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Wondering what you’ll do next time you run into an extension conflict? Adam provides some ideas this week in his review of Casady and Greene’s Conflict Catcher 4.0. In addition, we continue Macworld coverage with our traditional Macworld Expo superlatives article; report on the cracking of Hacke, the Web server in the second Crack-A-Mac contest; follow up on the MacUser-Macworld merger; and note a number of techniques for avoiding Word macro viruses.

Geoff Duncan No comments


Cracked! To the surprise of the Macintosh Internet community, the second-generation Crack-A-Mac Web server security challenge noted in TidBITS-387 was successfully defeated last week. Unlike the first Crack-A-Mac challenge (which featured an out-of-the-box Mac Web server; see TidBITS-378), the second contest was built around a sophisticated server setup featuring third-party software for remote administration, database access, and other functions. Apparently, the successful break-in exploited a security hole in Lasso, a CGI from Blue World Communications that ties together WebSTAR and FileMaker Pro. Blue World has issued a security patch for Lasso; in addition, Pacific Coast has updated its SiteEdit products to address similar potential problems. The Crack-A-Mac challenge is up and running again, and still offering 100,000 Swedish crowns (about $12,500 U.S.) to anyone else who can break in by 15-Oct-97. [GD]




Jeff Carlson No comments

Would I Belie to You?

Would I Belie to You? The number of wordsmiths among the TidBITS readership revealed itself in response to last week’s Macworld Expo article (see TidBITS-392). Nearly half the email I received focused not on the content of the show or the Apple-Microsoft announcement, but on my occasional tendency to belie down on the Jobs when it comes to grammar. I wrote, "Only the crowd’s cheering and screaming belied the fact that Jobs is the computer world’s equivalent of a rock star." The use of "belie" here actually means that the cheering showed Jobs’s status as rock star to be wrong ("to show to be false"), which we all know would be( a )lie. The next time, I’ll clean up my prose with a little sodium hydroxide (lye), or else stand accused as one who likes to Think Different (not "Think Differently," as also mistyped in the same article). [And, as we told Jeff, there are three types of lies in journalism: lies, damned lies, and belies. -Adam] [JC]

Adam Engst No comments

Macro Viruses (Slight Return)

I know I said I wouldn’t write more about macro viruses a number of issues ago, but I couldn’t resist passing on these useful pieces of information.

Michael Gibbs <[email protected]> comments:

An ironic aspect of your warning regarding virus-infected disks from "official" sources is that most application installers recommend that you disable extensions, in many cases disabling your Mac’s immune system. I am in the habit of allowing SAM to check all the installation disks before restarting without extensions.

Michael has an excellent point: checking original disks before installing is a good idea. However, since many application installers store their files in compressed archives which can prevent an anti-virus check from detecting infection, cautious sorts might also want to run a check immediately after installing a new program.

A not-necessarily official Microsoft representative wrote:

The next version of Word for the Macintosh will contain the same level of improved protection as Word 97 for Windows. Word will warn the user when opening any document containing macros and allow the user to open the document without macros enabled. This option is enabled by default. Word will also allow the user to lock and password protect the Normal template at the VBA project level, which prevents any macros from being added to Normal, but does not prevent other customizations, such as styles or toolbar changes. All of this is implemented within Word itself, so does not suffer from the limitations currently in SCANPROT.

Your comment on macros not surviving conversion is absolutely correct. Currently, any and all conversions to or from Word pass through RTF as the interchange format. There has never been (and most likely never will be) a way for macros to be represented in RTF, so therefore any conversions will strip existing macros out of the document. This is actually a simple way for users to disinfect documents – simply save the document out as RTF [also known as Interchange Format in some Save As dialogs -Tonya] and then read it back into Word. The contents of the document itself will be unchanged, but macros, menu customizations, keyboard mappings, and so on will all be stripped out.

Kendall Bullen <[email protected]> offers this tip:

Instead of opening a file that could have a macro, create a new Word document, choose File from the Insert menu, and insert the suspect file into the new document. Word will insert the formatted text just fine, but won’t auto-run any macros that might have executed if you had opened the file normally (you also lose other template information). We’ve used this to "clean" several documents in Word 6, and it’s worked fine for us.

