Saturday’s release of Mac OS 9 dictates the tone for this issue, with in-depth coverage of Apple’s latest version of the Mac OS. Geoff Duncan first looks at Mac OS 9 installation and compatibility issues and then focuses on three major features in Mac OS 9: Sherlock 2, Multiple Users, and the Keychain. Tune in next week for more Mac OS 9 coverage. Also this week, we cover the releases of Action Menus 1.0, Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0, and iDo Script Scheduler 1.1.
Now Menus Reincarnated as Action Menus — Power On Software has released Action Menus 1.0, a new component of the company’s Action Utilities control panel that provides functionality equivalent to the defunct Now Menus (see "Living in the Now – Now Utilities 5.0, Newer and Better" in TidBITS-248 and "Now Utilities Turns 6-Point-Something" in TidBITS-345). Action Menus makes the Apple menu hierarchical, like Apple Menu Options, and you can flexibly rearrange items within the Apple menu. In the Applications menu, each application hierarchically displays its current windows and recently opened documents. You can also create additional custom menus that show recently used applications (with their recent documents hierarchically attached), recent documents, recent folders (hierarchical), the frontmost application’s windows and recent documents, current volumes and servers (hierarchical). Custom menus accept drag & drop of Finder icons: drag into a menu to add an item to the menu, drag into a folder to move or copy an item to that folder, and drag onto an application to open the item with that application. Custom menus can open, quit, or get info on multiple items simultaneously; they can open either an item or its containing folder. You can also modify keyboard shortcuts for all menu items on the fly. Unfortunately, Action Menus does not provide a desktop pop-up menu and is incompatible with Kensington MouseWorks’ desktop pop-up menu option. Action Menus requires a color-capable Mac and System 7.5.3 or later; it’s available as a 30-day demo (2.2 MB download) or for online purchase at $30. [MAN]
Microsoft Outlook Express 5.0 Ships — Microsoft has released Outlook Express 5.0, a major upgrade to the company’s free Internet email and Usenet news client. New features aimed at simplifying Outlook Express for novice users include an Account setup wizard, improved attachment handling, interface changes, address auto-complete, a Mailing List Manager, and a Junk Mail Filter. Microsoft has also added features aimed at heavy email users, including custom fields in the Address Book, message histories, support for using the Spacebar to scroll through messages, enhanced IMAP support, scheduled events, and an Advanced Find feature that supports multiple criteria. However, users with a great deal of stored mail should be aware that Outlook Express 5.0 now stores all messages in a single mail database, which makes for a single point of failure (make sure to read the Read Me for instructions on rebuilding the mail database in case of corruption) and forces inefficient backups. Outlook Express also includes integration with HotMail for email messages (but not contacts) and can synchronize contacts (but not email) with Palm devices. Outlook Express 5.0 requires a PowerPC-based Macintosh with Mac OS 8.1 or later. The program is a 12.5 MB download. [ACE]
iDo Script Scheduler 1.1 — Sophisticated Circuits has released version 1.1 of its iDo Script Scheduler, a system enhancement that enables users to schedule execution of AppleScript scripts. iDo Script Scheduler debuted as a free extra on the Mac OS 8.6 CD-ROM and on Apple’s AppleScript site; it could schedule up to three scripts for automatic execution. (See "Putting URL Access Scripting to Work" in TidBITS-481.) Version 1.1 still offers a free "lite" mode that’s compatible with Mac OS 9’s multiple users feature, enabling different users of the same Mac to schedule up to three scripts for automatic execution; iDo Script Scheduler can also pass arbitrary parameters to scripts when it runs them. For $25, you can upgrade version 1.1 to an "enhanced" version that allows for an unlimited number of scheduled scripts and can execute scripts at system idle time or in response to a hot key. The iDo Script Scheduler is a great add-on for serious AppleScript users, particularly under Mac OS 9, which enables AppleScript scripts to connect to remote file servers and applications over the Internet. [GD]
Poll Results: Appeal of Digital Video Editing — We’re getting together this week for a staff lunch of eating our hats, since none of us expected that digital video editing would be nearly as popular with TidBITS readers as last week’s poll indicated. We figured you for a 7-bit ASCII kind of crowd, but in fact 55 percent of respondents claimed they found the iMac DV’s digital video editing capabilities "very appealing," with another 20 percent answering "moderately" appealing, and the rest signing on to "a little" and to "not at all." TidBITS Talk participants foreshadowed the poll results, offering a variety of experiences and reasons why digital video editing’s time has finally come. The proof will be in the video pudding, though, and we’ll be watching to see how heavily the iMac DVs are actually used for digital video editing. [ACE]
Poll Preview: Mac OS 9 Upgrade Plans — You’ll read about Mac OS 9’s major features and compatibility in this issue, and our Mac OS 9 coverage will continue next week. The question is, are you an early adopter who plans to buy into Mac OS 9’s new features and $99 price tag now, or are you the cautious sort who plans to wait to hear reports from the field? Visit our home page and register your opinion! [ACE]
Apple has released Mac OS 9 with fanfare, billing it as "the best Internet OS ever" and touting more than 50 new features. Some of these features add significant new capabilities (like file sharing over the Internet, encryption, support for multiple users, and automatic software updating via the Internet); other features mark the return of old ideas (the Keychain password management tool, a Sound control panel, and flexible PlainTalk speech recognition); and still other features are extensions of previous enhancements, like the almost unrecognizable Sherlock 2. Under the hood, Mac OS 9 makes some fundamental changes that may break some of your applications but will also be welcome to anyone pushing the limits of what their Macs can do.
