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TidBITS#717/16-Feb-04

It’s a grab bag week here at TidBITS, starting with Jeff Carlson passing on iChat AV tips and examining PalmSource’s elimination of future Macintosh support. Adam announces our first Japanese Take Control title and reviews Konfabulator, a neat Mac OS X program reminiscent of HyperCard. Then Glenn Fleishman chimes in with a pointer to where you can pick up a refurbished Power Mac G5 from the Virginia Tech supercomputer cluster, and in the news, Apple starts shipping iPod minis and updates GarageBand slightly.

Jeff Carlson No comments

iPod mini Begins to Ship

iPod mini Begins to Ship — The iPod mini, which Apple announced last month at Macworld Expo San Francisco 2004, is starting to trickle into consumer’s hands. A $250 version of Apple’s popular iPod music player, the iPod mini sports a tiny 4 GB hard drive in an enclosure that weighs only 3.6 ounces (102 grams) and comes in 5 anodized aluminum colors. What makes the iPod mini appealing to me, though, is the way Apple’s designers incorporated the control buttons into the solid-state scroll wheel, a much better implementation than the four separate buttons on current iPods that are difficult to navigate with one hand and too often get pressed accidentally. Apple retail stores are supposed to receive shipments of the iPod mini on 20-Feb-04; people who ordered one shortly after Macworld Expo are receiving shipping notices now. [JLC]

<http://www.apple.com/ipodmini/>

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=07494>


Adam Engst No comments

Take Control of Upgrading to Panther in Japanese

Last week, we released yet another Take Control title, but this one’s a bit different. It’s Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," translated into Japanese for the many Macintosh users in Japan and elsewhere who prefer to read in Japanese. It was translated for us by the industrious volunteer TidBITS Japanese translation team, although we insisted on compensating them for their significant effort. As a result, the Japanese translation costs US$7.50, split evenly between us, Joe, and the translation team.

<http://www.tidbits.com/takecontrol/jp/>

<http://www.tidbits.com/takecontrol/jp/panther/ upgrading.html>

To thank those Japanese speakers who already purchased the English version of Joe’s ebook, we’re offering them a free copy of the translation. If you fall into that category, send Tonya email at <[email protected]> so she can look up your Kagi or eSellerate order and send you a coupon for a free copy of the translation. Since we can’t promise a schedule for translations of updates to Joe’s ebook, everyone who orders either the English or Japanese version will be eligible to receive free updates in English, with the translation coming later.

Needless to say, we’re at a huge disadvantage when it comes to trying to tell Japanese publications and Web sites about this translation, so any help anyone can provide in this arena would be extremely appreciated.


Glenn Fleishman No comments

Instant Nostalgia Available at Supercomputer Speeds

You can purchase a refurbished piece of Macintosh history; MacMall is selling some quantity of the Power Mac G5 computers that comprised Virginia Tech’s top-ranked supercomputer. If you recall the story, the university purchased 1,100 dual-processor 2 GHz Power Mac G5s from the initial run of Apple’s 64-bit desktop computer. A few months later, the massive cluster system ranked as the number three supercomputer in the world, and at a fraction of the cost per teraflop (trillion floating point operations per second) as numbers one and two.

<http://computing.vt.edu/research_computing/ terascale/>

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=07489>

After Steve Jobs announced G5-based rack-mounted Xserves, which use 40 percent less power and occupy one-third as much space as the G5 towers, Virginia Tech committed to a quick upgrade. Speculation abounds, too, that Apple will supply Virginia Tech with dual 2.5 GHz G5 processors, which are possible with the smaller and lower-powered newer G5 chip.

Of course, the university’s announcement in late January led many to ask what would become of the Power Mac G5s being rotated out of service. Would they be given or sold to Virginia Tech students? Slashdot devoted a long thread to amusing comments.

