including new interactive chart capabilities much like the Numbers update provides. Animations have been beefed up as well, and presentations can be shared on the Web, just as they can with the Mac version.

Excited by all these great new features? Calm down: there is one completely predictable fly in the free app ointment, and that has to do with the “free” part. The free versions of the iLife and iWork apps are available fresh only to purchasers of new Macs or iOS devices and to those who activated their iOS devices after 1 September 2013.

Of course, if you already own these apps, the upgrades are free via Software Update or the Mac App Store for the Mac apps and the App Store for the iOS apps. However, if you aren’t buying new Apple hardware, and you don’t already own the previous versions, you’ll still have to pay up for these apps.

Adam Engst 6 comments

Enabling System-Controlling Utilities in Mavericks

LaunchBar, TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro, RescueTime — these and many other utilities have one thing in common: they rely on Mac OS X’s support for “assistive devices” to perform tasks that are normally forbidden to applications. Because this setting can’t be enabled by software, these apps always ask the user to turn it on at initial launch if it’s not already enabled. (In “Scripting the Unscriptable in Mac OS X,” 10 March 2003, Matt Neuburg explained this capability and where it came from — it’s actually related to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, a U.S. statute more commonly known as Section 508.)

In versions of Mac OS X before 10.9 Mavericks, “Enable access for assistive devices” was a system-wide setting located in the Accessibility pane (previously known as Universal Access) of System Preferences. It was highly obscure, particularly because most users never understood the connection between “assistive devices” and clever Mac utilities.

According to Shelly Brisbin, an accessibility expert and author of the forthcoming book “iOS Access for All,” the original goal of the “Enable access for assistive devices” option was to make it possible for special hardware devices to drive software that would in turn control the Mac’s interface. The device could, for instance, have a switch that would drop menus or click buttons.

For the most part, however, this accessibility feature instead ended up being used by mainstream utilities that need to control various aspects of the operating system and other applications like a puppet-master, clicking buttons and invoking commands behind the scenes. Such capabilities are normally prohibited to apps, and hooking into the accessibility system gave these utilities significantly more exposure into the underpinnings of Mac OS X.

That’s all fine, but Apple changed things in Mavericks, in two major ways. First, the feature has moved from working system-wide to a per-app basis, giving users more-granular control and better security, since malicious software can’t ride on the coattails of system-wide access, as some keyloggers used to. Second, because you’re basically granting permission to a piece of software to control your Mac, the interface for controlling this permission moved to the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences, under Accessibility.

(In fact, Mavericks improves on the previous situation in another way too, with the introduction of the Switch Control options in the Accessibility preference pane — they allow the Mac to be controlled by one or more switches, such as from a gamepad or other assistive device. This YouTube video from Luis Perez explains more.)

Apps that need to control your computer appear in the Accessibility list in Security & Privacy after you launch them — you’ll start seeing new alerts directing you to this preference pane as utilities are updated for Mavericks. And in fact, because the permissions are now on a per-app basis, you’ll get a request from every app that needs permission — the previous blanket permission from selecting “Enable access for assistive devices” no longer applies.

To give such an app permission to control your Mac as necessary, click the lock icon, enter your administrator password, and then select the checkbox next to the app in question. If a utility that requires such accessibility permissions isn’t working as expected, it’s worth making sure it’s enabled in the Accessibility list.

(As a minor aside, clicking the lock to make changes is required for items in the Accessibility list and the Location Services list, but not for Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Twitter, or Facebook, likely because the former two apply to all user accounts on the Mac, rather than just the current account. Nevertheless, it’s an example of atrocious interface on Apple’s part — why should the lock apply to some of these lists but not others?)

You’ll notice in the screenshot above that Skype and System Preferences are in the list, but I haven’t given them permission. That’s because I have no idea why they would need it, and it’s a bad idea to give such broad control to any application without knowing why it’s necessary. You might also wonder why the activity monitoring utility RescueTime is in the list; a release note says it helps RescueTime increase accuracy by correctly determining when you switch windows.

In the end, the changes in Mavericks are a good thing, but since the previous situation was nearly inscrutable and the accessibility system is still being used by mainstream utilities, users are bound to remain confused.

But now you know what’s going on, so help spread the word!

Adam Engst 27 comments

Lion and Mountain Lion Still Available, Unlike iOS 6

There are times that Apple, which is famous for presenting a single unified face to the world, seems to suffer from a multiple personality disorder. Case in point — if you have an older Mac and want to upgrade to OS X 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion, even after the release of 10.9 Mavericks (see “Apple Releases OS X 10.9 Mavericks for Free,” 22 October 2013), Apple will sell you a $19.99 redemption code via the Apple Online Store, which you then redeem in the Mac App Store. This roundabout approach is necessary because Apple keeps only the
latest version of Mac OS X — now Mavericks — visible in the Mac App Store, presumably to prevent customer confusion.

(And yes, that means you must be upgrading a Mac running 10.6.8 Snow Leopard or be willing to jump through some hoops to make an installer disk. Both “Take Control of Upgrading to Lion” and “Take Control of Upgrading to Mountain Lion” remain available for those who need reminders on what to do.)

Once you have the redemption code, open the App Store app, and in the Quick Links section of the Featured view, click Redeem and enter your code.

