How many times have you been asked, "Which Mac should I buy?" Adam has been hearing it for 17 years, and has written "Take Control of Buying a Mac" as the answer. Also in this issue, Jeff Carlson reviews The Missing Sync for Palm OS 4.0, which is due to replace PalmSource’s HotSync software. In the news, Apple recalls a series of batteries for 15-inch PowerBook G4s, and we note the releases of Spring Cleaning 7.0 and Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.5.3. Plus, we welcome Glenn’s son Benjamin Warner Fleishman into the world!
Welcome Benjamin Warner Fleishman! Our heartiest congratulations to Contributing Editor Glenn Fleishman and his wife Lynn Warner, on the birth of their son Benjamin last Wednesday, 18-Aug-04. Tonya and I have known and worked with Glenn for many years: his first appearance in TidBITS came back in 1991 in TidBITS-053; he hosted our servers at his company POPCO for several years in the mid-1990s; we worked together on the short-lived NetBITS before he took time off to recover from Hodgkin’s Disease; he and I co-authored two editions of The Wireless Networking Starter Kit; and now he’s writing Take Control ebooks with us. It’s been a long and enjoyable road, and we wish him and Lynn and Benjamin a continued smooth journey.
While we’re on the topic of babies born last Wednesday, equally hearty congratulations are due to our friends Jason and Lauren Snell, on the birth of their second child, Julian William Snell. Jason is Editor in Chief of Macworld Magazine and an occasional TidBITS Talk contributor, and Lauren worked with us years ago on the original incarnation of DealBITS.
Much as we miss being able to spend time in person with Glenn and Lynn (in Seattle) and Jason and Lauren (near San Francisco), if all our kids went to the same school, the school newspaper might be really scary. I can just imagine the conversations: "My Mom says you’re not supposed to capitalize prepositions in titles." "But the 23rd Edition of Chicago Manual says you should capitalize those words when they’re used as adverbs!" [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: Mail Factory Winners — Congratulations to Tomas Serna of ngsec.com, Norm Norris of mac.com, Martin Tschofen of carlson.com, Jody Sebring of ptdprolog.net, and Jan Ferrera of yahoo.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of BeLight Software’s Mail Factory. Everyone else who entered received email with a discount worth $5 off the purchase price of Mail Factory. Thanks to the 740 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
Allume Ships Spring Cleaning 7 — Allume Systems has shipped Spring Cleaning 7, the company’s long-standing cleanup utility for identifying unwanted files and folders and dealing with them (in ways other than just wholesale deletion). New features in the Spring Cleaning application include the Logs & Temporary Items Finder, which identifies potentially massive log files and temporary items, and SizeManager, which helps you find (and visually compare) files based on size criteria you set. Spring Cleaning 7 also now saves custom searches, makes it easier to restore files that were moved non-destructively, displays a preview of selected files, and makes it easier to use the QuickCompare application to compare similar files. Also new is a separate application – System Snapshot – that scans your system to establish a baseline and then shows changes since the last scan. Spring Cleaning 7 costs $50; upgrades from earlier versions or from iClean cost $20 (unless you purchased Spring Cleaning 6.0 after 16-Jul-04, at which point the upgrade is free). [ACE]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.5.3 Improves Servers — Now Software has released Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.5.3, a bug-fix upgrade to the company’s multi-user calendaring and contact software. The update focuses on fixing problems in the Now Up-to-Date server and Now Contact server programs that mediate the sharing of calendar and contact data; you can read the change list for the gory details. There are some changes to the two client applications as well, and since the update is free to anyone running Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.x, it’s worth the 15.2 MB download. [ACE]
Apple Computer is recalling certain lithium ion rechargeable batteries which shipped with its aluminum 15-inch PowerBook G4 laptop computers from January 2004 to August 2004, following four incidents where the batteries overheated and could present a fire hazard.
Affected batteries were manufactured during the last week of 2003 by LG Chem Ltd., of South Korea. They all bear the model number A1045 and serial numbers beginning with HQ404, HQ405, HQ406, HQ407, and HQ408.
