iPhoto 1.1.1 is out, so if you’re a user, make sure to read on for Adam’s detailed examination of the major changes in Apple’s popular photo management software. Then he and Jeff Carlson report on their experiences with a number of Kensington goodies, including mice, trackballs, and other Mac and Palm accessories. In the news this week, we cover the Apple Design Awards and look at the results of last week’s poll on Mac OS X use among TidBITS readers.
Apple Names 2002 Design Award Winners — Capping off this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple named the winners of its Apple Design Awards, highlighting Mac OS X software in six categories. The Best New Mac OS X Product title went to Toon Boom Studio 1.1, a tool for creating 2D animations. Karelia Software’s Watson 1.5 was honored as Most Innovative Mac OS X Product, though the real testament to its innovation may prove to be Apple’s WWDC demonstration of Sherlock 3, which looks to be a Watson clone (see “Jaguar: Mac OS X Prepares to Pounce” in TidBITS-629). The Omni Group’s OmniGraffle 2.0, a diagramming and charting application, garnered two awards: Best Mac OS X User Experience and Best Mac OS X Technology Adoption. In the category of Best Mac OS X Open Source Port, Richard Koch’s TeXShop 1.19 was honored for its capability to display scientific and technical documents created in TeX format. And in the final category, Dan Schimpf won Best Mac OS X Student Product with MacJournal 2.1, a program for storing and organizing notes, diaries, and other text snippets. We applaud each of the winners (plus the runners-up, which are listed at Apple’s Web site), and also Apple for bringing attention to innovative software, even when it doesn’t come from large companies. [JLC]
Poll Results: Are You X’d Out? In some ways, the responses to last week’s poll asking how much of the time your primary Mac spends booted into Mac OS X were not surprising. Of over 2,700 responses, 47 percent of respondents said they run Mac OS X exclusively and 30 percent never run Mac OS X at all. Clearly TidBITS readers, and particularly those who respond to polls, are notably more likely to have upgraded to Mac OS X than your average Macintosh user. If you add in those who have made the jump to Mac OS X but don’t use the new operating system exclusively, 65 percent say they spend more than half their time in Mac OS X, and 35 percent say they spend less than half their time in Mac OS X. To my mind, these numbers help confirm our decision to continue migrating our content toward Mac OS X-specific topics, with a focus on helping those who have either just upgraded or who are considering the upgrade. That said, our mission statement has always been to write about those topics that interest us, and we have wide-ranging interests. [ACE]
Apple last week released the long-awaited iPhoto 1.1.1, the first update to the company’s popular photo management and sharing software (see "iPhoto Joins the iFold" in TidBITS-611). A 1.1 release appeared briefly the previous week but was pulled almost immediately, likely for quality control reasons.
Diving into iPhoto 1.1.1 shows that Apple has made numerous extremely welcome changes, though most are relatively minor tweaks, not radical new approaches. The changes apply primarily to importing photos into iPhoto, editing them, finding them, and sharing them in new ways.
Downloading and Installing — For some reason, a number of people seem to be getting interrupted downloads of the 25.2 MB iPhoto disk image – if you have trouble mounting the disk image after downloading, check to make sure you got it all.
iPhoto 1.1.1 does modify the format of your iPhoto Library such that you cannot switch back to iPhoto 1.0 after you’ve updated. Depending on the size of your library the conversion may take a while, but it needs to be done only once. I strongly recommend that you make a backup of your entire iPhoto Library folder before installing and launching iPhoto 1.1.1 for the first time.
I experienced no trouble installing over iPhoto 1.0, but some people have reported problems. If you’re concerned, or if your initial installation doesn’t work, use Sherlock to search for "iphoto" and delete iPhoto 1.0, its preferences file, and the cache folder before installing. That search won’t find the BookService, HomePageService, and PrintsService files that live in /System/Library/Services, but you can’t delete those without changing their privileges anyway (those files are necessary for the Order Book, Order Prints, and HomePage buttons in the share pane).
