Lusting after Apple’s new iBooks? Join the crowd, but then read through Matt Deatherage’s in-depth look at the new machines to make sure it’s precisely what you want. We also continue to distill the most important news about Mac OS X, including a look at the recently released Mac OS X 10.0.2, a sudo security concern, and a few noteworthy Mac OS X-compatible software releases. In the news, we’re pleased to note the release of an old friend – Fetch 4.0.
Fetch 4.0 Off the Leash
Fetch 4.0 Off the Leash — Jim Matthews, who bought the rights to his Fetch FTP client from Dartmouth College and founded Fetch Softworks with his winnings on the U.S. television game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," has now released Fetch 4.0, the first major update to the program since 1995. Jim updated his venerable 12-year-old FTP client by making it compatible with Mac OS X, where it features a full Aqua interface, while retaining compatibility all the way back to System 7.0. Modern technologies supported in Fetch 4.0 include AppleScript, the Keychain, contextual menus, QuickTime for viewing media, and text to speech for feedback. Other interesting features include a mirror command for synchronization between local and remote folders, support for creating and editing text and graphic files with BBEdit and Graphic Converter, support for Kerberos security, the capability to resume interrupted downloads, and a Get Info command that can tell you how much data is stored in a folder through recursive listing. Most amazing though, is Fetch’s new capability to copy files from one FTP server to another and to move files within an FTP server by dragging them from window to window. Fetch costs $25 for individual use, though free serial numbers are available for educational or charitable organizations, and site licenses are available for multiple copies. Despite the transfer from Dartmouth at the end of 2000, upgrades from version 3.0.3 purchased any time after 30-Apr-00 are free. It’s great to see Fetch development moving forward again like this! [ACE]
Mac OS X 10.0.2 and iTunes 1.1.1. Add CD Burning — Apple last week released its second free update for Mac OS X via the Software Update control panel, improving overall application stability and adding the capability to burn custom music CDs. For a more complete list of changes, see Apple’s Tech Info Library article on the update. (As always, it’s a good idea to back up your data before upgrading your system software.)
At the same time, the company released a free update to iTunes for Mac OS X that enables the audio CD burning feature. The new iTunes 1.1.1 also enables the full-screen graphics display feature that previously worked only in Mac OS 9. Burning audio CDs in iTunes 1.1.1 isn’t without its quirks – iTunes should be set to only 2x burn speeds when using USB CD-RW drives, and burning audio CDs can fail if your Mac or even just the display goes to sleep while iTunes is burning, so set the sleep time to Never in the Energy Saver control panel and make sure "Separate timing for display sleep" is not selected.
One odd side effect of installing the Mac OS X 10.0.2 update is that on at least some systems (including my PowerBook G3/250), it enables the internal speaker even when external speakers are plugged in. The software volume controls affect only the internal speaker; the external speakers can be controlled only if they have an independent volume control. Although some might appreciate the stereo-plus-one sound, in many public situations, it’s inappropriate to send sound out the internal speaker when headphones are plugged in. [ACE]
Mac OS X 10.0.2 Fixes FTP Vulnerability — Apple says Mac OS X 10.0.2 also features a newer version of the ftpd FTP server. Does this fix the FTP vulnerability identified by CERT several weeks back (see "TenBITS/23-Apr-01" in TidBITS-577 for more information)? Our repeated requests for additional information from Apple have gone unanswered; all Apple has posted in public is that Mac OS X 10.0.2 has "a new version of Internet file sharing (ftpd), which features important security improvements." Luckily, Larry Rosenstein <[email protected]> verified on TidBITS Talk that the version of the Mac OS X 10.0.2 ftpd server was the same as the most recently updated version of the ftpd server in the Darwin open source repository. It’s probably safe to assume that Apple (or someone else working on the Darwin open source) has effectively closed the FTP security hole, and it’s great to see Apple distributing a fix so quickly. Still, at the risk of sounding like a broken record (an analogy which undoubtedly shows my age), Apple needs to be more forthcoming with acknowledgments of problems to security groups like CERT. [ACE]
