Apple loves showing fast CPUs helping Macs win Photoshop duels against PCs. But you’ll gain more speed from using Photoshop effectively, aided by this week’s collection of tips from Iain Anderson. Also in this issue, Jeff Carlson squints at the Palm m505 handheld, DriveSavers aids victims of the 11-Sep-01 tragedy, and the Interface Mafia comes to town. Important releases include Interarchy 5.0.1, Rumpus 2.0, StuffIt Deluxe 6.5, and the Palm m125 organizer.
Palm Releases Palm m125 Organizer
Palm Releases Palm m125 Organizer — Adding a bit of spit and polish to its entry-level line of handhelds, Palm has introduced the Palm m125, incorporating the expansion and connectivity features of the Palm m500 series. The m125 offers 8 MB of memory, the same grayscale screen used in the m100 and m105 models, plus the capability to change faceplates and a new expansion slot accommodating Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard formats. The m125 also uses Palm’s Universal Connector for attaching to a USB-based HotSync cradle or other peripherals, and runs Palm OS 4.0. The Palm m125 is available now for $250. [JLC]
StuffIt Updates Add File Manipulation Capabilities
StuffIt Updates Add File Manipulation Capabilities — Aladdin Systems has shipped StuffIt Deluxe 6.5, the latest version of the company’s venerable package of file compression, archiving, encoding, and manipulation utilities. One notable addition to StuffIt Deluxe 6.5 is StuffIt Express Personal Edition. Previously known as Aladdin Transporter, StuffIt Express is a file manipulation utility for creating drop box applications that perform multiple sequential actions on selected files. Drop boxes created with the Personal Edition can’t be distributed to people without StuffIt Express. For more information, see "Macworld SF 2001 Trend: Cool Utilities" in TidBITS-564. Other additions to StuffIt Deluxe 6.5 include Magic Menu for Mac OS X (providing access to many of StuffIt Deluxe’s features from a menu in the Finder), StuffIt Expander’s intelligent routing of Palm downloads (.prc and .pdb files) to a designated folder for uploading during the next HotSync, and a DropTar drop box utility for creating .tar, .sit, and .bzip archives. StuffIt Deluxe 6.5 costs $80 (though Aladdin has a special offer of $60 through 31-Dec-01) with upgrades at $20 for owners of any previous version of StuffIt Deluxe or (through 12-Oct-01) for owners of any other Aladdin product. System requirements include a PowerPC-based Macintosh running Mac OS 8.6 or higher with 6 MB of available RAM.
Aladdin has also updated the freeware StuffIt Expander, DropStuff, and DropZip utilities to version 6.5. Upgrades for each individual application are free, but Aladdin is now bundling all three (along with the new DropTar 6.5) in a single package called StuffIt Lite. Once you’ve downloaded the StuffIt Lite installer and run it, you end up with unregistered copies of DropStuff, DropZip, and DropTar, plus a copy of StuffIt Expander. From that point, if all you want is StuffIt Expander, just throw out the other three applications. If you’re upgrading one of the others, just launch it and enter your previous registration number when prompted. Otherwise, the three drop box applications will work unregistered for 15 days; to use them after that requires registration. DropStuff is $30 by itself, DropZip and DropTar are each $20, or the full StuffIt Lite package is $50 (to reiterate, StuffIt Expander is always free). System requirements for the StuffIt Lite bundle are a PowerPC-based Mac running Mac OS 8.1 or higher with 4 MB of available RAM. It’s a 6 MB download. [ACE]
DriveSavers Donates Free Disk Recovery Services
DriveSavers Donates Free Disk Recovery Services — Kudos to data recovery service DriveSavers, which is offering free data recovery services to individuals and businesses affected by the September 11th terrorist attacks. The DriveSavers offer is good until further notice; covers hard drives or media that have experienced trauma such as fire, water, electrical surge, or impact damage; and includes CD or DVD target media and free FedEx return shipping (for more information on their recovery services, see "DriveSavers to the Rescue" in TidBITS-495). Contact DriveSavers for additional information. [ACE]
Rumpus 2.0 Offers Industrial Strength FTP Server
Rumpus 2.0 Offers Industrial Strength FTP Server — Showing no fear of the built-in Unix FTP server in Mac OS X or Mac OS X Server (at least the former of which is notable for lacking MacBinary support), Maxum Development has released Rumpus 2.0, a significant update to the company’s high-performance Macintosh FTP server. Rumpus 2.0 adds a Carbon version for Mac OS X compatibility; user-specific upload notices via email or AppleScript scripts when a file is uploaded; extended folder security privileges, customizable user access limitations for transfer rate, upload/download ratios, and simultaneous connections by a single user; a built-in Web administration server for managing user accounts; and encryption of the user database to enhance security. Upgrades to Rumpus 2.0 are free for those who purchased Rumpus within the last year; otherwise they cost $80 for the Standard version (32 user accounts and 32 simultaneous users) or $130 for the Professional version (256 simultaneous connections and user accounts limited only by available RAM). New copies of Rumpus Standard cost $250; Rumpus Professional retails for $395. [ACE]