Easier Immigration — An immediate criticism of iPhoto 1.0 was that when you imported your existing photo collection, any work you’d put into naming photos in the Finder and organizing them into folders was lost when iPhoto renamed the files and reorganized them into its chronological hierarchy. No longer: iPhoto 1.1.1 retains your file names and instead of creating a single film roll for the entire import, creates a new film roll for each folder, naming the film roll for the folder. (That in itself is a welcome change from 1.0, where film rolls were merely numbered and dated – you can also rename film rolls and change their dates manually.)
iPhoto is less concerned about the location of its iPhoto Library folder as well. That folder can now live anywhere – in a shared folder on a Mac or on a server – as long as you put an alias called "iPhoto Library" to it in your Pictures folder. This should let multiple users share iPhoto Library folders much more easily than in the past. It also simplifies working with multiple iPhoto Library folders (which you might want to do to keep collections of photos separate from one another), but that activity is still made easier by a free tool like iPhoto Library Manager or iPhoto Librarian (both of which seem to work with iPhoto 1.1.1, despite not having been updated for it specifically).
People were also frustrated that you could create albums only within iPhoto. Now, if you drag one or more images, or a folder of images, into an empty spot in iPhoto’s album pane, iPhoto imports the images into your photo library and creates a new album for you with the imported images. Unfortunately, if you have enough albums to cause iPhoto to show a scroll bar in the album pane, there’s no empty space left as a drag destination. If you instead drag images into an existing album, iPhoto imports them and adds them to that album. Speaking of albums, you can now rearrange them in the album pane by dragging them to the desired location.
iPhoto now retains EXIF information associated with each image by the camera, and it can also display that information. It’s unclear if this will play a role in improving the quality of ordered prints.
Finally, for those people with Kodak Photo CDs, if you insert the CD into your Mac, switch to iPhoto, switch to import mode, and then click the Import button in the import pane, iPhoto will import the images directly from the Photo CD without you having to find and import them manually.
iPhoto Gets Brighter — Apple intentionally kept iPhoto 1.0’s editing capabilities minimal because image editing is one of those tasks that’s difficult for people who aren’t fluent with graphics programs. Plus, you could always set iPhoto to open images for editing in another application, such as Caffeinesoft’s brilliant PixelNhance. I had high hopes that Apple would license PixelNhance’s code and add it to the next version of iPhoto. That hasn’t happened yet, since the only addition to iPhoto 1.1.1 are simple sliders for adjusting the brightness and contrast of images. They work, but PixelNhance’s approach of letting you drag a divider bar across your image to see how a change affects the image in an interactive before/after preview remains better than anything I’ve seen. PixelNhance’s interface is so effective that I recommend every iPhoto user – heck, everyone with a digital camera who’s not a Photoshop wizard – download the free PixelNhance and use it for editing photos.
The only other visible change to iPhoto’s editing tools is the removal of the redundant Rotate button in the edit pane. Since there’s a Rotate button always available underneath the album pane, removing the extra one in the edit pane makes good sense. Speaking of rotating, although holding down Option still reverses the direction of the rotation, you can now change the default direction in iPhoto’s preferences. Interestingly, in a statistically insignificant survey controlled for camera type (the extremely cute Canon PowerShot S100), both Jeff Carlson and I rotate the camera clockwise for portrait shots, whereas our wives both rotate the camera counter-clockwise. I’ll bet there’s some grant money for someone to investigate that gender-related phenomenon.
Editing photos in a separate window in iPhoto 1.0 was possible but annoying, since it always opened the window with the editing toolbar closed. iPhoto 1.1.1 fixes that minor stupidity – the editing toolbar is now open by default. Finally, Apple seems to have improved the results from using iPhoto’s red-eye reduction tool.
Text in a Graphic World — As much as it makes sense to browse photos graphically, textual descriptions are also important. iPhoto 1.0 let you add titles, comments, and keywords, but the process was tedious. Now, since iPhoto retains filenames on import (even the numeric ones that cameras automatically create), you can use a hierarchical menu in the Edit menu to set the title to Empty, Roll Info, File Name, or Date/Time. You can of course still type your own titles, but beware, since if you type a title, then set the title to any of the previously mentioned settings, your title disappears for good. Editing titles still requires you work in the info pane – you can’t edit the title itself underneath the photo.
Also new is an option in iPhoto’s preferences to replace the keyword buttons of the organize pane with a large text field for entering comments. It’s exactly the same comments field as was available in the info pane by clicking the Info button, but now it’s short and wide as opposed to being tall and thin. Unfortunately, both areas remain terrible text-editing environments. No scroll bars appear when the text doesn’t fit vertically, you can’t necessarily use the mouse or arrow keys to scroll through all your text in the info pane, and the new comments field in the organize pane doesn’t wrap long lines of text (you have to drag the cursor or arrow to the right to see more).
