After a weekend that saw the beginning of spring weather and the end of the U.S. tax season, we bring you news on IBM possibly licensing the Mac OS, an intriguing report on the Pippin (which is shipping in Japan), information about the Macintosh version of WebLint, and the results of our reviews survey. The issue continues with an essay about Internet chain mail and the second part of Adam’s article on Internet bookmark managers.
We’re a little too tired to make much of this fact, but this issue of TidBITS marks our sixth anniversary of publication. We started publishing TidBITS each week in April of 1990, which makes us one of the longest running solely electronic publications. If you know of any regularly published, edited publication (mailing lists and digests don’t count) that is solely electronic, started on the Internet before we did, and continues to publish today, please drop me a note with a pointer to it. [ACE]
TidBITS in Dutch — Check out the TidBITS home page for a link to the first translation of TidBITS (issue #322) into Dutch. However, Jan Vanderwegen <[email protected]>, the coordinator of the Dutch translation team, tells me that they could use additional help. If you’re interested in helping translate TidBITS into Dutch, drop Jan and me a note in email. With enough people on the translation team, it’s easy to spread out the work load and make the translation process faster and easier for everyone. [ACE]
Nagel to Head AT&T Labs — AT&T announced today Dave Nagel will leave his position as senior vice president at Apple Computer to become the first president of AT&T Labs. AT&T Labs, a new research organization formed around what used to be Bell Laboratories, includes about 2,000 staff members dealing with a wide range of software and communications technologies. Nagel most recently led Apple’s worldwide research and development group; prior to that he headed up AppleSoft. [GD]
FreePPP 2.5 Beta Available — The FreePPP Group has released FreePPP 2.5b4, the first public beta of FreePPP 2.5. As usual, if your PPP connection works well, we don’t recommend upgrading yet (why fix what isn’t broken, especially with beta software?). The changes are significant, and most notably, an application called FreePPP Setup replaces the Config PPP control panel and its elderly interface. The extension is now called FreePPP instead of just PPP, differentiating it from MacPPP. The primary parts of the FreePPP package missing in this release are documentation, an Apple Guide, and some cosmetic interface changes. Be sure to read the Read Me file in the FreePPP Folder installed for you in the root directory of your startup drive. [ACE]
New QTVR Tools and Developer Info — Finally showing motion with its much-touted QuickTime VR technology, Apple is distributing pre-release versions two new QTVR tools to assist authors with making QuickTime VR panoramas and objects from photographs or computer-generated images. Though these tools can’t add hot spots or stitch together series of overlapping photos (these functions are still restricted to Apple’s obtuse QuickTime VR Authoring Tools Suite), they’re a good first step on the path toward letting real people make QuickTime VR movies.
Perhaps more important than these tools, however, is new developer information on integrating QuickTime VR into applications, as well as behind-the-scenes motion on the forthcoming QuickTime VR 1.1. With luck, developers will be able to integrate QuickTime VR content and authoring into applications (like Poser, Director, SuperCard, and Bryce) more easily – and I can’t imagine a Netscape plug-in is too far off. [GD]
AIMED Developers Consortium — A group of third party developers have formed the Association of Independent Macintosh Engineers and Developers (AIMED), a non-profit group dedicated to Macintosh software and hardware development. AIMED intends to evangelize the Mac to third-party hardware and software developers, and also provide feedback to Apple on issues that concern Mac programmers. [GD]
For a few weeks in February, we held an informal survey to determine whether or not our readers thought the weekly listing of reviews in the main Mac magazines was useful. A few people mistakenly thought we were proposing to cease reviewing products in TidBITS – that was pure invention on their part. Every week for the last six years, the final article in TidBITS has been a listing of the reviews in MacWEEK, Macworld, MacUser, and other magazines. Starting with this issue, we will no longer be typing that information in and including it in TidBITS.
Let me explain the rationale behind the decision, since it wasn’t as cut and dried as we had thought it would be. The survey revealed that 70 percent of people voting (1,682 votes) felt we shouldn’t bother with the reviews listing. That was a bit lower than I’d expected. The 714 votes that made up the remaining 30 percent were significantly buoyed by 418 email entries, which wasn’t surprising since people who can use the Web can read the full text of reviews in those magazines online. Those who only have email access to the Internet aren’t so fortunate.