This is all very reasonable, even though Mavericks runs on all the same Macs that Mountain Lion supports. There are any number of other reasons why someone may wish to upgrade an older Mac from Snow Leopard to Lion or Mountain Lion instead of Mavericks, mostly having to do with software compatibility (or problems with Apple Mail and Gmail — for details, see “Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation,” 22 October 2013), and it’s nice to see that Apple is making it
possible for the vanishingly small number of people who wish to buy one of these older operating systems to do so.

So why is it that Apple won’t even allow iOS device owners who have upgraded to iOS 7 to downgrade to iOS 6? For a non-trivial number of users, iOS 7’s new look is unreadable, despite the accessibility options Apple added in an attempt to address the concerns (see the comments on “Peering at iOS 7 for the Vision Impaired,” 19 September 2013). The overall design of iOS 7 isn’t a bug to be fixed or an option to be set. iOS 7.0.3 may have addressed the problem of the parallax effect and animations causing motion sickness by souping up the Reduce Motion switch (see “iOS 7.0.3 Adds iCloud Keychain and Disables Animation,” 22 October
2013), but even the Larger Dynamic Text and Bold Text options aren’t sufficient for many users.

These people aren’t asking for changes to iOS 7, they’re just asking to be allowed to downgrade to iOS 6, and yet the same company that helpfully still sells the last two versions of Mac OS X won’t let them. What could possibly be the reason?

Joe Kissell 448 comments

Mail in Mavericks Changes the Gmail Equation

[Note: Apple’s OS X 10.9.2 release fixes many (though not all) of the lingering problems with Mail; see “Mail Improvements in OS X 10.9.2,” 25 February 2014. This follows a special, separate update to Mail, which addressed some issues (as discussed in “Apple Updates Mail to Address Mavericks Bugs,” 7 November 2013) and the 10.9.1 update, which fixed others.]

Apple Mail in OS X 10.9 Mavericks treats Gmail accounts differently than any previous version of Mail did. Although some of the changes are quite clever and useful, the implementation is not without flaws. Your mileage may vary, of course, but based on my own experiences and those of hundreds of people who have commented online, Mail’s behavior with Gmail accounts — especially at first — leaves a lot to be desired. Here’s what I’ve observed and what you can (and can’t) do about it.

(The Joe Hulk drawing above is a snippet of an awesome Joy of Tech comic published in response to this article.)

Pseudo-IMAP Changes — Mail and Gmail were never a fantastic combination out of the box, because Gmail has a wacky, highly nonstandard way of using IMAP, and Mail always wanted to treat Gmail as though it were a conventional IMAP server. But, after much trial and error, I eventually found a combination of Mail settings and Gmail settings that, prior to Mavericks, resulted in a stable — and indeed largely pleasant — experience. As I documented in “Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail,” 2 May 2009, you just do x, y, and z (well, 21 steps’ worth of x, y, and z), and it will all work

Well, forget about that under Mavericks. In fact, following those old directions now will lead you far from bliss. And if you followed them before upgrading to Mavericks, you’ll need to take some steps to undo some of the problems.

Before Mavericks, the approach that worked best with Gmail accounts in Mail was to go into Gmail’s settings and prevent the All Mail label from being exposed to IMAP clients. All Mail is exactly what it sounds like — all your saved and sent messages, regardless of whether or how they’re labeled — and having All Mail enabled, prior to Mavericks, meant that Mail would download at least two copies of every message (one in All Mail and one each in a mailbox corresponding to any labels you applied in Gmail). That led to lots of duplicate messages, wasted disk space and bandwidth, and reduced performance. But hiding All Mail prevented the problem.

Mail in Mavericks tries to meet Gmail on its own terms, more or less. As part of this approach, it now treats archiving Gmail messages essentially the way Gmail itself does — moving a message from the Inbox to Archive removes the Inbox label, which means it shows up only in Gmail’s All Mail list (unless you apply another label in Gmail or move it to another mailbox in Mail). Note that deleting a message in Mavericks Mail won’t archive it in All Mail; it (logically enough) moves it to the Trash. I’ve always counseled against using the Delete key to mean “save this forever,” but if you’re in the habit of pressing Delete to archive, that won’t work anymore in Mavericks.

Unfortunately, if you had hidden the All Mail label from Mail in Mavericks, then any messages you move from your Inbox (by filing or deleting) magically reappear back in the Inbox later — after you switch to another mailbox and switch back, or close and reopen Mail. That will, of course, drive anyone to distraction. I reported this to Apple as a bug, and it was marked as a duplicate, which means only that I wasn’t the first person to report it, not necessarily that Apple is planning to fix it. (A post on Pocket-lint suggests that the changes to Mail’s behavior with regard to All Mail were at Google’s behest, but
I don’t know the details.) The only way to “solve” this problem is to re-enable All Mail (which, by the way, affects all IMAP clients, not just Mail). Which I’ll now tell you how to do, but don’t do it until you read about the consequences.

To re-enable All Mail, log in to your Gmail account on Google’s Web site. Click the gear icon and choose Settings from the pop-up menu. Click Labels. Find All Mail (under System Labels, near the top) and select its Show in IMAP checkbox.

Now, here’s what’s going to happen. Mail — despite the fact that it has already cached all your Gmail messages — will download all of them again. For me, with about 321,000 messages totaling over 4 GB, that took nearly two full days, even with a super-fast Internet connection. That’s an unreasonably long period of time, and a crazy waste of bandwidth since I already had copies of all those messages! Mail actually does this in stages, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that at a certain point in the process, your ~/Library/Mail folder could be twice as large as it should be, or even larger. Unless you’re running critically low on disk space, don’t
panic about that, because it’ll eventually settle down — but be aware that it could take Mail a very, very long time to purge all those duplicate messages and return your ~/Library/Mail folder to a reasonable size.

