Thinking about buying an AirPort Express to connect wired and wireless networks? To coincide with the release of his ebook "Take Control of Your AirPort Network," Glenn Fleishman examines the limitation of the Express’s single Ethernet port. Speaking of networking, a lightning strike prompts Adam to share his experience adding an Ethernet card to a Power Mac, and Matt Neuburg wonders how he ever used the Web without Webstractor.
iTunes Music Store Sells 100 Millionth Song — Apple’s iTunes Music Store sold its 100 millionth song on Sunday, 11-Jul-04, to 20-year old Kevin Britten of Hays, Kansas, making Kevin the winner of a 17-inch PowerBook, a 40 GB iPod, a 10,000-song iTunes Music Store gift certificate, and the opportunity to create his own celebrity playlist in the iTunes Music Store. Apple also gave away 20 GB iPods to the purchaser of each 100,000th song between 95 and 100 million songs sold: the names of 22 winners (and the songs they purchased) are on Apple’s Web site. The 100 millionth song sale is a notable milestone for Apple, which says it now controls more than 70 percent of legal downloads for albums and singles. For the time being, the iTunes Music Store’s future looks rosy: although it hasn’t always met Steve Jobs’ optimistic sales forecasting, more than a year after its debut it has yet to face serious competition. [GD]
digital.forest Celebrates 10th Year — Congratulations to Chuck Goolsbee, Chris Kilbourn, Bill Dickson, and our other friends at digital.forest, who are celebrating the company’s tenth year in the Web hosting and server co-location business. Many other hosting firms have come and gone in that time, but it’s a testament to digital.forest’s service that we’ve been extremely happy since moving our servers there in January of 2000. They’ve done a great job over the years of baby-sitting our geriatric Power Mac 7100 and 7600 and helping set up the shiny Xserve that runs Web Crossing. Happy birthday, folks! [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: disclabel Winners — Congratulations to Al Guild of mac.com, Michael J. Amato of comcast.net, and Miguel Angel Vazquez of macmail.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing, and who will each be receiving a copy of SmileOnMyMac’s disclabel 2.1. Don’t despair if we didn’t pick your entry, since SmileOnMyMac is offering a special $5 discount on disclabel only for TidBITS readers, bringing the price from $29.95 down to $24.95. The discount is good through 22-Jul-04 via the second link below. Thanks to the 617 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
Why would you want to add a PCI Ethernet card to a Power Mac? Although you can take advantage of some tweaky multi-homing possibilities with multiple Ethernet cards, in my case it was much simpler: a lightning strike near our house fried my Power Mac G4’s onboard Ethernet!
I actually saw the lightning hit an ash tree on the other side of our driveway, or rather, I heard the simultaneous blast of thunder and saw a chunk of bark blown off the tree. All our uninterruptible power supplies screeched in unison, but everything seemed to continue running. When I investigated, though, my network had completely lost its mind, and I had to toggle power for every device on the network to restore functionality.
Only one Mac didn’t recover fully: my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. It booted fine, but Panther’s Network preference pane kept reporting that the cable wasn’t plugged in to the built-in Ethernet port. Fiddling with the cable and the 10/100Base-T switch made no difference – clearly its little Ethernet chip soul had floated off into the ether. I turned on its AirPort card and continued with my day at 11 Mbps.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I’d become addicted to the 100 Mbps throughput of 100Base-T Ethernet though, and working with files on our similarly equipped server was now painful. Backups took forever as well, and I decided that I had to buy a new PCI Ethernet card.
Ambiguous Research — Although Small Dog offered several PCI Ethernet cards for sale for entirely reasonable prices, some quick research showed that they needed drivers to operate correctly. A comment on a list of smart Mac friends led me to believe that some PCI Ethernet cards used the same chipset as Apple did for onboard Ethernet and thus wouldn’t require additional drivers. Normally I wouldn’t care about drivers, but I didn’t want to be forced to hold off on upgrading to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger sometime next year just because my Ethernet drivers hadn’t been upgraded.
My friends encouraged me to look for cards with the DEC 21140 chipset, since Apple’s built-in Ethernet drivers support it directly, and poking around with Google revealed that a Linksys Ethernet card used that chipset. Unfortunately, after I purchased said card, I discovered that version 4.1 of the card may have used the DEC chipset, but version 5.1 used something else entirely. My Power Mac didn’t even notice when I plugged the Linksys card in. That’s when I came to understand the impossibility of figuring out exactly what chipset any particular card had without being able to see the actual card in person.
