Thinking of passing along juicy news you heard under a non-disclosure agreement? Think again! Apple’s on the legal warpath to find who leaked news of recent product announcements – and you can register your opinion on the value of rumors in our poll. Also this week, Matt Neuburg reviews the Starry Night Backyard astronomy program, Palm releases new handhelds, and we explain the little-known Finder tips necessary to answer last week’s quiz.
Colorful Handhelds Lead Palm’s New Lineup — Palm, Inc. revitalized its line of handhelds today by introducing three new models: the new consumer-oriented Palm m100, the updated wireless Palm VIIx, and two Limited Edition Palm Vx models with colorful metal casings. The new $150 Palm m100 introduces a new case style with a physically smaller screen than its predecessors, a new Note Pad application that stores handwritten notes and sketches, and an on-screen clock. To compete with Handspring’s multi-colored Visor line, the m100 adds colorful snap-on faceplates in muted, non-fruitlike colors. The wireless Palm VIIx, an update to the Palm VII, includes 8 MB of memory instead of 2 MB, and is available for $450. The Limited Edition model of the Palm Vx, offered exclusively through Palm’s online store for $400, is available in Millennium Blue and Champagne colored aluminum casings.
All three models feature Palm OS 3.5. For the first time, the Macintosh Palm Desktop software is available with the m100 and Limited Edition Palm Vx out of the box instead of as a separate purchase or online download (Palm’s Web site implies that the Palm VIIx doesn’t offer the same software); however, Mac users must still purchase a USB or serial cable adapter. Palm also lowered estimated street prices on its existing color Palm IIIc and wireless Palm VII handhelds to $400. [MHA]
Poll Preview: Rumor with a View — As you’ll read below, Apple last week filed a lawsuit against an unknown individual to prevent future leaks of confidential information. This move follows on the heels of Adobe’s lawsuit against MacNN, although Apple’s going after the source of the leak, not the sites that published the rumors. Consumers and industry watchers love to know what products might be coming, but leaks can prove financially damaging to Apple and other companies when consumers defer purchases of current products – and the financial health of these companies directly impacts their ability to make products users want and need. Our question then is, "Do you believe the value to consumers of information published on rumor sites outweighs the potential damage it does to the companies involved?" This is a serious question that reflects directly on issues surrounding consumer advocacy and the Macintosh community, so please, tell us where you fall in this debate by voting on our home page. [ACE]
Before I discuss the results of last week’s quiz, let me briefly tell you what we hope to accomplish with our quizzes. First and foremost, we want to impart a little knowledge – there’s no class, so we have to figure out ways of doing that with the quiz and quiz results. Second, we want to have a little fun, and there’s no fun in asking a totally obvious question. So if our questions seem a little complex, it’s because we’re trying to avoid easy questions with easy answers.
That said, last week’s question asked how few mouse clicks were necessary both to view the contents of the Startup Items folder and make an alias of it on the desktop. Clearly, to make the quiz fair, we had to set some ground rules such as starting from the desktop with no windows open and, although we didn’t state it explicitly, not relying on any special pre-configuration like putting an alias of your hard disk in the Apple menu. We also said that you had to use only actions initiated with the mouse because we were trying to convey information about the Finder that related to using the mouse, so letting people navigate entirely from the keyboard was missing the point. Finally, we used the accepted definition of a mouse click, which is both pressing and releasing the mouse button.
For those of you who wanted to quibble with the phrase "initiated by," it means "starting with," and doesn’t imply that you can’t use the keyboard as long the action starts with the mouse. I mentioned that in TidBITS Talk and also passed on a couple of solutions that required special conditions – although they were "cheating" as far as the quiz goes, you may find them helpful for navigating around in the Finder.
The "Correct" Answer — The correct answer is three clicks, which about 45 percent of the almost 1,500 participants got right. If the answer surprises you, blame it on a couple of little-advertised features in the Finder.
Perform a "click and a half" on the icon of your startup disk to activate the Finder’s spring-loaded folder feature – the mouse cursor will change to a magnifying glass. Still holding the mouse button, point the magnifying glass cursor at the System Folder to open it, then point at the Startup Items folder. Release the mouse button when the Startup Items window is open; the intervening windows of your hard disk and System Folder will automatically close behind it. (Total clicks: two.)