Interarchy 5.0.1 Fixes Bugs
Interarchy 5.0.1 Fixes Bugs — Stairways Software has released Interarchy 5.0.1, fixing a number of bugs in the popular Internet file transfer and utility application but adding no new features (see "FTP Disk Feature Highlights Interarchy 5.0" in TidBITS-593). The upgrade is free and recommended for all Interarchy 5.0 users. There’s no updater available; if you already use Interarchy 5.0, you’ll have to download the full 3 MB package and overwrite the 5.0 application folder with the new version. [ACE]
Interface Mafia Goes After Bad Interfaces
Interface Mafia Goes After Bad Interfaces — Macintosh users are unusually informed and opinionated about interface design, and even though Macintosh developers are usually equally as sensitive to the interfaces of their programs, creating good interfaces is difficult work. A non-profit group calling itself the Interface Mafia has opened a Web site devoted to articles, links, and other information related to information design. What sets the Interface Mafia Web site apart, though, is its free interface review service for Macintosh software developers (they may support other operating systems in the future). Reviews are limited to interface design (though documentation, a topic near and dear to those of us at TidBITS, is also examined) and are posted for anyone to read and comment on. Kudos to the Interface Mafia both for emphasizing the importance of good interface design and for offering practical advice to developers. [ACE]
Palm m505: A Slightly Dim Bulb
Even when I’m testing various models of handheld organizers for books and articles I write about Palm OS-based handhelds, I keep my Palm Vx nearby. I have to return devices when I’m done reviewing them, and so far the Palm Vx is the only one for which I’ve shelled out my own money: it’s thin, lightweight, and has enough memory to store the data I need. And of all those models I’ve returned, only two have been good enough to replace my Vx for the duration of the review period: Handspring’s Visor Edge and the Palm m505.
The Edge is thin, light, and beautifully designed, but it didn’t offer me more functionality than the Vx. When the m505 was announced, offering similar dimensions as the Vx but with a color screen, it almost became the next line item on my credit card bill. Almost.
Surface Reflections — I probably put too much stock in a product’s shape and appearance instead of its functionality, but my interest isn’t entirely cosmetic. A slim handheld is easier to carry, more comfortable to hold, and less obtrusive in a shirt pocket. Color devices like the Visor Prism and the Palm IIIc feel too bulky to carry everywhere.
My Palm Vx, however, is starting to show its age, along with some limitations of its design. Its power button has never been particularly solid and requires a solid diagonal press to activate. More distressing is the raised scroll up button, which presses against the original flip-over cover and keeps the unit powered on following an alarm if there’s pressure against it (such as when it’s in my pants pocket). To work around this problem, I’ve installed a few system hacks like PalmVHack, which haven’t always worked for me; using a Palm V Hard Case would also help, but that ruins the device’s thin profile. So, on a few occasions, the button has remained pressed, draining the internal battery to the point where my data was lost.
Palm clearly recognized their design mistakes, since the Palm m505 effectively fixes them. The scroll buttons are small and flat, and the power button is solid and even lights up to indicate when the battery is being charged (it can also be used as a silent flashing alarm indicator). The case design is slightly different from the Palm Vx, with a tad more curve in the sides and less flare at the bottom, and overall it feels a little sturdier than its already solid predecessor.
Expand and Connect — The Palm m505 veers from its heritage in several other ways. It includes an expansion card slot that accepts Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard cards, small postage stamp-sized memory cards that can store data such as digital photos, electronic books, or just your important files. The m505 also uses Palm’s USB-based Universal Connector port, which replaces the slower serial ports at the bottom of each earlier Palm handheld. This means that peripherals manufacturers must redesign their devices yet again to accommodate Palm’s connectors (add-ons like keyboards were scarce for the Palm V when it was introduced because the pin configuration was different), but Palm seems to be committed to the Universal design.