I had also come across a page on the Accelerate Your Mac site that implied an Intel Pro/100 Ethernet card would also work without drivers. The report was minimal, so I’d been leery to start with the Intel card, but I decided my chances of the Intel card working were better than guessing at another card that might use the DEC chipset. Needless to say, Intel said nothing about Mac compatibility on the product page.
A quick price comparison on NexTag turned up a number of vendors, and although none of them claimed Mac compatibility either, I took a plunge and ordered from Page Computer, since I’d bought supplies from them successfully before.
Long Story Short — The card arrived a few days later, I unboxed it, shut down my Power Mac G4, installed the card, and restarted the Mac. When I opened the Network preference pane, it threw up a prompt telling me that it had found a new network port. I configured the new port with the appropriate TCP/IP settings and it’s been working fine ever since.
The moral of the story is that if you need a PCI Ethernet card for a Power Mac and don’t wish to mess with third-party drivers, the Intel Pro/100 M card may be your best option… unless Intel decides to modify their chipset in such a way that Apple’s drivers no longer recognize it. So be sure you can return anything you buy.
Apple’s new AirPort Express Base Station combines streaming music, USB printer sharing, and wireless networking – but with only a single Ethernet port. This doesn’t initially sound like a problem: you simply plug an AirPort Express Base Station into a broadband modem and then you’re online, right?
Yes, but only if you don’t currently – and never will – need to share your broadband connection with computers connected via Ethernet to your local network. Because AirPort Express has just the single Ethernet port, it cannot simultaneously act as a gateway for your DSL or cable modem and also share that connection with wired computers.
You do have options if you want to make the AirPort Express Base Station your sole Wi-Fi gateway and you want to use wired machines on the same network. Luckily, these workarounds aren’t necessary if you’re adding an AirPort Express to an AirPort Extreme network, you already have a home broadband gateway that handles sharing your connection, or if you’re connecting only via AirPort or AirPort Extreme (although I’d still encourage you to check out my new ebook, "Take Control of Your AirPort Network").
The Return of Graphite? Apple’s last base station model with a single Ethernet port was the original graphite-colored AirPort Base Station introduced in 1999. At the time, AirPort was seen as an affordable add-on to networks that wanted to layer Wi-Fi on top of an existing wired network. With relatively few home users having broadband (and even then often with just a single AirPort-capable computer), sharing a connection wasn’t on top of Apple’s priority list even though it included a network sharing feature.
As wireless networking grew in popularity, and more homes had multiple computers, Apple replaced the graphite with the snow model which included two Ethernet jacks: a Wide Area Network (WAN) Ethernet port to connect to your ISP’s broadband network, and a Local Area Network (LAN) port to get in touch with your network’s wired side. Later AirPort Extreme Base Stations also had these two separate ports.
The WAN port negotiates a connection with your ISP, including using PPP over Ethernet or a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) client to obtain an address from the ISP’s network server. The LAN port can feed out private "fake" network addresses using Network Address Translation (NAT), letting you share what’s typically a single, dynamic address from the ISP with multiple local machines. (Wireless gateways from other companies work the same way, but typically include a 3- or 4-port Ethernet LAN switch in addition to the WAN port.)
By splitting the WAN and the LAN, Apple was able to offer different functions on each port, essentially creating two separate networks with the base station acting as a router between them. This approach prevents "backwash" in which the private network addresses are fed out over the WAN port, potentially confusing dynamic address assignment for other ISP customers. The graphite unit allowed this backwash; the snow models avoided it by separating the network segments.
Here’s the rub. As far as I can tell without yet having a unit in hand, the AirPort Express Base Station’s single Ethernet port can act only as either a WAN or a LAN port – not both at the same time. That means that you can’t use it as a gateway for wired machines. The graphite base station could (and did) cause this backwash, which was one of the reasons for its replacement; AirPort Express almost certainly won’t repeat history.
You might think that you could solve the problem by using Internet Sharing in Mac OS X to share the incoming network connection with other wired machines. However, doing so might result in your broadband account getting canceled for corrupting the ISP’s network with dynamic address backwash.
Polluting Your ISP’s Waters — Many ISPs, especially cable modem providers, bridge your broadband network connection directly onto their own local network: your Ethernet network is just an extension of their larger pool. This is a stupid design for a variety of reasons, but it’s standard practice. (ISPs could use filtering to keep all LAN-style traffic from leaking upstream, for instance, and some do filter out Windows file sharing, for instance.)
This is why, when you try to share a connection over Built-In Ethernet using Internet Sharing, a dialog warns that you’re potentially making a mistake. Backwash from Internet Sharing could confuse other computers that occupy the same network segment to which you’ve been assigned by your ISP.
