Irritated at losing unattended mounting of AppleShare servers with the Mac OS 9 Keychain? Read on for the solution and other poorly documented information about working with servers in Mac OS 9. Matt Neuburg returns with a Tools We Use column on Impossible Software’s TypeTamer, and Steve Becker weighs in with a review of the Mac P&L accounting package. Releases this week include RAM Doubler 9.0.1 (fixing the Office 2001 conflict) and GraphicConverter 4.0.
RAM Doubler 9.0.1 Fixes Office Incompatibility — Connectix has released RAM Doubler 9.0.1, which corrects an incompatibility with Microsoft Office 2001 that we noted while reviewing Word 2001 in TidBITS-552. iBook owners who use the Preserve Memory Contents on Sleep option need to disable it with the update, however, or else the iBook will crash when put to sleep. Also, RAM Doubler’s memory setting is automatically reset to Double after applying the update. The free patch applies to owners of RAM Doubler 9, but owners of full versions of RAM Doubler 8 will be pleased to note that the free patch also upgrades their software to 9.0.1. (See "Connectix Releases Free RAM Doubler 9 Update" in TidBITS-514.) The update is a 354K download. [JLC]
GraphicConverter 4.0 Continues Image Excellence — You’d never guess there existed so many graphic file formats without looking at the revision history of Lemke Software’s GraphicConverter. With the release of GraphicConverter 4.0, Lemke adds a few more to the list of 130 formats the indispensable image application can import or export. In addition, the new version incorporates dozens of bug fixes and small improvements, ranging from improved AppleScript support to handling of corrupt GIF and Photoshop files. Despite the integer version number jump, GraphicConverter 4.0 isn’t a significant feature upgrade; Lemke Software simply ran out of numbers in the 3.x range. GraphicConverter is shareware and costs $30 in Europe, $35 throughout the rest of the world, and is a 2.4 MB download. [JLC]
Poll Preview: To Go Forward, You Must… In this issue, Adam relates the perplexing story of tracking down how to stop a Mac from connecting to remote servers at startup. That was mostly annoying, but more serious system anomalies occur all too often, and they usually come without warning. Are you prepared, especially for situations that would place your important data at risk? The best defense continues to be maintaining regular backups of your data, a topic we’ve covered extensively (though not recently) in TidBITS. So it’s time for a surprise inspection: how old is your most recent backup? Today? Last week? Months ago? Or does your idea of backup entail a large truck making beeping noises? Head over to the TidBITS home page and let us know! (This has been a Public Service Poll of TidBITS Electronic Publishing. After you have replied to the poll, you may return to your regularly scheduled workload, already in progress.) [JLC]
Back in 1995, Tonya wrote about Impossible Software’s font utility TypeTamer 1.0; the following year I bought a copy at Macworld Expo, and loved it. In 1998 I began to encounter some application conflicts, and as machines, systems, and applications advanced still further, I had to abandon it entirely. I’ve missed it ever since. Now it’s back as TypeTamer 2, and I’m happy as a clam. Forgive me for gushing, but I love this utility.
TypeTamer is a control panel and extension that acts as a Font menu organizer (so it’s incompatible with Action WYSIWYG or Adobe Type Reunion). It replaces the standard Font menu with its own, which pops out from all the places where Font menus need to appear: the Fonts menu in the menubar in Nisus Writer, the Font submenu of the Format menu in FrameMaker, the Font pop-up menu in the message window in Eudora, the Font section in Word 2001’s Formatting Palette, and so on. (You can revert to the system’s Font menu temporarily by Shift-clicking.) TypeTamer’s Font menu offers five chief features:
It clumps your fonts hierarchically into categories that you dictate in the control panel. For example, my Font menu now reads Basic, Display, Cursive, Special. The font names themselves are hierarchical sub-items to those. A font can belong to more than one category, and you can have an automatic extra item, All, which lists every font (a good idea if you are likely to add fonts later without remembering to give them a category). The category database is persistent, so a font which has been assigned a category can be disabled (with Font Reserve or Suitcase, for example) and then later re-enabled, and it will still be in the right category.