The good news is that synchronizing through the HotSync cradle is much faster over USB. The bad news is that disconnecting the handheld from the cradle is annoying: because of the clips holding the m505 in place, you must tilt it about 45 degrees before lifting it from the cradle.
Holding a Mixed Bag — The Palm m505 is one of the first devices to run Palm OS 4.0, which offers only a limited number of improvements for users. The best of these in my opinion is the Attention Manager, a screen that summarizes missed alarms that can be cleared with one tap, rather than having to clear each alarm individually. You can also view a single masked record without changing the system-wide privacy setting by tapping it and entering your password; it’s obscured again when you’re finished reading it. (Palm will release an update to Palm OS 4.0 for owners of selected earlier models in November.)
Palm has added some third-party software to its mix, too, including DataViz’s Documents to Go for working with Word and Excel files on the handheld; Palm Reader, an electronic book viewer from Peanut Press, which Palm purchased earlier this year; and Palm’s Mobile Connectivity Software for getting online (using a compatible cellular phone or other device). And finally, the Macintosh Palm Desktop is now on the included CD-ROM; previous Palm owners had to purchase a separate cable converter or download the desktop software from Palm.
And That Color Screen — So what about the Palm m505’s main attraction? After all, it was the combination of the Palm Vx’s shape and the promise of a screen featuring 65,000 colors that made me grab for my credit card.
Well, the m505’s screen is dark. In fact, when I first turned it on in my moderately lighted office, I wasn’t sure it was a color screen. Activating the backlight made a big difference, though it was still considerably dimmer than a Palm IIIc or a Handspring Visor Prism. And remarkably, there’s no brightness control – the backlight is either on or off.
The positive spin is that the screen’s lower brightness draws less power, offering longer battery life, and it’s quite readable in daylight – two failings of most color handheld devices. You can also download an application from Palm that remembers the last backlight setting, effectively enabling you to run with the backlight always on (a better alternative is a program called 505LightOn). And I have to admit that after getting used to the light level, it didn’t pose a problem – until a friend’s Visor Prism provoked brightness envy.
In the end, the Palm m505 addresses all the shortcomings of the Palm Vx and adds color to this great form factor. However, I’ve reached the point where the next device I buy will have a color screen, and the Palm m505’s dim offering doesn’t live up to its $450 price tag. Until it improves, or another company offers something better (the Sony Clie PEG-N710C came close, but not quite), I’m sticking with my slightly battered Palm Vx.
Making the Most of Photoshop 6
Adobe Photoshop 6 is the world’s leading professional image editor, exhibiting a depth of design and richness of function unequaled in any program I know. Although it can be staggeringly complex if you push against its edges, most users only scratch the surface of Photoshop’s capabilities. Whether you use Photoshop all day to prepare images for print or just a few times a week for touching up Web graphics or digital photos, a few tips should help with your image processing chores. Let’s begin by looking at a few new features introduced in the most recent update, then tackle a list of lesser-known shortcuts that speed up day-to-day use.
Reclaiming the Space in Your Workspace — Ever get lost in Photoshop’s mass of palettes, or perhaps you’re still waiting for multiple Apple Cinema Displays to arrive? Although you can combine several palettes into a single group (such as the combined Navigator and Info palettes), sometimes you need more palettes than can fit on your screen. The new Options bar, located just under the menu bar, replaces the old palette of the same name and displays controls and parameters for the currently selected tool. At the far right end is a dockable area, where you can store other palettes for easy access. Drag a palette’s title tab to this area to add it; when you need to use it, click the title tab to display the palette overlaid upon whatever is underneath.
If you need to reclaim your workspace quickly without juggling palettes, press the Tab key to hide them all; Shift-Tab hides everything but the Tools palette and the Options bar. Press Tab or Shift-Tab to display the palettes again.
Hidden Vectors — If you use Macromedia Flash, Adobe Illustrator, or Macromedia Freehand, you’re familiar with the power of vectors. Where Photoshop typically deals in pixels to display and reproduce rich photographic effects, vector-based applications deal in smooth, resolution-independent lines and shapes. Recent versions of these programs have blurred the once-crisp lines between pixel- and vector-generated artwork, enabling artists to use far more complex gradients, fills, and transparencies.