<http://biz.yahoo.com/rc/040126/tech_ virginiatech_apple_1.html>

<http://apple.slashdot.org/apple/04/01/27/ 1257256.shtml?tid=107&tid=187>

MacMall has the answer: they’re selling off the machines as Apple-warrantied refurbished units for $2,800 each. A comparable new computer (which includes no modem and 1 GB of RAM instead of the 512 MB of a stock dual G5) costs $3,220 purchased directly from the Apple Store.

<http://www.macmall.com/macmall/promotions/ custom.asp?p=supercomputer>

If you were to buy one of these machines, you might wonder if, late at night, it might reach out over the Internet to its former rack mates and exchange some long polynomials just for old time’s sake.


Jeff Carlson No comments

PalmSource to Drop Mac Support in Palm OS Cobalt

At the PalmSource Developer Conference last week, PalmSource, the company that develops and licenses the Palm OS, revealed details about its forthcoming handheld operating system and also dropped some disappointing news: the company will stop supporting the Macintosh. Fortunately, a Mac developer is stepping in to pick up the pieces – and hopefully improve the Palm experience for Mac users.

<http://www.palmsource.com/>

Cobalt and Garnet — Palm OS Cobalt, formerly known as Palm OS 6, is a near-complete rewrite of the Palm OS that incorporates advanced features such as multitasking and multithreading, memory protection, improved security, and support for larger screens and more memory (up to 256 MB). Cobalt also boosts the graphics and multimedia capabilities of the Palm OS, thanks to contributions from engineers acquired in Palm, Inc.’s 2001 purchase of Be, Inc. (see "Palm Gets Be in Its Bonnet" in TidBITS-593).

<http://www.palmsource.com/press/2004/021004_ cobalt.html>

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=06523>

Palm OS Cobalt is expected to be available on new handheld devices later this year, though no specific timeline was mentioned; the software has been delivered to PalmSource licensees, so the time frame depends on when new devices will be ready.

PalmSource also announced that the next revision of Palm OS 5 (the latest version shipping with current handhelds) will be renamed Palm OS Garnet and will be geared toward use in hybrid "smartphones" such as PalmOne’s popular Treo 600, which currently runs Palm OS 5.2.1.

(This is a good opportunity to recap the Palm players, since the names seem to change every time I write about them for TidBITS. In 2002, Palm, Inc. spun off its operating system division into a subsidiary called PalmSource. In 2003, after Palm’s board of directors gave the final go-ahead on PalmSource becoming an independent company, Palm, Inc. also bought its chief rival Handspring, and renamed the combined company PalmOne. These moves have led to all sorts of overlap. For example, the PalmOne Tungsten T3 runs on the standard Palm OS 5, licensed from PalmSource, but includes improvements to the built-in applications such as Calendar and Contacts – themselves previously known as Date Book and Address Book. Other Palm OS licensees, such as Sony, make their own changes to the Palm OS as they see fit. Explaining it always makes me dive for the aspirin bottle.)

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=07215>

<http://www.palmone.com/>

<http://www.clieplaza.com/>

Goodbye, Mac — Another feature of Palm OS Cobalt is that it "improves compatibility with Microsoft Windows," according to PalmSource, specifically Microsoft Outlook. More to the point, due to a change in how HotSync synchronization works in Cobalt, plus changes in the architecture of the built-in applications, synchronization with Macs won’t be supported in Cobalt.

<http://www.palminfocenter.com/view_story.asp? ID=6547>

To be honest, this isn’t a huge surprise, given that Palm’s current support for the Mac seems to have evaporated, and at least some Macintosh engineers have been laid off. When Apple released Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, compatibility problems arose that have yet to be fixed. (The problem appears to be related to permissions for HotSync components; some people report that reinstalling Palm Desktop and HotSync Manager under Panther work fine, while others have seen success by reinstalling the software while logged in as the root user.) Although Palm has occasionally taken interest in the Mac – such as buying Claris Organizer and turning it into Palm Desktop for Macintosh – the company’s overall history of Mac support has seemed more like the kid brother your parents insisted you take to the movies with your date; he can get into the show, but has to sit somewhere else and can’t have any popcorn.

