Now that Office 2004 is out, Tonya takes a look at the new features in Entourage 2004 in conjunction with the release of Tom Negrino’s ebook "Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004." Speaking of email, our poll this week asks which email client you use. Also in this issue, Travis Butler compares two portable speakers for the iPod, Adam and Tonya invite you to the Mediterranean in November, and we note the releases of Apple’s new liquid-cooled Power Mac G5, SyncDeK 5.0, the German translation of "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," and a money-saving update to "Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail."
Dual-Processor, Liquid-Cooled Power Mac G5s Announced — Apple last week announced a new line of Power Mac G5 desktop computers, featuring dual PowerPC G5 processors in each model. The top-of-the-line dual 2.5 GHz configuration ($3,000) sports a new liquid cooling system, circulating liquid past the G5 processors and through a radiant grille, where the liquid is cooled by air flowing through one of the Mac’s four thermal zones. Mac OS X dynamically adjusts the flow of the cooling fluid and the speed of the fans based on the temperature. A dual 2.0 GHz G5 retails for $2,500, and the entry-level model, featuring two 1.8 GHz G5 processors, starts at $2,000. These models, featuring Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra video cards, are available immediately, and the high-end, liquid-cooled dual 2.5 GHz model with an ATI Radeon 9600 XT graphics card, will be available in July. Apple has also ended production on the 1.25 GHz Power Mac G4; remaining units will be available for prices starting at $1,300 while supplies last.
Apple has also added a nifty software improvement, too. A new Mac OS X setup assistant can migrate your data from an existing Mac – including user accounts, applications, system preferences, and permissions – to the Power Mac G5 over a FireWire connection (using the Mac’s target disk mode). For now this feature exists only in the new Power Mac G5s, no doubt part of Apple’s strategy to encourage customers to retire their Power Mac G4 production machines, though it will undoubtedly appear in new Mac models or in an upcoming revision to Mac OS X. [MHA]
Web Information Systems Sponsoring TidBITS — I’m pleased to welcome our latest long-term sponsor, a small developer called Web Information Systems that has recently released the $25 application MindFortress for Mac OS X 10.3. On the face of it, MindFortress is a highly secure card-based database for personal information, much like Web Confidential or PasswordWallet, but when I looked more deeply, I realized that MindFortress goes well beyond acting as a secure digital wallet. That’s because MindFortress lets you create your own card templates, so you can define what fields, and what field types, appear on the card. Also, because MindFortress allows unstructured text notes (with all the Cocoa text handling features like inline spell checking), you can use it as a general snippet keeper. It also supports importing graphics and movies, offers AppleScript support, provides automatic update checking, and more. MindFortress is an elegant application now, and Alexander Kac, its developer, has big plans for future releases that have me intrigued. If you’re looking for a place to store all sorts of data, give MindFortress a look. We’re happy to see Web Information Systems supporting the Macintosh community through their TidBITS sponsorship. [ACE]
SyncDeK Synchronizes FileMaker Databases — At the last Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I saw an interesting product called SyncDeK that offered a unique feature: field-level synchronization of the data within FileMaker databases even when the databases aren’t on the same network. SyncDeK accomplishes this through the clever use of standard Internet email to move data in XML format between databases. It’s an intriguing approach that will be useful for organizations with remote offices or travelling employees, or even loosely knit groups without any sort of centralized location that would benefit from shared databases. WorldSync has now released SyncDeK 5.0, supporting both FileMaker 6 and FileMaker 7 on both the Mac and Windows. Introductory prices range from $200 to $1,300, depending on what you need, and there’s also a SyncDeK Developer Kit for $500 that enables FileMaker developers to include synchronization capabilities in customized solutions. A demo is available by request. [ACE]
SpamSieve Coupon Reduces Effective Price of Ebook to $0 — Our recently released 1.0.1 revision to Joe Kissell’s $5 "Take Control of Spam in Apple Mail" ebook now includes a coupon for $5 off the purchase of Michael Tsai’s highly regarded SpamSieve, which can replace the Junk Mail filter in Apple Mail. Joe’s ebook also explains how to get up and running quickly with SpamSieve in Apple Mail. If you already purchased the 1.0 version of the ebook, you can upgrade for free by clicking the Check For Updates button on the cover. The $5 off coupon is located on the last page of the 1.0.1 ebook; click the link on that page to order. The $5 discount appears when you check out. [TJE]