Pricing & Requirements — Apple officially began selling Mac OS 9 23-Oct-99, so it’s available now to U.S. and Canadian customers from Apple and virtually all Macintosh software retailers for U.S. $99 or less, such as the $70 after-rebate deals from TidBITS sponsors Outpost.com and Small Dog Electronics (who throw in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream). Apple and those same retailers have been accepting pre-orders for months, so if you’ve already purchased Mac OS 9, your copy should arrive shortly. Apple says international versions of Mac OS 9 will be available in November.
If you purchased the Mac OS – either on its own or with a new computer – after 05-Oct-99, you may be able to upgrade to Mac OS 9 for $20. Owners of Mac OS 8.5 or 8.6 may qualify for a $20 mail-in rebate from Apple; details are inside the Mac OS 9 box. Unfortunately, both these offers are available only to U.S. customers.
Mac OS 9 requires a Macintosh with a PowerPC processor, at least 32 MB of physical RAM (though 48 to 64 MB of RAM is a more reasonable minimum), and 150 to 400 MB of free disk space depending on selected options. Apple has not certified Mac OS 9 for use with Macintosh clone systems or on systems using third-party processor upgrades, although it may work. Folks with third-party processor upgrades should check with the upgrade manufacturer before trying to install Mac OS 9.
Installation — Installing Mac OS 9 is self-explanatory, but is best done by booting from the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM – installing Mac OS 9 while booted from other disks almost always proceeded correctly in my tests, but sometimes with unexpected alerts and errors. As always, make a complete backup before attempting to install Mac OS 9. If you use third party hard disk formatting utilities like La Cie’s Silverlining or FWB’s Hard Disk Toolkit, check to make sure your hard disk drivers are compatible with Mac OS 9 before installing.
In general, Mac OS 9 wants more memory than previous versions. Starting up with extensions disabled, Mac OS 9 uses about 18 MB of RAM. With reasonable extensions, the system software could balloon up to 30 MB with virtual memory turned on; without virtual memory it could require as much as 10 MB of additional RAM.
Apple’s Language Kits are included in Mac OS 9; they were sold separately for earlier versions of the Mac OS. If you’re using one of the kits (Arabic, Cyrillic, Japanese, etc.) be sure to perform a customized installation of Mac OS 9 that includes the Language Kit you were previously using – otherwise it will not be updated. Also check the Language Kits CD Extras folder on the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM for localized versions of SimpleText, fonts, and utilities.
FCBs & Compatibility — Mac OS 9’s file systems includes two significant under-the-hood enhancements: one allows applications to open files larger than 2 GB; the other increases the maximum number of open file forks from 348 to 8,169. Opening 348 file forks simultaneously might seem unusual, but both the problem and the fix turn out to be significant. The limit predates even the HFS file system, and it’s a problem because a typical Mac has many open files you never see: modern applications and versions of the Mac OS rely heavily on shared libraries, temporary files, and plug-ins – all those items count against the open file limit. Plus, we all know people with hundreds of fonts and sounds.
To allow more open files, Apple had to change the file control block (FCB) table the Mac OS uses to track open files. Apple has been warning developers not to access the FCBs directly since 1986, but few developers took Apple seriously because Apple had never revised its own code. So long as Apple software depended on unapproved methods, developers figured their programs could depend on those same methods.
The resulting situation was a mess, and Apple couldn’t find a way to increase the number of open files and retain compatibility with widely deployed code. So, in Mac OS 9 Apple instead prevents that code from running and possibly crashing the system or corrupting data. Whenever a program tries to use unsupported methods for accessing information about open files, Mac OS 9 shuts down the application with an error number 119, and displays a dialog saying you need an updated version of that application. It’s annoying.