<https://tidbits.com/getbits.acgi?tbart=04915>

PalmSource’s statement about the situation hints at possible ongoing work between the company and Apple, but the emphasis is clearly on third-party solutions. Michael Mace, PalmSource’s chief competitive officer (who used to be an Apple executive), issued the following statement to selected media outlets saying, "PalmSource is fortunate to have a great Palm OS developer community who provide solutions for Macintosh compatibility today. Palm OS provides an open and flexible architecture and allows its licensees to decide whether to ship a Mac compatibility solution with their Palm Powered device. (One such solution is provided by Mark/Space.) We are continuing our efforts with Apple to provide compatibility between Palm OS and Macintosh."

The Missing Sync — Fortunately, Mac support isn’t completely drying up. Mark/Space, which already ships Missing Sync for Palm OS and Missing Sync for Sony Clie, announced that the next major version of their utility would not only continue Mac synchronization support, but improve upon it.

<http://www.markspace.com/cobalt.html>

In its current incarnation, Missing Sync for Palm OS 2.0.1 isn’t a synchronization tool in the same vein as HotSync Manager. If your Palm handheld has an SD (Secure Digital) card inserted when you run the software, the card appears on your Mac desktop as if it were a removable disk. Missing Sync also includes plug-ins for iPhoto and iTunes, enabling you to send photos and MP3 files to the handheld’s SD card for viewing and listening using third-party software (SplashPhoto and AeroPlayer). Lastly, Missing Sync features Internet Sharing, where the Palm connects directly to the Internet via your Mac, letting you surf the Web, check email, and, for those who have missed it, use AvantGo (which was never updated to support Mac OS X).

<http://www.markspace.com/palmos.html>

<http://www.markspace.com/ missingsyncinternet.html>

<http://www.avantgo.com/>

The Cobalt version of Missing Sync, however, will be a complete replacement for the Palm HotSync architecture, enabling data synchronization between the Palm and Apple’s iApps (iCal, Address Book, and iMovie along with iTunes and iPhoto), or between the Palm and Microsoft Entourage. The interface will be more in line with Mac OS X, and will also offer improved Bluetooth synchronization and synchronization over Wi-Fi networks. The new architecture will also support current HotSync conduits, so if you use other personal information managers such as Now Up-to-Date & Contact or Chronos Personal Organizer, the current conduits will work. This includes Apple’s own iSync conduit, which currently works with HotSync Manager; however, my experiences synchronizing Palms with iSync have been disappointing. (Developers can also choose to support the new Missing Sync architecture.)

<http://www.nowsoftware.com/tour/index.html>

<http://www.chronosnet.com/&/products/po_ index.html>

Missing Sync for Cobalt will support handhelds running Palm OS 4 and later, and Mac OS X 10.2 and later. Mark/Space has published a technical white paper (a 72K PDF) and a marketing white paper (a 264K PDF) with more information.

<http://www.markspace.com/pdf/technical_ whitepaper.pdf>

<http://www.markspace.com/pdf/marketing_ whitepaper.pdf>

Mark/Space expects the cost of the new Missing Sync to be about $40, though it’s still up in the air whether PalmOne or other hardware companies will choose to bundle it with their devices. It would be a shame if Mac users were forced to pay a premium for synchronization capabilities, though it wouldn’t be without precedent: the early PalmPilots required Mac users to buy the Palm MacPac, which included a serial adapter that plugged into the Mac’s serial port.

Still, even if I have to pay for synchronization capabilities, it’s worth the cost. I still use my Palm handheld every day, because it’s better suited as an organizer than the iPod’s calendar and contacts features. I’m also optimistic that a company like Mark/Space, which has been developing Mac software for years, can focus its efforts on making a worthwhile Palm data synchronization tool for the Mac.


Jeff Carlson No comments

Tips from iChat AV 2: Visual QuickStart Guide

Several weeks went by last December before I told anyone, especially my fellow authors, about the latest book contract I’d signed with Peachpit Press. It’s not that I was being ultra-competitive or feared that someone else would steal my idea and get to it before I did. Mostly, I didn’t know how they’d react. After all, I was due to write a book – a paper, printed book – about Apple’s iChat AV.

