Not enamored with Mac OS X’s Dock? Adam looks at some Mac OS X utilities that give you more launching options than ever before. You could even run these utilities on Apple’s just-released update to the Titanium PowerBook G4 or the new education-only eMac. Then Matt Deatherage joins us with a look at Bill Gates’s testimony in the most recent phase of the Microsoft antitrust case. In the news: another Retrospect 5.0 update and WebSTAR 4.5 for Mac OS 9.
Another Retrospect 5.0 Update Fixes More Problems — Dantz Development has released another update to Retrospect 5.0, fixing two problems. In all editions of Retrospect, the 5.0.205 update fixes a problem that caused a crash when scanning icons and privileges of files with names longer than 31 characters. The problem could also result in a Retro.Icons file that could be hundreds of megabytes in size – feel free to delete that file. Also fixed is a problem that could cause Retrospect Express to display an erroneous error message after automatic launch or after double-clicking a Run document – the message incorrectly claimed that automatic execution had failed. Still up in the air are problems relating to AppleShare IP servers, so don’t be surprised to see another update soon. Also coming soon will be an update for the version of Retrospect Express bundled with Norton SystemWorks 2.0. The updates are free and build in the previous fixes as well; make sure to download the appropriate update for either Retrospect Desktop/Workgroup/Server (4.1 MB) or Retrospect Express (3.6 MB). [ACE]
4D Updates WebSTAR 4.5 for Mac OS 9 — Kudos to 4D for releasing WebSTAR Server Suite 4.5 for Mac OS 9 users today. Despite focusing attention on the Mac OS X-compatible WebSTAR V (which still lacks the email server component of WebSTAR 4.5), 4D took the time to decarbonize the Web server in WebSTAR 4.5 to improve performance and eliminate memory leaks. Also new are an enhanced File Upload plug-in that supports long file names and a new version of the WebSTAR Admin application. The update is free to all WebSTAR 4.x users and is available as a 49 MB download. [ACE]
A scant four months after announcing the death of the CRT in favor of flat-panel LCD displays, Apple today introduced the eMac, an all-in-one G4-based Macintosh strictly for the education market – and to keep costs down, the eMac is built around a 17-inch CRT display supporting resolutions up to 1,280 by 960 pixels.
On the outside, the all-white eMac looks much like the original iMac, and its roughly similar footprint means it will fit on existing furniture, despite having a larger screen. Under the hood, the eMac offers a 700 MHz PowerPC G4 processor, 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard disk, an Nvidia GeForce2 MX graphics processor with 32 MB of video memory, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, three USB ports (plus two more on the keyboard), two FireWire ports, a headphone jack and a built-in microphone along with an audio input jack, optional AirPort support, and a mini-VGA port for video mirroring. Two configurations are available: the $1,000 eMac offers a 32x CD-ROM drive (for schools preferring non-recordable Macs in labs and classrooms), and a $1,200 edition includes a DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive and a 56 Kbps modem. Apple also offers a nifty tilt and swivel stand for the eMac.
The eMac will be available in May to the U.S. and Canadian education market, which wanted a display larger than 1,024 by 768 pixels and has been underwhelmed by the price tag of Apple’s new flat-screen iMac. The eMac fits that bill, and its introduction is well-timed: right now, schools are planning budgets and purchases for the next academic year. In the past, Apple has often missed the boat with product announcements or price drops in July or August. The eMac seems like a good idea: it may not greatly bolster Apple’s bottom line, but it could help increase Apple’s share of the education market.
TiBooks to 800 MHz — Apple has also revised the high-end Titanium PowerBook G4 line. The most visible change is the screen: it still measures 15.2 inches but now offers a resolution of 1,280 by 854 pixels, up from the 1,152 by 768 pixels of its predecessors – a 25 percent pixel increase. An ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 processor with 32 MB video memory drives the display.
