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TidBITS#559/11-Dec-00

Mac OS X is built on a Unix foundation – are Mac users ready to adapt to the change? Chris Pepper returns with an analysis of how the new operating system will affect not only Mac users, but the industry at large. And, as we get closer to Christmas, Arthur Bleich returns to name his picks for the year’s best digital cameras. We also cover the release of Virtual PC 4.0 and announce our two-week holiday hiatus (our next regular issue will be sent 01-Jan-01).

Adam Engst No comments

2000 Holiday Hiatus

2000 Holiday Hiatus — It’s that time of year again when we at TidBITS spend time with our families and recover our strength for whatever the new year and Macworld Expo in San Francisco will bring. So we’ll be taking the next two regularly scheduled issues off, though we’ll be publishing our traditional gift issue later this week, and we’ll return with an issue on 01-Jan-01, the first day of the next millennium (yeah, we’re calendar purists). TidBITS Talk will continue for much, though not all, of this time, and of course, if there’s any notable breaking news, you’ll be able to find it on our home page. From all of us to all of you, then, best wishes for the coming year and may your hopes and dreams come true. Personally, I hope Apple’s Mac OS X engineers are working hard to restore aspects of familiarity, flexibility, and power to the new operating system’s default interface. [ACE]


Geoff Duncan No comments

Poll Results: On Releases and Announcements

Poll Results: On Releases and Announcements — Last week’s poll asked how you’d prefer TidBITS cover news of product announcements and releases. Historically, we tend to cover products only when they’re released and available, rather than merely when they’re announced, and 51 percent of the poll’s respondents agreed with that approach. Roughly a third of the respondents would prefer TidBITS covered products both when they’re announced and when they’re released, while 16 percent voted we do neither (instead sticking to other types of articles), and 2 percent voted we cover only product announcements. We aren’t sure if (or how) we’ll change TidBITS’s coverage of product announcements in the future, but we have been thinking about brief mentions of selected product announcements in addition to the product releases we would normally cover. These poll results, along with the discussion in TidBITS Talk, have helped clarify what readers might find useful – thanks! [GD]

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbpoll=68>

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tlkthrd=1256>


Geoff Duncan No comments

Poll Preview: The Benefits of Unix

Poll Preview: The Benefits of Unix — Last week’s article by Chris Pepper – and this week’s concluding article – highlight the Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X, as well as how they relate to what we’ll see on our Macintosh screens and to the rest of the Unix community. However, moving from a proprietary operating system (the existing Mac OS) to a Unix-based operating system is a major move for Apple, and we’re curious much you think this change will impact you when Mac OS X ships next year. Will Mac OS X offer the best of both worlds for you – the power of Unix with the ease of the Macintosh? Do you think you’ll mainly use Mac OS X software, but occasionally delve into Unix? Does Unix benefit you indirectly through increased stability, protected memory, and improved performance? Or is Mac OS X’s Unix core a major problem for you because hardware or software you require may not be compatible with Mac OS X or accessible from the Classic Mac OS environment? Vote today on our home page! [GD]

<http://www.tidbits.com/>


Adam Engst No comments

Virtual PC 4.0 Improves Performance, Ease of Use

With its update to Virtual PC 4.0, Connectix continues to improve the company’s popular Pentium emulation software in compelling ways. Most important are the performance increases, of course, which reportedly can as much as double Virtual PC 4.0’s speed over the previous version, though the trade-off is that Virtual PC now requires a PowerPC G3- or G4-based Mac (including Macs with upgrade cards; Virtual PC 3.0 remains available for older Power Macs). On PowerPC G4-based Macs, Connectix claims that Virtual PC 4.0’s use of the Velocity Engine can also improve multimedia performance in MMX-savvy Windows applications by up to three times. Other architectural improvements include internal allocation up to 512 MB of RAM to the emulated operating system inside Virtual PC using temporary memory, and dynamically sized disk images that expand as needed and use only the space required. Conversion of existing disk images from previous versions is possible but requires a multi-step process because of Windows limitations that Connectix plans to document on its Web site. Virtual PC 4.0 also features some interface enhancements, such as resizable, scrollable windows, support for three-button mice and mice with scroll wheels, improved help, and improvements to the Virtual Disk Assistant and Setup Assistant.