Photoshop can now use some of the most useful aspects of vectors, albeit in a bitmap-friendly manner. First, you can create and edit resolution-independent vector shapes, then use them as clipping paths for individual layers. It’s also possible to convert text to shapes and edit from there – terrific for adapting symbols from dingbat fonts. Custom shapes can be saved for later use, and you can trade your own shape libraries with friends.
Many of the effects in Photoshop’s Layer Styles (formerly known as Layer Effects) are vector-based, including gradient fills, glows, and bevels. If you export your image as a PDF file (turning on the Image Interpolation and Include Vector Data options when exporting), Layer Styles and Vector Shapes retain their resolution independence. Both will display cleaner on screen and print perfectly.
Watch out, though, if you’re sending a PDF to be printed by a service bureau. Some printers may just convert the file to a flat bitmap (such as a TIFF file), which removes the vector information. Depending on the job, this resolution loss may or may not be important, but it’s worth letting the printer know what you have in mind.
Freed Type — It’s finally possible to use the Text tool to just click and type on the canvas to add text. Further, controls from Adobe’s page layout family have arrived, including a wealth of line composition, indenting, line and paragraph spacing, and font controls. Paragraph spacing? Yes, you can convert a regular type layer into Paragraph text (the command is in the Type submenu of the Layer menu), which makes the layer act like a text box found in a page-layout program. This enables you to control the width and height of the paragraph, including the capability to wrap the text at the end of each line. Another new feature is an option either to include the text’s fonts or define text as paths if you export your image as a PDF.
Adobe added a new command, Warp Text, which makes text follow a number of predefined paths and distortions. Some flexibility in adjusting the paths is provided, though it doesn’t compete with a dedicated drawing program’s text-on-a-path option.
Layering on the Tips — A blank canvas isn’t just a flat space to draw on. Imagine a stack of clear acetate sheets that you can draw on, duplicate, move, hide, or modify. These sheets, which Photoshop calls "layers," are invaluable. Photoshop 6 provides an infinite number of sheets (compared to version 5.5’s limit of 99), given enough memory. The Layers palette also now has checkboxes to lock a layer’s transparent pixels, pixel values, and pixel positions, independently or as one.
The most basic use of layers is to move one layer above or below another – a simple click and drag. The next most common use is as a safeguard: duplicate the layer you’re working on, then edit the copy, and if you’re happy, keep the changes. That way, every change is safe, and you can always return to the original.
Duplicating a layer points to another aspect of Photoshop that demonstrates the program’s depth: there are often multiple ways of accomplishing the same task. In this case, choose among three methods: select Duplicate Layer from the Layer palette’s pop-out menu; Control-click a layer’s name and choose Duplicate Layer; or, drag a layer to the new layer icon (which looks like a sheet of paper with one corner bent) at the bottom of the palette. As I found myself duplicating layers all the time, I saved some time by recording an Action (essentially a script within Photoshop that can perform a sequence of commands), and assigning it to a function key. Now I simply select a layer and hit F6 (just my preference, now a habit) to duplicate it.
If you don’t need to duplicate a whole layer – perhaps you’re stripping out a tree or removing a red eye effect from a photo – there’s yet another method. Use the Marquee or Lasso tools to select a section of the image, and then type Command-J to create a New Layer via Copy (or select the command from the New submenu of the Layer menu); only the selection is copied to a new layer, leaving the original layer intact. However, try to avoid New Layer via Cut command, as it can leave a mess of deleted pixels around the edges of the selection and punch it out of the original layer image.
Layers enable you to work on different elements of an image, but you can also add layers, called "adjustment layers," that modify other layers below. For example, you can change the contrast or color levels of the image just by manipulating the settings on a separate, higher, adjustment layer. This way, you’re not changing the original image data, making it easier to experiment with different settings or go back to an earlier version of the image. And now you can organise these layers into handy transparent sets that can be moved, hidden, or modified.
Some tools (like Text) create new layers with abandon. This is, by and large, a good thing. For example, you can apply Layer Styles to a text layer for special effects. However, text layers have their own format, so if you want to apply a filter or hand-paint some text, Photoshop needs to rasterize the text first – converting it to pixels – eliminating the ability to edit or smoothly resize it.