The saving grace of the new comments field is that you can flip the Assign/Search toggle to Search and enter text you want to find in photo titles, file names, keywords, or comments. iPhoto responds by restricting the visible photos to only those that match your search criteria. It’s useful, but it’s too bad Apple chose such an awkward interface – if you normally leave the organize pane showing the keyword buttons, performing a text search requires a trip to the preferences. The feature feels tacked on – hopefully Apple will revisit this interface in iPhoto’s next major update.
Share and Share Alike — iPhoto’s share pane receives three new and utterly self-explanatory buttons: Mail, Desktop, and Screen Saver.
No more do you have to fuss to use your images with Mac OS X’s Slide Show screen saver. Just click the Screen Saver button in iPhoto, select an album, and click OK.
Setting the Desktop picture is even easier; select a photo and click the Desktop button. Unfortunately for those of us with two monitors, iPhoto can set the Desktop picture only on the main monitor.
Sending an email message with selected photos is also easy. Select some photos and click the Mail button to cause iPhoto to create a new message using Apple’s Mail program containing the selected images, along with their titles and comments. It also resizes the photos if you desire, which is a good idea most of the time to reduce the size of the message.
The obvious problem with the Mail button is that it works only with Apple’s anemic Mail program, and not with your default email program. However, thanks to some clever sleuthing and coding by Simon Jacquier, with a little encouragement from me, there’s an alternative: iPhoto Mail Patcher. The trick is that iPhoto, despite falling into the embarrassing category of high-profile Apple programs that don’t support AppleScript, has a script inside it that communicates with Mail. Simon wrote some new AppleScript scripts that work with Eudora, Mailsmith, PowerMail, and QuickMail Pro, and then created an installer that replaces both the script and the Mail icon appropriately. If you’re an AppleScript guru and have ideas for improving the scripts or adding support for other email programs, send me the AppleScript snippets and I’ll forward them on to Simon.
Finally, for those who hate wasting expensive inkjet paper, iPhoto 1.1.1 lets you put two photos on a page when printing at either 4" x 6" or 5" x 7". Plus, there’s a checkbox in the Contact Sheet style to save paper – it reduces the margins and space between images.
Left Wanting More? iPhoto 1.1.1 is a good, solid upgrade, and I recommend that anyone using iPhoto upgrade. Many of the changes are minor usability tweaks that add up to a much improved user experience, and the new features add much needed capabilities.
That said, some changes, such as the search capabilities, the connection with Mail in favor of the default email program, and the new brightness and contrast controls, simply aren’t impressive. Other features, such as AppleScript support and basic color correction controls, remain external to iPhoto. And perhaps most concerning, iPhoto 1.1.1’s performance doesn’t seem to have improved much, if at all.
The question, then, is what iPhoto’s developers have up their sleeves for iPhoto 2.0. Despite the many enhancements and fixes in 1.1.1, there’s still lots of room for Apple to improve iPhoto, even while keeping the program easy to use for those of us who never otherwise work with images.
One of the perks of being a computer journalist is that every so often products arrive on the doorstep to test – some we rip open and start using immediately, others elicit yawns and never even make it out of their shrink wrap. A recent crop of goodies from Kensington piqued our interest, though, and we found some products worth checking out, along with a couple that didn’t make the cut.
PocketMouse Pro — Jeff here. My main computer is a PowerBook G4, which goes with me almost everywhere. When I’m at home or at my office, I connect a mouse and an external keyboard; at other times, I use the PowerBook’s built-in keyboard and trackpad. However, I can’t use the trackpad over long periods of time, especially with mouse-intensive programs like Adobe GoLive or Photoshop. In those situations (such as a recent unexpected six-hour stint at a Starbucks), a mouse becomes a necessity, and my mouse of choice has become Kensington’s $40 PocketMouse Pro.
I’d swear that the PocketMouse Pro was designed specifically with me in mind. It’s smaller than most mice, measuring 4.375 inches long, 2.25 inches wide, and 1.5 inches tall, which sits well amid the nest of cables in my bag. I’ve also been told by people with smaller hands that it’s a more comfortable fit than some larger mice. The mouse is optical, so it needs no mousepad and there’s no trackball to clean. And, it sports two buttons and a scroll wheel – I started using a two-button mouse in 1995, and will never go back to a one-button mouse. You define the button actions with Kensington’s versatile MouseWorks software (under both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X).