<http://www.connectix.com/products/vpc4.html>

Of special interest to people who use Virtual PC to preview Web pages in different Web browsers is Virtual PC 4.0’s new capability to run multiple PC operating systems at the same time. You can have two or more PC operating systems active at once, though you may want to have only the frontmost operating system active (leaving the others in a saved state) for optimum performance. In the first quarter of 2001, Connectix will also be releasing Connectix OS Packs that let users buy pre-installed versions of different operating systems.

Virtual PC 4.0 requires a PowerPC G3- or G4-based Mac with at least 50 MB of RAM and Mac OS 8.5 or later, but it is not compatible with Mac OS X Public Beta. Connectix plans to release a compatible version as soon after the final release of Mac OS X 1.0 as is possible. The upgrade from Virtual PC 3.0 costs $79 (free if you purchased Virtual PC 3.0 after 01-Nov-00) for either a physical or downloadable version (about 20 MB – available now). New copies of Virtual PC 4.0 with Windows 98 (shipping 14-Dec-00) or Windows Me (shipping 11-Jan-01) cost $199 on CD-ROM.


arthur961 No comments

Digital Cameras 2000

My last article talked about the various accouterments you’ll need for a digital camera, and it should have given you some ideas that you’ll find useful when researching which camera is perfect for your needs. Now let’s look at some digital cameras that would make exquisite holiday gifts. These are my opinions of some of the best I’ve used; if you want details on every nut and bolt, check out the links page on my Web site for descriptions of the best digital photography sites offering detailed reviews. Although I also do camera reviews – for Digital Camera Magazine, CNET, Wired, and others, I keep cameras around for a long time – much to the chagrin of some manufacturers. I want to use them as a serious photographer would, so my impressions may be quite different from reviewers who do what I call "autopsy" reviews and then move on to the next camera. Also, this is the third year in a row I’ve written about digital cameras for TidBITS; check back on some of my previous articles for general advice and explanation of different aspects of digital photography.

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06226>

<http://www.dpcorner.com/links/>

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbser=1022>

Finally, after you’ve read all the detailed reviews (which may be a mind-numbing experience if you’re not seriously into photography), it’s worth checking out the model you like best on price-comparison services like DealTime, StoreRunner, and MySimon. Also, if you have some time, watch the special deal sites like Dealnews and Techbargains.com to catch short-term specials.

<http://www.dealtime.com/>

<http://www.storerunner.com/>

<http://www.mysimon.com/>

<http://dealnews.com/>

<http://www.techbargains.com/>

Here then are my three favorite digital cameras that I have used extensively and would highly recommend. They range from two megapixels to four megapixels and are priced accordingly.

Nikon CoolPix 800 — I’ve used this little two-megapixel wonder for almost a year [it’s being replaced by the higher resolution CoolPix 880; see Outpost.com’s deal in the sponsorship area at the top of the issue. -Adam] and the image quality is outstanding. It costs about $500 (there’s a $75 rebate through the end of the year), it’s easy to operate (although the initial set-up menus require attention), and you can hang a lot of accessory lenses and filters on it. It’s also the best digital camera I’ve found for shooting infrared pictures; just put on a Tiffen #87 infrared filter and the image shows up clearly on the LCD display. (The CoolPix 800 will a shoot an infared image at 1/30th second at f-4; most IR-sensitive cameras measure exposure times in full seconds.)

<http://www.nikonusa.com/products/detailb.cfm? id=274>

<http://www.nikonusa.com/assets/coolpix950_ 800rebateform.pdf>

<http://www.tiffen.com/>

You cannot make many adjustments to exposure – the CoolPix 800 is basically a sophisticated point-and-shoot camera with reasonably fast shot-to-shot time and very fast shot-to-shot playback. Its moderate zoom range, 38mm to 76mm, can be easily extended in either direction to 28mm or 152mm by using Tiffen auxiliary lenses and an adapter that brings its small diameter lens threads up to a more-standard 37mm.