Sudo Security Hole — The Stepwise site (which also had early information about some of the Apple Mac OS X installer bugs we reported on last week) has posted information about a security issue in the sudo command line program that enables Mac OS X users to execute Unix commands as the root user without logging into or even enabling the root user. Unfortunately, as with so many other security lapses, it turns out that the version of sudo shipped with Mac OS X is vulnerable to a buffer overflow that could enable an authenticated user (either in front of the machine or connecting via SSH or Telnet) to gain increased privileges. The problem first appeared 23-Apr-01, and although Apple didn’t address it in last week’s Mac OS X 10.0.2 update, the author of sudo has already issued a patch, and Scott Anguish of Stepwise has built a custom installation application (122K download) to replace Mac OS X’s version of sudo. [ACE]
DragThing 4.0.2 Fixes Crashes — James Thomson has released a bug-fix update to his alternative dock utility DragThing to address several crashes in Mac OS X, a problem with DragThing clearing the login items at startup (see James’s explanation of this in TidBITS Talk for more details), and a few other less important bugs. The upgrade to DragThing 4.0.2 is free for DragThing 4.0 users; it’s a 1 MB download. [ACE]
PowerMail 3.0.9 Supports Mac OS X — The tiny Swiss company CTM Development has revved their email client PowerMail to add a few features, fix a few bugs, and most important, provide Mac OS X compatibility (specifically with Mac OS X 10.0.1 and later). As with most of the other products made compatible with Mac OS X, PowerMail 3.0.9 has a few unresolved issues such as occasional crashes related to find-by-content indexing, an error while copying and pasting, and printing problems with StyleWriters. The free update to PowerMail 3.0.9 is available in a "classic" version for Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9 (1.9 MB download) and a Carbon version for Mac OS X (2.0 MB). [ACE]
QuickDNS Pro Eases DNS Setups on Mac OS X — DNS, the Domain Name Service that maps Internet IP numbers like 220.127.116.11 to human-readable names like www.tidbits.com, is not for the faint of heart. Type one character wrong during an edit and your entire Internet domain could become inaccessible. Making DNS easier to set up and maintain has long been one of the goals of Men & Mice’s QuickDNS Pro for the Mac, and now, the just-released QuickDNS Pro 3.5 for Mac OS X brings that ease of use to Mac OS X. QuickDNS Pro actually has two parts – the graphical QuickDNS Manager and the server-side utility QuickDNS Remote, which enables QuickDNS Manager to configure the Unix BIND 8.2.3 DNS server included with Mac OS X, Red Hat Linux 6.2 and 7.0, and SuSE Linux 6.3, 6.4, and 7.0. QuickDNS Pro 3.5 for Mac OS X costs $350 for a single license and $550 for two licenses; upgrades from version 2.x are $195 and volume discounts are available. [ACE]
The Incredible Shrinking iBook
Apple Computer last week pulled a long-awaited polycarbonate rabbit from its design hat. The technical specifications of the second-generation iBook are pretty much what you’d expect from a revision to Apple’s consumer and education portable computer, but they come in a package significantly smaller and lighter than its predecessor, with an eye-catching Titanium-like design and the extra connectivity ports consumers have wanted. The package is so attractive, in fact, that the Henrico County (Virginia) school district announced that it is leasing 23,000 iBooks from Apple – a large commitment writ larger when you realize Apple sold only 55,000 iBooks in the entire March quarter.