Jonathan Rynd <[email protected]> noted that Padgett Peterson has written a freeware macro scanner for Microsoft Word called MacroList that has worked well in his experience.


Jeff Carlson No comments

Macworld Boston ’97 Superlatives

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Macworld Expo is looking for items, products, and events that draw attention for unusual reasons. My search this year was rewarded with several that were out of the ordinary.

Most Creative Use of a Pickle — David Pogue, hawking his book, The Weird Wide Web, made a pickle glow and flash using a contraption he made from a wood frame, two nails to skewer the pickle, and a power cord from an old lamp. The electricity activates the salt used to cure the pickle. When people started laughing, he justified the show by exclaiming, "Please, this is science!"

Cool-But-Underwhelming Attraction — Power Computing made its mark last year with its Power Tower, a tall rig where brave show-goers could bungee jump over the Boston Harbor. Power brought the Power Tower back, but in a shorter, less exciting version: the Power Zip Line, where you strapped yourself into a harness and slid down an angled cable towards the ground. Although it looked fun, it wasn’t quite the same as plummeting headfirst at the harbor.

Best Entertainment — I unfortunately missed this one, but many people told me that this year’s best party act was at the Mac OS 8 rollout. Soul godfather James Brown entertained the crowd with a rousing two-hour set.

Most Unfortunate Costume — Every Expo there seems to be one company that delights in dressing up an employee in a costume. This show’s winner belonged to the folks at Hitachi, who created an MPEG Cam costume to accompany the release of their cool new digital camera. The only problem was that the costume was made of cloth and foam, so the sleek camera ended up looking like a squishy Star Wars droid.

Best Floor Entertainment — This award is presented hands-down to magician Joel Bauer, whose pitches for Motorola’s StarMax line of Mac compatible systems drew a crowd of people that consistently blocked the aisle in front of the booth. Not only was he a good magician, he knew his information thoroughly and performed without a script. So even if you’d seen his act before, the next show was guaranteed to be different. It’s no trick: he was the real deal.

Most Useful Tchotchke — Motorola gave out sturdy nylon show bags to anyone who would listen to its presentation, easily besting some of the other companies’ bags that were usually torn by the second day.

Best Tchotchke — Although this Expo seemed a little short on free goodies, I was particularly taken by the rubber aliens given out by the folks at Alien Skin Software. Not only were they an interesting mixture of cute and gross, the colors often matched the hair colors of the employees handing them out.

Best Little-Mentioned Addition to the Show — Tucked deep into Apple’s pavilion, a line of companies featuring Rhapsody applications proved that the next generation operating system is moving along nicely. Although Apple is currently drawing attention away from Rhapsody in favor of selling millions of copies of Mac OS 8, when the next-generation OS arrives, there will be software to take advantage of it. Attendees were able to play with functional programs running under pre-release versions of Rhapsody.

Adam Engst No comments

Magazine Merger Redux

I was deluged by responses to my article about Macworld and MacUser merging last week (TidBITS-392). Frankly, I was surprised by the volume, since I hadn’t made any controversial comments in the article. People obviously take their magazine subscriptions seriously.

Subscriptions — First off, a FAQ on MacUser’s Web site makes it clear that the merged magazines will be honoring subscriptions appropriately. So, Macworld subscriptions will continue with the new Macworld. MacUser subscriptions will convert to Macworld subscriptions. And, if you subscribed to both Macworld and MacUser, your MacUser subscription will be tacked on the end of your Macworld subscription.


International Clarification — Next, I should have noted that the international versions of MacUser and Macworld are unrelated to the U.S. magazines of the same name, although they sometimes republish U.S. content. The Macworld/MacUser merger in no way affects these international publications.

The Role of the Internet — Most of the messages commented on my musings about the role played by the Internet in the collective woes of the magazines. Numerous readers said that they’d stopped subscribing to Macworld or MacUser because they could now get information on the Internet (even from the Macworld and MacUser Web sites) in a more timely and less expensive fashion (the prices of U.S. magazine in other countries are often exorbitant). As expected, most of the people complaining about the timeliness and cost of the monthly magazines were from countries other than the U.S and Canada, but even people in North America noted that they preferred the Internet to paper. Of course, TidBITS readers are self-selected for being the sort of people to move from print to the Internet for their information, and none of the folks I’ve talked to at Macworld or MacUser believe the Internet played a major role in the loss of subscribers and ad revenue.

