Are you an established or aspiring Web author? Be sure to read Tonya’s detailed review of Adobe PageMill 2.0! Also this week, Apple confesses to a serious bug affecting some applications on 68K Macintoshes, Bare Bones Software release BBEdit Lite for OpenDoc, and Adam explains how to get "soft-power" Macs to restart after a power failure. And, if you don’t have time to read TidBITS each week, you can now have it read to you… on tape.
Disable the CFM-68K Runtime Enabler — If you use a Macintosh with a 68K processor, Apple is recommending that you disable the CFM-68K Runtime Enabler either by using an extensions manager or by removing it from your System Folder. Some applications that use the CFM-68K Runtime Enabler can crash your Macintosh, possibly causing data loss and other problems. This problem does not affect Power Macs.
The Code Fragment Manager (CFM) was originally developed for Power Macs and lets Power Mac applications use shared code libraries (trust me, they’re neat). Later, Apple ported the CFM backwards to 68K machines to make it easier for developers build 68K versions of Power Mac applications. Those 68K applications are just now starting to appear, although plenty more are in development.
However, Apple now admits to a problem with the 68K version of CFM, and it can’t be used reliably in all cases. Though this bug doesn’t impact every program that uses CFM-68K, there’s no simple way to know which applications are affected. Programs using CFM-68K include OpenDoc, Cyberdog, Apple Media Tool, LaserWriter 8.4 and 8.4.1, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0b1, and the preview of AOL 3.0. If you use any of these programs, Apple recommends you revert to earlier versions or stop using them. If you disable the CFM-68K enabler and try to use one of these applications, you’ll see an error, but no damage will be done. Apple is working on a fix, but there’s no public timetable for when a solution might be available. [GD]
BBEdit Lite for OpenDoc — If you’ve installed version 1.1 of OpenDoc, then you might want to take note of BBEdit Lite for OpenDoc, a freeware Live Object which includes BBEdit’s basic text-editing capabilities. Although this version of BBEdit Lite lacks a status bar and doesn’t work with all BBEdit Extensions (see the ReadMe), it still provides useful basic text editing services in any OpenDoc container. [GD]
QuickMail Express Available — CE Software has released the free Internet mail client we mentioned a few weeks ago. QuickMail Express is a less powerful version of QuickMail Pro, their commercial POP3 client, and both are available for Macintosh and Windows. [MHA]
TidBITS recently signed a licensing agreement with AudioMagNet, a new company that provides the service of converting Internet texts to audio cassette, using a 16-bit computer voice. AudioMagNet approached us with the idea several months ago, noting that such tapes might be appreciated by commuters and by anyone who – for whatever reason – doesn’t find it convenient (or possible) to read text. TidBITS is AudioMagNet’s first title, but the company plans to have more soon, based in part on suggestions they receive.
AudioMagNet is selling the audio version of TidBITS at $5.00 U.S. per cassette (one issue of TidBITS, at 30-45 minutes, fits on each cassette). You can also subscribe to the service and receive a small discount. Subscription prices are: $120 for 25 cassettes, $235 for 50, $350 for 75, and $460 for 100. The cost includes the conversion service, cassette, and shipping.
I met Sylvain Laroque, AudioMagNet’s co-founder, at Boston Macworld Expo and he told me about some of the details involved in creating an AudioMagNet audio tape. Intrigued by his comments, I followed up by conducting a short email interview with Sylvain and his co-founder Chantal St-Pierre.
- [Tonya] What voice do you use in the TidBITS issues? Is it a standard PlainTalk voice?
[Sylvain & Chantal] No, it is not standard PlainTalk. We use Victoria, a high-quality voice which is available on the Apple speech page.
- [Tonya] Do you do any special editing on the files before you record them? Are there characters or words that have to be changed before they will record correctly?
[Sylvain & Chantal] There are approximately six hours of editing before the actual recording phase. First, all email addresses, phone numbers, and URLs are removed – we refer listeners to the Internet version of TidBITS for that information. Victoria spells out anything her internal dictionary does not recognize, which created interesting listening material while we were testing our product. To hear "h-t-t-p slash-slash w-w-w (pause) tidbits (pause) com" isn’t a pleasant listening experience, and for some addresses it can be confusing. For the same reason, we remove any configuration strings and advise the listener to consult the Internet version of TidBITS. We also have to watch for brackets, parentheses, and symbols like quotation marks, as Victoria either stops and says nothing or tries to pronounce everything she sees.