Thinking Outside the Box — Although it’s hard to see from the pictures on Apple’s Web site, the iBook (whose official Apple designation is the "iBook (Dual USB)") probably counts as a subnotebook computer, for the only definition I can find says a subnotebook "is slightly lighter and smaller than a full-sized notebook." In that respect, the iBook (Dual USB) certainly qualifies. At 11.2 inches (28.5 cm) wide, it’s more than two inches narrower than the previous iBook design; its width of 9.1 inches (23.0 cm) is a full two and a half inches narrower than the last iBook. The iBook (Dual USB) is 1.35 inches (3.4 cm) thick, compared to 2.06 inches (5.23 cm) for the previous iBook models (measured at the thickest point). And it weighs an average 4.9 pounds (2.2 kg), compared to 6.7 pounds (3.04 kg) on average for the previous iBook. It’s not much bigger than a notebook. In fact, it’s smaller in all three dimensions than the much-beloved PowerBook 2400c (which was often called a "subnotebook") and only slightly larger and heavier than Apple’s first subnotebooks, the PowerBook Duos.
The weight reduction primarily comes from the shift in batteries. The new iBook’s 42-watt-hour lithium ion battery is slightly less powerful than the 45-watt-hour battery in the original iBook, but is substantially smaller. The original iBook battery was notably bulky, but not so the new one, which is also easier to install and has LED charge indicators on it. Apple claimed a six-hour battery life for the old iBooks, but only a five-hour battery life for this one – the same as for the PowerBook G4. The battery charger can recharge the battery in six hours while the iBook is running, or in three and a half hours if the computer is shut down or asleep.
According to Apple’s iBook Developer Note, there is also an "airliner power cable" for use on airplanes. The cable has a special sense resistor; when the iBook detects it, it uses the AC power supplied by the cable but does not try to charge the battery, because voltage on most airplane outlets is not high enough to charge the battery and power the computer simultaneously.
The case is also lighter, a polycarbonate plastic that looks good next to the titanium-cased PowerBook G4 but is clearly not composed of metal. The new iBook does have a magnesium frame for strength, though, and includes metallic shields around the rubberized feet to keep them from falling off so easily. It also has a thin rubbery coating to help provide a stable grip, "even in small hands" as Macworld editor Andy Gore describes it.
When closed, you see the same magnetic latch and release button as on the PowerBook G4. When opened, the iBook (Dual USB) is barely wider than its keyboard, which is almost identical to the one found in the PowerBook G4 models. As with previous iBooks there are no doors or panels that could get detached, as PowerBook port covers are notorious for doing. The only hinge is the one that opens the case, and even it is different – it pivots so that, when open, the top of the case is behind and below the bottom part, giving a bit more depth while minimizing height. The keyboard is below a pair of speakers. The handle of previous models is gone, though few will miss it – even though I always liked the look and concept of the handle, it’s hard to imagine someone carrying an iBook down the street by the handle. The new model instead offers a standard security slot for a cable lock, since the handle served that purpose in older models.
On the left side, you’ll find a more extensive complement of ports than on any previous iBook. The "Dual USB" designation gives away that there are two USB ports for the first time on an iBook, as well as a single 400 Mbps FireWire port, an internal V.90 56K modem, a 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, the same audio/video port introduced with the iBook (FireWire) that enables TV and analog audio output through a special cable, and a brand new RGB output port that connects to any monitor that supports the DDC identification standard, complete with an included cable. You can only do video mirroring, though, and to do that with Mac OS X you need Mac OS X 10.0.2 or later. Unfortunately, the analog "Apple AV cable" is no longer included – it’s $20 extra. The reset pinhole is above the audio/video port; the power connector is on the right side of the case.
In a promotional video about the new computer, a man who works for a computer store is shown holding one, and it looks like it’s barely bigger than his hands. Reporters who witnessed the introduction are raving for a reason – the iBook (Dual USB) is small and light. For these reasons alone, it should be extremely popular in Japan, where compact products command a price premium. Yet the iBook doesn’t have to coast on its case – it’s got game.
