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Tune in this week to an exploration of Channel Definition Format and the TidBITS Channel. Will it be renewed next season? We also explore the options available to new iMac owners for transferring files and connecting old printers. Developers should read on for an important change coming in Mac OS 8.5, and in the news, Open Door Networks ships a public beta of their personal firewall DoorStop, and Connectix sells the QuickCam to Logitech.

Adam Engst No comments

TidBITS Servers Moving

TidBITS Servers Moving — Sometime late this week, we’ll physically move our servers to the new location of Point of Presence Company, our Web and mailing list host. Web and email services will probably be down for at least a few hours; don’t worry if it takes a day or two more for the new DNS entries to update properly everywhere. [ACE]

Adam Engst No comments

Open Door Slams Network Doors

Open Door Slams Network Doors — Open Door Networks has released a public beta of DoorStop, a software-based firewall for individual Macintosh servers. Unlike expensive hardware solutions, DoorStop operates only on the Macintosh on which it is installed, providing flexible blocking of TCP services. You can block any TCP connection from any address or range of addresses, block access to all TCP services on the server, block accesses to particular IP addresses on a multihomed server, and keep a log of all denied and allowed accesses. DoorStop should be of special interest to anyone running Open Door’s ShareWay IP, which provides AppleShare-over-IP services to Macs running Personal File Sharing. As we commented in "Share and Share IP Alike" in TidBITS-436, ShareWay IP creates some security issues – DoorStop can significantly alleviate those concerns. DoorStop requires a PowerPC-based Mac, Mac OS 8.1, and Open Transport 1.3 or later. Pricing has yet to be set, and version 1.0b1, which expires 01-Oct-98, is a 680K download. [ACE]



Adam Engst No comments

QuickCam Moves to Logitech

QuickCam Moves to Logitech — In a move designed to focus the company on Macintosh, PC, and Internet utilities, Connectix Corporation has sold their hardware division, including the QuickCam and QuickClip products, to Logitech SA for $25 million. Although Connectix was a pioneer in the low-cost video camera field with the QuickCam (and recently sold their one millionth unit), the money and resources freed up by the sale should enable the company to continue releasing innovating utilities along the lines of RAM Doubler, Virtual PC, and SurfExpress. [ACE]

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Adam Engst No comments

iMac Connection Guide

The iMac is out, and retailers are reporting record demand, including sell-outs and orders for more iMacs. Feedback has begun to trickle in, and seems positive (one TidBITS Talk participant, who shall remain nameless, claims to have tattooed a tiny iMac on his rump – we won’t ask for proof). Service technicians have grumbled at the amount of time needed to add memory to the iMac (20 minutes or so), which is the most common modification. The question on everyone’s mind is how to connect the iMac to other Macs and existing peripherals, so we thought we’d summarize the main choices. For additional information, check out Apple’s iMac Connectivity Guide and iMac Support Page, plus MacFixit’s iMac Page and MacInTouch’s iMac FAQ.

< connectivity/connectivity.taf>




File Transfer — Anyone upgrading from an older Mac probably needs to move files to the iMac. Possibilities vary, depending on the older Mac’s configuration and the hardware at your disposal. Also, some resellers are offering a file transfer service for iMac customers, and I’d encourage user groups to offer a similar service, perhaps as a membership incentive.

  • If the old Mac is on an Ethernet network, use personal file sharing built into the Mac OS to transfer files from one machine to another.

  • If the old Mac supports Ethernet but you don’t have an Ethernet network, there are two ways you can make a simple network. The first way is to buy an inexpensive Ethernet hub (about $50), which might prove useful in the future for connecting an Ethernet-capable printer to the iMac. Second, the cheapest way of connecting two Macs via Ethernet is with a crossover cable, which is a specially wired Ethernet cable that can connect two machines directly. They cost between $4 and $15 from numerous online vendors (search for "crossover cable"), or you can make one if you’re handy with a crimper and have RJ-45 connectors and cable. (Jeff Carlson passed on instructions back in TidBITS-393.) Note that some Macs need Ethernet transceivers to support 10Base-T.


