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It’s summer in the United States, and Jonathan Jackel is in a driving mood, cruising with the Route 66 mapping software. Meanwhile, Andrew Laurence is lazing about on the couch with Elgato’s EyeHome digital media device. In other news, Apple released Mac OS X 10.3.5 and Security Update 2004-08-09, Intuit has released Quicken 2005, Apple posted iPhoto 4.0.2 then quickly replaced it with iPhoto 4.0.3, and iData Pro has returned as iData 2 under Mac OS X. In DealBITS this week, enter to win free DLexpo VIP passes!

Adam Engst No comments

Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.3.5, Security Update 2004-08-09

Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.3.5, Security Update 2004-08-09 — Late Monday, Apple released via Software Update Mac OS X 10.3.5 and Security Update 2004-08-09. Bearing in mind that we heard about these updates right before putting the issue to bed and so can confirm nothing, here are the improvements that seem most relevant to us (the first link below offers more complete release notes). Mac OS X 10.3.5 offers updated Mail and Image Capture applications, improved compatibility for third-party applications, improved font management, additional FireWire and USB device compatibility, and better Bluetooth compatibility for the Apple Wireless Keyboard and Mouse and Bluetooth cell phones. People working in mixed platform scenarios should appreciate enhanced support for NTFS-formatted volumes, and those in highly networked environments should see improved reliability for user logins and mounting of home directories. Mac OS X 10.3.5 rolls in all previous standalone security updates and also includes fixes for a problem that could cause Safari to resubmit form data when using the forward/back buttons and the TCP/IP-based denial-of-service "Rose Attack." The 10.3.5 update varies in size depending on what you need to download; Software Update told me it was 22.9 MB. A stand-alone version that updates 10.3.4 to 10.3.5 and a combined version that updates any version of 10.3 to 10.3.5 should be available from the Apple Downloads page shortly. As always, be sure to back up before installing such a major update.

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Security Update 2004-08-09 updates Mac OS X’s code for handling graphics in the PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format to work around a problem in which malicious PNG image could cause application crashes and execute arbitrary code. Security Update 2004-08-09 is included in Mac OS X 10.3.5, so you don’t need to download it if you’re updating to Mac OS X 10.3.5. [ACE]

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Matt Neuburg No comments

iData Pro, Go Cocoa

iData Pro, Go Cocoa — iData Pro has long been my favorite digital shoebox, a repository for completely miscellaneous text snippets, as I explained in TidBITS-675. The program was available through Casady & Greene, who closed their doors in June 2003. iData’s author, Mike Wright, robbed of a distribution channel, thereupon generously started giving the program away. On Mac OS 9 (non-Classic) it was made free forever; on Mac OS X it was a six-month "demo," but it was fully featured, and over time, eight bug-fix updates kept it from expiring. Meanwhile, Wright partnered with Robin Casady to revive the program by rewriting it in Cocoa. This effort has now resulted in iData 2 (currently version 2.0.2, with the "Pro" deliberately dropped from the name). The Cocoa rewrite provides all the cool stuff and good behavior that Cocoa brings along for free, such as styled text, Unicode, images, Services, scroll-wheel support, speech, and spell-checking. A valuable new feature is the capability to insert a live link to any file or folder on disk. iData 2 and iData 1.0.17 can import each other’s files; iData 2 can also import InfoGenie and QuickDex files. iData 2 costs $50; a few iData 1.0.17 features still missing from iData 2, such as label printing and advanced phone dialing, are slated to return in a future major update, at which point the price will rise to $70. A 30-day demo is available for download (1 MB). iData 2 requires Mac OS X 10.3 Panther or later. [MAN]





Adam Engst No comments

Envision 1.0 Released

Envision 1.0 Released — Back in May, I wrote about Envision, an interesting program from Open Door Networks that works to turn a Mac into an Internet-based slideshow. It’s out now (a few weeks ago, in fact; programs that ship during Macworld Expo can fall through the cracks for us), and includes one particularly helpful new feature: the capability to save the images from an Envision slideshow to a folder for use with Mac OS X’s screen saver. Envision 1.0 costs $40 through 15-Aug-04; after that the price will be $50. A 30-day evaluation version is available as a 2.1 MB download; give it a try and see if a digital picture frame might be in your future. [ACE]



