Want to reestablish control of your TV? Try a TiVo personal video recorder, reviewed by Andrew Laurence. In other TV news, Apple receives an Emmy for FireWire, and the MoMA picks up a G4 Cube. Notable releases include Mac OS 9.2.1, Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0.3, REALbasic 3.5, IPNetRouter 1.6.1, Nisus Writer 6.0.2, Mailsmith 1.1.8, and Quicken 2002 Deluxe. Finally, Ecrix and Exabyte merge, and early birds can get free tickets to Macworld Expo SF 2002.
Mac OS 9.2.1 Released
Mac OS 9.2.1 Released — Apple has released Mac OS 9.2.1, an update for "Mac OS X compatible" computers running Mac OS 9.1 or 9.2, which includes the Power Mac G4, Power Macintosh G3, PowerBook G4, PowerBook G3 (except the original PowerBook G3), iMac, and iBook lines. The update doesn’t add any new functionality to the Mac OS, but fixes a number of unspecified bugs in Mac OS 9.1 and improves Classic application compatibility with Mac OS X. The update is available in North American and International English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Japanese; you can download either a single 82 MB disk image, or six separate segments. [JLC]
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Quicken 2002 Deluxe Adds Mac OS X Compatibility
Quicken 2002 Deluxe Adds Mac OS X Compatibility — Intuit has begun shipping Quicken 2002 Deluxe for Macintosh, adding Mac OS X compatibility and a number of online features for managing your finances. Considering that Intuit at one point scrapped the product entirely, it’s encouraging to see a new version that runs natively under Mac OS X as well as Mac OS 9. Intuit’s efforts to capitalize on online banking are apparent in Quicken 2002, which offers the capability to download brokerage transactions, update all online accounts in one step, and reconcile accounts with transactions downloaded from the bank. To help you navigate the rough waters of the stock market, you can also run a number of "what-if" scenarios for estimating and optimizing capital gains. Quicken 2002 Deluxe for Macintosh costs $60, which includes a $20 mail-in rebate for previous Quicken users. [JLC]
REALbasic 3.5 Released
REALbasic 3.5 Released — REAL Software, Inc., has released version 3.5 of REALbasic, their easy-to-use visual object-oriented development environment that many consider the true heir of HyperCard. Welcome new features abound, including support for regular expressions, Microsoft Office automation, and 3-D graphics tools, although other additions (such as DataControl for navigating databases and the RBScript expression parser) aren’t as successful. REAL Software has also fixed many bugs, and while others still remain, REALbasic 3.5 is the best overall version since 2.1.2. Most impressive is its support for different operating systems – it runs on Mac OS 7.6.1 or later, and natively under Mac OS X, and can compile applications for Mac OS 8 or later (68K or PowerPC), for Mac OS X, and (less well) for Windows. REALbasic remains a great introduction to programming, a tool to make tools and build custom solutions, and even a source of commercial software. It costs $100 for the Standard version, or $300 for the Professional version that adds Windows compilation and database capabilities (a package that includes a CD and printed documentation adds another $50) Academic discounts are available ($60 for Standard; $180 for Professional) as is a time-limited feature-restricted demo. The second edition of Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg’s book on REALbasic from O’Reilly will be out next month. [ACE]
IPNetRouter 1.6.1 Released
IPNetRouter 1.6.1 Released — Sustainable Softworks has quietly released IPNetRouter 1.6.1, a minor bug fix that fixes a NAT (Network Address Translation) bug in the more significant release of 1.6 two weeks ago. IPNetRouter 1.6 improved the software router’s port mapping and IP filtering capabilities and fixed some bugs. System requirements for IPNetRouter 1.6.1 remain minimal – Mac OS 7.5.3 or later (a Mac OS X version is in the works) with Open Transport 1.1.1 running on a 68030 or PowerPC-based Macintosh. Both updates are free to registered users.