Here’s how the backwash happens. Internet Sharing combines NAT with DHCP to feed out private IP addresses as computers on the network request them; these private IP addresses only work on the local network and can’t be reached directly from the rest of the Internet. They’re one-way addresses – for the most part – for requesting information, not serving out data.
If you were to plug a Mac and your broadband modem into an Ethernet switch, and then enable Internet Sharing so that it shares the connection from Built-In Ethernet to computers using Built-In Ethernet, Internet Sharing would happily assign its private addresses to computers owned by other users on the ISP’s network. This would either route all their traffic across your network or prevent them from connecting altogether. Either way, your ISP could cancel your service because of your technical failing, and at best, you’d receive an angry phone call.
For this reason, AirPort Express isn’t designed to share a connection to wired machines. If you’re looking to connect wired and wireless networks without paying the full cost of an AirPort Extreme Base Station (with its dual Ethernet ports), this limitation would seem to stymie you, but there are ways of making it work.
Wired Makes Wireless Better — The workaround for an AirPort Express-based network is either to add a wired broadband gateway or to add an Ethernet card into an existing Power Mac to create your own WAN/LAN split. In both of these scenarios, you want to set your AirPort Express Base Station to receive its address via DHCP and to disable the option to distribute IP addresses (using the AirPort Admin Utility). The AirPort Express base station is not creating its own network for wireless computers: it merely enables wireless computers to join an existing private network on your Ethernet LAN. When a computer connects wirelessly to the AirPort Extreme Base Station, the wired gateway (or the Mac with two Ethernet cards) assigns it an address.
A wired broadband gateway offers essentially the same features as an AirPort Extreme Base Station without the wireless radio. Most models cost between $30 and $50. I’ve had good luck most recently with the Linksys BEFSR41, which features auto-sensing Ethernet ports (so you don’t have to hunt down the right kind of cable) and an easy setup process. It costs about $50, but a 4-port Ethernet switch is $20 to $30 on its own, so this is a good combination at a good price.
Safari wasn’t happy with the unit’s Web configuration, but Opera 7.5 for Mac worked perfectly with it, and was even able to update its firmware – a feat that Mac browsers are sometimes incapable of achieving because of manufacturers’ focus on Windows.
Plug the AirPort Express Base Station into one of the four 10/100 Mbps Ethernet LAN ports on the Linksys BEFSR41 and configure the Linksys gateway to connect to your broadband modem through its WAN port. Turn on DHCP service, and you’re good to go: you’re creating private addresses for all wired and wireless machines.
At $180 ($130 for the AirPort Express and $50 for the Linksys gateway), this combination actually improves on the $200 AirPort Extreme Base Station in some respects: you get a full 4-port Ethernet switch and some better reporting and configuration options in the Linksys for network gaming and selectively handling access to machines behind the passive NAT firewall.
The other option is to put a second PCI Ethernet card into a Power Mac. (See Adam’s article elsewhere in this issue about finding an ideal, inexpensive, compatible Ethernet card that can be used for this purpose.)
After adding the Ethernet card and rebooting, set up one Ethernet interface as your WAN-facing network, using the Network preference pane to configure it to connect to your ISP via your broadband modem. Connect the other Ethernet port to your LAN via an Ethernet switch or hub into which you also plug your AirPort Express Base Station. In the Network preference pane, name these two configurations WAN Ethernet and LAN Ethernet so you can tell them apart. Finally, configure your Internet Sharing settings to share from the WAN Ethernet connection over your LAN Ethernet connection.
Cooking with One Port — This might seem like a lot of rigmarole, but if you have your heart set on starting an AirPort network with the AirPort Express Base Station, I hope I’ve just saved you hours of frustration and confusion. If you choose the approaches I outline above, you won’t find your service canceled, and you will be able to build exactly the kind of network you want.
I’ve written about this scenario and many others in my new ebook, "Take Control of Your AirPort Network," released last Friday. I discuss how to pick an appropriate base station, including alternatives to AirPort; how to solve common configuration problems; what you need to do to expand your network’s coverage area; how to set up your own dynamic addressing with many more options than covered in this article; and what to do to secure your network or your data. In appendixes, I walk through using AirPort Management Utility, finding a non-Apple card for new and old Macs, and using AirPort Express. The book costs $5, which includes free updates as with all the Take Control books. I will expand the AirPort Express coverage once I’ve had a chance to work with a unit for a while.
