Mac OS X 10.1’s improvements make a world of difference in usability, and this week we look at a slew of changes that give Mac OS X 10.1 a far more rich and polished feel than previous versions. Also this week, we roll out new Web and mailing list services in honor of our 600th issue. In the news, Microsoft releases a patch for PowerPoint and Excel (both 98 and 2001) to block potentially malicious macros from running without warning.
PowerPoint/Excel Update Fixes Macro Vulnerability — Microsoft has released a patch that prevents potentially malicious macro code from running in PowerPoint and Excel. The PowerPoint/Excel 2001 for Mac Macro Vulnerability Update fixes a problem where a macro embedded in a document could run automatically without causing PowerPoint 2001 for Mac and Excel 2001 for Mac to display the customary warning. Once the update is installed, PowerPoint and Excel files containing macros are identified as such with a warning dialog box. You need Microsoft’s earlier Office 2001 for Mac Service Release 1 to apply the new update, which is a 740K download. PowerPoint 98 Macintosh Edition and Excel 98 Macintosh Edition are also vulnerable and are similarly fixed by the PowerPoint/Excel 98 for Mac Macro Vulnerability Update (a 2.7 MB download), which requires that you first run the Combined Updater for Office 98. [JLC]
As I continue to play with Mac OS X 10.1, I’m realizing something unexpected: it’s actually kind of fun to explore and poke at this new environment. I’ve used previous versions of Mac OS X off and on, but like many people I was waiting for 10.1 to sink my teeth (and time) into the new operating system. What follows is a collection of things – initial reactions, discoveries, or just features we think deserve more attention – gathered by the TidBITS staff and extended TidBITS community.
Before we go further though, a few quick corrections to last week’s article. First, zoom rectangles are present when launching applications and opening documents in Mac OS X 10.1, though not when opening folders, as is true in Mac OS 9. We’ll clean our screens better next time. Also, the online version of the Developer Tools CD is only 187 MB, not the massive 550 MB we’d heard previously. Plus, several people on TidBITS Talk have debated our assertion that file extensions were the result of Mac OS X’s Unix heritage, though Apple’s decision to put such emphasis on file extensions has come under almost universal derision. Worth a read, along with the many other discussions of Mac OS X 10.1.
One last thing – for those who have found that Web Sharing breaks under 10.1, it’s because Apple added a module to Mac OS X’s Apache configuration in the Web Sharing Update that preceded Mac OS X 10.1’s release, but in the release itself, changed the name by which they reference the module in Apache’s settings file. Unfortunately, Apple forgot to change the name of the module itself, causing a mismatch. Stepwise.com has posted a line of Unix commands that you can paste into the Terminal to fix the problem.
More Power to the Portables — As a PowerBook G4 owner, I’ve noticed a few welcome improvements in Mac OS X 10.1. The keyboard commands for changing screen brightness and sound volume now work, even elegantly: the large indicators that appear on screen are obvious but not intrusive, and fade away when you’re finished. (Earlier iBooks still have some problems, though; Apple’s Knowledge Base articles have more information.)
Another helpful addition is found in the Mouse preference panel, under the Trackpad tab. Enable the option labeled Ignore Trackpad while typing if you often accidentally touch the trackpad while typing, which positions the cursor somewhere else in your document or email message.
Some portable areas still need improvement. Battery usage is still nowhere near as efficient as when running under Mac OS 9. The battery on my machine needs to be recharged about an hour earlier than when I’m running Mac OS 9; you may still want to avoid Mac OS X on long flights if you don’t have a spare battery. And I’ve read reports that leaving a portable in sleep mode overnight without a charger results in a drained battery in the morning. iBook (Dual USB) owners have also complained about continually ejecting the optical drive tray by accidentally pressing the F12/Eject key while aiming for Delete – something that was easily mapped out in Mac OS 9’s Keyboard control panel.
My main gripe, however, is the inability to switch between the built-in LCD screen and an external monitor without shutting down. I typically use the PowerBook on its own at the office, put it to sleep during my commute, and connect it to my Apple Studio Display at home. This wasn’t possible at all under Mac OS X 10.0, and it’s a tease in 10.1, briefly waking up to display the desktop before snoozing off again. The consequences were worse going the other direction: after disconnecting the monitor, I accidentally woke the PowerBook, which didn’t activate the backlight. Restarting the machine gave me a very dim screen, and only zapping the PRAM and booting into Mac OS 9 solved the problem. For the time being, I drop back into Mac OS 9 before going to bed, so Retrospect on my Power Mac 7600 can back up my data during the night, and switch back into Mac OS X when I reach the office (waiting for Classic to load is a great excuse to go make coffee).
