Switching to a new email program is a harder decision than swapping other software – Matt Neuburg explains why Mailsmith 2.0 is the email client for him. Also, Adam questions IDG’s Macworld Expo policy barring children under 13, and Jeff Carlson reveals how to use iDVD 3 on Macs without SuperDrives. We also note the releases of Palm’s Tungsten T2, BBEdit 7.0.4, Griffin’s iTrip Station Finder, and Steve Wozniak’s new wOzNet wireless network.
Palm Tungsten T2 Improves on Original — Last November, Palm’s Tungsten T marked a new beginning for the handheld maker. Thanks to its a bright color screen, capacious memory, fast processor, and Palm OS 5, the Tungsten T proved innovation was still possible for Palm following several years of humdrum activity (see "Tungsten T Marks New Beginning for Palm" in TidBITS-655). Now Palm has released the Tungsten T2, which improves on the successes of the its predecessor. The built-in memory has doubled to 32 MB, and the flash memory (which stores the operating system and standard applications) is now 8 MB. Part of that flash memory is now occupied by applications such as email and Web clients that were previously available only on CD. This release also uses Graffiti 2 software for text input, which offers slightly different strokes to create some letters and the capability to write directly on the screen instead of in the dedicated Graffiti area. Also improved is the color screen, using a transflective TFT that is brighter and sharper than the Tungsten T’s already impressive screen. Other features, such as built-in Bluetooth networking and a microphone for recording voice messages, are identical to the original model. The Tungsten T2 is available now for $350. [JLC]
BBEdit 7.0.4 Released — Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit 7.0.4, a bug fix update that the company recommends for all owners of its flagship text editor, BBEdit 7.0. New in this release are expanded HTML preferences and CVS (Concurrent Versions System) logging. The update also incorporates over 60 changes ranging from typo corrections in error dialogs to improved performance when scrolling syntax-colored documents. The BBEdit 7.0.4 update is available as a free 15 MB download for both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. [JLC]
iTrip Station Finder Released — When Travis Butler reviewed Griffin Technology’s iTrip, a $35 FM transmitter that works with the iPod to play music over any radio, he gave the device high marks for design and ingenuity, but noted that it was sometimes difficult to find a clear frequency, especially in urban areas (see "Taking an iTrip: Three FM Transmitters" in TidBITS-681). Last week Griffin released iTrip Station Finder, a free Mac OS X application containing a database of 254 cities in the U.S. and recommended frequencies to use in each. The iTrip is available for both the 2003 iPod models (which have a FireWire dock on the bottom of the device) and previous models with a FireWire port on top. [JLC]
wOzNet: Wheels in the Sky Keep on Tuning — After co-founding Apple Computer and teaching computer skills to fifth graders, what’s next for Steve Wozniak? Last week Woz took the wraps off wOzNet, the project his new company, Wheels of Zeus (wOz), has been working on for the past 18 months. wOzNet is a wireless network composed of miniature tracking devices, intended for use in locating objects, pets, or people. The devices use GPS hardware to determine their position and low-power 900 MHz wireless networking circuitry for broadcasting that position to a nearby base station at a relaxed 20,000 bits per second, less than most modems. The tags will also be able to generate customizable alerts via phone or email. Multiple base stations will be able to pick up the signal from a tag, enabling neighborhood-wide tracking, but optional privacy controls should prevent it from getting creepy. The wOzNet technology is still being developed, but the company plans on releasing consumer products in 2004. The trick for wOzNet is to find a niche between the cheaper, but lower-powered RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags gaining popularity for inventory control, and the high-speed Wi-Fi networking gear that costs more and consumes more power. [JLC]
A few weeks ago, Apple released iDVD 3.0.1 Update, an apparently minor patch that provides, in Apple’s brief description, "improved performance and stability for encoding, burning, and managing your iDVD projects." (The updater is a 4.1 MB download.)