  • If the old Mac lacks Ethernet capabilities, you can use a LocalTalk-to-Ethernet bridge to connect the two. A number of companies make these bridges – including networking vendors like Asante, Farallon, and Sonic Systems – and they’re often used to make LocalTalk printers accessible to an Ethernet network. Look for Asante’s Micro AsantePrint; Farallon’s EtherMac iPrint Adapter, EtherWave Printer Adapter, and EtherWave MultiPrinter Adapter; and Sonic Systems’ microPrint/2 and microPrint/12. Prices and availability vary, but these devices should be in the $100 to $250 range, and some are available from TidBITS sponsors Small Dog Electronics and Cyberian Outpost.


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  • If your old Macintosh has a modem, you can connect the two modems then use a communications program like ZTerm or ClarisWorks to transfer files. Apple has provided some instructions for doing this. It will undoubtedly be slow and clumsy, but it’s a one-time task. You could also upload and download files via FTP or email files to yourself, but that would be even slower than connecting two modems together.

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  • If you have access to a CD-R drive, burning a CD-ROM of all your files and then copying them over using the iMac’s CD-ROM drive would work well, plus provide an archival backup of the older Mac.

  • It’s not clear how many USB-based removable storage devices are actually shipping. However, if you can buy one, you have three options for swapping files back and forth. First, if the device supports normal floppies, like Imation’s SuperDisk, you can use floppies to copy important files, although I recommend using a backup program to handle the dirty work of fitting everything neatly onto floppies. Second, if it’s a USB-based Zip drive (which are expected to ship toward the end of the year) and you have access to a SCSI-based Zip drive, you can copy files to the SCSI-based Zip drive from the old Mac, then move the disk over to the iMac’s USB-based Zip drive. Third, if you plan to keep your old PCI-based Mac (this option probably isn’t worthwhile otherwise) you could buy a Keyspan PCI card that provides two USB ports, then use any USB-based removable storage device on both computers.




  • Finally, if you’re extremely comfortable with a soldering iron and don’t mind voiding your warranty, you can solder a floppy connector onto the iMac’s motherboard. This falls squarely into the "kids, don’t try this at home" category, but hey, it’s a major hack. Finding a floppy drive to connect is a different challenge. Kudos to Stephan Ehrman of c’t magazine for this tweaky tip.


Connecting Printers — The next major iMac question involves printers. Again the possibilities vary widely.

  • If you own an Ethernet-capable printer, then an iMac can use it with either a hub or a crossover cable.

  • If your printer supports LocalTalk, buy one of the LocalTalk-to-Ethernet bridges mentioned above.

  • If you have an old StyleWriter or other printer that plugged into your printer port, you need a USB-to-serial converter. Although Newer Technologies announced one, they’ve since cancelled it. Mac-specific converters are available from Momentum, Inc. – the uConnect enables you to connect any serial device, including printers, and the uConnect for Printers is targeted primarily at printers. The two $84 products ($69 street price) include different software, but they share the same hardware and support most serial devices, though not the Canon BJC-4550, LocalTalk devices, or MIDI devices. For MIDI connections, check out Opcode Systems’ recent announcements.



  • Consider passing that old printer along to someone with an old Mac, then purchasing a new Epson Stylus or HP DeskJet printer with a USB cable kit. These printers are inexpensive, with prices from $200 to $300. The best option would seem to be the new Epson Stylus 740, which supports both USB and LocalTalk and will be available soon from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics (see this issue’s sponsorship area). The USB cable kit for the Epson Stylus Color 600 is available, and Epson is reportedly working on one for the Stylus Photo 700. On TidBITS Talk, Joe Finnegan passed on word that HP’s USB cable kit will ship in September.

Connecting Other Stuff — Although most people have wondered about connecting Macs and printers, other devices come up as well.

  • If you want to connect a joystick, mouse, keyboard, trackball, or other ADB device (though not copy protection dongles), check out the iMate from Griffin Technologies, covered in "Griffin iMates USB and ADB" in TidBITS-439.