(Spring-loaded folders were introduced in mid-1997 with Mac OS 8. You can turn spring-loaded folders on and off in the Finder’s preferences, as well as adjust the amount of time the mouse cursor must hover over an item before it springs open. Spring-loaded folders are enabled by default.)
Click and hold on the "proxy icon" or "title bar icon" in the title bar of the Startup Items window until it highlights. (It’s the small folder icon to the left of the title of the window.) Once the icon has highlighted, press the Command and Option keys on your keyboard and drag the proxy icon to a visible portion of your desktop. An alias to your Startup Items folder will appear there. You’re done! (Clicks in this step: one; total clicks: three.)
(Both proxy icons and the capability to Command-Option-drag any Finder icon to create an alias appeared in Mac OS 8.5.)
A "Better" Answer — Although we didn’t include two clicks as a possible answer, several people passed on their technique for performing the required tasks in only two clicks. Follow these instructions:
Click on an icon the desktop and drag it to your hard disk icon, then pause long enough for the hard disk icon to open. Without letting up on the mouse button, drag the icon to the System Folder’s icon, and again without letting up, to the Startup Items folder icon. Once that opens, let up on the mouse button to drop the icon from the desktop into the Startup Items folder. (Total clicks: one)
(This technique relies on the Finder’s spring-loaded folders feature as well, but by ignoring the unintended consequence of moving something into your Startup Items folder, you eliminate one of the clicks necessary in our approach. And since Apple ships Macs with icons on the desktop, no special conditions are necessarily required.)
Once you have the Startup Items folder open, you can make the alias as described above, by Command-Option-dragging the Startup Items folder’s proxy icon to the desktop. (Clicks in this step: one; total clicks: two.)
Since the dawn of time, people have sat outside at night, gazed up at the stars, and said: "What the heck do you suppose is going on up there?" They’ve also said: "Boy, my neck hurts. And it’s cold. And I’m bored. And things are hard to see. And stop calling that one Leo, it doesn’t look a bit like a lion."
Well, you won’t be saying any of those things once you’ve installed Sienna Software’s Starry Night Backyard on your computer (see "Stars on the Cheap" in TidBITS-306 for a brief review of the initial version of Starry Night). You’ll be enjoying instant gratification of your curiosity: if you want to understand the retrogradation of Mars or why the moon has phases, you’ll just fly up above the solar system and watch how it happens. You’ll be able to look in all directions without turning your head. You’ll be able to see more stars than you could with the naked eye on the clearest night. You’ll see several ways of drawing each constellation. And you’ll be warm and comfortable inside your own home.
Starry Light, Starry Bright — Starry Night Backyard is the "light" version of Sienna’s Starry Night Pro, and is aimed at beginners, young people especially. To this end, it stresses realism and ease of use, and to its great credit, it takes only a moment or two to understand the program and begin exploring. At startup, a full-screen window opens, showing the present view facing south from your home; grass and trees make up the lower half, and above, if it is daytime, there is blue sky, which you can remove by unchecking Daylight from the Sky menu. You can also adjust the level at which dimmer objects are filtered out, for an accurate simulation of your actual nighttime view. Apart from this, you’ll barely need the menus at all, since everything is ready to hand. To turn your virtual head, drag the cursor to "grab" and shift the view. Across the top of the window are a series of small fields and buttons, which you can use to change the time, date, and location, alter your height, magnify the scene, or control time-based animation. Animation is normally "live," but you can set it to various step sizes and animate forward or backward, continuously, or by single-step. You can also make QuickTime movies where each animation step is a frame.
Menus let you toggle the display of names for various classes of celestial object; you can also show constellation names, boundaries, and various stick-figure renderings. But you don’t need any of this to learn what you’re seeing: as you pass the cursor over an object, its name and some other basic information pops up; double-clicking the object displays a separate dialog with details about it, including its coordinates and rise/set times. To find an object, just type its name into a dialog box. If you hold the cursor down on an object, a contextual menu appears, where you can do things like show the orbit (for a planet), or "lock" the object so that it remains steady as the window animates. For example, an easy way to watch Mars retrograde is this: find Mars and lock on it; animate a day at a time, watching the background of stars until it pauses, then back up several days; now lock on a nearby star to hold the background steady, and animate one sidereal day at a time.