The new machines sport processors up to 800 MHz with 1 MB of L3 processor cache, Gigabit Ethernet, and a DVI video connector for connecting to digital displays. (A DVI to VGA adapter is included; Apple also introduced a $150 DVI to ADC adapter to connect Apple’s own digital displays.) The new PowerBooks are available immediately starting at $2,500, with processor speeds of 667 MHz and 800 MHz, 256 to 512 MB RAM, a slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, 30 to 60 GB hard disks, and optional AirPort support. Pricing is higher than the previous low-end of the Titanium line, but cheaper than the previous 667 MHz model.
[A quick refresher in the Microsoft antitrust case. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found that Microsoft was indeed a monopoly and ordered the company broken up. Microsoft appealed, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the breakup order, and, after the Bush administration took over, the Justice Department dropped its efforts to break up Microsoft. Of the states involved in the case, nine plus the District of Columbia broke ranks with the Justice Department in the remedy phase and are seeking harsher terms than those proposed by the Justice Department and the nine remaining states. -Adam]
Bill Gates took the stand last week in the Microsoft antitrust remedy hearings, and from most accounts, acquitted himself well, far better than in his previous videotaped depositions. Joe Wilcox of CNet News said Gates "redeemed himself as a witness." The Washington Post described Gates’s depositions in the earlier trial as "embarrassing" but said this time, "a well-prepared Gates provided a human face and a modicum of deference," and that he was a "controlled, polite, and more mature chairman" who "displayed encyclopaedic knowledge" of the proposed remedy. Other reports described Gates as calm, thorough, and professional. (If you haven’t yet seen full reports of Gates’s testimony, read the links below.)
Despite these positive reports, the technical community immediately insisted he was lying when he said that Microsoft could not remove components of Windows such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. In the Eastside Journal of the Seattle area where Microsoft is based, writer Cydney Gillis reported on people skeptical of Gates’s claim, including Dave Winer. At UserLand, Winer ran a survey on the topic, and out of 413 votes expressing an opinion, only 1 percent say Gates was telling the whole truth. 64 percent say he’s lying and 30 percent say he’s misleading by saying code couldn’t be removed from the current Windows without breaking it.
The reporters present in the courtroom say Gates did well, and hundreds of people who weren’t there think he’s lying. Some of that’s gratuitous Microsoft bashing, no doubt, but most complaints are technical. People do not understand how something that was a separate program now can’t be separate again. Since the court will decide the question, it’s worth exploring.
Background Concepts — Let’s try to take the issue in Mac OS 9 terms for clarity. Many key components of Mac OS 9 are implemented as extensions – AppleScript, QuickTime, Disc Burner, and even USB and FireWire support. Reboot without these extensions, and you get a version of Mac OS 9 without their capabilities. Any program that requires one of these components, however, will not run without them – QuickTime Player won’t run without QuickTime, DragThing won’t run without AppleScript, and no Carbon application runs unless CarbonLib is present.
Yet these programs do not crash, they simply don’t function as you expect. That’s because Apple has, for about fifty years, warned developers to make sure a component is available before calling it. Programs that call components that aren’t installed crash hard. Checking before calling a component is roughly equivalent to making sure your car has come to a complete stop before getting out.
Back to Windows. The states that don’t want to settle with Microsoft say that since programs like Internet Explorer, MovieMaker, Windows Media Player, and MSN Messenger were previously stand-alone programs, they can stand alone again. Any integration into the operating system should be like an extension, so programmers can use them only if present, and so other companies can replace them with their own versions. Microsoft says that’s technically impossible.
Obviously it is possible, since Windows programs have had to work with or without those components in the past. Now however, many programs, including some in Windows, do not work properly in the absence of those components because their presence is assumed. If a necessary component were to be removed today, those programs would break, just like Gates says. That’s not what the states have in mind, but that’s the way he’s spinning it.
Gates’s testimony says that to meet the states’ requirement that Microsoft remove components from Windows while maintaining the capabilities of Windows APIs, the company would have to leave the binary code for all those components in Windows after all. If you take out Internet Explorer and its HTML rendering engine, Windows stops displaying all HTML, including help text. Windows doesn’t duplicate Internet Explorer’s HTML rendering in other code – take out Internet Explorer, and HTML goes with it.