  • Last week in "iMac Hoopla" (TidBITS-443), I mentioned Stalker Software offers several utilities for sharing SCSI devices like scanners and serial devices like modems over a network. In retrospect, I picked the wrong utilities. ScanShare and SCSIShare do much the same thing, but ScanShare is specific to Apple scanners. Instead of LineShare (which lets applications share a single serial port) I should have recommended Stalker’s PortShare Pro, which enables Macs on the same network to share serial devices. Sorry for the confusion, and note that Stalker is offering some iMac specials.



  • Finally, MacWEEK has uncovered a secret expansion slot on the underside of the iMac motherboard. Apparently it’s reserved for Apple internal use but could be used in the future to add FireWire or DVD to the iMac.


Adam Engst No comments

Calling Developers to MacBinary III

If you’re not a developer, you can stop reading this article. You’re not supposed to know this stuff for a while yet.

As Apple has announced, Mac OS 8.5 should ship in a month or so. It’s slated to have many major new features, but two small ones are at issue here. In Mac OS 8.5, files will gain two new attributes or "flags": icon badges and custom routing. Neither is really new, but both will become available to developers.

Icon Badges — We’ve all seen icon badges on the System Folder, the Extensions folder, and so on. Icon badges aren’t even new to files – the now-defunct DiskDoubler compression program tacked a tiny DD badge onto the corner of compressed files’ icons. Without the badge, you wouldn’t have known the file was compressed, which could have caused problems had you given it to someone without DiskDoubler. And, if DiskDoubler had changed the entire file icon, you wouldn’t necessarily have known which application owned the file.

Mac OS 8.5 will offer direct support for icon badges, such that developers can apply them whenever they want. For instance, games could save player files with badges that indicate the player’s state – live, barely alive, or in the phantom zone – or a graphics program could use badges to denote common image formats, like GIF or JPEG. Icon badges aren’t a killer feature but should prove useful.

Custom Routing — We’ve also seen file routing. Drop a control panel on the System Folder, and the Finder will tell you that it needs to live in the Control Panels folder and then put it there automatically if you like. If routing wasn’t happening that control panel would end up in the top level of the System Folder.

Routing will become more widely accessible for developers, so they can more easily tell users to drop files on the System Folder and have them routed automatically to any of the standard folders. For simple installations of items like contextual menu items or shared libraries, custom routing is a good thing.

Enter MacBinary III — The problem is that existing tools for encoding files for the Internet destroy the flags that hold the icon badge and custom routing information. If you encode files with BinHex or MacBinary II (which is generally transparent, being built into most FTP programs), that action will delete icon badge or custom routing information. It won’t otherwise damage the file, but could confuse the recipient, particularly in the case of custom routing information. Imagine telling someone to drop a file on the System Folder, assuming it will land in the Preferences folder and then having it fall loose in the System Folder. In short, BinHex and MacBinary II become lossy formats.

There are workarounds for this problem using existing tools which we’ll cover when Mac OS 8.5 is released. For the moment, I want to encourage any developer whose program transfers Macintosh files on the Internet to support MacBinary III. If your application does anything with BinHex or MacBinary II now, you should be thinking about updating it to work with MacBinary III. Also, if you’re defaulting to BinHex (in an email program, for instance), you should probably switch default encoding to a format like AppleDouble that retains the new flags. The changes from MacBinary II are minor, I’m told, and several developers are providing sample source code in Pascal and C. More information is available at the page below, and there’s a mailing list developers can join to talk about the issues. To subscribe, send email to <[email protected]>, or you can read postings on the Web at the second URL below.



MacBinary III is completely backwards compatible with MacBinary II, so a MacBinary III decoder will handle any files already stored in MacBinary II. MacBinary II decoders (like recent versions of StuffIt Expander) can also decode MacBinary III files, though (as noted above) icon badges and custom routing information will be lost.

Many developers have committed to supporting MacBinary III, including Aladdin Systems, Peter Lewis (Anarchie), Jim Matthews (Fetch), Netscape Communications, and Microsoft, so MacBinary III will supplant both BinHex and MacBinary II. I won’t be sorry to see BinHex go, since MacBinary creates smaller files and FTP sites like the Info-Mac Archive are perennially low on space. MacBinary III is the wave of the future, so make sure your programs aren’t left behind in a 7-bit BinHex past.