So far, I’ve described a typical optical mouse, albeit a small one. (A number of other smaller mouse models have been mentioned in TidBITS Talk; use the link below to read the discussion thread.) But what makes people’s eyes light up is the PocketMouse Pro’s 30-inch retractable USB cable. Push a silver button, and a panel in the left side opens to reveal a standard USB connector attached to a thin, coiled cable. When you extend it, the cord slips into a groove at the front so you can close the panel (which would otherwise lift the edge of the mouse off the table). Giving the cord a small tug releases the catch to retract the cable, much like how many vacuum cleaners retract their cords. I’m almost embarrassed that this one trick makes such a difference, but eliminating even one cable from my disorganized bag is an improvement. More importantly, it shows that the mouse’s architects kept users like me in mind when designing it.
I have two minor complaints with the PocketMouse Pro. Because the cord spends most of the time wrapped around the coiling mechanism, it has a natural curl that can get in the way when I’m using the mouse. And, the optical sensor, which has generally been excellent, sometimes skips momentarily when used on grainy, reflective wood, such as is found in Starbucks stores near me.
Optical Elite Mouse — I could use the PocketMouse Pro at home or at the office, but I don’t want to unpack it each time I change locations, and I don’t know if its small size would bother my larger fingers over time. For years I’ve used a simple two-button desktop mouse with a scroll wheel (and spent years cleaning its rollers), so for a change Kensington let me test the Optical Elite mouse.
This $30 mouse is a bit larger than my old two-button Kensington Mouse-in-a-Box/Scroll unit, which I find more comfortable to hold. The sides slope inward slightly, providing a more comfortable resting place for my thumb, and the EasyGrip coating surrounding the bottom half of the mouse offers a soft, rubbery surface.
In addition to two large buttons at the front, the Optical Elite includes two smaller buttons, located on the left and right sides. They’re small enough that you won’t press them accidentally, but because they’re placed high on the mouse’s middle arch, I find that I use only the one nearest my thumb. I need to lift my ring finger to reach the other button, which I find awkward. However, although you can set up actions for each button, including chording combinations that involve multiple simultaneous clicks, I find myself using the same three actions most of the time: single click (left button), double click (right button), and Control-click (smaller left button).
Slim MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable — If you spend more than a few hours working on a PowerBook or iBook in a cafe while drinking coffee or tea, at some point you may need to visit the bathroom – what do you do with your laptop? The sight of an unattended PowerBook can be a highly tempting target for thieves (it doesn’t help that Apple’s portables are so striking – a rare drawback to the company’s attractive designs). A simple, effective solution is to use a Kensington notebook security cable.
As a PowerBook G4 owner, I tried the Slim MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable, which is a plastic-coated metal cable with a loop at one end and a keyed lock at the other. The lock fits into the rectangular security slot that has been built into PowerBooks since the earliest models. To use the cable, you simply wrap it around a secure table leg, bring the lock end through the loop, then attach the lock to the laptop. (Some tables don’t have secure legs, so I often snake the cable through the back of a chair and a handle on my computer bag.)
The slim model has been designed specifically for thinner laptops, such as the PowerBook G4, which means the lock has a smaller diameter to avoid lifting the computer off the table at an angle. Although I never had trouble using an older security cable with my PowerBook G4, I appreciate the Slim MicroSaver’s rubber bumper that protects my PowerBook’s titanium finish from the metal of the lock’s head. As another nice addition, the $45 Slim MicroSaver comes with a velcro strap to make it easier to wrap the cable when it’s stored in your bag or case; again, reducing cable clutter is an important consideration for me.
PDA Protector for the Palm — The last product Kensington let me try out was its PDA Protector for the Palm, which holds a Palm V or Palm m500-series handheld. The title is more than just marketing alliteration: made of aluminum, this case envelops the handheld in a protective shell.
The clamshell design hinges at the top (yep, just like a Star Trek communicator). Inside, the case is covered in black felt-like material that holds the handheld in place; the case design and the felt eliminate the need for a stabilizing rail or velcro strips to secure the organizer, as with other PDA cases. However, the bottom lip of the case covers the serial port, so you must remove the handheld to synchronize it with your computer.
