You’ve uploaded your digital photos and movies to your iDisk for the world to see, but are your visitors being turned away? That’s what happened to Adam following the recent MacMania Geek Cruise, prompting a look at Apple’s newly (and quietly) introduced iTools bandwidth restrictions. We also have part 2 of our guide to upgrading to Mac OS X, and note the release of Internet Explorer 5.2 for Mac OS X and Kensington’s MouseWorks for Mac OS X 2.0.
Internet Explorer 5.2 Adds Quartz Text Smoothing — Microsoft today released Internet Explorer 5.2 for Mac OS X (5.1.4 remains the current version for previous versions of the Mac OS). There’s only one new feature in Internet Explorer 5.2 – support for Quartz-based text smoothing for users of Mac OS X 10.1.5. Whether you like text smoothing can depend on your monitor, your font choice, and your eyes; those who don’t like it can turn it off in the Interface Extras pane of Internet Explorer’s Preferences window. The only other change is that Internet Explorer rudely resets your home page to MSN, no matter how it was previously set. Also annoying is the installer, which quits all running applications before installing, something which is generally unnecessary and exceedingly uncommon in Mac OS X. I have enough utilities set to launch at login that it was easier to restart the Mac than to find and relaunch each one individually. Lastly, it’s odd that this update wasn’t available via Software Update like all the previous ones. Could this release, along with Apple’s announcement of iChat’s compatibility with AOL Instant Messenger, indicate a rift between Apple and Microsoft? And might it also foreshadow the release of a Web browser from Apple to complement the rest of the iApps? [ACE]
MouseWorks for Mac OS X 2.0 Released — Kensington has posted the latest version of its software for controlling Kensington mice and trackballs under Mac OS X. MouseWorks for Mac OS X 2.0 is now a preference pane instead of a stand-alone application and can maintain different settings for specific applications. You can now also assign keystrokes to any button action, as well as program the Turbo Mouse Pro’s DirectLaunch buttons to perform any MouseWorks action. The update is free and is a 2 MB download. [JLC]
In last week’s issue, I gave several links to photo albums that I’d created with iPhoto on my iTools HomePage site while on our cruise to Alaska. They had worked fine for our friends and families while we were on the cruise, so I was surprised when email complaints started arriving almost immediately, saying that the photos weren’t accessible due to excessive bandwidth consumption. Before I get to the larger issue of what’s going on here, for anyone who wants to see the photos, they’re now on my server, exported again from iPhoto, but via the BetterHTMLExport plug-in.
Some research and discussion on TidBITS Talk revealed that Apple had put these bandwidth limitations into effect – without warning – only in the middle of May, which was why previous uses hadn’t run afoul of the limitations. MacInTouch’s compilation of reader letters gave a good overview of the situation.
Cold Hard Numbers — For a while, the actual limits were completely unknown, but then a post appeared in Apple’s discussion forums that explained at least some of the details. If a HomePage Web site receives more than 500 hits in a 6-hour period, Apple caps the amount of data that can be transferred from that site to roughly twice your iDisk capacity for the rest of that 6-hour period. Let’s look at my situation for how that might work out. I published roughly 50 pictures, and they took up about 5 MB of space on my iDisk. Only 10 people need to view all my pictures to bump me over the 500 hit limit. Giving Apple the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the bandwidth counting starts at that point, I could then serve 40 MB of data (twice my default 20 MB iDisk size) going forward. At 5 MB for my picture collection, though, that’s only another 8 people, for a grand total of 18 visitors before Apple would start turning people away. Thinking back, none of our friends or family ran into the bandwidth limits initially because I published the photos in four sets. Had I published all 50 images at once, the fact that I sent the announcement to 56 people in our extended families along with 21 friends could easily have resulted in enough traffic to take the site down.
