We’re still fielding Macintosh conference news, as MacHack reaffirms its commitment to its 19-Jun-03 start date and IDG World Expo announces that Macworld Expo New York 2003 is now named "Create." Also this week, Adam reveals how to set up a print spooler under Mac OS X and details improvements in the Info-Mac Archive mirror network. In other news, we note the releases of Web Crossing 5.0, LaunchBar 3.2.10, and Apple’s Security Update 2003-03-24.
MacHack Stays Put in June — Despite Apple’s recent move of the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) to June in San Francisco, a single day after the MacHack developers conference, the MacHack organizers have announced that MacHack will remain in its originally scheduled spot from 19-Jun-03 to 21-Jun-03 in Dearborn, Michigan. Although many MacHack attendees remain fiercely loyal to the grassroots conference, it’s almost certain that Apple’s move will hurt attendance. I still highly recommend MacHack: it offers the best combination of real-world information and industry networking I’ve seen, and I will definitely be attending (and presenting at) MacHack. Apple may be the 600-pound gorilla of this industry, but it would still be nice to see consideration of the effects of throwing that weight around, along with a little common courtesy (such as notifying the MacHack organizing committee in advance). [ACE]
Security Update 2003-03-24 Fixes Samba — Apple has released Security Update 2003-03-24 via Software Update and as a stand-alone 4.5 MB download. The update fixes a hole that could allow unauthorized remote access to the system via the open-source Samba code that underlies Mac OS X’s built-in Windows File Sharing (available from the Sharing preferences pane). Also fixed is a problem with OpenSSL that could allow RSA private keys to be compromised. Although Windows File Sharing is off by default, the update is still important, and Apple recommends that all customers install it. That’s easy if you’re running Mac OS X 10.2.4 or Mac OS X Server 10.2.4, but Apple says those with earlier versions of Mac OS X must either update to 10.2.4 or visit the OpenSSL and Samba Web sites for additional information on the available fixes, not that we could find any that would help a normal Mac user. Our advice? If you’re not running Mac OS X 10.2.4, keep Windows File Sharing turned off. If you are, install this security update. [ACE]
LaunchBar 3.2.10 Improves Help — Objective Development has released LaunchBar 3.2.10, a minor update to the extremely useful launcher utility (see "Tools We Use: LaunchBar" in TidBITS-671 for a full review). The two new aspects of LaunchBar 3.2.10 are significantly improved help files that simplify figuring out LaunchBar’s more advanced features and full support for creating email messages using addresses garnered from Mac OS X’s system-wide Address Book. It’s a 252K download. [ACE]
Web Crossing 5.0, Web Crossing Express 5.0 Debut — Web Crossing, Inc. has announced a pair of new products, Web Crossing 5.0 and Web Crossing Express 5.0. Web Crossing 5.0 is the latest version of the company’s powerful server platform and collaboration tools, which include Web services, email (POP, SMTP, IMAP, and mailing lists), FTP, newsgroups, discussions, and much more. Web Crossing 5.0 offers new customization features, a plug-in architecture for extensibility, and an interesting approach to mirroring local and remote files with only a Web browser. Upgrades to Web Crossing 5.0 start at $120, depending on traffic levels, and new copies cost between $300 and $35,000, also depending on traffic. Despite those scary-looking prices, you can try some of Web Crossing’s core features with the new Web Crossing Express 5.0, which offers a significant subset of Web Crossing’s features for free. Most notably, Web Crossing Express lacks most of Web Crossing’s collaboration tools, leaving it as a more pure Internet server platform with the capability to serve Web pages, email, FTP, and more. [ACE]
Poll Results: Sport Utility Drives? In last week’s poll, we asked how many of you have a utility hard drive for Macintosh maintenance and configuration tasks. Of the over 500 people who weighed in, nearly 75 percent said they did have such a hard drive. That’s interesting, but not surprising, since the type of person who solves problems is more likely to need a utility drive, and the type of person who reads TidBITS is likely to be a problem solver. [ACE]
IDG World Expo and Apple last week announced a new event called Create that replaces Macworld Expo in New York from 14-Jul-03 through 18-Jul-03. Macworld Expo centered around the world of the Macintosh; Create will instead focus on the creative arts: design, publishing, audio, and video. Although details are still sketchy, Create appears to be a compromise between Apple and IDG World Expo in the running feud over IDG World Expo moving Macworld Expo back to Boston in 2004 (see "Apple, IDG World Expo Play Hardball over Macworld Expo" in TidBITS-652 for details). As a compromise, Create makes some sense given the demise of Seybold New York and the lack of similar conferences on the East Coast. Since New York is a larger market than Boston in the creative arts, it’s possible that the deal may result in future instances of Create in New York, and Macworld Expo disappearing entirely from the East Coast. IDG World Expo said that the focus of Macworld Expo in San Francisco next year will remain unchanged.
