Now that we’ve finished our Halloween candy, it’s time to focus on news like PageMill 2.0 shipping, Claris distributing Emailer 1.1 for free, a new version of ShrinkWrap, and a problem with the new Quicken 7. We are also pleased to announce that we now have all past TidBITS issues converted into HTML, plus Adam shares comments from last week’s article about Internet directory services, and Tonya reviews Spell Catcher, Casady & Greene’s general-purpose spelling and writing tool.
Turn the Page — Adobe has released PageMill 2.0, which has much to delight Web authors, including a flexible table feature and an HTML Source view for what Adobe aptly terms "light" HTML editing. PageMill’s Preview Mode can play QuickTime movies and run a number of plug-ins, including Acrobat and Shockwave. PageMill 2.0 is arguably the most fully-featured and mature of the WYSIWYG HTML page editors currently shipping, although I find some of its interface elements regrettably small, requiring precision mousing. The new version has an estimated street price of $99, with upgrades at $49. If you own any other Adobe product, the cost is $69. Sidegrades from programs like Claris Home Page and Netscape Navigator Gold cost $79. According to Adobe, the new version runs on any Mac with a color monitor, 4 MB of application RAM (at least 8 MB total), and System 7.1 or later. [TJE]
Adobe Systems — 800/833-6687 — 408/536-6000
The Email Man Always Downloads Twice — Claris has decided to offer Claris Emailer 1.1 for free between now and when Emailer 2.0 ships. The year-old mail client combines Internet POP functionality with access to popular online services. Version 2.0, expected early next year, will offer improved mail-processing rules and a more efficient, single-database storage system.
Also, CE Software has placed a public beta of QuickMail Pro on its Web site so Internet mail users can give it a try. The software, due late this year, combines the popular QuickMail graphical interface with such Internet mail open standards as POP3 and SMTP. The company plans IMAP and directory services support in the future. [MHA]
ShrinkWrap 2.1 — Chad Magendanz has released version 2.1 of his now-classic disk image utility ShrinkWrap, which corrects a few rare problems (including troubles mounting network images and using older versions Speed Access and the StuffIt Engine), along with some optimizations and performance tweaks.
This release is notable in that it is the last major release before ShrinkWrap becomes an Aladdin product. Beginning in 1997, ShrinkWrap will be available from Aladdin Systems (all commercial and shareware licences and registrations will be carried over), and its technology will be incorporated into products like StuffIt Expander and InstallerMaker. [GD]
Steve Becker <[email protected]> writes:
While testing Quicken 7 for an upcoming review, I found some anomalous behavior in the Investment Module that Quicken 7 users should be aware of. In the Portfolio Window, the Return On Investment (ROI) performance calculation is based on the adjusted basis of your investment (for example, your initial investment plus any reinvestments), not the actual amount initially invested. This is likely to reduce the reported ROI for the security. When running the Investment Report for the ROI, however, Quicken bases the calculation on the more standard method of treating all reinvested income from the security as a return on the initial, unadjusted investment.
This is a critical point because if you base an investment decision on the performance reported in the Portfolio Window, you might mistakenly conclude your investment is under-performing a security whose performance is reported from some other source. This is particularly true for mutual funds, which generally report performance based on a dollar amount initially invested at the beginning of the reporting period.
In addition, some other information presented in the Portfolio Window is affected by closed positions, potentially creating confusion when trying to interpret this data. I have discussed these issues with Intuit and expect an update to Quicken 7 will address these issues.
Thanks to the tireless, assiduous efforts of Matt Neuburg <[email protected]>, every TidBITS issue – from the present day all the way back to TidBITS-001 from April of 1990 – is now available online in HTML format. Matt has done a stunning job converting our old setext issues to HTML format (using a set of Nisus Writer macros – the conversion was heavily automated), and these files represent a major step toward making our library of past material more accessible and useful.
To access any particular issue, you can use a URL in the form:
…where "xxx" is the issue number of the issue you wish to view, such as "030" (note the leading zero) or "200".