Take Control of Upgrading to Panther in German — Thanks to the hard work of German translator Hartmut Greiser, the German translation of Joe Kissell’s best-selling "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther" ebook is now available for sale. As with our Japanese translations, we felt that Hartmut should be compensated for his efforts, so we’re splitting the proceeds from the US$7.50 ebook equally between us, Joe, and Hartmut. To thank any German speakers who have already purchased the English version, we are offering them a free copy of the translation. If you are a German speaker and already own the English version, contact Tonya at <[email protected]> so we can look you up in our sales database and send it to you. [TJE]
Over four years ago, we ran a poll asking which program was your preferred email client. We’ve meant to run that poll again on a variety of occasions, and with the recent major releases of Entourage 2004 and PowerMail 5.0, and with Eudora jumping to version 6.1.1 and Apple Mail taking a small step to version 1.3.8, it’s clearly time to revisit the question.
We are, of course, also interested in the topic now that we’ve started to publish Take Control ebooks about some of the major email programs, including Tom Negrino’s just-released "Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004" and Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail." We’ve had requests for Take Control ebooks about other email programs as well, notably Eudora, but without knowing roughly how the usage percentages break down among the different programs, it’s been hard to determine how many people would be aided by such books.
So tell us which Macintosh email program you primarily use by voting in the poll on our home page (depending on your screen size, you may need to scroll down to see the poll form). Judging from the popularity of the previous poll on this topic, our poll server may have trouble dealing with a rush of simultaneous votes; try later in the week if you have trouble. Also, this poll suffered from serious ballot box stuffing last time, as fans of one program or another encouraged people on other lists to come and vote. Please don’t do that this time, since it skews the results horribly, as we saw by the then-obsolete Cyberdog’s 17 percent response rate.
Two years ago I wrote about the MacMania cruise to Alaska, which was, at least to me, a fascinating and innovative combination of technical training and vacation adventure. That such a mix would succeed shouldn’t be surprising, since for many of us, the Macintosh is as much a hobby as it may be a profession, so learning something new is as enjoyable as discovering a new city or touring some local attraction. As an added benefit, less-technical spouses can come along for the vacation and simply go off on their own during the sessions.
Although Tonya and I haven’t been able to participate in the last few Mac Mania cruises, we’re starting to make plans with a group called Techie Tours for a slightly different sort of training/vacation combination that’s even more focused. For five days in the middle of November, 07-Nov-04 through 13-Nov-04, Tonya and I will both be teaching a workshop about iPhoto in conjunction with a photo safari on the island of Gozo, 58 miles off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea.
We’re really looking forward to it, and not just because it’s a chance to have an adult vacation that won’t require train-, ship-, and dinosaur-intensive activities followed by early bedtimes. When Jim Sims of Techie Tours first approached me about it, I was initially astonished. "Five half-days about iPhoto?" I replied, "I can’t imagine what I’d say after the first two hours." But as I talked about it with Tonya, she made the point that this wasn’t about explaining the features of the program, but was instead about showing people how to accomplish real-world projects using iPhoto. In other words, it’s not a lecture, but a workshop with 25 people all actually working away in iPhoto (laptops required!) on pictures they’ve just taken.
It will also be fun to concentrate on projects that make sense in the context of a vacation, such as uploading photo-journal Web pages, printing personalized postcards to send to friends and relatives, creating a shared archive of the group’s photos to share, and building and ordering an iPhoto book of the best pictures. And since it’s going to be just us and the group, I’m sure there will be plenty of time for chatter about Apple, new Mac models, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, TidBITS, wireless networking, and anything else that comes up.