The switch from Macworld Expo to Create raises the question of whether or not core Macworld Expo audiences, such as network administrators, consultants, developers, and consumers, will bother attending Create when it’s nominally aimed at technology for creative professionals. No matter what, we expect that many companies offering products or services that aren’t directly related to the creative community will still exhibit, since creative professionals still need utility software, wireless networks, and peripherals like large hard disks. Also, although Apple has committed to exhibiting, the most notable no-shows at previous Macworld Expos in New York have been creative arts companies such as Adobe, Macromedia, and Quark, so IDG World Expo may have a tough row to hoe in attracting them to a conference that will probably be significantly smaller than the more general, former Macworld Expo.
It’s possible that the entire change of name and focus is just a way for IDG World Expo to soothe Apple’s ruffled feathers. And it’s equally possible that all that will really change is the name – everything else may turn out to be substantially similar. In fact, IDG World Expo’s Web site for the show uses "Macworld Conference & Expo presents Create" as the primary logo, thus retaining a connection with the previous name. No matter what, we plan to attend Create… this year.
Since the dawn of the Macintosh (really!), a small group of volunteers has been toiling away to provide services to the Macintosh community. Known as the Info-Mac Network, this non-profit organization publishes the Info-Mac Digest, a moderated mailing list of all things Macintosh (currently on hiatus while the group works through some problems with digest scripts after moving to a new server) and the Info-Mac Archive, the oldest (and for many years the largest) archive of freely distributable Macintosh software and information.
In recent years, Info-Mac has had a hard time keeping up with the many companies who found they could make money from similar services via advertising – hence the rise of CNET’s Download.com, VersionTracker, MacUpdate, Tucows, and others. For a long time, Info-Mac was saddled with an extremely old server that didn’t support much additional disk space, and as with any volunteer organization, getting anything done quickly is uncommon. I’m certainly not one to point fingers here; as the president of Info-Mac Network, I’m more to blame than anyone else for not recruiting more volunteers to help with our to-do list. (If you’re interested in helping, drop me a note outlining your skills and I’ll add you to our list of people to call on for particular tasks.)
However, thanks to Glenn Fleishman’s misfortunes with distributing his book Real World GoLive 6 in PDF format (See "Publish (Electronically) and Perish?" in TidBITS-672), we’ve taken a significant step forward in making the Info-Mac Archive significantly more useful for everyone.
Pricey Bandwidth — Despite predictions from pundits like George Gilder that bandwidth would become essentially free, it hasn’t really happened. Glenn’s experience is the most extreme I’ve heard of, but it’s not uncommon for developers to complain about the cost of maintaining a high-speed Internet connection for distributing updates to their programs. If a product has several thousand users, and the developer notifies them of the update, that can result in a huge number of downloads in a short period. And that, as Glenn found out, can be devastating.
So bandwidth can be expensive. But what about the commercial file distribution sites? Although it’s often not obvious, they don’t actually host the files themselves (with the notable exception of Tucows). Instead, they just point at the developer’s site, so working with the commercial file distribution sites doesn’t change the bandwidth equation at all, other than by increasing demand for the file, hopefully.
