Despite a heat wave in Seattle, this week’s issue contains news of updates to the popular RAM Doubler and Retrospect, along with details about the contents of the Microsoft Empowerment Pack, an article about Claris OfficeMail, and a look at how to ask search engines to ignore Usenet postings and Web pages. Also, we look briefly at some new and updated programs of interest to Mac Webmasters: MacHTTP, WebSTAR, NetForms, Phantom, LogDoor, and LogRoller.
RAM Doubler 2 Coming — Connectix has announced that it expects to ship RAM Doubler 2 in time for Macworld Boston this August. Among other changes, RAM Doubler 2 will offer a control panel interface, a faster compression engine, and allow users to triple the amount of memory your Macintosh thinks it has available. Rebates on RAM Doubler 2 will be available for current users; free upgrades will be available for recent purchasers. [GD]
Retrospect 3.0A Updater — Dantz has finally released the 3.0A update to its popular backup program Retrospect. The new version adds support for Windows Remotes, so you can now back up Windows machines on your network using Retrospect. Since these Windows machines probably aren’t running AppleTalk, Retrospect 3.0A uses TCP/IP and Open Transport to communicate with them. The new version adds a few specific features including support for Sony DAT drives with older firmware and the ability to format 8mm Exabyte tapes. The update also corrects problems including troubles relating to RAM; better support for Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese characters; and a fix to seeing spurious volumes on Novell servers. RAM Doubler users should note that 3.0A improves compatibility with RAM Doubler, and that Dantz recommends that you use version 1.6.2 or later with System 7.5.3. You can download the 1.6 MB updater file from Dantz’s Web or FTP site, but be aware that both sites are pretty busy right now. [ACE]
With the Mactivity conference happening this week, there has been a ton of Web-related activity in the Macintosh world. Here are a few of the early announcements along with some news about security issues in MacHTTP and WebSTAR. Look for more new product announcements next week after we’ve had a chance to sort through all the press releases, announcements, and gossip for the interesting stuff.
MacHTTP Mandatory Update — Chuck Shotton <[email protected]>, author of the shareware MacHTTP and its commercial version, WebSTAR, has released what he calls an "important, mandatory update" to correct a potential security problem with MacHTTP 2.2 and earlier versions. In certain rare circumstances, this problem could allow unauthorized access to files on your server. If you’re running a previous version of MacHTTP or WebSTAR PS (the version of MacHTTP distributed with the WebMaster Mac book) you should download the complete MacHTTP 2.2 distribution from StarNine’s Web site and then update it with the patch application.
WebSTAR Updated — Along with the update to MacHTTP, StarNine also released WebSTAR 1.3.1, a minor update to the just-released WebSTAR 1.3 (which supports custom plug-ins for increased performance over similar CGIs). It turns out that Chuck Shotton had at one time added a custom URL to MacHTTP to display the copyright information to satisfy lawyers, and he expanded the results of that custom URL to include the basic server statistics that the program reports in its application window. Apparently, Chuck simply didn’t get around to removing that custom URL while it was MacHTTP or during the move to WebSTAR, but did so for WebSTAR 1.3.1 when knowledge of the URL became public. Even though the URL didn’t affect file security at all, many WebSTAR users didn’t want just anyone to be able to view the statistics.
Maxum Ships NetForms 2.0 & Phantom 1.1 — Maxum Development has shipped a faster and Open Transport-native NetForms 2.0, its popular back-end Web server tool, which enables Mac Webmasters to do sophisticated forms processing on their Web sites. Current NetForms licensees can just drop their key on the demo application. Also, Maxum recently shipped version 1.1 of Phantom, a Mac-based Web robot which builds searchable HTML indexes of Web sites and performs mirroring and updating of sites. Phantom is compatible with robots exclusion standards, and provides keyword, boolean, and phonetic searching among other features. Phantom 1.1 is an upgrade to AKTIV Software’s Duppies 1.0 and is free for Duppies licensees; new users can buy Phantom for $295 through 31-Jul-96.