There are various ways to get a different perspective. You can choose from the Go menu (for example, you can take a position looking down on the inner solar system), or select an object and choose Go There from its contextual menu. Multiple undos let you return easily from an exploration. Combining the ability to Go There with the capability to change elevation and to animate lets you create some wonderful effects. For example, it’s a simple matter to fly through the solar system on the back of Halley’s comet. First, Go There, and elevate yourself some way above the comet’s surface. Now find the Sun and lock on it. Then, to find the next fly-through, animate in month steps: when you see some popping and flashing, that was it! Single-step back a few times, turn on planetary orbits to give yourself some orientation, change to one-day steps, and enjoy the ride – better than any roller coaster.
The View from Up There — A particularly nice aspect of Starry Night Backyard’s realism is its use of what I call secondary animation. When you ask to find an object, it doesn’t just magically appear; the view pans round to it, as if you were turning your head. When you change your field of view or elevation, or Go There, the image doesn’t just change: you fly in a continuous motion, which gives a sense of the relative sizes of things. For example, when you Go There from Earth to Halley’s, the earth drops away, then there’s a pause as you rise slowly out of the inner solar system, then there’s a longer pause during which nothing seems to happen as you cross the outer reaches of the solar system, and finally you approach Halley’s, where, as the comet starts to loom as a globe, you suddenly see your own feet (appropriately clad in a space-suit, of course) as you drop in for a landing.
Also, conceptual or photographic images of various objects are included, so that if, for example, you go to Mars, or zoom in on the Orion Nebula, you really get to see something. Plus, astronomy being one of those subjects that’s extremely well documented on the Internet, Starry Night Backyard can send you online via links at Sienna’s own livesky.com site, and any URLs you like can be made part of an object’s contextual menu; thus, images and information on the Internet become virtually incorporated inside Starry Night.
Getting Back Down to Earth — Starry Night Backyard is a wonderful introduction to the marvels of the heavens, but it also has some infelicities of interface which seriously hamper its suitability for the young audience at which it is ostensibly aimed. Choosing from the Go menu resets the date and time to now, so when you jump up above the solar system to get a look at an interesting event you’ve carefully set up from earth, the event isn’t there any more, which is confusing. Selecting a celestial object, to display its name or bring up its contextual menu or information dialog, is physically extremely difficult, because your cursor isn’t given enough tolerance: you have to get it right smack on the object.
The program underemphasizes the quantitative aspect of astronomy: you’re shown some numbers as you fly or zoom, and you can learn angular separations by dragging, but you can’t locate an area of the sky by inputting coordinates, or even display the coordinates of the point under the cursor. Also, you can project the celestial grid onto the sky, but not the local (horizon-based) grid, which is a great pity because the relationship between these is the first thing a budding astronomer needs to understand. Animation time steps can be set only in gross integral units, and rising and setting times are given to the nearest minute only, making it hard to gain an understanding of such phenomena as day length. There is no readily available "trails" feature; you can trace the path of a retrograde, but it requires extreme trickery (I figured it out only by accident).
There is no indication that a menu item may involve the Internet, and many do, so you’re stunned when you choose a command and your browser opens (and the command fails, because you’re not connected). The printed manual is somewhat incomplete; menus and help buttons lead you to believe there’s an online manual, but they lie. Finally, I should mention that of my many sessions with Starry Night Backyard, about 80 percent ended in the program freezing or crashing, and forcing a restart; however, this may have been some sort of extension conflict.
The Joy of Rediscovering Space — There are other, more mathematically oriented sky programs – I’m a particular fan of Southern Stars’ SkyChart, which I’ve been using since it was shareware – and of course if it’s just numbers you want, it’s no longer difficult to get your computer to calculate them. But as an inexpensive program with realistic visuals, great ease of use, and attractive bells and whistles, Starry Night Backyard is certainly a remarkable value. The catalog of included objects seems quite generous, running down to some objects of magnitude 11 or 12 (fainter than can be seen with the naked eye or binoculars). Its feature set is brilliantly geared towards education and exploration. It’s attractive, enticing, and fun.
Starry Night Backyard requires System 7.5, QuickTime, and a PowerPC-based system. It occupies about 85 MB installed. It costs $65, or $50 for the online version. A time-limited demo is available for download.
Apple Computer announced last week that it has sued up to twenty-five anonymous defendants for posting information on the Internet that Apple considers to be proprietary trade secrets. The complaint, filed in a California state court (Superior Court for Santa Clara County, where Apple’s headquarters is located), seeks "an injunction against further disclosure of Apple’s trade secrets as well as monetary damages."