What’s more annoying is that many commonly used applications and utilities need updating – I’ve included a partial list of major problems below. Disk tools, file utilities, font management tools, and anti-virus software are especially likely to be impacted. Alsoft has released a checker that can inspect PowerPC applications for compatibility with the Mac OS 9 file system – it produces an HTML report you can view in a Web browser. I can’t vouch for its results, but it could prove useful.
Versions of Adobe’s ATM and ATM Deluxe prior to 4.5.2 are incompatible with Mac OS 9, and the Mac OS 9 installer automatically disables them if present. Versions of Adobe Type Reunion prior to 2.5.2 are also incompatible. Adobe has released updates to these utilities for use only under Mac OS 9; keep in mind that Type 1 fonts still print correctly without ATM and current versions of some Adobe applications (such as Acrobat and InDesign) no longer require ATM to rasterize PostScript fonts on screen.
New versions of StuffIt Deluxe and the StuffIt Engine compatible with Mac OS 9 ship on the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM – be sure you install the Internet Utilities. StuffIt Deluxe and components of Private File are not compatible with Mac OS 9; Aladdin expects to ship an update to StuffIt Deluxe soon.
RAM Doubler 8 is reportedly incompatible with Mac OS 9; Connectix expects to have an update available in Jan-00.
Drivers for several Hewlett-Packard DeskWriter and DeskJet printers are incompatible with Mac OS 9; HP says it will update its drivers for compatibility.
AppleWorks must be updated to version 5.0.4 to work with Mac OS 9; an updater is on the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM.
Netscape’s TalkBack Quality Feedback Agent – which might be present with Netscape Communicator 4.5 or later – is incompatible with Mac OS 9. You can remove the TalkBack folder from Communicator’s folder.
If you use MacsBug, Apple’s low-level debugger, you’ll need to obtain version 6.6f2c1 for use under Mac OS 9.
As always, there may be additional compatibility problems related to upgrading to Mac OS 9, particularly if you haven’t been staying up to date on all of your software. Until you’ve become comfortable with the stability of Mac OS 9 for your particular uses, save often and back up religiously.
Although Apple claims there are 50 new features in Mac OS 9, most people are likely to care about only a few. The question is: do Mac OS 9’s new features make it compelling for you? This article takes quick looks at some major features in Mac OS 9, and next week we’ll look at additional features, more subtle changes, and under-the-hood tweaks.
Sherlock 2 — The most-hyped feature of Mac OS 9 is Sherlock 2, a significant revision to the Internet-enabled Find feature that debuted with Mac OS 8.5. If anyone’s counting, Sherlock 2’s version number is actually 3.0.1. The old Find File applications were version 1.x, and previous versions of Sherlock were version 2.x.
The first thing you’ll notice about Sherlock 2 is its brushed-metal interface resembling the QuickTime 4 Player, which been justly criticized for its non-standard interface; Sherlock 2 has fewer unexplained elements and offers balloon help (and some tool tips) for its somewhat inscrutable controls. Nonetheless, Sherlock 2 features non-standard windows that can’t be rolled up or zoomed, and Sherlock 2 hides, shows, disables, and nudges window elements in confusing ways. Also, Sherlock no longer opens new search results windows for each search, instead combining the query, settings, and search results into a single window.
Sherlock 2 divides its capabilities into "search channels." The Files channel represents the contents of volumes accessible to your computer – and sports additional controls to modify search queries and search the contents of files – while all other channels represent collections of Internet searching plug-ins. Sherlock 2 ships with Internet, People, Apple, Shopping, News, Reference, and My Channel channels that you cannot delete (although you can remove and add specific site plug-ins). My Channel is a custom channel that includes whatever additional Internet site plug-ins you like – and inherits any custom plug-ins you may have previously installed, like the TidBITS plug-in – and you can create and delete additional custom channels for Internet sites. Sherlock 2 can communicate with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) servers; as such, the People channel points to LDAP servers at Yahoo, Bigfoot, and Four11.
Sherlock 2’s Internet-related channels may not be to everyone’s taste, but they do facilitate sensible management of Sherlock plug-in sets. Instead of managing a long list of plug-ins – or simply leaving all plug-ins enabled all the time – you can focus your searches to appropriate sites. You’ll also notice that plug-ins in the News and Shopping channels can add new elements to search results, including prices, dates, and availability. Dates are useful for news items, and Apple is promoting pricing and other information from Shopping channel plug-ins as a way to comparison-shop across many Internet retailers. That might be true when more sites customize their plug-ins for Sherlock 2; my searches revealed the default sites sell the same items at nearly identical prices. Sherlock 2 also offers no way to check for updated plug-ins manually – all plug-in updates happen transparently in the background.
