Ever wanted to sue a spammer? We’re doing it – read on for our announcement of how we’re testing Washington State’s new anti-spam laws on a prolific spammer. Also, Adam starts a two-part review of crash detection devices that keep servers running and editorializes about Symantec ignoring Visual Page for the Mac. News this week includes Apple’s third quarter profit, a patch for the much-publicized OLE bug, RAM Doubler 8, a security fix for NetCloak, and more.
Apple Racks Up $101 Million Profit — Apple Computer last week announced a profit of $101 million for the third fiscal quarter of 1998, although bolstered by $26 million in one-time investment gains. $101 million works out to $.65 per share, almost double analysts’ estimates of $.33 per share. Revenues for the quarter equaled last quarter at $1.4 billion, gross margins were 25.7 percent (the highest in three years, thanks to the Power Macintosh G3s and PowerBook G3s), and Apple CFO Fred Anderson said that company has almost $2 billion in cash on hand. Anderson also noted that the introduction of the low-margin iMac in the next fiscal quarter will drive down gross margins but should increase revenues. [ACE]
OLE Security Patch for Mac Office 98 — Microsoft Corporation has released an OLE update for English language versions of Microsoft Office 98 designed to prevent OLE applications from storing extraneous data – possibly including email, financial data, or other sensitive information – within document files. (See "Oil of OLE: Document Security and You" in TidBITS-437 for a complete description of the problem.) Although the revised version of OLE corrects the extraneous data problem for all applications that use OLE (including PageMaker and previous versions of Office applications), Microsoft’s updater requires the Microsoft Office First Run application to install the files. As a result, unless you have Microsoft Office 98, this updater apparently cannot be used to install the revised version of OLE for use with other applications. At this point, it’s unknown whether Microsoft plans to release a stand-alone update to OLE, or make the fix available to other application developers who use OLE. The update is available in MacBinary (3.3 MB) or BinHex (4.5 MB) formats, and it also includes a previously released fix for Visual Basic for Applications that corrected a problem with the Office 98’s Memo and Resume Wizards. [GD]
Free RAM Doubler 8 Update — Users of Connectix’s RAM Doubler 2.x can now update to RAM Doubler 8 using a free updater (379K download) available from Connectix’s Web site. Despite the large version number change, the update is fairly minor, offering primarily some additional reporting and configuration options in the RAM Doubler control panel, plus a fix for a conflict with Microsoft Office 98 (see "Minor Connectix Updates" in TidBITS-431). [ACE]
Maxum Moves to Plug NetCloak Security Hole — Maxum Development has released an interim "final candidate" version of NetCloak 2.5.4, its server-side tool for creating dynamic Web content. Version 2.5.4 fixes a serious security problem in previous versions of NetCloak, and Maxum recommends that all NetCloak users with secure content on their Web servers upgrade to version 2.5.4 as soon as possible. Maxum is not identifying the security problem in order to prevent hackers from using it against sites that haven’t installed the 2.5.4 update, and Maxum expects to release a fully tested release version of NetCloak 2.5.4 shortly. The update can be obtained by filling out a form at Maxum’s Web site. [GD]
Griffin iMates USB and ADB — Griffin Technology last week announced the iMate, a $29 USB-to-ADB adapter that enables iMac users to use standard ADB devices such as keyboards, mice, trackballs, and joysticks. Plans for a future version include support for less standard ADB devices such as copy-protection dongles. iMate users will be able to mix and match USB and ADB devices, and ADB devices attached to an iMate can be daisy chained. Reportedly, the iMate also enables USB-equipped PCs running Windows 98 to use ADB devices. Griffin plans to ship the iMate in mid-August, to correspond with the iMac release date. [ACE]
Keep It Up More Often — Karl Pottie has released Keep It Up 1.4.1, a minor bug fix for his useful application monitoring utility. Keep It Up watches selected applications and relaunches them if they quit or crash. After a user-specified number of attempts to relaunch an application, Keep It Up can restart the Mac. Other features include the capability to open specified documents on application launch, perform scheduled restarts, and keep one application frontmost at all times. Keep It Up is $22 shareware and is a 186K download. [ACE]
AutoShare 2.4 Released — Mikael Hansen has released AutoShare 2.4, his freeware mailing list server and auto-responder. New in version 2.4 are several additional process extender types, a sample process extender for vacation mail, enhancements to the automatic bounce processing module, plus minor improvements and bug fixes. AutoShare 2.4 is a 1.8 MB download. [ACE]