When that big download is done, the good news is that Mail will have only one copy of each message — the one in All Mail! Messages you had labeled in Gmail will still show up in mailboxes bearing the same name. (And, for the first time, Mail will have a copy of all your messages that didn’t have any label at all — ones you had archived without explicitly filing.) But those messages are not really in those mailboxes. What Mail does behind the scenes is to add a little invisible XML code to the end of each message telling it which other mailbox(es) it should be displayed in. And that’s an entirely reasonable strategy, as far as it goes. Arguably, Mail should have started doing this years ago.

However, this change has some unwelcome side effects, and it seems Apple didn’t entirely think through the implications. For one thing, Mail doesn’t alert you in any way to the fact that it now needs access to All Mail; it simply fails to operate correctly. It could pop up a little message saying, “Hey there! I noticed that you have a Gmail account and I’m not seeing All Mail. That’s going to be a problem from now on; here’s how you fix it and what you can expect afterward.” But this is something you just have to work out for yourself — a major architectural change that isn’t even mentioned when you choose Help > What’s New in Mail?, let alone addressed in a helpful error message.

Be that as it may, once you’ve figured out that you need to enable All Mail, you may encounter another hurdle. What I found, and what numerous other users reported, is that even after All Mail was enabled and enough time had gone by for Mail to re-download, re-cache, and re-index everything, Mail’s Inbox didn’t stay in sync with Gmail’s Inbox. That is, reading, moving, deleting, or otherwise operating on messages in the Inbox on the Gmail Web site, on an iPhone or iPad, or in another IMAP client, made no difference to what appeared in Mail’s Inbox, even after several hours. And, the usual fixes, such as quitting and restarting Mail, rebuilding the Inbox, and forcing a synchronization, had no effect.

For me, after experiencing this frustration for about four days (during which time I had to keep Gmail open in a Web browser to make sure I saw incoming messages when they arrived), the problem spontaneously disappeared and Mail’s Inbox resumed syncing immediately, just as it always had in the past. I don’t know what caused that change, but I was happy about it, as it suggested that this particular problem may go away for others, too, given sufficient patience. But then, about 12 hours later, my Inbox suddenly stopped syncing again — and as before, nothing I tried was able to bring it back to life. Since then, it’s been off and on — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. For what it’s worth, anecdotal evidence suggests
that those of us with extremely large numbers of messages in Gmail are likely to experience longer Inbox-out-of-sync times; those with only a few thousand messages often notice no misbehavior at all.

What if you never disabled All Mail for IMAP clients in the first place? I wish I could say that makes the upgrade smooth sailing — and for some people, it is. But I’ve also heard from users who never touched their default Gmail settings and, after upgrading to Mavericks, still found it took a ridiculously long time before Mail began displaying the contents of their Inbox and other mailboxes correctly.

Another problem is that with All Mail enabled, AppleScript breaks badly with Gmail accounts. If you have any AppleScripts that operate on messages in Gmail mailboxes (I have some that are crucial to my workflow), the scripts will report the mailboxes (except Inbox and All Mail) as being completely empty. Of course, they are empty in reality, but they don’t look empty in Mail because Mail does the right thing when interpreting Gmail’s labels. Unfortunately, AppleScript doesn’t know anything about this. (I also reported this as a bug, and it, too, was marked as a duplicate.) In the meantime, my workaround is to run 10.8 Mountain Lion in a VMware Fusion virtual machine so I can still use my old Mail

As I mentioned, turning on All Mail affects not just Mail but any other email client you may use on other devices, as well as older versions of Mail. So, “fixing” Gmail on my Mavericks system breaks it on other systems (including my Mountain Lion virtual machine!), forcing me to choose which set of problems I’m willing to cope with.

The whole “All Mail” thing (and the delays that result) may be the most obvious change in the way Mail works with Gmail, but there are other problems too:

  • It’s no longer possible to rearrange Gmail mailboxes in Mail’s sidebar; those at the top level of your Gmail account are always in alphabetical order (although, strangely, mailboxes nested within another mailbox can still be reordered). Drag a top-level mailbox to a new location and it snaps right back to where it was. This isn’t a problem with other account types, or with local mailboxes.

  • Mail now forces you to use the default locations for Gmail’s Sent and Trash mailboxes. (That is, if you choose another mailbox and choose Mailbox > Use This Mailbox For, the submenu listing special mailboxes like Sent and Trash will be dimmed. Previously remapped mailboxes may appear empty in Mail, giving you no obvious way to see those messages.) One of the implications of this change is that deleted Gmail messages will always be permanently removed in 30 days even if you set Mail to never delete them, because it’s no longer in Mail’s control; deletion is done on Gmail’s side.

  • Although you can uncheck “Store draft messages on the server” for Gmail accounts, the setting doesn’t stick, meaning drafts are always stored on the server.

  • The badges Mail uses to tell you how many unread messages are in each mailbox may be significantly off. For example, one user reported that even after a Mail rule successfully moved messages from the Inbox to another Gmail mailbox, the Inbox unread count still included those messages.