This is where Info-Mac comes in. Although our server is kindly hosted by MIT and has quite a bit of bandwidth because of that, we don’t let people download files from the main server directly. Instead, Info-Mac encourages other organizations to set up mirror sites of the Info-Mac Archive, thus spreading the load much more widely. In the early days of the Internet, reducing the geographic distance your download traveled was also important, although that concern has fallen by the wayside in most parts of the world now.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Net — Info-Mac currently has 22 mirror sites, 7 in the United States and another 15 internationally. As a user, how do you know which one to pick, and as someone making a file available, how do you provide a reasonable interface for your users, without making them pick from 22 links? Years ago, a Macintosh developer named Fabrizio Oddone proposed a new URL scheme that worked with a utility he wrote called QuickestMirror to solve the problem. For a variety of reasons, QuickestMirror and the special URLs never caught on.
This mirror problem is the gauntlet Glenn picked up. I suggested to him we could upload his Real World GoLive 6 PDF file to Info-Mac, but that the user experience wasn’t great because of all the mirror sites. I’d been thinking about the possibility of a CGI that would take a path to a file in the Info-Mac Archive and download it from a random mirror, and when I mentioned it to Glenn, he wrote the necessary script in Perl in a few minutes.
Because of the Perl script, developers can now offer users a single download URL that connects each user to a random mirror site. From a developer’s perspective, here’s how it works. If you click the link below, the script takes you to the top level of a random Info-Mac mirror site. Most Info-Mac mirrors are FTP sites, so it’s likely that your Web browser will launch your preferred FTP client software.
The next trick is to point the script at a specific file. For that, just add a specific path= argument to the link, as I’ve done below for an old issue of TidBITS. Of course, you must find your file on one of the mirror sites by hand (and I strongly recommend using the short directory names rather than the longer ones that appear on some sites – they’re purely to make the file listings more human readable). If you need to search for your file, try the Info-Mac HyperArchive at MIT, and then locate the short directory name on one of the other mirrors.
If you wish to narrow the list of archive sites used, you can append "&archives=us" or "&archives=intl" as I’ve done with these links. It might be a good idea on a download page to provide two links, one for those in the United States and one for people in other countries.
Current Limitations — I won’t pretend this is the ideal distribution solution for every situation. First off, you really do get a random mirror from our list, and it’s entirely possible that one could be down temporarily (or permanently – if you run into a dead site, please let us know at <[email protected]>). It’s also possible the random mirror might be slower than a hand-picked mirror. We’re happy to consider improvements to the script from any Perl experts out there; visit the link below for details. Possible improvements include smarter selection of mirrors, load balancing, and improved user feedback.
Second, although our mirrors update frequently, you might want a file that a particular mirror doesn’t yet have; in this case, clicking the download link again should send you to another random mirror for your requested download.
Third, since Info-Mac is a volunteer organization, our archivists, Christopher Li and Patrik Montgomery, aren’t always able to download, verify, virus-check, and post submissions as quickly as might be ideal. We’re working on improving and speeding our submission process, but it could take two or three days for any given submission to appear. Don’t assume it will be instantaneous.
Fourth, and finally, although we currently have plenty of free disk space and have been able to lift our previous submission size limit, thanks to the new server MIT gave us recently, lack of disk space and aging hardware are ongoing expenses that have caused us problems in the past and will no doubt do so again. It would be helpful if developers using the Info-Mac Archive to distribute shareware or demos would donate the equivalent of a single license to help cover our costs. So, if a particular utility costs $15, a $15 donation from its developer would be welcome. We won’t require such donations, but if Info-Mac helps you avoid large bandwidth charges, donating the amount of a single license seems like a reasonable way to chip in.
Future Plans — We have lots of things we’d like to do with Info-Mac, given unlimited time and resources, but since both are in exceedingly short supply, I won’t promise anything. Info-Mac is what it is, and if it’s useful for users and Macintosh developers, I can be happy with that, and I hope you can as well.
As of this writing, my internal network has only Macs running Mac OS X. That’s not to say that most of our Macs can’t boot into Mac OS 9 when necessary, but the only reasons I’ve had to switch back to Mac OS 9 recently were to run Norton Disk Doctor to perform a media check on a hard disk with bad blocks, and to use the floppy drive in my PowerBook G3. For everyday operation, though, every Mac is in Mac OS X. The last hurdle to making the conversion to OS X was setting up print spooling in Mac OS X, and here’s the story of how I set it up and turned off the last essential Mac running Mac OS 9.
