Tired of dealing with a plethora of phone numbers? Read to see how Adam and Tonya have rethought personal voice communications in Ithaca; perhaps you can simplify your telephone life. For those searching for the perfect place to store snippets of text, Matt Neuburg looks at three programs readers have recommended. In the news, Palm buys Be, the SpamCon Foundation launches, and we note the releases of Netscape 6.1 and Interarchy 5.0.
Palm Gets Be in Its Bonnet — Palm Inc. is buying Be Inc., the company started by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee. Apple had eyed Be back in 1996 before acquiring Steve Jobs’s NeXT instead. Palm will acquire Be’s intellectual property and technology assets, which include the BeOS and BeIA operating systems (the latter built for Internet appliances), for $11 million in Palm stock, and Palm is making employment offers to Be’s engineers. For its part, Be will retain its cash and cash equivalents, receivables, and certain contractual rights. In a bit of interesting wording, Be also keeps "rights to assert and bring certain claims and causes of action, including under antitrust laws," which some analysts speculate may presage legal action against the dominant operating system vendor, Microsoft. Palm cited its intent to use Be’s technology to expand the Palm OS under its Palm Platform Solutions Group, which will be spun out as a wholly owned subsidiary at the end of 2001. [JLC]
Netscape 6.1 Released — Netscape Communications has quietly released Netscape 6.1, the latest version of their integrated suite of Internet software that includes Web browsing, email, HTML editing, and instant messaging. Major new features in Netscape 6.1 include support for multiple email accounts, offline support for IMAP accounts, integrated instant messaging, a forms manager for automatically filling forms, and flexible search functionality built into a user-customizable sidebar. Netscape 6.1’s interface is also new and features support for themes that change the look of the application. More important for many people who attempted to use Netscape 6.0 are performance and stability improvements – in our testing so far, the application installed properly (in comparison with Netscape 6.0, which was implicated in hard disk corruption for several of our editors) and hasn’t crashed much. That said, Netscape 6.1’s interface is slow, clumsy, unnecessarily modal, and non-Mac-like. For instance, the Preferences dialog box is modal but resizable, defaults to a too-small size for its contents, and doesn’t remember the disclosure state or selection of the preference categories. Netscape 6.1 requires a PowerPC 604e running at 266 MHz or faster with at least 64 MB of RAM and Mac OS 8.6 or Mac OS 9. A preview release of Netscape 6.1 for Mac OS X is available, but lacks the Default Downloader Plugin and Java, plus using the spelling checker in Mac OS X may cause a crash. Netscape uses a small installation agent that downloads the necessary modules, so be prepared for a multi-megabyte download once you start installing. [ACE]
<ftp://ftp.netscape.com/pub/netscape6/english/ 6.1/mac/macosx/sea/Netscape6- macosX.sit.bin>
FTP Disk Feature Highlights Interarchy 5.0 — Stairways Software has released Interarchy 5.0, a significant upgrade to their popular Macintosh FTP client application. New to version 5.0 is FTP Disk, a feature which enables access to FTP servers via the Finder as disks on your desktop: Interarchy downloads the specified directory to a local folder on your hard disk, then transparently manages uploads and changes to the remote directory in the background, keeping both the local and remote copies up to date. Interarchy 5.0 is also a unified "Fat Carbon" application, meaning the same application file runs natively under Mac OS 8, Mac OS 9, and Mac OS X (so there’s no need to hunt around for the version particular to your Mac’s operating system). Other new features include enhanced mirroring capabilities, Tunnel via SSH (for Mac OS X only) so FTP usernames and passwords aren’t sent unencrypted over the Internet, drag & drop support for browser links, and reorganized menus. Interarchy 5.0 costs $45; upgrades are free for users who purchased Interarchy 4.0 after 25-Jun-01, otherwise, Interarchy 4.0 users can claim a discount using the transaction information from their purchase. A full version of Interarchy 5.0 is available until 01-Oct-01; it’s a 3 MB download. [GD]
SpamCon Foundation Offers Anti-Spam Resources — Everyone hates spam, but some people go the extra mile to help stamp it out. That’s especially true of Tom Geller, executive director of the recently founded SpamCon Foundation, a publicly supported California non-profit organization. A Macintosh veteran of ZiffNet/Mac and MacWEEK, Tom has long been focusing energy on reducing spam, first through the Suespammers Project and now through the SpamCon Foundation. Services available from the SpamCon Foundation include guides for individuals looking to reduce the amount of spam they receive, help for marketers who want to use email without spamming, a searchable database of over 7,000 media stories on spam, a library of hard statistics about spam to support arguments about its negative impact, and free receive-only email addresses in the suespammers.org domain. The SpamCon Foundation also publishes a weekly newsletter and runs mailing lists surrounding the spam issue. I’d encourage anyone interested in reducing to visit the SpamCon Foundation’s Web site, and if you think they’re doing good work, to consider supporting them with tax-deductible donations. [ACE]