The limits are somewhat higher if you’ve paid Apple for additional iDisk space. If you’re receiving fewer than 500 hits in a 6-hour period, you’re limited to roughly 14 times your iDisk capacity in that time frame. If you receive more than 500 hits in a 6-hour period, you’re limited to 2.5 times your iDisk capacity. Let’s assume I had paid for another 20 MB of iDisk space and posted the same set of pictures. The first 10 people viewing the 50 pictures would bump me over the 500 hit limit, after which I could serve 100 MB of data (40 MB multiplied by 2.5) before running into the bandwidth limits. At 5 MB per person, that’s 25 people, or 35 total before new visitors start being turned away.
You Get What You Pay For, But… Apple is of course within their full rights to clamp down on iTools usage. iTools accounts are free, and Apple is absorbing real costs for all the disk space and bandwidth that iTools users consume. I haven’t seen anyone complaining that Apple is acting unfairly, and no one should.
However, there’s no question that Apple has bungled the user relations aspect of this decision completely. Apple never made an official statement about the decision (or even replied to our requests for clarification), there is no permanent Web page explaining the specific limitations, users are not warned in advance that their sites will be made unavailable, and the error message that appears in place of the desired page is less than helpful. For a company that prides itself on creating clear, easy-to-use interfaces, a lapse like this is particularly glaring. It’s not rocket science, it’s just common courtesy.
This policy also has further reaching implications. Apple has specifically touted iTools as a benefit of buying and using the Mac and encourages users to use it, to the point where you can mount your iDisk from the Mac OS X Finder and publish photos directly to a HomePage photo album from within iPhoto. Integration of Mac OS X and applications from Apple with iTools means that iTools is itself a feature of those products, and hobbling iTools with these bandwidth limits reflects poorly on the products. I used iPhoto to upload my photos to HomePage because it’s far easier than uploading to my own Web site, and that ease of uploading was important while I was travelling. But knowing that only a very small number of people can view my photos via HomePage means that I just won’t bother using that feature in the future, and I’ll have to recommend that other iPhoto users avoid it as well if there’s a chance they’ll hit the bandwidth limits.
Other heavy users of iTools are independent Macintosh developers, who like to distribute their Macintosh software via iTools not just because it was a free Web host, but also because it’s part of the full experience. Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg put it best when explaining why he chose to host his freeware utility MemoryStick on Apple’s servers:
"MemoryStick is free, it’s written with Apple’s free tools, it’s for Mac OS X users, it both improves and advertises the Mac OS X experience, and it lives at Apple’s free site that is integrated with Mac OS X – all completely in tune with a spirit of community and ‘all Apple, all the time.’ That’s why it’s so disappointing when Apple itself violates that spirit by preventing Mac OS X users from downloading."
The new bandwidth limits eliminate the utility of using iTools to host Macintosh software – whether or not a developer would run into the limits on any given day, the uncertainty of never knowing if the site would be up would be unacceptable. Of course, if you read the iTools membership terms carefully, you see that iTools is only for personal use, which would preclude posting shareware. That’s better sent to the Info-Mac Archive for posting on the many Info-Mac mirror sites, which can then be linked from a product page.
Where iTools used to be an excellent advertisement for Apple and for Macintosh technologies, the bandwidth limits turn it into a negative impression. In the past, showing a Windows user how easy it was to post a photo album on the Web via iPhoto and HomePage was great fun, and even having Windows users viewing the photos on the Web made it easy to tout the advantages of using the Mac. But with cryptic error messages about excessive bandwidth consumption appearing unpredictably, it’s downright embarrassing to use HomePage.
Finally, those people who choose to keep using HomePage should bear in mind that it’s trivially easy to engineer a denial of service attack. Just load a few photo album pages several times and you can overload any photo album. It wouldn’t even be difficult to set a robot to cause a very large number of HomePage sites to go over their bandwidth limits all at once.
Possible Solutions — I have a few ideas about how Apple might be able to avoid this problem, either by managing the bandwidth usage better or bringing in some money to pay for the load.
Use Packeteer’s PacketShaper (or a comparable product) to manage the bandwidth available to any given user’s HomePage site. Apple could even allow a user full bandwidth until a certain point, then throttle the bandwidth available back to reduce service without eliminating it entirely.
Track and manage average bandwidth use over a month, rather than over a six-hour period. That approach eliminates the problem of a site becoming unavailable due to an unanticipated spike, but still lets Apple deal with users who continually use excessive bandwidth.