Further Issues — Lest you think that only Gmail users are having trouble with Mail in Mavericks, the list of problems that affect all providers is also long and growing. For example:

  • In previous versions of Mail, you could choose, for IMAP accounts, whether to download and cache full messages including attachments, message text only, only messages you’d read, or none of the above. Unfortunately, in Mavericks, downloading the full text of every message is mandatory for IMAP accounts, including Gmail. You can opt to skip attachments, but that’s it. This change is sure to frustrate people with limited disk space, slow Internet connections, or both. Although Apple claims Mail must download all your messages in order to use all of Mail’s features, this was never necessary before, and it’s unclear what motivated that change.
  • A fascinating and disturbing post on the FastMail blog describes serious misbehavior with the Mavericks version of Mail and regular IMAP accounts, including endless duplication of messages in one’s Junk mailbox. Since FastMail is one of the biggest and most highly regarded IMAP providers out there, I’m confident that they know what they’re talking about, and that is not good news.

  • I don’t use Mail’s smart mailboxes much, but the word on the street is that Mail in Mavericks is having some trouble with those, even in non-Gmail accounts. As in, the mailbox has a badge indicating it contains unread messages, but when you look inside, there aren’t any. Kirk McElhearn found all his smart mailboxes empty, and was able to correct the problem by quitting Mail, deleting the three files beginning with “Envelope Index” in ~/Library/Mail/V2/MailData, reopening Mail, and letting it reindex his messages.

  • I’ve heard that rules don’t work consistently, especially when applied after the fact (choose Message > Apply Rules) to incoming messages that were marked as read on another device. I haven’t seen this problem myself, but the report comes from numerous people, including a member of the TidBITS staff.

  • Although I’ve never understood the appeal of creating additional mailboxes inside one’s Inbox, if you’ve done that, Mail reportedly won’t display them at all.

And, I haven’t bothered to mention the fact that most third-party Mail plug-ins broke under Mavericks. That’s normal when OS X is updated – and most major plug-ins have already been updated to support Mavericks — but fixes for others are still in the works.

If you’ve noticed other wonky behavior with Mail in Mavericks (whether pertaining to Gmail or not), please tell us in the comments.

I’d like to think that an OS X 10.9.1 update will magically fix all this stuff, but I won’t hold my breath. I’m sorely tempted to look for a different email provider (something I was pondering anyway, for unrelated reasons), but it irks me that I should have to do so now just because Apple broke Mail in the very process of trying to improve the way it works with Gmail.

The alternative, of course, would be to switch email clients, but although I’ve tried many of them, I have yet to find one that offers all the crucial behaviors I get from Mail and my carefully chosen set of plug-ins. What I really want to do is continue liking both Mail and Gmail, but Mavericks makes that impossible at the moment.

Adam Engst 6 comments

Celebrating Ten Years of Take Control

Ten years ago, in October 2003, we launched our Take Control series of electronic books with Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther” (see “Do You Want to Take Control?,” 20 October 2003). Last week we unveiled the seventh installment of that title, Joe’s “Take Control of Upgrading to Mavericks.”

Across the intervening decade, we’ve both witnessed and helped drive numerous changes throughout the publishing industry. On the occasion of our tenth anniversary, I wanted to share a few reflections, along with some interesting statistics to provide a sense of what we’ve accomplished.

How Far We’ve Come, in Numbers — We released our first title, “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther,” simultaneously with Matt Neuburg’s “Take Control of Customizing Panther,” so we had two books in our catalog out of the gate. Within the first year, we had published 12 titles plus 5 translations, along with 20 free updates. Translations didn’t prove to make business sense, but a decade in, we’ve published 127 titles, a number that includes major editions and title changes (such as the seven “Take Control of Upgrading to…” books). Our free minor updates are harder to track, but I’m guessing we’ve given away at least another 100.

Unsurprisingly, our star author is Joe Kissell, who has turned out an astonishing 42 books over the decade. Among our current authors, he’s followed by Glenn Fleishman with 17, Sharon Zardetto with 11, Kirk McElhearn with 9, Matt Neuburg and Jeff Tolbert with 8 each, Michael Cohen with 6, and Jeff Carlson with 3. Other authors who have graced our catalog include Ted Landau, Steve Sande, Brian Tanaka, Andy Affleck, Karen Anderson, Larry Chen, Scott Knaster, Andy Baird, Arnie Keller, Clark Humphrey, Sam Sellers, and Tom Negrino. And we’d be lost without the editing help of Dan Frakes, Kelly Turner, Geoff Duncan, Caroline Rose, Don Sellers, and Lea Galanter, with a number of authors doing double duty. Of course, even if it’s not
always obvious, Tonya Engst has edited far more books than anyone else and takes a close pass on nearly every title to make sure it fits with the series and meets our high standards. And, we recently brought in Lauri Reinhardt to help us keep up with customer questions, since our desire to reply to everyone promptly was increasingly in conflict with our desire to publish new ebooks quickly.

Much as we love our current authors, a major challenge has been figuring out how to bring more into the fold. We want great technical writers who can not only follow our style sheet and work with our agile publishing techniques, but have the fortitude to produce book-length documents and stay involved with titles over time, potentially for years. And, as much as we’ve tried to scale up to produce more books more quickly, writing, editing, and publishing top-notch Take Control books remains a high-touch process.