Your fonts are further automatically clumped hierarchically into families. For example, one of my Basic fonts is Garamond; there is just one Garamond menu item, with the varieties (Book, Bold, Italic, and so on) appearing as sub-items to it.
The font names can appear in the actual font in the menu. I don’t use this feature because the next feature obviates the need for it.
Each font name has an icon telling what type of font it is (TrueType, PostScript, and so on), and if you hold the mouse over the icon you see a sample of text in that font in various sizes. You dictate in the control panel what the text is. If you hold down the Option key, you see a character chart instead, which is good for inserting special characters and learning how to type them (like PopChar).
The first items in the Font menu are the fonts most recently used in your document. To me, that’s the best feature. Since any one document will usually use only a couple of fonts, I can easily change fonts by using just these first items in the menu; I never have to dive into the hierarchical part at all.
The magic being worked here is fairly deep, so conflicts are a worry. So far, though, I’ve had no serious problems. TypeTamer turns all my HyperCard stack windows blue, and not every feature works in every application (for instance, you can’t use the special character insertion feature in Nisus Writer); but these are both minor issues I can live with. I hope you’ll at least try TypeTamer’s demo and see for yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
TypeTamer 2 costs $50 and requires a Mac running System 7 or later, with at least 4 MB of RAM. A 30-day demo is available as a 664K download.
There’s a valuable axiom to consider when deciding whether to buy a Mac or PC for your business: "First, find the software that meets your needs and then decide on the hardware." The best computer in the world is useless if it won’t work with the software you need.
It’s interesting how some perceptions don’t change over the years, even if they aren’t accurate. In 1991 I owned a rapidly growing wholesale business and was faced with the need to computerize my billing and inventory systems quickly. At that time, most people said that despite the quality of the Macintosh hardware, the best selection of software was on the PC. In fact, most "knowledgeable" people I consulted said that the only good accounting software available was for the PC.
Fortunately, I decided to take time to evaluate the accounting software that was available for the Mac and discovered an extremely capable program called Accountant, Inc. Over the years, the program has been acquired by several different companies; it has evolved into Mac P&L; and it is now published by Aatrix. Almost 10 years later, I still hear people saying there aren’t any good accounting programs available for the Mac, so it’s time to dispel that perception. Mac P&L combines the advantages of working with the most user-friendly computer on the planet with the advantages of working with a powerful, yet easy-to-use accounting application.
If the idea of dealing with double-entry accounting, making journal entries, reversing entries, and working with a Chart of Accounts causes you to break out in a cold sweat, please read the rest of this review; Mac P&L provides plenty of accounting power without the need to navigate a confusing interface or the need to have a background in either accounting or bookkeeping. In fact, you may be amazed at how easily Mac P&L covers the range of important financial details of your business.
Accounting for Taste — Mac P&L supports both cash and accrual methods of accounting, can generate both item and service invoices, and provides an integrated approach to managing your business: inventory, invoices, purchase orders, payroll, payables, receivables, general ledger, etc. are all linked together so making an entry in one section of the program automatically updates all the appropriate areas of the program. Easy access to the various components of the program is provided by well-organized menus and a tool palette.
The report generator included with Mac P&L enables you to create and customize an extensive list of reports. Conveniently, Mac P&L has grouped most of its reports by category (i.e., Inventory, Vendor, Customer, Project, and Company). Within each category, you can select the report you wish to run and set parameters for the report, such as a date range and a sorting option. Along with reports, a recent addition to Mac P&L gives you the capability to customize the forms that the program can generate, including invoices, purchase orders, quotes, statements, and credits, as well as other forms.
Individual modules also offer a good depth. For instance, among the key features included in Mac P&L’s inventory module is the capability to assemble a product from its components. If your business manufacturers a product from inventoried components, this feature enables you to add the finished product to your stock while automatically deducting the components from your inventory. Another handy feature is the capability to set a low-inventory warning for any inventoried item.
