Did you just get around to installing Mac OS 8.5? Don’t rest on your laurels: Apple has released the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update, and you’ll likely want to install it in order to squash a handful of potential problems. Also, read about a beta release of the new Mac Palm Desktop software based on Claris Organizer, and about Anarchie Pro 3.5 and Retrospect Express 4.1. The issue finishes with a look at collaborative technologies shown at a recent ACM conference.
Anarchie Pro 3.5 Adds Mac OS 8.5 Features
Anarchie Pro 3.5 Adds Mac OS 8.5 Features — Stairways Software has released Anarchie Pro 3.5, an update to the widely used $35 shareware file transfer tool. In addition to the host of new features recently introduced with Anarchie Pro 3.0 (see "Anarchie (Pro) Continues to Rule" in TidBITS-448), Anarchie Pro 3.5 adds a new Mac OS 8.5 look-and-feel, so file listings from FTP servers and link lists from Web pages appear and behave like Finder windows. Anarchie Pro windows also sport an editable address field across the top, like a Web browser, making it easier to modify URLs to point to different directories or filter for content. Anarchie Pro can also execute searches using any Sherlock plug-in installed under Mac OS 8.5 – a feature that should prove useful with plug-ins for large file archives. Although Anarchie can search using only one plug-in at a time, unlike Sherlock, the search feature works even under older versions of the system software. Other new features in Anarchie Pro 3.5 include a Commander window to access frequently used functions and support for Command-double-clicking Web pages to pass the URL to your Web browser. Anarchie Pro 3.5 is a 1 MB download. [GD]
Dantz Releases Free Retrospect Express 4.1 Upgrade
Dantz Releases Free Retrospect Express 4.1 Upgrade — Dantz Development last week released a free upgrade to the individual backup program Retrospect Express. Retrospect Express 4.1 brings the program into parity with the full-featured Retrospect 4.1 by adding support for Internet backup to FTP servers and a bootable disaster recovery CD. Also new in Retrospect Express 4.1 are built-in encryption (necessary for Internet backups), improved performance, and full Mac OS 8.5 compatibility. With the addition of the Internet backup feature, Retrospect Express becomes an excellent solution for iMac users who lack external storage devices. Since Dantz introduced the $50 Retrospect Express 4.0 only six months ago, the company felt the upgrade to 4.1 should be free, which it is if you download the 2.9 MB updater. However, a downloadable updater can’t provide the bootable disaster recovery CD; if you want that, it costs $15 (shipping and handling is included in that price). [ACE]
Macworld Expo SF ’99 Events List Online
Macworld Expo SF ’99 Events List Online — The indefatigable Ilene Hoffman has posted the Robert Hess Memorial Macworld Expo Events List. If you plan to attend Macworld Expo in San Francisco from 05-Jan-99 through 08-Jan-99, check the list for public events. If you are hosting an event at Macworld Expo, make sure to fill out the Event Submission Form. Also, we strongly encourage anyone planning an event to read our "Macworld Geek Party Guide" from TidBITS-415 for tips from the field on how to throw a successful trade show party. [ACE]
Apple Releases Mac OS 8.5.1 Update
Following a few weeks of rumor and speculation, Apple today released the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update. The update doesn’t offer any new features (although it does include a few new Sherlock plug-ins), but instead addresses a selection of under-the-hood problems in Mac OS 8.5. Although these issues have not affected the majority of Mac OS 8.5 users, Apple recommends that all users of Mac OS 8.5 install the update.
It’s always a good idea to perform a complete backup of your system before installing any new system software. This recommendation has nothing to do with Mac OS 8.5.1 – it’s just a common-sense practice that can’t be over-emphasized.
Update Availability — The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update is available for free as a 3 MB, self-mounting, disk image from Apple’s support sites. This update supports only the North American English version of Mac OS 8.5; Apple says localized versions of the update will be available later this month.
<ftp://ftp.info.apple.com/Apple.Support.Area/ Apple_SW_Updates/US/Macintosh/System/Mac _OS_8.5.1_Update/>
Apple also plans to begin distributing the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update on CD-ROM in January of 1999 (presumably just in time for Macworld Expo in San Francisco). Users in the United States and Canada will be able to order the CD-ROM for about $10 by calling the Apple Software Order Center at 800/293-6617; there’s no information yet on the availability of localized versions of the Mac OS 8.5.1 update on CD-ROM.
You can find more information about Mac OS 8.5 and its new features, in a series of TidBITS articles published in October.