Poll Results: Was Your KidSafe? Last week we asked for opinions about why Apple’s KidSafe didn’t receive sufficient customer usage for Apple to continue the service. As we’d expected, 33 percent of respondents said they’d never heard of KidSafe, which points to a failure on Apple’s part in promoting the service. But even more people – 34 percent – said they didn’t want any filtering software, and 22 percent personally monitor their kids’ Internet use. A handful of people (13 percent) had tried KidSafe and thought it worked poorly, though 6 percent felt it had worked well. Only one person used a competing service instead of KidSafe. Although the number of respondents was quite small because we limited it to people actually responsible for children using the Internet, the conclusion I’d take away from the poll is that the concern most people have about children seeking out or stumbling across undesirable Internet resources isn’t sufficiently great for them to find and use potentially flawed filtering software. [ACE]
As most of you know, Tonya, Tristan, and I moved from Seattle to Ithaca, New York, at the beginning of July. We’re slowly settling into our new home and working through all the logistics required by life in a new location. One of the most interesting – perhaps surprisingly so – has been our telephone system. Most people don’t think too much about telephones, but we’re in the middle of a subtle change in the way we communicate with one another on the phone, and Tonya and I decided to take advantage of the move to rethink how we want to use telephones.
The Old — Five years ago in Seattle, we had had big plans for how we wanted our telephone system set up – something involving multiple phone lines wired into different rooms in the house and ringing differently depending on the number called and the time of day. But like many of our best-laid plans, it was felled by US West (now Qwest), which was unable to provide us with more than a single line for six months. Since we both needed to conduct business on the phone and do all of our Internet tasks via modems (US West took nine months to provide a frame relay line), you can see how a single phone line would be limiting.
When we finally got our lines, we took incoming calls on our main number, because by that time everyone knew it and we couldn’t make any easy distinctions for those who wanted to talk to one or the other of us. We used the second line for outgoing calls, so the main line would remain available for incoming calls, and if the main line was busy or went unanswered, calls were routed to US West voicemail. When Tonya went on her maternity sabbatical, I used the second phone line for incoming and outgoing faxes.
At some point, we realized that the system was being inefficient and tried to fix it. First, we cancelled the seldom-used second line and signed up for a free eFax account to receive faxes (the fax machine could still send faxes on the primary line). Then we bought Tonya a cell phone that she could use for local calls so she didn’t have to worry about tying up the phone line during business hours. Many of her friends called her on the cell phone as well, reducing the number of times I had to run around the house to tell her she had a call on the main line.
(As an aside, the free eFax account has worked extremely well for receiving faxes because not only does it eliminate the need for another phone line or some wacky telephone switching device, it also means that you print only the faxes that need to find their way to paper – all others simply show up as email attachments you can delete after reading. I recommend it highly. For more information, read Hudson Barton’s "Facts about Internet Faxing" in TidBITS-484.)
Slowly we realized that phone numbers, like email addresses, should connect with people, not to locations. When you call someone, you’re generally calling that person, not their location, and only some of the time is reaching another person there of any help. The final dawning of how we wanted to rejigger our systems in Ithaca came when we realized that setting up dinner plans with a couple with whom we were friends could – and often did – entail calling five different telephone numbers (work numbers for both of them, both their cell phones, and their home phone number). That’s just silly.
The New — Along with the realization that we each wanted our own phone number, just as we each have our own email address, we’d also become rather fond of cell phones. Aside from the obvious utility of being able to call people from wherever you are, they’re extremely useful as yuppie walkie talkies for locating friends in large public gatherings. (We’ve even used them to regroup in massively crowded grocery stores: "Where are you?" "I’m over by the peppers in the produce department." "Stay put, I’ll be right there!")
The problem with cell phones is that in the United States, cell phone usage can get pricey fast: you pay for airtime whether or not you initiate the call (unlike Australia and other countries, where you pay only for airtime on calls you place). Costs have dropped over the years, but relying solely on a cell phone is likely to rack up significantly higher bills than using a normal landline. Plus, the cell phone network is far more fragile than the wired telephone network – during Seattle’s earthquake on 28-Feb-01, the cell phone network was jammed within minutes after the shaking stopped. And as far as I know, there’s no way for two people to talk on a cell phone at the same time, as we do with an extension phone when chatting with friends or relatives.