Jeff Carlson No comments

iPhoto 4.0.3 Released

iPhoto 4.0.3 Released — Early last week, Apple released iPhoto 4.0.2, which seemed like an extremely minor update unless you were ordering iPhoto books in Europe. It also addressed issues with using multiple text rules in Smart Albums, and provided notification when new versions are available (presumably for people who don’t already use Software Update). However, Apple pulled the update mid-week without notice, then posted an iPhoto 4.0.3 updater on Thursday that claims the same new features. Note that the new version needs to update your iPhoto catalog, so it’s a good idea to backup your existing photos before applying the update. The update is available as a 7.1 MB download via Software Update, or as a 5.9 MB stand-alone download. [JLC]


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Jeff Carlson No comments

Quicken 2005 Released

Quicken 2005 Released — Intuit has released Quicken 2005, the latest version of its financial management application. The new version adds online support for more financial institutions, streamlines new account creation and category management, and ties into iPhoto to generate a visual home inventory. Quicken 2005 for Mac currently costs $60, and is available as a 32 MB download or in a boxed version. [JLC]


Adam Engst No comments

DealBITS Drawing: DLexpo Free Passes

If you’re with commuting distance of Long Beach, California and have some free time at the end of this week (13-Aug-04 through 15-Aug-04), you might want to check out a new trade show that’s just starting up: DLexpo, or the Digital Lifestyle Expo. (If you’re not near Long Beach or are busy this weekend, note that DLexpo will be in New York City in late September and in Atlanta, Georgia, in mid-November, with many other cities under consideration for 2005).


As you might expect from the name, DLexpo is heavily Macintosh-oriented and will be showcasing the latest digital tools, including DV cameras, Bluetooth cell phones, MP3 players, professional audio products, and the software that goes with all this hardware. Along with the show floor, there will be a number of presentations and workshops running throughout DLexpo, including a feature presentation from Apple’s Rhonda Stratton, the director of product marketing for QuickTime. Unlike many conferences that charge one steep fee for everything, DLexpo has chosen an a la carte approach: attendance normally costs $10 for the show floor, $100 for the Saturday and Sunday symposium presentations (which includes the show floor), and $25 per day for the Saturday and Sunday workshops given by people like Andy Ihnatko and David Pogue. There’s also a 3.5-hour DV workshop led by Josh Mellicker of for $59 and a 3-hour Nikon Digital Camera Workshop that costs $300 but that includes a 3.2 megapixel Nikon 3200 Coolpix camera that you get to keep. Despite the a la carte approach, it could add up, and that’s where this week’s DealBITS drawing comes in.

DLexpo is giving away five VIP passes that give you free admittance to the show floor, the Saturday and Sunday symposiums, and the Saturday and Sunday workshops: a $150 value. For those who don’t win, DLexpo is still offering a discount that will significantly cut all the prices (even more for students and educators), so if you think you might want to go, be sure to enter at the DealBITS page linked below. As always, all information gathered is covered by our comprehensive privacy policy. Check your spam filters, since you must be able to receive email from my address to learn if you’ve won. Because this instance of DLexpo is happening so soon, I’m closing the DealBITS drawing at 11:59 PM (Pacific) on Wednesday night, 11-Aug-04, and I’ll notify everyone via email the next morning of the winners and discount codes. You can register to attend DLexpo at any time, even after the show starts.



Andrew Laurence No comments

EyeHome: So Close, Yet So Far

I have a dream. It’s a simple dream, really.

I dream of a device that will bring my digital media – music, movies, photos – to my home theater system with its comfy couch, audiolicious speakers, and large-screen television. TiVo has freed me from the confines of the network schedules (see "TiVo: Freedom Through Time-Shifting" in TidBITS-594); I want a device to free me from the confines of physical media. I want my music collection available in an unending stream. I want to show my mother digital pictures of her grandson without huddling around a computer monitor. I want to torture guests with unending hours of baby video footage. Last, but perhaps most important, I dream of a remote control that won’t piss me off.