Sometimes a new idea is so simple, you can’t believe no one’s thought of it before. Sometimes a simple idea is so ingenious, it feels magical. When an application embodies a new idea of that sort, you may not realize right away what it does: it lives just outside your accustomed paradigms, so at first you keep trying to see it as something it isn’t, like a child stuffing a square peg in a round hole.
Softchaos’s Webstractor is like that. It’s not big; it’s not complicated; it doesn’t feel particularly powerful or revolutionary; but it’s not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before, either. It’s small, simple, new, and downright brilliant. When you do grasp what it does, you’re amazed for an instant, as if someone had splashed water in your face. Then the instant passes (the water evaporates, the sun is warm, the day is bright) and you simply go back to your same old life as if nothing had happened – except that it isn’t quite the same old life, because now you’re using Webstractor. But it feels like the same old life, because you’re using Webstractor automatically, without thinking, as if it had always been part of your life.
That’s what I’ve been trying to say about Webstractor all along. It’s an old friend – an old friend you’ve never met before.
The Two Faces of Janus — What does Webstractor do? Well, for one thing, it’s a document-based application that can surf the Web. A Webstractor document starts out as a collection of Web pages that you’ve visited using Webstractor as your browser. The window is divided into two sections: the upper part is a list of the Web pages collected in this document, and when you click on a listing, that Web page is displayed in the lower part of the window.
But there’s more. It turns out that a Webstractor document has two faces. The collection of Web pages is one face (called Browse mode). The other face (called Edit mode) is a single narrative that you’ve created by stringing some or all of those Web pages together, possibly in edited form. When I say "in edited form," I mean that you’re able to modify the content of a Web page as represented in the document’s Edit mode (the same Web page as represented in Browse mode lives on unaltered). The key moves that you can make in editing a page are things such as selecting a stretch of text and cropping so that the rest of the document is eliminated; highlighting a stretch of text (i.e. give it a bright yellow background); changing some text’s font, size, or color; and of course adding and deleting text.
I say "of course" as if these abilities were obvious; but in fact they are just plain jaw-dropping amazing. It is this transformation of a Web page into an editable thing that constitutes the simple, magical brilliance of Webstractor. The first time you see it, you can’t imagine how it is even possible.
Consider, for example, something like the TidBITS home page. It’s laid out in an elaborate way. It has a header with an image and a couple of form fields, then a complicated four-column table, then a series of two-column tables, then a footer. Yet this Web page can be transformed by Webstractor into an editable thing. This editable thing looks like the original page; but, behind the scenes, it has been divided into a collection of separately editable "text frames." The header image is a text frame; the form fields are a text frame; the first three columns in the opening table are text frames, and in the fourth column (the Take Control ad) nearly every line is a separate text frame of its own; then each column of each two-column table is a text frame; and the footer is five text frames (the four links and the copyright notice).
The reason for this approach is that a Web page like this, with its arrangement of tables and images, is too complicated to be represented in a simple RTF-based TextEdit type of word-processing window; but each of the text frames into which the page has been broken down behind the scenes is sufficiently simple. In effect, each text frame of the editable page is a separate stretch of RTF, with the text frames laid out to look like the original Web page. So now you can edit some spot in a text frame; when you’re done editing, the entire page re-renders itself. You can also eliminate whole text frames, so as to leave just the part of the page you’re interested in; when you do, you can reformat the remaining frame so that instead of being narrow (because it was once one column of a multi-column table) it is the full width of the page.
The point of this aspect of Webstractor is not merely to let you store and edit Web pages; it is to let you string the edited pages into a single document. You end up with what I earlier called a single narrative, like a multi-page word-processing document. The content of this narrative comes from the original Web pages, ordered and edited by you. You can also insert new material of your own, corresponding to no Web page at all (that is, you simply insert some completely original styled-text content). In the final narrative, you don’t necessarily even see the divisions between the original Web pages; a "page" in the narrative is a piece-of-paper page, not a Web page, and you can close up the gaps between Web pages so that the material is repaginated into a single seamless flow.
The Why and Wherefore — You’re probably now asking: "Okay, but why would I want to do that? What would I want to use Webstractor for?" My advice is not to ask that question, because your answer will almost certainly be wrong; you won’t be able to second-guess yourself, to predict your own behavior. Instead, just use it. Let yourself go. Webstractor is so easy and obvious, you’ll instantly find yourself doing automatically with it whatever it is that needs to be done.