Lumbering in the Pacific Northwest — Two new applications from Pacific Northwest developers, Open Door Networks in Oregon and ComVista Internet in Washington, should help Webmasters work with logs. Open Door Networks’ $249 LogDoor (with a $179 introductory price from the anticipated ship date of 01-Sep-96 to 01-Nov-96 – an evaluation version is available now) provides real-time logs for multiple sites on a single server that uses Open Door Networks’ HomeDoor, and it breaks single monolithic log files into smaller, more manageable files. LogDoor can also display its real-time logs via the Web. Although LogDoor 1.0 currently has only a basic feature set, future plans include things like file level logging and real-time graphing. ComVista’s free LogRoller fills a more simple need – it works with WebSTAR to create a new log, rename the old one, and move the old one into a user specified folder. No more manual editing of huge log files to make them cover the correct time period! LogRoller can roll over your logs hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly.
Registered users of Microsoft’s Excel 5, PowerPoint 4, Word 6, or Office 4 should keep an eye on their mail for a free CD-ROM, called the Microsoft Empowerment Pack for the Macintosh. The CD includes both the System 7.5 Update 2.0 (which updates System 7.5, 7.5.1, or 7.5.2 to version 7.5.3; see TidBITS-318) and System 7.5.3 Revision 2 (which should be used on some computers running System 7.5; see TidBITS-332). According to Microsoft, System 7.5.3 makes Office applications launch faster.
The CD also offers the Word 6.0.1a update, Internet Explorer 2.0.1, a collection of cached Web sites, Internet Assistant for Word and Excel, an offer for a discount on RAM from Kingston, and more. Apparently, at a periodic business review, Bill Gates was wondering what could be done to make Mac customers happier, and this CD comes as the result of that discussion.
Registered Microsoft Office 3 users (or people owning individual applications that comprise Office 3) will receive a mail-in card that they can send in order to acquire the CD, or they can call 800/469-6520, department MCA. Unfortunately, the CD only contains English language versions of Microsoft software, and Microsoft does not currently have plans to offer it outside the United States or to create non-English language versions.
The CDs packaging oddly notes on its cover that it "may not change your world," a statement that confused and amused Adam to no end, because after opening the pack, I had rearranged its complex series of folds so the punch line, "it just might expand it," had been buried beneath several layers of cardboard. After you pry the CD out of its packaging, but before you use it, you may wish to learn from the experiences that TidBITS reader Corl Riblet reported. When Corl launched the Microsoft Empowerment Pack, he was so startled to find Microsoft Internet Explorer launching that – in a state of some alarm – he aborted the launch. Indeed, the Empowerment Pack uses Internet Explorer to run its installation system, so don’t be startled!
The Empowerment Pack also fails to make an important distinction between who needs to run the Word 6.0.1a updater and who does not. If you are using Word 6.0, you almost certainly want to run the updater in order to take advantage of the many fixes version 6.01 offers. The Word Update/Product Info section of the Empowerment Pack describes some of the fixes in a general sort of way, but fails to provide a Web link or reference to the real scoop, which you can find online at:
For users of Word 6.01, version 6.0.1a adds one thing, and one thing only – it incorporates as part of the application the Word-related functionality also available through the Office 4.2x Update for Power Mac, which corrects some crashing problems on Power Macintoshes (see TidBITS-289). Installing 6.0.1a on any Macintosh makes sense as a replacement to 6.0; it does not make sense as a replacement to 6.0.1 on a 68K Mac.
I have been unable to confirm which version of the Office 4.2x Update for Power Mac was rolled into Word 6.0.1a. Versions n/a and 1.0 of the updater conflicted with the Global Village Toolbox extension and STF Technologies FAXstf software. Microsoft fixed the problem with version 1.01. According to Ric Ford’s MacInTouch News Archive for 11-Jul-96, early versions of the Office 4.2x Update for Power Mac also conflict with System 7.5.3’s Apple Menu Options control panel.
