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The top news this week is the proposed settlement in the Microsoft antitrust case – will it meet your needs? Adam also looks at a new service from Internet payment service Kagi that’s aimed at helping fans support their favorite artists. John Moltz joins us with some opinions on iPod-enabled piracy, Tonya previews a new utility from Microsoft, and we examine Apple’s new support options. In the news, we pass on video evidence of Apple’s next iDevice (think TiVo), and tell you of a new email filtering service from the SpamCop folks.

Jeff Carlson No comments

Video Details of Apple iTiVo Revealed

Video Details of Apple iTiVo Revealed — Based on unconfirmed but reliable reports from within Apple, the company is planning to release its own digital video recorder (DVR) device, based on technology licensed from TiVo, Inc. (see "TiVo: Freedom Through Time-Shifting" in TidBITS-594). Tentatively dubbed "iTiVo," the device adds television viewing to Apple’s digital hub concept by enabling owners to record television programs to the iTiVo’s massive 160 GB hard disk, play the programming back at the their leisure, and transfer shows to a FireWire-connected Mac as QuickTime movies – ideal for PowerBook and iBook owners wanting to watch TV on the go. Although early reports suggest that Apple ported the TiVo’s Linux-based software to run under Mac OS X, leaked video footage of the device in use suggests that Apple has changed little with the existing TiVo software (much the way Handspring and Sony use slightly modified versions of the Palm OS). Technical specifications remain sketchy, but – at least based on the video linked below – the iTiVo appears to support memory and hard disk upgrades, AirPort access (for setting recording options from your Mac instead of relying on the included remote control), and Apple’s innovative industrial design. [JLC]




Adam Engst No comments

GramCop Filters Poorly Written Email

GramCop Filters Poorly Written Email — Tired of reading email that’s rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes? Concerned that the rise of quick email and instant messaging has caused writing skills to deteriorate to the point of incomprehensibility? Thanks to a new service from the people who brought you SpamCop, you can restrict incoming mail to those messages that the senders care enough about to have checked spelling and basic grammar. Luckily, tools exist to ease the burden on those whose spelling and grammar skills aren’t sufficient to get past GramCop’s weighted checks. Many email programs, including Eudora, Microsoft Outlook Express and Entourage, and Apple’s Mail under Mac OS X, include spell-checking capabilities, and third-party solutions such as Casady & Greene’s Spell Catcher and Grammarian exist for those who prefer other email programs. Although grammar checking tools have long been derided for their inaccuracy, GramCop supplements the automatic tools with moonlighting 7th grade English teachers whose efforts should help improve GramCop’s accuracy (and also help support our nation’s educators).




GramCop costs $30 per year for individuals; discount pricing is available, as are site licenses if you want GramCop to filter poorly composed email for an entire domain. A separate $10 per year service includes detailed explanations of the spelling and grammatical errors in the bounces that are returned to the original senders; GramCop expects this to be popular with people for whom English is a secondary language and who wish to improve their writing skills. [ACE]

Matt Neuburg No comments

Microsoft Settlement Vows Bug-Free Software

In a surprise joint press conference Saturday morning in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, along with the legal representatives of nine U.S. states, announced agreement upon a new set of proposed remedies, in exchange for which the states would drop all pending antitrust proceedings against Microsoft. By terms of the agreement, Microsoft would henceforth cease to charge customers for software upgrades that failed to fix existing bugs or that introduced new ones. Mark Breckler, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, expressed it jokingly this way: "From now on, the software works or it’s FREEEEEEE!!!!"


The idea for the settlement, it was explained, had come from Gates himself, who had arrived at it while reading an old Dilbert cartoon where the punch line was, "What our customers want is software without bugs, for free." Gates explained that, after initially wondering why this was funny, he had started thinking more about it. "We can’t necessarily provide software without bugs, and if we do, it clearly can’t be provided for free; but if we don’t, surely we shouldn’t be penalizing customers for our mistakes." Gates described this way of looking at software pricing as coming to him like a bolt from the blue. "I simply had never thought of it this way before. The moment I got it, I said, ‘Gee, no wonder everyone’s mad at us!’"

Some details of the settlement remain to be arranged. In reality, Breckler said that Microsoft’s software would probably never be completely free; a more likely approach would be that, for every bug in the software, the customer would simply receive a partial refund, or a credit against the purchase of the next version. Plus, the size of this credit might be pro-rated against the customer’s needs. For example, a German customer would be credited $.01 every time a bug prevented him from typing an u-umlaut in Microsoft Word, whereas an American customer who never used German words and never encountered this bug would not get credit for it.