Tenon Revs Up WebTen 2.1 — Last week, Tenon Intersystems released WebTen 2.1, a high-performance, Apache-based, Macintosh Web server, which also includes DNS, multihoming FTP, NFS, and SSL 3.0. WebTen is based on Tenon technology that essentially wraps Unix applications in a shell that turns them into Macintosh applications while retaining excellent performance and features. WebTen 2.1 builds in the latest code for Apache 1.2.6, domain name service based on BIND 8.1.2, caching software based on Squid 1.1.20, Perl 5.004_4, and updated documentation. Tenon also announced the availability of a version of the popular Unix ht://Dig search engine for WebTen, plus a deal on the automatic server monitoring and restart device MacCoach 2.0 from Neuron Data Systems. MacCoach 2.0 normally retails for $99, but for a limited time is available for WebTen customers from Tenon for $55. Prices for WebTen vary from $350 sidegrades to $495 for a CD and printed documentation; Tenon also offers educational and government discounts. [ACE]
Disk Copy 6.3 Adds and Improves Features — Apple has released Disk Copy 6.3, a free program for creating and manipulating disk image files, including the New Disk Image Format (NDIF) archives that Apple uses for software updates. Disk Copy 6.3 adds the capability to duplicate floppy disks and create self-mounting disk images (usually identified by an ".smi" extension). In addition, Disk Copy 6.3 supports HFS Plus volumes (under Mac OS 8.1) and Apple’s forthcoming Navigation Services (set to debut in Mac OS 8.5). Although the feature is often overlooked, Disk Copy offers significant AppleScript support, including recordability and an attachable Scripts menu; version 6.3 changes some of the AppleScript terminology but also offers new functionality. Disk Copy requires U.S. English System 7.0.1 or later, although many features (such as read/write images and drag & drop support) require System 7.5 or higher. Disk Copy 6.3 can be downloaded in BinHex (983K) or MacBinary (729K) formats. [GD]
Newer Present at Macworld — Oops. We biffed it in TidBITS-438 when we said that Newer Technology wasn’t present at Macworld. In fact, Newer Technology was sharing a booth with NewerRAM, which is now owned by Peripheral Enhancements Corporation. Eric Dahlinger of Newer Technology noted that Newer didn’t show off processor upgrade cards at their usual demo-based booth this year, which may have caused us and others to miss them. Our apologies. [ACE]
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Normally in TidBITS we try to be calm and well-reasoned, but every now and then, we hear about a move so stupid that it makes our stomachs hurt. That’s happened recently at Symantec (motto: "If you can’t beat the competition, buy them and kill their product") with their highly regarded HTML authoring tool Visual Page. We’ve written about Visual Page a number of times in TidBITS, and it’s fared well in all our comparisons of basic HTML authoring tools.
Visual Page was a perfect middle ground between a text-based HTML editor like BBEdit and the high-end as represented by GoLive CyberStudio, Macromedia Dreamweaver, or NetObjects Fusion. The fact is, most people would probably prefer not to learn the details of HTML, nor do most people need the burgeoning feature sets offered by high-end programs.
Add to this the fact that Adobe seems to be ignoring the Mac with PageMill 3.0 (currently available only for Windows) and that Home Page has disappeared into the gaping maw of FileMaker, and you come up with a situation where Symantec was, as it has been said, faced with insurmountable opportunities.
When faced with such a loss of competition, would you immediately decide to refrain from additional Macintosh development? I didn’t think so. However, the official word, as relayed on Symantec’s support newsgroup by Scott Morrison, Lead Technician for Internet Tools Technical Support, is "We have no plans for any future upgrades to this product." Of course, the Windows version of Visual Page 2.0 just shipped, where it will have to do battle with Microsoft FrontPage, which is bundled with everything short of breakfast cereal.
Scott Morrison, by the way, does deserve a golden apple for his work in Symantec’s newsgroups. He was unfailingly honest about the situation, managed to remain polite while replying to irate Visual Page fans, and even offered the professional courtesy of recommending that people check out GoLive CyberStudio, which now has a Personal Edition that Visual Page owners can pick up for free (see "GoLive CyberStudio Gets Personal" in TidBITS-433).
Our colleague Neil Robertson, a professional Web designer at Phinney Bischoff Design House and a frequent speaker at Web design conferences, seconded the pointer to CyberStudio. "I was already seriously looking at GoLive Cyberstudio since Symantec was taking so long to upgrade Visual Page, so it now looks like Symantec has lost my business and any future recommendations I might have made."