The Empowerment Pack installer does not permit you to choose whether to install 68K, fat, or PowerPC version of Word 6.0.1a, and according to Corl (who discussed this with a Microsoft Support engineer), the Empowerment Pack installs a fat version, so watch out if your hard disk is almost full. Reports from Corl and also on Usenet indicate that the fat version will add approximately 4 MB to the size of the Word application, if you didn’t previously have the fat version installed.
Oddly, the pack fails to include additional document converters available for Word, or to make any sort of reference to such updates. You can find out more through Microsoft’s online knowledge base:
I’d like to see Microsoft make such a CD an annual shipment. I’d also like to see it routinely include all the little updates associated with Office software, and include a rich and intelligent set of information and links to Microsoft’s Web-based knowledge base.
Claris OfficeMail is an interesting solution to the email problems of many small offices and schools. These groups want and need to use email to communicate within their organizations and, given the undeniable utility of Internet email, they also want to be able to send and receive mail from the Internet. For the most part, they generally don’t have large budgets, nor do they have dedicated computer support people who know how to run mail servers. And, despite the ever-increasing popularity of the Web, many may not yet have dedicated Internet connections of any sort.
The $299 OfficeMail is a LAN email server that supports SMTP and POP, the main ways of sending and receiving Internet email, and claims to be easy to set up, with three steps for internal use and an additional three steps if you want to send and receive Internet email. I walked through the steps, and I have to admit, it’s dead simple; Claris deserves credit for making the setup so easy. You can even get your own subdomain name within the clrs.com domain.
OfficeMail comes with a 5-pack of Claris Emailer for reading email, which is another good move, since Emailer is a powerful email client with some compelling features, most notably the capability to send and receive email from America Online and CompuServe as well as the Internet. Emailer’s glaring flaw (the way it creates an individual file for each email message you receive) is due to be fixed in the next version and probably wouldn’t seriously affect the low-volume use from most users of OfficeMail. You can also use the free Eudora Light or any other POP-based Internet email program to send and receive mail from a Claris OfficeMail server.
OfficeMail has reasonable system requirements, which is important because small offices and schools are likely to want to run the program on an old Mac that’s sitting around. OfficeMail requires a 68020 or higher, with 4 MB of RAM for a 68K Mac and 8 MB for a Power Mac. You’ll want a fair amount of disk space since OfficeMail has to store all the incoming email on disk until the user checks mail – a couple of large attachments will make a small hard disk struggle under the load. Of course, you need an AppleTalk or TCP/IP network, but it need not be connected to the Internet because OfficeMail requires a modem (preferably a fast one) to send and receive Internet email.
OfficeMail uses the modem to connect to ClarisLink, a service run by HoloNet using CompuServe Packet Network dialup numbers (presumably around the world). The fee is $39.95 per month for 10 hours and about $5.95 per hour after that (plus a $25 registration fee), which is probably reasonable for the normal email requirements of a small office. The trick is that OfficeMail uses UUCP (Unix to Unix CoPy), an older protocol used primarily for transferring email and Usenet news.
If you’re at all new to the Internet you may not have even heard of UUCP. UUCP programs aren’t high-profile, nor are they frequently updated, since UUCP hasn’t changed much in a long time. But, you can still get UUCP accounts from some Internet providers, and for inexpensive email using an offline model (where your computer connects, sends and receives mail, and disconnects, preferably in an automated fashion), UUCP still works fine. We at TidBITS used UUCP for years until finally getting a dedicated Internet connection toward the end of 1994, and I wrote about UUCP extensively in the first two editions of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (the chapter was pulled from the print version of the third edition, but appears in the online version.)
The main UUCP program for the Mac, uAccess, was marketed for a while by InterCon Systems as UUCP/Connect, but rights reportedly reverted back to Tim Endres, the developer, some time ago, and I’ve heard nothing about it since. There are two other free implementations of UUCP, Mac/gnuucp and uupc (which is reportedly slated for an upgrade soon). Check the URL below for the Mac UUCP software that’s generally available.