What’s Fixed — The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update addresses six primary issues, covered both in the update’s ReadMe file and a Tech Info Library article from Apple.
An AppleScript memory leak has been fixed. The PowerPC-native version of AppleScript that debuted with Mac OS 8.5 has a great deal of power, but unfortunately, calls to scripting additions that weren’t embedded in "tell" blocks caused the loss of a small amount of memory. The problem isn’t the size of the leak but its frequency, which can cause some scripts and (particularly) AppleScript applications like Web server CGIs to fail over a period of time, or require users to restart their machines to reclaim the memory.
Mac OS 8.5.1 fixes a memory problem in the Mac OS file system that could cause a crash. The problem appeared only when applications made numerous asynchronous writes to a disk; FileMaker Pro users may have encountered the problem importing a large number of records from a database.
Mac OS 8.5.1 re-enables many third-party ADB devices like joysticks and copy protection dongles that stopped working under Mac OS 8.5.
The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update comes with an updated version of Sherlock that communicates correctly with proxy servers, enabling Sherlock to better execute Internet searches from behind a firewall. The update also includes a few new Sherlock plug-ins for sites like CNN Interactive, Apple’s Macintosh Products Guide, and a selection of search engines and online retailers.
The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update includes Drive Setup 1.6.2, which corrects a rare problem with updating volumes. The problem damages the HFS partition information, preventing the disk from appearing on the desktop. Drive Setup 1.6.2 also makes sure necessary patches are correctly installed on drives after an initialization or update; previous versions of Drive Setup failed to install updates correctly in some cases.
Mac OS 8.5.1 includes Open Transport 2.0.2, which fixes a rare problem some machines had with booting from the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM.
The Upshot — As of this writing, it’s too early to tell whether Mac OS 8.5.1 Update introduces new problems or incompatibilities, or includes fixes that aren’t detailed here. Further, Apple didn’t distribute this update widely to developers before release, so it hasn’t been subjected to the wide external testing typical of a major system software release. However, this is not a major system software release: it’s just a bug fix intended to address a small set of problems. The patches noted above are well-defined, isolated, and introduce no new features, so users can be confident Mac OS 8.5.1 doesn’t include major new problems. I’ve had no troubles installing the update on three of my systems running Mac OS 8.5, and so far have seen no aberrant behaviors.
Mac Palm Desktop Beta Arrives with Palm VII News
After repeated delays, 3Com/Palm Computing has posted a public beta of the Macintosh Palm Desktop 2.1 on its Web site. We typically don’t report on beta releases, but in this case Mac-based PalmPilot and Palm III users have waited for months for the new software, even beta software, which replaces the awkward Pilot Desktop 1.0 (see "Palm Organizer for Macintosh: Details Emerge" in TidBITS-432). Mac OS 8.5 users have reported troubles running the old Pilot Desktop, so the release of the version 2.1 beta comes at a good time.
Earlier this year, 3Com bought Claris Organizer from Apple to use as the base for the new Mac software. As a result, Palm Desktop 2.1 includes Claris Organizer features not available on the Windows version, such as record linking, advanced data filtering, complex viewing options, and customizable background patterns. Most significantly, the package also includes new HotSync conduit software used to transfer data from a Palm device to your Mac. Formerly, the HotSync software would synchronize only the built-in applications (Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad), but the new HotSync Manager utilizes an open architecture, allowing third-party developers to write synchronization modules that work with their software’s data (for example, a conduit is in the works to translate FileMaker data to the JFile format on the Palm OS). If you’ve begun using Chronos Consultant as your desktop information manager (which now includes the ability to synchronize PalmPilot data), you’ll need to download the updated Consultant conduit 1.0.7 to work with the new HotSync software.
Keep in mind that these pre-release versions of Palm Desktop and HotSync Manager software are unsupported and have not been thoroughly tested, so back up your handheld’s data before installing (one good method is to use Florent Pillet’s PalmBuddy), and consult the installation ReadMe file for known installation issues (such as turning off File Sharing before installation, and rebuilding your Mac’s desktop before running the application). The Palm Desktop 2.1 beta is available as an 8.9 MB download, and requires a Power PC-based Mac.
Palm VII Unveiled — In related news, Palm announced the Palm VII personal organizer at last week’s Palm Developer’s Conference, to be released sometime in 1999 for less than $800. The Palm VII will incorporate built-in wireless networking, allowing users to connect to Web services using a technique that Palm calls Web Clipping to retrieve selected snippets of information – akin to clipping an article out of the newspaper, instead of reading the entire issue. The service, Palm.net, will be run by 3Com over BellSouth’s Wireless Data network in over 260 metropolitan centers in the United States (there’s no word yet about international service), and will begin at $10 per month.