Sherlock support from many Internet sites may now be in question because of Sherlock 2’s handling of banner advertisements. When Apple released Sherlock with Mac OS 8.5, the company introduced a capability late in the development cycle to display banner advertisements in Internet search results windows. This capability was intended to make supporting Sherlock palatable to major ad-supported Internet sites, who were upset about Sherlock users bypassing their advertising. Apple’s decision was controversial not only for its explicit approval of advertising on users’ desktops, but also because banner advertisements aren’t always appropriate to all audiences. Within a day of Mac OS 8.5’s release, TidBITS began receiving outraged letters from parents, educators, and even kids astonished to see banner advertisements with explicit adult content and other objectionable material (we still receive similar letters). Although major search engines like AltaVista aren’t as likely to serve up ads featuring nude models today as they were a year ago, you never know what might appear – major Internet sites still carry ads many teachers and parents would find objectionable.
Sherlock 2 now displays banner ads only from Apple and partners whose plug-ins ship with Mac OS 9. I don’t know whether Apple made this change to address issues of objectionable content or whether it simply regards Sherlock’s banner area as prime advertising space available only to partners. In any case, Sherlock does not display banner graphics from other sites, instead substituting an Apple banner. This move may help Apple in schools and homes, but may dissuade many sites from developing or supporting Sherlock plug-ins. After all, such sites’ banner advertising apparently won’t be displayed – even if it’s perfectly innocuous – unless they can somehow become an "approved" site. This could reduce Sherlock’s Internet searching capability to a mere bundling opportunity for large Internet services and retailers.
Sherlock 2 retains the file-searching capabilities of its predecessors and can search for files by name and by content if you first index your disks. However, Sherlock 2 takes a giant step backwards in searching for multiple file attributes. Additional file search options available via More Choices entries appended to the Sherlock window have been replaced by a mammoth More Search Options dialog that sports a cacophony of 16 checkboxes, 9 text areas, and 18 pop-up menus that enable users to create custom searches based on multiple criteria. To use these options, you must first select Custom from a pop-up menu (or choose More Options from Sherlock’s Find menu), hunt through this enormous dialog to click checkboxes next to each desired criterion (and if you typed a file name or file contents in the main Sherlock window, you may get to type it again here), fiddle with the requisite pop-up menus and text entries, click OK to return to the Sherlock window, and finally click the (unlabeled) Find button.
In short, search options are a mess. You can (unintuitively) drop files from the Finder into the modal More Choices dialog to fill in dates and text areas with the dragged file’s attributes – though the new data overwrites anything you may have already typed – but you must still hunt and peck checkboxes to enable or disable appropriate items. If you find yourself in the More Search Options dialog often, see if you can save common search criteria as reusable files. If that isn’t enough, you can script more flexible Sherlock searches using AppleScript.
Multiple Users — Another high profile feature of Mac OS 9 is Multiple Users, which enables a number of people to use a single Macintosh, each with their own preferences and customized environment. Multiple Users also provides some basic file security. With Multiple Users enabled, the Mac starts up normally, then runs a Login program that displays a screen where users can enter or select their login ID or choose guest access (if permitted). Users then type a password to log in or use a slick Voice Verification option to identify themselves to the computer. It’s less secure than a typed password but distinctly cooler. Multiple Users does not currently load a different set of extensions for each user but can provide different sets of preferences, Apple Menu items, startup items, Favorites, and desktop items. Users can also be set up as Limited users with access only to specific applications, printers, removable media, specific CD/DVD titles, the Chooser, control panels, and other items. Users can also be defined as Panel users who launch programs and manage documents from a shell application called Panel, which behaves much like At Ease or a full-screen Launcher. In Panel, users can expand and collapse panels that provide icon-based access to permitted items, but they can’t reach the full range of Finder features. A Mac can use users and passwords set up locally, or it can pick them up from a Macintosh Manager account on the network – handy for lab or classroom administrators using Mac OS X Server. Users can be timed out after a period of inactivity.
Mac OS 9’s Voice Verification feature integrates with Multiple Users. If Multiple Users is activated with voice verification enabled, users can speak a passphrase into a PlainTalk-capable microphone to identify themselves to the computer, rather than typing a password. The default passphrase is "My voice is my password," but you can supply your own, taking care it has enough phonemes to be distinct. I immediately changed my passphrase to "Soylent Green is people," although Apple recommends phrases with five to seven words. To set up a voice password, you record yourself saying your passphrase four times – if the voice verification system thinks the recordings are sufficiently similar, you’re all set. It’s important that you speak normally when setting up a spoken password: speaking loudly or with unusual emphasis seems to do more harm than good.
