Tune into TidBITS this week to learn some hot (and unfortunate) news about PowerBook 5300-series batteries. You’ll also find Tonya expressing frustration over the missed opportunity in ClarisWorks 4.0’s HTML converter, plus info on a contest to determine the security of Macintosh-based Web servers. And if you want a vanity-plate Internet site, the world just changed: check out Glenn Fleishman’s analysis of the new charge for registering Internet domain names.
This is a test. This is only a test. The folks behind the book WebMaster Macintosh have set up a contest to determine how secure Macintosh web servers really are. They’ve put up a Web site running WebSTAR with a "target" file that contestants must try to retrieve. The first person to retrieve the file wins a year’s subscription to MacTech Magazine and a free pass to the next WebEdge conference, and the next two people receive free WebEdge passes. If the challenge of breaking WebSTAR’s security isn’t sufficient, there’s a second Mac connected to the first via Ethernet. This second Mac doesn’t run TCP/IP, only AppleTalk, and holds a second target file; retrieving it wins you three free WebEdge passes. The hope is that these tasks will prove impossible, however, should someone break in, that’s also useful since it will help StarNine and Apple plug security holes. Contest rules and details are at: [ACE]
Thanks to Terry Worley (a former Radius staffer) who checked out our statement in TidBITS-291 that Portrait Display Labs developed Pivot monitor technology before Radius marketed it. We’ve been unable to confirm this bit of info gleaned from an unidentified Radius rep a while back, so we apologize to Radius and announce that, as far as we can tell, Radius engineers did all the work on the nifty rotating monitor idea. [MHA]
On 14-Sep-95 Apple announced it has stopped shipments of the new PowerBook 5300 product line due to potentially dangerous problems with the product’s lithium-ion battery packs. The problems do not impact any other PowerBooks, including Apple’s new PowerBook 190 and Duo 2300 models (see TidBITS-292). Apple has recalled the roughly 1,000 units shipped to dealers and resellers, and reports indicate only about 100 units actually reached customers.
Details are still sketchy, but apparently at least two of these battery packs failed "catastrophically" at Apple’s main campus while recharging, with at least one battery catching fire.
Apple plans to replace the lithium-ion batteries with nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries currently in production for the PowerBook 190. Although no ROM or hardware changes will be required, Apple will install a system extension to handle the NiMH batteries. The NiMH batteries have rated capacities of 26 watt-hours, which Apple says will translate into about 20 percent less battery life than what had been projected using lithium-ion batteries. The switch should make supplies of the 5300-series and the 190 scarce for some time.
It’s unclear whether the problem stems from the engineering of the 5300-series, its charging circuitry, or a manufacturing problem with the battery packs. Sony makes most lithium-ion batteries, and lithium-ion batteries are currently used in other consumer electronics products, including non-Apple laptop computers. Though lithium-ion batteries give superior performance compared to other battery types, they contain flammable electrolytes and require more precise charging voltages than other batteries. Lithium-ion battery packs do have safety features built into them – including a micro-controller, temperature sensors, and a mechanical valve to release pressure – that should prevent severe failure even in extreme circumstances.
If you own a 5300-series PowerBook and haven’t been contacted, turn it off, unplug it, and call your Apple dealer or 800/SOS-APPL.
The Web bandwagon has room for most comers, and recently ClarisWorks 4.0 jumped on with its new HTML converter. Despite my typical cynicism regarding press releases, the ClarisWorks press release had me excited. It quoted an Instructional Technology Coordinator as saying: "Many schools are starting their own Web sites and need an easy way to create World Wide Web documents. The ClarisWorks HTML capability is awesome and will be a really big draw for our schools." It’s a great quote, but I wonder if the quotee had any experience with other Mac HTML authoring tools.
Where’s the chemistry? For ClarisWorks and its converter to shine as a couple, they must work in tandem to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Unfortunately, ClarisWorks and its converter come close to creating something less than the sum of their parts.
