When Apple releases the iMac, Mac users won’t have to sit at the back of the (Universal Serial) Bus any longer. Jerry Kindall explains USB and what it means for Mac users. We also look at how ShareWay IP keeps the TidBITS staff connected, plus news about PlusOptimizer and DiskExpress Pro, the Web log analyzer Summary, Extension Overload, BBEdit 4.5.3, the new WinMac mailing list, The Tilery 4.0, and Palm Buddy, a helpful tool for PalmPilot users.
Mac/Windows Integration Mailing List — Marc Bizer<[email protected]> has set up the new WinMac mailing list for intelligent discussion of Windows 95/98/NT and Mac OS integration issues among experienced users. Discussion will be actively moderated by Steve Hyman<[email protected]> and will be limited to software issues. Acceptable topics include connectivity, file exchange, emulation, user management, service management, and so on. Comparative usability topics are acceptable in the context of rational discourse, but civility is required. To subscribe, send email to<[email protected]>. Since initial traffic is expected to be heavy, you can subscribe to the digest version of the list by sending email to<[email protected]>. To unsubscribe, send email to<[email protected]>. [ACE]
The Tilery 4.0 Squares Off — Rick Holzgrafe of Semicolon Software today released The Tilery 4.0, the latest version of his $15 shareware desktop launcher application. (TidBITS looked at the previous version in "Desktop Launchers, Part IV" in TidBITS-278.) The Tilery provides graphical tiles that, when clicked, open applications, documents, folders, volumes, control panels, and servers. In addition, automatic tiles appear for currently active applications. New features in version 4.0 include tile pop-up menus for access to additional features, keyboard control, hot keys for tiles, working sets of tiles, and editable tile text labels. The Tilery 4.0 is a 442K download.
A New Buddy for Mac PalmPilot Owners — Florent Pillet <[email protected]> has released Palm Buddy, a $20 Macintosh shareware application that gives PalmPilot owners greater options for working with the data on their handheld organizers. Unlike the built-in HotSync software (which synchronizes data between the Palm device and your desktop computer) Palm Buddy establishes an open, active connection with the PalmPilot. This enables you to view the directory of files on the Pilot, install applications from the Finder via drag & drop, perform a full backup of all the Pilot’s data, and restore previous backups. Palm Buddy also features a plug-in architecture that, in its current incarnation, translates text files into the AportisDoc document format for reading on the Pilot.
If you’ve recently installed the Palm 2 MB Upgrade for your PalmPilot, Palm Buddy offers a partial workaround for the software glitch in the upgrade card’s ROM that plagues Mac users (see "PalmPilot Upgrade Card Problematic for Mac Users" in TidBITS-435). Since the problem prevents Mac users from installing new applications via the HotSync feature, you can use Palm Buddy to load programs directly and maintain backups of their data files. The downside is, although you can create backups of the data files belonging to the Pilot’s built-in applications (such as the Address Book), Palm Buddy doesn’t synchronize the PalmPilot files with the desktop files. So, changes made using the Pilot Desktop software likely won’t transfer to the PalmPilot the next time you try to use HotSync. Palm Buddy is a 990K download. [JLC]
PlusOptimizer Jumps, DiskExpress Pro Upgrade Promised — Little more than a week after Alsoft released the $29.95 PlusOptimizer, the company’s disk optimization software that works with HFS Plus volumes (see the TidBITS Update "PlusOptimizer Defragments HFS Plus Volumes"), a free update to version 1.1 has appeared. The update enables PlusOptimizer to work even in the presence of directory damage that Disk First Aid can’t repair, adds an optimization report, lets users anchor and unanchor files, and provides a more accurate progress bar. To receive the free update, existing users must use Alsoft’s email service that verifies registration numbers before mailing the 532K file.
