Enjoy solving crossword puzzles? If so, you’ll want to read Kirk McElhearn’s look at crossword puzzles on the Internet. Also this week, Adam opens a grab bag of wireless networking hardware and software, Apple reduces the prices of 12-inch and 15-inch PowerBooks, AOL and Microsoft settle an antitrust lawsuit, iTunes 4.0.1 drops Internet music sharing, Virtual PC advances to version 6.0.2, and Bare Bones Software celebrates their 10th anniversary!
Apple Quietly Drops PowerBook Prices — Just over a month ago, Apple increased the speed and hard drive size of its iBook consumer laptop models, keeping the same prices. Today the company quietly lowered the prices of its 12-inch and 15-inch PowerBook models by $200 each. The 17-inch PowerBook model, which began shipping in quantity only weeks ago (unlike the more readily available 12-inch models, announced at the same time at the Macworld Expo in January), remains at $3,300. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 now sells for $1,600 with a Combo drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM), or $1,800 with a SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R). The aging 15-inch Titanium PowerBook G4 with Combo drive, 867 MHz G4, 256 MB of memory, and 40 GB hard drive is now $2,000, and the faster version with 1 GHz G4, 512 MB of memory, 60 GB hard drive, and SuperDrive sells for $2,600.
We wouldn’t be surprised if these price drops herald the coming release of a 15-inch aluminum PowerBook G4 to match the 12-inch and 17-inch models, perhaps along with a speed bump for the existing aluminum models. [MHA]
Microsoft Settles with AOL for $750 Million — Last week, Microsoft Corporation announced it would pay AOL Time Warner $750 million as part of a wide-ranging settlement of AOL’s 16-month old antitrust lawsuit against the company, ending one of the most troublesome legal disputes to come in the wake of the long-running federal antitrust case against Microsoft. The two companies announced the settlement would put past disputes behind them, and that they would immediately begin collaborating on media, technology, and bundling efforts.
The reported terms of the agreement would seem to represent a substantial victory for Microsoft, while enabling AOL Time Warner to put the litigation behind them and make a small dent in their estimated $26 billion corporate debt. Under the settlement, Microsoft grants AOL a royalty-free, seven-year license to Microsoft Internet Explorer, and the two companies will work together to leverage Microsoft media and distribution software for AOL Time Warner’s substantial print, music, and film content. Microsoft will also begin bundling America Online software with versions of Windows distributed by some PC manufacturers.
Bottom line: AOL Time Warner gets to put some money in the bank and will have an easier time deploying its content using Microsoft technologies. Microsoft gets out from under a difficult antitrust lawsuit (which would have leveraged the federal finding that Microsoft engaged in unfair trade practices), probably puts the final nail in Netscape’s coffin, and sets itself up as the gateway technology to AOL Time Warner’s considerable media holdings – a move which could have substantial implications for Apple’s online media fronts, including QuickTime and the new iTunes Music Store. [GD]
Virtual PC 6 Updates — In these transition months before Microsoft takes over the Virtual PC line (see "Microsoft Acquires Virtual PC" in TidBITS-668), Connectix isn’t sitting still. The company has released a free Virtual PC 6.0.1 update that fixes crashing problems on PowerPC G3-based Macs when Virtual PC was run in full screen mode, addressed issues with Quicken TurboTax Deluxe, and made minor corrections to the Japanese localization. Now Connectix has released Virtual PC 6.0.2, another free update, that fixes an incompatibility between Virtual PC and Apple’s AirPort Extreme card. If you’re not using AirPort Extreme, or not having troubles with Virtual PC on an AirPort Extreme-equipped Mac, Connectix recommends sticking with the 6.0.1 update. Both updates are 13.8 MB downloads and are available in English, French, German, and Japanese localizations. [ACE]
Never let it be said we don’t play well with the younger kids. Despite TidBITS being an official teenager now, Tonya and I had a great time at the Bare Bones 10th anniversary dinner on 19-May-03 with Rich Siegel, Meredith Taitz, Patrick Woolsey, and the rest of the Bare Bones crew, along with a few other guests like Andy "America’s 42nd most-beloved industry personality" Ihnatko and Steve "Mr. IOXperts" Sisak.