EyeHome from Elgato Systems comes tantalizingly close to realizing this dream. By the spec sheet, it does nearly everything: it plays MP3, AIFF, and unprotected AAC files on the stereo, with support for iTunes playlists and the capability to browse by album/artist/song; it displays JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP graphic image files on the television, according to iPhoto’s albums and slide shows; and it plays MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and DiVX movie files on the television. A simple preference pane activates its Java-based server software on your Mac and advertises its presence via Rendezvous. The EyeHome itself, a small, silver set-top box, connects to your Mac via Ethernet and to your television or receiver via RCA, S-Video, or optical S/PDIF jacks. (Those with wireless networks can use an 802.11b/g bridge such as the Linksys WET11 or NetGear ME101.)

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Eye for Details — In practice, the EyeHome does just about everything it claims. Setup and installation are a breeze. Just install the software, hook up the device and turn it on. It finds your Mac (or multiple Macs) via Rendezvous and Shazam! Your pictures, movies, and music are all available for playing on the television and hi-fi stereo.

iPhoto’s photo albums are displayed in the same order as they appear within iPhoto; you can view a single photo or play an album as a slide show. During a party I played a random slide show of baby pictures on the television, a handy conversation piece (and a way for the guests to catch up on the baby’s life, while the real article was long since asleep).

Songs, albums and playlists all play from the iTunes Library. However, EyeHome’s Music section doesn’t descend through the library as I expect. I’d expect it to descend from Artist to Aretha Franklin to a list of her albums, but instead you get a list of songs. Similarly, going from Genre to Jazz, one expects a list of artists, but again you find a list of songs.

EyeHome is restricted to playlists in iTunes and cannot create ad hoc playlists. Having tasted the rich freedom of Slim Devices’ SlimServer software, however, I find the marriage to iTunes limiting; ad hoc playlists are addictive, and the EyeHome’s Java software feels slow by comparison (see "Good Vibrations from the Squeezebox" in TidBITS-726). The documentation claims that EyeHome can play Internet radio stations (via a .pls file in your Music folder), but I could not get this feature to work.



I don’t yet have DV footage converted to a compatible format, but from my test with some downloaded material, video playback works quite well. Quality on the screen is a direct function of the file’s video format; the more information in the file, the better the image. MPEG-1 looks grainy, while MPEG-4 and DiVX can look quite spectacular. As always with digital video, there can be a wide quality variance depending on the codec used; I had problems with a few DiVX files, but all the MPEG files I tried worked fine.

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(The EyeHome can also browse the Web, but I don’t find that feature at all compelling; viewing the Web on a TV didn’t work well with WebTV, doesn’t work in a hotel room, and doesn’t interest me in my home with broadband and laptop computers.)

Eye on Interface — However, while the EyeHome appears to realize my dream, it falls short due to a horrible interface and a remote control with tiny buttons and inscrutable icons.

When a computer outputs its display to an NTSC television, it offers an image of only 640 by 480 pixels – tiny by modern computing standards. When faced with this constraint in a consumer device, TiVo chose a simple vertical list of selectable items; selecting an item takes you to a new screen and a new list of options. TiVo’s interface is quickly comprehensible, uncluttered, and focused on the task at hand. Elgato, however, shoehorns a three-pane interface into this limited space. Large text buttons occupy the left-hand portion of the screen, one for each major function: EyeTV, Movies, Music, Photos, Internet, Services. (I find the topmost EyeTV button to be exasperating, as it is useless without an EyeTV device and cannot be moved or removed.) The right-hand portion of the screen is used for browsing content in the selected area, and small soft buttons for media playback sit along the top.

It sounds simple enough, if a bit cluttered. However, the execution is maddening. To navigate through the interface, you use a set of small directional buttons on the included remote control. When an on-screen button is highlighted, it is surrounded by a blue rectangle. However, when one of the large media buttons is active, it is shown as an Aqua-ish blue blob. If you click to highlight that button, the rectangle vanishes! Suddenly, there is no indication of which item is currently selected.