What Apple didn’t mention at the time, but recently revealed in a Knowledge Base article, is that the update makes it possible to run iDVD 3 on any Macintosh with a PowerPC G4 or G5 processor – not just Macs with a built-in SuperDrive, as previously required. Of course, you won’t be able to burn the final DVD disc on a non-SuperDrive Mac, but you can build projects and encode them in preparation for burning on another machine.
Unfortunately, you can’t purchase a copy of iLife and install it on your Mac; the installer won’t install iDVD 3 without a SuperDrive present. (I wasn’t able to test to see if a recent boxed copy of iLife includes iDVD 3.0.1, and whether that would install on any Mac; since its introduction, the iLife package has been updated to include iTunes 4. However, I doubt that copies with iDVD 3.0.1 would have made it into the retail channel yet.) Instead, you must copy the iDVD 3 application folder from another SuperDrive-equipped Mac, then run the iDVD 3.0.1 update to make it work.
In last week’s coverage of Macworld Expo in New York, I ran out of space to discuss one of the more subtle differences between this year’s Macworld Expo and previous ones: the banning of children 12 years of age and younger from the exhibit floor. Subtle it might have been for those who didn’t plan to attend with a child in tow, but for those who unwittingly did, it meant a ruined day for both adult and child. As the subject of TidBITS reader Evan Blonder’s email complaint to me read, "I got kicked out of CreativePro." Another TidBITS reader was denied entrance because he had his seven-week-old daughter asleep in a front carrier.
When I saw the big sign at the door saying, "Children 12 years of age and under will not be permitted on the exhibit floor," I thanked my lucky stars that Tonya decided to stay home with Tristan again this year, rather than bringing him to meet all our friends and colleagues from the industry and see just what it is I do on my trips. But I was also caught off guard. I paid far more attention to the details of Macworld Expo than most people, thanks to our coverage of the Apple/IDG World Expo soap opera that preceded this year’s show, and the sign was the first I’d heard of this age policy.
When I asked Beth Wickenhiser, IDG World Expo’s Senior PR Coordinator, about it, she admitted that the first piece of marketing collateral included the previous, totally reasonable, age policy: children under 16 needed to be accompanied by a registered adult, children under 5 were free, and strollers and baby carriages weren’t permitted for safety reasons. However, she claimed that "every subsequent marketing piece, our Web site and email blasts sent to registered attendees clearly indicated the new age policy. Also, the online registration form required all attendees to accept the event’s terms and conditions, which clearly stated this new policy."
When I went back to check my email (this is why I never empty Eudora’s Trash), I was able to find one mention of the new age policy at the very bottom of an offer that I, as a speaker, was allowed to send to friends and colleagues. But eight other messages to another of my email addresses, trying to entice me to attend, failed to mention it entirely. The Web site may have mentioned the new age policy, but it certainly wasn’t sufficiently called out as being a change from previous years that I, or many other people, noticed.
Do you have an opinion about this age policy you’d like to share with the conference organizers? You can send them via email to <[email protected]> or you can call 800-645-EXPO.
What’s the Point? That was the main question I asked Beth, since I couldn’t imagine why IDG World Expo would care that someone was walking around the show floor with a sleeping infant. Her answer surprised me: "Macworld CreativePro Conference & Expo was designed as an educational event for creative professionals. As such, our exhibitors expected to see qualified, professional attendees with buying power. While many children under the age of 12 are indeed proficient at using Macs and related applications, they are not the professional users our exhibitors sought."
Wow, talk about missing the point! No one expects a seven-week-old infant to be asking intelligent questions about high-end printers or seriously considering the purchase of 3-D modeling software. But her father, who matches IDG’s description of a "qualified, professional attendee with buying power" would have been asking such questions if he had been allowed inside. And what if the parent in question had been a graphic designer who just happened to be a breast-feeding mother who couldn’t leave the infant for an entire day? Plus, most children are out of school during Macworld New York’s July dates, and with many creative professionals working as freelancers or with flexible hours, taking care of children is often a fact of life in the summer. The practical implication of this policy is that parents who manage to maintain a career while simultaneously caring for their children are somehow unqualified to attend Macworld Expo. These people deserve medals and public acclaim, not officious harassment.