Sorry you couldn’t all come to the dinner too, but you can enjoy the rest of the Bare Bones 10th Anniversary Celebration, with a 10 percent discount on any order through 30-Jun-03, a $250 limited edition BBEdit Anthology that brings together every commercial release of BBEdit up through the current BBEdit 7.0 (along with liner notes and bonus tracks), and a $15 10th Anniversary T-shirt emblazoned with a saying about 3,650 days of saving a part of your anatomy synonymous with "donkey." (Dratted spam filters!) Want the collector’s edition BBEdit Anthology and T-shirt for free, along with a BBEdit polo shirt? All you have to do is win the Bare Bones 10th Anniversary Essay Contest, in which you describe how you’ve used BBEdit to change the world in 1,000 words or less.
We’re proud to have such a fun company sponsoring TidBITS, and the 10th Anniversary Celebration helped us recover from the disappointment of learning that the BBEdit Personal Service pricing option ($250,000 for hand delivery by a Bare Bones employee in a gorilla suit, unlimited feature additions, ceremonial breaking of the seal on the CD-ROM, and interpretive reading of the manual) was only a cruel April Fools prank. Oh, the letdown! But seriously, congratulations to Bare Bones for ten years of producing high-quality Mac-only software, and we’re looking forward to another ten.
Only a few weeks after releasing iTunes 4 in conjunction with the iTunes Music Store, Apple has released iTunes 4.0.1 via Software Update, rolling in a few bug fixes and steamrolling Internet sharing of music by restricting sharing to a single subnet on a local network.
One of the innovative features in iTunes 4 was the capability to share music with anyone on the Internet; you chose Connect to Shared Music, entered their IP address, and watched their shared playlists appear in your playlist pane. Sharing in iTunes 4 was quite restricted: only five people could connect at once and the only thing they could do was play music. iTunes didn’t make it easy to reconnect to shared playlists, and people sharing the music couldn’t make playlists from shared songs or copy them locally… at least within iTunes.
Therein lies the rub – Web sites quickly appeared to let people publish the fact that they were sharing music, and utilities popped up to copy shared songs. Some of the sites shut down quickly after the copying utilities appeared and others obscured the IP addresses of the sharing sites, but neither that nor the five-user restriction was enough. The copying utilities were too concerning for Apple, particularly given the music industry relationships necessary to make the iTunes Music Store happen, so the Internet sharing feature had to go. (It’s easy to imagine a record label executive calling Steve Jobs and telling him that unless copying via iTunes was stopped, the necessary contracts for the iTunes Music Store wouldn’t be renewed when they expire in a year.)
What’s most unfortunate about this move is that plenty of legitimate uses were also eliminated, such as sharing your own music between work and home or sharing between different subnets on your local network. I’d like to see Apple refine these restrictions so, for instance, you could share music with any computer you’ve authorized to play songs you’ve purchased on the iTunes Music Store, no matter where it’s located. In the meantime, those who want to share music in legitimate situations that are no longer possible can revert to previous methods, such as using standard file sharing to publish the contents of the iTunes Music folder. Of course, there’s no reason you must upgrade to iTunes 4.0.1 right now, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see the next version of Mac OS X require an upgrade.
I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of interest to wireless network users for a while now, and have come up with information about connecting older Macs – in either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X – to wireless networks, ways of improving wireless reception for the Titanium PowerBook G4, instructions on how to dissect an AirPort Extreme Base Station, and a speed-enhancing product of which every wireless network user should be aware.
Non-AirPort Adapters — Owners of older Macs that don’t accept AirPort cards have had to work hard to find appropriate wireless network adapters: PC Cards for older PowerBooks, PCI cards for older Power Macs, and USB adapters for older iMacs. Only a few vendors, such as Asante, MacWireless, and Belkin, make network adapters with Mac OS 9 drivers, and even fewer offer drivers for Mac OS X (though admittedly, those older machines are less likely to be running Mac OS X than AirPort-capable Macs). But what if you want to put an older Mac running either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X on your wireless network?
For PC Cards, you have a few options. For $80 there’s the Asante AeroLAN AL1211-DP, which has drivers for both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. The $90 MacWireless 100 milliwatt 802.11b PC Card also now has drivers for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Or, if you already have another PC Card, you can buy a $20 driver from IOXperts for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X that works with a slew of different PC Cards. And then there’s a free open source driver for Mac OS X that works with a number of PC Cards, but which hasn’t been updated in over a year.