Given those numbers, we set to thinking about the purpose of those review listings. Originally, the idea was to provide an index to the magazine reviews that users could easily search. With all the magazines now having Web sites, that original idea doesn’t make as much sense. We were also concerned that by listing those reviews each week, we were in essence advertising for those magazines. It would be one thing if the act was often reciprocal, but TidBITS has only been mentioned in traditional magazines a handful of times over the past six years.
We do recognize that some TidBITS readers have come up with other uses for the reviews listings, especially in countries where it often takes some time for the U.S. magazines to arrive. However, we could include many things in TidBITS that would be useful to some readers, and we must figure out which of those things are the best use of our time and the most interesting to us.
The fact of the matter is that no creative thought goes into typing in reviews from the table of contents of a magazine, and by virtue of that fact, the reviews listing is less interesting to us than most other things we might want to do. Any trained monkey could do that typing, and we prefer to spend our time doing things that only we can do. (Working with someone else to enter all the reviews each week would require coordination work as well, and would still take up space that we would prefer to use for other purposes.) After all, we hope the skills and analysis that we bring to TidBITS is what makes reading TidBITS worthwhile.
In the end, that’s the main reason why we will no longer publish the reviews listing in TidBITS. We have to move forward and continue to focus on things that interest us, or else we risk losing interest in TidBITS entirely. The recent April Fools issue is a good example: putting out two issues of TidBITS on two consecutive days is a lot of work, but it’s so much fun to fabricate fantastic articles from thin air that it was worth the effort. We’ve always published TidBITS as much for ourselves as for everyone else, and that’s why it’s so important the act of publishing continue to be fulfilling for us as well as our readers.
Last week, reports began circulating that IBM’s Microelectronics Division was close to an agreement with Apple to license the Mac OS. The agreement would reportedly allow IBM (in its role as one of the primary manufacturers of the PowerPC chip) to sublicense the Mac OS to PowerPC chip buyers. Unlike Apple licensee Motorola (see TidBITS-315), IBM apparently does not plan to manufacture its own Mac clones.
Undoubtedly a shot in the arm for Apple, this agreement would also make good on IBM’s long-stated intentions to license the Mac OS. However, many analysts quickly pointed out the agreement would be more favorable for Apple if IBM were agreeing to make its own Macintosh clones. As it stands, IBM is casting an eye towards its future PowerPC Platform (PPCP) machines, which will be able to run Mac OS, Windows NT, NetWare, AIX, or Solaris. (See TidBITS-304.) Licensing the Mac OS lets IBM offer more operating systems choices to motherboard and systems manufacturers buying CPU chips from IBM. Presently, however, manufacturers wanting to make Mac clones would have to execute a separate hardware licensing agreement with Apple.
If this agreement is finalized, the immediate benefits aren’t all that clear, though it has interesting future possibilities once PPCP machines are on the market. Apple plans to release its own PPCP Macintoshes, and though estimates vary, these machines should appear is late in 1996 or possibly in early 1997 to coincide with the anticipated release of Copland, the next major revision of the Mac OS.
The Pippin-platform "Atmark" developed by Apple and Bandai is now on display and for sale in Japan. But you can’t just drop into your local computer store and pick one up; you’ll have to either place an order at a designated dealer or call a toll-free number (something Bandai inexplicably calls a "Digital Distribution System"). A unit will then be shipped directly to your home.
The Atmark is configured just as it has been reported by others: a PowerPC 603 (66 MHz) CPU, internal quad-speed CD-ROM drive, 14.4 Kbps external modem, 6 MB RAM (expandable to 14 MB), a game controller, and ports for connecting a television, monitor and other peripherals. The list price has been set at 68,000 yen, or about $635. The price includes four CD-ROMs: Internet Kit (which includes Netscape Navigator and other Internet software), TVWorks (an integrated email, word processing, and drawing package), and a two others with interface software for a computer service called Franky Online.