Performa Printing — The last holdout was our Performa 6400, which was winning the award for most gratuitous use of an old Macintosh. It used Mac OS 9.1, the latest possible for that model, and was running AppleShare IP 6.3. Until its internal file serving duties were taken over by a Power Mac G4/450, it was our internal MP3 server, Retrospect backup server, and it also hosted Now Up-to-Date & Contact’s Public Event and Public Contact servers. Nagging performance and stability problems caused me to move most of its duties to the Mac OS X-based Power Mac G4/450, but the Performa remained active for a single purpose: print spooling.
Tonya and I have an old Apple LaserWriter Select 360 that we use for all our black-and-white printing. It’s a good printer, and in fine working order, but it’s accessible only over LocalTalk. The Performa 6400, thanks to a PCI-based Ethernet card, served as the bridge between our main Ethernet network and the LocalTalk cabling for the printer. That was important, but we had become even more fond of the print spooling feature in AppleShare IP.
I initially set up the AppleShare IP print spooler so we could print from AirPort-only Macs (before I’d finished the wired Ethernet network) through the Linksys EtherFast wireless gateway we use for bridging between wireless and wired Ethernet. Although the EtherFast works well on the whole, it doesn’t bridge AppleTalk packets between the wired and wireless segments of our network, and since the LaserWriter Select 360 understands only AppleTalk, we needed a way around the Linksys’s limitation. (Wireless gateways from Mac-savvy manufacturers like Asante and Proxim can bridge AppleTalk packets appropriately, but when I bought the EtherFast, it was quite a bit cheaper than the competition.)
The solution turned out to be AppleShare IP. True to its name, AppleShare IP’s print spooler would accept print jobs sent to it via TCP/IP rather than AppleTalk, and it could then send the print job to the printer via AppleTalk over the LocalTalk cables. When I managed to get this approach working, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a welcome side-effect of the print spooler: it was perfectly happy to accept print jobs when the printer was turned off and hold on to them until we turned the printer on. This was fantastic, since we don’t need to see much of what we print right away, and since the printer isn’t in either of our offices, it was handy to send a print job and have it come out of the printer hours or days later when we remembered to turn the printer on.
So there we were, keeping an entire computer running all the time just so we could print a few times a week. Gratuitous certainly, and if electricity were both free and had no environmental impact, perhaps we would have left it that way. But neither is true, so it was time to figure out how to implement print spooling in Mac OS X so the Power Mac G4/450 could take over from the Performa.
Mac OS X Print Spooling — The first step was to buy an Ethernet-to-LocalTalk bridge, a small hardware device that connects LocalTalk and Ethernet networks. I opted for the Asante FriendlyNet Ethernet to LocalTalk Bridge; a bunch of inexpensive refurbished units are available from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics. The bridge took care of the physical problem of how to connect my Ethernet network to the LocalTalk-only printer.
Next up was the task of configuring the Power Mac G4/450 to talk to the printer. First I made sure AppleTalk was turned on for the Built-in Ethernet connection in the Network preferences pane. Then I launched Print Center, added the LaserWriter Select 360 as an AppleTalk printer, and printed a test sheet. It was almost too simple, but it did show that the Asante Ethernet to LocalTalk Bridge was working.
Then I wanted to make the printer available to all the other computers on the network, so I opened the Sharing preferences pane and clicked the checkbox next to Printer Sharing. To test, I tried printing from my iBook. In the Print dialog there’s a Printer pop-up menu, and in it, when you have a shared printer on the network, is a Shared Printers hierarchical menu. I chose LaserWriter Select 360 from that menu and verified that printing from another computer worked fine as long as the printer was turned on. Easy enough, but I wanted to print to the printer when it’s powered off, too!
I thought it was time for serious geek juju, so I rolled up my sleeves and started poking around the hidden Web interface for the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) that’s underneath Mac OS X 10.2 and later. You can find it too, at the link below, but I recommend caution when making changes, since it’s entirely possible that you could muck things up but good if you don’t know what you’re doing. After a bit of fruitless reading in the CUPS documentation, I searched for instructions in Google. Nothing there either.
Out of ideas for where to look for help, I figured I’d try the obvious, so I turned off the printer, printed another test page, and did something else for a few minutes. Lo and behold, when I turned the printer on, the printer promptly spit out my print job!