However, there is a temptation for U.S.-based folk to assume that overseas readers made up a relatively small percentage of the Macworld and MacUser circulation numbers. Those numbers are unknown, though we do know, for instance, that roughly 20 percent of the 47,000 people on the TidBITS mailing list are from other countries. Still, Andrew Nielsen <[email protected]> warns:

Care should be taken with generalisations relating to "foreign" consumption of U.S.-produced items, particularly when no actual data is used to back such suggestions. It took a long time for the powers-that-be at Apple to recognise that some 40 percent of Macs were being purchased off-shore. I also remember being irate at Apple at the first WWDC I went to where there were many registration queues for U.S. attendees, and only one for "world-wide" attendees – figure that one out.

What about MacAddict? A number of people wondered if MacAddict, which has been publishing for about a year, may have caused some of the woes of Macworld and MacUser. I spoke with Cheryl England of MacAddict, who joked that MacAddict was obviously the primary reason for the merger. On a more serious note, she said that MacAddict’s circulation is up to about 160,000 now, and has been growing steadily since the magazine’s last audited circulation of 127,000 six months ago. There’s no question that MacAddict’s optimism and brash upstart attitude provide an alternative to the more-established tones of Macworld and MacUser, and that was reflected in comments from some readers as well.

Cheryl noted that MacAddict may have affected Macworld and MacUser in other ways. First, newsstand sales for those magazines may have suffered when MacAddict joined them on the shelves. People browsing for a Macintosh magazine were suddenly offered three choices rather than two, which couldn’t have helped Macworld and MacUser.

Second, Cheryl said that MacAddict’s CD-ROM, which is integrated with every issue (as is the MacAddict Web site, since the magazine, CD-ROM, and Web site were designed simultaneously), might have lured some advertising away from the larger magazines; America Online, for instance, could buy space on the MacAddict CD-ROM rather than sponsoring an entire CD-ROM. CD-ROM advertising would seem very different from print or online advertising since it’s primarily a method of distributing large files, such as the AOL client software or massive game demos.

Ad Sales Rule — This talk of circulation numbers may be deceptive since print magazines make most of their money on advertising. I’ve been told that subscription fees roughly pay for the cost of printing and distributing the magazine, whereas advertising pays for the staff and infrastructure, plus provides any profit. Considering the number of people it takes to create a large glossy magazine, especially one with a testing lab, the advertising money must roll in for a magazine to remain healthy. (Only a few paper-based magazines, including Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated, shun advertising in favor of a subscription-based business model, but they’re exceptions to the rule.)

Circulation and advertising are related – the higher the circulation, the more you can charge for an ad. However, the number of companies who want to advertise in a Macintosh publication is finite, and from a pure revenue stance, Macworld and MacUser were beating each other up over the same set of advertisers. Even worse, major mergers remove advertisers – if both Fractal Design and MetaTools advertised in a magazine, when they merged into MetaCreations, there’s a net loss of a big advertiser. Ceasing the battle for the remaining advertisers was probably the most significant reason for the merger.

However, there’s another twist on the ad sales front that may be even more important. Roy Leban <[email protected]> of Akimbo Systems notes:

You didn’t mention the role played in the merger by the mail-order catalogs. The decline in ad revenue for the magazines can be tracked to the rise of catalogs. Every square inch in a catalog, except for the table of contents, index, and address/postage area is a paid advertisement, and this includes even the front and back covers. If a company doesn’t advertise in a catalog, that catalog won’t carry its products. Period. If you stop advertising for even a month, the catalogs stop carrying your products.

This means that many companies choose to advertise in catalogs instead of magazines rather than in addition to magazines. After all, what good is a magazine ad if customers call the catalogs and can’t buy the product? Only well-off companies can afford to advertise everywhere.

In the Macintosh world, catalog sales make up a much higher percentage of the market than in the Windows world, and I think that has a lot to do with why the catalogs have had a greater negative impact on Macworld and MacUser’s ad revenues.

Oddly enough, this information isn’t common knowledge. Perhaps all the loyal fans who have come out to support Apple lately will spend some energy supporting the small Macintosh companies who so desperately need their support.