It gets worse as you delve deeper: press Select on the remote, and the cursor moves into the selected area (say, Music), where each listed item is delimited by a similar roundish blue blob. Moving the cursor to an item once again highlights its text with a blue rectangle, but that is the only indication of where your eye should focus. The list pane doesn’t have a visual highlight, and the Music button is still surrounded by a big honkin’ blue blob that draws the eye away from the content pane.

If the content in the list pane is longer than one screen, buttons for the next set are at the top of the list, not the bottom. If you are prone to pressing Down as you move through a list (or, say, just finished with one selection and want to move to a different screen), you must press Up several times in order to move to the next set. A scrollable list of "pages," TiVo-style, would make a great deal more sense.

At various points, soft buttons for playback options (Search, Back, Play All, Random) appear at the top of the screen. These buttons are denoted with white-on-black icons, in a different font than any other button text. (It might just be a smaller point size; after all, this is NTSC video we’re looking at, which isn’t the best way to view typefaces.) The appearance of these icons is another inconsistency, and while the Search button is handy, again the implementation is horrid. Pressing the Search button brings up a simple text field, but the field isn’t highlighted for input – that infernal EyeTV button is! So, hit the Right button and input text with the multi-tap numeric buttons, just like a cell phone and just as annoying. (Again, TiVo gets it right with an on-screen alphabet and arrow-to-select.)

In that hard-to-define quality of "feel," the EyeHome interface feels clunky. Navigation feels like tabbing through fields on a Web browser; this should come as no surprise, because it is, in fact, a Web browser. The browser accesses your Mac over TCP port 8000. The EyeHome software on the Mac is the Apache Web server with the Tomcat Java application server. It appears that the EyeHome is a licensee of technology from OEM digital media supplier Syabas. The device’s Web browser identifies itself as "Syabas," and the server’s .jar filenames begin with "syabas." Other Syabas licensee products appear to include the D-Link Wireless Media Player and the Neuston MC500.





In summary, the convenience of having one’s digital pictures on the TV is a blessing, as is dialing up a digital movie on a moment’s notice. Music playback works, but it pales in comparison to the SlimServer software on the Squeezebox from Slim Devices. If you can get past the interface, the EyeHome functions quite well. It costs $250 and is available from Elgato Systems and various online dealers.

[Andrew Laurence continues his quest for the ideal home theater digital hub. Frankly, the category is beginning to look like MP3 players did before the iPod came out. Hmm…]

Jonathan Jackel No comments

On Track with Route 66

I have always loved maps. I can read a map for hours: cool names of little towns; different colors for each state (why is Louisiana pink?); all the different ways of getting from here to there.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I relied on Thomas Brothers maps. These books are hundreds of pages long, each page covering about 70 square miles. I just looked up a street name in the index, found the address on the map, and plotted the course myself.


These days, of course, most people use one of the online mapping and directions services, such as MapQuest, MSN’s Maps, Yahoo Maps, and TopoZone. There are also sites for browsing topographic and census data, and even satellite photos.






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But if you use Mac OS X and want mapping software that covers the whole country (without requiring an Internet connection), right now there’s only one game in town: Route 66, published by Geographic Information Systems BV in the Netherlands. The company produces mapping software for Europe, Canada, and the USA; I’m reviewing the combined USA/Canada package here. (National Geographic sells the only other mapping software for the Mac; it’s focused on topography, though the company claims the product is suitable for planning road trips.)


Why should you buy mapping software if you can get maps and directions for free on the Internet? Here are a few reasons:

  • More control over how routes are created and printed
  • Additional information like latitude, longitude, and altitude
  • Capability to save frequently used locations and routes
  • Faster zooming and scaling
  • Ability to use maps/directions while in your car or on an airplane
  • Real-time mapping with global positioning satellites (GPS)

Route 66 does all these things – some surprisingly well, some in surprisingly clunky ways. I ran into the occasional inaccurate distance or misplacement of addresses, which seem to afflict every type of mapping application. I also found the format for displaying directions to be strangely contorted. At the same time, the maps print at incredibly high quality.