Sales have been very good to our small business, with nearly 375,000 titles sold for the decade. While that may not compare to much larger publishers, their title counts dwarf ours. We also sell quite differently, with over 90 percent of our sales this year being direct rather than through resellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks Store, and O’Reilly Media. Together, the bookstores account for only 8.5 percent of our sales so far in 2013. (On the plus side, unlike traditional publishers, we weren’t hurt at all by the demise of Borders, which had over 500 bookstores in the United States in 2010, but closed every one of them by September 2011.) Software firms that resell copies of our books about their products are
more important, accounting for nearly 25 percent of this year’s sales.

Our best-selling title of all time is Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups,” which, across five editions and a title change to “Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac,” has sold over 21,000 copies. Glenn Fleishman’s “Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network” is in second place, with over 17,000 copies sold over five versions and editions. For a single edition, Kirk McElhearn’s “Take Control of Scrivener 2” holds the top spot, with nearly 13,000 copies sold, many through Scrivener’s developer, Literature
& Latte. And while Joe’s “Take Control of iCloud,” for which we issued four free updates over the course of its first edition, is still closing in on 11,000 copies, its higher cover price makes it the top-grossing single-edition title, at over $110,000. Joe is working on a new second edition right now.

Besides helping our authors earn a living and paying our own salaries, Take Control revenues played an essential role in keeping TidBITS running for years, until we started the TidBITS membership program (see “Support TidBITS by Becoming a TidBITS Member,” 12 December 2011). We’ve also reinvested earnings into projects like our new logo and cover design, and a long-running Web site redesign that we hope to unveil soon.

We’re particularly proud of some of our early innovations, such as a way for readers to check for and download free updates, a feature that has only recently come to Apple’s iBooks Store. And it’s good to see other publishers now producing ebooks that go beyond static text to include internal navigation links and links to external references and multimedia, where appropriate (see “Why Plain Text Books Are Here to Stay,” 14 February 2013). If only our policy of avoiding
DRM was more widespread!

An account-based library that tracks all purchased titles and lets readers download updates and get discounts on new editions was also a major achievement for us — we now have over 48,000 customers in our system (where we intentionally don’t store personal information like credit card numbers or addresses for privacy reasons). And our system, unlike those of Apple and Google, acknowledges that many people have multiple email addresses and lets users merge purchases made with different addresses.

And what readers we have! I can’t begin to tell you how honored we are by the fact that we have over 600 customers who have each purchased 50 or more ebooks from us, over 2,500 who have bought 25 or more ebooks, and nearly 9,000 with 10 or more ebooks. That’s loyalty, and I literally don’t know how to adequately express my gratitude for such support, over such a long time. Thank you.

Formats and Publishing Tools — A key aspect of deciding that we could create an ebook series back in 2003 was the widespread adoption of Adobe’s Portable Document Format — PDF to its friends. PDF had been around since 1993, but despite the free availability of Adobe Reader, it was Apple’s inclusion of Preview with Mac OS X that gave us the confidence to base our ebooks on that format. PDF served us well until the rise of the iPad in 2010 pushed us toward needing to offer ebooks in the EPUB format and the popularity of the Kindle encouraged us to add the Mobipocket format as well.

Nevertheless, perhaps because PDF is entirely readable on the iPad and larger Kindle models, PDF remains our most popular format. Based on downloads of free updates, 60 percent of our readers prefer PDF, with 30 percent picking EPUB and 10 percent Mobipocket. With Apple finally bundling iBooks with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, EPUB adoption is likely to increase, though the paginated PDF, where we have more control over layout and graphic size, will remain our primary format for some time.

Deeply related to the need to produce different formats has been our choice of publishing tools. We started with Microsoft Word, in part because of its change tracking and commenting features, but largely because we could move each file over to Word for Windows (running in a virtual machine) to create a PDF that turned the file’s headings into PDF bookmarks and links into PDF links. Our first EPUB and Mobipocket files were created for us by our distribution partner, O’Reilly, by a conversion house in India, and while we were grateful for the help, we weren’t too happy with the results or the associated delay.

So when Apple gave Pages ’09 the capability to export EPUB in a 2011 update (see “How Take Control Makes EPUBs in Pages,” 30 September 2011), we jumped on it, despite the enormous effort of converting files. Pages could import our ebooks’ Word documents, and they could be made usable with only a few hours of cleanup work. (Perfect conversion is a myth.) Pages could also create a PDF with links, though not bookmarks, a problem we solved with Debenu PDF Aerialist. That gave us PDF and EPUB, and a reasonably powerful word processor with decent change tracking and commenting features. For a while, O’Reilly
continued to create Mobipocket files for us, until our friend Serenity Caldwell at Macworld tipped us off to the non-trivial steps necessary to prepare an EPUB for Mobipocket conversion by Amazon’s Kindle Previewer tool. We continued to improve the layout of our EPUB and Mobipocket versions using a complex BBEdit text factory. At last we had full control over our production process!

At least we did, until Apple released a minor update to Pages 4.3 in December 2012, which broke the program’s EPUB export capability without so much as a release note (“Pages 4.3 vs. BBEdit 10.5: How Apple Doesn’t Respect Its Users,” 26 January 2013). With some difficulty, we managed to downgrade to Pages 4.2 and keep working, but the writing was on the wall. That’s when I discovered Leanpub, a publishing service that takes in Markdown files and images and spits out PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (“Push-button Book Publishing with Leanpub,” 26 April 2013). Leanpub is very cool, and I recommend it
highly for anyone interested in self-publishing.