Microsoft chose a similar approach during the trial in 1998, breaking Windows by ripping out every piece of code Internet Explorer used rather than repackaging it as a replaceable module. Microsoft feared, then as now, that proving it can modularize software would mean a court would eventually require modularized versions of Windows, in turn forcing Microsoft to give up the control over which programs stay installed in Windows. The states say Microsoft shouldn’t be able to do that anyway, and Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to make sure it can.
Weasel Words — So how can Microsoft say modularity is impossible under the states’ proposed remedy? The weaseling is in the word "middleware," used in the remedy to identify the components that would have be modular. Microsoft and Gates say the word is so poorly defined it could refer to any API – that is, any routine at all in Windows. It’s as if Apple not only had to make QuickTime a separate extension, but also make every routine within QuickTime a separate extension that could be removed or replaced at will.
That approach would never work – programmers can test for components before using them, but not for every single API. It would lead to chaos and mass confusion, exactly the effects Gates describes. By hammering on the details and dogmatically sticking to the worst possible interpretation of the proposal, Microsoft is trying to make sure only Microsoft decides what is and is not part of Windows, the company’s position since 1995. And it’s truthful, too: Gates says the proposed remedy can be read this way, and if it can, Microsoft may have to implement it this way.
Actually, he’s signalling the court that Microsoft will read it this way, ripping out sections of "middleware" under court order even though other parts of Windows might need the APIs they provide. Such versions would never wind up on store shelves, but if a PC maker purchases more than 10,000 Windows licenses and demands that Internet Explorer be removed, Microsoft would rip it out, breaking any program that needs HTML rendering. Such a modified Windows might not even boot.
The new remedy would also require that any "modular" versions run "without performance degradation" over the full version. Microsoft says it absolutely cannot do that. Adding checks to see if HTML rendering is present adds more instructions to a program and therefore degrades its performance. Hence Gates’s assertion of impossibility: if you remove something, the resulting operating system either doesn’t function right or is slower than the full version. It’s an extreme reading, but it’s within the language of the remedy.
Given the choice between stripping features out of Windows to the point where it might not even boot (thus undoubtedly provoking complaints and legal challenges from affected PC makers), or being accused of degrading performance by adding checks for missing components, Gates indirectly cautioned the court that Microsoft would pick the former. With the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals’s past track record of supporting Microsoft in designing its products, the likelihood of a punitive injunction against the company for not obeying any remedy is small. Also, as the Washington Post reports, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is sustaining almost every Microsoft objection, and allowing Microsoft to make presentations to the court when the states were barred from similar presentations despite numerous pleas. Don’t count on the courts spanking Microsoft for hyper-literalism.
Back to the original question. Was Gates lying? No. He testified that a decree will cause some behavior in the future and that it’s "impossible" to make it work the way the states want. It’s legal posturing, certainly, but as Microsoft Chairman, he can make sure his testimony comes true.
The states can either admit that Microsoft will sabotage their proposal or come back to the court with one so tightly worded that Microsoft cannot read it in any way other than the way it’s intended, a difficult if not impossible task. Last Tuesday’s testimony confirmed this, as the states’s attorney portrayed Gates as deliberately adopting the most extreme interpretations, unsuccessfully attempting to get Gates to provide more acceptable language on the stand.
In short, Gates’s testimony was consistent with everything he has said and done for his company since this mess started – promising the world that any restriction on Windows that Microsoft didn’t like would result in a version of Windows the world wouldn’t like. It’s not an empty threat.
[Matt Deatherage is the publisher of MacJournals.com, where he oversees MDJ and MWJ – daily and weekly subscription-based, ad-free journals for serious Macintosh users. For a free trial, visit MacJournals.com.]
In the previous installment of this series on Mac OS X utilities, I looked at Mac OS X programs that restored common capabilities provided by third party utilities in Mac OS 9. I said then that I was ignoring a large subset of that category, utilities that offer alternative control mechanisms.