Taking a stroll down TidBITS’ memory lane can reveal some real gems, such as the first TidBITS April Fools article that turned into a real product (TidBITS-114), Matt’s first prescient appearance in TidBITS-095 (and my own nondescript premiere much later in TidBITS-167). Other classics include Mark Anbinder’s stint keeping the TidBITS fires burning during Adam and Tonya’s original move to Seattle in 1991, the almost unbelievable lineage of the classic computer game Adventure detailed by Mel Park in TidBITS-229, and TidBITS-300, listing 300 reasons the Mac is great. And, of course – since we measure all things by issue number here at TidBITS – I should note Adam and Tonya were married in TidBITS-062.
We owe Matt a tremendous debt of gratitude for converting this material to HTML – and we aren’t stopping here! We plan to offer an improved table of contents for these issues shortly, and eventually hope to implement Web-based indexes and searching capabilities for TidBITS issues.
It was just my luck that after writing an entire article about directory services on the Mac (see TidBITS-352), Apple announced it would be supporting LDAP, the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. LDAP has the support of numerous other large companies, and it mainly remains to be seen what form Apple’s LDAP support will take beyond the existing maX.500 client program.
Interestingly, the bulk of Apple’s press release focuses on Apple’s plans to support IMAP, Interactive Mail Access Protocol, a protocol for sending and receiving email on the Internet along the lines of the current standards, SMTP and POP. It will be interesting to see if this results in the next version of Apple Internet Mail Server supporting IMAP as well as SMTP and POP.
Many TidBITS readers wrote in with comments and additions to the article, and I wanted to share some of their thoughts with you.
Andrew Starr <[email protected]> adds:
You mentioned that one can have Netscape Navigator use Eudora as the mailto program. Your solution works, but I’ve found that the "Eudora Mailto: helper" makes things go a little bit better. It adds the capability of handling mailto links of the form: "mailto:[email protected]?subject=hello" and fills in the Subject line properly.
Also, you mentioned using FileMaker Pro or Now Contact with Eudora via scripts, but you objected to "brittle" scripts. Although I am sometimes leery of scripts that try to do too much, Claris Organizer 2.0 works with Eudora perfectly. It comes with a tiny script that invokes Claris Emailer when one clicks the button next to the email field, so I modified the script to send the information to Eudora instead.
Claris OfficeMail, when used with Emailer, has automatic address book updating. This feature keeps all users’ local address books updated with the most current list of mail server users. In addition, once OfficeMail has automatically updated your Emailer address book, you can select "Export Addresses…", and produce a nice tab-delimited text file.
Ken Weiss <[email protected]> comments:
There are a few existing directory services tools that you missed. The most basic is NICNAME/Whois, which has been around for many years. It’s text based, runs under TCP/IP, and just listens at a port and responds to simple commands. Another is Whois++, which is also a port listener. Whois++ incorporates the concept of query routing, which may allow it to scale up to large distributed organizations more effectively than LDAP/X.500. Most of the other solutions you discussed don’t perform query routing or even X.500 style upward consolidation of indices, and won’t scale to large databases effectively.
You accurately identified the backend database as being one of the key issues in directory services. Many people lose sight of the fact that a white pages directory is, at the core, an attribute/value based database.
George Yolland <[email protected]> writes:
Here are some points that were implied in your article on directory services but I don’t feel were fully explored.
Directory Services are hierarchical. Directory services have several levels. For example, my personal contacts, my organization’s employee list, my external business contacts, and so on, out to the world at large. I want to focus on what my directory services provides me. In my organization I work mostly with internal employees so I want their address information quickly accessible. Although I occasionally want to find the address of someone associated with an external organization, I generally would not want their directory information cluttering up my daily work. A standards-based system, such as LDAP, would allow organizations to share portions of their corporate directories if they chose to do so, possibly with some centralized service.
Useful directory systems are centrally maintained. This doesn’t mean one workgroup for an entire enterprise must maintain the directory, but that some level of central administration – whether for the enterprise, operating divisions, or workgroups – is best if you want the information to be up-to-date. If an organization has multiple directories, these directories either must replicate themselves across the enterprise or be easily accessed across the enterprise for them to be useful. Here’s where the standards-based systems like LDAP have the most potential. If they can communicate internally, they should also be able to communicate externally. I don’t mind maintaining my personal and key business contacts but I should be able to find anyone within my organization easily without maintaining the list myself. This is also true of business contacts used broadly across the enterprise or group.
