Everyone wants a few specific capabilities from their email application; check out the second part of Adam’s look at Eudora Pro 4.2 for a feature that reveals the vast number of attributes in this powerful program. Also this week, Matt Neuburg reviews Deneba’s graphics application Canvas 6, and in the news, we look at Apple’s $203 million quarterly profit, the [email protected] client 1.06 and BBEdit 5.1.1. Next week: Macworld Expo in New York!
Apple Pulls In $203 Million — Apple Computer announced a $203 million profit for its third fiscal quarter of 1999. The results include a one-time $89 million gain from continued sales of Arm Holdings plc; without this, Apple’s profit would have been $114 million. According to Apple, unit growth is 40 percent higher than at this time a year ago, propelled by strong sales of iMac systems into consumer and education markets; approximately 45 percent of Apple’s sales are to international markets. Currently, Apple is operating with less than one day of inventory and a cash balance of over $3.1 billion, and the company’s profit margin continues to improve, rising to 27.4 percent this quarter. These results mark Apple’s seventh consecutive profitable quarter. Apple also announced plans to repurchase up to $500 million of its common stock. [GD]
Update Solidifies [email protected] Client — The [email protected] project has posted version 1.06 of its Macintosh [email protected] client for analyzing radio telescope data gathered by SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – see "SETI Brings Space Exploration to Home Macs" in TidBITS-482). The new version, a 300K download, corrects a bug in the short-lived 1.05 that sent and received work units without analyzing any data. Version 1.05 itself was a welcome update, offering significant performance gains and eliminating some quirks. Although the design of the [email protected] software still draws criticism, version 1.06 also improves support for firewalls and proxy servers, and fixes a problem with a missing AppearanceLib file under older versions of the Mac OS. After installing the software, be sure to join the TidBITS Team! [JLC]
BBEdit 5.1.1 Update Available — Bare Bones Software has released a 2.4 MB BBEdit 5.1.1 update. The update enhances BBEdit’s ToolServer support, enables scripted multi-file search and replace operations, improves window management, and squashes a number of bugs and cosmetic issues. BBEdit 5.1.1 also fixes some errors soft wrapping text or spell checking documents, and correctly carries user-defined key commands forward from previous versions of BBEdit. Bare Bones has posted a complete list of changes in BBEdit 5.1.1 on their Web site. [GD]
Last week we looked at two main features in Eudora Pro 4.2 (see "Eudora Pro 4.2 Continues to Deliver, Part 1" in TidBITS-488); this week we’ll look at other features with strong appeal for specific sets of users. Before that, a few quick comments.
First, I want to share my user dictionary, so Eudora’s spelling checker can know about far more words, including many Macintosh product names. I’ve built up this dictionary from over 10 years of using Nisus Writer and writing TidBITS, and Eudora author Steve Dorner kindly converted it to a "hashed" format Eudora uses more efficiently than a plain text dictionary. Just download this file, debinhex it, put it in the Spelling Dictionaries folder in your Eudora Stuff folder, and relaunch Eudora.
Second, some users of 68K Macs have complained about crashes using Eudora 4.2.1. From what Qualcomm has been able to determine, the problem is related to the presence of OpenTransportLib.68K in the Extensions folder, even though the user is using Open Transport 1.1.2. OpenTransportLib.68K is reportedly incompatible with Open Transport 1.1.2 and should be deleted. To determine your version of Open Transport, open the TCP/IP control panel, choose User Mode from the Edit menu, and switch into Advanced user mode. Then click the Info button that appears in the TCP/IP control panel.
Getting a Preview — With Eudora Pro 4.2, you can choose to display a message preview pane for each mailbox independently by clicking the disclosure triangle in the lower-left corner of the mailbox window. I like having the choice of using the preview pane, because I’ve found that I dislike it for mailboxes in which I delete or file most messages, whereas I find it useful for mailboxes where I save most messages.