These batteries shipped in aluminum PowerBook G4 systems with 15-inch displays; no other PowerBooks or iBooks are affected. The batteries were also sold separately. Users can find the serial number of a battery by removing it from the computer (plug it in or shut it down first!), and checking the label on the battery’s bottom.
Affected U.S. customers can get a free replacement battery by entering contact information plus computer and battery serial numbers on Apple’s battery exchange Web site; Apple will ship a new battery to you free of charge along with a pre-paid shipping envelope to return the recalled battery to Apple. Customers outside the U.S. must contact Apple via a local support phone number. Users who need to exchange more than three batteries must contact Apple directly at 800/275-2273, or at a local contact number outside the U.S.
If there’s one question I’ve learned to dread over the years, it’s "What Mac should I buy?", followed closely by "When is Apple going to release new Macs?" It’s not that I mind helping people, but these simple queries are, if I’m to do the topic justice, the start of at least an hour of conversation and further questions. It’s even worse when they come in email, since then I can either cop out and give a short answer that could be entirely wrong, or I can start a time-consuming discussion that will likely span numerous messages to my already overflowing In box over several days.
Why should this subject be so tough? After all, millions of people buy Macs every year. But to judge from many discussions I’ve had over the years, a lot of people find the process of purchasing a Mac daunting: they worry that they’re spending more than necessary on an already expensive purchase, or they’re unhappy with the retailer from whom they purchased. In each case, as I’ve heard the specifics, I’ve found myself nodding my head and trying not to tell the person where they went wrong, while gently suggesting what they might do differently next time.
Back when we were first dividing up titles for Take Control ebooks, I pounced on "Take Control of Buying a Mac," mostly because I’ve been dying for an excuse to spend the time to research and explain exactly how someone should go about the process of buying a Mac. I’ve long believed that, with some effort, I could come up with a formula that anyone could put into practice. It’s taken me longer than I anticipated, given that I’ve been putting other authors’ books ahead of my own, but with the able editing help of Caroline Rose (who, appropriately enough, edited the first three volumes of Inside Macintosh at Apple in the early days of the Macintosh), "Take Control of Buying a Mac" is now available for anyone who plans to buy a Mac in the next year, or who would like a resource to recommend to others. It’s 72 pages and costs only $5; if you’re a reseller or consultant who would be interested either in buying multiple copies to give to clients, or in reselling the ebook, drop me a note.
I’ve divided the book into five sections, each of which addresses a different step in the purchasing process. It is important, I’ve discovered, to follow the steps in order for the best results, because otherwise you end up wasting time on decisions that you have to make again to account for new information.
Decide When to Buy — There are two aspects to the decision of when to buy a Mac. First, do you really need a Mac now, or are you just lusting after the latest and greatest? A little techno-lust in your heart isn’t a bad thing, but it’s helpful to differentiate between need and want. Once you’ve determined that you really are going to plunk down some cash, you have to figure out when to buy. Obviously, if you really need a new Mac now, you’ll probably end up purchasing sooner rather than later. However, in many situations you can wait, and, as we all know, those who wait are always rewarded with better Macs for lower prices. So if you can wait, what are the best and worst times of year to buy?
I’m most proud of this section of the book, since I spent a bunch of time researching and recording the months in which Apple has released new Macs – both speed bumps and significantly new models – over the last five years. When you gather all that data in one place, some trends become apparent, as do the ways in which Apple has begun to deviate from the trends of previous years. Those of us who watch the industry closely have a gut feeling about what’s likely to happen (perhaps that’s why people keep asking me when to buy!) but now I can back up my feelings with hard data.
The yearly cycle is only half the story, though, since every Macintosh model also follows its own update cycle, and when you buy within that cycle determines how much you’ll pay for a particular performance level. People who watch closely have seen this before: the initial release of a new Macintosh model sells at a premium, and within some number of months, Apple puts out a faster version while simultaneously dropping the price. With the historical perspective I provide in the book, you can anticipate such moves.
I bundled all these up into four rules for when to purchase, based on whether you want to buy at initial release, during the later incremental releases, as a model is being replaced, and after it’s obsolete. If you have a reasonable understanding of your needs, desires, and budget, you can follow these rules to time your purchase perfectly for your situation.