Set specific bandwidth limits, and when an account is close to reaching them, offer to raise the limits temporarily for a fee. That would let a user pay a small amount to keep the site alive, without worrying about a potentially unnecessary monthly charge.
Let iTools users set photos as being available for sale; Apple could then charge a markup on the photos. That way iPhoto users wouldn’t have to order prints for friends or family members – everyone could do it for themselves.
Charge for the high-bandwidth aspects of an iTools account, but waive the charges for a year if the user purchases a certain amount of Apple hardware or software in that year.
Add a few dollars to the cost of a Mac to cover the overhead of providing iTools. Some portion of the cost of a Mac goes to paying for the bundled version of the Mac OS; the same could easily apply to paying for iTools.
Present internal ads about switching to the Mac on pages viewed only by people using Windows machines. Then encourage iTools users to show off their sites to Windows-using friends and family. This approach wouldn’t generate iTools-specific income, but would help the overall bottom line, just as all ad campaigns should.
Finally, though this would be the most controversial (and the most work), Apple could carry Macintosh-only advertising on HomePage-based pages provided for free. As long as the ads were Mac-specific and not horribly intrusive, most people probably wouldn’t complain, and although the Internet advertising market isn’t in great shape right now, it would still bring in some revenue. Of course, the advertising could be removed from sites created by paying iTools users.
I’m sure there are plenty of other approaches that would let Apple continue to serve HomePage sites without suffering from a site becoming too popular. Given the undeniable utility and cachet of having iTools integrated with the operating system and applications, Apple should work harder to make sure Macintosh users can continue to use iTools in real ways without the constant worry of having sites taken down for excessive bandwidth consumption.
Mac OS X may be the future of the Macintosh, but for many people, it still isn’t part of the present. Unless you purchase a new computer with Mac OS X pre-installed, moving up from Mac OS 9 isn’t as simple as installing the software and getting back to work. In last week’s issue, I offered a number of considerations for determining whether or not you should upgrade to Mac OS X and how to get ready for the move. In this installment, I want to cover some steps for making the move as painless as possible.
Prepare Your Hard Disk — Before you start installing Mac OS X, you need to spend a moment thinking about your hard disk. Many people recommend partitioning your hard disk into two volumes, one for Mac OS 9 and another for Mac OS X to simplify the process of reinstalling Mac OS X should something go horribly wrong. Some people prefer even more partitions. It’s a personal choice, but my take on the subject is that for most people, partitioning is unnecessary and will cause more annoyance in the end.
Until I got my Power Mac G4 with its 10 GB hard disk, formatted with HFS+, I always partitioned my hard disk into three volumes: one for the operating system, one for applications, and one for documents. I’d kept that partitioning scheme since my first 30 MB hard disk because it worked around the block size inefficiencies of HFS and reduced backup needs somewhat. But it also increased the complexity of navigating the Finder and Open dialogs, cluttered the Desktop, and complicated my backup strategy. I didn’t mind it too much until I switched to a single partition, which turned out to be far less stressful to use.
Plus, when Apple ships a new Mac with Mac OS X, it comes as a single partition. That says to me that Apple considers a single partition the default setup and has thus devoted more testing resources to that approach. In short, if you want to partition your hard disk for separate Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X volumes, feel free, but I consider it optional. If you choose to do so, be very careful about your backup strategy to make sure you’re backing the necessary data on all partitions. Also, it’s easier to set up multiple partitions if you have a large external hard disk around to hold your data while you’re reformatting and repartitioning the disk (plus, it provides a secondary backup for added peace of mind).
Although the Mac OS X installer does check your disk before installing, I still recommend running Disk First Aid (or Alsoft’s DiskWarrior, if you have it) manually before installing to make sure you’re clearing up any disk corruption. Another potentially useful thing to do would be to defragment the hard disk first so all of Mac OS X’s tens of thousands of files are laid down contiguously – you can use a tool such as PlusOptimizer or Tech Tool Pro, or you can back up your data, reformat the drive, and restore everything from the backup. No matter what, make at least one full backup of your entire hard disk, just in case. I know we say that frequently, but it’s truly important with such a major operating system upgrade.