Unfortunately, I had to drop one of the reasons to use Route 66 right away; I was not able to get Route 66’s GPS integration to work. Theoretically, any GPS unit that follows the NMEA-0183 v2.0 protocol should work, and all recent units I looked into claimed some level of NMEA compatibility. But when I tried Route 66 with a compatible Navman GPS e Series unit, I couldn’t get it to work. If you use GPS on a Mac, feel free to send me a recommendation for a brand and model.

I still found Route 66 to be plenty useful. You interact with Route 66 through a single window with several panes: one for searching, one that displays a map, and one that shows any waypoints you have defined; the last pane shows directions for the route between your waypoints. A toolbar lets you choose tools for zooming, selecting, measuring as the crow flies, getting information about a particular location, bookmarking a location with a thumbtack, and using a location as a waypoint for a route you design.

Route Searching — The search pane is where things get interesting. Type in an address, and you get a map. Not just a map, but sometimes a list of businesses located at that address. I had no idea Sun Microsystems had an office in my building. That’s the kind of serendipity you just don’t get from a paper map.

You can also search for businesses. When I type my doctor’s name, I get his address and a map of his location, plus his phone number and medical specialty. After finding my house on the map, I can tell Route 66 to give me a list of doctors within five miles. You also can tell Route 66 to display all doctors on the map with a red cross icon and scale the map to get a custom search radius.

This feature begs for experimentation. What’s the closest bank? Or Apple Store (unfortunately only a few of the stores are in the Route 66 database)? Quite a few merchants, from 7-Eleven to CompUSA, get their own special icon, which you can display or hide for printing or viewing onscreen. I asked for Places of Worship and found nine churches within about three miles of my house. Unfortunately, all Places of Worship get the same cross-adorned logo – even the synagogues and mosques. Yikes! How do you say "faux pas" in Dutch?

The search feature has its weak points. If you type in a typical Washington DC address like 1500 H St NW, you’ll get what seems to be a list of every street in Washington. Apparently, anything with an H, including the word Washington, counts.

Rooting for Routes — Creating routes is simple. Once you’ve marked your location with a thumbtack (you can bookmark any number of locations that way) you can easily tell Route 66 to use that location as a departure point, and define any of the locations you’ve found (or any point on a road on the map) as a destination. Route 66 automatically, and fairly quickly, lays out the route in between. You can tell Route 66 not to use a particular road by setting a "road block"; Route 66 then chooses the best route that avoids the roadblock. This is a big improvement over MapQuest, which might insist on sending you down the wrong way on a one-way street or making you turn left at a sketchy intersection. You can even plan routes with multiple stops (hardware store, bank, home) and have Route 66 determine the optimal route for you, based on speed, mileage, or cost.

The narrative directions, though, are a bit strange and long-winded. I prefer an abbreviated style of directions:

W Apple Ridge Rd. 0.25

R Watkins Mill Rd 0.90

B/C Neelsville Church Rd

For me, this translates into, "Go west on Apple Ridge Road for one quarter mile. Turn right on Watkins Mill Road. After 0.9 miles it becomes Neelsville Church Road." When I’m driving or riding my bike, I only need to glance down to know what I’m looking for next and how far it is between turns.

Route 66, by contrast, just blabs and blabs:

(begin) Apple Ridge Rd (Montgomery Village) Leave in south-western direction. After 1330 ft turn right towards Watkins Mill Rd 1330 ft Watkins Mill Rd. After 0.9 mi straight on to the Neelsville Church Rd

And that’s with "Use concise route descriptions" turned on! The text above doesn’t even include all the columns that Route 66 provides, which cannot be hidden or rearranged. Notice how Route 66 can’t even bring itself to round 1330 feet up to one quarter of a mile (which is 1360 feet). The user cannot choose the precision. Personally, I would prefer hundredths of a mile to feet. The odd phrasing (who turns "towards" a street that they are turning onto?) screams, "I’ve been translated!" No matter what, it sounds wrong for a product aimed at a U.S. and Canadian audience.

X Approximately Marks the Spot — The worst thing about Route 66 – any computerized map, really – is the uncertainty about whether its data is correct. I did an unscientific test, trying out locations that I had actually visited in several states. I’d say that about a third of the time, there was some weird glitch in Route 66’s data.