I don’t know much about Gozo beyond what Jim has told me and what I’ve read in the guidebook, but for those of us heading into the snowy days and frigid nights of winter, it sounds pretty darn attractive. Warm and sunny, with the oldest standing architecture and monuments in the world and an entirely modern five-star hotel with wireless Internet access… it’s hard to imagine a better place to hang out with Mac folk taking photos. From what I gather, it’s easy to fly to Malta and take the ferry to Gozo, and the cost of the conference is highly reasonable for this sort of thing: $1,100 (discounted for TidBITS readers through 15-Aug-04), which includes six nights at the hotel and five days of photo safaris around Gozo, plus ferry and museum tickets, and mini-van transportation around the islands. Spouses not attending the morning workshops pay only $800. Space is limited.
And besides, it’s a great excuse to get a new digital camera that’s completely different from my Canon PowerShot S400. We hope to see some TidBITS readers there!
An iPod is a wonderful way to carry your music library around with you… but sometimes, you just don’t want to mess around with using headphones. I travel a lot, and want an external sound option I can carry with me. The portable FM transmitters I reviewed a while back can also be used to broadcast to any FM radio, but you can run into the same signal issues you do in a car, and often there isn’t even an FM radio to use.
Hence, portable speakers. You can buy cheap unpowered/unamplified speakers for $10-15 at just about any consumer electronics store like Best Buy, but even the best ones I’ve heard sound pretty lousy. You can also acquire a set of regular powered computer speakers and travel with them, but they’re a mess to travel with and set up, and they need a wall outlet.
Or you can go somewhere in between by purchasing a set of battery-powered portable speakers. These are easy to carry around (smaller than some of the unpowered sets I’ve seen), but the batteries allow amplification, giving a much louder, richer sound than unpowered speakers can manage. I’ve used two of them: the Sony SRS-T55 and the Monster Cable iSpeaker Portable.
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Sony SRS-T55 — I found these speakers at an Apple Store in Indianapolis about a year ago (they have apparently been superseded by the SRS-T57), and they’ve been faithful performers since then. These are traditional magnet-cone speakers, mounted in "wings" on a folding case, with the batteries in the central box. The whole thing folds to a block about as long as an iPod, half an inch (12.7 mm) taller, and about twice as thick.
Overall, I’ve been very happy with these speakers; they seem well-designed and solidly built, and are a major improvement over unpowered speakers. A nice touch is that you can use them unpowered if the batteries run out, though it highlights the advantage amplification adds! I have only a few minor complaints:
After a year of use, the hinges have loosened some – not enough to cause problems, but enough to make me wonder how well they’ll last another few years.
Although the shape is convenient for packing in a suitcase, it doesn’t fit well in a laptop bag.
The battery compartment latch is problematic; for a couple of months, it kept popping open unexpectedly, although it is now working again, for no particular reason I can see.
The audio patch cord is permanently attached, only about two feet long, and can’t be stored in the case; this limits how far apart you can put the iPod and the speakers, and makes carrying the whole unit around messier than it could be.
Minor nits aside, I like these speakers and would recommend them.
Monster Cable iSpeaker Portable — These speakers appear to be identical to the Wharfedale LoudMan Portable Flat-Panel Speakers; I’m not sure who originally manufactures them, but Monster Cable seems to have a much broader distribution network.
The iSpeaker Portable is a flat-panel speaker set built into a case that looks and works like a double-CD jewel case. Although I’ve been happy with the SRS-T55, I bought an iSpeaker Portable a month ago for a couple of reasons: I hoped the touted NXT flat-panel technology might give better sound, and it fits into a pocket on my laptop bag. The results were mixed; it fits my bag beautifully, but the sound is only about equal to, though notably different from, the Sony (read on for sound comparisons).