If, like me, you’ve decided to pop a new hard disk in your Mac before upgrading to Mac OS X, you’ll get the advantage of a nice clean hard disk with no fragmentation, since restoring from backup or duplicating one hard disk to another also eliminates fragmentation. Even better, this approach gives you an automatic backup, since you could always put the old drive back in if necessary.
Install in Order — It’s finally time to install. If you’re lucky, you have a Mac OS X 10.1 CD-ROM. I wasn’t so lucky – although I had a 10.1 upgrade CD-ROM, that would only update an existing 10.0 installation. I spent hours installing 10.0, letting Software Update bring that copy up to snuff, installing the 10.1 upgrade, and letting Software Update do its thing again. I might have been able to skip some of the intermediate 10.0 steps, but frankly, because I don’t know exactly how everything works inside Mac OS X, I didn’t dare, and I don’t recommend you do either. Let’s give Apple the benefit of the doubt here and assume they know what they’re doing when they say that updates to Mac OS X must be applied in a certain order. Be sure to read the following two articles from Apple’s Knowledge Base before starting the installation process.
If you have only a slow modem connection to the Internet, relying on Software Update to download all these updates could extend the upgrade time over several days. As I noted in the first part of this article last week, a better approach would be to download the various updates manually when convenient, and then apply them yourself. The only trick here is making sure you get the order right – I don’t know if the installers for each update are smart enough to prevent you from making a mistake. The Knowledge Base article below provides links to all the necessary installers and tells you the order in which they should be installed.
The main Mac OS X installers and Software Update offer to let you install a number of optional components, most notably the BSD subsystem and developer tools, but also additional printer drivers and updates for Apple devices like AirPort hardware and the iPod. Assuming that you’re not trying to cram Mac OS X into a too-small hard disk, I recommend you install most of these optional bits (it’s safe to skip language kits for languages you don’t understand) because it’s not entirely clear that you can install some of this stuff after the fact. Disk space is cheap, and Mac OS X is still too much of a black box to second guess Apple’s installers.
In the end, you should have a stock Mac OS X installation. Go ahead and explore a bit and try things out, but remember that things will feel different once you finish your configuration.
Install Applications & Utilities — The next step is to install the Mac OS X-specific applications and utilities that you’ve downloaded. I don’t recommend dragging programs from your Applications (Mac OS 9) folder over to your Applications folder unless the application in question is already carbonized, such iView MediaPro. It’s better to build up your Mac OS X collection of applications more slowly and consciously to avoid confusion about what’s new and what’s old. Plus, if you do need to switch back to Mac OS 9, all your Mac OS 9 applications will be ready and waiting where you expect them to be.
I do recommend that you install all Mac OS X programs into your Applications folder. Some programs simply won’t work properly unless they’re in the Applications folder – for instance, if you move the Retrospect Client folder out of your Applications folder, the Retrospect Client application will turn itself off (that’s a bug that Dantz knows about and will be fixing). In short, for now, take it easy on custom hierarchies. With time, it shouldn’t be a big issue, but unless an application claims explicitly that you can place it anywhere, stick with the Applications folder. (And that includes the default Utilities folder inside the Applications folder.)
During this installation phase, you’ll probably get sick of typing your administrator password (a good reason to keep it short and easy to type unless you’re seriously concerned about crackers). Sorry, but there’s no way around it, and as consolation, note that you don’t have to restart your Mac after every installation or worry about what extensions were loaded when you’re running the installers, as would have been necessary under Mac OS 9.
Once you’ve installed utilities, take a moment to configure them as you expect. For me, the most important step involved configuring MouseWorks properly for my Kensington Turbo Mouse’s extra buttons, setting up QuicKeys X so I could switch to applications using my function keys, and entering the text shortcuts I rely on heavily. Until you’ve done this, Mac OS X will feel clumsy and foreign, but bringing back familiar interfaces makes all the difference.