The CoolPix 800 will also focus to an unusually close 2.8 inches for macro shots, has video out so you can display images on a television (great for when you’re visiting relatives), offers fast shutter speeds for capturing action pictures, and uses Compact Flash memory cards. One downside is that it’s restricted to slow serial transfers unless you use a USB-based reader or PC Card adapter to access its Compact Flash cards.

Kodak DC4800 — This beautifully designed three-megapixel digital camera packs more punch into a small package than anything on the market today, and all for about $800. Image-wise, it’ll equal or beat the pants off the best that other manufacturers have to offer and is so well-thought-out, if you buy one, you’re likely to keep it for years.

<http://www.kodak.com/US/en/digital/cameras/ dc4800/>

The outstanding virtue of the DC4800 is simplicity, but lurking behind that mask are a plethora of professional features you can ignore until you’re ready to take them on. There isn’t a reviewer that didn’t catch his or her breath when they received this little beauty and started to shoot with it. All the controls are logically laid out, and the menus are the simplest you’ll find. If you want more control, you’ll find niceties like a mechanical flip switch right on top of the camera for the exposure compensation control – no need to dive into a menu. You can also change aperture on a simple mode dial so you have depth of field (range of sharpness) control at your fingertips

The zoom range is a perfect 28mm to 84mm – perfect because with an inexpensive Tiffen MegaPlus wide (.75x) or telephoto (2x) add-on, you can shoot really wide at 21mm or extend the focal length to 168mm. Kodak made a perfect choice there- it’s a professional range, yet excellent for beginners who, if they need to take a group shot, won’t have to back off a cliff.

Although shot-to-shot time isn’t great (about one second), the DC4800 shines in playback mode. You can flip through images as fast as you can press the button. It uses a lithium-ion battery, so you’ll probably want to buy an extra one. The DC4800 has a wide range of shutter speeds and lens opening settings, includes video out, uses Compact Flash memory cards, and can connect to your computer via USB. So much potential packed into a digital camera this well-designed and inexpensive is indeed a find.

Olympus Camedia E-10 — Olympus’s $2,000 answer to the semi-pro Nikon D-1, Canon D30, and Fuji FinePix S1 is the four-megapixel Camedia E-10. Big, heavy, and built like a traditional 35mm SLR (single-lens reflex) camera, the Camedia E-10 proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite an awesome array of buttons, the Camedia E-10 is one of the easiest-to-use digital cameras on the market because it mirrors traditional single-lens reflex cameras in both form and function. It has a fast f-2.0, 35mm to 140mm (equivalent) zoom lens – a huge hunk of light gathering glass that produces incredible images. You can zoom in by turning the lens barrel and can manually focus the same way. Either look through the lens or at the image on the LCD monitor to preview your shot – the LCD swivels in two directions to simplify photographing at odd angles.

<http://www.olympusamerica.com/product.asp?c=15& amp;p=16&s=12&product=643>

The most outstanding feature of the Camedia E-10, though, is that it has evened the playing field with traditional cameras on shutter lag – there’s virtually none. It does its pre-shot song and dance so adroitly, you can simply press down and you’ve got the shot – not what came after what you saw. If the cat yawns you’ll capture tongue, teeth, and throat, not closed lips and a peeved expression. It can also do automatic bracketing of exposures and time lapse photography.

There are a few minuses. Forget fast action shots, because Olympus failed to crank up the shutter speed up faster than 1/640th of a second (slower than both of the two other cameras I’ve discussed so far, which can hit 1/750th of a second and 1/1000th of a second, respectively). But on the flip side, you can do extremely long exposures – up to 30 seconds. Playback is annoyingly (but not fatally) slow, with about a second between images. Olympus has never gotten this right – it’s a genetic flaw.

Finally, although money is not your main issue with a $2,000 camera, the Camedia E-10’s lens add-ons and filters are going to be pricey since the lens is threaded for 62mm accessories; to get an aperture of f-2.0 on a zoom lens, you need a lot of glass diameter, so high prices just go with the territory. Finally, that same big lens might make it difficult to find accessory lenses to widen the field of view. Olympus makes a 62mm add-on but it only converts the lens to 28mm – not wide enough for dramatic shots.