As Gates put it, "Customers who buy our software and encounter bugs are like pioneers; instead of penalizing them for being early adopters, we should be paying them for finding and suffering through the bugs. This plan gives us a way to do that via secure .NET services, including a new MyBugs bug reporting service." Gates expressed a hope that other software companies would follow Microsoft’s lead with this pricing model, and warned that failure to do so might cause customers to prefer Microsoft’s software to other brands. The settlement plan must now go before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly; a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for next week.

Privacy advocates and representatives of companies aligned against Microsoft immediately warned of Microsoft’s requirement that users must have a Passport account to use the MyBugs .NET service. Gates dismissed the concerns, saying that Microsoft had already announced it would lead the industry to a whole new level of trustworthiness in computing.

Adam Engst No comments

Apple Offers Savvy Support Options

You’ve undoubtedly been in this situation before. Something goes wrong with your Mac, you work through the standard troubleshooting, search the Internet for additional information, try a few additional wacky ideas, and finally call Apple’s technical support. Then you end up talking to some poor tech support person who probably has only a few months of experience, is desperately trying to search the support database, and who is probably earning only $12 per hour. "Yes," you reply wearily after waiting on hold for 25 minutes, "I’ve tried restarting the Mac and rebuilding the Desktop. I’m trying to find out if you’ve seen any Mac OS X crashes related to interactions with some Apple-supplied USB devices that work fine in Mac OS 9."

At long last, Apple has moved to address this annoying and expensive situation with the Virtual Genius Bar, staffed by Apple’s most experienced Mac support engineers, and accessible only to those users who really do know what they’re talking about. Access to the Virtual Genius Bar will be protected by a combination of an online "Genius Test" of Macintosh knowledge and a situation-specific "Just Checking" quiz that requires users to acknowledge that they’ve worked through basic troubleshooting. Apple stores the Genius Test results with your Apple ID; questions will be added to the Genius Test every so often to make sure those who have passed the test stay up-to-date on their knowledge. It’s also not just a pass-fail test – you’ll actually get a Genius rating.

Calling the tech support engineers at the Virtual Genius Bar requires connecting to Apple’s support Web site with your Apple ID, making sure your Genius Test rating is up-to-date, and completing a Just Checking quiz for the appropriate topic area. You then receive an incident-specific password code that, when entered after calling Apple’s standard support phone number (800/275-2273), routes your call to the Virtual Genius Bar queue. As with Apple’s existing AppleCare SupportLine, calls are free for the first 90 days; afterwards they cost $50 per incident.

Apple, of course, prefers customers use electronic forms of support, and to further that end, the Virtual Genius Bar has a Web-based component as well. Anyone can read the Virtual Genius Bar discussion forums, but only those who have passed the Genius Test have posting privileges, which significantly increases the likelihood that answers from other users will be helpful (and Genius ratings will be shown with answers). Even better, the Virtual Genius Bar support engineers will monitor and participate in these discussion forums regularly. Other planned tweaks include letting the Virtual Genius Bar support folks delete posts and modify Genius ratings, add links to and from Knowledge Base articles, and special filter options that will show only answers from Apple engineers or users with sufficiently high Genius ratings. Reportedly, Virtual Genius Bar support engineers will also have the option of taking an incident to private email if that would prove more efficient, although I’ll believe that when I see it.



Nevertheless, it’s extremely heartening to see Apple acknowledging the knowledge and experience of its user base. Along with the obvious benefit to users frustrated by working with inexperienced support engineers, Apple stands to benefit as well. Support calls should be shorter, difficult questions should go directly to qualified support engineers, and the searchable archive of the discussions could become an excellent support tool in its own right.

John Moltz No comments

iPod: Pirates’ Delight?

You may not know it, but there’s a scandal brewing around the iPod.

According to a recent article at Wired News, the iPod is being used to steal software right from under the noses of computer store employees. The iPod is perfect for stealing boatloads of rich, delicious software thanks to its FireWire port, its capability to act like an external hard drive, and its eminently concealable (though highly stylish) form factor.

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Shocking, isn’t it?

Well, it might be shocking, if there were anything more than anecdotal evidence that people are actually using the iPod to steal software. The Wired article mentions a grand total of one incident carried out by a teenager at a CompUSA store in Texas. It also might be shocking if this were the first time software had been stolen off a computer. Or if the iPod were the only way to do it.