The Keys to the Kingdom — Adam mentioned last week that Apple has reintroduced the Sticky Keys and Mouse Keys components of Universal Access, which is especially significant for disabled users (also see Joe Clark’s "Accessibility on the Mac" series of articles beginning in TidBITS-568). However, there’s still no equivalent to Apple’s old utility CloseView, which magnifies areas of the screen for the visually impaired.
Another addition that some users will appreciate is the capability to assign shortcuts to control certain interface elements from the keyboard, including the menu bar, Dock, toolbars, and palettes. For this functionality, turn on Full Keyboard Access in the Keyboard preference panel. It also offers the capability to tab to any control in a window, including radio buttons, pop-up menus, and tabs. Mac OS X previously seemed too mouse-intensive, so this level of keyboard control is a smart addition.
Apple has also reinstated screenshot hot keys: Command-Shift-3 takes a picture of the entire screen, and Command-Shift-4 gives you a selection cursor and takes a picture of the selection. Screenshots are still named "Picture 1," with incrementing numbers, and are stored on the desktop (which is the desktop for the current user); screenshots taken in Classic applications, though, are stored at the top level of the hard disk or partition where your Classic system resides. Add the Control key to either keyboard combination to copy the screen or selection to the clipboard instead of sending it to a file. There’s no way to restrict the selection to the active window automatically, as in Mac OS 9; for that (and all the other features anyone serious about screenshots needs), you’ll need a utility like Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro X.
General System Stuff — Mac OS X 10.1 is a big update in terms of size as well as importance. Steve Jobs has said that people will be discovering new things long after they’ve installed the software, and I believe him based on the following miscellaneous changes.
People who deal with more than one language on a regular basis will notice that Mac OS X 10.1 increases support for other languages, adding Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Icelandic, and Turkish. Typing text in Chinese and Korean requires a localized version of Mac OS X (text in those languages can be read, however). Tom Gewecke <[email protected]>, who has written about using other languages on the Mac (see "Unleashing Your Multilingual Mac" in TidBITS-557), points out that the Thai keyboard present in Mac OS X 10.0 seems to have disappeared, and there’s no word on when Indic, Hebrew, and Arabic (which are available in Mac OS 9) might appear.
When Apple brought back Apple menu functionality in Mac OS X, it reinstated the capability to access recent applications and documents. However, it was limited to displaying only five of each, which bordered on useless. Now, the General preference panel includes pop-up menus to specify a number of items to show, ranging between 5 and 50.
Copying files picks up a feature more familiar to Windows users. Instead of dragging files to a new location to copy them, you can select one or more files, choose Copy (Command-C) from the Edit menu, navigate to the new location, and choose Paste (Command-V) from the Edit menu to complete the copy action. Note that this feature only copies files – there’s no way to use it to move files, which limits its utility. The feature is welcome for those of us who aren’t quite accustomed to the way Finder windows operate or who find them clumsier than in Mac OS 9, where dragging from one window to another wasn’t difficult. Although I know I can make folders always open in new windows as they do in Mac OS 9 (you’ll find this option in the Finder’s preferences, and if you want to do it only occasionally, try Command-double-clicking the folder icon), I want to give the new style of using just one window a chance to prove itself. So, copying a file or folder, then navigating to a new location and pasting the files is a quick and easy alternative.
And speaking of the Finder, the visual geek in me is happy that I can now change my hard disk icons, which previously displayed pictures of metallic hard drives (objects most users have never even seen). Use the Finder’s Show Info command to copy and paste icons. Web sites such as the Iconfactory and xicons.com are regularly adding new icon sets that you can download.
I’m also extremely pleased to report that Finder windows set to display in List view now remember column widths. Plus, a few controls that should have appeared in the first releases of Mac OS X are now present, including a Set Time Now button in the Network Time tab of the Date & Time preference panel, and a checkbox toggling the Empty Trash warning located in the Finder’s preferences (although the Empty Trash warning doesn’t give you any details of how much will be deleted, as did the version in Mac OS 9 – even using Show Info on the Trash doesn’t reveal this information).
Apple updated more than just the operating system, of course, as pointed out by TidBITS reader Tomoharu Nishino <[email protected]>, who discovered the capability to encrypt disk images using AES encryption in the Disk Copy utility. AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the proposed successor to the U.S. government-approved DES (Data Encryption Standard). "One thing I miss dearly is PGPdisk, which I use to carry around sensitive data. It looks like Disk Copy will tide me over until the PGP suite of tools becomes available for Mac OS X." Nishino also points out that Palm synchronization under Classic is working again, an interim solution until Palm releases a Mac OS X version of Palm Desktop by the end of the year.
Internet Explorer 5.1 — Adam mentioned last week that Internet Explorer 5.1 is now more responsive under Mac OS X 10.1, but Microsoft also added a few goodies to its browser. Check Internet Explorer’s Preferences window for the new Interface Extras pane, which gives you three new options.