In short, print spooling using Mac OS X’s built-in printer sharing just worked, with no fuss, no muss, and no need for incantations from the command line. Apple deserves big points for building something as useful as print spooling into Mac OS X by default, but I’ll take a few away because they never mention that you can still print to a shared printer that’s turned off in Mac Help.
Printing from Classic — I wasn’t entirely done. Even though configuring all our computers to print via our new print server was simple in Mac OS X, convincing Classic applications to print was trickier. For those of our Macs that can use AppleTalk because they’re connected via wired Ethernet, the process of setting up the new printer was a matter of launching a Classic application, choosing the Chooser from the Apple menu, and setting up the printer as you normally would. Remember that you must have AppleTalk turned on for your network connection in the Network preferences pane.
The problem came when I tried to configure those Macs that occasionally use the wireless network. Since the Linksys EtherFast doesn’t bridge AppleTalk between the wired and wireless segments of our network, I needed to use a little-known utility from Apple to set up the necessary Desktop Printers. It’s called Desktop Printer Utility, you need version 1.3, and it’s probably located in either the Utilities folder or Apple Extras folder inside the Applications (Mac OS 9) folder. Launch it to display the New Desktop Printer dialog.
Select Printer (LPR) and click OK. In the dialog box that appears, you must select a PostScript Printer Description file and your LPR Printer. Click the first Change button and select the appropriate PPD for your printer. Then click the second Change button, enter the IP address of your print server and the name of your print queue (which you can verify by selecting the printer in Print Center on the server and choosing Show Info from the Printers menu), and click the Verify button to make sure you can communicate with the printer. Click OK to close the selection dialog box, click the Create button, and give your new Desktop Printer the name you want to see in the Print dialog boxes for Classic applications.
(If, for some reason, using the Chooser to set up an AppleTalk printer doesn’t work, you can also select Printer (AppleTalk) in the New Desktop Printer dialog and run through a similar process to create an AppleTalk-based Desktop Printer.)
So here’s the rub. I’ve done this before, when I used the Performa and AppleShare IP as my print spooler, and it worked fine. I vaguely remember needing to reboot into Mac OS 9 on one occasion and rebuilding the Desktop on another to get it to work right, but one way or another, it did work. Now, for whatever reason and no matter what I try, I cannot convince the Desktop Printer Utility, or the Desktop Printer it creates, to talk to my print server. It always fails with an error -8885, which I believe means No LPR Connection.
Although I’m annoyed at being stymied, I don’t actually care, since all the Macs that need to print from Classic can connect to the wired Ethernet network and print via AppleTalk, which works fine. And of course, the number of Classic applications from which we need to print is extremely small and dropping all the time.
One final note. Although I haven’t wanted to share our USB-based Epson Photo Stylus 870 color inkjet printer with Classic applications or Macs running Mac OS 9, Apple has a worthwhile discussion of what’s involved.
Gimp-Print to the Rescue? One thing I haven’t had time to try yet is installing the open source Gimp-Print drivers. Although they’re a bit complicated to install – seemingly like all open source software – they offer many additional printer drivers for Mac OS X, and equally important, they often add features that aren’t supported by the built-in Mac OS X printer drivers. For instance, my Epson Photo Stylus 870 is supported and works acceptably in Mac OS X, but when I wanted to print on roll paper, the only option was to download and install the Gimp-Print drivers. If you’ve been having any printing frustrations in Mac OS X, give the Gimp-Print drivers a try and see if they help.
Two tips: Make sure assign a unique name to the new printer you add via Gimp-Print, and consider yourself forewarned that the Gimp-Print drivers take over in some unexpected ways. For instance, the presets in iPhoto disappeared after I installed Gimp-Print, and even removing the Gimp-Print-defined printer didn’t bring them back. It’s not a big deal, but I haven’t yet devoted the time to figuring out how to get those presets back.
Share and Spool Alike — Despite my disheartening failure to set up LPR printing for Classic applications, I was stunned at how easy the overall process was, particularly the Mac OS X parts. Mac OS X certainly isn’t perfect, but at least in this case, it was easier and more pleasant to work in than Mac OS 9. Here’s hoping that becomes true of ever-more facets of using the Mac over time.
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