To create the necessary Markdown files for Leanpub, we switched word processors for a third time, to Nisus Software’s Nisus Writer Pro, which had been our favorite in the days before Mac OS X and which finally returned to that level of power with version 2.0 in 2011 (for details, see “Nisus Writer Pro 2.0: The Review,” 8 June 2011). Nisus Writer Pro 2.0.6 has the necessary change tracking and commenting features, can export a PDF with links and bookmarks, and has a full-fledged macro language that Joe used to create a macro that turns a fully formatted Take Control manuscript into proper Markdown for Leanpub. Nisus Writer Pro isn’t without its
bugs and quirks, but unlike Apple, Nisus Software acknowledged our bug reports instantly and fixed the problems in test releases (imagine!). We’re still refining how we work with Nisus Writer Pro (and requesting tweaks and new features), but it’s great to finally have such text-processing power at our fingertips.

Of course, we rely on a wide variety of other tools, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro for PDF polishing, BLT for link testing, Aerialist for extracting links, PDF Enhancer for cleaning up our PDFs, Google Docs for writing marketing material, BBEdit for reformatting book text for posting on the Web, Automator for file distribution, and more.

That’s where we stand now. But if there’s one thing that we’ve seen, and which you can deduce from the stories and dates above, it’s that constant change is inevitable in the publishing world, and that the rate of change has increased radically in the last few years. We’re not entirely happy about this, since the effort that goes into revising systems and learning new tools takes away from publishing new books, but hopefully each new initiative brings with it new capabilities and additional efficiencies.

In the end, we enjoy producing great books that help you, our readers. As long as that remains true, and people continue to support our work, we’ll keep on publishing.

Michael E. Cohen 8 comments

FunBITS: Scribd and Oyster Aim to Be Netflix for Books

Among his many other accomplishments, Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first subscription library in the British Colonies. The idea was simple: for a periodic fee, members would have access to the Library Company’s holdings; those holdings, in turn, would be paid for, added to, and maintained by membership dues. Subscription libraries, and their first cousins, circulating libraries (which were also funded by membership fees), were among the main channels by which the citizens of the land accessed books and scholarly materials. They remained in vogue until the widespread adoption of public libraries a century later.

Now, subscription libraries are back. Two online services, Scribd and Oyster, have launched modern takes on the concept, offering access to a wide array of ebooks and other digital texts. For a monthly fee, $8.99 per month for Scribd and $9.95 for Oyster, subscribers can read as many books as they like from the digital collections curated by these services.

Content for both services comes from the same major publisher: HarperCollins. The other major publishers — Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, and the newly merged Penguin Random House — have yet to sign up. In the case of Scribd, HarperCollins has made the bulk of its backlist (books over a year old) available to subscribers; Oyster doesn’t have that massive backlist to offer, but its holdings are hardly paltry, with over 100,000 in-copyright ebooks available to its subscribers.

The user experience is similar for either service. You sign up by entering a username, email address, password, and credit card information, and then use the Scribd or Oyster iOS app to read the books that the services offer on either an iPad or iPhone (you can also sign up with Scribd within its app). Scribd also lets you read books in your Web browser. You can search for new books, add them to your personal collection (maintained within the apps — no sharesies!), and interact with other users of the service to discuss books, all inside the apps.
Both services try to nudge you to authenticate with your Facebook credentials instead of creating a new login, but neither insists that you share your book proclivities with Mark Zuckerberg and company if you don’t want to.

The reading interfaces are attractive and easy enough to use, if rather limited in terms of customizability and features. With each you can adjust type size and choose among a limited number of display options. Scribd offers “default,” “serif,” and “sans serif” as typestyle choices; Oyster offers more opaquely named alternates that amalgamate typeface and background color: for example, the Nomad style in Oyster uses an attractive sans serif face on a lightly stippled background, while its Herald style use a slightly darker
gray background and a modern serif face.

Neither reader displays page numbers: in Oyster, you get a percentage reading, while Scribd uses arbitrary location numbers similar to those in Kindle Reader; e.g., “location 69 of 2709.” Both allow you to sync your reading location between devices. Neither lets you add bookmarks, highlight passages, or insert notes. Oyster, unlike Scribd, does allow you to make and copy text selections. Oddly, Oyster envisions each book as a vertical stack of pages: you swipe up and down to turn pages, although
you can also tap the left and right margins to go forward and back; its progress gauge is presented vertically as well.

Of the two, I like how Scribd composes and displays a book’s text better than how Oyster does it. Although Oyster provides more attractive fonts and themes, it displays books as plain text, losing important things like italics and block-quote indentations. Scribd preserves those important typographic elements. Neither of the two, however, can match the beauty of iBooks’ page display or the flexibility of Marvin’s (see “Marvin Redux: A Smart Ebook Reader Gets Smarter,” 24 June 2013).

Even though both services are closely allied with HarperCollins, their holdings are not at all identical. For example, only Oyster offers Christopher Tolkien’s edition of his father’s unfinished alliterative poem, “The Fall of Arthur,” and only Scribd offers Ben Fountain’s acclaimed recent novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”

Will this 21st century spin on an 18th century invention pay off? These are early days, so it’s hard to say. Certainly, the value proposition for publishers seems promising: they get paid a small amount every time a book is viewed, and the fact that the books they supply are sequestered within the confines of the services’ apps makes piracy difficult. Plus, it’s a great way for them to exploit their backlists without having to compete for waning shelf space in bookstores.