Navigating a mailbox with a visible preview pane can take some effort. The Tab key shifts focus from the tabular message summaries to the message preview pane and back; you can also click to switch focus. For instance, if you press the up arrow key while focused on the summaries, you’ll move between messages. But if you’re focused on the preview, the arrow keys move you around in the message text. The same applies to other navigation keys. The Spacebar shortcut for scrolling through messages works no matter which pane has focus.
Speak and Be Heard — Eudora Pro 4.2 can read email out loud using the default voice in your Speech control panel. Just select one or more messages in a mailbox, and choose Speak from the Edit menu. Eudora reads each message in turn, saying "Next Message" between messages. If a message contains quoted text, Eudora says "quote" when it starts reading the quoted text (which it does in a higher voice) and "unquote" when it finishes. Pressing Command-period halts Eudora’s speech. I haven’t yet found a use for spoken email, but it’s easy to imagine uses for the feature, such as having a PowerBook speak your mail while you commute to work, and I’m sure folks with visual impairments will appreciate it.
Also new is the new Speak filter action, which instructs Eudora to inform you verbally when an incoming message matches a filter. Eudora can speak the name of the sender, the subject of the message, or both. You can also pick a voice for each filter.
Finding Your Way with IMAP — Under the hood, one of the most requested features of Eudora Pro 4.2 is its support for IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol). Most people use POP (Post Office Protocol) to receive email; IMAP is an alternative method that’s popular in education and some businesses. The primary conceptual difference between POP and IMAP is that POP assumes that you’ll want to store your mail on your Macintosh, whereas IMAP assumes that you’ll want it stored on the mail server. Both protocols support the other method of working, so you can leave mail on the server with POP and store mail locally with IMAP. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but most organizations support only one or the other, so Eudora’s addition of IMAP makes it a possibility for people in IMAP-only environments. Eudora can use either method on a personality-by-personality basis, enabling users to manage both POP and IMAP mail within Eudora Pro.
Unfortunately, I know little about using Eudora Pro with IMAP, since I haven’t yet set up an IMAP server with which I can test Eudora’s IMAP capabilities. Eudora Pro 4.2 ships with an Acrobat PDF document detailing its new features, including IMAP support. You can also learn more about it at Qualcomm’s IMAP FAQ.
Gently Down the Stream — Tired of hard line breaks in email and ugly replies where quote characters make lines break badly? A new proposed Internet standard that Eudora Pro 4.2 supports might help. Called "format=flowed," the proposal enables email clients to reflow any paragraph, even angle-bracket quoted paragraphs, to match the window size. This normally poses problems with replies because it scatters angle brackets throughout the text; Eudora instead uses vertical excerpt bars along the left edge of the text to demarcate the quoted material, while still allowing it to flow to the window size. The excerpt bars are purely cosmetic, and when the messages are sent out, Eudora transparently adds the appropriate angle brackets in front of the quoted text. Initially, I was dubious about excerpt bars, but they make editing quoted text much easier. And if you copy quoted text out of Eudora, you don’t have to remove angle brackets when you paste into another program.
Previous versions of Eudora used excerpt bars for quoting styled text, and editing around those bars was difficult. However, Qualcomm has vastly improved the editing behaviors, and I now prefer excerpt bars to normal quote characters. For instance, to insert new text between quoted paragraphs, you just place your insertion point in the right location and press Return; Eudora inserts the proper number of blank lines and positions the insertion point correctly. You can also now easily quote and unquote text using Command-‘ and Command-Option-‘; note that the keyboard shortcut for pasting quoted text is now Command-Option-V.
Diving to the Depths — Eudora has always been a deep program, and Eudora Pro 4.2 continues to add small features and behaviors that make a huge difference to some individuals. In the past, you had to use ResEdit or AppleScript to adjust these features or behaviors, but Qualcomm added a new method – the <x-eudora-setting> URL – to Eudora Pro 4.2 that makes these tweaky features more accessible. The <x-eudora-setting> URLs take a setting number and an optional value. When you double-click (or Command-click) an <x-eudora-setting> URL in Eudora, Eudora displays a dialog box about the setting and lets you change the current value. If a value is included in the URL, it appears in the dialog box; otherwise you must enter one.