USB adapters are trickier; the only one I’ve found that offers a Mac OS X driver comes from Belkin, for their $75 Wireless USB Network Adapter. For Mac OS 9 support, MacWireless also offers a $100 USB wireless network adapter and plans to release a Mac OS X driver in the third or fourth quarter of 2003.
<http://catalog.belkin.com/ IWCatProductPage.process?Product_ Id=122761>
I’m not aware of any PCI card wireless network adapters that have Mac OS X drivers, so if you need to go beyond Mac OS 9 with an older desktop Mac, you’ll need to look elsewhere. MacWireless does offer a 100 milliwatt PCI card (which offers better range than their USB network adapter), but they’ve said there are no plans for Mac OS X drivers.
The best solution may in fact be a $100 Linksys WET11 (11 Mbps, 802.11b) or the just-released $170 WET54G (54 Mbps, 802.11g) wireless-to-Ethernet bridge, which lets any Ethernet-capable device exist on a wireless network. Just plug one into your Mac’s Ethernet port, configure it with your Web browser, and you can be up and running in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X – no drivers required. The WET11 worked fine for connecting a Mac to my wireless network, though I wasn’t able to get it to work with an AsanteTalk Ethernet to LocalTalk Adapter and my LaserWriter Select 360, perhaps because the WET11 doesn’t support AppleTalk.
External Antennas for TiBooks — Tired of lousy wireless reception with your Titanium PowerBook G4? One interesting new solution comes from QuickerTek in the form of a replacement antenna that connects to your existing AirPort card. QuickerTek offers two antennas, a $50 stub antenna that sticks out of your PC Card slot and a $90 whip antenna that connects with velcro to the outside of your PowerBook’s case. Neither require permanent modifications, and for many people, having an external antenna may far outweigh the annoyance of not being able to connect to nearby wireless networks.
MacWireless AirPort Card Trade-In — If you don’t want to try the QuickerTek antenna for extending the range of your Titanium PowerBook G4, another alternative is to purchase a separate PC Card and install it in your PC Card slot. MacWireless’s $90 100 milliwatt PC Card should provide above average range (many cards are only 30 milliwatts) and MacWireless will also take your existing AirPort card as a trade-in for $30, bringing the price of their 100 milliwatt PC Card to $60. You could probably get more for your AirPort card by selling it on eBay, where they seem to go for $50 to $70, but that’s more work than just sending it to MacWireless.
AirPort Extreme Base Station Dissection — For those inveterate tinkerers out there, Constantin von Wentzel has posted a detailed description of his dissection of the new AirPort Extreme Base Station. For the moment, I don’t know of any reason why you’d want to do this, but disassembling older AirPort Base Stations came in handy for adding external antennas, fixing blown capacitors, and cannibalizing the internal PC Card.
Wi-Fi Speed Spray — Lastly, if you’re jealous of people with new PowerBooks and AirPort Extreme Base Stations, never fear, because there’s a way you can speed up your old wireless network. Requiring only complete gullibility, Wi-Fi Speed Spray promises to eliminate the harsh conditions that slow down radio waves in polluted environments. It’s of course a complete joke, but well worth a read. Pay close attention to the testimonials!
PayBITS: If Adam’s pointers to unusual wireless devices were a
help, why not buy a copy of The Wireless Networking Starter Kit?
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Many things can be converted into bits and transferred over the Internet, which is one reason why small pockets of special interests, hobbies, and pastimes flourish on the Web. One such interest is that of cruciverbalists, or crossword puzzle solvers. It may come as a surprise to the uninitiated, but not only has the passion for crossword puzzles flourished in recent years thanks to the Internet, but it’s one of the few areas where content providers are actually making money.
The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913, and the first puzzle was published in the New York Sunday World. In the 90 years since then, little has changed – sure, new types of crosswords were invented, and they swept the world (at least parts of the world – there are no crosswords in Chinese), but the fundamental structure and usage of the crossword puzzle remained essentially the same until puzzles hit the Internet.