As Evan Blonder wrote, "IDG World Expo has to understand that many of us ‘creative professionals’ take the day off to attend the show, and some of us have children. We are fathers and mothers as well as CEOs, designers, and artists. Sure, I could have left my eight-year-old daughter home, but she was looking forward to going. She had a great time last year, and wanted to go again. Being turned away at the door left a bad feeling." I had to convince Evan that he shouldn’t cancel his Macworld Magazine subscription, since Macworld Magazine merely licenses the name to IDG World Expo and has no other input or control over the show.
There’s no question that Macworld Expo is primarily for adults, and particularly without a gaming pavilion this year, there wasn’t much reason why kids under 13 would be specifically interested in most of the exhibitors. I was confused as to why the arbitrary cut-off was 13, even so, but Beth stuck to her story. "While every child is different, teenagers are generally more likely to buy products and derive value from visiting the exhibit floor. Also, our exhibitors recognize that teenagers are just a few years away from being professional customers and thus are more willing to meet with them on the expo floor." If IDG World Expo was so concerned about limiting attendance to qualified attendees who were ready to spend money, they could have raised the entry cost significantly instead.
In fact, there’s a larger criticism here. Involving our children in our professional lives should be encouraged whenever reasonable, since it helps build positive role models and deepen the parent-child relationship. How can we expect your children to understand who we are and what makes us tick if they never see us in a professional situation? The gold standard here is MacHack, where numerous students – who are almost universally bright, interested, and well-behaved – get to work with some of the best programmers in the Macintosh world. It’s not that MacHack itself has that great an effect; it’s that’s well-known developers like Jim Matthews (Fetch), Jon Gotow (Default Folder), and others have made their kids enough a part of their professional lives that they can attend a conference like MacHack for real. And you just have to assume that’s going to give the kids a leg up later in life, thanks to the experience and confidence they receive from interacting with adults.
I’m not saying that IDG World Expo needs to have "Bring Your Child to Macworld Expo Day" (though it’s not a bad idea), just that they shouldn’t go out of their way to prevent parents from doing so as happened this year in New York.
Future Shows — The good news is that Macworld Expo in San Francisco doesn’t have Macworld New York’s focus on the creative professional, and Beth confirmed that the old age policy would be in place for San Francisco. So those of you who bring children to the show, either for their benefit or yours, can rest easy that you’ll be allowed in the door, assuming of course that nothing changes in the interim.
Beth said it was too early to comment on what the age policy would be for other upcoming events, so I would encourage everyone who might be affected by such a policy to read Macworld’s registration fine print carefully, just in case it turns into headline sized text on a sign by the security guards, as it did in New York. And of course, I’ll be keeping an eye out for similar policy changes in the future. No one would complain if kids were kept out of a suit-and-tie show, or if they were barred after bands of rowdy teenagers disrupted booth presentations. But this is Macworld, and this is the Macintosh community, and in all the years I’ve attended Macworld Expos, I’ve never seen any abuses that would justify banning kids of any age. Let’s hope this year’s experience will be the last such attempt.
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Email clients are a lot like dogs. Why? Well, for one thing, their owners are in constant denial. The unfortunate passerby may have the dog’s teeth embedded in her shin, with blood running down her leg – the owner will still look her right in the eye and deny that the dog is biting her. (Yes, I’ve actually seen this happen.) Plus, over time a dog and its owner grow increasingly alike, and mutually dependent. And no one can predict what dog an owner will choose and love.
In the same way, I can’t tell you what email client to use. You’re doubtless convinced there’s nothing wrong with the program you’re using now; and the trouble and trepidation of switching, especially when email is your life and the risks are so great, probably seem overwhelming. Besides, what suits me might not suit you. But I can tell you this: One fine day about nine months ago, I, a longtime user and advocate of Eudora, became tired of its shortcomings, switched to Bare Bones Software’s Mailsmith, and have never looked back. Even after all this time, I’m still somewhat stunned by my behavior. Perhaps trying to explain it to you will help me explain it to myself. Perhaps it might lead you to look into Mailsmith as well.