For example, I’m currently studying Microsoft Word 2004. So, when I notice that a Web site is discussing problems or features of this version of Word that I might want to remember, I navigate to it in my Webstractor document devoted to Word 2004. In the case of something like MacFixIt, I’m not interested in the whole Web page; I just want the part that’s talking about Word, so in Edit mode I crop out everything else. In Browse mode, this Webstractor document is a collection of Web pages, but in Edit mode it’s a terse series of statements about Word 2004 that I can refer to later on.
In other cases, you might not bother with Edit mode at all. You might simply collect some Web pages to form a Webstractor document, just because a bunch of stored Web pages is a lot faster and simpler to read through than having to save a bunch of URLs and navigate to the actual sites in your browser – not to mention that you can do it without going online. I did just that during the weekend before I wrote the TidBITS article on the URL scheme security exploit. I scoured the Internet for information, using Webstractor as my browser. Webstractor captures every page visited, so I ended up with several dozen Web pages in my Webstractor document, of which only about a dozen were really germane, so I deleted the others. Then on Monday I wrote the article, glancing through the stored Web pages as I did so; and then I threw the document away, it having served its purpose.
It’s also hard to resist using the power to edit imported Web pages just for fun, to "hack" your own personal version of someone else’s Web page. Luckily you can’t export the result to HTML; it lives solely within your Webstractor document. But you can print it or export it as a PDF, and of course you can take a screen shot of it…
The PDF export option is worthy of additional mention, since it provides an easy way to share a Webstractor document with anyone else, such as an editor who may want to review the sites you used when developing an article. And if that editor wanted to check those sites for updates, you could send her the original Webstractor document with its live updating capability.
Bells and Whistles — This article can’t describe Webstractor completely, but there honestly isn’t that much more to it than I’ve outlined. Just a few further points deserve separate mention.
When you reload a stored Web page in Webstractor, if the page has changed on the Web, the new version is stored as a separate item (different versions of a single Web page are nicely listed hierarchically, with the date and time, at the top of the Browse mode window). This means Webstractor can be used to maintain successive states of a Web page, as I did in my MacFixIt example above.
The Links Inspector is a utility window listing all the links in the current Web page, divided into several useful categories. Naturally you can navigate any link from here, adding it to your document.
A simple but useful Find capability works rather as in Preview: a drawer opens, you type a term into a search field and hit Return, and all matches are listed, with a little context, in a table. You click on a listing in the table to navigate to that occurrence in your document. The same drawer can be used to perform find-and-replace in the Edit mode portion of your document.
The manual is a Help Viewer document; it’s rather superficial and incomplete (there’s an entire menu whose purpose is nowhere explained, for example). And why, oh why, can’t online help authors be bothered to supply decent navigational links between pages?
Conclusion — There’s very little not to like in Webstractor. It has a tendency to put up the "spinning pizza of death" from time to time, but it isn’t actually dying – it’s just performing some time-consuming process, and I’m sure that in future versions this will be made to take less time or will be sluffed off to a thread. The price (about $80, depending on the pound-dollar exchange rate) seems a bit steep – it’s higher than DEVONthink or NoteTaker – but that’s a trade-off you’ll have to judge for yourself, and you can easily do so, since a demo version is available for download (note that Webstractor requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later).
Perhaps you’ll use Webstractor simply to make up for Safari’s inability to save Internet Explorer-like Web archives; perhaps you’ll use it to assemble parts of Web pages as a vast set of notes for some research project. In any case, you’ll surely find it easy, fun, intuitive, and darned clever.
Although I will continue to monitor TidBITS Talk while I’m at Macworld Expo in Boston this week, my torrid schedule along with two days of travel on trains that aren’t equipped with Wi-Fi (see contributing editor Glenn Fleishman’s New York Times article about wireless Internet access for commuters), will likely mean somewhat more sporadic moderation.
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.
Postini-like anti-spam services — After our announcement that we would be testing Postini, several people wrote into alert us to alternative anti-spam services. (3 messages)
Postini experiences — Reader experiences with Postini’s spam filtering service seem to be generally positive. (2 messages)
Rating a Mac conference — Readers chime in on what makes a conference successful. (6 messages)
Mac OS 8.6 and 10.3.4 co-existing — Can Mac OS 8.6 and Mac OS X 10.3.4 co-exist without undue trouble? (Yes, but…) (5 messages)
Original AirPort Card withdrawn — Mike Millard notes that Apple has withdrawn the original AirPort card in favor of AirPort Extreme, but that then raises the question of what to do for older Macs that can’t use AirPort Extreme. (2 messages)
Apple Delays iMacs Until Sep-04 — Will Apple’s misstep with the release of new iMac cause prices to drop on other models? (2 messages)