Should Mac P&L’s modules not cover some functionality you have via another program, it’s possible to link Mac P&L to other programs via AppleScript. That could help tie Mac P&L to a FileMaker Pro database or Excel spreadsheet. I’ve also found that WestCode’s excellent macro and automation utility OneClick works well with Mac P&L.
I’ve always been a big proponent of regularly backing up critical data, and Mac P&L simplifies that process by including its own backup routine. Also, since each Mac P&L company appears as a distinct file in your Mac P&L Folder, you can easily make ad-hoc backups by quickly copying individual files. (As with all important data and especially with critical financial records, remember to make multiple backups on separate disks and store at least one backup at an off-site location.)
Although Mac P&L’s full list of features is far too large to list in its entirety here, additional key features include password security, support for multiple checking accounts, easy reversal of entries, an audit trail, an automated year-end procedure, sales rep tracking, sales tax calculation and tracking, multiple company support, support for an unlimited number of customers, project tracking, conversion of quotes to invoices, printing of inventory labels, multiple addresses for customers, and tracking of back orders. Aatrix also prides itself in having a robust stand-alone payroll program, Aatrix Payroll, a version of which is integrated into Mac P&L.
Finally, Mac P&L comes with a good manual which details both how to start an accounting system for a new business and how to integrate the accounting system for an existing business into Mac P&L. If you don’t understand how your books are set up (or how to create a set of books for a new business), then you might want to consider getting either a bookkeeper or an accountant to assist you. However, after looking at the many examples and explanations in the Mac P&L manual, along with the sample companies that Aatrix includes with the program, you may decide outside help won’t be necessary. Aatrix also includes a list of approved Mac P&L consultants.
Pennies in the Wishing Well — Over the years, I’ve been extremely pleased with both Mac P&L’s reliability and user friendliness. However, I would like to see some additional features.
First, entering data for generating checks with Mac P&L can be tedious (in all fairness, this is true with many accounting programs). The procedure is easy enough, but Mac P&L offers no facility to automate repetitive entries you make each month, and it has no way to categorize entries for generating quick, customizable expense reports. Mac P&L could learn from the work Intuit has done with Quicken in this area.
A workaround that has worked well for me is to use Quicken to track all my checks. Quicken’s wonderful data entry enhancements and flexible report generator allows me to enter data quickly and then create virtually any report that I want.
"Fine," you ask, "but then how do I keep my Mac P&L General Ledger up to date?" Whenever I need to update my General Ledger, I create a summary report in Quicken and manually enter the totals directly into the appropriate Mac P&L General Ledger accounts through the General Journal, which is a breeze. In fact, Quicken can "memorize" the report criteria I use most frequently, so I don’t have to enter most of the criteria necessary to generate a Quicken report each time. While this technique probably won’t work for everyone, you may find it a time saver.
Although Mac P&L’s inventory module is loaded with useful features, I hope Aatrix decides to add a multi-level pricing option so you could more easily handle pricing discounts based on specific sales volumes. Also, for businesses that deal with overseas clients, a currency conversion feature (perhaps with some sort of online source for exchange rate information) would also be a welcome addition to the program.
Finally, while Mac P&L’s forms customization capabilities are both versatile and much appreciated, some of the specific user-interface elements are confusing. For example: "handles" appear on selected objects, but they neither drag nor resize the objects; the cursor doesn’t change to a hand to notify you that the active object may be dragged; and you can’t drag & drop selected text. Also annoying is the fact that the printed version of a form doesn’t always match the screen view of the modified template for that form. These and other issues cause much wasted time when you’re customizing forms, though the eventual results can be quite satisfying.
Adding It All Up — Over the years, I’ve found Mac P&L to be a delight to work with and proof that the Macintosh does have great accounting software! Whether you own a small sole proprietorship or run a medium-sized company, Mac P&L is worthy of serious consideration for your accounting needs. You can find additional information about Mac P&L (and a free demo) on Aatrix’s Web site.