When I asked Scott Morrison if there was anything Visual Page users could do, he encouraged people to leave messages in the Symantec technical support newsgroup, where he plans to collect them for presentation to upper management. So, if you’re a Visual Page user, check out the Web interface to the Symantec newsgroups and offer your opinion. Make sure to include quantifiable numbers, such as the number of copies your organization owns, the number of copies you caused to be bought, and the number of Macs for which you’re responsible. And if you’re an individual user, your opinions count as well, perhaps even more so than before with Apple’s renewed focus on the consumer market with the iMac.
I think what tweaks me off the most about this entire situation is that all these programs originated on the Mac, starting with PageMill. They came from small start-ups inhaled by larger companies, who have either let the products languish or refocused their entire attention on the Windows world. Companies that have remained independent and focused on the Mac, such as GoLive Systems and Bare Bones Software, seem to be doing fine, so I don’t believe the market has changed all that much.
I think we’re staring into the twisted visage of corporate greed here. Sure, the Mac market isn’t as large as the Windows market, but as has been pointed out ad infinitum, Mac users buy more software and tend to be more brand loyal (even considering the Apple soap opera of 1997). Loyalty would seem to be a concept lost on companies like Symantec, Adobe, and FileMaker, and as long as they don’t get it, I see no reason they deserve any loyalty from the user community.
I run a number of Macintosh-based Internet servers, and for the most part, these servers are stable. Crashes aren’t frequent, but they do happen often enough to be a nuisance, particularly on Web servers that need to run all the time. Worse, several of my servers are a 45-minute drive away, in an office building I can’t access after business hours. The laws of the universe state that crashes tend to happen on Friday evenings so that the server can be unavailable for as long as possible.
In part, I work around the laws of the universe by using crash-detection devices that can watch for crashes and restart a hung Mac without human interference. These devices connect to the ADB port (and sometimes the power outlet) and communicate with special software to determine if the Mac is operational. When they determine a crash has occurred, they restart the Mac, either by turning it off and on again, or by sending a keyboard restart over ADB – just as though you had pressed Command-Control-Power.
The main device I’ve used over the years to watch for crashes and restart Macs automatically is the PowerKey Pro from Sophisticated Circuits. A pair of PowerKey Pros watch our main servers in Seattle, and a third kept an eye on our internal file server until recently, when the time came to test several newcomers. On our internal file server, I installed the new crash-detection device from Sophisticated Circuits called Rebound. On our SE/30-based mailing list host I installed a crash-detection peripheral from Kernel Productions, called Lazarus. I never received another competitor, MacCoach from the Belgian company Neuron Data Systems, but I’ll try to include information about it when possible.
Although I’ve found ways all that these devices can be fooled into restarting a Mac that hasn’t crashed, the most important fact is that none have so far failed to restart a crashed Mac. That said, how do these products compare?
Hardware — The PowerKey Pro comes in two different models, the 200 and the 600. The two units are physically similar, each offering six power outlets, a telephone jack, and an ADB plug. The 200 lacks the phone tone control and manual switches of the 600, but the 200 has 160 Joules of surge protection, whereas the 600 can take an add-on surge protector. (Omitting surge protection from the PowerKey Pro 600 is intentional, since people who buy the PowerKey Pro 600 also often have a UPS – uninterruptible power supply – and many UPS manufacturers don’t recommend plugging surge protectors into a UPS.) The important feature for monitoring servers comes with the software, an optional $39.95 component called the Server Restart Option (SRO) that’s currently bundled with the 600. Because the PowerKey Pro offers six power outlets and has space for the telephone jack, the ADB port, and its own power cord, it’s quite a bit larger than the other devices I evaluated.
The PowerKey Pro’s telephone jack bears mention. Before the SRO became available, we plugged the PowerKey Pro into a telephone line and created events that would restart the server if we called and let it ring 12 times. The PowerKey Pro can also detect distinctive ringing, so you could set up an alternate number for your main phone line and let the PowerKey Pro only detect calls specifically to the alternate number.
The minuscule Rebound is a stark contrast to the beefy PowerKey Pro. It’s a sleek three-inch long black ADB cable tipped with a bright yellow ball. It fits anywhere in your ADB chain, so you can move it around. TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan ran into some "problems" with the Rebound’s physical design – you’ll enjoy reading his report and Sophisticated Circuits’ response.
Lazarus falls in between the previous two in size, since it’s a black plastic box with a pair of power plugs (one for the cord to the wall, the other for a cord to the Mac), and a pair of ADB ports so it can sit in your ADB chain. The Lazarus device I received was an early unit and had a distinct hand-made feel.