This approach might sound awkward, but remember that it’s for sophisticated users; normal users never need to see or modify most settings in this way. The point of <x-eudora-setting> URLs is that you can send one to someone via email and that person can change Eudora’s behavior merely by double-clicking the URL and confirming the change. In fact, <x-eudora-setting> URLs work for all of Eudora’s settings, even ones normally available in Eudora’s Settings dialog box. Qualcomm has made a list of these URLs available; download it as a text file (you can’t normally click <x-eudora-setting> URLs in Web browsers) and open it in Eudora to see all the URLs with brief descriptions. Some browsers handle this file better than others; you may have to download it to your desktop or attempt to save it as HTML source for it to display properly in Eudora.
One piece of advice: Before asking a "Can Eudora do…" question, use Eudora’s Find command to look through the list of <x-eudora-setting> URLs for entries that might solve your problem. Many complaints I’ve seen so far have been answerable with a single URL.
As an example of how these <x-eudora-setting> URLs work, I noted last week that you can change the color and style of misspelled words. Let’s say you wanted them to be pink and italic instead of red and underlined. If you’re reading this in Eudora Pro 4.2, double-click both of the URLs below. You have to quit and relaunch Eudora for the style change to take effect; the color change is immediate. (You can’t set the color of the underline separately from the color of the text.)
Other neat features in Eudora Pro 4.2 can be accessed via <x-eudora-setting> URLs. Here are a few of my favorites:
You can double-click a URL to open it in the appropriate program. But, with the setting below, you can Command-click a URL to open it in the background without switching out of Eudora. It’s a great way to open a bunch of URLs from TidBITS for browsing after reading the issue. You can also Command-click partial URLs like www.tidbits.com and ftp.tidbits.com and Eudora will try to open them in the appropriate helper application. And, although this isn’t new, you can Command-click email addresses to create a new message addressed to that person.
If something crashes while you’re writing a message, you can lose a fair amount of work. Eudora has an auto-save function, though it’s not turned on by default. Double-click this URL to make Eudora save messages every 120 seconds.
The default settings for the size of the preview panes may not work well with larger monitors. The first URL below sets the default size of the preview pane, in number of lines, and the second one sets the minimum number of lines for either the preview pane or the summary pane. Play with different numbers for these settings and see what works best for you.
Although Eudora allows spaces in nicknames, Eudora still tries to replace spaces with underscores when you’re creating nicknames. You can override that behavior with this URL. Double-click it, and in the dialog box change the third character from an underscore to a space.
If you dislike the new format=flowed display of excerpt bars rather than angle brackets after giving it a chance, you can revert by double-clicking this URL.
Discussion Rampant — The TidBITS Talk discussions of various aspects of Eudora have ranged far and wide, with numerous people weighing in on the bits of Eudora they like or dislike. Eudora being the program that it is, people posting complaints about how Eudora does something have often received tips on how Eudora can in fact meet their needs; check out the various threads relating to Eudora and you may learn even more about this deep program.
In 1995, Deneba’s Canvas 3.5 was one of my favorite programs. Like SuperPaint, which still worked but was showing its age, Canvas was a draw/paint program with a straightforward interface. But when Canvas 5 shipped in 1996, I found it sluggish, buggy, confusing, and blatantly a port (see "The Microsoftization of Deneba: Canvas 5.0.1" in TidBITS-366). I despaired of Deneba, and recently started using CorelDRAW and Corel PHOTO-PAINT instead (as covered in "CorelDRAW 8: A Hedy Experience" in TidBITS-457).
Last week, though, CorelDRAW slammed me into a virtual brick wall. I wanted to diagram a house; but CorelDRAW has no line tool, and can’t easily be told to make a line exactly 2.25 inches long. Then later, using PHOTO-PAINT to create a background image for a Web page, I found myself unable to figure out why I couldn’t select a desired object or mask a desired area.
That’s when I installed Canvas 6 and was pleasantly surprised.
Tell Me What You See — As Canvas 5 felt vast and clumsy to me, so Canvas 6 feels direct, smooth, and comprehensible. My earlier complaint that objects were often being redrawn unnecessarily has largely been attended to; so has my criticism that when using paint tools, the cursor doesn’t show the brush shape. And the interface shows many commendable refinements.