Even though utilities like DragThing, QuicKeys X, and TypeIt4Me X may not seem similar, a close look reveals that all offer alternative approaches to completing common tasks, ranging from opening files to entering text automatically. Each utility’s raison d’etre is that its alternative method is either faster than the standard approach or fits better with the way your brain is wired. Because of the significant overlap among these utilities, I’ll start with launchers and work through to those that just insert text.
DragThing — One of the best known of the alternative launchers is James Thomson’s DragThing, which has provided Dock-like functions for years. You can create multiple docks, add files or folders to those docks, assign hot keys to any item, and far more (including, oddly enough, the option to put the Trash back on the Desktop). DragThing offers significant customizability – colors, textures, hot spots, sounds to play, delays before various actions happen, alias handling, and numerous other settings. The multitude of options and settings probably defines DragThing’s audience – if you love tweaking your virtual environment, DragThing probably fits your tastes. DragThing costs $25 shareware (floating dock windows and hot key support aren’t enabled until you register); competitive upgrades from Semicolon Software’s The Tilery launcher – which won’t be moving to Mac OS X – Aladdin’s DragStrip, and Power On Software’s Action GoMac cost $19. DragThing 4.3 is a 1.3 MB download.
MaxMenus — Although DragThing uses screen real estate efficiently, for a less cluttered look, check out Proteron’s MaxMenus. Taking its cue from Power On Software’s Action Menus, the MaxMenus preference pane lets you create numerous custom menus activated by clicking in the corners of the screen (MaxMenus supports two monitors), by clicking in unused space in the menu bar, or by pressing a hot key. These menus can contain any file or folder, plus special items like text labels, separators, mounted volumes, open programs, recent applications, recent documents, and System Preferences. The corner-based and hot-key-activated hierarchical menus can be spring-loaded, so dragging items into those menus copies or moves them; you can also grab items out of a menu. If that’s not enough, you can assign a hot key to any individual item while you’re viewing it in a menu. After thinking about how I wanted to set up MaxMenus, I found it extremely useful – definitely a winner. My only negative so far is that it won’t open files or folders on shared volumes that aren’t mounted. MaxMenus 1.1 costs $30; a 30-day trial version is a 1.1 MB download. Through 05-May-02, owners of Power On Software’s Action Utilities can save $10 on MaxMenus with the coupon code ACTN2MAX and their Action Utilities serial number.
piPop — Where MaxMenus can overwhelm you with possibilities, piDog Software’s piPop (previously called piDock) offers a more focused approach. Move your cursor to the edge of the screen, and piPop’s hierarchical menu appears. Navigate through the menu, and click to open a selected item. You can also drag an item from piPop’s menu to move it, copy it, or open it in another application, and you can even tear off menus and leave them floating on screen for repeated access. Although piPop doesn’t attempt to be as customizable as MaxMenus, Control-clicking the piPop menu lets you set various options, such as which edge of the screen activates piPop, whether a modifier key should be required, and which folders are at piPop’s top level. piPop is at version 2.0b2 as I write this, and although updates have been arriving regularly, it still has stability problems: it doesn’t avoid the Dock if both occupy the same edge of the screen, and I was unable to make a feature that mimics Mac OS 9’s spring-loaded folders in Mac OS X work reliably. Nonetheless, piPop is worth watching, even if you haven’t moved to Mac OS X, since it works under Mac OS 9 as well. The suggested registration fee for piPop is $20 to eliminate startup nags; it’s a 1 MB download.
Snard — Gideon Softworks’ Snard creates a custom system-wide menu (a separate Dock version provides almost the same capabilities and is available even when you’re in Classic applications) into which you can put files and folders; applications can display recently accessed documents in a hierarchical menu as well. The menu can also serve up special items including a Find command, a Recent Servers menu, a System Preference menu, and an Open as Administrator command. You can create and name text separators, and you can create your own hierarchical menus with groups. A different sort of group – worksets – lets you open a number of applications and documents with a single click. Selecting an item is the only way to open it – Snard has no hot key support. I found Snard’s configuration window flaky, and the only features that distinguish it are its worksets and server list. Snard 1.0 costs $10 and is a 1.6 MB download (1.1 MB for the Dock version).