Also take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the options available in the Finder’s Preferences window (open it from the Finder application menu). The options surrounding window usage are perhaps the most important for those switching from Mac OS 9 – you will likely want folders to open in new windows all the time. The freeware ASM utility is extremely useful for bringing back the Mac OS 9 approach of tying all of an application’s windows together when you switch to that application by clicking any of its windows.
Move Documents — Up to this point, nothing we’ve done is irreversible (though it’s tricky, if not impossible, to remove Mac OS X from your hard disk should you decide you don’t want to use it – manual deletion won’t work, so reformatting and restoring from backup is probably your best bet). However, when it comes to arranging your documents, you have two options. You can move everything into your Mac OS X user folder, distributing it among the Documents folder and the other top-level folders that Apple provides by default, or you can create aliases to the appropriate folders so your files are equally as accessible in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. For instance, so I could read email in Mac OS 9 if I booted back into it, I moved my Eudora Folder into Mac OS X’s Documents folder and made an alias to it in my Mac OS 9 Documents folder under the top level of your hard disk. I haven’t had to use it under Mac OS 9 after the first few days, but it was nice not to have to worry about losing any email during that time. More generally, you could try aliasing the Documents folders to one another. (I couldn’t find a simple way of using aliases to link the Mac OS 9 invisible Desktop Folder with the Mac OS X Desktop folder.) When in doubt, though, I recommend leaving the original in the place Mac OS X expects it and putting the alias where Mac OS 9 expects it – Mac OS X is pickier and more likely to squawk.
I’m sure that those of you with highly specific filing systems are already chafing at the default folders Apple provides. Ignore them if you want, but don’t delete them. Apple and other companies are already assuming their presence, such as with iPhoto, which stores its iPhoto Library in the Pictures folder. Creating new top-level folders is up to you, though.
Use and Reassess — At this point, you’re basically done with your installation and configuration, and it’s time to start using your Mac as normally as possible. Obviously, some things are just different, such as the Finder column views and Dock, and you’ll need to decide whether you like using those things or not. Don’t write them off as a matter of course – the fact that they’re different doesn’t mean they’re bad. Since I test lots of new utilities all the time, I treated Mac OS X’s new approaches as though I’d just installed a new utility – some, such as the column view, I’ve decided I like using, whereas others, such as using the Dock as a launcher, I find to be a waste of time.
Give yourself a few days using Mac OS X, and take notes about what bothers you, what you find mystifying, and what gets in your way. I see a lot of generalized anger at Mac OS X for changing the way things were done in Mac OS 9, but a lot of the time when I ask people for details, it turns out that the problems are easily solved or explained. For instance, when my father first upgraded, he had lots of stuff stored on his Mac OS 9 Desktop. Since he didn’t realize that’s accessible only via the Desktop (Mac OS 9) folder alias in Mac OS X, he was furious that his files seemed to have disappeared. Once I realized what was going on, we solved the problem by moving everything from his old Mac OS 9 Desktop either into appropriate folders or to his Mac OS X Desktop.
Realistically, this process of usage and reassessment will go on for a while as you become comfortable with Mac OS X. Don’t assume just because you’re using roughly the same applications that you’ll be zipping around in Mac OS X as fluently as you were in Mac OS 9 for some time. Even after using Mac OS X on my iBook since launch and using it non-stop on my Power Mac G4 for the last few months, I still occasionally run up against a brick wall. Then I have to stop, poke around a bit, ask questions of friends, and try to figure out a workaround. So far, I haven’t been stumped by anything that matters, though Mac OS X’s windowing logic (and I use the term "logic" extremely loosely) continues to irritate me on a regular basis – there’s no good reason that a window belonging to a background application should ever appear over the front-most application, for example.
The upside of this process, at least from my point of view, is that every time I figure out something that wasn’t obvious, such as how to delete a user completely, why files in my Sites folder aren’t accessible via Web Sharing, or how Mac OS X uses some of those default folders, I want to write an article about it. We’ll be publishing some of these how-to articles in the coming months, and if you have suggestions or requests for other short how-to articles, send them along to TidBITS Talk and we’ll see what we can do.