Adam Engst No comments

Conflict Catcher 4.0 Ups the Ante

No program is ever finished – there’s always room for improvements and added functionality. However, some programs are more evolved than others, sometimes to the point where it’s difficult to think of new features or interfaces. For me, Casady & Greene’s $65 startup file manager Conflict Catcher falls squarely into that latter category. I’ve known the programmer, Jeff Robbin, for some time, and in the past I used to send him email suggesting a feature or change in Conflict Catcher. Over the years, though, it’s become harder to think of something that Conflict Catcher should do but doesn’t. Frankly, it’s a solid, mature program. And yet, each new release, with 4.0 being the latest, adds a few useful features and refines existing ones.

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Some Background — Historically, startup managers have been control panels that help you turn startup files on and off without manually moving them out of the special folders in the System Folder (Extensions, Control Panels, Startup Items, etc.). When Conflict Catcher first appeared it quickly gathered a strong following due to its smooth technique for assisting in the tedious process of testing for a problematic startup file – booting with a set of startup files, checking if the problem is still present, and then booting again with a different set, all in an attempt to isolate the startup file that triggered the problem. Conflict Catcher did all the thinking about which sets of startup files to test, so all you had to do was report if a problem still existed.

Since those early days, the competition has attempted to catch up. Now Software added conflict testing capabilities to Now Startup Manager, and in Mac OS 7.6, Apple turned the previously awful Extensions Manager into a far more polished and useful utility. Extensions Manager is perhaps the most serious competitor for Conflict Catcher because it comes with Mac OS 7.6 and later. It’s hard for a commercial package to compete against software included with every new Macintosh.

So what sets this latest version of Conflict Catcher apart from the previous versions, which we’ve written about in TidBITS-194 and TidBITS-276? For the most part, the changes lie in the interface, but there are also some notable functional changes.

Conflict Testing — Conflict Catcher’s most important feature remains its conflict testing capability, and it has been updated in 4.0. Now, every conflict test starts with a checklist of actions to perform, much like the unified installer introduced in Mac OS 7.6 that walks you through steps that you should perform before installing. Conflict Catcher’s checklist asks you to describe the problem (which is surprisingly helpful – I’ve found that focusing on the problem sometimes helps me identify the culprit quickly), inspect your startup files and system software for corruption, use intuition to specify which startup files you think might be at fault, and lock on any startup files that must be on for your Mac to operate.

Also new in Conflict Catcher 4.0 is limited automatic conflict testing, which works with crashes that occur on startup. I haven’t had the opportunity to test the automatic conflict testing because my Mac hasn’t crashed during startup in a long time.

Additional Information — My favorite new feature in Conflict Catcher 4.0 is its extensive reference library about startup files, where they came from, and what they do. This information supplements the self-referential information each startup file should contain internally (unfortunately, many don’t identify themselves at all). As the number of startup files has multiplied over the years, it’s become more difficult to track what each one does and whether or not it’s necessary. There were always a few confusing startup files in the past, like A/ROSE and DAL, but now we’re seeing more cryptic names like JgPly.PPC.shlb and npacrx_ppc.Lib, probably brought over from cross-platform applications. There’s no way to keep track without something like Conflict Catcher, which even allows you to add your own descriptions. And, although Apple’s Extensions Manager reads the brief descriptive information contained in more recent startup files as well, it’s unlikely that Apple will try to collect and maintain additional information about startup files from other companies. A recent minor update to Conflict Catcher, 4.0.3, added a new Conflict Catcher Reference file to bring the reference library into the present.

Along with providing information about each startup file and what it does, Conflict Catcher also tries to provide a link to each startup file’s Web site. Clicking a link loads that Web site in the Web browser specified in Internet Config settings, if you use Internet Config. Unfortunately, these links tend to point to company home pages instead of to pages specific to the product in question. Pointing directly to a product page might be a futile effort, since such URLs tend to change frequently, but Casady & Greene could instead point all links to its Web server and redirect the hits out to final destination pages from a database that they maintain (this technique might also garner interesting data about what extensions Conflict Catcher users are interested in). Technically, it’s not rocket science, although keeping the URLs up-to-date would require some effort.