How to avoid rasterizing? Use the old standby, Layer Grouping. (Note that in this context, "grouping" is different than layer "linking," which simply connects two layers to make them act as one.) A grouped layer is applied only to the active pixels of the layer beneath it. So, for example, suppose you want the word "TidBITS" to appear with the letters filled-in by a photo of the staff instead of a solid color. You’d use the Text tool to write TidBITS, which automatically appears on its own layer, then put the staff photo on the layer above it. Select the photo layer and choose Group with Previous from the Layer menu, or Option-click between the two layers in the Layers palette. The pixels outside the word become transparent, while the word itself is filled with the visible portion of the photo. You can then apply layer styles to the text layer, or rasterize it and edit it further. Since both layers remain independent, you can move or edit them separately.
Layer grouping also comes in handy when you’re using adjustment layers to change aspects like color levels. As mentioned above, an adjustment layer contains settings that are applied to the layers beneath it. But if your image file includes multiple layers (which is almost always the case), you may not want the settings to apply to every layer beneath the adjustment layer. Instead, simply group your adjustment layer to the layer it modifies, which constrains the changes to that layer.
The Dance of the Keys — A number of Photoshop functions are accessible only through keyboard commands, some so frequently useful that I urge you to memorize them. For example: Shift-click the Brush or Eraser tools from point to point to make straight lines.
The majority of Photoshop’s most useful shortcuts haven’t changed for a few years now, though some of the tool shortcuts have. Just point the mouse cursor at a tool for a moment if you need to know its current shortcut key, and refer to the cheat sheet that came with the program while you’re trying to memorize them. For example, M selects the Marquee tool, B selects the Brush, E selects the Eraser, and so on. In previous versions of the program, typing the same key again would switch between tool options: activating the Elliptical Marquee tool versus the Rectangular Marquee. In Photoshop 6, you need to add Shift when typing the shortcut key to move among similar tools. It’s a challenge at first, but your hands will soon remember.
Another set of keys you’ll find yourself using often are D, which sets the background and foreground colors to their defaults (black and white), and X, which exchanges background and foreground colors. These are good, but not great, until you get into Q for Quick Mask. If you’ve never been able to make a great selection using the Lasso, Marquee, or Magic Wand tools, that’s because they’re often not the best tool for the job. Quick Mask lets you paint your selection as an overlay, using any brush you like; D and X help you to paint (black) and erase (white) without changing tools or visiting color pickers. Pressing Q switches you back to the image when you’re done, and turns the painted pixels from the Quick Mask into a selection (you’ll see the familiar "marching ants" line that indicates a selection).
With a selection made, or even on a blank layer, type Option-Delete to fill with the foreground color, or type Command-Delete to fill with the background color. Adding Shift to the Delete key brings up a dialog with even more options. Though fills are no longer in vogue with Shapes and the Layer Styles fill options, they’re still quick, dirty, and useful.
Easy Rotation and Cropping — Rotating and cropping scanned images is easy now, and it was easy in Photoshop 5.x. Find the Measure tool, now hidden under the Eyedropper tool. Drag a line from left to right, following the edge of the scanned photo closely. Release the line. Now, go to the Image menu, and select Arbitrary from the Rotate Canvas submenu, then press OK. The angle from the Measure tool is automatically added to the Rotate dialog, and your image rights itself.
There is a quicker way, though, if you’re cropping images too. Select the Crop tool and drag a rough crop around the photo from your scan. Rotate the cropped area by clicking and dragging outside of the cropped area (away from any handles on the edge). Match the angle of the photo, then bring the cropping area in by dragging the center handles. Press Enter to approve the crop, which rotates and crops the image in one action.
One last reminder: Photoshop, like most of the Mac interface, is consistent in its application of shortcuts. The Enter key always approves a dialog box, while Escape always cancels one. Holding down the Option key while clicking the Cancel button (or typing Option-Escape) resets a dialog back to its starting values. The Up and Down arrows increment and decrement values in almost any options field; adding Shift changes the values in groups of 10 units.
Photoshop will reward you for learning its tricks; just try a few keys and shortcuts to get started. The learning curve can be long, even if the incline varies from time to time. But sooner or later you’ll be hooked, and in the case of Photoshop, it’s a happy addiction.
[Iain Anderson is a designer/developer in print, multimedia, and motion graphics, currently based in London. He’s been using Macs for over 10 years and is angling to get on Adobe’s beta program.]