There’s a new "docking bar," a narrow strip at the top of the screen, where, if you drag a floating palette into it, the palette’s name appears, and can be clicked to display the palette (like Finder pop-up windows). Thus, for the price of a thin strip of pixels, you are saved the huge blocks of screen real estate occupied by the floating palettes you need. Similarly, you can place colors, tools, styles, and commands into the toolbar (another strip at the top of the screen) and assign them keyboard shortcuts.
Canvas 6 makes good use of drag & drop. You can drag a vector object into a palette to use it as an arrowhead, a fill pattern, or a brush shape. To store an object as a source for cloning, just drag it into the macro palette; to change its appearance (and that of all its existing clones), drag another object on top of it. You can drag colors into an object to apply them, and in an especially nice touch, if you drag an object into the colors palette, Canvas stores the object’s colors there.
Many other details make Canvas 6 a pleasant place to work. Palettes and dialogs let you preview their effects. There are multiple Undos, good contextual menus, superb object finding, and copying and pasting of object attributes. Circles and arcs can be drawn from three points (I’ve wondered for years why draw programs lacked this). Printing is excellent, including rotated and bound text.
Nonetheless, certain interface failings remain. Interaction with Canvas objects is still difficult: handles are tiny and hard to see, and unresponsive when the mouse passes over them; you can’t set the distance at which they become clickable, and you can’t use the keyboard to select them. Palettes don’t change predictably to reflect a selected object’s properties, and I still find it hard to learn exactly what an object’s fill or stroke settings are, or why, in general, it looks the way it does. Also, the delay before tool tips or pop-up toolbars appear is too long.
I’m Looking through You — Canvas has always been characterized by unification of vector, bitmap, and text objects. It isn’t just that they coexist within the same layer, but that the distinction between them is so readily broken down. You can trace bitmaps to yield vector objects; you can rasterize text and vector objects into bitmaps. Text can have vector-object fills and outlines, can be edited as vector paths, and can follow, or wrap within or around, a vector path. Text or a vector shape can be used as a "clipping path," so that all objects behind it, of any kind, become its interior fill.
Canvas 6 takes object interaction to a new level through the use of transparency. This is the much-touted "SpriteLayers" technology – a curious name, since neither sprites nor layers are involved. The idea is that an object can be transparent in two ways:
As a whole, it can be anything between opaque and transparent, along with several transfer modes.
It can also have either a channel mask or a vector mask. With the former, you paint, possibly starting with an existing bitmap object, to detail the object’s transparency; with the latter, you give it a geometric, gradient-like transparency, or else attach to it a previously drawn vector object, whose colors detail its transparency.
You’re probably saying: so what? Unless I draw a lot of glass panes or cutaway views, what good is transparency to me? But Canvas encourages use of transparency in unaccustomed contexts, to achieve results that otherwise might be obtained in a clumsier, more roundabout way. Objects have their own colors, which may be complex to begin with (a gradient or a bitmap, for instance); now you’re giving the front object an overall degree of transparency, plus a transfer mode determining how its colors combine with those of what’s behind, plus a mask which is, in effect, another detailed image of its transparency. In essence, you paint and draw with transparency itself, as a way of adding subtlety and drama.
If you’re like me, you’ll be experimenting for hours, fascinated with your sudden artistic talent. To give an object’s edges a multicolored glow, put it in front of a gradient-filled object, then give it a channel mask and paint around the edges with a soft brush. To give an object a subtly burnished look, place on top of it an object with a gradient fill, partial opacity, and a soft-light transfer mode. To make sunbeams appear to emanate from an object, give it an elliptical vector transparency, and put behind it an object with a brightly colored radial gradient.
I immediately used these features to redraw the phoenix on my home page; I’m no artist, but I like the results, and I had fun. The old version, in SuperPaint, was mostly hand-painted with the mouse; the new version, aside from the bird itself (a photograph), is mostly vector objects, overlapping with transparency to provide shading and radiance.