The Internet has of course provided increased availability of crossword puzzles, but crossword constructors have also used the medium to develop contacts and work together. On 13-Jun-99, Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor, even published a cryptic crossword that had been created jointly on a Usenet newsgroup by more than 40 people living on five continents. Crossword puzzle constructor Will Johnston says that, thanks to the Internet, "we are getting more quality puzzles per day, and constructors have more places to submit than before."
Big Apple Paper: 15 Letters — For most American cruciverbalists, the New York Times crossword puzzles are the benchmark for quality, difficulty, and just plain trickery. Progressing in difficulty as the week moves ahead, they offer a range of puzzles that few other publications can provide. The New York Times made an early step into paid Internet content when they started offering their Premium Crosswords via their Web site in 1996. (Free registration with the New York Times is required to access the page below.)
The Premium Crosswords service includes the daily and Sunday puzzles, bimonthly acrostics, additional cryptic crosswords and special puzzles, and more than 2,000 archived puzzles dating to 1996. And as a testament to how attractive it is to cruciverbalists everywhere, the New York Times has managed to parlay this service into a profitable venture. Today, some 40,000 crossword puzzle fanatics pay $35 a year to access the service (the price just went up from $20 per year in April; when the service first began it cost $10 per month).
Will Shortz says he is "proud and honored" at this success and adds, "The fact that tens of thousands of people would pay for the Times crossword (when it’s available free with the newspaper) is proof of its popularity and validation of its quality." Of course, many of the subscribers to the Premium Crosswords service don’t buy the New York Times, or live in areas where it is not readily available.
The New York Times Web site also has a forum for crossword puzzle fans, who discuss the daily puzzles and converse about other puzzle-related topics. Some of the foremost puzzle constructors contribute to this forum, and the community that has grown around these puzzles is solid and quite eclectic.
There are many other Web sites and pages about crossword puzzles, with links or collections of downloadable puzzles. Crossword constructor Ray Hamel has the most comprehensive Web page with links to puzzles, puzzle resources, software and articles about puzzling.
Beverage for Puzzle Solving: Four Letters — Some puzzle sites offer Java interfaces to solve puzzles. The New York Times even provides several ways to solve puzzles using its Java applets: you can solve against the clock, with the ten fastest times displayed; you can solve with a friend, helping each other out; and you will soon be able to solve in head-to-head competition with others. My experience with these Java applets is mixed – in some cases they work well, whereas in others they work partly or not at all. Browser choice matters too; some Java applets work fine in Internet Explorer, but don’t even load in Safari. The New York Times acrostic puzzles don’t work at all under Mac OS X, though other puzzlers report that they work fine under Mac OS 9.2; this may be a temporary problem with Apple’s Java implementation, which is usually much better in Mac OS X.
You can also download crossword puzzles from the Internet in two formats: PDF files you can print out and solve on paper, or .puz files, which are used by several programs available for the Mac and other platforms. These .puz files contain information defining the grid layout, the clues and the answers, and enable you to solve crosswords on-screen with special software. The New York Times and many other puzzle sites, including other major newspapers such as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, use the .puz format, so it has become the de facto standard.
Puzzles in the .puz format either come with solutions in the file or let you "unscramble" the solution (if you use Across Lite, described below) the next day by entering a four-digit code. You can then check the entire puzzle, individual words or letters to see if they are correct, and, if you get stuck, display the solution for a letter or word, or for the entire puzzle.
Common Mac Puzzle Program: Two Words — The most widely used program for solving .puz crosswords is Across Lite, which is available for almost a dozen platforms, including the Mac, Windows, Linux, Solaris, and several others. The Macintosh version is available for both 68K- and PowerPC-based Macs, and runs in System 7 on up. The Mac OS X version is, for now, available only to subscribers to the New York Times Web site. Other versions are available for free from the developer, Litsoft.
Across Lite does what it is designed for very well. When you open a puzzle, it selects the first answer and displays the clue at the top of the window, as well as in a list at the side. (There are many display options so you can choose the type of layout you prefer.) Type the letters of the answer, and then press the Tab key to move to the next answer. You can change direction (from across to down, or vice versa) using the arrow keys. Clicking anywhere in the puzzle makes the square you clicked active, and displays its clue.