LaunchBar — For ad hoc keyboard control of your Mac, look to Objective Development’s LaunchBar. At its heart, LaunchBar is deceptively simple – press Command-Spacebar to display LaunchBar’s small pop-up window, type a few letters of the filename you want to open, and press Return. The real power of LaunchBar lies in its sophisticated matching algorithms. When I entered EA, for example, LaunchBar matched it with EIMS Admin. Typing LP didn’t initially select LetterRip Pro Administrator, but I was able to find it in the list of possible matches. Since LaunchBar’s algorithm is adaptive, every time I entered LP from then on, LetterRip Pro Administrator was the default match. For abbreviations unrelated to the file’s name (matching MAIL to Eudora, for instance), you can create manual aliases. Along with files, folders, and disks, LaunchBar can also open URLs (from your bookmarks), create mail with email addresses (from your address book), and jump directly to preference panes inside System Preferences. Plus, you can drag files onto LaunchBar’s pop-up window for launching with specific applications or performing various file operations like moving, copying, or making a link (including aliases, absolute and relative symbolic links, and hard links). LaunchBar is simply brilliant, although there’s still room for improvement. I’d like it to send text selections to specific applications (such as a word to Omni Dictionary, or a URL to a Web browser); mount shared volumes automatically when needed; and learn to parse Eudora’s nickname files properly for better display of email addresses. LaunchBar costs $20 for non-commercial use or $40 for businesses; a trial version that works for seven launches is available as a 208K download.
Script Menu — Apple’s Script Menu provides an alternative method of launching AppleScript, Perl, and shell scripts from a system-wide menu. Interestingly, to install Script Menu, all you do is drag the ScriptMenu.menu file to the menu bar; to remove it, Command-drag it off the menu bar. Script Menu automatically provides access to a number of scripts pre-installed with Mac OS X (some are useful, others are merely examples), and you can add your own in the Scripts folder inside your user’s Library folder. Like Snard, Script Menu is unavailable when you’re in a Classic application, and it has no provision for hot keys. Nevertheless, Script Menu is free, and if you know AppleScript, you can probably make it mimic many of the capabilities of the other utilities discussed here. Script Menu is a 284K download.
Drop Drawers X — Fans of tabbed pop-up windows in Mac OS 9 should check out Sig Software’s Drop Drawers X, which lets you create custom "drawers" around the edges of your screen (all sides, and yes, Drop Drawers supports multiple monitors). Drop Drawers X features two types of drawers: process drawers, which show active applications, and the more-common clip drawers, which can store file and folder aliases, URLs, text snippets (with styles), pictures, movies, sounds, and more. Options for the location and appearance of drawers are myriad, and you can open drawers by mousing over them, clicking them, or pressing a user-defined hot key. Once a drawer is open, you can drag items in (even onto application or folder icons), double-click items (for opening files), or drag items out to another application (as you might a piece of boilerplate text). Any item can have a hot key attached to it, making it simple to open a file or insert text (which happens via pasting). Drop Drawers X is more manual than launchers like MaxMenus and piPop in that you must set up every drawer in advance rather than have it built automatically. Simultaneously, the ease of adding content to a drawer means that Drop Drawers X is notably more fluid than programs like QuicKeys X that require a fair amount of effort to create a piece of boilerplate text. In short, if you find yourself reusing bits of content frequently or like the process of arranging your virtual environment, you’ll like Drop Drawers X. Like piPop, it works equally well on Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Drop Drawers X 1.5.9 is a 393K download and costs $20 shareware.