Thinking Inside the Box — Like the iMac, the iBook is still based on the PowerPC G3 processor family, and with good reason – they’re inexpensive and don’t require a lot of power, but pack performance that challenges Pentium III systems with higher clock rates. Although the iBook (FireWire) started at 366 MHz and topped out at 466 MHz, the iBook (Dual USB) comes in only one speed – 500 MHz, as fast as last year’s top-of-the-line PowerBook (FireWire) model, and it can use PowerStep to scale back to 400 MHz during non-critical times if you wish. Okay, it’s not quite as fast as the PowerBook G3 (FireWire) – the iBook is still limited by a 66 MHz system bus, and by the PowerPC 750CX chip that bundles Level 2 cache on-board the processor but limits it to 256K. iBook performance won’t equal PowerBook performance.
The iBook (Dual USB) display is, however, something to write home about – though still a 12.1-inch LCD, it now operates at a native resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels, instead of the 800 by 600 top resolution of the previous iBook models. That’s a resolution of over 100 dots per inch, but attendees at the briefing say the display is sharp enough to pull it off. You can still use interpolation and scaling to get 800 by 600 or 640 by 480 if you really need those resolutions. The graphics remain driven by the ATI Rage Mobility 128 chip, but not the same one: this one is an ATI Rage Mobility 128M. The 128M model provides for the 1024 by 768 resolution, where the Rage Mobility 128 chip did not. The new 128M chip also has 3D graphics acceleration. Andrew Gore reported that, at the closed briefing, Apple executives said the Rage Mobility 128 provides the best trade-off between performance and power consumption at present. As before, the chip is backed by 8 MB of SDRAM graphics memory and sits on an AGP 2X dedicated graphics bus.
Having been criticized for whatever optical drive choice it makes in consumer computers (first DVD is the wrong choice, then replacing it with CD-RW is wrong, according to critics), Apple is now offering a choice of pretty much any tray-loading optical drive you want, as long as you don’t want to burn DVDs. The base model, retailing for $1,300, comes with a 24x CD-ROM drive; a $1,500 configuration comes with an 8x DVD-ROM drive that also reads CD-ROMs at 24x. A $1,600 model comes with a built-in CD-RW drive (8x writing CD-R, 4x writing CD-RW, 24x reading CDs), and a build-to-order $1,800 configuration, available from the Apple Store or any reseller that sells build-to-order systems, features a "Combo" drive that works like the 8x4x24x CD-RW but also reads DVD-ROM at up to 8x speeds.
Except for the optical drive, the three upper-end iBook (Dual USB) models are identical. That means the CD-RW drive costs $100 more than the DVD-ROM, and the Combo drive costs $300 more than DVD-ROM alone. There is no longer an eject button for any of the drives, but holding down the F12 key for a few seconds ejects the optical disk (if you’re using Mac OS X, though, you need Mac OS X 10.0.2 or later to make F12 eject the tray if it’s empty).
All models but the least expensive come with 128 MB of RAM soldered to the motherboard (the $1,300 model has only 64 MB); a single PC100 SO-DIMM slot allows adding up to 512 MB of extra RAM for a total of either 576 MB or 640 MB of RAM. All models come with an Ultra DMA/33 10 GB hard drive, though you can upgrade to 20 GB for $200 on build-to-order systems. The hard drive is in a rubber enclosure, providing extra shock absorbance without excessive weight. Like every Apple system since the original iBook in July 1999, the new model is ready to accept a $100 AirPort card. Extra batteries retail for $130 each, extra AC adapters (that also work with the PowerBook G4) cost $70 each.
The Classroom and Beyond — These are hot little products, folks. The original iBook garnered a few strong criticisms – it was too boldly designed with bright colors, weighed too much, didn’t have full connectivity, and cost too much. Apple has eliminated all of these problems in the new iBook – a strong, lightweight, powerful computer with a sharp but conservative design. If you need more convincing that there’s more to the update than style, such as moving from a 366 MHz processor to a 500 MHz chip in the entry-level models, check out the comparison page provided by the Mac Observer.