Reasons to Stop Reading — Since the notion that your current email client might need replacing is probably threatening to you, let me help by giving you, up front, some reasons to stop reading this article altogether. You shouldn’t proceed if you absolutely must have IMAP support, or if you like your email as more than text – HTML, format=flowed, or pictures, rendered right in your client program. Mailsmith doesn’t do IMAP at all, and it displays just text: you can easily open attached HTML or images in another program, but you won’t see them within Mailsmith itself. That suits me perfectly, since pure text (plus attachments) is just what I think email should consist of. But if you really need to see email messages with pictures, tiny print, underlines, or funny "quote bars" down the side, don’t consider Mailsmith.
You also shouldn’t read on if you are religiously opposed to an email client that keeps its messages in a database. I actually agree with that position; since email is just text, why over-engineer with a database and all its attendant problems, such as huge file sizes and data you can’t retrieve if things go wrong? This is a prejudice I’ve managed to repress in order to accept Mailsmith; perhaps, after some soul-searching, you could do likewise.
Finally, you shouldn’t read on if you’re trapped in the past. I peeped at Mailsmith 1.0 when it first came out, in the spring of 1998, and, like the groundhog, dove right back into my hole. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember concluding almost immediately that the program didn’t seem to understand anything about how I used email, or even how I used windows.
But when I tried Mailsmith 1.5 last October, I found it greatly changed. This version understood exactly how I use mail. I could view the three essential bits of information – all mailboxes, all messages of one mailbox, the text of one message – in a single tripartite window, in two windows with the mailbox list separate, or in three separate windows. I could easily reply to the sender, or to the sender plus all other recipients. I could have multiple signatures. I could have multiple servers with different settings. I could forward, redirect, or send again. I could encode attachments in five different ways. After composing a message I could save it as a draft, queue it, or send it immediately. I could look right into my POP server and delete or download individual messages. In short, Mailsmith’s mail handling was just great. Add to that its special strengths, and I was soon an addict.
The Iron Triangle — And what are Mailsmith’s special strengths? Naturally, I’ve been giving that question a lot of thought, and I’ve concluded that there are three main ones, that together give Mailsmith its special excellence and character. Here they are:
Text Handling. As I’ve said before, in my view email should be just text. Under the hood, Mailsmith’s core is the same as that of Bare Bones’s BBEdit, the best text editor in the business; so, you get all the power of BBEdit’s text handling wrapped up in an email client. That includes terrific quoting and line-wrapping features, along with find-and-replace of text – including regular-expression searching of stored messages, which in Mailsmith 2.0 uses PCRE, the regular-expression gold standard.
Scriptability. Mailsmith is almost totally top-to-bottom scriptable with AppleScript. This is no accident; it comes from major planning and forethought. Mailsmith uses scripting internally for much of its communication between the interface and the program’s core (its architecture is "factored"), so its central functionality can then be all the more powerfully exposed to AppleScript. Plus, you can add startup and shutdown scripts that run automatically, utility scripts that appear in a special Script menu, and scripts that modify what happens when you choose a standard menu item.
Filters. Mailsmith has email filtering to die for. It’s a little complicated, but it’s also incredibly powerful, and with the new 2.0 SpamSieve integration, it’s better than ever (see "Tools We Use: SpamSieve" in TidBITS-667). First, SpamSieve vets incoming mail and eliminates suspected spam; then the incoming mailbox filters take over, and then individual mailboxes get to peruse the incoming messages and move them down the mail folder/mailbox hierarchy. Plus you can manually run filters attached to any mailbox at any time. A filter can contain of an unlimited number of tests, and its action can even be the running of a script. In short, Mailsmith has more than enough power to keep your incoming and outgoing messages categorized just as you want them. (See "Distributed Filtering," a series of two articles beginning in TidBITS-648.) If you buy a new copy of Mailsmith 2.0 directly from Bare Bones on or before 31-Jul-03, Bare Bones will throw in a copy of the $20 SpamSieve for free.