Personally, I think it would be shocking if the thieves where carrying out these acts in the nude. Or if, every time you read about one of these thefts, you were somehow hit with 10,000 volts. That would really be shocking.

But as it is, software copying via iPod is shocking only if you’re incredibly naive. It’s a universal constant that some teenagers, like the one in the Wired article, will steal things. Likewise, some adults steal things. Some hamsters even steal things. It’s just that they usually steal from other hamsters so you generally never read about it. Unless they take hostages. That doesn’t happen very often, though, because in order to make a getaway, they have to get the hostage hamsters to run in the same direction with them in that little ball, which is hard to do and…

Wait a minute, where was I?

Right, stealing. Stealing software off computer hard drives is not exactly a new phenomenon. Long before the iPod was even a Jonathan Ive concept drawing, you could copy an entire application with just one floppy disk. And I’m not talking TeachText here, I’m talking PageMaker. What’s more, it’s a little known fact that the entire operating system for the ENIAC was once stolen by writing it down on a 3" by 5" note card. True story.

Anyway, as application sizes have grown, floppies have long since fallen by the wayside as a realistic medium for stealing software. Not to mention the fact that Macs have lacked floppy drives for years. But media formats and data transfer rates have once again caught up to the size of applications, so now there are other options, ranging from digital cameras holding Compact Flash cards to CD-RW to FireWire hard drives even larger than the 5 GB or 10 GB drive in the iPod. The only difference with the iPod is that it is also an MP3 player, so thieves can more easily pretend to be grooving to Pat Boone while they’re surreptitiously snagging software.

Which brings up a point about the incident at CompUSA. Not to blame the victim here, but is it surprising this happened, given that CompUSA hides the Macs in the back of the store, sandwiched between the peripherals that time forgot? Not to mention the fact that the staff goes out of their way to avoid talking to potential customers about the Mac.

I’m surprised CompUSA doesn’t have a problem with people first stealing the iPod and then using it to steal a bunch of software. If it weren’t chained down, a thief could probably make off with the entire Mac before someone in a red shirt finally came around to ask if he wanted to look at Windows XP. And even then, a simple question about Mac OS X would probably confuse the employee long enough to make a leisurely getaway.

Maybe I’m being too hard on CompUSA.

No, I just read back through that, and it seems about right.

So does the iPod make it easier to steal software? Sure, if a potential thief doesn’t already own a digital camera or FireWire hard drive, or can’t afford a 10-pack of CD-R discs that are on sale for $6.99 at CompUSA today. My recommendation is, before you let anyone get into a lather about the iPod aiding and abetting software theft, ask them one question: "If the iPod bothers you so much, why aren’t you also concerned about the startling increase in hamster crime?" I find that usually shuts them up.

[John Moltz is the author of Crazy Apple Rumors Site and a pamphlet entitled "Hamsters: Our Furry Friends." When he’s not writing, John enjoys long division and Hashido, the Japanese art of fighting with chopsticks.]


Tonya Engst No comments

Microsoft AutoGadget Formats the Finder

Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit, clearly looking for a new direction after last year’s release of Office v.X, today announced AutoGadget, a Mac OS X-only utility that brings a bevy of Microsoft’s automatic editing and formatting tools to the Finder. In their press release, Microsoft said, "Experts in our usability labs have found that Office users actually have a measurable increase in certain stress hormones when Office’s automatic tools aren’t available." AutoGadget comes on the heels of a recent directive from Bill Gates that Microsoft should explore ways to make the computing environment less stressful. Intriguing features of AutoGadget include:

  • Underlining of misspelled text in Finder windows – no more embarrassing typos in file names.

  • AutoFiltering options for quickly changing which files are visible in a Finder folder. For instance, you might want to see only files older than five days, or only files that contain certain text strings. (The latter only operates if Sherlock’s content indexing enabled for the vollume.)

  • Filename AutoCorrect that corrects common typos as you type and automatically ensures that filenames don’t contain characters illegal in other operating systems.

  • 17 different AutoFormat designs that let you set individual Finder windows to different themes – our favorites include ledger, cyberpunk, beach, universe, and – for very occasional use – spinning pom-poms.

  • The capability to convert any Finder folder into a floating list, along the lines of Excel’s List Manager. In essence, the folder becomes a mini-database where you can easily add new, blank files or folders, which could be a good way to map out a Web site or set up a folder for a new project. Once the folder is a list, you can add a bottom row and a left-most column whose contents are calculated using Excel’s arithmetic or time functions, potentially helpful in time and project tracking.