Nisus Writer 6.0.2 Improves International Support
Nisus Writer 6.0.2 Improves International Support — Nisus Software has released Nisus Writer 6.0.2, a free update to the company’s flagship word processor. The new version includes an improved translator for reading and writing RTF (Rich Text Format) files in WorldScript and Roman based alphabets, and boasts compatibility with the Japanese and Chinese language kits that shipped with Mac OS 9.1. The updated program runs only on PowerPC-based machines and also includes a host of bug fixes. The Nisus Writer 6.0.2 updater is a 3.6 MB download. [JLC]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0.3 Released
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0.3 Released — Users of Power On Software’s versatile calendar and contact information manager can download Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0.3. This maintenance release fixes a trio of bugs that caused printing problems and made the Meeting Availability option inaccessible. The updater is a 2.6 MB download, and is free for registered users of version 4.0 and above. [JLC]
Mailsmith 1.1.8 Released
Mailsmith 1.1.8 Released — Bare Bones Software has shipped Mailsmith 1.1.8, a free update that brings bug fixes and a few new features to the company’s email client. The new version includes an export scripting command, improves compatibility with some SMTP servers, and solves problems with Apple Remote Access, among other fixes. The update is free to owners of Mailsmith 1.0 and later, and is a 2.6 MB download. [JLC]
Ecrix, Exabyte Merge
Ecrix, Exabyte Merge — Ecrix, makers of the VXA-1 tape drive, and Exabyte, makers of high-performance MammothTape drives used in large network backup situations, have announced plans to merge. The merged company will be able to offer a broader range of products with both the VXA and MammothTape brands and plans to integrate VXA’s innovative packet technology and non-tracking format with MammothTape’s high performance read and write technologies. The merger improves Exabyte’s cash position and also brings Ecrix co-founder Juan Rodriguez back to Exabyte, which he had previously helped found. Thankfully, the merged company will be called Exabyte – the Ecrix name always required a pronunciation guide. From the standpoint of owners of the Ecrix VXA-1 tape drives, the merger would appear to be good news, because it puts the format closer to widespread industry support. For more details on the Ecrix VXA-1 tape drive, see "Ecrix’s VXA-1 Tape Drive: Big Fast Backups" in TidBITS-569. [ACE]
Macworld Expo San Francisco 2002 Free Passes
Macworld Expo San Francisco 2002 Free Passes — If it’s not one Macworld Expo coming up, it’s another. If you’re making plans to be in San Francisco for the 2002 Macworld Expo there, it’s worth visiting the Macworld Expo Web site, where you can register for a free exhibits-only pass (but not the keynote) through 15-Oct-01. If you miss the deadline, registration costs $15 from 16-Oct-01 through 06-Jan-02, and $29 from 07-Jan-02 through 11-Jan-02. So hey, if you’re thinking about going anyway, it’s worth signing up early to save a few bucks. [ACE]
Honors Showcase Apple’s Impact
Despite the familiarity those in the Macintosh community have with Apple’s innovations and achievements, it often seems that the rest of the world sees Apple as just another computer manufacturer. Two recent events – Apple’s winning of an Emmy award for FireWire and the addition of the Power Mac G4 Cube and other Apple products into the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art – should help show how Apple’s impact spreads well beyond the world of the Macintosh.
FireWire Emmy — The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has bestowed a 2001 Primetime Emmy Award for the significant impact that Apple’s FireWire technology has had on the television industry. FireWire is a high-speed serial interconnect technology used for high data throughput applications such as hard drives and digital video devices. Apple’s efforts in making the 400 Mbps FireWire into a cross-platform industry standard, known as IEEE 1394a, resulted in FireWire becoming the primary method of connecting digital camcorders to both Macs and PCs.
However, other uses for FireWire have been mostly limited to the Macintosh world as the PC industry dithers about USB 2.0, which offers data transfer rates up to 480 Mbps. But USB 2.0 still faces a rocky road: the next version of FireWire, 1394b, promises data transfer rates of up to 800 Mbps (over copper, with 1,600 Mbps over fiber); USB 2.0 hasn’t seen much penetration yet; and last month Agere Systems (formerly the Microelectronics division of Lucent Technologies) announced that it was discontinuing "discrete products that support Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 applications." Agere also announced it would accelerate its product development for 1394b applications while continuing to offer its USB 1.1 and 1394a products.
In short, it appears that FireWire may have the upper hand in the battle with USB 2.0, thanks in large part to the millions of camcorders that already support it and increased emphasis on digital video. Apple deserves credit for its role in bringing the costs of digital video down for professionals and making it easy to use for consumers, and it’s good to see recognition coming from a group like the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
MoMA Cubed — Though the outside world may not acknowledge Apple’s technical and marketing impact (Apple drove widespread adoption of many technologies it didn’t invent, such as the graphical interface, the mouse, the CD-ROM drive, Ethernet, and USB), Apple’s design prowess does receive significantly more credit. And now Apple’s ground-breaking designs – including the sleek Power Mac G4 Cube – have been honored by inclusion in the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
Presaging this move, an early ad for the recently discontinued Cube read, "True, it looks like it belongs in the Museum of Modern Art, but the G4 Cube is actually a supercomputer that belongs right on your desk." Ironically, now that the Cube is in the MoMA, the only way you’ll get one on your desk is to buy it used – even the most elegant design can’t drive sales when it’s targeted at a too-small audience. (Steve Jobs gets our award for one of the best quotes of the year, saying, "It was a wrong concept – fabulously implemented.")