The single-user version of Mac P&L costs $199 and includes a good manual and the previously mentioned payroll program. A multi-user version is also available for $999. Mac P&L requires a Macintosh running System 7.0 or later with about 15 MB of hard disk space and 5 MB of available RAM.
[Steve Becker is a Mac consultant, author, and programmer. Other articles written by Steve, as well as his highly rated Mac shareware utilities, are available on Steve’s Web site.]
One of the strengths of the Mac OS has long been its seamless networking with AppleShare or Personal File Sharing servers. Or rather, the seams aren’t particularly apparent when you’re using one of these servers – there’s little you can do on a local hard disk that doesn’t work the same on a remote server volume. But the process of setting up and shutting down connections to AppleShare servers has been troublesome forever. For years, the Chooser was the only way to connect to servers for the first time (though most people then created aliases to commonly used items). In Mac OS 8.5, Apple supplemented the Chooser with the Network Browser, but the old habit of using the Chooser died hard – at least for me – especially since the one thing the Network Browser couldn’t do was help you set AppleShare server volumes to mount at startup.
In Mac OS 9, Apple tried to address the issue of mounting AppleShare server volumes at startup by offering an alternative to the Chooser for setting volumes to mount at startup and by reducing the Mac OS’s reliance on the cryptic AppleShare Prep file for storing passwords to AppleShare servers. Unfortunately, these well-meaning modifications caused some problems for long-time users of AppleShare servers, and those problems were exacerbated by Apple’s minimal documentation of the changes.
Servers Folder — Although the Network Browser allowed users to avoid the Chooser somewhat, the Chooser remained necessary in Mac OS 8.5 and 8.6 if you wanted to set servers to mount at startup (or to stop them from doing so). That information has long been stored in the AppleShare Prep file in the Preference folder; experienced users knew that trashing that file was a fast solution to quirky server mounting problems.
Apple decided to reduce our reliance on the Chooser and simultaneously expose the information about server volumes set to mount at startup by creating a special Servers folder inside the Mac OS 9 System Folder. Aliases to server volumes in that folder would be mounted at startup, and Apple changed the Chooser so it would create those aliases instead of using the AppleShare Prep file. You can also drag aliases to server volumes onto the System Folder to have them automatically placed in the Servers folder; dragging a server volume from the Network Browser has the same effect.
The main problem with this entire situation is that Apple has barely documented it at all. There’s no mention of it in the Mac Help accessible from the Finder’s Help menu, and it took several searches in Apple’s Tech Info Library before I found any information.
I encountered this mystery when I changed my internal file server setup recently, swapping a Power Macintosh 8500 with a pair of 2 GB external hard disks for a 6400 with a single 60 GB internal hard disk to hold our MP3 collection. We use the kitchen Mac, a PowerBook G3, to play those MP3s, so it needs access to the server at all times. I’d originally set it to mount the two 2 GB hard disks from the server at startup, but since the PowerBook can go weeks or months between restarts, I’d forgotten that fact when I made the server change. And even then, I probably would have put up with the annoying dialog boxes asking for my password at startup except that they crashed the Classic environment in Mac OS X Public Beta. So I decided to eliminate them.
It took me quite some time and troubleshooting effort before I solved the problem. I tried deleting the AppleShare Prep file (the historical solution), booting with minimal extension sets, rebuilding the desktop, zapping the PRAM, deleting the Keychain, replacing the entire Preferences folder temporarily, and even reinstalling the Mac OS. Nothing worked (though in retrospect a clean installation of the Mac OS would have), so finally I searched for all aliases and started examining them manually to see if any of them could be implicated. That was when I found the Servers folder containing the aliases to the two nonexistent hard disks; trashing them solved the problem instantly. From there, it wasn’t too hard to learn about it in the Tech Info Library, though searching on "connect, server, startup" found only one useful document, the ReadMe for the AppleShare Client 3.8.6 (which provided pretty good information). It wasn’t until I searched on "Servers folder" that I found the article explaining what the Servers folder was, though not what it replaced.