  • My parents’ house in California is shown a block away from where it actually is. (MapQuest makes the same mistake.)

  • My kid’s school in Maryland is shown 1/4 mile north of where it actually is. That’s the other side of town for us. (MapQuest doesn’t even list this school)

  • The house where my wife grew up in Pennsylvania isn’t even in the database. (MapQuest has it, though the placement is off a little.)

  • Route 66 doesn’t recognize the address of the Maryland vehicle emissions testing facility closest to my house, which seems like exactly the wrong thing to leave out of a program people use with their cars. (MapQuest had it.)

  • A road I have bicycled on for years is shown as incomplete. (MapQuest has it right.)

  • Route 66 told me to turn left at an intersection where left turns are prohibited. (MapQuest avoided this problem.)

  • When you search for "LaGuardia" you see an airport icon in Lower Manhattan, between Houston and Bleecker on LaGuardia Place. That would be an awfully convenient place for an airport, but I can attest to the fact that LaGuardia Airport is still in Queens, some 8.5 miles from Route 66’s icon. If you look at Route 66’s map of Queens, LaGuardia is clearly there, but Route 66’s search engine doesn’t seem to know that.

Overall, Route 66’s data seems slightly worse than MapQuest’s. One drawback of having the map software on your computer is that it’s much more difficult for the publisher to keep updated than a Web site. I always take computerized directions with a grain of salt, and Route 66 is no exception.

Route 66 by Bicycle — The main reason I personally was interested in buying mapping software was to help plan bike rides. When you plan a ride, especially in new territory, you want a succinct list of all the turns you have to make and how far it is between turns. This is called a "cue sheet." I have found that an accurate cue sheet gives me a lot more confidence because I can always look down at my odometer and tell if I have gone too far or not far enough. But making a cue sheet can be a tedious process involving rolling a little measuring wheel over a paper map repeatedly to get an good measurement.

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I was hoping that Route 66 might generate cue sheets for me, maybe with turn-by-turn maps. At a minimum, I was hoping that it would at least measure my routes accurately.

It took a lot of experimentation, but I now have a halfway decent result. The key is to plan your route carefully and keep in mind Route 66’s limitations. Route 66 thinks in terms of streets and addresses. If you try to set a waypoint in the middle of a forest, Route 66 instead uses the closest street address, so forget about planning hikes. Route 66 doesn’t even have a concept of a street intersection; you cannot search for locations by intersection. Cue sheets, on the other hand, consist of almost nothing but intersections: go down this road for X miles, turn right at the intersection of Y Road. You don’t say, "Go to 10305 Z Street and turn right," but that’s how Route 66 thinks of it.

A reasonable compromise is that you can put a thumbtack in the middle of an intersection and name the thumbtack something like "Warfield/Dorsey". If you do a search for "Dorsey Warfield" Route 66 will find your thumbtack. Make a thumbtack for each turn on your ride. Then assemble a route from your thumbtacks. Be careful to add them to the route in the order they will be visited, and make each successive one (except for the first) a "destination" waypoint. You can reorder the points by dragging them into the right order if you make a mistake.

Another key is reverse psychology: to try to trick Route 66 into choosing the particular route you want, rather than directing it to each and every intersection. Route 66 frequently gives strange measurements that sometimes involve backtracking when you explicitly tell it to make a lot of turns in a short distance.

If you use fewer waypoints and let Route 66 have more control over the route, the distances are consistent and more-or-less correct. In addition, the directions and turn-by-turn maps are easier to understand because the extra backtracking isn’t there. Sometimes two waypoints, perhaps augmented by a roadblock, are all Route 66 needs to plot the route the way you want, even if you want multiple turns between the waypoints.

A very cool feature is that Route 66 can list every gas station and store within a set distance of a waypoint, and then show their logos on the map. If you find yourself dying for a PowerBar, you’ll at least have some idea where the next one is available. Route 66 claims it can also do this search for the entire route, but the search took so long I never actually had the patience to see if it worked.

Another way Route 66 improves on the paper map experience is with altitude information. On a map, all the roads look flat. On a bicycle, they are not. When going into unfamiliar territory, it is nice to know whether the terrain is within your ability. Route 66 makes it fairly easy to get altitude information for a particular point or street, but it would be nice if it also showed you the peaks and valleys on your route.