You can decide if the first click in the Address field should select the entire URL (useful for copying URLs) or place the insertion point where the click was (useful for editing URLs).
When another application asks Internet Explorer to visit a page, you can now choose whether Internet Explorer should reuse the front browser window or open a new one. I generally prefer opening multiple windows, since I often read numerous related pages at the same time, switching back and forth to compare information.
When new browser windows open, you can choose whether they should start with all of Internet Explorer’s many toolbars expanded or use the state of the current default window.
As a last tip, there’s a new hidden feature in Internet Explorer 5.1 that’s ideal for anyone on a slow Internet connection. You’ve long been able to Command-click a link to open it in a new window. Now you can Command-Shift-click links to open them in new windows behind the current one. That way they load in the background while you continue reading the frontmost page – it’s a great feature.
Bold Explorations — Perhaps the most telling reason why Mac OS X 10.1 will start to make inroads into the Macintosh mainstream is that exploring this new version often results in useful little discoveries. All too frequently in previous versions of Mac OS X, explorations were simply met with failure – all you found was a lack of interface functionality, a lack of flexibility, and an almost complete lack of customizability, all viewed through a lens of poor performance. We’re clearly still in the phase of adding back to Mac OS X the features that set Mac OS 9 apart from the madding crowd, but we’re within sight of being able to add innovative features.
Here at TidBITS, we seem to be creatures of tradition. We saw this issue approaching a few months back and thought, "Hmm, we should do something for such a milestone issue." Then we went back to doing what we do every week: writing and editing and responding to email. Luckily, Geoff, in his role as keeper of the database, was a bit more on top of things, and over the last few months, messages kept arriving from him with custom Lasso URLs pointing at updated database pages.
Where’s the tradition? Well, if you go back and read what we did to commemorate our 400th and 500th issues, in both cases we announced major changes to our online presence. For TidBITS-400, we introduced a new logo, changed the look of our Web site, and introduced the GetBITS CGI that provides permanent URLs to our thousands of articles. TidBITS-500 brought another home page redesign aimed at exposing more of our content, the addition of our poll/quiz functionality, and text banners. So what do you have to look forward to this time?
New Mailing Lists — Back in February of 2001, we asked in a poll what additional options you’d like for receiving TidBITS in email. As we expected, most people like the way we do it now, but 15 percent of respondents asked for an HTML-formatted version of our issues, and another 10 percent asked for announcements in either text or HTML format with links to our articles on the Web. The HTML issue was clearly a priority, and we definitely wanted to add an announcement version for those who prefer a reminder to read specific articles on the Web. After designing the text version of the announcement message, we tried an HTML version, and liked it enough to keep it as well. In the end, we decided to support all the options: full issues and announcements in both text and HTML format.
After some programming, Geoff finagled appropriate messages out of our databases, and I spent some time setting up ListSTAR and Eudora Internet Mail Server to handle subscriptions and distribute issues. The work was detailed and painstaking, and although we and some testers tried to catch everything, it’s possible we missed some minor details – if you run into any, let us know.
Before I tell you how to subscribe to these new mailing lists, let me offer a few thoughts about the two HTML-formatted versions. In keeping with our overall philosophy of elegant text-based publishing and broad compatibility, neither version includes graphics, and both use styles and horizontal rules sparingly. We’ve tested them in the current versions of Entourage, Eudora, Netscape, Outlook Express (both Mac and Windows), PowerMail, and, for Mac OS X users, Apple’s Mail. As you would expect with HTML, the display (and even functionality) varies between these programs, and we had to make some compromises to achieve the best overall results. (Our efforts include one useful trick gleaned from a friend at Microsoft – it turns out Entourage and Outlook Express use a fast internal text engine to render simple HTML, but if the HTML includes more complex tags like TABLE or FORM, these programs instead turn to the slower but more capable Internet Explorer rendering engine.)
Overall, I’m happy with how the HTML versions came out, and initial reports from our small band of testers have been positive as well. However, since there’s no telling exactly how the HTML will work for you, I recommend that if you want to subscribe to one of the two HTML lists, you refrain from unsubscribing from the main setext list for a few weeks until you’re sure you like the HTML version. All that said, here are the details:
To receive full HTML issues, send any message to <[email protected]>.
To receive brief announcements in text format, send any message to <[email protected]>.
To receive brief announcements in HTML format, send any message to <[email protected]>.
And of course, for anyone who for some reason isn’t receiving our issues in text format and would like to, send any message to <[email protected]>.
In keeping with our consistent naming approach for administrative addresses, replacing "on" in any of those addresses with "off" will unsubscribe you from that list. Plus, if you prefer a Web-based form for subscribing, we have one of those available as well.
No matter which list you subscribe to, you’ll receive two replies, one confirming receipt of your request from ListSTAR and another once we’ve processed your request in our subscription database. If you subscribe via the Web, you’ll also receive an additional request for confirmation to prevent people from subscribing or unsubscribing others.