Apple designs have won numerous awards, but selection for the MoMA collection is certainly one of the most prestigious and lends support to the concept that although computers function in a virtual electronic world, their physical instantiations are also important facets of a workplace environment.
Getting Moving Again with EtherMac iPrint LT
One of my clients – David – always seems to call when I’m driving. It must be the universe’s idea of a joke: I’m moving, he’s not. "I can’t print," he says, our new form of greeting. "I think I’ve tried everything."
We go through a checklist of possible solutions: he had restarted the printer, restarted the Mac, made sure Start Queue was selected in the desktop printer, checked that cables were seated tight in the computer, printer, and Ethernet hub. No luck. After a dozen minutes and far fewer miles in crawling traffic, we hit on a fix that sticks: change the AppleTalk control panel to use Remote Access, close the AppleTalk control panel, open it again, switch back to Ethernet, then close and save changes. David is happy to be able to print, but I know that the kludge we’ve assembled to enable his PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) to print on his LocalTalk network is a fragile workaround.
Bridge Over a Troubled Network Stream — Though he’s an easy target, I blame David’s printing problems on Steve Jobs. I was in San Francisco the day Jobs introduced the PowerBook G4 Titanium, and David called with a question. I mentioned how beautiful the sleek new machine was, prompting David to utter those magic words: "If you get the G4, I’ll buy your current machine." I did, he did, and we both ended up with better, cooler PowerBooks. The only problem was that my PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) didn’t include a serial port, meaning it was inaccessible to David’s LocalTalk network. And his laser printer, an older QMS-PS 410 connected to his Mac via LocalTalk.
Fortunately, the workaround was easy. David bought an inexpensive Ethernet hub, which we used to connect his new PowerBook G3 to the computer it replaced, a PowerBook 3400. The 3400 remained connected to the LocalTalk network, acting as a print server thanks to Apple’s LocalTalk Bridge software. (The older machine also acted as a network backup device for important files, and as a Mac that other members of his family could use.)
This setup worked for a while, but problems invariably cropped up. Although the 3400’s power requirements are low, the machine needed to be running at all times (it was inconvenient for David to power it up or wake it from sleep whenever he needed to print). Also, the Ethernet connection would sometimes flake out: the 3400 uses a single port to combine Ethernet and modem functions; after a few years of constant modem use, plugging and unplugging phone lines, the port on the machine was a little loose (and the dongle that enables you to hook up both phone and Ethernet cables didn’t help). So even if the Ethernet cable was clipped into place, it sometimes needed a little nudge to ensure that the pins and connectors were touching. The port could be repaired, but it would be a costly proposition. What’s more, although LocalTalk Bridge works well most of the time, it’s obsolete and unsupported.
iPrint, Therefore iHappy — I suppose it’s only fair that our solution is also attributable to Steve Jobs – in this case his emphasis on case design. While on an errand, I stopped at the University Bookstore near the University of Washington to take a look at one of Apple’s new Power Mac G4 machines as well as one of the now-discontinued Flower Power iMacs. Although I’m a diehard PowerBook user, I’m also a big fan of the company’s industrial design and wanted to see the new QuickSilver machines in person.
Sitting on a shelf above the laptops was Farallon’s EtherMac iPrint LT, a $100 adapter that looked like just the device to replace the PowerBook 3400 as a network bridge. (Farallon also sells an EtherMac iPrint Adapter SL, which connects original StyleWriter printers that don’t support LocalTalk, though in those cases, a new printer may be cheaper and offer better print quality.) I called David, who thought that $100 was nothing compared to being able to print reliably from his trusty laser printer, bought the iPrint, and headed over.
[Farallon’s Web site was not responding at press time, so couldn’t verify the URL above is still accurate. -Geoff]
This is the part of the article where I’m supposed to detail the installation and configuration of the device, so let me elaborate in excruciating detail: I unpacked the box and plugged the iPrint in. Then I discarded the PhoneNet connector that was connected to the 3400 and plugged the LocalTalk cable (actually, a regular phone cable) into the iPrint’s LocalTalk port. At the other end of the device, I connected an Ethernet cable and ran it to David’s hub. (The iPrint package includes a LocalTalk phone cable, a standard Ethernet cable, and an Ethernet crossover cable; the latter is for connecting your computer directly to the iPrint without a hub.) The only configuration change I had to make was to change the 3400’s AppleTalk control panel setting to Ethernet. This enabled David to print from either PowerBook and also transfer files between them.