Several readers expressed confusion with our coverage of PlusOptimizer, which implements only some of the features of DiskExpress Pro. Although no statements have been published on the company’s Web site, Alsoft has said to several readers that they will provide the Mac OS 8.1 and HFS Plus-compatible upgrade to DiskExpress Pro for free to existing customers. In the meantime, some DiskExpress Pro users have felt that they have no choice but to buy PlusOptimizer as an interim solution until the DiskExpress Pro upgrade ships. The other option, of course, is not to worry about disk fragmentation issues since the concern often outweighs the reality of the performance problems related to fragmentation. A simple backup and restore also eliminates all fragmentation, and you do have good backups, don’t you? [ACE]
BBEdit Moves to 4.5.3 — Bare Bones Software last week released a free updater for BBEdit 4.5, the commercial version of the company’s popular text and HTML editor. The 4.5.3 update offers improvements to BBEdit’s built-in FTP capabilities and Find Differences functionality, plus a number of minor bug fixes. It’s either a 2.7 MB (BinHex) or 1.9 MB (MacBinary) download. [ACE]
Serving Up Web Summaries — Jason Linhart, who maintains the Macintosh version of the freeware Web log analysis program Analog, has released Summary 1.0, a fascinating take on Web log analysis. Rather than generating a single Web page containing multiple reports, Summary acts as a special purpose Web server, serving up any one of its more than 60 reports on the fly to anyone with a Web browser. Luckily, password protection is available, and an option enables you to quit Summary and restart it without re-indexing log files, making it possible to run Summary only at selected times. Summary can also analyze multiple Web logs to provide totals over time, something that was difficult using many traditional Web log analyzers. Summary is $59 shareware and is a 345K download. Requirements include a PowerPC-based Macintosh, an active Internet connection, and a Web browser. [ACE]
Overloaded with Extensions — Teng Chou Ming has released the $10 shareware Extension Overload 2.7, a stand-alone DOCMaker document that provides information about 666 extensions, 245 control panels, Easter Eggs, Macintosh error codes, and more. It’s smaller than, but otherwise quite similar to, Dan Frakes’s InformINIT 8.1 (see "InformINIT: Your Personal Macintosh Informant" in TidBITS-429). Although there’s obviously much overlap between the two, they provide complementary information in places. Extension Overload is a 227K download. [ACE]
Like an increasing number of small organizations, TidBITS has no central office. We all work from our homes and collaborate primarily over the Internet. We use private email and mailing lists to communicate back and forth; rely on private Web servers for statistics, plus editing and posting of TidBITS Updates; and transfer drafts of articles and issues to and fro during editing. Over the years, we’ve worked up various procedures for handling all these tasks, and although they’re specific to TidBITS, many organizations have roughly similar needs.
Enter AppleShare IP — When Apple announced AppleShare IP 5.0, with its combined support for HTTP, FTP, and Internet email, I jumped at the chance to give it a test run in part for those features, but also because of one fabulous new capability that we’d been wanting for years – standard Macintosh file sharing over the Internet to those running the AppleShare Client Chooser extension 3.7 or later, which works with System 7.5 and later and ships with Mac OS 8. (Accessing shared volumes over the Internet is easy. Open the Chooser, click the AppleShare button, click the Server IP Address button, enter the IP address of the AppleShare server in the dialog that appears, and then click the Connect button before proceeding as you would normally with an AppleShare server.)
Why was this important for TidBITS? With six staff members working on any one file, we must pay careful attention to who has a file checked out and when a file is ready for someone else to edit. For a while, we used a NetPresenz FTP server to store files, and we moved files between IN and OUT folders, appending appropriate initials so others could figure out who had each file. This process was a pain. We had to type complicated pathnames, which were easy to screw up. When the time came to check a file back in, we had to either replace the file in OUT and rename it back to IN, or upload to IN and delete the file in OUT. Renaming and moving files aren’t actions that most FTP clients do well.
In contrast, the Finder is great at both moving and renaming files, and once we had AppleShare IP up and running, everyone on the staff could mount our internal file server just like any other AppleShare volume. On occasion, people even opened files over the Internet, though that was generally too slow, since we have only a 56K connection; it might work quickly enough over a T1. Finally, although our system is specific enough that we don’t have to do this often, we can use Find File to search for files on volumes mounted over the Internet, which is quite handy.