Claris has positioned ClarisWorks as an HTML authoring tool, something anyone could use to create an HTML document. In fact, ClarisWorks and its converter are only appropriate for someone converting existing ClarisWorks documents into HTML. The problem here is previewing – previewing from ClarisWorks is harder than previewing in any other HTML editor I’ve tried.
The idea is that you don’t need a preview because ClarisWorks provides a WYSIWYG authoring environment – the converter changes topic headings to HTML heads, bold text to strong, and so on. This theory falls down faster than rain in a tropical storm when you realize that the converter only supports a subset of HTML 2.0. Glossary lists, addresses, block quotes, Netscape extensions, links with name attributes, and others must be tagged by hand and formatted with the Literal style. So much for WYSIWYG.
When you create an HTML document in any word processor other than Nisus Writer and manually add tags, you must do a Save As to save the HTML document as text each time before you can preview it in a Web browser. (Some word processors can automatically save existing text documents as text.) This is because HTML is a text format, and Web browsers can’t understand non-text files.
If you instead rely on a converter to insert HTML tags, you must convert the file each time before previewing. ClarisWorks is no exception. When you save into HTML format, the HTML converter examines the document for certain elements and styles, and does an acceptable job at adding the corresponding HTML tags.
Chances are good that after converting a ClarisWorks document into HTML, you will want to open the document with its tags showing and make corrections. This process in other programs usually involves a lot of tweaking, saving, and reloading – each time you wish to see what your tweaks have done, you must save the document as text, switch to a Web browser, and reload the page.
ClarisWorks complicates this process, because if you double-click a converted HTML document, ClarisWorks uses its converter to change the document back into a ClarisWorks format, thus removing the tags the converter added. According to Claris’s HTML Primer, you can open your file and see the tags if you go the File/Open route, but this didn’t work for me; I had to open my document in a different word processor to see the tags.
For easy previewing of documents, a better choice would be an HTML authoring tool such as HTML Web Weaver or Arachnid. HTML Web Weaver comes on the disk with Create Your Own Home Page, (a book by me and Adam that should be available in a few weeks), so I can say for sure that its preview is easy to use. I haven’t tried Arachnid in a while, but every so often I get enthusiastic email about it, so I know some people like it.
The best choices in terms of easy preview are text editors such as BBEdit with its included HTML extensions or Nisus Writer 4.1 with its included HTML macros from Sandra Silcot. My fellow TidBITS editor, Geoff, likes Alpha, a text editor that includes HTML authoring support.
Where’s the mutual support? In most good relationships, both partners support each other. But in this case, it seems nobody thought about making the converter work well with what ClarisWorks has to offer.
ClarisWorks provides an HTML stylesheet you can view as a separate palette and use to easily apply styles to items that later take on HTML tags. Inexplicably, the palette includes list styles (Diamond, Harvard, and Legal) that the converter does not recognize. The ClarisWorks HTML Primer explains that to make lists, you must precede each entry with a tab and then type a bullet or a number. The primer says nothing about the list styles that appear in the HTML stylesheet. (I think they appear by default and cannot be removed, but the converter should recognize and convert them.)
To make the converter insert a new paragraph tag, you just press Return. But, to make it insert a new line tag, you must press Return and then set the Space After for your old paragraph to zero. Why not just have two Returns equate to a new paragraph tag and have one Return equate to a new line tag?
My final complaint regards links. To make an HREF link, you highlight the link text, and then click the Link button. This gives you a footnote in which to type or paste a URL. Unfortunately, the footnote style in the HTML stationery document is preset to 10-point Helvetica blue, with little leading. It should have been preset to something more legible. And of course, if you convert a document already containing footnotes, all hell breaks loose.
Can this relationship be saved? ClarisWorks needs to get its act together. If Claris just wants to have an HTML converter, the current styles and techniques can be improved to the point where existing ClarisWorks documents can be converted into HTML with less bother. What’s puzzling is that Claris positioned the converter as something for people creating new HTML documents.