One way or another, though, Apple did provide the answer, and I have to shoulder some of the blame for spending time working through tedious troubleshooting procedures when the answer existed in the Tech Info Library.
Quiz Results — Clearly I wasn’t alone in my ignorance of this change, since just over 40 percent of the respondents in last week’s quiz chose the right answer. Roughly another 30 percent knew the old method of deleting the AppleShare Prep file and more than 20 percent thought the Control key had something to do with it (it doesn’t – holding the Control key down at startup either drops you into the MacsBug debugger immediately or lets you choose a Location Manager module, as we learned in "Modifying the Macintosh Startup Sequence" in TidBITS-529).
Keychain Kops — More problematic in this arena is Apple’s new (in Mac OS 9) reliance on the Keychain for storing passwords to servers set to mount at startup. It’s not an unreasonable approach; the Keychain’s security is undoubtedly better than storing passwords in the AppleShare Prep file, which is where the Chooser previously stashed your name and password for such servers.
Unfortunately, relying on the Keychain for password storage means that you can no longer mount server volumes in an entirely unattended fashion. You may not have to enter the password for the server, but you must still enter the Keychain’s password at some point. Although it’s possible to leave that password blank (a bad idea for security reasons), you would still have to respond to the dialog box that asks for your password. It’s hard to quibble with Apple trying to improve security in this way, but many people have internal AppleShare servers that they use constantly and that aren’t accessible to the outside world in any way. In those cases, the new reliance on the Keychain actually removes functionality – totally unattended server mounting – from the Mac OS.
Apple has once again been quiet about how to address this problem in official documentation. Although I was again able to find the solution in the Tech Info Library, it was nominally for a different problem. If you really want to have one or more AppleShare server volumes mounted at startup without requiring any attention from you, you can create a single-line AppleScript script in Script Editor, save it as an application (turn off Stay Open and turn on Never Show Startup Screen in the Save dialog box), and place it in your Startup Items folder. The one line in the script should be like the one which follows, with the quoted items replaced (leave the quotes intact) with the appropriate volume and server. Unless you’re accessing a server using guest access, you’ll also have to include your user name and password, of course, and you should make sure exposing this password won’t compromise other passwords.
mount volume "volumename or URL" on server "server" as user name "user" with password "password"
One other warning – if you know your server is offline for some reason, make sure to move the script out of your Startup Items folder; it doesn’t handle errors gracefully.
Moral of the Stories — I’m peeved at myself that it took me as long as it did to solve the problem with the phantom server volumes trying to mount at startup. In the end, though, I don’t really mind since I learned something and, by writing about it, I’ll hopefully help some other people make better use of their Macs.
That aside, two things worry me. If a less experienced Macintosh user had run into this problem, they probably would have suffered with it for quite some time, since finding the answer in Apple’s technical documentation is well beyond an inexperienced user. Documentation is seen today as something that’s unnecessary because programs are so wonderfully easy to use that no one ever has any troubles, or at least very few (apologies to Dr. Seuss). I hope the sarcasm in that sentence doesn’t make a puddle on the floor – a few good examples notwithstanding, the overall state of documentation in the industry right now is pathetic.
Second, as this situation showed, the vast amount of experience I have with Macs and AppleShare networks was totally useless because Apple changed one small thing. I’ve played with Mac OS X Public Beta, and although I’m sure changes will be made, I continue to worry that many existing Macintosh experts will find themselves at sea in Mac OS X’s completely new environment. Even if it’s easy to use, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to troubleshoot. We can always hope it won’t need much troubleshooting, but assuming that of an initial release seems optimistic at best.
The solution? Back up a paragraph. It’s documentation – and I hope Apple plans to offer more than paltry online help. Documentation should do more than document. It should explain, teach, provide background, and perhaps even inspire the reader to explore. Technical manuals aren’t novels, but a great manual is no less of a window into another world, and the world revealed by a manual is real.