Apple is promoting Voice Verification as revolutionary technology – and they worked out an appealing presentation with animated spectrum graphs as you record and verify passphrases. Behind the scenes, the authentication system can supposedly be extended, potentially enabling developers to identify users using digital cameras, card keys, or even fingerprint scanners. Nonetheless, Voice Verification seems like a stunt with limited utility. Folks concerned with the security of their Macs don’t necessarily use them in environments where it’s safe to speak a passphrase – or where it’s quiet enough for the computer to distinguish a voice over background noise.
Although Multiple Users could keep an over-inquisitive child (or parent) out of sensitive parts of a Macintosh, its security is easily bypassed by starting up from another device (such as the internal CD-ROM) and limited access privileges may interfere with automated backups or other scheduled operations. Just remember: Multiple Users provides lightweight security and user configuration tools – definitely useful for many people but not enough to protect sensitive data or manage large groups.
Keychain & Data Security — Mac OS 9 does include security features more robust than Multiple Users. The first is the Keychain, which originally debuted as part of PowerTalk back with System 7 Pro in 1993. The Keychain is a secure place to store passwords to Internet and AppleShare servers, digital signatures, certificates, and other sensitive information – all behind a single password. Applications can access the Keychain directly, so in theory users only have to remember one password to access any Keychain data. Current versions of applications like Eudora, Anarchie, Fetch, and Web Confidential already work with the Keychain, as do the Mac OS 9 Finder, Apple File Security (see below), and AppleShare services. Mac OS 9 can handle multiple Keychain files, and you can unlock Keychain files and move them between computers – they live in the Keychain folder in the Preferences folder. The Keychain file itself is reasonably secure: it never stores the Keychain password on disk (instead using an encryption key derived from the password), and uses export-approved 128-bit RC2 encryption for storage. The Keychain resists repeated attempts to guess a password by exponentially increasing a delay between failed authentication attempts – the more often you guess the wrong password, the longer you have to wait to try again.
The Keychain provides no way for users to maintain or change passwords on remote systems, so users can’t quite forget about passwords and login information – they’ll still need to access systems manually to manage their accounts. The process is a bit tedious; you open the Keychain Access control panel to look at individual items stored in a Keychain file, including stored passwords. So long as you remember your Keychain password, you should be able to view the password for any item stored in your Keychain. The Keychain is a big improvement over time-honored methods of storing passwords like typing them into a SimpleText document or keeping them on slips of paper. If you find yourself relying on the Keychain, let us emphasize the importance of regular backups – if your Keychain file is lost or corrupted, you could lose access to important files and services.
Another security enhancement in Mac OS 9 is Apple File Security, which can encrypt and decrypt specific files using an arbitrary password. You can run Apple File Security as an application – it’s in the Security folder in Mac OS 9’s Applications folder – or encrypt files using the Encrypt menu command that appears in the Finder’s File menu and in contextual menus. When you encrypt an item, you’re asked to type and confirm a password; by default, Apple File Security adds the password to your Keychain. Apple File Security then compresses the file and encrypts it using a 56-bit key – a small yellow key appears on the file’s Finder icon. (Apple File Security does not go back to wipe out the disk sectors where the unencrypted file was stored, so somone with disk recovery tools could potentially pull back data from its pre-encrypted state.) A 56-bit encryption key is considered weak security in the cryptographic community – Distributed.net successfully cracked a 56-bit RC5 key in 1997 – but it’s currently the largest key size the U.S. government permits for export, and it’s strong enough to deter all but the most determined and well-equipped crackers. If someone wants to get into the file, they’ll have better luck guessing your password or coercing you into revealing it. Apple File Security cannot encrypt a folder, which also means it can’t encrypt a package, a special kind of folder introduced with Mac OS 9 for handling Carbon "application bundles" – collections of files which together form a Carbon application. You’ll see more packages as Mac OS X gets closer to reality and developers begin to make programs designed to run under both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.
To decrypt a file, simply double-click it: Apple File Security launches, prompts you for the password, then proceeds to decrypt and open the file. (You can also decrypt a file without opening it using the Apple File Security application.) Note, however, that once you decrypt a file, it stays decrypted. If you want to secure the file once you’ve viewed or modified it, you must remember to locate the file in the Finder and encrypt it again. Also, if you forget the password used to encrypt the file, there’s no way Apple or anyone else can retrieve the data for you.
More Next Week — Space constraints require us to delay discussion of some of Mac OS 9’s other features and enhancements – tune in next week for additional details.