The Power of 2.0 — Back in October of 2002, I migrated easily but experimentally into the Mailsmith 1.5 demo. After using it for about four days, I realized, in a sudden revelation, that I was hooked, and that I wasn’t going to be abandoning Mailsmith any time soon. All the same, I didn’t feel comfortable about revealing my decision to others; I remained a closet Mailsmith switcher. The trouble was that I couldn’t quite recommend Mailsmith 1.5. It had some interface quirks; it was dog-slow, with the "spinning pizza of death" appearing frequently; and it crashed remarkably often – about once a day – sometimes taking some of my data with it. I really shouldn’t be telling you about that, but unfortunately I can’t tell you why 2.0 is so much better without admitting 1.5’s problems.
The fact is, 2.0 is indeed much better; the problematic aspects of 1.5 are now a thing of the past. The folks at Bare Bones have done a painstaking and thoroughly professional job of revising the program. Menu items and interface elements have been rearranged in a more sensible fashion, threading has been tweaked, just about everything has been sped way up, and bugs have been ruthlessly tracked down and squashed. The result is that Mailsmith 2.0 feels peppy, clean, crisp, and totally reliable. Where I suffered through Mailsmith 1.5’s drawbacks to take advantage of its special strengths, 2.0 is in every respect a delight to use.
Sweating the Small Stuff — I haven’t yet mentioned many aspects of Mailsmith that deserve attention. It has great drag & drop support and great use of contextual menus. The new PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) integration is excellent. The new support for Apple’s Address Book has me using that program for the first time; it serves as a "whitelist" for SpamSieve and allows auto-completion when typing an addressee’s name. Searching is fast – not quite as fast as Eudora, but on the same order of magnitude (contrast Entourage, which I had to stop using after a week’s flirtation, years ago, because searching was glacially slow; see "Entourage: The Grand Tour" in TidBITS-550). I could mention lots more, but this paragraph would soon become a features list, and for that you can consult the Mailsmith Web site.
Mailsmith does contain some things that still annoy me. You can elect to leave large messages on the POP server; a "stub" message appears in your inbox, and you use this to delete or download the real message later. That’s great, but if you download it, the stub is replaced by the real message, and nothing then informs you that the original is still sitting on the server.
Date sorting of messages sometimes works oddly. Glossary entries and signatures can contain references to special placeholder items, whose values are substituted when messages are sent, but there’s no helpful interface for listing and inserting these placeholders (you have to consult the manual and type them by hand). The glossary mechanism itself is clumsy; you can’t just insert a glossary item by typing its name, as in Microsoft Word. Many common simple actions, such as deleting a message, can’t be reversed by Undo.
Navigating to a message’s enclosing mailbox list doesn’t select that message, which is silly because the reason you navigated there is surely to find it in context. Option-Command-Delete deletes a message permanently (rather than moving it to the Trash mailbox), but Option-clicking the Delete button does not, which is confusing. There is spell-checking, but it isn’t inline, which many folks prefer. The Connection window, which is supposed to alert you that a server transaction is in process, often doesn’t come far enough forward to be visible.
Conclusions — Despite such nitpicking, this version of Mailsmith puts the program in a whole new category. Mailsmith 1.5 was usable but flawed; it had a coterie of devoted followers, but they seemed mostly to be fanatics. Mailsmith 2.0, on the other hand, is simply a great program, and deserves wide and serious consideration. It has been worth the wait. If you’ve wondered what the fuss is about, now is the right time to give Mailsmith a second look – or a first look.
Mailsmith requires at least Mac OS X 10.1.5, and some features require Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, with 10.2.6 strongly recommended. A 30-day demo is available as a 13 MB download and can be converted to permanency by purchasing a license. Mailsmith 2.0 costs $100, with a $20 academic and cross-upgrade discount. Mailsmith 1.5 owners can upgrade for free until 15-Sep-03; owners of version 1.0 or 1.1 can upgrade for $50.
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