Microsoft isn’t known as a player in the Macintosh utility field, and it’s uncertain how the overall Mac community will receive AutoGadget, especially given the level to which Office’s automatic tools have engendered love/hate reactions. Still, each AutoGadget feature can be turned on or off independently of the others, so if you generally like Office’s helping hand, give AutoGadget a try.

AutoGadget 1.0 will ship with the next service release of Office v.X (which is required for AutoGadget to work), and – in an effort to acquaint all Office v.X users with Microsoft’s new emphasis on relaxation – is also available now as a free download from Microsoft’s Mactopia Web site.


Adam Engst No comments

Mac Mania Geek Cruise Meets the Love Boat?

It’s looking as though this May’s upcoming Mac Mania Geek Cruise could be even more interesting than previously thought. Sure, Woz will be there, talking about the history of the Apple II and showing off the sheets of uncut $2 bills with which he loves to tweak cashiers. And if folks like yours truly, Bob LeVitus, David Pogue, Glenn Fleishman, Tom Negrino, Dori Smith, and Sal Soghoian aren’t enough, there’s always John de Lancie – Star Trek’s "Q." How do you top that?


I realize this will sound like the TV Guide synopsis of a late-night made-for-television movie, but just imagine what would happen if you mixed that combination of Macintosh luminaries, a Hollywood actor, and the hundreds of other Mac enthusiasts with numerous attendees and actors from the original series on the First International Love Boat Fan Cruise. I believe the technical term for such a situation is "hilarity ensues."

That’s right. I was bouncing around on Google, trying to learn more about cruises, given that most of my knowledge of them comes from watching a few episodes of The Love Boat back in the late 1970s (keep in mind that I was 11 and we only got four TV channels, so there wasn’t a lot of choice). Suddenly I came across a page for the First International Love Boat Fan Cruise, a 7-day cruise with activities that, as with Mac Mania, take place during the "at sea" days. That piqued my curiosity, as did the "Actual date to be locked shortly" tagline at the top, and a quick email to the organizer, Rick Portes, confirmed that he had indeed switched from the Sea Princess cruise in the Caribbean to an Alaska cruise aboard Holland America’s ms Volendam at the end of May.


"I realize it’s a bit of a change from the original Love Boat approach of fun in the sun," he said in email. "But as Captain Stubing would have said, it’s always good to try something new."

Reactions of the Mac Mania speakers to the news that they’d be sharing a cruise boat with hundreds of Love Boat fans were universally positive. Bob LeVitus, speaking about himself in the third person, said, "I think it’s absolutely fabulous. I mean, where else are you going to learn about Mac OS X from Bob ‘Dr. Mac’ LeVitus, and then frag one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, Bernie (The Love Boat’s ‘Doc’) Kopell, in a game of Quake III Arena? And where else could you do it on a luxurious cruise through the unspoiled Alaskan wilderness with thousands of gallons of free booze?"

Dori Smith, author of a number of books on Java and JavaScript, concurred. "Ever since Tom [Negrino] proposed to me on the very first Geek Cruise two years ago, I’ve thought of all Geek Cruises as Love Boats. Of course, I was teaching at the time, so I freaked out and told him to go away and stop bothering me. He then moped for the rest of the cruise, so I guess that didn’t work out so well. Now that we’re going on an official Love Boat cruise, our marriage is sure to be nothing but smooth sailing! (And no, I’m not making this up, as you can see at the end of this Wall Street Journal article.)"

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AppleScript guru Sal Soghoian focused on the technical qualifications of the Love Boat fans. "It’s not well known that frequent Love Boat guest star Florence Henderson taught Bernie Kopell how to write AppleScript," he said, "but I don’t think she’d mind me divulging that fact. I’m hoping she’ll swing by my AppleScript session and show off some of her ‘Brady Bunch’ scripts – they’re hilarious."

There may be other linkages between the two theme cruises given actor John de Lancie’s connections with the Love Boat series, and there have already been rumblings on the Mac Mania speaker’s list about what will happen if a cross-platform romantic complications crop up between a Titanium-toting Mac geek and a Love Boat fan with a Sony Vaio due to an inability to chat via computer-to-computer wireless network. The mind boggles.