Figure Out Which Mac to Buy — After you’ve determined when you’d like to buy, the time comes to figure out which Mac to get. That question comes down to whether you want a desktop or laptop Mac, and once you’ve made that decision, which particular model. I came up with a worksheet that helps you figure out whether you’re a desktop or laptop person. I am a little bummed that Tonya’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that I cast it like one of those "How to tell if you’re compatible with your mate" quizzes in women’s magazines came too late in the production process for me to use it.
Most people probably have a decent sense of which type of Mac they want, but I think many more people will find valuable the charts I created for comparing the consumer and professional models within both the desktop and laptop lines. My goal there was to eliminate the confusion that many people have of the difference between iBooks and PowerBooks, for instance, since on the surface, they seem quite similar. And as those of us who have been around know, there have been times when the iBooks have compared extremely favorably to the PowerBooks, though currently the distinctions are a bit more clear-cut.
The last part of this section is designed to throw some light on the murkiness of all the build-to-order options and other add-ons that Apple and many other retailers offer while you’re buying a Mac. Should you buy a Mac with one or two CPUs? How much RAM do you need? (Lots!) Which optical drive makes the most sense? Do you need a larger hard disk? How about a fancier video card, and perhaps two monitors? (For many people, I’d argue for no on the video card, and yes on the multiple monitors.) AirPort Extreme? Bluetooth? (Did you know you can’t add Bluetooth after purchasing?) Extra batteries or AC adapters? And last, but certainly not least, should you spring for AppleCare, and if you do, should you buy it from Apple? (Yes, at least for laptops, and no, you can get it cheaper elsewhere.)
Choose Where to Buy — You can buy a Mac from six main places: local Mac dealers, Apple Stores, computer superstores, Internet-based Mac retailers, the Apple Online Store, and other individuals. There are no right answers about where you should purchase, of course, but there are pros and cons to each of these venues, and I go through each one so you can make an informed decision.
There are also three special ways of buying below retail price of which only some people can avail themselves; the most notable is, of course, the educational discount.
Determine What Else to Buy — I added this section primarily for people who are upgrading from an elderly Mac that couldn’t run Mac OS X and which likely had legacy ports like ADB, SCSI, and serial. When the iMac first eliminated the legacy ports in favor of USB and FireWire, there was a great deal written about how to keep older peripherals in use, but the topic died down as the power users stopped worrying about it. The necessary adapters for these older devices are generally still available, and since millions of Macs with those legacy ports and peripherals are still in use, I wanted to make sure people had a basic reference for what they should put some effort into keeping (LocalTalk laser printers) and what they should just toss (external modems, SCSI scanners).
I also included brief discussions of several things that I usually recommend people buy with a new Mac: a laptop case for those who don’t have something to protect a new iBook or PowerBook, and a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) to protect a new desktop Mac from the vagaries of electrical power. Obviously, they’re not essential, but a little protection goes a long way.
Deal with Your Old Mac — This last section is related to buying a new Mac only in the sense that many people upgrade and aren’t sure what to do with Mac being replaced. I’m a great believer in keeping old Macs in active use, since they can be used for plenty of things if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
For people who can’t imagine what an old Mac could be useful for, I provide a number of suggestions, and for those who would rather dispose of their older Macs, I run through the basic options of handing it down to someone without a computer, donating it to charity (and taking a tax break), or selling it. Lastly, if you are sending an old Mac on to a new home, I give instructions on how to restore it to a pristine state, which is not only polite, it’s a good way to ensure that the new owner can’t access any of your old files.
Free Updates — As with all our ebooks, everyone who buys "Take Control of Buying a Mac" is entitled to free updates to the book. Click the Check For Updates button on the cover to see if we’ve released one; you can also sign up to be notified via email on that page. The free updates to this ebook will be particularly helpful, since you can buy a copy now to start planning your next Macintosh purchase and be assured that the ebook won’t go obsolete before you need to make your decisions.
So check out the book, and once you’ve had a chance to read through it all, let me know what you think. I’m confident my advice will be helpful, in part because I gave pre-release copies to several acquaintances who asked me the dreaded "What Mac should I buy?" questions, and they reported back that it was extremely informative (and they immediately bought new Macs). Better yet, Tonya is using my process right now to decide which Mac she wants to replace her 733 MHz Power Mac G4… and this time I won’t be able to quibble if she decides on a fast dual-processor Power Mac G5.