Although I had not received a copy of the actual complaint by press time, published reports and sources indicate that Apple is suing "John Doe 1" for acting, alone or in conspiracy with up to 24 other anonymous defendants ("John Does 2 through 25"), to post confidential information about the Power Macintosh G4 (Gigabit Ethernet) and Apple Pro Mouse before those products were announced. In conjunction, Superior Court Judge Gregory H. Ward issued a subpeona to Yahoo seeking identifying information on two GeoCities Web sites where Apple trade secrets were allegedly posted. (GeoCities is a division of Yahoo Incorporated.)
The concept of suing unknown individuals over revealing truthful information can be confusing, so let’s briefly walk though exactly what’s happening.
Why Apple Cares — MacNN’s report on the lawsuit includes quotations from the complaint Apple filed. (Other reports are available from CNET, TechWeb, and ZDNN.) In part, the complaint says, "In Apple’s experience, public knowledge of future products often lessens sales of existing Apple products. As a result, Apple maintains and protects Future Product Information as a trade secret." Any semi-serious Macintosh watcher knows that Apple keeps details of unreleased products as secret as possible, but sometimes people think this is merely so Steve Jobs can surprise an audience with new product announcements. It’s more involved than that.
The personal computer industry learned early on that being too forthcoming about future plans can affect the present. The Kaypro computer company set the classic example way back in the early 1980s – by revealing details of a hot new machine too far in advance, sales of the company’s existing (and only) model dried up, and delays in the new model left the company with virtually no sales for well over a year. In addition, by the time Kaypro did get its new model out the door, the competition – well-informed of what they could expect – had already nullified most of its competitive advantages. Kaypro held on for another year or two before collapsing completely.
Apple has seen this effect as well, and not just in ancient history. In the just-ended third quarter of fiscal year 2000, Apple posted smaller-than-expected revenues and unit sales, largely due to iMac sales that failed to meet predictions. Apple saw early in the quarter that iMac sales were slowing down, and when analysts asked, Apple CFO Fred Anderson said the company believes it was because iMac customers were waiting for new models – by the end of the quarter, it had been nine months since the last update, when previous updates had come at no more than six-month intervals. Although Apple’s quarter was strong in all other respects, that dip in iMac sales was enough to spawn a string of "Is Apple’s Recovery Faltering?" stories, potentially starting the same kind of self-fulfilling prophecy cycle that sent Apple into the toilet in 1996 and 1997. (You may remember that although Apple had serious business practice issues that needed repair, sales did not drop until the public was deluged with "Apple Is Doomed" stories.)
Given the unique nature of products like the Power Macintosh G4 Cube and the plethora of stories leaking out well ahead of the machine’s announcement – and the observable and repeated effect advance knowledge can have on Apple’s business – the company has apparently decided to play hardball. Apple is already extremely strict with employees who are believed to have leaked information, but in some recent cases, Apple has not been able to find out who’s responsible for the leaks. That’s where the lawsuit comes in.
Anonymous Defendants — It seems counter-intuitive to file a lawsuit when you don’t know who you’re suing. Yet part of the legal process is called discovery, where attorneys for each side query and, via the jurisdiction of the court, subpoena relevant witnesses in an effort to uncover truth. Discovery compels witnesses to answer questions under oath and to surrender information that, without the court’s backing, third parties would never have to reveal.
By filing against unknown persons, Apple is essentially representing to the court that with the full weight of discovery, Apple will be able to determine who the defendants are reasonably quickly, and then will amend the complaint to name them explicitly. That’s not an optional step – it’s not fair to let Apple conduct volumes of discovery with witnesses when the individuals being sued haven’t even been notified of the lawsuit, and they can’t be served with papers until they’re named. (By contrast, consider that criminal charges are rarely filed anonymously in the U.S. – courts frown on the full power of the police not being able to name a defendant, viewing anonymous charges as end-runs around statutes of limitations.)
Look at it from Apple’s point of view. Accurate and confidential information belonging to Apple was posted on the Internet, and the only people who had access to it were under contractual obligation not to reveal it – either as employees of Apple Computer or as third-party developers or business partners who had signed non-disclosure agreements. Someone, or some entity like a corporation, broke a contract by either posting that information or permitting that information to come into possession of a third party who posted it (although in the suit, Apple warrants that it has been informed and believes that John Doe 1, the primary defendant, the one who actually posted the information, is an individual). Apple has legitimate legal cause against that individual, but it has to use discovery to find out that person’s name.