While I’d still recommend these speakers, I’m overall less satisfied with them than I am with the SRS-T55. The main problem I have is that the design seems unaccountably poor/cheap in spots: the swing-out panels stick in the closed position, the battery compartment door doesn’t fit solidly and has to be fiddled with to latch properly, and the wires leading to the speaker elements are bare and exposed. I expect to see things like this when I disassemble a speaker, not when I flip it open to use.
Other minor nits:
The speaker/iPod cable is a separate piece, and is solidly made with what appear to be gold-plated connectors – appropriate for a company that made its fame from high-quality audio cables. However, there’s no place to store the cable inside the speaker case, so you must carry it separately.
It needs more room to set up than the SRS-T55, and the panels must be spread fully open for best sound.
It’s more fragile than the Sony; I feel like I need to treat it with special care to make sure it lasts.
The iSpeaker Portable’s defining characteristic is the way it packs decent sound into a slim package; I just wish it had better attention to detail, both in design and construction.
Overall Performance and Notes — I’m not an audiophile. That said, neither of these speakers will win any audio awards, except in their own narrow category. Both have decent highs and midrange, but are seriously lacking in bass. The iSpeaker Portable’s flat-panel technology has a crisp, clean sound to it, but feels somewhat flat and hollow compared with the Sony; the SRS-T55 has a deeper, richer sound, but it’s not as clear or well-defined. Overall, I’d rate them about equal in sound quality, with my preference flip-flopping between them depending on my mood. Both are capable of filling a 30-foot by 40-foot (9.1-meters by 12.2-meters) room and being heard another 50 feet (15.2 m) down the hallway, which is reasonably impressive for something this size running off batteries.
Both speakers use 4 AA batteries, and they both have a level of battery drain that’s low enough to last several hours with NiMH rechargeable batteries. I like to sleep to music, and they usually last about two nights before needing to change batteries. (As with most power-hungry devices, I highly recommend NiMH rechargeable batteries, which sell for extremely reasonable prices these days.) Both can also be used with optional AC adapters, sold separately.
If I had to pick between them, it would be tough; in the end, I’d probably decide on the iSpeaker Portable, just because it fits in my laptop bag and operates well enough otherwise, though I wish it were more solidly built.
Both of these speakers are designed for general use and work with any device sporting a headphone jack (such as a PowerBook). One other choice designed specifically for the iPod is the Altec Lansing inMotion. For third generation iPods, it acts as a dock as well as a speaker set, allowing you to sync and even charge your iPod. However, with a list price of $150, it’s three times the $50 list price of the SRS-T57 and the $60 list price of the iSpeaker Portable; even at usual discounted prices, it’s still double the price of the others. Dan Frakes thought highly of it in his iPod Gift Guide, and it’s gotten some good buzz elsewhere, but it’s a little too rich for my blood right now.
[Travis Butler is the computer geek for a small distribution company located in Kansas City. He has dreamed of computer-based jukeboxes since the late 1980s, but is still boggled sometimes at how far things have come in the last few years.]`
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Although I normally use Eudora as my email client, I recently had a chance to spend quite some time in Microsoft’s new Entourage 2004, because I just finished editing our latest Take Control ebook, Tom Negrino’s "Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004." Editing the book gave me the opportunity to experiment with the software and reflect on its new features, and, of course, I had the benefit of Tom’s excellent advice for rapidly finding and learning about Entourage’s new features. More on the ebook in a bit.
Entourage 2004 is at its heart email software, but unlike other email clients, it goes well beyond email with integrated organizational options such as a contacts database, calendar, to-do list, and project management capabilities. It ships with Office 2004 (but not separately), so you’d probably buy it only if you also need, as many Mac users do, one or more of its suite mates: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
I’m struck by how much more youthful Entourage seems compared to other Office programs. For example, Word, though chirpy on the surface with its new Office 2004 interface, seems grumpy underneath, with its complex mix of views, comments, revisions, field codes, and styles that comprise a typical document. Entourage feels like the happy-go-lucky younger brother who is not yet overwhelmed with feature requests from every profession on the planet.