Everything about the construction of the PDA Protector exudes high quality: the top and bottom pieces fit together smooth and solid, and a small magnet keeps the lid shut. The aluminum is solid and sturdy.
Surprisingly, this last point soured me on the PDA Protector. Because the sturdiness comes at the cost of extra bulk and weight, I found myself not wanting to carry my handheld while it was in the case. I liked knowing my Palm was protected when it was in the PDA Protector, but I was disappointed that I rarely carried it outside my bag (and thus didn’t use it). If you’re more concerned with protecting your Palm, this may not be an issue, but it made me go back to the remnants of my original flipcover, which doesn’t significantly affect the Palm’s thin size.
I’m also curious about how well the inside coating stands up to repeated insertions and removals of the handheld: although my unit offered a snug fit, the model on display at Kensington’s Macworld Expo booth was worn and almost slippery from repeated use.
The $30 PDA Protector comes in color combinations of Platinum/Silver and Blue-Ice/Silver for Palm, and is also available in Graphite/Silver for the Handspring Visor.
Turbo Mouse Pro — Adam here. In part because of my addiction to multiple monitors, I’ve relied for years on Kensington trackballs to move my cursor across my expansive desktop. I started with a two-button Turbo Mouse, moved up to a four-button Turbo Mouse four or five years later when the first one started to have some problems, and recently switched to the $110 USB Turbo Mouse Pro to eliminate the need for an ADB-to-USB converter. I’ve handled Kensington’s other trackballs during these years, and I’ve tried trackballs from other manufacturers, but nothing competes with the basic design and solidity of the Turbo Mouse.
The latest Turbo Mouse Pro retains the solid feel and usability of previous versions, though I use few of its capabilities. With the original two-button Turbo Mouse, I relied heavily on both buttons, and when the time came to switch to the four-button Turbo Mouse, I had trouble using the top two buttons. They were just a little too far out of reach, and since I could configure the function of the right button differently for different applications, I seldom needed even one more button. That problem is even more pronounced in the Turbo Mouse Pro, which adds a scroll wheel and six small buttons across the top for launching applications or visiting Web pages. Since those buttons are even further out of reach for me, I’ve never used them at all. I thought I might like the scroll wheel in particular, but the combination of its location and a fairly rough mechanism (I also have a Microsoft optical mouse that has a far smoother scroll wheel) has prevented that.
These criticisms undoubtedly stem largely from the way I position my hand, with the tip of my index finger on the top of the ball, my thumb on the left button, my ring finger on the right button, and the heel of my hand on a pad in front of the trackball. That position worked perfectly with the two-button Turbo Mouse, but I think Kensington intends users to position their hands much higher on the Turbo Mouse, bringing the scroll wheel and top buttons into reach. After so many years, I don’t know if I’ll be able to retrain myself, but those people who are new to trackballs may be able to use it as intended.
Even though I don’t take full advantage of all the available buttons, Kensington’s MouseWorks software lets me tweak the buttons I do use. For Mac OS X, the beta of MouseWorks 2.0 was essential, since the initial release couldn’t restrict button definitions to specific applications. That limited me for a week or so after I first upgraded to Mac OS X; once I was able to upgrade to the 2.0 beta, I could once again click the right mouse button to double-click in the Finder, go back a page in Internet Explorer, Command-double-click on URLs in Nisus Writer, and Command-click on URLs in Eudora. If you’re using a Kensington mouse or trackball, I’d definitely recommend MouseWorks 2.0, even though it’s still in beta.
FlyLight — The last of the goodies from Kensington I’ve used is the $20 FlyLight, a tremendously simple gadget that plugs into your USB port and offers an LED flashlight on a 15-inch wire you can contort into almost any shape you desire. It’s small and simple, and although I don’t generally use it, I did find it useful on one late night plane trip when it wasn’t appropriate to use the overhead light.
The FlyLight’s simplicity is both its strength and its weakness. It would be nice if it had a switch, so you could leave it plugged in without the light on. That’s especially true because it stays on when plugged into PowerBooks and iBooks that are sleeping – apparently power to the USB ports shuts off only when the machine is shut down, something that seldom happens with portables. It would be even more fun, though probably no more useful, if you could control the light via software, turning it on and off, and perhaps even making it flash in patterns. And if it were linked to an iTunes visualizer, it would be truly useless – sounds like a project for the hack contest at MacHack!