This is a confusing time for word processors. Most have plenty of features for creating printed documents, but users now want help managing and creating electronic documents. The last thing most word processors need is new features, and I don’t think Claris should try to shoehorn ClarisWorks into the HTML mold. Instead, I think Claris should create a separate HTML editor that elegantly imports and exports ClarisWorks documents.
What about the children? "But, wait," you may be thinking. "Perhaps the advantage of the ClarisWorks HTML converter is that people won’t have to learn HTML." People who don’t want to learn HTML won’t find salvation in ClarisWorks. Although you don’t have to type HTML tags while in ClarisWorks (assuming you wish to be confined to its subset of HTML 2.0), the rules you must memorize for setting up a document so it will convert correctly are as complicated as learning a smattering of HTML.
Further, you will almost certainly want to open converted documents to edit the tagged text. For example, the converter creates the title tag based on the name you give the document when you save it into HTML format, which probably isn’t what you want, especially if you must name your document something dull like "default.html".
The converter also leaves a bit to be desired in terms of graphics. It does convert graphics out of ClarisWorks as PICT files, which you can convert to GIFs using any of a number of utilities. The converter also adds IMG tags to the HTML document in place of the graphics, but you might also want to add attributes to the basic IMG tag. In slight contrast, HTML+ (an HTML converter from Leonard Rosenthol that works with any XTND-savvy word processor), comes and works with clip2gif to automatically create GIFs.
For people who don’t want to learn HTML or much else, of the currently available options (Ceneca’s $195 PageMill isn’t yet out – see TidBITS-290), a good pick is the HomeMaker HyperCard stack. HomeMaker is about as foolproof as it gets. Another easy HyperCard stack is WebDoor, which becomes even easier if you have an Internet account with Open Door Networks, the folks who make WebDoor.
Closing Notes — On the one hand, I want to congratulate Claris for including an HTML converter, and I’m sure some folks worked long, hard hours to make it happen. On the other hand, I’m impatient to see a selection of innovative, well-crafted HTML tools for the Mac, and ClarisWorks doesn’t currently make the grade.
Bare Bones Software — 508/651-3561 — 508/651-7584
Claris — 800/325-2747 — 408/987-7000 — 408/727-9054
Nisus Software — 616/481-1477 — 619/481-6154 (fax)
Open Door Networks — 800/480-DOOR — 503/488-4127
503/488-1708 (fax) — <[email protected]>
The National Science Foundation (NSF) changed the funding picture last week on one of the few remaining U.S. federally funded Internet projects. The NSF and the InterNIC’s Registration Services division, which registers and maintains domain names, announced that beginning at midnight on 14-Sep-95, all new domain name registrations under its authority would cost $100 and include two years of registration. Yearly renewals for new and existing domains will be $50, due on the anniversary of the initial registration.
Domain names are technically the "human-readable" form of an Internet address. Every machine on the Internet is assigned a unique number: an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The number is in the form: 0.0.0.0, often called a dotted-quad. With this number, you can directly identify a specific machine anywhere on the Internet. For instance, Apple’s Web server www.apple.com is at 184.108.40.206. All of Apple’s Internet machines have names within the apple.com domain.
The fees will eventually replace U.S. federal funding for domain registration; currently, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI), operates the Registration Services division under a five-year contract to the NSF that was awarded in 1993 under competitive bidding. The bid included the possibility of eventually collecting fees for domain names. Conservative estimates suggest that the fees could bring in more than $5 million in 1996, assuming the fees cause a considerable drop-off in new registrations and renewals.
The action was widely expected and has been discussed at length in newsgroups and such mailing lists as com-priv – a list which endlessly and post facto discusses Internet issues – as well as in print media that covers online issues. The move apparently came without advance warning to prevent a flood of last-minute registrations. (Some reports indicated that the NSF planned to announce the policy this week, but a leak caused the early release of information.)
Because the NSF is so deeply involved in the Internet, they’ve placed piles of useful information about the decision, the fees, and the history of why they have the authority to do this at:
Prognostications and explanations by third parties have poured out since the announcement, which rated front-page or front-of-business-page placement in major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Before we wade into an analysis, let’s discuss the different components.