Look at All the Little Piggies — Although I never meant to compare the Corel programs with Canvas, I was using the first when I turned to the second, and the transition left me with some revealing impressions.
To start drawing my house diagram, I need to set the document’s scale. Canvas allows arithmetic expressions in its numeric dialog boxes, so I just bring up the Rulers dialog and fill in two fields: 1 inch = 100/8 feet. In CorelDRAW, I must set "feet" as the document’s units in one dialog, then enter the scale (8 inches = 100 feet) in another. This difference is quite characteristic. Corel’s interface is more complicated, but its ruler implementation is deeper, offering thirteen possible units as opposed to Canvas’s four, plus as you zoom closer, the ruler’s ticks increase in granularity, whereas in Canvas, the ticks just separate until none are visible.
Next, I want a vertical line 22.5 feet long. In Canvas, I just bring up the Object Specs dialog, set the object as a line, enter its angle (90) and its length (22.5), and hit Create. Corel has no line objects, so you must lay out three guide lines, turn on Snap To Guides, and draw a curve which happens to be a straight line. Once again Corel’s implementation is deeper – it has a far better Guidelines Setup dialog, and its guidelines can be at any angle – but you’ve drawn three or four precise lines in Canvas in the time it takes to draw one in Corel.
The same applies to bitmap drawing. Corel PHOTO-PAINT can do much more, with oodles of transfer modes for every tool, and so many settings for texture and stroke and so forth that your head spins. In Canvas, on the other hand, it’s easier to understand what I’m doing.
Canvas is smaller than Corel: one program instead of two, a 40 MB installation instead of 135 MB, 20 MB of RAM instead of 60 MB. It also feels smaller in features: fewer transfer modes, simpler color models, no lenses, and so forth. But Canvas’s implementation generally doesn’t feel limiting – just easier. Corel presents itself as a vast powerhouse of professional-level features; certain aspects of the interface are unbeatable; and the results can be more subtle and more impressive. But reaching those results can be a slow, daunting, touchy process, with false starts and frequent consultation of the manual; with Canvas, results come easily, quickly, and intuitively. Thus, most people will feel more comfortable with Canvas, and it will have the capabilities they’ll need for most tasks.
And the Eyes in His Head — Canvas’s manual is quite good, and so is the online help in QuickHelp format; training videos are also available.
Canvas is a CPU hog; even in the background with updating turned off it grabs a heavy share of cycles. Though it generally feels stable, it crashed or froze several times during testing. I encountered some bugs of which my contact at Deneba knew nothing: an arrow in a dialog box that the manual says to drag but can’t be dragged; text in an object container not wrapping properly; Control-clicking to get a contextual menu and finding the computer temporarily frozen. In a full-priced program that’s been through one maintenance revision (6.0.1), that’s distressing.
The cost, like that of comparable programs, is high. That’s a pity, especially since you may be paying for features you don’t need. No one can deny, for instance, that Canvas’s text abilities are remarkable; but to expect it to compete with QuarkXPress or Microsoft Word is silly, so a real-time spell-checker (which auto-corrects as you type), automatic hyphenation, plus widow and orphan control are overkill. Canvas’s ability to turn drawings into Java-based Web pages frankly repels me. Deneba trumpets Canvas’s plug-in-based architecture, but fails to use this feature to create a more attractive pricing model. You don’t have to load what you won’t use, so why must you buy it in the first place? Deneba could sell a splendid entry-level draw/paint program for half the price.
Despite these reservations, Canvas 6 is a worthy successor to Canvas 3.5, and has replaced it on my machine. Canvas 3.5 was a motley collection of independent tools, many with primitive, quirky interfaces and limited abilities; with Canvas 6, Deneba has successfully updated and unified those features into a thoroughly modern draw/paint program, effective, satisfying and pleasurable to use.
Canvas 6 has an approximate street price of $380 ($200 competitive upgrade). It requires a Power PC processor, System 7.5 or later, 32 MB RAM, with 40 MB of hard disk space recommended. It comes with three CD-ROMs containing thousands of clip art images and fonts. A demo version is available for download.