The convenience for pleasure readers cannot be denied: books download quickly, are available to be read immediately, and, unlike the book holdings of the services’ 18th century forebears, are not constrained by the availability of physical copies — you won’t have to wait until another patron checks in the bestseller you have been longing to peruse.

However, serious readers and students will likely be perturbed by the lack of bookmarks, highlighting, and note-taking features. Even more troubling for the bibliophile is the ultimate evanescence of a subscribed library — cancel your subscription and your book collection, like the hunter of a Lewis Carroll Boojum, will softly and suddenly vanish away. As a result, these services are, at best, suitable only for pleasure reading. And, of course, for the subscription prices to be economically sensible, you most likely want to read more than one book per month.

Nonetheless, if you would like to investigate what some are calling “Netflix for readers,” you can sign up with either service for a free monthly trial.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 28 October 2013

Alfred 2.1 — Running with Crayons has released Alfred 2.1, updating the keyboard-driven launcher with compatibility for OS X 10.9 Mavericks. The release fixes inline dictionary definitions in Mavericks, and adds the System/Library/CoreServices/Applications directory to the default search scope. For those who purchase the feature-enhanced Alfred Powerpack, Alfred 2.1 improves integration with the latest version of iTunes (making the mini player aware of iTunes Radio), and improves syncing compatibility with Dropbox. (Free, £15 for Powerpack, 2.8
MB, release notes)

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SpamSieve 2.9.10 — C-Command Software has released SpamSieve 2.9.10 with added compatibility for what became the final release of OS X 10.9 Mavericks. As with the previous update (see “SpamSieve 2.9.9,” 9 October 2013), C-Command recommends that you update to SpamSieve 2.9.10 before installing Mavericks, but if OS X 10.9 is already installed then you should choose SpamSieve > Install Apple Mail Plug-In. The new version also updates various parts of the manual. ($30 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free
update, 10.8 MB, release notes)

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ChronoSync 4.4.2 and ChronoAgent 1.4.3 — Econ Technologies has released ChronoSync 4.4.2 and ChronoAgent 1.4.3 with compatibility for OS X 10.9 Mavericks. The ChronoSync synchronization/backup app improves sync and refresh performance, fixes several bugs related to adding files and folders to the Archive, fixes several issues related to mounting volumes, and changes the behavior of when the app checks for updates if ChronoSync is left running for a long time. Both ChronoSync and ChronoAgent improve performance related to
scanning package files included in a sync tree as well as when aborting syncs, and ChronoAgent now ensures all applicable threads are terminated when aborting a sync. Full release notes for ChronoSync and ChronoAgent are available. ($40 new for ChronoSync, $10 new for ChronoAgent; free updates; 27.2 MB, 10.6 MB)

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DEVONthink and DEVONnote 2.7.1 — Following up on a number of issues introduced in the recently released version 2.7, DEVONtechnologies has updated all three versions of DEVONthink (Personal, Pro, and Pro Office) and DEVONnote to version 2.7.1. In particular, the update fixes an issue where DEVONthink opens in addition to the Sorter after a restart, and it fixes compatibility with DEVONthink To Go for both DEVONthink and DEVONnote. A few additional glitches have been fixed in DEVONthink, including random issues with synchronization,
changes in formatting for notes after links were added, and a problem that prevented double-clicking already open databases in the Finder from bringing them to the front. (All updates are free. DEVONthink Pro Office, $149.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Professional, $79.95 new, release notes; DEVONthink Personal, $49.95 new, release notes; DEVONnote, $24.95 new, release notes; 25 percent discount for TidBITS members on DEVONnote and all editions of DEVONthink)

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Safari 6.1 — If you’re not ready to upgrade to OS X 10.9 Mavericks from 10.7.5 Lion or 10.8.5 Mountain Lion, you can get many of the features found in Safari 7.0 for Mavericks with the release of Safari 6.1. The update adds the new Shared Links and Sidebar features of Safari 7.0, as well as one-click bookmarking, Safari Power Saver (which can pause plug-in content when it’s in the background), third-party data blocking, and updated security patches. It’s available exclusively via Software Update. (Free)

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Pixelmator 3.0 — Pixelmator has been updated to version 3.0 with a new official name: Pixelmator 3.0 FX (though the Mac App Store, the sole place to purchase Pixelmator, doesn’t append the “FX” to the image editing and manipulation app’s name). The new release uses a new image editing engine that should improve performance dramatically, and adds non-destructive Layer Styles (such as shadows, gradients, and outlines), a Liquify Tool for warping images, and support for OS X 10.9 Mavericks (including App Nap, Compressed Memory, and tags).
But these new features come at a cost, with Pixelmator 3.0 FX now selling for $29.99, rising from the special half-price “introductory” cost of $14.99 that it has been selling for since October 2012. ($29.99 new, free update, 35.9 MB, release notes)

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BusyCal 2.5.3 — BusyMac has released BusyCal 2.5.3 with fixes for a variety of unspecified bugs related to OS X 10.9 Mavericks. The calendar app also adds support for managed attachments and time zones by reference on iCloud and other CalDAV Servers, adds a search filter to the time zone dialog (and remembers recently used time zones), fixes a bug with lowercase logins on iCloud, deals with some Google sync-collection and Google Inbox bugs, disables the swiping gestures on Apple’s Magic Mouse when hovering over an info panel, improves the sorting of To Dos, and enables the display of two holidays per day (which should help
with the overlap of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah, both of which fall on 28 November this year). ($29.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update, 9.9 MB, release notes)