Exit AppleShare IP — Unfortunately, AppleShare IP 5.0 had problems. It was a RAM pig, requiring 32 MB of RAM (it took me an hour to get inside our Power Mac 7100/66 to install enough more RAM – not an auspicious debut). AppleShare IP’s interface is based on OpenDoc, and although that might have been politically correct at the time it was being developed, it made for a confusion of multiple administration programs. Worse, OpenDoc prevented me from restarting the server automatically every night, since AppleShare IP put up a confirmation dialog on quit. With a normal Mac application, the free utility Okey Dokey Pro would have been able to punch that button and let the restart continue. But, OpenDoc’s buttons were invisible to Okey Dokey Pro. In addition, I was trying to run an unstable custom version of Apple e.g. for a searchable database of TidBITS articles; when it crashed, Keep It Up couldn’t restart the computer because of this same AppleShare IP confirmation dialog. In short, AppleShare IP didn’t play well with others, and in a fit of pique I deleted it and reinstalled a clean System Folder so I could revert back to WebSTAR, NetPresenz, and Personal File Sharing. (Note that I was using AppleShare IP 5.0 – a bug fix 5.0.2 appeared shortly after I decided to make the switch back, and it’s possible that it addressed some of my irritations.)
Enter ShareWay IP — I might have had a revolt on my hands if I’d forced everyone to go back to the FTP file shuffle. Luckily, at about that time, Open Door Networks released ShareWay IP (now at version 1.1.1), a small application that acts as an IP gateway for Personal File Sharing or any other AppleTalk Filing Protocol (AFP) compliant file server (such as earlier versions of AppleShare or those available in Windows NT, Novell NetWare, or Unix AppleShare servers).
TidBITS isn’t a large organization, and where AppleShare IP was a painful level of overkill, ShareWay IP was ideal. Where I was hard pressed to satisfy AppleShare IP 5.0’s 32 MB RAM requirements, I could duplicate its services in less than 8 MB of RAM using WebSTAR 1.3.2 for HTTP, NetPresenz 4.1 for FTP (it could also have served HTTP if I’d been even more RAM-constrained), Eudora Internet Mail Server 1.2 for email, and ShareWay IP Personal in conjunction with Personal File Sharing for Internet file sharing.
Of these, ShareWay IP was the only newcomer to the mix, and it performed flawlessly. The Personal Edition works only with Personal File Sharing on a single machine, but as a result, its only control is a Start button that activates the IP gateway once file sharing has started. ShareWay IP assumes correctly that if you quit while the gateway is active (the Start button changes to Stop when active), it should make the gateway active again on the next launch.
In short, ShareWay IP Personal Edition is dead simple. Open Door Networks sells two other versions that enable one Mac to act as a gateway for any other machine on the network that has file sharing active or is acting as an AFP server. ShareWay IP Standard Edition enables this for one other server, whereas ShareWay IP Professional Edition enables it for multiple other servers, plus adds access statistics, graphing, logging, and a sortable list of active connections.
Minor Problems — In extensive use of ShareWay IP, we’ve run into no problems at all that can be traced to ShareWay IP itself. We have, however, had one nagging problem that seems to be related to Apple’s AppleShare client software. When some, but not all, of us dismount the file server’s volume, the Finder often restarts or hangs on their machine. It doesn’t seem to affect the server at all, but is extremely frustrating. Keeping the server mounted over the Internet all the time isn’t a viable option because our comparatively slow Internet connections mean changes on the server can cause slowdowns for everyone who has the server mounted.
The only generic problem with ShareWay IP is that it has no security features, relying instead on the security of the servers for which it’s acting as a gateway. That makes some sense, but many people turn file sharing on and allow guests full access. That’s always a poor practice, but in a situation where ShareWay IP might be making that Macintosh accessible to the entire Internet, the ramifications can be even more serious. If you end up using ShareWay IP, be careful about security on the servers you make available to the outside world of the Internet.
In some respects, ShareWay IP offers better security than other solutions, such as FTP. ShareWay IP uses a specific port number for connections, so an access control list in a router can block incoming connections to that port except for selected machines. Plus, since AppleShare uses two-way random number exchanges to encrypt passwords, they never cross the network unencrypted, unlike FTP.
Also, there’s no logging built into ShareWay IP Personal or Standard Editions, or Apple’s Personal File Sharing. The File Sharing Monitor control panel in System 7 and the Activity Monitor tab in the File Sharing control panel in Mac OS 8 can tell you who’s logged in at any given time, but if you want logging you need either ShareWay IP Professional or the combination of AppleShare IP itself and AFP Logger, also from Open Door Networks.