What is the InterNIC? The NSF created the InterNIC (Internet Network Information Center) to provide information and registration services to Internet users, which – in 1993 – meant largely academic, government, and corporate organizations rather than consumers and small businesses. The NSF has, for several years, been in charge of big chunks of the Internet authority – the parts of the Internet that make the final decisions on how policy is transformed into real equipment.
The NSF ceded a chunk of authority on 08-May-95 when it shut down NSFNet: the Internet backbone that existed before commercial networks effectively made it redundant. Without NSFNet, the NSF doesn’t exert much control or influence on the day-to-day workings of the Internet, but the NSF does direct the Internet’s evolution into an ever-faster animal. (The Internet Engineering Task Force [IETF] actually drives technological change on the Internet, but NSF entities drive the implementation.) For more on NSFNet, see my article in TidBITS-275 and:
[To learn more about the IETF, see Paulina Borsook’s "How Anarchy Works" in the Oct-95 issue of Wired – unfortunately, it’s not yet online. -Tonya]
One of the InterNIC’s main functions, run by its Registration Services division, is to register domain names. Domain names were developed as a way to more mnemonically identify and group machines. With a domain name, you can have any number of subdomains. Subdomains are separated by dots but read right to left, from the most general category to the specific machine name or service name. So a name like "bilbo.engineering.ufoo.edu" is read like this: "edu is the educational top-level (farthest right) domain; ufoo is the second-level subdomain under education indicating this is the University of Foobar; engineering is a subdivision of the ufoo.edu subdomain; and bilbo is probably the individual machine name in the engineering school."
The InterNIC is responsible for domain names that fall into five top-level categories: Education (.edu), Governmental (.gov), Non- and Not-for-Profit Organizations (.org), Commercial (.com), and Network (.net). The domain name registration fees apply only to second-level domains which fall under those hierarchies. Military (.mil) organizations handle their own authority and the .edu and .gov hierarchies will continue to be subsidized by federal funds for now.
An alternate hierarchy already exists in the United States: the .us top-level domain. Many service providers have adopted this use, which is geographical in nature. (Some criticism has been levelled at geographical organization, since the Internet isn’t place-driven.) Others have registered in both the .com or .org category and the .us domain to cover both bases. International hierarchies abound, with dozens of countries having their own top-level domains (such as .au for Australia) and authorities. The NSF’s announcement doesn’t affect any of these hierarchies.
Meanwhile, back at the fees… The NSF ostensibly instituted domain registration fees because of the precipitous growth in demand for registrations and the concomitant increase in costs necessary to keep up. The original contract with NSI was for $5.5 million over five years, which is clearly inadequate to handle the tens of thousands of existing domains, and the potential tens of thousands to come over the next three years of the contract. (The grant, incidentally, doesn’t cover just service, but all the associated network, staff, and overhead expense.)
Although there are currently 110,000 second-level domains under InterNIC’s authority, the Internet has millions of email users, none of whom are affected. Organizations that use domain names are either service providers (doing dial-up or other Internet connectivity), commercial online services (America Online, CompuServe, et al), or corporations with their own feeds. AOL, for instance, uses the domain aol.com for all three million users’ email, plus their corporate stuff. So this means that AOL will pay the whopping fee of $50 per year to continue to use that domain name.
The real effect will probably be felt by service providers who charged little or nothing to register individual domain names for their users and now face thousands of dollars in yearly fees. In most cases, these domains are registered to individuals who maintain access accounts or leased lines with the provider, so the additional $50 a year can be absorbed if their bills are high enough, or tacked on in the case of simple email accounts. Savvy Internet providers probably have a provision in their user contracts for passing on new fees to the registrant of the domain.
Registration fees are your friend? Why should we celebrate being charged money? Many reasons, some political, some legal, some financial, some practical.
First, this move establishes an independent source of funding for the InterNIC, independent of political vagaries. For now, NSF funding is probably safe given the importance placed on the Internet by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Vice President Al Gore. But reducing or eliminating taxpayer support of a government plan is a rare and wondrous event.