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iMac SMC Firmware Update 1.1 — Apple has released iMac SMC Firmware Update 1.1, which is recommended for recently released iMac models that have been configured with PCIe-based flash storage (see “Apple Updates iMac with Faster CPUs and 802.11ac Wi-Fi,” 24 September 2013). The release improves the Power Nap feature in OS X 10.9 Mavericks so that it runs silently while your iMac is sleeping without spinning the fan. (Free update, 921 KB)

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MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) Software Update 1.0 — Apple has released MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) Software Update 1.0, which affects only those who have purchased one of the just-released models (see “New Retina MacBook Pro Models Thinner, Lighter, and Cheaper,” 22 October 2013). However, as this update solely replaces the missing Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese OS X Software License Agreement with a fresh copy in your Documentation folder, you can probably skip this one, particularly if you’re not using either of these localizations.
(Free, 5 MB)

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iMac 10.8.5 Supplemental Update 1.0 — Recommended for iMac models released in late September 2013 (see “Apple Updates iMac with Faster CPUs and 802.11ac Wi-Fi,” 24 September 2013), Apple has issued iMac 10.8.5 Supplemental Update 1.0 for those models with an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics processor running OS X 10.8.5 Mountain Lion. The update fixes two bugs: one that caused external drives to eject after the iMac goes to sleep and another that prevented certain USB Bluetooth adapters from working. (Free update, 17.1 MB)

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Carbon Copy Cloner 3.5.3 — Just in time to create bootable backup of your Mac before updating to OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Bombich Software has released Carbon Copy Cloner 3.5.3 with support for Apple’s new surfing-themed operating system. The update also adds advice about enabling full disk encryption while going through the encryption steps (as well as to the documentation), addresses a problem that Carbon Copy Cloner had with network volumes using a short user name, fixes a Mavericks-specific issue with the list of items to be copied, ensures that the “silently skip” backup option is respected, and fixes a couple of issues
involving Drobo devices. ($39.95 new, free update, 10.9 MB, release notes)

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Scrivener 2.5 — Adding compatibility with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Literature & Latte has released Scrivener 2.5, now with support for tags when saving and exporting. The word processor also bundles a Java runtime environment so that it doesn’t need to ask permission to install Java when running converters for .doc, .docx and .odt files, though it works only on systems running 10.7.3 Lion and later. (For earlier systems, you’ll need to install Java on your own.) Because of the Java bundling, Scrivener 2.5 more than doubles its file size (from 35.7 MB for version 2.4 to 76 MB for this update).

Among a lengthy list of changes, the update also improves imported notes from Scapple (Literature & Latte’s freeform text-editing utility), ensures that the Kindle export no longer ignores differences between justified and left text alignment, adds the capability to strike out text in PDFs, enables you to drag images from the Scrivener editor to the Finder, and adds German, French, and Spanish localizations. ($45 new from Literature & Latte and the Mac App Store, free update, 76 MB, release notes)

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Hazel 3.2 — Noodlesoft has released Hazel 3.2 with improvements in how the file cleanup utility handles tags in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. The update enables you to add conditions based on Mavericks tags as well as create new actions to add or set tags. Hazel 3.2 also splits the “contain” operator for attributes that represented lists of items into two for more intuitive matching, stops using smart quotes in the Mavericks AppleScript editor (which created script errors), and fixes a crash when using the Kind picker. Hazel still enables you to match on and set color labels, despite the fact that Mavericks as replaced the old
OS X color labels with tags. ($28 new, free update, 7.8 MB, release notes)

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Voila 3.6 — In addition to several under-the-hood refinements to give it a more snappy feel, Global Delight’s Voila 3.6 offers improved performance and reliability when running in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. In particular, the screen capture utility no longer crashes while importing files under Mavericks, and it fixes issues with taking screen captures using an external display and the menu bar. Voila 3.6 also improves its Text tool, retools the video export functionality for Macs running 10.7 Lion and later, enlarges the knob markers in the Capture and Object tools, and adds a German localization. Normally priced at $29.99,
Voila has been discounted to $19.99 through 31 October 2013, and there’s a further 25 percent discount for TidBITS members when purchased through Global Delight. ($29.99 new from Global Delight or the Mac App Store, free update, 20.7 MB, release notes)

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iTunes 11.1.2 — Apple has released iTunes 11.1.2 with support for the just-released OS X 10.9 Mavericks (see “Apple Releases OS X 10.9 Mavericks for Free,” 22 October 2013). The new version also offers improved performance and stability while also adding Arabic and Hebrew language support. It’s available as a direct download from Apple’s iTunes Web page or via Software Update. (Free, 221 MB)

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iBooks Author 2.1 — Apple’s iBooks Author has been updated for Mavericks compatibility. The free authoring software fixes an interesting bug that caused enhanced caption tracks to be dropped from some movies, and, as one might expect, provides “various bug fixes and performance improvements.” In addition, with this update users can now preview in-progress Multi-Touch book projects in the iBooks app on the Mac. The capability of previewing to a cable-connected iPad remains, and is still required to preview a book that uses vertical orientation. (Free from the Mac App Store, 446 MB)

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