The second step consists of a search and replace on all the words we know Victoria cannot say properly, such as email, online, Macintosh and CompuServe. We trick her into pronouncing words like "Los Angeles" and "WYSIWYG": that well-guarded secret leads us to the third step, where we carefully examine the issue for words we suspect Victoria will not be able to pronounce, come up with a new spelling to trick her, and add these new words into our search and replace dictionary for future issues.
We also have to watch for long sentences and break them up with commas to avoid a bunch of endless sound. We insert what we call "forced silence," especially between paragraphs. These longer pauses are designed to indicate changes in subject.
Lastly, we listen to the final product, work out any glitches, time the issue, and select a custom tape to produce the master. And then we proceed with the recording.
- [Tonya] What sound equipment do you use to create the recordings?
[Sylvain & Chantal] Our master copy is produced on a Chrome custom-length cassette, directly from a Mac to standard recording equipment. It is then reproduced at high speed on an audio cassette duplicator for the required amount of copies.
- [Tonya] What made you decide to set up AudioMagNet?
[Sylvain & Chantal] Sylvain thought about the service a long time ago to make his life easier. Isn’t necessity the mother of invention? As a professional Mac consultant, Sylvain has to stay informed about new products, trends, updates, bugs, problems, solutions, etc. Reading magazines and press releases to keep informed is a necessary evil, but for people who aren’t fast readers (or who don’t enjoy reading) the task can be overwhelming. Sylvain spends a lot of time in his car commuting: he thought that if he could come up with a way to get the information he needed while driving he could maximize his time. So he started recording the information he needed, and thought if it was a good time-management idea for him, it could be useful for anyone.
AudioMagNet — <[email protected]>
This story starts back in July, when Geoff and I installed a Power Macintosh 7100/66 in the offices of Point of Presence Company, where our main Web and mail server (an Apple Workgroup Server 6150) also lives. The 7100 was destined to run StarNine’s ListSTAR and handle the entire TidBITS mailing list – and it’s done swimmingly well at that task.
But that’s not the mystery.
The 7100, as you probably know, is a "soft-power" Mac – you turn it on from the keyboard and off with Shut Down from the Special menu. Our other server is a "hard-power" Mac that has a constant power switch, meaning that once the power switch is on, it stays on. These facts are important for servers, because if the power goes out and stays out longer than an uninterruptible power supply can withstand, the servers will shut off. The question is, what happens when the power comes back on?
The AWS 6150, being a hard-power Mac, comes back on automatically. The 7100, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem, because it uses a momentary power switch: simply restoring electricity doesn’t automatically turn the machine back on. So how do you get it to restart after the power comes back on?
Way back when soft-power Macs first appeared, Apple realized this was a problem and solved it in an ingenious way. All soft-power Macs have a reset switch (originally in the back, although it’s on the front of newer Macs). On older Macs with the rear-mounted reset switch (including the IIci and the 7100) the switch is notched, like a screw. To ensure that the Mac restarts when power returns, you used a screwdriver to turn the switch and press it in. Clean and simple, if not inherently obvious.
After setting everything else up, Geoff and I tried to lock the reset switch in, to ensure the 7100 would recover from a power outage. The only problem was that it wouldn’t lock. We shut the machine down, disconnected all the cables, pulled it off its rack, and opened it up. Lo and behold, there was no catch inside the case for the switch to latch into.
Being slightly more clever than your average wombat, we realized we could hold the power switch in using a piece of a paper clip to hold the power switch in. So, we put the case back on, stuffed it back on the rack, reconnected all the cables, and pushed the keyboard’s power key. Nothing. With the switch in that far, the 7100 wouldn’t even start up.
Out with the cables, down from the rack, off with the case, and we removed our handiwork. We were completely stumped, and saw nothing to do but put it all back together normally and hope the power didn’t go out for too long.
Fast forward to Macworld Expo in Boston. Apple Tech Support had a booth there, so I stopped in and asked about this problem. The guys there, although they sounded like they knew what they were talking about, hadn’t a clue what to do. I left feeling a little better that we’d been stumped before.