ShareWay IP includes electronic documentation in HTML format, and although it’s rather spartan, it matches ShareWay IP’s minimalist interface. The Personal and Standard Editions of ShareWay IP share the same documentation, which could prove slightly confusing to users of the Personal Edition.
One Trick Ponies — There’s no question that ShareWay IP is a one-trick pony. It has a single function – making AFP-compliant file servers accessible to Macintosh users over the Internet or via TCP. It uses almost no RAM, has a minimal interface, and doesn’t appear to have any performance or stability implications for a server. In short, ShareWay IP is ideal for small organizations that need to share files over the Internet, and it’s become an essential part of our toolbox of Internet server software.
The current version of ShareWay IP is 1.1. ShareWay IP Personal Edition is available directly from Open Door Networks for $79 ($69 educational). The Standard Edition is $249 ($179 educational), and the Professional Edition costs $479 ($349 educational). In comparison, AppleShare IP costs range from more than $800 for a 5-user license up to about $2,000 for an unlimited-user license. Ten-day evaluation copies of all versions of ShareWay IP are available, as are volume discounts for the Personal and Standard Editions.
With the announcement of the iMac we started hearing a totally new abbreviation in the Macintosh world – USB. Gone were our familiar ADB ports and modem ports and printer ports, not to mention SCSI. Why is Apple moving to USB? What was wrong with serial ports and what’s good about USB ports?
What Is USB? USB stands for "Universal Serial Bus" and is a special kind of serial port that’s growing in popularity in the Windows world. Most late-model PCs have at least one USB port, and Windows 98 introduces plug-and-play support for devices attached to the USB port. (Bill Gates’s widely reported COMDEX crash occurred as he was connecting a USB scanner to a PC running Windows 98. But that’s no worse than how Windows plug-and-play often works.)
USB is intended to replace all the various types of low-to-medium-speed data ports hanging off the back of a PC (although most current PCs with USB also have at least some of the old-style ports). This includes not only the serial ports but also keyboard ports, mouse ports (which, on a PC, are basically another serial port), and parallel ports. Keep in mind that on a PC, the parallel port is used not just for printers but also for other devices such as Zip drives, tape drives, scanners, and even some modems.
Given that USB is intended to replace the parallel port as well as lower-speed serial ports, and to do it all at once, it’s pretty speedy. USB devices can talk to the computer at two speeds: 1.5 Mbps or 12 Mbps (that’s millions of bits per second, and remember, there are 8 bits per byte if you want to translate to bytes per second). In comparison, the Mac’s serial ports max out at 230.4 Kbps, and ADB at just over 1 Kbps. Devices like keyboards and mice will use the slower speed; devices like Zip drives, printers, and scanners will use the faster speed. Both speeds can be connected to a single USB bus.
Ah, the bus. The term conjures images of the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), Apple’s standard way of connecting input devices to the computer, with its easy daisy-chaining. USB doesn’t support daisy-chaining in the same way. Each USB port can host one and only one peripheral. However, that peripheral can be a device called a hub, which provides additional USB ports for more devices. Up to 127 devices can be connected to a single USB port using a collection of hubs. (Theoretically, a device could incorporate a "single-port hub" for daisy-chaining, but this isn’t likely in the price-conscious PC market.)
Like ADB devices, USB devices can draw power directly from the bus, within limits. If you have many power-hungry USB devices, you’ll want a powered hub to provide current for them. (The serious power hogs – things with moving parts and motors, like printers and scanners – will have their own power supplies and won’t rely on the USB for power.)
USB Devices — What kinds of devices will be available? Input devices, obviously: keyboards, mice, graphic tablets, joysticks, and so on. Anything that typically hangs off a PC parallel port is also fair game, which means we’ll probably see USB Zip drives and other relatively slow mass storage devices (in fact, Imation and Panasonic have already announced a USB version of their LS-120 SuperDisk drive, which reads both 120 MB and 1.44 MB disks). Other USB candidates include tape drives, scanners, digital still cameras, modems, and printers. Newer Technology has also announced plans to create a USB-based floppy drive, specifically for the iMac. Many cable modems and ADSL adapters operate within the bandwidth of USB, so we might see those kinds of devices as well. The 12 Mbps variant of USB is faster than standard 10 Mbps Ethernet.