Second, and on the same theme, the NSF noted that a significant portion of the income (30 percent) will go to a legal fund to deal with the vast potential for lawsuits in the future. Under their existing agreement with NSF, U.S. taxpayers would pick up any legal bills, whereas the new agreement requires NSI to pay the bills from this fund. Remarkably, InterNIC has not yet been sued over domain name decisions.
Third, InterNIC cannot keep up with the registration load given the current funding. More funding means more automation; the NSF said in one part of the announcement that InterNIC will clear through the backlog of registrations by the end of October, given their new ability to spend based on income derived from fees.
Fourth, the Internet has always been about paying your own way, despite NSFNet and other subsidies. Even though Internet use always appeared "free" to users at academic institutions, money has always been involved. These days, any commercial Internet user is paying for an account, a leased line, an Internet feed – whatever. Having domain names be part of a U.S. governmental burden seems inconsistent.
Fifth, this mechanism will reduce the proliferation of domain names to some extent, release unused and unwanted domains, and involve more accountability. The recent move by Kraft and Proctor & Gamble to register hundreds of domain names, some of them trademarks and others just English words, could have been prevented if enough time and staff were available at InterNIC. Many thousands of the 110,000 domains extant are probably inactive; why not reduce the administrative and technical burden in maintaining them?
What about the naysayers? Over the last year (and especially since the announcement) many voices of complaint have been raised at the InterNIC. Some have proposed starting alternative top-level hierarchies – possible only if the InterNIC and the international domain authorities agree. Without their cooperation, you would have a separate but unequal set of domains unreachable from the rest of the Internet without major kludges.
Others have alleged that the bidding process was closed, there was no public discussion, and that NSI hasn’t met its obligations. The NSF does a wonderful job answering these points, noting that the original free and open competitive bid in 1993 mentioned the possibility of fees; and that the most recent NSF review of NSI by an independent panel in Dec-94 (available to public scrutiny via the Web) showed that they had met their goals. The panel responsible for this review is a Who’s Who of respected Internet experts.
Critics who argue that there was no public discussion have disregarded the participation of NSI- and NSF-affiliated people in mailing lists, newsgroups, and other public forums in which these issues have been beaten to death. It’s hard to imagine a more public forum than com-priv, for instance, in which the InterNIC has been a relatively active participant.
Another important point has been missed in the discussion this last year. The InterNIC does a damn good job. Despite a lack of funding and geometric growth in registrations, the InterNIC last month implemented a one-day turnaround on all new commercial domain name registrations. I don’t recall anyone complimenting InterNIC, unless it was "too little, too late." In fact, it was just enough and right on time given their load.
The technical side of the whole megillah – the actual resolution of domain names (pointing requests for the second-level domains to the thousands of machines responsible for this on the Internet) – works like a charm. I can’t recall a time since Aug-94, when I first got my own full-time Internet feed, that this has stopped functioning. The InterNIC isn’t responsible for the design of the system (the IETF and many generous individuals are), but they do coordinate it and keep it running. And run it does.
In the spirit of the Internet, I’d like to invoke the phrase: "If the existing system functions 100 percent of the time, if the mechanisms to perpetuate it indefinitely exist, and if it’s constantly improving: keep it in place and help support it better." That’s a high-tech version of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."
It’s likely that this move will cause some lawsuits, lots of bellyaching, and not much dancing in the streets. But in the ultimate interest of the growth of the Internet, it’s a good move. I’m putting my mouth where my money is: my company will be liable for as much as $2,500 in fees for existing domains over the next year as a result of this change. Some of this we’ll absorb, and some we’ll bill out to the domain holders. But since NSFNet was shut down last May, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now I can rest easy.
[Glenn Fleishman has registered over 50 domain names for clients, friends, and relatives. He’s a contributing editor for Adobe Magazine, a columnist for Web Developer (due out in November), and a freelance feature writer for InfoWorld. He also moderates the Internet Marketing Discussion List, one of the least rancorous mailing lists ever.]