MacCoach closely resembles Rebound, with a boxy connector replacing the yellow ball on one end of the ADB cable.
Restart Method — Function follows form with these devices. The PowerKey Pro, with its six power outlets, restarts a Mac by cutting power to the Mac’s power outlet. If the Mac isn’t plugged into one of the switchable outlets in the PowerKey Pro 200, then the PowerKey software instead tries a keyboard restart, which is the same as pressing Command-Control-Power on most (but not all) Macs. Ideally, the PowerKey Pro should first try Command-Control-Power and if that fails, toggle power to the Mac, since toggling power can be stressful for the Mac’s power supply and other components. This is especially true if an application crashes on startup, causing the Mac to restart constantly until someone intervenes.
The tiny Rebound can perform only keyboard restarts, limiting its range and effectiveness slightly. Some older Macintosh models don’t support keyboard restarts, so the Rebound doesn’t work for them. In addition, a crash could totally wipe out ADB, at which point a keyboard restart would fail. Luckily, such severe crashes are extremely unusual.
Like the PowerKey Pro, Lazarus toggles power to restart the Mac, so it works on all desktop Macs. One small advantage Lazarus has over the PowerKey Pro is that international users can use Lazarus with no trouble (as I understand it, the female end of power plugs is standardized, whereas the male end varies by country). The PowerKey Pro’s power cable is permanently attached, so it would need an adapter in other countries. Neither Rebound nor MacCoach worry about power plugs, being ADB devices.
None of these devices are likely to work well on PowerBooks. PowerBook servers probably still have batteries installed, so they can withstand short power outages. I think of an internal PowerBook battery as a sort of built-in UPS. Thus, neither the PowerKey Pro nor Lazarus could restart a PowerBook by toggling power. In addition, PowerBooks reportedly have different ADB controller chips than desktop Macs, which eliminates MacCoach and Rebound (Sophisticated Circuits thought Rebound might work on the PowerBook 520/540 series and older, but not on newer PowerBooks). The MacCoach information explicitly says it won’t work on PowerBooks or some 68K Macs.
Crash Detection — All of these devices use essentially the same method of detecting crashes. They rely on software that regularly "pings" the hardware to check that the Mac is still alive, in essence continually resetting a timer. If that timer runs out because the hardware fails to receive pings for a user-specified amount of time, the device restarts the Mac.
The PowerKey Pro and Rebound use a faceless background application loaded from the Extensions folder to perform the pinging, whereas Lazarus relies on a normal application launched from the Startup Items folder. It’s possible to quit the Lazarus application and lose protection, but it’s also easier to turn off Lazarus’s protection for maintenance or troubleshooting. MacCoach reportedly relies on a driver that loads very early, but may not be as sensitive as an application.
The PowerKey Pro, Rebound, and Lazarus can make sure specific applications remain active. Applications must explicitly support the PowerKey Pro and Rebound, whereas Lazarus can watch any application to make sure it’s still active (as can the 2.0 version of the MacCoach software, reportedly). The list of server applications supporting the PowerKey Pro and Rebound currently includes WebSTAR, LetterRip Pro, Newsstand, Quid Pro Quo, WebServer 4D, WebSiphon, CommuniGate, TeleFinder, and PageSentry. Applications support the PowerKey Pro and Rebound by continually resetting a hardware timer. An advantage of the PowerKey Pro/Rebound method is that applications can restart the Mac if they detect low memory situations or other potential problems before they cause a crash.
For multiple server setups, the PowerKey Pro can work with Maxum’s PageSentry Pro monitoring software to restart a number of servers. You plug the PowerKey Pro’s ADB cable into the Mac running PageSentry, then plug the servers into the PowerKey Pro’s switchable power outlets. When PageSentry detects that a server isn’t responding, it toggles power to that server. My servers aren’t even in the same area code, so this feature doesn’t help me, but it’s useful for many people running multiple servers.
Be careful when deciding which applications Lazarus should watch. There’s a button to add all the active applications to Lazarus’s list, but when I accidentally added Email Admin (a LetterRip Pro processor), I ran into troubl, since Email Admin launches when LetterRip Pro receives its first message, not at startup. After startup, when all the other applications launched, Lazarus noticed that Email Admin wasn’t running, and it restarted the Mac repeatedly until I noticed.
I prefer the method used by Karl Pottie’s Keep It Up, a $22 shareware application that watches applications and when they quit or crash, tries to relaunch them, restarting the Mac only if relaunching fails.
Restart Next Week — The second part of this article will discuss the documentation, logging features, interface, and pricing of these restart devices.