With the iPrint in place, David’s printer and the other PowerBook now show up in the Chooser on a consistent basis. My kludges are now history, and David is moving again. If only I could say the same for Seattle’s traffic.
TiVo: Freedom Through Time-Shifting, Part 1
I didn’t realize it, but for years someone has been controlling a large portion of my leisure time: the nameless network executives who create the television schedule.
I’ve never thought of myself as someone who watches a lot of TV, particularly compared to the average viewing time of 19 to 32 hours per week (culled from U.S., Canadian and Japanese sources). Nevertheless, a portion of my brain was dedicated to keeping track of the shows I like, when they air, and on what channel. If I wasn’t able to watch them live, I had to program the VCR, supply a tape of sufficient length, and track what program was on which tape. The program schedule presented obstacles to overcome in my personal schedule: Am I going to be home? Is a tape in the VCR? When should I have dinner? Do I have time to do laundry and call my mother? For friends with young children, their problem is worsened by a six month-old who insists on being walked around the house during The West Wing and a three year-old who isn’t interested in watching Sesame Street in the early morning – he asks for it when the only programming to be found is the likes of Jerry Springer or The Young and the Restless. Add in the perennial perception of 57 channels and nothing on, and it becomes apparent that the network-controlled television schedule doesn’t meet many folks’ needs: it requires us to schedule our lives around the television instead of the television providing the content we want when we want it.
Enter the Personal Video Recorder — Relatively new to the consumer electronics scene, Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) are sometimes described as souped-up VCRs that have memorized the television schedule. A PVR knows the programming schedule of all the channels you receive. Based on your instructions, it records programs to an internal hard disk for later playback. Freed from tape’s linear medium, the PVR brings new functionality to the television experience. You can pause, rewind, fast-forward, or watch in slow-motion any program, live or pre-recorded. If 60 Minutes started fifteen minutes ago, you can start watching it from the beginning, while the PVR records the remaining portion; fast-forward through the commercials as you go, and you’ll watch Andy Rooney from the live broadcast. You can watch The Sopranos from last night while simultaneously recording tonight’s Ally McBeal. And finding a recorded program is merely a matter of picking a show from a list, rather than sorting through poorly labeled tapes and fast-forwarding to the right point in the tape.
The first entrants to the market were TiVo and ReplayTV, in 1999. Each company provides the device’s software, as well as a service that updates the built-in program guide. The hardware units are manufactured and sold through established hardware partners – Sony, Philips, and Hughes sell TiVo units, while ReplayTV’s service is sold on Panasonic hardware. More recent entrants include Microsoft’s UltimateTV (sold by Sony and RCA) and the Dish Network’s DishPVR 501.
Welcome to the TiVolution — The first TiVo I saw belonged to a friend, a die-hard home theater addict and eternal first-adopter. To be honest, his initial descriptions and zeal left me wondering the extent of his laziness ("you never have to change the tape!"). When I saw it in action, however, I began to understand its appeal. The capability to pause live television (to answer the phone or nature’s call) showed immediate usefulness – just press Play and pick up where you left off. The capability to rewind a few seconds of a live show to replay muddled dialog immediately removed an element of television’s frustrations. The playlist of recorded programs, immediately available and composed of programs my friend already likes, showed that good television does exist, but not necessarily when you feel like watching. Finding a TiVo at an August 2000 clearance special at Circuit City sealed the deal for me – my recorder, holding up to 14 hours of shows, was only $99 after rebates.
Upon opening the box I was greeted by a foldout placard showing the steps for hooking the recorder into my TV and stereo. Accustomed to the PC industry’s philosophy of little to no documentation and a la carte accessories, I was pleased to find a complete user manual and more than enough cables for plugging in the recorder. The setup process involved attaching it to the television and signal feed (antenna, analog or digital cable, or satellite – it works with all three and lets you combine up to two) and running through a series of setup screens.
First you identify your ZIP code, then the recorder uses its built-in 33.6 Kbps modem to download lists of local phone numbers and your local television providers. Another call downloads fourteen days of program guide information (courtesy of Tribune Media Services) to match your chosen television provider and channel package. Next, the recorder decompresses and indexes the guide data. Once this process is complete, your television is TiVo-enabled.
57 Channels, Surely Something’s On — The TiVo on-screen user interface offers two menu options for watching programs (Now Playing, Watch Live TV), three for selecting programs to record later (TiVolution Magazine, Network Showcases, Pick Programs to Record) and one for system preferences (Messages and Setup).