- Directory Services can be much more than a list of addresses. In our dream world, we would have one ID/password that would identify, authenticate, and authorize our access to resources on our networks. This service would be provided through directory services. Although you mentioned PowerTalk’s keychain, it’s not the same idea. It merely stored passwords for various services, rather than having a central database of users to which all other network resources refer. Users must still maintain passwords associated with their IDs on these various systems. A directory service has the potential to eliminate this. Ask any corporate support staff what its number one support issue is and I’ll lay odds that it’s supporting users in maintaining passwords.
John O’Shaughnessy comments:
I can tell you from experience that larger businesses rely on directory services for email – at least those I’ve worked for. I’ve seen companies keep 10,000 employees registered in a LAN email package, and I’ve seen companies try to tie email packages to existing directory services.
At my company we use an Oracle database that contains information about employees, and we’ve created tools to display basic information to the user. Although we’ve created GUI front ends for this database, the main thing we use these days (at least from Macs and PC’s) is an interface we’ve created from Eudora’s Ph feature. From the Eudora client, we just specify a Ph server, and on the Unix system, we define the appropriate "/etc/services" entry to reply to a Ph request. We then point the Ph request at the database described above, and the user can query the whole database from Eudora!
The bigger problems are those that you started to mention in the article – i.e., who’s going to maintain the data! We’ve had Human Resources people maintain part of the data, and Information Systems people maintain other parts, but we’re trying to rethink the whole process. It’s definitely a big issue around here.
When Casady & Greene released Spell Catcher earlier this year, I decided to give it a try. Spell Catcher’s principal claim to fame (though it has many secondary claims) is that it can check spelling in any program, using the same interface and dictionaries. Spell Catcher 1.5.6 is based on the now-discontinued Thunder 7, a long-standing workhorse for writers.
Spell Catcher has a suggested retail price of $79.95, though the street price is some $20 less. Thunder 7 users can upgrade for $19.95, and there’s also a cross-grade offer. Casady & Greene bills Spell Catcher as working with any Macintosh, so long as it’s a Mac Plus or newer. They recommend having at least 2 MB RAM available for Spell Catcher’s use, 2 MB free hard disk space, and System 7.0 or later. (My contact at Casady & Greene points out that if you keep your dictionaries small, you can get by with as little as 700K of RAM available.)
Installing Spell Catcher went smoothly, and – after restarting – I used the Spell Catcher control panel to activate Spell Catcher in Eudora 3.0, Word 5.1, ClarisWorks 4.0v4, and Nisus Writer 4.1. In these programs, Spell Catcher adds a new menu to the menu bar, which it indicates with an exclamation point.
Insta-Correct — Spell Catcher’s optional Interactive Checking monitors typing, and beeps at you if it detects a misspelled word, with different sounds for different types of errors. You can ignore the beep or activate the Suggest Spelling window by either pressing Command-[ or choosing Suggest Spelling from the Spell Catcher menu. The resulting petite dialog box offers a numbered list of spelling suggestions. To choose a selection quickly, simply type its number or double-click it. You can also enter a correction or add the unknown word to a dictionary. When you add a word, you can also quickly choose and add common variants, such as a plural form.
On my Power Mac 7600, I had smooth sailing with the Suggest Spelling window, but – on my Duo 230 – suggestions for fixing problems came up so slowly that I often found it easier to type them instead, if I knew what was wrong. (If the correct spelling came up quickly, Spell Catcher helpfully allowed me to choose it without waiting for all suggestions to list.) Spell Catcher has a preference for reducing the buttons in this window to black and white, and though this is supposed to speed things up it doesn’t do much for my Duo.
A Quick Fix — If a misspelling is one you make frequently, you can set up a glossary entry so that whenever you type the word incorrectly, Interactive Checking automatically fixes it without beeping. Spell Catcher also comes with a 1,071 preset glossary entries that correct common errors without beeping, such as typing "teh" when you mean "the".