So we needed a landline, and since I spend much more time on the phone than Tonya does, it made sense for that to be my phone number. But since I wanted to give out only one number (and didn’t want to check both landline and cell phone voicemail), I signed up for a Verizon service package that lacks voicemail but does include Forward on No Answer and Forward on Busy options. These options are generally available from phone companies, often at little or no extra charge, but they’re seldom advertised because they can be somewhat confusing for people who don’t understand how they work. Worse, you must call customer service to change the destination number.
Since Tonya doesn’t use the phone that much and tends to be out and about more than I do, it made sense for her phone number to be a cell phone. If she doesn’t answer or has it turned off, messages go to voicemail. If she needs to make a long call, she can just use the landline.
Now, when someone calls my phone number, one of four things can happen.
If I’m home and neither of us are using the landline, I’ll take the call normally using one of my normal telephones. (I use a standard desk phone with a wired headset or a GE cordless headset phone that I love – they’re hard to find, but better than normal cordless phones with optional headsets).
If I’m using the landline, I leave the cell phone off (which it is most of the time) so incoming calls are routed directly to the cell phone’s voicemail without either me or the caller hearing the cell phone ring. A call-waiting beep that sounds during my call is my signal that I’ll have voicemail waiting on the cell phone. I generally hate those beeps, but I haven’t yet determined if I can get Verizon to turn it off on the Forward on Busy service.
If Tonya is using the landline, the In Use indicator on my desk phone lights, and I know to turn on my cell phone. If a call comes in, it immediately forwards to the cell phone for me to answer. If I forget to turn the cell phone on, the call goes directly to the cell phone’s voicemail.
If I’m not home or choose not to answer the landline, the call forwards to my cell phone, where I can either answer it or let it go to voicemail.
Turning the cell phone on and off sounds a bit involved, and although I’ve become accustomed to it, it’s the main remaining annoyance in the system. The problem was that if I didn’t answer the landline or the cell phone, the caller heard ten or more rings before getting to the voicemail prompt. It makes sense if you add up the number of rings necessary before the forwarding services kick in (something only Verizon can change for me), and then the number of rings before the cell phone’s voicemail picks up. A number of people hung up before waiting long enough. If I devote just a bit more effort to making sure the cell phone is generally turned off unless I know that Tonya is on a long call, I can be sure that callers will hear only a reasonable number of rings before landing in voicemail.
Cell Phone Networking — Figuring out ringing quirks wasn’t the only problem we had in setting up the system. Tonya and I both had Samsung SCH-411 cell phones that worked fine in Seattle and other major metropolitan areas, but which didn’t work all that well in Ithaca, where the cellular coverage isn’t as complete. In our house, Tonya’s phone often wouldn’t ring on incoming calls, would drop in-progress calls, and was generally unreliable. And my phone, which still had a no-roaming-fee, no-long-distance service from Verizon in Seattle, often wouldn’t ring and never alerted me to new voicemail. After verifying with friends that Verizon had the best coverage in Ithaca so switching services wasn’t a likely solution, we decided to find someone who knew more about the technology and local infrastructure.
At an Internet picnic sponsored by a local ISP and other technology related companies in Ithaca a month ago, I took the advice of an old acquaintance and made a point of meeting a man named David McKinley, who owns a local business called IthaCom Wireless that sells cell phones and Verizon service. Basically, just as I’m a Mac and Internet geek, David’s a cell phone geek, and within minutes after meeting him, he was explaining the local cellular infrastructure and telling me all about the problems with our Samsung phones that might be causing trouble. Geek heaven…
Now, it’s possible, even likely, that we could have waltzed into any random Verizon store and bought new cell phones and switched to local service plans successfully. But one of the reasons we moved back to Ithaca is that it’s a small town where personal connections are worth a great deal. It’s already paid off – I finally decided against getting one of the still-too-large Palm OS-based phones, so David gave me a Motorola 120c to try, and said that if it didn’t work well, he’d take it back and give me a different one. He also threw in a free car charger and a headset (talking on a cell phone in a car without a hands-free kit will be illegal in New York State as of Nov-01). When we went back to pick up a new phone for Tonya (the Motorola 120c did offer better reception), he gleefully told us about a phone hack he’d figured out, offered to buy our old phones to use as loaners, and gave me a referral credit for Tonya’s account. For someone like me, who loves to know how things work and what’s going on, connecting with David and IthaCom Wireless has turned dealing with our cell phones from working with an annoying and anonymous corporate behemoth to having an enjoyable chat with a kindred spirit.