Then, just a few days ago, the revelation came. I was poking around Maxum’s Web site for information about PageSentry 2.0, their new monitoring tool for Internet servers (which is quite cool), when I ran across a tech support posting noting that since the Quadra 840AV, the switch no longer locks on soft-power Macs.
Instead, it turns out, the trick is to use the Energy Saver control panel. If you open the control panel and choose Server Settings from the Preferences menu, you get a dialog that offers a checkbox for "Automatically restart after a power failure."
To be fair, I haven’t tried this yet on our 7100, since I’m leery of installing things remotely, and the Energy Saver control panel wasn’t on that Mac – we probably threw it out since we didn’t think it was necessary for a headless server. But, the next time I visit the server in person, I intend to install a copy of Energy Saver, just in case.
In addition, since I haven’t yet visited the 7100 since I learned this fact, I’m not entirely sure how it interacts with the PowerKey Pro from Sophisticated Circuits, an essential little device that (among many other things) can restart crashed servers automatically. It’s definitely worth testing if you find yourself in this situation, and one of these months I’ll make it into Seattle to visit the 7100, at which point I’ll be able to test this in person.
If you’re a developer writing server software, however, you don’t have to be a slave to a machine’s power switch. For many Macs, it’s possible to write code to configure a machine to restart automatically after a power failure, in much the same way as the Energy Saver control panel.
Adobe PageMill 1.0 took the HTML world by storm when it shipped in late 1995. At the time, unlike anything else available, PageMill was able to generate HTML quietly while users set up Web pages in an environment resembling a simple word processor. Despite the ease PageMill 1.0 lent to Web authoring, PageMill users immediately began clamoring for more features and flexibility. PageMill 2.0 satisfies many of those requests, with a special focus on layout and other visual concerns.
Adobe’s minimum requirements for PageMill 2.0 call for any Macintosh with 8 MB total RAM (with at least 4 MB allocated to PageMill), System 7.1, and a color monitor. The program lists for $149, Adobe’s estimated street price is $99, and the company offers a $49 upgrade from 1.0, a $69 deal to owners of other Adobe products, and a $79 crossgrade for owners of some competing products.
Exploring the Territory — After launching PageMill, you see an empty document window in Edit mode, topped with a crowded, non-customizable toolbar. There’s also a special field for entering the title of the page you’ll create in the document window. All the toolbar buttons are decidedly small, except for the Preview button, which toggles into Preview mode, where you see how a document will likely appear on the Web. In Preview mode, you can also follow links to other pages stored locally.
Although Adobe added an HTML Source view, the HTML Source command doesn’t have a nice big button on the toolbar; instead it’s relegated to half-way down the Edit menu, fortunately with a logical keyboard shortcut. In HTML Source view, you can view the HTML behind a document, and edit it by hand. Adobe has almost completely crippled HTML Source view for those wish to work directly with HTML – almost all the menus and buttons for creating a Web page are disabled.
There’s an undocumented (except in the installed ReadMe file) hierarchical menu on the Window menu called Switch to, which opens the current PageMill document in another program (most likely a text editor or Web browser). If you switch out to a text editor and modify the file, you can most quickly view the changes in PageMill by choosing Revert to Saved from the Edit menu; unfortunately Revert to Saved lacks a built-in shortcut. (Generally speaking, PageMill has good keyboard shortcuts.)
A new Download Statistics dialog box shows how long a given Web page, selected object (such as a graphic or table), or frameset should take to download over a variety of connection speeds.
No tour of the territory would be complete without a look at the Inspector, a floating, tabbed palette that displays panels for modifying what’s selected in the document. I like the idea of the Inspector: it provides quick access to many frequently-used controls. People using PowerBooks and monitors set at 640 by 480 resolution will appreciate Adobe’s respect for their screen real estate, but I wish there were an option for bumping up the size of the Inspector (and the toolbar buttons). For instance, each Inspector panel is topped with a tab which is just large enough to display a tiny icon. The currently selected tab icon has a blue circle around it; other icons usually show with a purple circle. On my monitor, the icons appear to mutate into different shapes as I select them, making them difficult to recognize quickly. The Inspector also has a number of tiny pop-up menus which require precision mousing.