The glossary immediately made me wonder if I could use it for text I type frequently, like my email signature or snail mail address. I found that the glossary only works for up to 255 characters, so it’s fine for small things, but won’t hold commonly used paragraphs.
Careful manual readers will learn that to insert a Return in a glossary entry, you must press Option-J. I’m not fond of this quirk – for one, I didn’t realize it right away; for two, the two-line text box where you create a glossary entry doesn’t show Returns by moving text down to the next line; instead you get a triangle character where the Return should be and your text continues on the same line. Another quirk that bugs me is that this same text box only can show 68 characters at once (34 per line).
At first, I thought the glossary replacement feature worked far more slowly on my Duo 230 than on my Power Mac, but later I learned (and observed) that replacement speed depends largely on the application in question. I found replacements of misspelled words in Word 5.1 and Eudora 3.0 work just slowly enough that I can detect them happening, though they don’t affect my touch typing at all. Several times per day, I’m pleasantly surprised to watch errors fix themselves while I continue typing.
However, Spell Catcher in ClarisWorks is a touch slower, and in NisusWriter 4.1, longer words (like "unsuccessful"), correct themselves more noticeably – I have time to type about five characters during the replacement, and those characters don’t appear until Spell Catcher completes the replacement. The slowdown is only pronounced when words must be retyped: insertions of glossary entries in place of short abbreviations – such as typing my snail mail address in place of "snailm" – were much faster.
Interactive Checking can also optionally help with situations where you accidently type two uppercase letters in a row; for instance, typing "APple" when you mean "Apple." I quickly found that I needed a override to this feature, and – indeed – one can quickly toggle Interactive Checking on and off via either a keyboard shortcut or the Spell Catcher menu. The Spell Catcher menu icon changes color to indicate the Interactive Checking status.
Will the Beeps Drive You Batty? If you worry that Spell Catcher’s beeping every time you made a mistake would drive you batty, you might be right – I certainly thought so at first. But, after a day or so, I’d taught Spell Catcher my most common special spellings and added a number of glossary shortcuts for a few typos I make frequently. I also learned to type more carefully, and thus improved my accuracy enormously in a short time. Later on, I realized that you can even turn the beeps off, or simply have Spell Catcher just flash the menu bar when it detects an error. There’s also a Tone option for customizing the pitch and duration of the beep.
The Check’s in the Menu — Spell Catcher can also check the spelling in any selection, and the Check Selection spelling checker dialog box is somewhat bigger than the petite one mentioned earlier. It has buttons for Ignore All and Replace All. A Statistics button leads to a word and character count, along with readability ratings. Spell Catcher took about 3 seconds to come up with statistics on a recent TidBITS issue on the Power Mac 7600; 5 seconds on the Duo 230.
When Spell Catcher checks a selection, it instructs the program in question to copy the selection to the clipboard, and then checks the text in the clipboard. When you finish a spelling check, you get a dialog box where you confirm that you want to paste the changes back into your document. If this works smoothly and doesn’t mess up formatting in the applications you use Spell Catcher with (it worked smoothly for me), you can set it so the changes paste in automatically. I experienced problems in Word 5.1 where Spell Catcher would tell me that I didn’t have any text selected. I was consistently able to work around this problem by invoking the Check Selected command a second time.
Thesaurus & Dictionary Services — I was pleasantly surprised to find that Spell Catcher integrates a competent thesaurus that includes word definitions. To invoke the thesaurus, you type a word and then press Command-], or choose Thesaurus Lookup from the Spell Catcher menu.
Along with an 86,000 word Large Dictionary and 50,000 word Small Dictionary, Spell Catcher comes with optional dictionaries for HTML coding, Science and Engineering, Law, and Medicine.
Quirks and Quibbles — There are a few problems with Spell Catcher’s spell checking. For one, I’ve grown to rely on Nisus Writer’s Ignore All feature, which applies a special character style to words the spelling checker should always ignore in a document. (Some other word processors have a similar feature.) Spell Catcher’s Ignore All can’t go around applying character styles to individual documents; instead, if you tell it to Ignore All of a certain word, it will do so in all documents until you restart the Mac. I’m not sure how Spell Catcher can realistically improve in this area, but I’m loathe to give up my style-based Ignore All.