The Conflict Catcher control panel also includes a Web menu that has links to Casady & Greene’s Web site, updates to Conflict Catcher Reference, a searchable online version of the Conflict Catcher Reference library, and several useful Macintosh information and publication sites (not including TidBITS – humph!).

Plug-in Management & Custom Folders — Another new feature I appreciate is Conflict Catcher’s capability to manage any sort of file in any folder. This is most useful with applications that have plug-ins, such as most Web browsers, Illustrator, Photoshop, and QuarkXPress (Conflict Catcher supports those and other programs directly), but it’s completely customizable, so you could, for instance, add the folder that Delayed Startup Items uses. (Delayed Startup Items is an $8 shareware application from Josh Adams and Erik Hanson that lets you get to work right away after starting up your Mac, but – if you pause working for a user-specified amount of time – it automatically launches specified applications.) In each case, Conflict Catcher creates another folder with "(disabled)" appended to its name and disables the plug-ins by moving them into that folder.

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Interface Tweaks — Conflict Catcher 4.0 offers a number of new interface enhancements as well; my favorite change is that it can now display the Conflict Catcher window at startup if the Caps Lock key is down. This is much more convenient than pressing a non-locking key, such as the default Spacebar. I always forgot to press the Spacebar at the right time.

Conflict Catcher 4.0 has more ways of organizing startup files, including by date modified, date installed, memory use, length of load time, manufacturer, and so on. Some views provide collapsible groups so clicking a Finder-like triangle hides the contents of that group. I generally leave startup files organized by folder, but when I have a problem, I sort by date installed and see what I’ve installed recently (since new files are most likely to be the culprits). In the list views, Conflict Catcher now shows each startup file’s icon, which makes the list slower to draw but easier to scan visually.

Another long-standing Conflict Catcher feature is startup file sets that enable you to start your Mac up in a variety of configurations. Conflict Catcher 4.0 adds system-specific sets so you can reboot with only the standard startup files that come from Apple for a specific system version. That’s handy for troubleshooting. Sets can also now be application-specific, so, for instance, you could turn off most of your Netscape plug-ins by default, but occasionally switch to a set where they’re all activated. If you decide to use application-specific sets, I recommend turning on Conflict Catcher’s Finder menu, since it’s the easiest way to activate an application-specific set before launching the application in question.

Conflict Catcher has always been able to link startup files in a variety of ways, so you can specify that File A should never be active if File B is active or that File A and File B should always be turned on or off together. New in Conflict Catcher 4.0 is a separate list of group links in the main window that you can use to turn groups on or off easily. All the default groups (your custom ones show up as well) include only Apple software, but it’s nice, for instance, to be able to turn off all the CD-ROM extensions on my PowerBook 5300 with a single click and also to see that all the CD-ROM extensions are off by looking at the Group Link list.

In the End — Is there anything bad about Conflict Catcher? Nope, it’s an all-around winner. I haven’t run into any problems, although I think the feature list may be starting to sag under everything that Casady & Greene has added over the years. It’s a tough spot, since they must add features to keep differentiating Conflict Catcher from Now Startup Manager, which now features conflict testing as well. There’s a fine line between fighting off increasingly similar competitors and a terminal case of featuritis.

In these days of minimal documentation, especially for utilities, Conflict Catcher’s 272-page manual stands out. The manual is well-written and provides far more information than the standard reference manual that explains little more than you could determine from looking at its program’s interface. Conflict Catcher’s manual provides lots of background on how the Mac and Conflict Catcher work, as well as helpful advice on what to do in a variety of problem situations. Personally, I know what to do in most situations, but when faced with a perplexing problem, I often flip through the manual to see if I’m forgetting any obvious possibilities. I also often turn to the third edition of Ted Landau’s classic Sad Macs, Bombs, and Other Disasters from Peachpit Press (ISBN: 0-201-68810-7, $29.95). It’s an astonishing troubleshooting reference for the Macintosh and is especially noteworthy given the problems Macintosh books have in bookstores these days.

DealBITS Discount — Cyberian Outpost is offering a deal on Conflict Catcher exclusively for TidBITS readers. The price is $57.95, a $2 discount off Cyberian’s regular price.

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Casady & Greene — 800/359-4920 — 408/484-9228

408/484-9218 (fax) — <[email protected]>