I promise to stop complaining about the interface and look at some of what PageMill does well, but first we need to explore the "color panel," a floating palette that looks much like a box of watercolors, with 16 tantalizingly clickable colors. Double-clicking a color opens a color picker for changing the color, though there’s no help for using a specific palette, such as the Netscape 216 palette, which contains colors that generally look good in Web browsers regardless of monitor or platform.
Oddly, to apply a color you must drag it from its palette to a selection. With the exception of this bizarre take on drag & drop, the palette is truly useful, since it holds a customizable group of colors, which can be quickly applied. Unexpectedly, you can even drag colors from the color panel to Inspector pop-up menus in order to set overall text and background colors for a page.
Charting the Features — PageMill 2.0 adds more features than I have fingers and toes. PageMill is unique in supporting some (and perhaps most) Netscape plug-ins. This means Preview mode can show the likes of QuickTime movies and Shockwave presentations. I suspect more importantly from Adobe’s perspective, this means PageMill can also show PDF documents through Adobe’s Acrobat plug-in.
Tabling your Data — PageMill has terrific tables by today’s standards for an HTML editor, although they’re not bad by any standard. A freshly inserted PageMill table stretches the full width of the PageMill window, with each column consuming an equal share of the width. I prefer this approach that taken by Netscape Navigator Gold and AOLpress, which present new tables as skinny grids with cells only wide enough for a few characters. If you use the grid to arrange elements on a page, you’ll probably prefer PageMill’s full-width approach.
Don’t like the width or height of a cell? Want the table to change overall size? PageMill handles these concerns with panache through drag & drop options for adjusting column width, cell height, and overall table size. For more precise control, you select an element of interest and then format it via the Inspector, though casual tourists in PageMill land will need to check their manuals in order to become proficient at selecting table parts.
It’s easy to select multiple contiguous cells and apply table formats to them, like converting them to table-header cells or changing alignment. Unfortunately, there’s no way to batch select and format text within cells, so if you want all cells in a given row to have red text or to be unordered lists, you must select and format each cell individually.
The table buttons on the toolbar provide one-click access for setting up cells to span more than one row or column and for adding or deleting selected rows or columns. You can even add and delete multiple rows or columns at once.
Tables need content, and PageMill only takes baby steps in that direction. Data entry aficionados will be pleased to note that pressing Tab within a table cell advances the insertion point to the next cell. Although you can’t paste an Excel spreadsheet into an existing PageMill table, you can (according to the manual, I didn’t test this personally) paste a spreadsheet into PageMill, and PageMill will convert it into a table (apparently, however, much of any formatting is lost). Although you can paste in tab-delimited text, PageMill does nothing special to help you incorporate it into a table.
Divide and Conquer — PageMill brings a great deal of ammunition to the HTML editor feature war, and Adobe perceives frames to be an important part of PageMill’s arsenal. An Option-drag on the edge of a normal document in Edit mode turns the page into a "frameset" containing two frames. There’s also a pair of menu commands for dividing page areas into frames, and you can create multiple and nested frames using the menus or Option and Command-Option-drag routines. To delete a frame, you drag one edge a tiny bit over the other edge. Once a frame is set up, you configure it with the Inspector, and then add content just as you would to any normal Web page. You may also insert a previously-created Web page, and though PageMill isn’t perfect, it does a reasonably good job at importing HTML documents created from other sources.
If you create a link within a framed page, it’s important to indicate in which frame the link destination should appear, or to have the destination appear in a new window. PageMill helps you accomplish this through a mechanism wherein you triple-click an established link, and then bring up a menu (it can either pop up directly from the link, or from the red target icon at the lower right of the document window). This menu shows a thumbnail view of the frameset, and you can quickly choose any frame, or choose textual options, such as "new window" or "same frame."
In Preview mode, you can follow links you’ve set up and display different pages in the frameset. When you switch back to Edit mode, the pages that were displaying in Preview mode can be edited.