Adam Engst No comments

The Real TidBITS Channel

More than a year ago in TidBITS-373, I wrote an April Fools article called "The TidBITS Channel" about our forthcoming TidBITS Channel, which would take advantage of so-called "shove" technology. It was all in fun, but little did we know that nine months later we’d have a real TidBITS Channel.


Since the release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 in January of 1998, we’ve been updating a CDF (Channel Definition Format) file that’s the guts of what Microsoft calls an "active channel." Although CDF has been submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a standard and is available there as a note, it’s supported only by Internet Explorer 4.0.


Although this technology was lumped in with "push" when it debuted, there’s no push involved. Instead, like Intermind’s overly ambitious Communicator product (see "Intermind Communicator – Let’s Communicate" in TidBITS-349), channels in Internet Explorer are actually an instance of scheduled pull. Let me explain how it works.


Subscribing & Customizing — As a user, subscribing to a channel is simple. All you do is feed Internet Explorer a URL to a CDF file. An easy way to do that is to click a link on the channel’s preview page. To see our channel preview page, visit the URL below; once there, you may subscribe to our channel by clicking the Add Active Channel button.

< preview.html>

Once you click Add Active Channel, Internet Explorer downloads the CDF file, realizes you aren’t currently subscribed, and asks if you’d like to add the channel. Click the Add button, or click the Customize button to change our default settings.

After adding the channel, click or hover over the Channels tab on the left side of Internet Explorer’s window (make sure Explorer Bar is checked in the View menu) to display your Channel bar. The channel listing is similar to the list of your favorites or history, although channels generally have graphics instead of plain names.

You can customize the channel by Control-clicking it and choosing Get Info from the contextual menu that appears. Although there are several tabbed options – including Info, Subscribe, Account, Schedule, Notify, and Offline – only Schedule is interesting, since it enables you to change the default schedule Internet Explorer uses to check for new content. Peek at the other options, but I doubt you’ll want to change them.

You can unsubscribe from a channel by dragging it to the Trash, using the Delete command in the contextual menu, or by clicking the Unsubscribe button in the Subscribe tab of the Get Info dialog.

Reading the Channel — So what about reading the channel? Open the Channel bar, then click the TidBITS Channel graphic. Although you’d never guess, since Internet Explorer doesn’t provide discovery triangles like those the Finder uses for folders in list views, the main TidBITS Channel graphic is essentially a folder; for the purposes of this article, call it a "channel folder." When you click the channel folder, it displays three subordinate channel folders, although again, you can’t tell that they’re folders until you click them and reveal channel items. Clicking channel items causes associated Web pages to load in the main browser window. However, a channel folder can also have an associated Web page, so it both loads that page and reveals more channel items with a single click. Click to the left of a subordinate channel folder name to expand it without loading its associated Web page. In short, both channel items and channel folders can link to Web pages.

We’ve divided our channel into three sections, TidBITS Updates, Current Issue, and Web Site. The TidBITS Updates folder contains links to the current contents of TidBITS Updates, the Current Issue folder holds links to the articles in the current issue of TidBITS, and the Web Site folder has links to selected parts of our Web site.

To view any item, click it and the appropriate Web page appears in the browser window. You can tell what’s new by looking for yellow starbursts next to channel items. How does the channel know what’s new? Remember the schedule I mentioned? Internet Explorer checks the CDF file stored on our Web server according to that schedule (once per day by default). Whenever it finds changes in the content, it updates the channel and marks the change.

I said earlier that these channel items link to the channel content. That would imply you must be connected to the Internet to read a channel, but that’s not entirely necessary. When we created our CDF file, we took advantage of some options that force Internet Explorer to pre-cache certain parts of the channel, including TidBITS Updates and the current issue. Those options enable people to read the channel without being connected to the Internet – at least that’s the theory. In our testing, we ran across anomalous behaviors; you’ll have the best results if you explicitly choose Offline Browsing from Internet Explorer’s File menu.