<http://www.apple.com/ichat/>

That’s right. A book. About chat. I wasn’t one hundred percent certain I could pull it off, given that iChat appears to be a simple, straightforward program. But once I delved into it more, I realized that Apple performed another one of its sleight-of-hand tricks, packaging a powerful little application into a deceptively simple interface. What once seemed like a program for teens to distract themselves from homework has turned out to be a useful tool for passing quick notes, transferring files, and putting a face to people I know from afar.

I’m surprisingly proud of the book that resulted, iChat AV 2 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide. It was fast and fun to write, interesting to learn how others are using iChat, and amazing to see some of the third-party software that’s been released to support iChat. I should also point out that the 120-page book retails for $15, which means you can get it for just over $10 at Amazon.com.

<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/ 0321237730/tidbitselectro00/nosim>

So here are some tips and helpful information about iChat AV collected from the book and based on common questions I’ve been asked. In an upcoming issue of TidBITS, I’ll look at some third-party programs that enhance iChat.

Getting a .Mac Account — Perhaps the biggest misconception people seem to have about iChat AV is that you need a full-blown paid subscription to Apple’s .Mac service. Well, here’s a $100 tip: when you sign up for a trial .Mac account at the URL below, you get the full service for 60 days, but you can keep your .Mac name after the trial period expires. Or, if you have an existing AOL account, you can use your AOL screen name without signing up for .Mac at all; AOL screen names are also free, but when given a choice I tend to steer away from AOL.

<http://www.mac.com/1/ichat.html>

<http://www.aim.com/>

Chatting with Non-iChat Users — iChat users aren’t limited to communicating with just other iChat users (though I’m sure that would be Apple’s preference). iChat uses the AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) network, so you can text chat with anyone using an AIM compatible client – including Mac OS 9 and Windows users running AIM. With the recent release of the iChat AV 2.1 beta, you can now correspond via audio or video chats as long as the other person is running AIM 5.5 in Windows.

<http://www.aim.com/get_aim/win/latest_win.adp? aolp=>

<http://www.aim.com/get_aim/mac/latest_ macosx.adp?aolp=>

However, you won’t be able to chat in iChat with people using the other major text-messaging network, MSN. A few clients, such as Epicware’s Fire or Alien Technology’s Proteus, are capable of supporting both networks, but can’t cross conversations between the two – you’d still need an MSN account to chat with people who use the MSN network). You can also chat with friends who are on the ICQ network by entering their ICQ number into the Account Name field when you add them to your Buddy List.

<http://www.microsoft.com/mac/default.aspx? pid=msnmessenger>

<http://fire.sourceforge.net/>

<http://www.indigofield.com/>

<http://web.icq.com/>

Set Up Buddy Actions — iChat AV includes a number of ways to get your attention, including custom buddy actions. For example, my mother usually hops on her iMac for a short time each day to check email, and she signs in to iChat at the same time. When she logs in and appears in my Buddy List, my Mac says "Mom is online" using Apple’s text-to-speech technology. You can also set up custom sounds or make the iChat application icon bounce in the Dock for up to seven different actions.

Click the person’s name in the Buddy List (they don’t need to be online) and choose Get Info from the Buddies menu, or press Command-Shift-I (Command-I also works). From the Show pop-up menu, choose Actions. Then choose an event from the Event pop-up menu and specify the type of action that will occur. If you want to make it a one-time action, click the checkbox labeled "Perform actions only next time even occurs."

Understanding Buddy Groups — You can set up buddy groups to help manage your Buddy List, though Apple’s implementation of this feature could stand some improvement. Not only is the feature partially hidden, it doesn’t necessarily behave the way you’d expect.

First, choose Show Groups from the View menu; a pop-up menu reading "All Groups" appears above the Buddy List, and the Groups drawer slides out from the left side of the window. You can add a new group by clicking the plus-sign (+) icon at the lower left of the drawer, much as you would a new playlist in iTunes or a photo album in iPhoto.