The numbering discrepency between the existing Palm III and Palm VII, plus the large jump in price (Palm IIIs are priced around $300 now), has fueled speculation that Palm plans to introduce other mid-level models soon. Given that the Palm devices are some of the hottest-selling holiday purchases this year, it makes sense that Palm Computing would be mum about other product plans until the new year. For those curious about the Palm VII and its features, Palm has released a white paper as a 260K PDF file.
Read All About It — This is also a good time to announce that my book, Palm III & PalmPilot Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, ISBN: 0-201-35390-3, $16), is now available. In addition to covering the PalmPilot and Palm III devices, there are chapters devoted to helping you actually use a Palm organizer in everyday life. Plus, it’s the only book on the market that covers the new Mac Palm Desktop software, based on an earlier pre-release version.
Walking the Meme Streets of the ACM
A few weeks ago, I attended portions of the ACM’s (Association for Computing Machinery) 1998 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. The conference centered on using computers to make it easier for people to work together, an extremely worthy goal. Think about it: for the last fifteen years, the computer industry has focussed on helping individuals use computers more productively, but has placed much less emphasis on creating applications and devices that help us work together. As an example, look at the ubiquity of email: we all use it, and for many people email is by far the most important aspect of the Internet because email lets us work with others. But how many email innovations have there been in the last ten years? Sure, it’s faster, prettier, and easier to use, and modern email programs provide individuals with powerful features. But how many new features help us better work with other people?
The best way to immerse yourself in a sea of ideas at this conference was the demo session, where about 30 groups showed research projects. Some were far beyond my ken, such as the programming toolkits aimed at cooperative work, but others were more easily grasped and had stunning implications.
Meme Tags — Unfortunately, I didn’t see the demonstration of this project, though one of the principals at the MIT Media Lab explained it to me. First, a meme is an idea that spreads and evolves by the rules of Darwinian evolution (survival of the fittest, and all that). A meme tag is an electronic name tag that stores, displays, and trades names and memes. Meme tags explore how we interact within groups.
The idea is that when you meet someone and talk to him, face to face, you can see his meme, and by pressing a button on your tag, accept or reject it (via short-range infrared transmission). The tags track both who you’ve talked to and how the memes spread, reporting back to a centralized database, which analyzes the data to determine the best schmoozers, the most successful memes, and so on. The centralized reporting takes place on a "community mirror" – a large screen that reflects the trends in real time. Especially interesting was the way people wanted to cause trends that would change the display by evangelizing memes or increasing their schmoozing.
I want meme tags now, but in a different form. Consider an average trade show: you meet hundreds of people, stop at numerous booths, and frantically try to stuff tons of information into your head. Business cards trade hands, often with cryptic messages scribbled on their backs, and you gamely try to make sense of it all after the show. What if whenever you met someone, your name tag automatically recorded the information on that person’s business card, plus anything else they wanted to encode, along with the time and date. Interesting information at a booth could be presented both in paper form and as a URL beamed to your badge when you pressed a button. You could exchange data with other people’s badges, and when you got home everything could be dumped to database. In short, although the research implications of tracking this information are fascinating, I think meme tags have the making of a real-world product.
The Hummingbird — While the meme tags worked at very short range, another project from the Viktoria Institute in Sweden worked over longer distances, but provided less information. The Hummingbird, a specific instance of what the group calls an "inter-personal awareness device," is a small electronic device that constantly monitors the surrounding area for other Hummingbirds. When it finds one, it chirps and displays the name of the person wearing the other Hummingbird on an LCD display.
Although the information conveyed is relatively minimal, it can still be useful. The group tested the Hummingbirds in two situations, a rock music festival and a standard office. At the rock festival, the Hummingbird wearers reported liking the knowledge that another Hummingbird wearer was nearby, but they also found it frustrating that they couldn’t necessarily find the person (the Hummingbirds’ range is up to 100 meters). In the office situation, the Hummingbirds proved more practical, since the members of a workgroup could easily tell when another Hummingbird wearer entered or left the building. Obviously, if everyone had a Hummingbird, the devices would have to be configurable to look only for people in specific groups.
The important issue here is awareness of physical presence. Our forms of remote communication are necessary these days, but face to face interaction remains compelling and useful, and the Hummingbirds helped their wearers determine when face to face meetings were feasible. The Hummingbirds struck me as more theoretical than practical, although trying to catch up with people in large office buildings can prove sufficiently annoying that I see the utility of a system generating physical awareness information.