By using UUCP and tying OfficeMail to a specific Internet provider, Claris removed the complexity of dealing with TCP and potentially PPP, both of which can prove troublesome for novices to set up, particularly without sufficient documentation. (There’s a reason why the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh devotes an entire chapter to troubleshooting advice related to connections.)
In the process, Claris also opted against making OfficeMail a full SMTP server, something that’s not clear from Claris’s propaganda about the program. Although an email client program like Eudora can use SMTP to connect to OfficeMail, OfficeMail cannot send mail out to the Internet via SMTP, as do full SMTP servers like the free Apple Internet Mail Server and Stalker Software’s flexible CommuniGate system, which is available for free evaluation. So, if you have a dedicated Internet connection, you can use OfficeMail, but it must still use a modem to connect to ClarisLink to send and receive email.
Actually, that’s not entirely true – you don’t have to connect to ClarisLink. OfficeMail seems to work only with ClarisLink, but in an undocumented feature, you can use, or at least try to use, any UUCP account with any Internet provider. Claris doesn’t advertise or document this feature because setting up a UUCP email connection isn’t easy, but with a bit of work it should be possible. OfficeMail uses the Apple Modem Tool to control the modem, so you can change its settings to dial your Internet provider. Then, in the Claris OfficeMail folder, there’s another folder called Claris OfficeMail Files. In it is a file called Mail Connect Script, which is a text file of the connect script OfficeMail uses to login and retrieve email. It’s not a task for the faint of heart, but you could edit that script (keep backups!) to connect to your Internet provider instead of ClarisLink. The script language is unusual, but simple and documented briefly at the top of the Mail Connect Script file. Needless to say, don’t expect Claris to provide any help whatsoever if you attempt this hack, but if you’re experienced with UUCP and are helping someone else set up a UUCP account, it might be a good solution.
So, if you have no dedicated Internet connection and want email, Claris OfficeMail is worth investigating. If you have a dedicated Internet connection via modem to a single Mac, but not to your entire network, check out CommuniGate or the combination of Apple Internet Mail Server and the shareware AIMS LocalTalk Bridge, which enables you to distribute mail internally to Macs on your network running Eudora Light. Finally, if you have a dedicated Internet connection for your entire network, try Apple Internet Mail Server or CommuniGate.
As a postscript, I wrote the first draft of this article as a rant after receiving and installing Claris OfficeMail partly because I was irritated by Claris’s silly spelling of OfficeMail as "OfficeM@il" (same with "Em@iler"), but mostly because all the OfficeMail information claimed that OfficeMail supported a number of Internet standards, including SMTP. However, I couldn’t get it to work as an SMTP server, nor could I see any SMTP setup options. I decided to check all this with Claris, and I had to talk to the developer before I was able to confirm that OfficeMail can’t talk to SMTP servers, that OfficeMail uses standard UUCP, and that it was theoretically possible to use other UUCP accounts. The propaganda didn’t even include UUCP as one of the Internet standards that OfficeMail supports – the only mention of UUCP on Claris’s Web site is in a pricing comparison note. Those seem like fairly major points to me, and they deserve mention somewhere in OfficeMail’s documentation and reviewer’s guide. OfficeMail may be great for novices, but if it confuses sophisticated users and writers through incomplete documentation, it’s in serious danger of receiving undeserved bad press.
Search engines and searching tools have become ubiquitous on the Internet. People flock to search engine sites in order to find information quickly, and the information available comes with startling breadth and depth. (See Kirk McElhearn’s article in TidBITS 333).
For instance, I just searched AltaVista for "watermelon." I’ve barely scratched the surface of my search results, but I’ve already read about the status of the Texas watermelon crop, scanned an article about preparing watermelon (along with nutritional information), and visited a Web page devoted to Cezanne’s painting, "Still Life with Watermelon and Pomegranates."
Indexing Robots — Search engines acquire much of their information through robots. Also known as spiders or crawlers, robots traverse the Web, looking for and recording information. Robots typically start with URLs that seem like a reasonable starting spot, such as a URL submitted by a user, a page having lots of links, or the top level of a site. A robot accesses the initial page and then recursively accesses all pages linked to from that page. The robot might also check out all pages that it can find on a particular server. After accessing a page, the robot works with the search engine to index portions of the page, perhaps the title, some or all of the text, specific keywords, or other tagged elements.