Our system is all set up and working, and we’re quickly becoming accustomed to it. The most important thing we’ve learned so far is when to ignore our cell phones ringing (vibrating actually, it’s much less obtrusive) when a call finds us out of the house since it can be difficult to evaluate quickly whether or not it’s an appropriate time to take a call. Still, I’d rather exercise that control personally than have it arbitrarily foisted on me by whatever physical location I happen to be in at any given time.
Over the course of my relentless lifelong search for useful ways to squirrel away information on my computer, organize it, and find it again later, I’ve reported in TidBITS on various outliners, databases, writing tools, and combinations thereof that have appealed to me or that I hoped might appeal to me. Whenever one of my reviews appears, I get email messages from readers telling me about some alternative program they like to use. Typically, I investigate these; if I find myself intrigued by the suggested program, I may report on it, but otherwise I generally remain silent, my rules being that TidBITS is first and foremost about the experiences of its contributors (rather than attempting to be comprehensive purely for the sake of completeness) and that TidBITS prefers to focus on the positive.
In this article, I’m going to break my rules by describing briefly three inexpensive "snippet keepers" – programs for storing miscellaneous bits of text – that don’t particularly appeal to me, but that do strongly appeal to some TidBITS readers. Why would I do such a thing? Mostly because my tastes aren’t everyone’s. For example, I tend to like such things as multiple hierarchical levels of organization and scriptability; but many folks feel that simplicity is a chief virtue, and that fewer features are better. They want a program that does one thing well, is easy to use, and can be learned quickly, preferably without even reading the manual. These three programs meet that description; plus, they are all free to try and inexpensive to purchase. For each one, I’ll try to give a sense of why I don’t use it, not in order to imply that you shouldn’t, but just to clarify my own biases. My purpose is a positive one – to let you know that these programs exist and might possibly interest you more than they do me.
StickyBrain 1.2.1 — In Chronos’s StickyBrain, each window is a note (a text snippet). These windows are modeled on those of the Stickies utility that comes with your Mac, which are themselves modeled on 3M’s Post-it Notes. They have no scrollbars; they have a thin title bar that vanishes when the note isn’t frontmost, a tiny L-shaped grow icon in the lower right corner, and a colored background. StickyBrain also lets you use a picture or texture as background, or you can escape the Post-it Notes look altogether and give a note an ordinary Platinum appearance. Unlike Stickies, a StickyBrain window is a full-fledged styled text editor.
StickyBrain lets you show and hide individual notes, and its chief organizational device for helping with this is the "category." You can create as many categories as you like, and you can assign default appearance features to each category (background color, text styling, initial text, initial size, and so on); a note will have its category’s default features when it is created or when its category is changed. You’re also free to override these for any particular note. You can show just the notes of any one category; and you can use a list of all your notes to show any particular note.
Through a supplementary background application called HotKey, you can use key combinations to access certain StickyBrain features from within other applications, even when StickyBrain isn’t running. A category’s key combination copies the current selection into it as a new note; a note’s key combination pastes its contents into the current application.
There are also numerous special features, many of them remarkably similar to Idea Keeper, which I reviewed a bit over a year ago. You can password protect a note, and a note can include an alarm. A note can include an email address that will create a new message in your email program, a URL that will navigate in your browser, or a file alias that will launch the file. A note can include boxes that you can click to show or hide a check mark, making a to-do list. You can search and replace text, across multiple notes if you like. There’s even inline spell-checking.
StickyBrain is certainly full-featured, but to me, Stickies themselves have always seemed a dreadful metaphor, with the no-scrollbar window being the worst possible editing milieu; Post-it Notes are just clutter, and even though you can change the window style to the more standard Platinum appearance, the fundamental StickyBrain action of summoning simultaneously all the notes of one category feels like clutter on steroids. StickyBrain’s background features depend purely on key combinations which can rapidly grow too numerous to be useful. There’s no export feature, and your information lives all in a single file in a proprietary format; what if this became corrupted? Still, many readers swear by StickyBrain, so it might be your cup of tea as well.
The $35 Sticky Brain runs on any Mac with Mac OS 8.1 or higher, and requires 5 MB of RAM, 5 MB of disk space, and a 640 by 480 screen or larger.
EZNote 2.01 — John Holder’s EZNote used to be a control panel with a rather modal interface, but now it’s an ordinary application permitting multiple windows, which is much nicer. It maintains snippets of styled text as files within folders; these folders are treated as categories, with the text files within them treated as notes, and everything lives inside a main folder you designate. In fact, you can browse your whole hard disk with EZNote and create or examine the contents of folders anywhere (any file of type TEXT will be seen as a note). However, EZNote sees only the top-level folders of its designated main folder as categories, and it works with them in a special way. For example, you can navigate instantly to a category, transfer a note to a category, and so forth.