Graphical Gyrations — As was the case with version 1.0, PageMill 2.0 can import a PICT image and automatically convert it into a GIF, though in this version you can optionally name the converted images yourself. As you would expect, PageMill also imports GIF and JPEG images. Images may be resized visually by dragging their selection handles, or you can use the Inspector to enter precise measurements, complete with options for changing the size proportionally. You also use the Inspector to enter alternate text (text displayed in place of the image for those browsing the Web sans graphics) and to set a border.
You take a trip to the toolbar in order to align an image within its line of text, or to wrap text left and right of an image. Wrapped text displays properly, a feature lacking in several PageMill competitors.
A background image (an image that tiles on the background of a Web page) is easy to set up, and displays in Edit and Preview mode.
Double-clicking an inserted graphic doesn’t open it in PageMill’s Image window, but alert PageMillers will realize that it changes the table buttons on the toolbar into buttons for making client-side image maps. To make a server-side map you must Command-click the graphic, which opens it in the Image window. In either case, hot spots can be round, rectangular, or irregularly shaped, and it’s easy to create links and shuffle layers. The Image window has options for zooming and creating a transparency or adding interlacing, along with tools for creating server-side maps.
Red Tape — PageMill still makes no effort to help with creating CGIs, programs that can receive and process form data, and the 2.0 version still only permits one form per page. PageMill does help with creating a form interface, complete with more exotic elements like hidden fields and graphics that act as Submit buttons. To alter an element’s basic attributes, you click it once and then use the Inspector. To type into an element (for instance, to change the wording of a Submit button), you must first double-click the element.
Content Anyone? PageMill, with its tables, frames, graphics, and support for form interfaces, makes it easy to lay out a page. You can’t drag & drop items anywhere you like, as you would in a desktop publishing program, but you can arrange them within a table grid. Those interested in placing lengthy or sophisticated text-based content on the Web, though, will need to create content elsewhere.
PageMill has no macros and supports only core Apple Events, so there’s little opportunity for using PageMill in a situation where pages must be mass-produced with data from other applications, such as a database.
The find and replace feature is too simplistic for even a light wildcard search, though it does implement whole word searching and wrapping, features that are surprisingly rare among PageMill’s competition. The find and replace has one unusual feature: it can be restricted to act solely within tables and forms.
PageMill’s spelling checker is only for final checks. The checker’s Ignore button would be more aptly labeled "Skip," though there is an Ignore All button which at least skips all instances of a word through one spelling check. The documentation for the spelling checker is so vague as to be useless to all but the most uninitiated of users. The manual makes no mention of how to use user dictionaries from other programs or how one might create a dictionary from a text file.
PageMill has middling support for standard editing conventions. The program doesn’t intelligently insert and delete spaces if you drag & drop a word to a new location in the document, and it lacks keyboard shortcuts for moving the cursor from word to word or to the end of a line. Still, PageMill knows that a double-click selects a word, and that if you double-click and drag to extend the selection, the selection should advance by word.
Evaluation — When examining the wheat of PageMill’s many excellent layout features, it’s easy to forget the chaff of its interface, which I find rather cumbersome. The interface elements are too small, and I don’t use PageMill often enough to memorize all the special Command- and Option-clicks necessary to make it hum along nicely. Although I wish PageMill had more adequate writing tools, I can live with Adobe’s decision to focus on layout. Given Adobe’s visual emphasis, I am disappointed that they did not implement style sheets. Adobe may have been waiting for HTML standards for style sheets to shake out a bit more, but in the meantime, simple styling options would help PageMill stand out from its competition, and make it a must for some Web designers
If you design Web pages professionally, PageMill 2.0 is an excellent choice, particularly for heavy-duty functionality in tables and frames. For occasional Web authors, PageMill is still a good choice, particularly if you aren’t much interested in learning HTML. The Jan-97 issue of MacUser has an article I wrote (in September) comparing PageMill and its then-shipping competition.
PageMill faces competition from two fronts. For casual Web authors, Claris Home Page 2.0 (scheduled to ship in December) stands out as a program to watch. On the professional front, programs like NetObjects Fusion will certainly turn some heads. Fusion has been shipping for Windows 3.1, 95, and NT for several months now, and a Power Macintosh version is currently in public beta (a 14 MB download).
Cyberian Outpost is offering a $4 discount to TidBITS readers who purchase PageMill through this URL:
Adobe Systems — 800/411-8657 — 408/536-6000