Bandai plans to release a number of peripherals in June. These include a keyboard with a handwriting input tablet and pen (it looks like a small, white PowerBook and is priced at 9,800 yen), a floppy drive that sits under the Atmark (12,000 yen), RAM expansion cards (2, 4, or 6 MB – no prices have been set), a printer, and various cables for connecting Atmark accessories to a Macintosh (or vice versa). A 28.8 Kbps modem is also said to be in the works.
Bandai advertises over 100 software titles are for sale now or under development, and the titles run the gamut from games and horoscope software to quasi-reference materials ("World’s Diving Spots") and interactive music videos. Though some are priced as low as 3,800 yen, most average 6,800 yen (about $65). Bandai has also established an online service for Pippin Atmark users, providing access to Internet services for 2,000 yen a month (for up to 10 hours of use).
More information on Pippin Atmark is available (mostly in Japanese) from Bandai’s web site.
I’ve had it. I’m sick of receiving chain mail. I’m sure many of you have received these bits of oozing Internet abuse as well, ranging from the Good Times Virus hoax (it is a complete hoax, folks, and the damage it causes stems purely from being redistributed in email) to the latest petition for a worthy cause. Chain mail, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, includes any message that asks you to forward it on to a bunch of your friends, leaving the exhortation to continue the forwarding intact. The topic of the message doesn’t matter – chain mail of any sort is an abuse of the Internet and of your fellow Internet citizens.
I don’t know what happened, but chain mail has been clanking into my mailbox more frequently than ever before. First, the Good Times Virus hoax monopolized the discussion on the Apple Internet Users mailing list for a few days, then I got a copy of the standard "you’ll have bad luck unless…" message and its raunchier "you’ll have bad luck in bed unless…" cousin. They were followed by chain mail messages encouraging me to support PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and NPR (National Public Radio). Finally, I received a number of copies of a chain mail prank that hoped to result in tons of people sending a copy of the Bill of Rights to President Clinton’s email address on the same day. That prank also appeared in some of the Apple Internet lists that Chuq von Rospach runs, and he unsubscribed the person who submitted it from all the lists within minutes of seeing the message, since chain mail is an express violation of the charter of those lists.
What’s so wrong with chain mail that I’m ranting about it in this article? Why is it cause to be blackballed from mailing lists? Why, if you send it to me, will I give you one warning and after that report you to your postmaster with the recommendation that your account be revoked?
Have you ever played the game where you hypothetically place a penny on the lower left corner of a checkerboard, then double the number of pennies on each square, moving left to right and up each row? The second square contains two pennies, the third four, the fourth eight, the fifth sixteen, and so on. I say hypothetical game, because by the last square, you’ve amassed a vast fortune.
Chain mail has the potential to grow even more quickly. If one person starts a piece of chain mail, they’re unlikely to just send it to two other people, and each of those people (if they’re sufficiently gullible to forward it on at all) are also unlikely to limit themselves to just two other people each. Many of us have tens of people in our address books, and some people probably have over a hundred people to whom they could send such trash. My impression is that most of the chain mail messages I see have about 25 people in the header, and if that impression is both real and continued at every generation, you can see how chain mail could grow exponentially and significantly slow down delivery of all other mail, as the many mail servers on the Internet struggle to process millions of copies of the same message.
I’m sure there are technical solutions to the problem, and if it continues to get worse, someone will implement them, much as people invented cancelbots to cancel spam postings on Usenet. We shouldn’t let it get that far though, since chain mail is not a technical problem. It’s a societal problem, and by participating in it you allow someone else to exploit you for their purposes. Even worse, you help them exploit even more people, wasting more time, disk space, and money than before. It’s bad enough to be a victim, but it’s worse to become an accessory.
So, if you receive chain mail of any sort, don’t forward it on. Delete it immediately and break the chain before it has a chance to enslave others. I also always send back a short note (a piece of boilerplate text these days) telling the original sender what they’ve done wrong and asking them never to repeat the mistake. Perhaps we can put an end to chain mail by refusing to participate and by educating those who are either gullible or don’t yet see the error of their ways.
Creating basic HTML pages is easy, but creating pages that comply with HTML specifications is not. Everybody makes mistakes and not everybody knows all the rules. Have you ever forgotten to add that </BODY> tag to the bottom of a page? Did you know that the <TITLE> </TITLE> tag pair should be enveloped in the <HEAD> </HEAD> tag pair? This is where WebLint steps in. WebLint, a syntax checker for HTML, can parse your pages for any problems and then – for each mistake that it finds – report the line number of the mistake and what it thinks the problem might be. WebLint does not modify documents, so after you see a report, you must manually correct the problems.