Across Lite also offers excellent printing options, such as allowing you to choose whether the puzzle and clues print on one page or two. Many solvers prefer using a pencil and paper, and Across Lite is a good program for printing crosswords if you don’t want to do them on screen.
However, Across Lite is quirky. Menu items often don’t function properly, though clicking in the grid can cause recalcitrant menu items to work when chosen. This is annoying, and one can hope that future versions will work correctly. In addition, you can’t open .puz files with Across Lite in Mac OS X by double-clicking them; the Open With association doesn’t stick, no matter how many times you try to set it. So you must use the Open button or menu item to open puzzle files.
The other Macintosh program that can open .puz files is MacXword, a Mac OS X-native program that offers many of the same functions as Across Lite. It is $15 shareware and lets you solve puzzles in the same way, but it lacks some of Across Lite’s layout and printing flexibility. Another drawback is that MacXword can’t unscramble puzzles whose solution is protected by a code, as is true for the New York Times puzzles.
But MacXword is more Mac-like, has a cleaner interface, and all its menu items work. It also offers a nifty feature for solvers, like myself, who can’t find all the answers. Selecting OneAcross Lookup from the Solution menu opens a dialog containing information on the clue and the number of letters the answer contains. Click OK, and it sends this information to the One Across Web site, which is a kind of online crossword puzzle dictionary. Die-hard puzzlers may think this is cheating, but it helps me find some of those obscure words that would otherwise prevent me from finishing puzzles.
Similarly useful for Mac OS X users is the $25 shareware program Crossword Assistant, which helps you find words when you already have a few of the letters. For example, if one word in a puzzle is "tidbits", and you have the second, fourth and fifth letters from words that cross the answer, type "- i – b i – -" in Crossword Assistant’s text field. The bottom section of its window then displays all the matches in its 150,000-word dictionary, allowing you to find the word that fits the clue. Registered users receive another dictionary with an additional 165,000 words, and you can add your own dictionaries or word lists to the program. Crossword Assistant can also help you solve anagrams by presenting all the words that match the letters you input.
Gett-ng Y–r D-ily F-x — Thanks to being able to access the New York Times crosswords online, I’ve acquired the habit of doing a puzzle when I start work every morning. With a steaming pot of tea by my side and my iBook in front of me, nothing gets my mind ready for the day ahead like the mental stimulation of a crossword puzzle. In the past I would have to wait for the newspaper to arrive, or ration puzzles from previous days’ papers. But now, I just go to the New York Times Web site and download the day’s puzzle. I still can’t solve them all, but the challenge is just a click away.
Not all crosswords cost money, and both Ray Hamel’s page mentioned above and a page maintained by constructor Will Johnston offer links to the main crossword puzzle sites available on the Web, both subscription-based services and free puzzles.
So, for a reasonable cost, or even for free, cruciverbalists can have their daily fix, and solve crossword puzzles either onscreen or on paper. It may seem like a niche market, and it is, but the advantages provided by the Internet allow it to turn a tidy profit, something relatively few other types of content have accomplished.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. He is currently working on a book entitled Unix for Mac OS X: Learning the Command Line, to be published by Addison-Wesley in September 2003.]
PayBITS: Did this article turn you into a cruciverbalist?
Consider thanking Kirk with a few bucks via PayPal!
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Classical music for the digital lifestyle — Annoyed at how the digital lifestyle seems to favor rock and pop over classical music? So are some TidBITS Talk readers, and Greg Sigman’s manifesto may be the seed of a future article about the problem and how to fix it. (4 messages)
iTrip and other FM transmitters — In our last issue, Travis Butler looked at three FM transmitters that work with the iPod, but there are others that readers both asked about and commented on. Read this if you’re considering buying an FM transmitter. (12 messages)
Other options for playing MP3s in your car — Of course, an FM transmitter isn’t the only way to play MP3s in your car, and this thread offers some additional suggestions. (3 messages)
FCC and Media Consolidation — Views on either side of the FCC’s vote today to relax restrictions on media ownership. (4 messages)
Identifying spyware — Worried about programs that report on your behavior to software companies? This thread offers some suggestions about how to find out if a program is phoning home with information you don’t want to share. (5 messages)
Outliners and super-outliners — Matt Neuburg’s articles about text utilities like NoteTaker prompted this discussion of what an outliner should and should not do. (6 messages)