If you’d like to order the 72-page ebook for $5 directly, click the URL below; otherwise, the book’s Web page at the beginning of this article has slightly different information and a link to a 20-page excerpt.
PalmSource, the company that develops and licenses the Palm OS, let slip in February that it would not support Mac synchronization with devices running its next-generation operating system, Palm OS Cobalt (see "PalmSource to Drop Mac Support in Mac OS Cobalt" in TidBITS-717). At the same time, Mac developer Mark/Space announced that it was working on software that would be able to replace PalmSource’s HotSync technology for the new handhelds. Although Cobalt devices have not yet appeared, Mark/Space recently released The Missing Sync for Palm OS 4.0, an improvement over the current HotSync software that throws in a number of welcome features that go beyond data synchronization.
Adding Cool to the HotSync — The Missing Sync for Palm OS 4.0 (which I’ll call Missing Sync for brevity) is designed to handle Cobalt’s new synchronization architecture, but it also uses the existing HotSync conduits (instructions for how to compare and transfer data, such as calendar or contact information) to perform the same synchronization that is currently handled by HotSync Manager and Palm Desktop for Macintosh. All existing conduits – including the built-in Palm ones, Apple’s iSync Palm Conduit, Microsoft’s Entourage conduit, and others – work just as they do when using HotSync Manager. Double-clicking a conduit brings up the same controls (such as "Synchronize the Files" or "Macintosh Overwrites Handheld") that are found in HotSync Manager.
However, Missing Sync adds a great, simple improvement. Under HotSync Manager, if you wanted to prevent one or more conduits from operating during a HotSync operation, you’d have to set each excluded conduit’s actions to "Do Nothing" in a separate dialog. In Missing Sync, you can disable a conduit by unchecking a checkbox. For example, let’s say I want to synchronize only the contact data from the Address Book application. In Missing Sync’s Conduits window, I’d uncheck every conduit but Address Book, and then initiate a HotSync operation from the Palm. (A small feature request: I’d like to Command-click the checkboxes to turn all of them on or off, much as you can do when activating or deactivating lists of songs in iTunes.)
Better yet, you can create conduit profiles so you don’t have to do all the clicking. Similar to sets in Mac OS 9’s Extensions Manager, conduit profiles are saved sets of active conduits. Missing Sync includes two useful profiles already set up: Install, which only installs software during a HotSync operation, and Backup, which skips the other conduits and only backs up the handheld’s data. I’ve also set up a custom profile that synchronizes only the built-in applications, without running the Backup conduit.
For testing purposes, I was hoping I could create conduit profiles for synchronizing with Palm Desktop and Apple’s iSync applications (iCal and Address Book). However, the iSync conduit is particular about who gets to stand on the playground when it’s playing: Missing Sync’s capability to enable and disable conduits doesn’t go far enough, as iSync refuses to work if the Palm Desktop conduits are present in the same conduits folder (which is located at ~/Library/Application Support/Palm HotSync). To switch between the two systems, I still need to go in and manually move the conduit files around.
Another side effect of using iSync instead of Palm Desktop is the lack of a corresponding Mac program for the Palm’s built-in Memo Pad application. As remedy, Mark/Space includes a simple MemoPad application with Missing Sync where you can read and edit your memos on the Mac. As an extra bonus, they also include a small Palm OS application, TimeCopy.prc, that automatically synchronizes the Palm’s clock with the Mac’s clock when you synchronize.
Internet Sharing — When you HotSync, you open a data connection between the Mac and the handheld. If that’s the case, why not just leave the connection open? In Missing Sync’s Internet Sharing mode, you can do just that, enabling you to surf the Web and check email from the Palm (Web and email clients come with many of the latest PalmOne handhelds; they’re not included with Missing Sync).