Now Playing is the chronologically sorted playlist of recorded programs (each with a short description, categories, and channel information). You can watch any program in Now Playing, even if the unit is currently recording something else, and you can also delete shows from Now Playing to free up space on the hard disk for more shows. (The recorder also automatically deletes old shows when space is needed.) Watch Live TV shows whatever is on television right now. Press the Live TV Guide button on the remote control to scan through the TiVo’s program guide for a program that’s currently airing.
To select programs for later recording, TiVolution Magazine and Network Showcases aggregate everything on television into categories. The former is supplied by TiVo, providing five categories for browsing according to genre and program type: TiVo’s Spotlight, Kids’ Stuff, Movie Marquee, Sports Arena, and Lifestyle. Network Showcases contains network-specific lists of programs, for which the networks pay TiVo to be listed. Both are potentially useful only if you have cable or satellite TV – if you pull signals in over an antenna, they’re a tease for channels you don’t receive.
Pick Programs to Record offers three methods for more exact program selection: Search By Title, Search Using Wishlists, and TiVo’s Suggestions. Search By Title uses type-ahead alphabetical listings which are updated as you select letters from an on-screen alphabet. To find Buffy the Vampire Slayer, enter "BU" and the program list instantly scrolls down to show items beginning with "BU." When I tried this, "Buffy" was listed six or so items down, after the 1947 Abbott and Costello movie Buck Privates Come Home and Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. (Hey, I like Abbott and Costello! The movie airs eight days hence at 3:00 AM on AMC, but no matter – I selected "Record This Showing" to add it to my TiVo’s To Do List.) Search Using Wishlists allows you to define search sets and automatically record matching programs. For example, a Director Wishlist might comb out Alfred Hitchcock movies, while an Actor Wishlist coupled with a category ("Eastwood, Clint" and "Western") conveniently omits his Dirty Harry material. Keyword Wishlists match any text in the program’s description.
TiVo’s Suggestions lists programs that TiVo thinks you might like, based upon your previous program selections and preference indications. (The remote control has buttons for Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down ratings. The more you use them, the more accurate the suggestions.) Do you like the movie Cool Hand Luke? Give it up to three thumbs-up ratings and TiVo might suggest Hud because it thinks you’ll like that, too. By default TiVo will automatically record program suggestions, based on available disk space. This function can be turned off, but for me it’s a big part of the TiVo experience. One morning I awoke to discover that it had recorded Casablanca late at night on a channel I didn’t know I received. (TiVo, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.)
Once you’ve found a program you want to record, selecting Record This Showing adds it to the To Do List. If you want to watch a database programmer’s eyebrows shoot up, select View Upcoming Episodes to see a list of future showings. Say you would like to record South Park, but your wife already watches Law & Order – both air at 10 PM on Wednesdays. Since Comedy Central repeats South Park several times during the week, choose View Upcoming Episodes and record another listed showing.
TiVo’s Season Pass removes the need to know when things change – such as when a show changes to a new night, runs a two-hour cliffhanger or a bonus episode later in the week. When you tell TiVo to record a Season Pass of Frasier on NBC, its database records Frasier on NBC – not channel 4 from 9:00 to 9:30 PM every Tuesday. If the network moves the show (again) to another night or time, the recorder notices the change in its nightly guide download and silently updates its To Do List. You can tailor a Season Pass to record only new episodes, retain a maximum number of episodes at a time, pad the recording by a few minutes in case of overtime, use a particular video quality, or specify how long you want to keep an episode in Now Playing.
Pricing and Availability — Stand-alone TiVo recorders are available from Sony and Philips in recording capacities of 20, 30 and 60 hours; prices range from $199 to $599. DirecTV-integrated units are available from Sony, Philips, and Hughes, recording up to 35 hours; prices range from $299 (after rebate) to $399. All units require the user to purchase the accompanying TiVo service, which provides program guide updates and software upgrades. The service is either $10 per month or $250 for the lifetime of the recorder. Recorders can be purchased at several retailers, including 800.com, Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City, Good Guys and Outpost.com, and it’s well worth checking a price comparison service like DealTime or mySimon.
In the next installment of this article, I’ll delve deeper into how TiVo works, how a vibrant community has grown up around hacking it, and how it has freed me from television’s tyranny.
[Having chosen a career in computing, Andrew Laurence is the black sheep in a family of writers. Evidence to the contrary, he doesn’t watch all that much TV. Really.]