We last looked at Entourage in depth a number of years ago, with Matt Neuburg’s "Entourage: The Grand Tour" in TidBITS-550. In Entourage 2004, Microsoft has created a slightly more fluid interface and made an effort to respond to concerns about the never-ending struggle to stay organized, the growing importance of online collaboration, and Entourage’s one-file-holds-all database. Let’s look at some of the more interesting changes.
New View on Email — Entourage offers a few optional interface changes for working with email: along with the old, vertical display with messages opening in a new window or previewing beneath the message list, you can now work horizontally with email messages showing in a third column at the right. Obviously, this approach works best on larger (and wider) screens, but given the dimensions of most of Apple’s current monitors, it’s worth trying.
Entourage also optionally provides a notification window that appears and fades away whenever you receive email while working in another program. These window-dressing type changes may or may not be handy to you, depending on your working style.
New Views on Data — If you (like most of us) have trouble organizing your email or finding messages once they’ve arrived, you’ll probably like Entourage’s new grouping feature, which lets you view messages in a mailbox folder in about a dozen different default ways. And if that’s not enough, you can customize the display by making your own groupings. So, for instance, you can quickly switch between viewing a date-sorted list of all messages with attachments from a particular sender and a priority-sorted list of older messages. Lots of email programs have similar features, but Entourage does an especially nice job by including an easy-to-use customization interface and offering a particularly clear presentation of the sorted groups.
Entourage’s Calendar view also has new ways to view data, primarily through an easily understood filtering feature that lets you see only certain types of data on your calendar at any one time. Given the level to which many of us fill up our schedules, being able to limit the view to particular types of entries is a welcome addition.
The Project Center — Initially, I thought the Office-wide Project Center looked extremely promising for lots of purposes, but upon closer examination, I worry that it falls short of what I was hoping it would do, leaving room for improvement. For personal use, Project Center is a useful way to manage not only Entourage items, such as email messages, tasks, contacts, and so on, but also files (any type of file, not just Office documents). The new Project view makes it possible to see an item on your to-do list and click an icon to open the file immediately and get to work. If I used Entourage as my primary email program, I would be excitedly making projects for the different books that I edit. I think it would be an elegant way to work, since it’s easy to put items into a project, and so many of my projects combine calendar events and to-do-list items with email messages and files from Word, BBEdit, and miscellaneous graphics applications.
Where Project Center falls short is in its sharing feature, which lets you move a project to a shared server so that multiple people can work with it at once. When you share a project, external files physically move to the server; some Entourage items can be shared or kept private, other Entourage items, including email, cannot be shared.
Sounds good so far, but because a shared project offers no sophisticated features for collaboration and version control, I can’t recommend it in situations that would routinely risk two people editing the same document at the same time. Even for situations that wouldn’t routinely risk such a conflict, you must weigh the potential benefits against the potential loss of time if multiple people lose edits (or get confused) while trying to work on the same document at the same time. I’d like to see some sort of a check-in/check-out system added to the project-sharing feature.
Dealing with the Database — Microsoft made an effort to improve working with the single-file database that holds Entourage data. The database, previously limited to 4 GB in size, wasn’t capacious enough (or stable enough) for some people to consider using Entourage, and for others it proved a frequent source of concern and frustration. Entourage 2004 eliminates the file size limit, instead limiting the number of items that can be tracked in the database to one million. Microsoft believes this will help users store more data in Entourage than they could previously.
Equally as important, Microsoft has taken steps to help users keep their databases free of corruption. Because the Entourage database holds all your Entourage data – email, contact information, to-do list, and more – using it equates to putting all your eggs in the same basket, and a corrupted database can put serious brakes on your productivity until you restore from backup (you have backups, right?). The aptly named Database Utility scans databases for potential problems and (in theory, I didn’t see any problems in my testing) repairs them. I haven’t yet heard reports of any exciting successes or dismaying failures with the Database Utility.