The Camedia E-10 has an aperture range of f-2 through f-11, can use optional lithium-ion batteries (although a Unity Digital ProPower Pack battery will do even better), and has video out for image display on a television. Unlike most smaller cameras, the Camedia E-10 accepts Compact Flash, Compact Flash II, and SmartMedia memory cards, plus you can connect it to a computer via USB. All in all, this is the digital camera many serious photographers have been waiting for- the one that will challenge and smash old prejudices about the superiority of film images compared to digital (I can hear the purists out there gnashing their teeth and I’m ready to take them on). In short, the Camedia E-10, even with its minor flaws, is a tiger.

<http://www.unitysales.com/Batteries.asp>

Although these three are my picks for 2000, there are plenty of other good cameras out there, and I’ll have some more short recommendations soon. [They’ll appear in this week’s holiday gift issue. -Adam]

[Arthur H. Bleich is a photographer, writer, and educator who lives in Miami and is Feature Editor of Digital Camera Magazine. He has done assignments for major publications both in the U.S. and abroad, and conducts Digital Photography Workshop Cruises for Zing.com. Arthur also invites you to click in to his Digital PhotoCorner for more on digital cameras.]

<http://www.dpcorner.com/>


Chris Pepper No comments

Unix Coming to a Mac Near You, Part 2

With Mac OS X, Apple is bringing Unix to a large, new audience. In part one of this article, I offered a brief history of Unix and mapped out how Unix will provide the basis of Mac OS X. The Macintosh user community is comprised of well over 25 million people, so as Apple paves a new path – even if most don’t follow it immediately (or ever) – the implications for the industry are significant. Apple’s last major change of direction, the iMac, introduced translucent colors, a strikingly original case design, USB, the removal of floppy disks and serial ports, and Internet access as a major feature. The iMac had a profound impact on the whole industry – even PC and PDA users without iMacs were affected by the iMac’s endorsement of colors and USB. To understand Apple’s latest decisions behind Mac OS X and its impact, it’s necessary to examine Mac OS X, Unix, and the industry as a whole.

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06227>

Competition Makes Strange Bedfellows — In this industry, the dominant player is obvious: Microsoft. In fact, Microsoft is so much larger and more entrenched than any other company, including Apple, that they’re almost a feature of the landscape. All Apple’s plans for years have been made around the realities of playing with, against, and off of Windows PCs. As it turns out, this is just as true for Linux and BSD Unix users – perhaps even more so, because the PCs that Linux and BSD generally run on can (and often do) also run Windows. This raises an interesting question: are Apple and users of Unix-based systems natural allies, trying to carve different niches from the Windows market? It would seem that by basing Mac OS X on BSD Unix, at least Apple is endorsing this view.

Despite their fundamental differences, the Mac OS and Unix have a number of interesting similarities. Both platforms are shadowed by Microsoft’s dominance but boast vigorous support within their own communities. The Mac OS and Unix have to "fit in and stand out," and success is often determined by how well they integrate with Windows. Windows can’t (without the addition of a utility like Mediafour’s MacDrive 2000) read Mac or Unix file formats or disk formats, but Macs and many Unix systems can both read Windows (FAT) floppies and hard disks. In contrast, Windows has so much market share that various "private" Microsoft technologies, such as the Word .doc file format and the Win32 APIs, have become de facto standards. In turn, Macs and Unix machines support these Microsoft-originated technologies to varying degrees, with Mac OS features like File Exchange and third-party products like Thursby Software’s DAVE, which enables Macs to do Windows file sharing. The Mac OS and Unix must offer major advantages to be considered in spite of compatibility issues and have to take a much more open attitude towards compatibility and interoperability.

<http://www.mediafour.com/>

<http://www.thursby.com/products/dave.html>

Because the capability to run other operating systems, particularly Windows, is so valuable, emulators are popular on Macs and Unix machines. Full emulators like Virtual PC provide all the capabilities of a foreign computer system, allowing other operating systems to run within the emulator. In this way, Virtual PC can run Windows, Linux, and other operating systems intended for Intel-based PCs. An alternative is to replicate only the operating system’s functionality with a replacement compatibility layer. This approach is popular on PCs, where the processors are the same, so emulating just Windows, instead of a whole PC, provides a workable system. This is also how the Classic environment in Mac OS X works, and how the free Mac-on-Linux project runs Mac OS 8.6 and later under Linux on PowerPC-based computers.