Once you add all your waypoints to your route, they are conveniently shown by thumbtack name in the directions – until you save and reopen the route. Then Route 66 converts everything into street number addresses, which definitely would look weird to your bike club. You’ll have to print your route before you close it for the directions to be comprehensible. There is no way to export directions from Route 66, except as a PDF via Print Preview. If you want to tweak anything about the directions, you’ll need to retype them yourself (unless you have the full version of Adobe Acrobat; PDF2Office just butchers it).

Interface and Tools — The user interface generally needs work. There is no Open Recent menu item, and Route 66 is the only Mac OS X application I use that completely forgets the last directory I visited. Every time you try to open a stored route file, you start at your home directory.

There are no keyboard equivalents for any of the tools, such as zoom in and zoom out. If you are using the "info" tool, which shows the exact address under the cursor, you can’t zoom, set a waypoint or thumbtack, or add a roadblock without switching tools. That requires either a trip up to the toolbar or a Control-click. A tool palette would at least make the journey shorter, but keyboard commands would be best.

On the other hand, the zoom tool is very clever. Simply drag a rectangle, like cropping a picture in iPhoto, and that rectangle is scaled up to fill the map area of the window. You can zoom in to a neighborhood-size scale and run the "information" tool over the streets. Each address is shown in a tooltip. The ruler tool lets you measure straight-line distances, and also shows latitude and longitude (to the hundredth of a second) and altitude (to 10 feet of accuracy, but don’t bet your pilot’s license on it).

However, there’s no speedy way to zoom out. It takes more than 25 clicks to go from the largest scale (1:2,300, or 1 inch equalling 192 feet) to the smallest (1:84,000,000, or 1 inch equalling 1,326 miles). Fortunately, the scale indicator is also a drop-down menu that lets you choose the area covered by a map (2 miles square, for instance) or a state or province to display.

A far more serious problem, in my book, is the glitchy help system. You would think the one place a software publisher would want to avoid problems is the very place users go to solve their problems. Route 66’s help is a simple HTML-based Windows port (right down to the little purple book icons, which stopped rendering properly as soon as I installed Safari 1.2). In Safari, you cannot type into the Route 66 help search box. Fortunately, you can paste into it. As a workaround, type into the Google search field and copy your query into Route 66’s search box. Internet Explorer 5.2 works, but then you have to change your default browser in Safari’s General preferences.

The help system claims you can search for locations by phone number, but I could not get it to work. In fact, Route 66 quit without warning – without so much as a "Route 66 unexpectedly quit" – when I tried.

Lastly, printing options are plentiful, though a bit hidden (you must choose the Route 66 item hidden away in the "Copies and Pages" pop-up menu in the Print dialog). You can print just the directions, directions with turn-by-turn maps showing an area around each turn that you specify, and/or an overview of your whole route. You can also just print or copy maps without any routes on them. "Strip maps" are also available, but they are nothing like AAA TripTiks (which show a blown-up representation of the route on multiple thin sheets) as I expected. Basically, you get an overview map on each page.

In the end, there are a lot of rough edges, but Geographic Information Systems BV is to be commended for being willing to release Mac-compatible software at the low end of the market; Route 66 costs $35, making it a budget solution. With a little work and attention to how people use maps for a variety of purposes, Route 66 could become a first class product.

[Jonathan Jackel is a bicyclist and map lover who lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.]

PayBITS: Did Jonathan’s review help you find your way?

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TidBITS Staff No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/09-Aug-04

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.


RealNetworks vs iTunes — RealNetworks is pushing a way to circumvent Apple’s FairPlay DRM system to play other protected music files on the iPod. Readers theorize on why RealNetworks is taking this approach. (5 messages)



Something more free than Web Crossing? As TidBITS continues to implement Web Crossing on the back end (most recently with the addition of our ExtraBITS weblog), people want to know more about Web Crossing and alternatives. (2 messages)



Legal issues of serving music over iTunes network — Is it illegal for a company to host a networked music server for its employees? (2 messages)