Finally, Entourage has a new archiving feature that lets you copy or move items out of the database file into a separate archive file. Items can be archived based on various ways of sorting them, such as by date, type, or project. This handy feature should help users keep their database file size down and – should you not routinely do full backups – offers a helpful way to make an additional copy of important data. Archives can be imported when desired.
Slamming Spam — Entourage X’s spam filtering technology wasn’t keeping pace with spammer tricks, so Entourage 2004 adopts the technology used by Outlook 2003 for Windows (which appears to be a form of probability-based filtering generated by Microsoft based on submitted spam). Instead of individual users training their individual filters (as people do in, say, Eudora or Apple Mail), the idea is that Microsoft updates the filter frequently, and users can run a new utility, Microsoft AutoUpdate, to download and install updates automatically in much the same manner as Apple’s Software Update system.
Tom reports that the new filter works so well on his email that he no longer uses Matterform’s rule-based Spamfire Pro to bolster Entourage’s spam filtering. Other TidBITS and Take Control staffers have seen extremely good results from Michael Tsai’s SpamSieve, which uses a statistical filtering method and works with Entourage 2004.
In the End — Entourage 2004’s new capabilities may inspire some people to switch to Entourage, and they certainly add up to a better user experience with the software. A remaining disappointment for some is the failure of Entourage to better integrate its contact and calendaring information with Apple’s Address Book, although you can download an AppleScript-based solution for synchronizing your Entourage and Address Book contacts.
Whether you switch or upgrade to Entourage 2004 will probably relate more to your overall Office-related needs. Must you upgrade because your system administrator insists that you do, perhaps for reasons of project sharing or automatic updates? Are you considering an Office upgrade in order to access the new change tracking or Unicode features in Word? Do you just like to stay up to date? Those all might be important reasons to use Entourage 2004. Or, you might have wanted to use Entourage all along, but found the idea of the single-file database too scary until now.
On the other hand, if you are already happy with a different email program or system for managing contacts, calendaring, and to do lists, you likely won’t find the features in Entourage so compelling that it merits the time and money necessary to switch.
The only way to purchase Entourage 2004 is as part of the full Microsoft Office suite, which lists for $400 or costs $150 for educational users; upgrades cost $240. You can also download a "test drive" version of Office 2004 (186 MB) that works for 30 days. Office 2004 requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or higher.
Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004 — I’ve tried to give you an idea here of what’s new in Entourage 2004, along with a sense of how successful these new features are. What I haven’t done is tell you how to use Entourage’s new capabilities; that’s the topic that Tom Negrino has ably tackled in our latest Take Control ebook, "Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004." Sure, you could wait another few months for the traditional books on Office 2004 to appear and hope that they provide the necessary coverage of Entourage’s new features, but why wait? Tom looks at each of the features I’ve discussed here (and more), describing how they work and giving step-by-step usage instructions where appropriate, along with tips and strategies for making the most of each feature. And like all our Take Control ebooks, any minor changes we make as more information is learned about Entourage 2004 will be free to people who buy the ebook.
"Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004" is 64 pages and costs $5. If you wish to use SpamSieve instead of Entourage’s spam filtering capabilities, we’ve made Tom’s ebook even more valuable with the inclusion of a coupon for $5 off SpamSieve at the back of the book, effectively reducing the price of the book to $0.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster, though it doesn’t yet use our preferred design.
New Liquid-cooled Power Mac G5s — Are the new Power Macs a significant upgrade, or does their speed fall short of expectations? And what about the new liquid-cooling technology? (1 message)
Problems with Security Update 2004-06-07 — Problems with Apple’s recent security fix? Readers offer a couple of solutions. (7 messages)
Problems with excessive password prompting — Mac OS X’s default window behavior and the way it stores passwords can create user interface problems that could, in theory, expose you to a security risk. (3 messages)
Educational games software lacking — Where are the quality educational programs for Mac OS X? (3 messages)
AirPort Express — Apple’s new compact AirPort base station and wireless music streaming device is generating a lot of buzz. Can it be used to bridge a wireless network to a wired one? (3 messages)