Populating your new group should be as easy as dragging a person’s name from the Buddy List to the group name, but that’s not the case. By default, all your buddies are added to the group named "Buddies"; but unlike the behavior found in iTunes or iPhoto, dragging a person into a new group actually removes her from Buddies and adds her to the new group. If you later decide to remove her from the new group, she’s not only ejected from the group, but she’s deleted entirely from your Buddy List! To get around this annoying interface gaffe, Option-drag the buddy’s name to the group to copy, not move, the buddy into that group.

One last group tip: If you’re not going to use groups after all, and therefore don’t want the group pop-up menu to appear, open iChat’s preferences, click the General icon, and deselect the "Use groups in Buddy List" checkbox.

An Easy Audio Fix — Sometimes during the course of an audio chat, the sound quality can degrade as you talk. To improve the audio without making a new connection, click the Mute button in the audio chat window, then click Mute again. iChat re-evaluates the available bandwidth and improves the connection.

Sending and Receiving Files — Don’t tell the music cartel, but iChat ends up being a highly effective peer-to-peer file transfer mechanism. However, there are better things to do than send MP3 files. I’ve used iChat to zing Mac OS X installer packages from one Mac to another in my house without needing to set up file sharing, for example. I’ve also been able to send Take Control ebook files to Adam and Tonya instantly for quick back and forth design work. And it’s wicked easy to bounce a digital photo to my Mom in Sacramento. In fact, when you send an image via iChat, a preview appears within the text chat window; clicking it grabs the full-size image. The same is true for PDF files too: you can even scroll through their pages in the chat window. However, I advise against sending PDFs that are larger than a page or two, because iChat can get hung up waiting to complete the transfer.

Once you’ve received a file from someone, where does it end up? In Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, iChat gets this information from the Safari’s General preferences.

iChat AV may not be the ultimate chat client, but the fact that it comes with all new Macs for free makes it easy to try out (iChat 1.0 shipped with Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar; iChat AV 2.0 ships with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, or is available for Jaguar users as a separate $30 purchase). Before iChat, we didn’t use chat or instant messaging at all when producing TidBITS, and although we’re not typing away at each other all day long now, there’s no question that iChat has proved useful to us. If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, give iChat a try.


Adam Engst No comments

Consider Me Konfabulated

Some programs defy categorization. Bill Atkinson described HyperCard as a "software erector set," which was actually quite accurate, even if Apple’s marketing department kept trying to sell it as a presentation program, a personal information manager, and a combination floor wax/dessert topping.

If I were handing out Software Erector Set awards today, Konfabulator would top my list. Written by Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke and first released a year ago, Konfabulator resists being pigeonholed in exactly the same way HyperCard did because it’s both an application runtime engine and a host to highly focused programs written by others. Whereas HyperCard introduced the easy, English-like HyperTalk programming language and the concept of "stacks," Konfabulator relies on JavaScript and calls its programs "Widgets." The comparison isn’t perfect, of course, since HyperCard offered basic database capabilities that enabled it to act as a repository for data, whereas Konfabulator is pretty much only a shell in which its Widgets can run (though I think adding a database for Widgets to access could be quite interesting). In short, though, Konfabulator is, as its tagline says, whatever you want it to be.

<http://konfabulator.com/>

Building a Better Widget — Comparisons with HyperCard abound. Konfabulator ships with a set of Widgets that are actually useful, such as a picture frame (because who can see their Desktop picture when they’re working, anyway?), a stock ticker, a weather report, a Desktop Trash can, a simple to do list, a floating search bar, and more. But Konfabulator wouldn’t be interesting if you were limited to its included Widgets. Arlo and Perry run a Widget Gallery that lists over 500 user-contributed Widgets, and scrolling through the list is utterly reminiscent of poring through lists of HyperCard stacks. Most are silly, of course, such as countdown timers for upcoming movies, but just as with HyperCard stacks, there are a few gems, such as a Widget to create symlinks, a word counter, a process monitor that displays load averages and uptime, a [email protected] statistics reporter, and a lyric scraper that tries to display the lyrics of the current iTunes track. The Widget Gallery lets users rate Widgets and leave comments, and from what I’ve seen, because that extra data comes from an involved user community, it’s quite helpful and to the point.