That’s why Apple immediately had Yahoo served with subpoenas for identifying information about two accounts allegedly used to post confidential information on AppleInsider’s bulletin boards. Yahoo may not have correct name and address information for those Web sites or email accounts, but it should have logs of the IP addresses that the owner used to access them. Apple is hoping those addresses will be Apple’s own static IP addresses in its class A address space (17.x.x.x); the company will then map the address back to a specific connection, see who owned it at that period in time, and voila! They’ve found the culprit.
If the IP address belongs to a cable modem, DSL, or even a dial-up modem pool, Apple can then have the ISP subpoenaed to match the IP address at the time the site was created to a given customer record, and that leads to the name of the defendant as well.
Apple’s Real Goal — Once Apple has figured out who leaked the information, I believe that will be the end of the lawsuit. Rather than go to the expense of a trial in a futile attempt to recover money the leaker probably doesn’t have, Apple wants to know who it is so he can be cut off. He’ll be fired for breach of contract if he works for Apple. If he works for a third-party developer or business partner, Apple will pressure that company to fire the leaker as well, upon threat of not getting any more information from Apple or facing a corporate breach-of-contract suit for violating the non-disclosure agreement.
If Apple had intended to go after the sites that published the information, the company might not have filed a California state lawsuit. California has a state shield law that allows reporters to refuse to divulge their sources in civil court proceedings with less fear of being held in contempt of court. The law does not specifically include Web publications, but neither does it specifically exclude them. Either way, the shield law would be an obstacle to Apple’s discovery, defeating the main purpose of filing a complaint. What’s more, the two major rumor sites are both located on the East Coast of the U.S. – AppleInsider with MacNN in Washington, DC, and Mac OS Rumors in Portland, ME. Since California courts have no power to subpoena people more than 50 miles away from where a hearing is held, both sites are by definition outside the jurisdiction of the lawsuit.
That First Amendment Again — When Adobe sued MacNN in late May for misappropriation of Photoshop 6 trade secrets, Adobe took a big PR hit from angry Macintosh users. Some felt Adobe was trying to punish Web sites for its own inability to keep information confidential; others felt it was an abuse of the U.S. First Amendment that grants freedom to the press. In MWJ, we pointed out that no matter how MacNN got the information, the site probably had a First Amendment right to publish it at that point.
Apple, having learned from this dust-up, is going after the people who leaked the information in the first place, not those who published it on the Web. Such a tactic avoids the entire messy issue, with one possible exception: once identified, the defendant could assert that because he posted the information on his own GeoCities Web site, he himself is a publisher. He could then maintain that he got the information from someone else and try to invoke something like the shield law to keep that person’s identity secret. However, if the webmaster is an Apple employee or employee of an Apple business partner, Apple will still fire him or pressure for him to be fired, arguing that even if this person didn’t create the pictures, he surely should have known they were Apple trade secrets. Apple achieves its goal either way.
The strategy also prevents the rumor sites from facing an uncomfortable choice in Federal court – reveal sources or potentially be held in contempt. In the 03-Aug-00 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Piu-Wing Tam quotes Sydelle Pittas, attorney for Ric Ford’s MacInTouch, as saying that Apple’s action against the anonymous source was just fine. "Apple has a perfect right to go after anyone it feels has violated a confidentiality agreement," she said. Pittas’s comments probably shouldn’t be construed as MacInTouch policy towards legal action on sources, but without the protection of something like the California shield law, a publisher risks jail when protecting an anonymous source. That’s a tough choice.
Ironically, had someone leaked information to a traditional media reporter (newspaper, television, magazine) in the state of California, his identity might be beyond Apple Computer’s legal reach. But by posting in public forums with an identifiable account, the leaker has apparently removed the Web sites from the loop – they’re not even asked to divulge his identity because he left enough clues for Apple to find him via subpoenas. Remember that if you’re tempted to bargain your conscience and your contracts for a shot at fleeting Web fame.
[Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MDJ, MWJ, and MMJ – daily, weekly, and monthly subscription-based newsletters for serious Macintosh users. Free trial subscriptions for all three are available. The trial subscription to MMJ contains the full MDJ Power 25 articles in which TidBITS Publisher Adam C. Engst ranked #2 behind Steve Jobs.]