Although there will undoubtedly be USB Zip drives (or similar cartridge-type drives like the LS-120), don’t expect decent performance from hard disks attached to the USB. Though a USB Zip drive will probably be faster than the PC parallel port version, and more than adequate for the kind of exercise a consumer is likely to give such a peripheral, SCSI is still faster. Even the slowest version of SCSI has a raw throughput of 5 MB per second, more than 3 times faster than USB, and the newer Ultra/Wide SCSI III can reach 40 MB per second. For hard disks and digital video cameras, you’ll still want SCSI, or the ultra-high-speed serial port dubbed FireWire, which is yet another topic.
USB and the Mac — How do Mac users benefit from USB? The obvious answer is that we can tap into the competitive jungle that is the PC marketplace. Before long, you’ll be able to buy $15 keyboards just like your PC-using friends. (Of course, they’ll be PC keyboards, but they’ll work on your Mac.) Each USB device identifies itself through a generic "type" ("I’m a keyboard," "I’m a mouse," "I’m a Reality Distortion Field generator"), and a USB-compatible Mac will have a USB Manager with built-in drivers that let it talk to many devices in at least a minimal way. You’ll need Mac-specific drivers to take full advantage of many peripherals, but it’s a lot cheaper for manufacturers to create an extra piece of software than to make both a parallel port and a SCSI version of a removable-media disk drive for different markets. PC Cards work in much the same way now – the standard PC Card modem drivers work with almost any PC Card modem, but more specialized PC Cards require custom drivers. A few manufacturers have already announced Mac support for their USB peripherals. If the iMac takes off as retailers expect it to, many more manufacturers should follow suit.
USB has faced an uphill battle in the Windows world because of drivers. One of the primary reasons for the success of Windows over the years is that Microsoft includes a vast collection of drivers for different hardware devices with Windows itself, reducing installation difficulty and conflicts. However, since USB came out after Windows 95, drivers have all been provided by the individual USB peripheral developers, resulting in chaos. The just-released Windows 98 includes better USB support, so there’s hope that the field will settle down. Apple’s strategy of including drivers for common types of USB devices may make USB far more coherent on the Mac.
The iMac’s keyboard, by the way, has a built-in two-port hub, so you can attach one additional device besides the mouse. The iMac itself has two independent USB ports (each with its own 12 Mbps bandwidth), which means that the stock iMac supports two additional USB peripherals (along with a mouse and keyboard), one connected directly to the computer and the second connected to the keyboard. If you need more USB ports, 4-port hubs run about $100 right now, but some observers expect them to fall to the $50 range as USB catches on, much as happened with Ethernet hubs.
Along with Newer Technology’s announced plans to create a USB-to-serial converter, the rumor mill is hinting that at least one manufacturer will introduce a USB peripheral that will provide "old-style" Mac serial, ADB, and (really slow) SCSI ports, so users who move to an iMac from an older Mac can take at least their old printers and modems with them and hook up their old hard disks long enough to copy all their data over. An iMac with such an adapter and an ADB credit-card reader and barcode scanner would make a groovy-looking point-of-sale terminal (at least until there are Mac-compatible USB versions of these peripherals). Though it’s never a good idea to put faith in rumors, this seems like an obvious product, if it can be produced at a reasonable price. Don’t expect total software compatibility, though, as some software products unreasonably assume that no characteristics of serial ports ever change.
You can find out more about USB from a Web site operated by a USB industry consortium, and see what kinds of peripherals are available by visiting USB Stuff, a retailer of USB peripherals. Finally, MacInTouch has collected a variety of bits of information about USB contributed by readers.
[This article is reprinted and updated with permission from MWJ, the Weekly Journal for Serious Macintosh Users. If you can’t get enough insightful Macintosh news, sign up for a free, no-obligation, two-issue trial subscription to MWJ, or download some of the free sample articles. For more information, see the MWJ Web site.]