You really need to see the iBook in action. When Apple introduces new hardware, it usually produces a short promotional video, but it’s typically shown only to the audience at the introduction, and sent via satellite to press outlets. This time, Apple has posted that five-and-a-half minute video so you can watch it. If you’re at all interested in these machines, it’s worth a viewing, but be warned: the ISDN-or-faster movie is at least 21 MB (earlier in the week, I got a 35 MB version); the version for slower-than- ISDN connections is 7.7 MB. Unless you have a broadband connection, prepare to spend 20 to 30 minutes downloading the video. You’ll see just how small the iBook is, and close-up views of most of its design.
Reports suggesting this is a full frontal assault on the education market are spot on. Three years ago, Apple announced the iMac in early May, months before the product was ready to ship, so education purchasers knew something good was coming in August. Schools are making purchase decisions this month, and Apple is right to drum up support for the new machines before they actually ship (even though the company says they’ll be available in "mid- May," and we’ve seen reports that some units might even be shipping now). At $1,200 per unit for schools, plus $70 for an AirPort card, the iBook (Dual USB) is a compelling student workstation.
Why all those extra ports if its aimed at the school market? Because now, aside from some performance issues, the iBook is just as capable as the iMac. It comes with iTunes and iMovie 2, has a similar RGB video mirroring port for hooking to school equipment, and has two USB ports so you can use one for audio and one for other USB peripherals. The only difference between the two systems now is performance; the iBook even gets the iMac’s higher 1024 by 768 resolution in this revision. The trade-off is pretty clear: the iBook is portable and a little slower, the iMac is cheaper and a little faster. This isn’t last year’s recycled technology, either: the iBook (Dual USB) is Apple’s first computer to use the new Pangea controller chip to run most of the system’s hardware functions, including DMA FireWire, Ethernet, Ultra DMA IDE, USB, and Apple’s new Tumbler digital audio sound circuitry, which handles audio conversion, volume, and equalization.
In nearly two years of sales, Apple has moved about 700,000 iBook units, so the lease of 23,000 on a single day is quite noteworthy. It’s also a shot across Michael Dell’s bow, as his company has been regularly emitting boasts about large sales to school districts. Dell is trying to establish itself as the leading educational computer company by default, and Apple is reminding analysts and press that it is far from the only computer company capable of putting a lot of computers in schools. Apple normally doesn’t brag about specific sales via press release, but since Dell implies that large sales make a leader, Apple is happy to set the record straight.
The current line of iMacs is designed more for consumers but great for education, and the new iBooks are mostly designed for education but great for consumers as well. Small enough to fit in a backpack and weighing under five pounds, students of all ages will love the new iBook machines. After all, iTunes doesn’t have that many classroom uses, and while iMovie 2 does, it’s more of an individual product as well. Our favorite part of the promotional video is sixth grade student Harry Tannenbaum, talking about video he and his friends shot and that he edited in iMovie, sounding surprised that it "actually turned out kind of okay."
The iBook line has been underperforming for Apple for some time; it never quite lived up to iMac expectations, and even the overdue iBook (FireWire) didn’t provide the kind of bump in numbers I thought the product was capable of generating. This may be the one that moves the iBook from second-class to first-class product, not only for Apple but in the broader computing world. A speed-bump revision in six months would position it perfectly for the holiday buying season, too.
This is an iBook whose appearance John C. Dvorak would not insult. It addresses every serious criticism of earlier models, costs less (or, on the high end, delivers a lot more for the same price), has everything schools need, fits well with kids, and runs Mac OS X. If Apple can’t sell a few hundred thousand of these by September, maybe there’s no real market for a consumer and education-oriented portable Macintosh – because if there is such a market, this product fills it perfectly. I want one.
[Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MacJournals.com, where he oversees MDJ, MWJ, and MMJ – daily, weekly, and monthly subscription-based, ad-free journals for serious Macintosh users. For a free trial of any of the journals, visit MacJournals.com. This article was assembled from material that appeared last week in MDJ.]