QuicKeys X — It might seem odd to include CE Software’s long-standing macro utility QuicKeys X here, but most people probably use QuicKeys primarily to open files and type bits of text via hot keys, though activating macros via toolbar buttons has also been possible for several years. QuicKeys X will remain feature-poor compared to its Mac OS 9 ancestor until Apple exposes more of the innards of Mac OS X, but the utility can type into applications, move and click the mouse, open files and folders, run AppleScript scripts, switch among applications, open URLs, change Finder views, and more. Some of those features are unique among Mac OS X utilities, but QuicKeys X really stands out when you need a macro that combines multiple steps. For example, I have a simple macro that types the beginning of a URL in angle brackets, then moves the insertion point back inside the closing bracket for me to enter the rest of the URL manually – there’s no way to do that without multiple steps. Like DragThing and Drop Drawers, QuicKeys X requires manual setup for use as a launcher, but if you need its more powerful features, it’s utterly invaluable. QuicKeys X 1.5.1, which fixes a bug in 1.5 with inserting text into some Carbon applications, lists for $80 and is available for $60. There’s a 30-day demo that’s a 7.6 MB download.
Keyboard Maestro — For those interested in primarily using the keyboard, Michael Kamprath’s Keyboard Maestro offers a number of pre-built Hot Key Actions, displays a pop-up toolbar that lets you launch and switch between applications, and provides multiple clipboards like CopyPaste-X and PTHPasteboard. Keyboard Maestro’s Hot Key Actions can switch between applications, quit and hide applications, open files, launch URLs, open System Preferences panes, run AppleScript and Unix scripts, insert text and remap keystrokes. Keyboard Maestro proved flaky in my testing, crashing a number of times and at one point requiring reinstallation. You can use Keyboard Maestro 1.0.4 for free, although paying $20 removes a number of limitations and reminders. It’s a 526K download.
Key Xing — John Scalo’s Key Xing offers features roughly similar to Keyboard Maestro’s Hot Key Actions – it can open files or folders, switch to applications if they aren’t already running, hide open applications, perform a few system actions (Sleep, Restart, Shut Down), run AppleScript scripts, and send URLs to your Web browser, all activated via hot keys. It can also, oddly enough, copy full file paths in the Finder and control iTunes. Unfortunately, it can’t insert text into a document, though I suppose that could be done via AppleScript. For $7 shareware though, Key Xing’s capabilities might be all you need, and it was stable in my testing. Key Xing 2.1 is implemented as a preference pane and is a 316K download.
TypeIt4Me X — Since 1989, Riccardo Ettore’s TypeIt4Me has made it possible to insert bits of text when you choose a menu item or type an abbreviation. (This latter feature is currently unique among Mac OS X utilities.) In Mac OS X, Riccardo made TypeIt4Me X an input method component, which means it lives in /Library/Components (the other utilities are stand-alone applications or preference panes) and is activated by enabling it in the Keyboard Menu pane of the International preference pane, then choosing TypeIt4Me from the keyboard menu. In my limited testing, TypeIt4Me X 0.99 worked well despite being in beta, though installation and activation hadn’t yet been cleaned up for the final release. TypeIt4Me X will cost $27 ($14 for students) with $9 upgrades. It’s currently a 1.7 MB download.
Typist — With this last utility, Selznick Scientific Software’s Typist, we’ve moved all the way from utilities that just launch files to those that just type text. In Typist you set up chunks of text to type and then insert them in other applications by choosing them from Typist’s Dock menu (click and hold or Control-click) or by pressing a user-defined hot key and then selecting an item from the list. Although Typist can handle large chunks of text, it simulates the keyboard, so it’s slow to enter large amounts of text; there’s also no way to link different hot keys to specific pieces of text. Like TypeIt4Me and QuicKeys X, Typist can substitute a number of time-related variables in the typed text, along with the current contents of the clipboard. Typist 1.2 costs $15 shareware, and it’s a 411K download.
Choose and Move On — I hope my descriptions above help you determine which of these utilities will best match the way you work; when it comes to alternative control utilities, personal preference rules. I’m still not sure which of these utilities will earn a permanent place on my hard disk. It is worth noting, however, that performing the kind of testing necessary for these articles in previous versions of the Mac OS would have been a nightmare – Mac OS X has been solid throughout, and I haven’t seen any specific conflicts between utilities with overlapping features.
In the next installment of this series, I hope to look at utilities that extend the basic capabilities of Mac OS X to make it faster, more flexible, more powerful, and sometimes just plain more fun.