One topic that deserves attention, however, is how to prevent search engines from indexing individual Web pages or Usenet news postings. Conventions exist to keep robots out of specially-marked Web pages or news postings, though whether individual robots comply to these standards is purely voluntary. So far, mainstream searching engines appear to respect these conventions.
Hey You, Get Out of My Site — Using the Robots Exclusion Protocol, you can ask robots to ignore Web pages that you don’t want indexed. For example, you might want to store club meeting minutes on the Web without having those minutes show up in search engines. You could, of course, set up a password system, but that might be a more complicated solution than you wish to implement. You might also have a site whose pages change so frequently that there’s no point in a robot attempting to index them.
To tell robots to go away, you place a robots.txt file on the local root level of a Web site. Using a specific syntax, this file tells robots that they should keep out of certain (or all) sections of the server. If you want to set up such a file, I recommend reading the World Wide Web Robots, Wanderers, and Spiders page:
As a brief example, though, to ask all robots to keep out of a directory called watermelon, your robots.txt file might look like this.
If you don’t have enough control over your server to set up a robots.txt file, you can try adding a META tag to the head section of an HTML document. For instance, a tag like this:
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX">
tells robots not to index that particular page. Or, a tag like this:
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOFOLLOW">
tells robots not to follow links on the page. Support for the META tag among robots is more sporadic than the Robots Exclusion Protocol, although most of major Web indexes currently support it. Information on the robot META tag can be found in the Spidering BOF (Birds of a Feather) Report:
Private News — To keep the fingers of search engines out of your Usenet news postings, you can create an "X-no-archive" line in of your postings’ headers:
Although common news clients, such as NewsWatcher, permit you to add an X-no-archive line to the headers of your news postings, you aren’t completely out of luck if your client doesn’t permit you to do so. At least one engine, Deja News, will ignore your posting if you make the following text the first line of text in the body of your message:
In addition, if you inquire personally, Deja News will remove your posts from their archive; to ask, send email to <[email protected]>.
Assumption of Non-Privacy — The source of confusion regarding privacy and Internet indexing systems usually stems from the assumption (made by most search engines) that all information they find is public unless marked otherwise.
Many Internet veterans have no problem with the search engines’ assumption that all information is public, since much of the material has always been available one way or another. However, some new Internet users find the practice startlingly invasive. For these Internet users, it’s like being told every phone call they made during the last year was recorded by a private company, who’s now giving away those conversations to anyone who asks.
The long-term memory of these search engines makes the ramifications of their behavior larger than ever. Though Digital’s AltaVista search engine currently only remembers the last few months of Usenet, Deja News has archives going back to early 1995, and repeatedly claims that it wants to index all the way back to Usenet’s inception in 1979, where possible. In 1979, how many Usenet users could have known about the X-no-archive tag? Furthermore, though the robot and archive exclusion standards may help keep your material out of major, high-profile indexes, there are indexing and archiving systems out there that respect no such rules.
If you’re highly concerned about the privacy of your email and Usenet postings, check out anonymous remailers and PGP, a controversial strong encryption program from Phil Zimmerman. Both topics are beyond the scope of this article.
If you’re not particularly concerned about privacy, still remember that your words on the Internet may become immortal – anything you write on Usenet will be archived somewhere for eternity, anything you publish on the Web will be indexed somewhere. Choose your words with care – you may have to stand behind them in a future situation that you cannot currently imagine.
In the future, as privacy becomes a larger issue on the Internet horizon, we can probably expect commercial and consumer newsreaders and publishing tools to tout "privacy compatibility" as a feature. No doubt newsreaders will soon come pre-configured to insert X-no-archive headers by default, and Web authoring programs will come with preferences to insert robot META tags and create robots.txt files automatically. However, these features will not alter the fundamental assumptions of Internet indexing tools: everything is public.