<http://www.connectix.com/products/vpc4.html>

<http://www.maconlinux.org/>

Unix is often seen as the operating system for serious computer experts. At the other end of the continuum, Macs are "computers for the rest of us". Together, Unix and the Mac OS bracket Microsoft’s huge lump in the bell curve of platform usage. Macs and Unix often differentiate themselves from Windows on the same issues, but take opposite tacks in doing so. Examples of such divergence include the Mac’s ease of use, tight hardware-software integration, and – until now – unified control over hardware and operating system development; in contrast, Unix supporters tout advantages such as flexibility, control, broad hardware support, and reliance on open source projects.

Real World Differences — Despite these similarities, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the Mac OS and Unix are in many ways utterly different. Unix has a long and distinguished history as a collaborative research project and programming environment. Over the years, it has matured into a robust and efficient networking platform, while remaining excellent as a development environment. In obvious contrast, Apple considers Macs to be powerful appliances, or sometimes technological agents, but doesn’t expect users to develop software or explore the system. As open source advocates love to point out, Unix development is a worldwide and long-running effort, so Unix is very mature in their terms – stable and fast. On the other hand, Mac OS 9’s maturity is visible in its consistency among applications and its well-honed interface. This is part of why the recent QuickTime and Sherlock interfaces (and many of the changes in Mac OS X’s interface) cause such dismay among Mac users – they throw years of interface improvement and familiarity out the window, abandoning a long history of deliberate and incremental improvement in favor of novelty and glitz.

Over its long history, Unix has developed an extensive stable of software, especially in the networking, programming, and security arenas. "Productivity" applications, however, are much less common on Unix than on Macs and Windows, where they’re staples – used by millions of people each day. A quick glance at the Freshmeat Linux/Unix software release site shows a wealth of programming tools, servers, and hacks, but little in the word processing, publishing, and spreadsheet areas. This makes a lot of sense when you remember that Linux machines can also run Windows, so many Linux users may also be using Microsoft Office under Windows on the same machines they use for Linux, or on secondary machines or client workstations, reserving the Unix machines as servers or programming environments. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – because Unix is so impoverished in business software, Unix users generally require additional systems for such work, and because they have alternatives, there’s less demand for these applications on Unix. As a result, Unix remains an excellent server platform, with notably different usage patterns than Mac OS and Windows.

<http://freshmeat.net/>

Grand Unixification — With Mac OS X, Apple has done a fair job of reconciling these two worlds in a brand-new combination, and an excellent job of isolating them enough that users can remain within a single familiar environment if desired. There are rough edges (particularly the three different views of the file structure: Mac OS 9/Classic, the slightly different Mac OS X layout, and the NeXT/Unix structure), but when Mac OS X is running, it’s easy to ignore the Unix aspects, and remain in a familiar Mac environment with bigger icons, different buttons, and a much more limited Desktop.

This is apparently Apple’s expectation for most users – that they will completely ignore the underlying Darwin layer, while still benefiting from its stability and performance. Alternatively, if you use the included Terminal program to log into the Darwin environment, you encounter a fairly normal Unix installation (except that, again, files are in strange places – a leftover from Mac OS X’s NeXT heritage).

In additional to trying to create a unified system, Apple is also trying to move the proprietary work NeXT did on NeXTstep back into the BSD/Unix mainstream. Apple has repeatedly stated that their goal is to use as much generic BSD code as possible, thus saving time and money for maintenance of proprietary Apple software. As part of this process, Apple has released Darwin under an open source license, which means the program code is available for non-Apple developers to see, critique, and modify. In licensing terms, Mac OS X consists of two parts. The Darwin code is public and free, and the rest (the graphical and Mac-specific parts) is proprietary. This is a reasonable division, as Apple’s focus has never been robust core operating system functionality, but rather the user interface. If taking Darwin open source proves successful [and comments from Darwin developers at MacHack 2000 seemed to indicate it already has been -Adam], Apple will garner significant development support from other developers, helping to improve the Darwin foundation for Mac OS X, and freeing more Apple developers to focus on Apple’s strengths.