Creating a Channel — I’d like to say that creating a CDF file is as easy as whipping up a Web page, but it’s not. Microsoft designed CDF so it couldn’t be abused as HTML has been, and Internet Explorer’s CDF parser is finicky. Drop a single bracket or quote, and whole chunks of your channel may disappear or move. I learned that the hard way and now only work with CDF files with Nisus Writer’s parenthesis matching feature on, so I know if I forget a closing bracket or quote. Some tools are available for creating CDF files, but they’re currently only for Windows.

There’s more information available now than when I first developed our channel, but the following page should get you started. Make sure to check out the CDF 101 and CDF 201 tutorials, and the CDF reference.

< channel/channelroadmap.asp>

A few tips that may help: you can peek at other CDF files by finding the URL to the CDF file (it ends in .cdf), copying it, choosing Download File from Internet Explorer’s File menu, then pasting the URL into the Download File dialog box and clicking Download. Viewing what others have done should prove helpful, just as with HTML. Although you can’t drop a CDF file on Internet Explorer’s window to open it for local testing, you can load it via Open File from the File menu.

Designing a Channel — Mac-oriented channels have essentially two functions. The first is delivery of updated content directly to users’ browsers so they don’t have to download it later. A second function is the capability to present the most important pages on a Web site for quick navigation. Under Windows, channels can also provide screensavers and active desktop items, but thankfully those features aren’t supported on the Mac side.

If you use a channel purely as an aid to Web site navigation, you won’t have to do much updating, but I don’t see much utility to a channel that doesn’t offer direct access to updating content. However, since creating a static channel is much easier, that’s what many publishers have done.

Updating Channels — Creating a channel is only the beginning. Since a channel provides frequently updated content, publishers must commit to regular updates. Needless to say, regular updates scream for automation, and although we’re normally the first to put automation in place, we’ve been somewhat stymied by the task of automating our channel. The problem is one of abstraction – we don’t like to create special cases. If we’re going to revise our automation to handle CDF, we want to make it sufficiently generic that it can spit out other formats using the same data (things like navigation bar elements, TidBITS Updates, the contents of each issue, and so on).

In the meantime, with a little help from Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg, I’ve written a small Nisus Writer macro that takes a list item copied from the HTML source of our home page and converts it to a correct channel entry, complete with a last modified date. So, after we post a TidBITS Update, which happens four or five times each week, we view the source of the home page, copy the new list item, add it to the CDF file, and upload the CDF file back to the Web server.

500 Channels and Nothing On — I’m of two minds about CDF channels. The technology seems fine, although it’s documented poorly and online guides lack significant design suggestions, which contributes to my real problem, which is that most channels I’ve seen are lousy. Few designers understood the theory behind channels and ended up implementing their channels poorly. There’s little reason users would want to subscribe to most of the channels out there. I think ours is fairly good, because it combines our content with frequent updates and a conscious design.

Microsoft hasn’t helped much. Channel support within Internet Explorer is confusing and poorly differentiated from favorites, to which you can also subscribe. (With favorites, you choose what to see and how often to check for updates, whereas the publisher can make those decisions with channels.) Worse, when Microsoft released Internet Explorer 4.0 it created a channel guide that listed known channels, but with Internet Explorer 4.01 Microsoft eliminated that channel guide. Now the only way to find a channel is to happen across one at a Web site, which is no way to promote a technology.

We were interested in channels because we felt being listed in the channel guide would be a good way to introduce TidBITS to potential readers. There’s no question that our channel increased Web traffic – since everyone who has subscribed accounts for a number of hits on our site – but as a tool for reaching new subscribers it’s been relatively useless.

In the end, it seems that channels and CDF were primarily Microsoft’s entry in the then-hot "push" field. Although the technology itself is relatively well thought-out, little attention was paid to the reasons someone might want to read updating content via a channel rather than via email or a normal Web page. The current implementation is a 1.0 effort at best, and if Microsoft wanted the concept to succeed, significant work would be required to arrive at the 3.0 level that’s generally usable. Perhaps we’re simply lacking the necessary patience, and future versions of Internet Explorer will radically improve channel creation and support. In the meantime, we’ll continue maintaining and updating our channel as long as a significant number of people are reading it, so try it out and see if it’s useful to you.