An EZNote window consists of a browser pane and an editing pane. The browser pane, on the left, lists in a column all the folders and text files in the current folder. Selecting a text file’s name in the browser pane displays its contents in the editing pane. You get the standard basic behaviors for styled editing, plus you can have named text styles. You can search and replace, across multiple notes if you like. A number of plug-ins let you munge selected text in various ways (change case, strip linefeeds, strip HTML tags, that sort of thing). Switching to a different text file listing in the browser automatically saves the current file.
EZNote works well as a background application, through keyboard shortcuts that you can configure, or through a floating palette that appears anywhere. The floating palette offers less functionality than the keyboard shortcuts provide, but it does solve a major problem that StickyBrain doesn’t: with no shortcut at all, you can designate the category in which to create a new note from the current selection, or choose any note from any category to paste at the current insertion point. EZNote thus implements multiple styled-text clipboards, and is great for boilerplate that you need to paste often. You can also run a plug-in on the selected text. Conversely, within EZNote, you can create a new note from the clipboard, and you can paste the selection into any running application.
EZNote has a few shortcomings. You can’t export multiple notes (though you can append each note to a single note first, and export that). You can’t delete a category (but you can delete the folder itself, in the Finder). And I personally consider the save-without-asking behavior dangerous. On the other hand, in my view, EZNote’s interface, though some details are slightly clumsy, is vastly better than StickyBrain’s, and there is certainly much comfort in keeping your snippets in a plain text file. If you don’t need StickyBrain’s visual fluff (like background textures) or its extra features (like spell-checking, to-do boxes, or file aliases), I think EZNote is, hands down, a better choice.
EZNote runs on any Mac with System 7 or higher, needs only 2 MB of RAM and less than 2 MB of hard disk, and costs a mere $20 shareware. While you’re visiting the author’s Web site you might want to look into his other utilities; if what you really wanted was multiple clipboards, or if you want to store more than text, his QuickScrap control panel and ScrapIt Pro application are well worth considering.
Z-Write 1.2.1 — The window of Stone Table Software’s Z-Write is remarkably similar to EZNote’s: a list of notes runs down the left side, and clicking a note’s name brings up the note’s content for editing in the right side. Like EZNote, you’re editing styled text, and you can create named styles; and like EZNote, there’s a miscellany of text-munging features, such as changing case, eliminating multiple spaces, and so forth. However, Z-Write has no categories; instead, it has documents, and what you’re seeing are all the notes in a document. What’s special about Z-Write is that it’s intended as a writing tool; so you can rearrange the notes (which Z-Write calls "sections"), drag entire notes from one document to another, and export selected notes as styled text, RTF, or HTML.
Z-Write provides many extras useful to writers. There is good keyboard navigation, and text styling can be copied and pasted. You can insert bookmark tags, which are just ordinary text markup, such as "<bookmark myMark>", and then jump to any bookmark using a pop-up menu. You can insert hyperlinks, such as "<link myMark>"; Command-clicking on a hyperlink jumps to the thing it names, which can be a bookmark tag or a note. You can define glossary items (boilerplated named text), and then insert one with a pop-up menu or by typing its name. There’s also an "<insert xxx>" tag; when this appears in a note you print or export, the note called "xxx" is substituted for the tag in the output.
Z-Write is a fine milieu both for writing and for accumulation of text snippets; and its interface is an outstanding example of gorgeously clean design. But it offers nothing I particularly need, thanks to tools I already have. If Z-Write had multiple levels of notes, and keywords so that you could show or hide sets of notes, it might excite me a bit more. But as it is, Z-Write is essentially just an outliner reduced to a mere single level of hierarchy. Many of Z-Write’s features – such as bookmarks, glossaries, and text-munging – are present in common writing tools such as Microsoft Word and Nisus Writer; even the basic interface is reminiscent not just of EZNote’s interface, but also of Word’s document map feature. All this wouldn’t grate on my nerves if only Z-Write’s documentation didn’t constantly claim uniqueness and originality, as if a "non-linear word processor" were novel (I’ve been writing non-linearly with outliners since my Apple II days, and reporting on non-linear writing tools in TidBITS for almost a decade). Still, Z-Write has some vocal adherents, and you should certainly try it if you think it might fill a niche in your life.
The $20 Z-Write requires a PowerPC-based machine with System 7.5 or higher, and QuickTime. It requires 10 MB of RAM (more if you’re going to use the Print Preview feature) and 5 MB of disk space.