In addition, Spell Catcher attempts to check URLs. I find this particularly annoying with Interactive Checking turned on, because my Mac beeps every time I type a URL.
But That’s Not All — I hadn’t realized until I started exploring, but Spell Catcher is a full-featured writers’ utility. Its Interactive Checking includes a few old friends, such as an automatic Smart Quotes feature and Double Space Eliminator. These features can both be overridden with keyboard shortcuts and can be turned on and off by application.
There’s also a Ghostwriter feature, which, when turned on, retains keystrokes you type on a document by document basis. Ghostwriter creates folders for each day, and then in each folder, as applicable, folders for each application. Inside the application folders it keeps actual files, which have the same names as the files you actually worked on. If you type documents straight through with little jumping around or deleting, you’ll end up with copies of your documents. The more you scatter typing throughout a document, the less useful Ghostwriter will be, but the idea is that a Ghostwriter file could be a lifesaver in the event of a bad crash. Whether I worked on my Power Mac or Duo, GhostWriter did not bog down my work in the slightest.
You can turn Ghostwriter on universally or only in certain applications and set different preferences for its behavior relative to different applications. Settings include how big the file should be before it’s retained and how long to keep old files around. For example, in the case of Eudora, Ghostwriter retained files for each email document that I read or worked on, and for each mailbox that I opened. I changed this by setting Ghostwriter to retain only files containing one character or more. Since I never type into mailboxes or messages that I read, this significantly reduces unnecessary empty files.
Other features center around massaging text selections in small but useful ways. For instance, you can quickly straighten or curl quotes, or uppercase and lowercase text in various ways.
No Processed Cheese Here — Another feature worth mentioning is the manual. Lately, I’ve noticed more and more manuals taking on a corporate tone to the point where the writing more resembles processed cheese food product than prose. This manual is not particularly folksy or humorous, but it reads as though real live people wrote it. After thoroughly covering how to set up and use the application, it gets into the nitty-gritty of how to create your own dictionaries and how to make them work well in context with what’s going on behind the scenes.
The manual explains that Spell Catcher performs lookups through a "hashing" technique. Instead of directly comparing each word you type to each word in the dictionary until it gets a match, the software uses a series of comparative algorithms to decide quickly if a word is correct. This yields fast performance with an extremely small margin of error.
Getting to the Point — Most programs with spelling checkers and thesauruses offer those features as a mega-megabyte sized collection of modules and dictionaries. Should I decide to use Spell Catcher full-time, I could discard those files as my hard disk fills up, and – for future installations – I could choose not to install them. Not only that, but I wouldn’t have to learn new spelling and thesaurus features in future programs.
In the final analysis, I think most writers will find Spell Catcher a handy tool, and I wish I’d had it when I was in college. Students with writing assignments and anyone whose job description includes writing should definitely consider Spell Catcher.
An important caveat, however, is that performance for suggesting spelling replacements started trailing off on my Duo 230 (that’s a 33 MHz 68030, so it’s faster than an SE/30, but slower than a 68040-based Macintosh). I’m not known for my patience when it comes to software speed, but I’d recommend treading carefully if you are thinking of installing Spell Catcher on anything much slower than my Duo.
I won’t settle on Spell Catcher permanently, however, until I’ve investigated an upcoming release from JEM Software, called Online Army Knife (OAK). OAK may have shipped by the time you read this, and it will offer universal spell checking, but take a more Internet-oriented approach and include a different mix of additional features. Another product that offers universal spell checking is Spellswell Plus, by Working Software. Given our tendency to end up reviewing multiple products in a category, no doubt we’ll take a look at Spellswell Plus as well.
A Deal — We’ve worked out a deal for TidBITS readers who wish to purchase Spell Catcher from Cyberian Outpost. If you use the specific URL below, you can order Spell Catcher online and receive a $5 discount.
Casady & Greene — 408/484-9228 — 408/484-9218 — <c&[email protected]>