Finally, if you subscribe to TidBITS and don’t care about any of these new formats, you don’t need to do anything! We’re still publishing the text version of TidBITS via email, and have absolutely no plans to discontinue it. The idea here is to provide new options for people who want them, not to take anything away from anybody.
New Web Database Services — Along with these new mailing lists, Geoff has made some welcome changes to our article database, which we anticipate will be used more heavily thanks to the announcement versions of TidBITS. The URL below will bring up last week’s big article on Mac OS X 10.1 – take a look at it to follow along.
Three new icons (and associated link text) can appear at the top of every article in the database: "Discussed in TidBITS Talk," "Send via Email," and "Print Version."
Clicking the Print Version link opens a new page with another copy of the article that’s specially formatted for printing. We don’t like wasting paper, ink, or toner any more than anyone else, and we know that lots of people like to print TidBITS for reading away from the computer. The print version of an article eliminates our graphics, navigation bar, links to related articles, and everything else that loses meaning on paper; it also turns the links black so printing on an inkjet printer won’t accidently use colored ink. We chose not to mess with the font or size of the article, preferring to stick instead to your browser defaults; you may wish to change those or use other tools like Internet Explorer’s Print Preview to reduce the amount of paper used. The print version is also designed to be easy to copy and paste into another program if you need to do more extensive reformatting.
The Send via Email link takes you to a form where you can enter the necessary information to send an article to yourself or another person via email. You can send either the entire article in HTML or a text-only message containing a link to the article. You can also add your own message – we encourage (but don’t require) it to make sure recipients understand why they’re receiving the article from you via email.
TidBITS Syndication — One of my favorite books of all time is Dr. Seuss’s I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew (recommended for all ages, especially when you feel like you’re overwhelmed with troubles), which says, "Some times you are winners. Some times you’re losers. We can never win against so many Poozers." That’s a bit how I’ve felt for the last few years when trying to support new methods of publishing updates to TidBITS via the Web.
First we supported Intermind Communicator, one of the early "push" products, but that soon fell before the might of the industry goliaths, Microsoft and Netscape. Then we thought that if we couldn’t beat ’em, we’d join ’em, so we started publishing TidBITS in Microsoft’s Channel Definition Format (CDF). But it was poorly conceived and badly integrated into Internet Explorer, so it never took off and has been relegated to the dustbin of technology. We’re actually still publishing in CDF format since we automated the process years ago and there’s been no reason to shut it off – judging from our Web logs, a few people still read TidBITS via CDF in older versions of Internet Explorer.
Having been burned twice, I was shy to put any effort into what seems now to have become the winning format, RSS (Rich Site Summary), an XML-based language for describing the content of frequently updated Web publications. It’s actually a lot like CDF, but where CDF failed to catch on, RSS, with the backing and evangelism of UserLand and Netscape, has been adopted by many different sites. So, long after I should have jumped in, I built an RSS file and Geoff coaxed our database into automatically updating it.
For the most part, individuals don’t use RSS files directly. Instead, content aggregators like My.UserLand.Com, O’Reilly’s Meerkat, and NewsIsFree collect news headlines and (optionally) short article descriptions via RSS files and make them available to readers. You can even run your own content aggregator on your Mac – AmphetaDesk – and read selected RSS channels in a Web browser.
I’ve registered TidBITS with My.UserLand.Com and NewsIsFree, so you can go to either of those sites and see headlines from TidBITS along with innumerable others. (Meerkat claims to pick up new RSS feeds from UserLand and xmlTree, another collection of RSS feeds, though TidBITS hasn’t shown up in Meerkat just yet.)
I’m unsure if publishing an RSS file will drive significant traffic to our Web site. It will undoubtedly take some time for people who get their news via content aggregation sites to happen across TidBITS headlines. One thing that works against us is our relatively small number of articles each week; the headline listings are automatically biased toward publications with many articles. But as with other ways of reading TidBITS, such as our AvantGo channel, handheld edition, Palm DOC version maintained by Dave Charlesworth, and even the many translations put out by our worthy volunteer translators, what’s important is making the information available, not reaching some minimum number of readers.
Into the Next Century of TidBITS — What will TidBITS-700 bring? It’s about two years away, and I have no idea how things will change between then and now. It’s conceivable by then that we would have moved away from our legacy Mac OS systems (even as replacement hardware keeps getting cheaper), although we have a hard time replacing systems that aren’t broken. It’s also possible that some significant paradigm switch would have happened with content publication by then, but I personally suspect that the corner of the publishing world we inhabit will tend to remain roughly the same. But hey, as long as we’re having fun, doing good work, and publishing articles you want to read, there are far worse things than finding ourselves doing much the same thing two years hence.