Interestingly, the Hummingbird group also had some matchmaking devices from Japan called Lovegetys (They’re popular; reportedly over 1,000,000 have been sold this year). The devices come in male and female versions, and you enter what level of relationship you’re interested in (Chat, Fun, or Friend). If you have a male version and run across (via radio waves) a female version set to the same level, both devices flash and optionally beep to let you know that you’ve found someone compatible. They’re sort of a cross between the meme tags and the Hummingbirds, since they convey physical awareness beyond line-of-sight, but they also transmitt additional information and act on it if necessary. Future versions will reportedly increase the range and offer more precise settings.
Virtual Work Rooms — I said before that email hasn’t seen much innovation for cooperative work, but the Virtual Work Rooms project from a team at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) aims to change that. Most email programs look like spreadsheets, with rows and columns. You can sort the rows and add a level or two of hierarchy by applying labels or moving messages to other mailboxes.
But what if the information in those rows was not quite so static? That’s the idea behind the Virtual Work Rooms demonstration, which essentially put a dynamic spreadsheet backend onto email. The demonstration used a situation where someone is spoofing email from different machines. Several system administrators must share information on the spoofed messages to track down the miscreant. If this were to happen today, it’s entirely likely that one person would set up a spreadsheet (people love tabular displays of information) to track the information and responses.
The demonstration system, however, showed an email client (as a Web page initially, although a Eudora plug-in is under consideration) in which the users could create customized views using spreadsheet-like formulas. This level of flexibility enables users to ask questions of the data, such as "Who hasn’t responded to the request for log data?" It’s easy to make new queries, so new views could be created quickly.
Although the concept takes some getting used to, it’s promising, especially in situations where the information coming in via email is well-defined. For instance, if you need to ask 100 people several questions in email, you could use a system like this to tabulate the results and to see who has and has not responded. The trick would be the interface – using a system like this would have to be easier than using a spreadsheet to manage the data.
The project brought to mind the flexibility of the Newton data soup, which eschewed typical hierarchical filing systems. Imagine an email program where all messages essentially float in a database, and constructs like mailboxes are merely queries. In such an email program, adding some intelligence to the queries would provide a system similar to what the CMU team has proposed.
inTouch — The inTouch project prototype from the Tangible Media Group at MIT’s Media Lab consisted of two boxes, each holding several wooden rollers. When you moved the rollers in one box, the corresponding rollers in the other box mimicked the action. Two people using the boxes can passively feel the manipulation of the rollers, cooperatively move the rollers, or fight over the state of the rollers. It’s difficult to see real-world utility for this sort of "haptic communication" outside of the gaming world, but areas like telemedicine’s remote surgery or remote control of robotic devices might benefit in the future, and it’s interesting to see the concepts of cooperative computing extended beyond things people are meant to see or hear.
CLIVE — IBM showed CLIVE (Collaborative Live Interactive Voice Environment), a customer support application with a high level of utility. Implemented as a Netscape plug-in, CLIVE enabled two people to view and interact with the same Web page, all while talking on the phone. Each person saw the other’s cursor in a specific color, so you could see what the other person was doing, and both people had a crayon tool for circling specific parts of the page. All the interactions went through a proxy server that acted as traffic cop and ensured privacy. Overall, I was quite impressed, both by the system’s apparent simplicity and its utility. As Web-based interfaces grow more complicated, allowing two people to work on the same page at the same time may become increasingly important.
The demonstration showed a situation where a user was calling for support on how to work with a Web-based online banking interface. The example hit home because recently Tonya and I were adjusting our retirement accounts via the Web and had to call for support because we didn’t understand the terminology. With something like CLIVE in place, the support person could not only have explained what we needed to do, but also showed us. Apparently, a new IBM organization called Corepoint will market CLIVE.
Ideas Meme Business — One aspect of the conference that I enjoyed was the step back into academia, where ideas are the coin of the realm. Although the people attending and presenting at the conference weren’t all academics, those from the corporate world tended to hail from research departments. I found my mind racing with possibilities after chatting with people or seeing a demo. Never mind that the proposals were rough, the presentation materials often needed editing, and the demos seldom showed a marketable product. The beauty of an academic conference for someone like me is that I could put aside practical considerations and focus on the fascinating ideas – a refreshing change compared to the all-out commercial assaults of industry trade shows.