This split between the open source foundation and proprietary upper layers gives Apple what they’ve been desperately seeking for years: a version of the Mac OS that includes all the buzzwords important for a good, fast, stable operating system. BSD is stable and features preemptive multitasking, and provides excellent virtual memory and crash protection. Apple’s hope is that existing Macintosh users will appreciate these features, and that they’ll also attract a new class of users: serious network users and server administrators. With Mac OS X, Apple is taking a stride towards making the Mac an excellent server platform – even for serving Windows users. Plus, with high-bandwidth Internet connections becoming available and popular, Apple might just be on the cusp of empowering another leap in self-publishing. Mac OS X now includes Apache, gcc, cron, ssh, mainstream Perl, and a whole slate of Unix-based staples which were simply unavailable for Macs before, or required interface hacks and significant porting effort to run on the Mac. Mac OS X with Apache is already a much better personal server platform than Windows 98 or Microsoft’s new Windows Me.

<http://www.microsoft.com/windowsme/>

What Does Unix Mean to Me? Historically, Macs have had limited support for the latest Internet protocols and security tools. Although Mac OS 9 has an excellent track record for security, and there are several excellent mail, Web, FTP, and news clients, Macs have been too small a population to garner the same level of support as Windows from many vendors. This results in fewer options for virtual private networks (VPNs), PPP over Ethernet (PPoE, required for many cable and DSL ISPs), and similar networking tools and utilities. Mac OS X brings Unix-based tools to fill these needs. In many areas, this move should help eliminate the problems of being a niche player which have plagued the Mac OS for years.

The union of the Mac OS with Unix also has interesting sociopolitical implications for Mac users in the larger industry. With the Apple and Apple II, Apple made computers much more affordable and accessible to individual users. With the original Power Macintoshes, Apple became the only high-volume RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing, a design model that enabled PowerPCs to be so much faster than the previous Motorola 68000 series) computer vendor, bringing a major speed improvement to its users. If Mac OS X is even somewhat successful, within a year it will more than double the number of computer systems running BSD-based operating systems, even though Mac OS X users won’t see their computers as Unix systems.

It will be interesting to see if and how Apple uses this new leverage into the Unix world, and if Apple takes advantage of the power of Unix directly, or instead restricts its focus to Aqua-based graphical applications. Thanks to hybrid applications, Apple may not have to make the choice. The FizzillaMach Web browser, for instance, uses a Carbon front end with an Aqua interface, but the standard Unix-based Mozilla back end for high-performance threaded networking. In the future, I hope to see Mac developers using the powerful Unix utilities included in Darwin from their Mac applications, perhaps through AppleScript scripts that pass text from Carbon to command-line programs like grep, sed, and wget, (which find matches, find and replace text, and get Web pages and sites, respectively) returning results to the Mac applications.

<http://www.mozilla.org/ports/fizzilla/>

Apple is bringing us into the Unix world, like it or not. It is important to remember that Mac OS X’s Darwin foundation offers major advantages for Mac users in two very different areas. First, it provides much better reliability and power than Mac OS 9, almost invisibly. Even users who completely ignore Darwin will silently benefit from its robustness and performance. Second, Darwin provides access to the tools and operating system facilities that make Unix so powerful, like shell scripting and networking tools.

Each user of Mac OS X will have to make their own decisions on whether and how much to venture beyond familiar Macintosh territory into the domain of Unix, but the capability will always be there. For me, at least, it’s been the beginning of an exciting journey.

[Chris Pepper is a Linux and Solaris system administrator in New York, and he’s just delighted that his Mac workstations are now running Unix like the servers he coddles for a living. If you want Chris to coddle your servers, check out his resume and contact him directly. His Mac OS X Software and Information site has links to useful information and a few Unix ports for Apple’s new operating systems.]

<http://www.reppep.com/~pepper/resume/>

<http://www.mosxsw.com/>