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Adam Engst No comments

Kagi Helps Fans Support Artists

We’ve been writing a lot about issues surrounding copyright and just how artists (of all sorts) can earn a living in this digital world, where so many of the barriers to copying and sharing content have fallen by the wayside. Being writers and musicians (well, Geoff is, anyway) as well as the type of people who try to explain complex situations, we’ve suffered conflicting thoughts. We believe that content creators should have the right to benefit financially from their work, but we believe equally strongly that those rights are granted to content creators to serve the public good. Any solution – however partial – to the legitimate concerns surrounding rampant copying of digital content of all sorts must take into account the needs of the content creators and the needs of the public good.

Plus, any discussion must acknowledge that once the genie of technology has escaped its bottle, it will never consent to return to the bottle’s confines. The world was never the same after the introduction of the printing press, the power loom, the automobile, the atomic bomb, and the birth control pill. The combination of digital content, high-speed Internet access, and peer-to-peer file sharing networks may herald an equally great sea change that – like it or not – will force changes in our social, business, and legal infrastructure.

Some may be good, others less so, but we have high hopes for a new project from Internet payment service Kagi. Unlike the much larger PayPal, Kagi has always moved carefully and stayed small, privately held, and profitable, giving the company the latitude to experiment. And what an experiment this one is!

Direct Support — The major tension in the music world has been that fans generally want to support their favorite artists, but they have no desire to line the pockets of the recording industry, especially knowing that artists never see the bulk of the cost of an audio CD. And that even ignores the granularity problem – you may be more than happy to pay $1 for a song you like, but that doesn’t mean you’re willing to pay $15 for the CD that contains it. Unfortunately, there’s no way to send money directly to artists, and certainly no way to pay the amount you feel a song, or a full CD, is worth. All that has changed now.

Kagi is just starting a project called Tipping Worldwide Entertainment Artists via Kagi (TWEAK), which enables exactly this – you can give money to any artist as a voluntary donation in appreciation of their work. The donation is explicitly not structured as a payment for downloaded music or a license to anything, since many artists undoubtedly have signed away such rights in their recording contracts.

Artists don’t even have to sign up with Kagi in advance. A fan can go to the TWEAK Web site and make a donation to literally any artist (the site lets you choose from a list of artists already in the system and you can always enter new ones). Kagi will do their best to find the artist and transfer the money. Kee Nethery, founder and CEO of Kagi, said that he hopes to set up a Web site where Internet users can help track down artists who prove difficult to find. And in the event that an artist has died, Kagi plans to distribute the funds to the artist’s estate or heirs, as appropriate. Again, because these payments are purely voluntary donations and aren’t tied to copyright, they can in fact be made to artists whose works are long out of copyright. Of course, there will be instances where Kagi simply cannot find an appropriate recipient for the donated funds. Kee has said that after a year of searching for the artist, the funds will go to an appropriate non-profit artist support organization. A future version of the site will identify which artists have been contacted, and for those who can’t be found, users will be presented with the choice of non-profit organizations to receive their donation.


You might wonder what’s in it for Kagi, and it’s quite simple. They hold all payments for four months before sending the money on to the artist, earning the interest on the accumulated funds (and as with their existing payment service, artists can opt to receive checks only every so often anyway, providing Kagi with additional interest earnings). Obviously, the income Kagi stands to earn on any individual payment is extremely small; they’re betting on a high volume of payments.

Getting the Word Out — Obviously, if TWEAK has to rely purely on word of mouth, the project likely won’t be able to collect significant sums for artists all that quickly. But some people have already suggested that a TWEAK URL could be added to MP3 songs’ filenames or to their ID3 tags, making it much easier for people who were downloading music on the Internet to express their appreciation to their favorite artists. Although TWEAK doesn’t currently support custom URLs for each artist, Kee said that feature is in the plans to make donating money even easier.

Even better, developers of some of the peer-to-peer file sharing network clients, such as LimeWire, Kazaa, Morpheus, and eDonkey2000, have expressed interest in adding TWEAK support. Instead of relying on clumsy URLs embedded in filenames or ID3 tags, the programs could read the artist name (usually embedded in the filename) and provide, perhaps through a contextual menu item, a direct link to a TWEAK URL. Future interfaces might even suggest donations at appropriate points in the process of searching for or downloading music.

Should TWEAK prove successful, I could see artists intentionally distributing their work purely on the Internet and working hard to develop the kind of followings that would provide a steady income stream. And that’s certainly the goal – a situation where artists earn a living writing, composing, or performing for the public good.