The freeware MacWebLint brings the Unix Perl version of WebLint to the Macintosh with the help of MacPerl 5 by Matthias Ulrich Neeracher. To use MacWebLint, you must have a copy of the freeware MacPerl 5 on your hard disk. Once both MacPerl and MacWebLint are installed, all you do is drop files or an entire folder of files on the MacWebLint icon. MacWebLint responds by creating a text file report and placing that file in the same folder as MacWebLint. You can download MacPerl and MacWebLint from the URL below.
[As Jon explained it when I asked, "ClearInk provides services associated with marketing products and maintaining a presence in cyberspace, including HTML programming and back-end scripting, pinpointing and capitalizing on strategic areas of the Internet for executing innovative programs, and installing and/or maintaining systems to perpetuate these programs." That sounds like a lot of work, and one thing Jon did to help was to port WebLint to the Macintosh. ClearInk has made the port publicly available; Jon says its partly as a way for ClearInk to "contribute back to the Net for all that we have received." -Tonya]
This article is the second part of my look at bookmark management utilities. In TidBITS-323 last week, I looked at utilities that offer their own interfaces. This week I’m changing gears and investigating bookmark managers that rely on the Finder to organize, categorize, and search through your bookmarks. A few additional programs have straggled in since last week, so look for the third part of this article in the next issue of TidBITS, covering everything I missed in the first two parts.
CyberFinder 2.0 — Aladdin Systems’ $30 CyberFinder control panel (with a 15-day fully functional demo) is completely integrated into the Finder, so your bookmarks appear to be files in Finder windows. CyberFinder can create "libraries" that look like folders in the Finder, and you can store bookmarks for all the common URL schemes in these libraries. Creating new bookmarks is a matter of either grabbing a URL from any application with a user-defined hot key, or pressing Shift and choosing New Bookmark from the Finder’s File menu. Replacing Shift with Control toggles that item to New Library. You launch URLs by double-clicking the bookmarks in the Finder, or by selecting a URL in any application and pressing another user-defined hot key. The actual URL is accessible if you select the bookmark and choose Get Info from the Finder’s File menu.
CyberFinder’s power is undeniable, since it piggybacks on the Finder’s sorting and searching capabilities, and there are some nice touches, such as opening bookmark files from a variety of Web browsers as libraries (which makes moving to CyberFinder easier). CyberFinder’s ease of use is very good, but it also inherits the Finder’s clunkiness. In addition, some utilities, like Now Menus, don’t see CyberFinder libraries as Macintosh folders, although I circumvent that problem by storing bookmarks in true folders rather than libraries, trading the larger file size of individual files in the Finder for the flexibility offered by Now Menus. CyberFinder has two notable problems: its bookmarks aren’t available unless the control panel is loaded (but see URL Clerk below), and it can’t grab the <TITLE> tag from a Web page if you’re snagging a URL from a Web browser. Overall, however, CyberFinder is my pick for the best and most flexible of the bookmark managers.
DropURL — Perhaps the simplest of the bookmark utilities that rely on the Finder for their database work, Peter Marks’s <[email protected]> free DropURL 1.1 uses Internet Config to launch a URL listed in the first line of a text file dropped on DropURL. If you change the creator of the text file to "DURL" (a utility to do this is included), you can double-click the file to launch its URL. Only the first line is used, so any additional lines are available for comments or descriptions. DropURL has no capabilities for easily capturing URLs or creating these text files – that’s all up to you.
Duke of URL — Although it uses the Finder for all database work, the postcardware Duke of URL 1.0 is unique in a number of ways. It works only with Netscape and saves a URL launcher of the current Netscape page as a mini AppleScript application. You must activate Duke of URL manually by launching it for each page you wish to record, and it’s quite slow to work, both in saving URLs and launching them. In part because it relies on the Finder and AppleScript, Duke of URL ends up not being particularly usable in comparison to many other options.