<http://www.widgetgallery.com/>

Few Widgets offer truly unique capabilities that you couldn’t find elsewhere, but that’s not the point. The point is that individuals can use a common scripting language, sometimes tying in to command-line programs, to create tiny programs that do something useful, interesting, or just plain fun (there are a bunch of small game Widgets). Plus, since Widgets are actually packages (Control-click one and choose Show Package Contents), you can see and modify them to your heart’s content. It’s exactly like the days of HyperCard, when you could take apart a neat stack to see how it was done.

Many people don’t realize that Widgets are modifiable, and probably even more don’t realize that Widgets aren’t limited to JavaScript. Through a pair of commands – applescript() and runcommand() – Widgets can incorporate AppleScript code (handy for controlling Macintosh applications) and Perl, Ruby, Python or any other command-line scripting engine. So if JavaScript isn’t your cup of tea, you can likely still make cool Widgets with another scripting language.

Because Arlo Rose is the guy who introduced themable interfaces to the world with his work at Apple on the Appearance Manager, and later on the utility Kaleidoscope, Konfabulator Widgets take full advantage of Quartz rendering in Mac OS X. That means Widgets aren’t restricted to rectangular windows, and you can control their opacity on a per-Widget level. Opacity is actually quite important, since you can choose whether any given Widget will float above all other windows, be the topmost window at any time, act like a normal window, hide beneath all other windows at all times, or graft itself to your Desktop. In Konfabulator 1.5.6, just released, using Expose to reveal the Desktop also reveals Desktop-level Widgets, making it possible for a single click or keystroke to show a host of Konfabulator Widgets that you want out of sight most of the time.

Being able to float a Widget above all other windows or incorporate one onto your Desktop reminds me of palette-based automation utilities. Although creating a Widget is undoubtedly more difficult than constructing a macro in QuicKeys X or iKey, its capabilities are equivalently more powerful. The possibilities abound.

Clicking Widgets — Widgets provide their own interfaces, which are in most cases limited to visible controls and a Widget Preferences window that’s accessible either by Control-clicking the Widget or choosing it from the hierarchical Widget Preferences menu in the Konfabulator "gear" menu in the menubar. Closing a Widget is merely a matter of Control-clicking the Widget and choosing Close Widget (for those Widgets that don’t provide a persistent interface, like the iChat Bezel Widget that pops up to tell you when your iChat buddies change state, you can press Control and choose the hidden Widget from Konfabulator’s gear menu). You can also use the Konfabulator gear menu to look for new Widgets, open Widgets, set preferences for current Widgets, and quit Konfabulator entirely. Perhaps my main criticism of Konfabulator is that hiding so much of the interface behind contextual menus and modifier keys means that it can be a bit befuddling to use until you internalize the basics of opening, closing, and customizing Widgets.

Each Widget actually runs as a separate instance of the Konfabulator runtime engine, which means that a given Widget is just a normal Mac OS X application, and won’t have any more impact on the overall system than any other application. Konfabulator remembers the open Widgets from the last time it was open, so if you put Konfabulator in your Login Items/Startup Items list, it will bring up your last set of Widgets automatically when you login.

In an ideal world I’d learn JavaScript and write some Widgets to monitor my Internet servers and perform other tasks, but that’s not going to happen, so I’ll leave it to others to write the cool Widgets I can load into Konfabulator. Whether you’re capable of writing your own Widgets or just want to enjoy the fruits of the labor of others, Konfabulator is one piece of useful eye candy you’ll want to check out.

Konfabulator requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later, with 10.2.3 or later recommended. It costs $25 through Kagi, though you can use it for a while before registering (choose Register from the Konfabulator gear menu).