But… if the handheld is connected to your Mac, and your Mac is connected to the Internet, and you’re presumably close enough to the Mac to HotSync, why would you want to access the Internet from the small-screened Palm device in the first place? Some people use their handhelds as laptop replacements in the field, reading and composing email that will be sent later. If you catch up on email during a train commute, let’s say, you can quickly send the messages you’ve composed directly from the Palm, instead of transferring them to your Mac somehow.
A better case can be made for the return of an old Palm friend: AvantGo, the proxy Web browser that lets you download online content to the handheld to be viewed later (see "AutoSyncing TidBITS Handheld Edition via AvantGo" in TidBITS-554). A Mac OS X version of the AvantGo client was never developed, leaving Mac users without an easy way to refresh their AvantGo channels. Using the Internet Sharing feature, however, you can synchronize your AvantGo channels directly from the handheld via the Mac’s Internet connection.
Setting up Internet Sharing involves a few steps, which are clearly explained by an Internet Sharing Assistant (found under Missing Sync’s Help menu). Once that’s configured, switch to Missing Sync’s Internet Sharing mode and, on the handheld, choose Sync from AvantGo’s Channels menu.
I’d like to see some visual feedback to indicate that the mode is being used by the handheld. Since I connect my Tungsten T to my PowerBook via Bluetooth, the Bluetooth status in the Mac’s menu bar alerts me to activity, but I’d like to see something – perhaps a change in the Missing Sync Dock icon, or even a red "on air" light in the application itself – to let me know when a connection is active (or more importantly, if it’s been dropped).
Expanding Expansion Cards — So far, I’ve covered how Missing Sync improves upon the current HotSync Manager software. However, one of the program’s signature features is the capability to mount the contents of an expansion card inserted into a compatible handheld as if it were a drive attached to the Mac. This feature lets you copy files directly to the card, rather than shuttling them through the HotSync installation process (which you can still do, but which is inconvenient for large files or groups of files).
What type of files? I try to keep at least one ebook on my handheld (such as those sold by PalmOne), which can be read using PalmOne’s free PalmReader software.
But some devices can handle multimedia files, too, and Missing Sync takes advantage of that. Wish you had an iPod, but have a Palm instead? On Treo, Tungsten, and Zire (31, 71, and 72 models) handhelds, you can listen to MP3-formatted song files from the handheld. In iTunes, mounted expansion cards appear in the list of devices in the left-hand column. Drag song files to the card icon to copy them to the expansion card, then use software such as RealPlayer for Palm, Pocket Tunes, or AeroPlayer to play them back.
Missing Sync also provides a method of transferring pictures from iPhoto to the handheld. The software comes with a demo version of SplashPhoto, a Palm OS image viewer. With an expansion card mounted, open iPhoto, select a few pictures, and then export them (by choosing Export from the File menu) using a Missing Sync plug-in that was added when you installed the software.
Looking ahead to Cobalt — No Cobalt-based handhelds have appeared yet, so we won’t see what’s changed in the new synchronization architecture until they arrive. Neither Mark/Space nor PalmOne have said anything about whether Missing Sync will be bundled with the devices or discounted in some way for Mac users. Unlike HotSync Manager and Palm Desktop, The Missing Sync for Palm OS costs money to license: $40 new, or $20 for people upgrading from previous versions of Missing Sync (which included specific editions for Sony CLIE, Garmin, Tapwave, and Internet Sharing). If Missing Sync was merely a replacement for HotSync Manager, I’d be hesitant to put up money. But the extra features rolled into version 4.0 justify the cost.
In the bigger picture, I see the price tag as a form of support: with PalmSource’s dropping interest in the Mac, it’s encouraging to see a longtime Mac developer step in and provide not only a replacement for the current HotSync architecture, but something that promises to be built upon as the Palm OS platform moves forward.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
There weren’t many new threads in TidBITS Talk this week, so we encourage you to check out some of the postings we made in ExtraBITS; a number of which offer followup commentary on earlier TidBITS articles. We eventually plan to integrate some sort of headline listing of ExtraBITS posts into the main issues, much as we’ve done here with TidBITS Talk.
OmniWeb 5.0: The Powerful Web Browser — Adam’s review of OmniWeb 5.0 sparks one person’s brief impression (which contradicts Adam’s experiences) and a number of tangential comments. (5 messages)