NetSnagger — Rod Morehead’s free NetSnagger 1.1b3 sports only two features. It lets you create Launchers, which are NetSnagger files you can double-click in the Finder in order to launch the URL associated with them. It also lets you create Draggers, which are NetSnagger windows that facilitate retrieval of files stored at Info-Mac and UMich mirror sites. You open a Dragger window to a specific mirror, then drag the partial URL to a file (say, from an Info-Mac Digest) into that window. NetSnagger works with Internet Config to retrieve the file, or, if you’re using a Launcher, to launch the appropriate URL with your preferred Web browser. Creating Launchers and Draggers is a bit clumsy, but using them is relatively easy. All sorting and searching of Launchers relies on the Finder, and although it’s nowhere near as useful or elegant as CyberFinder, NetSnagger is an application and it’s free.
URL Clerk — The freeware URL Clerk 1.1 <[email protected]> offers a few features not found in other Finder-using bookmark launchers. URLs (one per file) are stored in text files URL Clerk can create for you if you drop an appropriate text file or clipping file onto the included Bookmarker application. Another option lets URL Clerk convert text or clipping files automatically to its bookmark format after launching them. It can launch CyberFinder bookmarks, which might be handy if you normally use CyberFinder but don’t have it loaded. Unfortunately, as with many of the Finder-based bookmark managers, there’s no easy way to create URL Clerk bookmark files – you must do it manually in one of a few different ways. Double-clicking any URL Clerk bookmark launches URL Clerk, which in turn launches the URL in the Internet Config-specified helper application. URL Clerk is simple, but ends up being so simple that it’s mostly useful to CyberFinder users.
Web ShortCuts — WhollyMac’s $18 (with a 15-day trial) Web ShortCuts 1.0 relies on the Finder for all of its searching, sorting, and organizing. Its main claim to fame is that it lets you create an icon for the Finder file that holds a URL. Creating the icon is as simple as selecting something onscreen, although the entire process requires copying a URL, switching to Web ShortCuts, choosing New from the File menu, pasting in the URL, clicking the Clip Image button, selecting an image to turn into an icon, clicking the Save As button, and finally naming and saving the file in a Standard File dialog. Launching a URL is far easier – you can either double-click it or, if you’re running Netscape, you can simply drag the icon from the Finder into the Netscape window. Despite the clever icon grabbing feature, Web ShortCuts just doesn’t seem sufficiently easy, nor does it offer much over free programs like NetSnagger.
My Pick — I’m slightly surprised by my final choice of bookmark managers. Despite the fact I feel increasingly hampered by the Finder, after testing all of the bookmark managers I’ve looked at for these articles, I settled on Aladdin’s CyberFinder, although I use it in a specific manner. I created a Web URLs folder, and using Now Menus, gave it an icon in my menubar so it’s available all the time. Within that folder, I created yet more folders, including one called Unfiled URLs, and I set CyberFinder to save all snagged URLs to that folder. When I capture a new URL, I immediately open the Unfiled URLs folder from my iconic Web URLs menu. I then name the file appropriately, and using the feature of Now Menus that lets you drag files into a hierarchical folder that Now Menus has created, move the bookmark into the appropriate folder. I also keep a To Check Out folder toggled open within the Unfiled URLs folder, so if I grab a URL quickly without knowing if it will be worth keeping, I stuff it in the To Check Out folder for later perusal. Even better, since I can use Now Menus to assign keyboard shortcuts to menu items, I can now go to Yahoo or Alta Vista or a couple of other sites with a press of a key, no matter what I’m doing. Although the Finder can be slow and clumsy, CyberFinder turned out to be the best solution for me.
To be complete, I also like Casey Fleser’s ClipFiler FKEY, since it’s a great way to stuff random bits of text into a SimpleText file. I haven’t quite decided if I plan to use ClipFiler or WebArranger for this task, since after Matt Neuburg’s article about WebArranger in TidBITS-313, Tonya and I sat down and figured out more about how WebArranger works (and it’s very cool, if you can get past the massive confusions). Another possibility is a future version of MailKeeper, if it makes it easier to recategorize text and generally improves the interface.
Tune in next week for a grab-bag of the various programs that escaped my notice the first time around, along with a few additional tips and techniques.