Apple announced the iMac G5 this week, introducing a faster machine in a completely new, iPod-like enclosure. The company also unveiled its iTunes Affiliate Program and a volume discount program; Adam examines how these moves are shaking up the online music industry. He also reviews NoteBook from Circus Ponies Software. Also this week, we note the releases of AirPort Driver Update 2004-08-31 and TypeIt4Me 2.0.
Let TypeIt4Me Type It For You — There used to be a New York City subway ad that read, "If u c rd ths, u c gt a gd jb as a sec." The ad suggested that you were intelligent for realizing that this stood for, "If you can read this, you can get a good job as a secretary." This was supposed to make you want to attend the school that sponsored the ad, where presumably you’d learn a whole set of quick abbreviations for use in your secretarial note-taking. Well, if you’d gone to that school, you could now be the world’s fastest typist! Because, with TypeIt4Me, you can type those abbreviations and have them be expanded automatically, in real time. TypeIt4Me is like Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect or AutoText feature, substituting an expansion for an abbreviation as you type – except that it works in just about any application. I use it to provide my phone number to email correspondents, to enter code quickly when giving a lecture about REALbasic or AppleScript, and to type frequently used words that have weird capitalization (like "TidBITS"). The new version, 2.0, fixes many bugs; among new features, it makes your use of multiple abbreviation files easier by listing them all in its menu so you can switch among them (indeed, this was a feature I never used previously because switching files, and knowing which file you were using, was too difficult). You can also specify that a particular file should come into play automatically when a particular application is frontmost. TypeIt4Me 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or higher and is a 2 MB download; it costs $27 (a free upgrade for registered version 1 users). [MAN]
AirPort Driver Update 2004-08-31 Released — Apple released AirPort Driver Update 2004-08-31 last week, which improves reliability on networks with mixed 802.11b (AirPort) and 802.11g (AirPort Extreme) signals, according to the update’s description. The update is a 758K download, and is also available via Software Update.
Although the description is vague, I was able to see one direct result after applying the update: it appeared to solve audio dropouts I was hearing when streaming music to an AirPort Express. However, while the update did improve playback, it has not yet solved the dropout problems entirely. One suggestion that seems to work for some people is to change the network configuration so that it’s just using 802.11b, but of course that negates the reason for having a network using the higher-bandwidth 802.11g (as do AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express). [JLC]
DealBITS Drawing: FMChecker Winners — Congratulations to Adrian Smith of centenary.usyd.edu.au, Sassan Tabrizi of mac.com, Michael J Rath of mm.com, Murray Sihvon of mac.com, and Russ Cusimano of doberescue.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of FMChecker.com’s FMChecker. Everyone else who entered received a 20 percent discount off the purchase price of FMChecker. Thanks to the 239 people who entered, and keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
At Apple Expo in Paris last week, Apple announced the iMac G5, the latest generation of the company’s all-in-one consumer level computer. Gone is the hemispherical base and articulated arm of the previous iMac. Instead, the iMac G5 looks like a slightly thicker version of the recent Apple Cinema Displays, a white slab suspended on a slim aluminum base. It also resembles one of the company’s other products, a music player called the iPod. You may have heard of it.
The iMac G5 comes in two sizes and three configurations: a 17-inch screen model sporting a 1.6 GHz PowerPC G5 processor ($1,300); a 17-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,500); and a 20-inch screen model with a 1.8 GHz G5 ($1,900). The 17-inch versions are just 1.9 inches (48 mm) deep; the 20-inch version is 2.2 inches (56 mm) deep. The low-end model has a Combo Drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM), while the others include SuperDrives (CD-RW/DVD-R); the slot-loading drives sit vertically on the right side of the computer. All configurations are AirPort Extreme-ready, with internal Bluetooth adapters available as build-to-order options.
They all come with 256 MB of PC3200 (400 MHz) DDR SDRAM memory (you’ll want more RAM; the iMac supports a maximum of 2 GB); an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra graphics card with 64 MB DDR SDRAM with AGP 8x support; two FireWire 400 ports; three USB 2.0 ports; two USB 1.1 ports on the keyboard (which looks to be wired, even though the pictures show off Apple’s wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse). The iMac G5 also sports VGA output (supporting an external monitor in mirror mode only), S-video and composite video output, 10/100 Base-T Ethernet, and a 56K modem. The video-out options require adapters that fit into the same mini-VGA port found on previous iMacs and some iBook, PowerBook, and eMac models.
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Estimated shipping for each model is three to four weeks. Given Apple’s difficulty in getting PowerPC G5 chips from IBM, and the now-standard delay in ramping up manufacturing for a major Mac model, it may be realistic to double those numbers as a time-frame for delivery. Although the company has missed the back-to-school buying period, you can bet it will be working hard to churn out new iMacs in volume by the time the holiday buying season begins in November.
The New Design — The iMac G5’s specifications are impressive (even though we think 256 MB of RAM is skimpy), but it’s the new design that is sure to get the most attention. Despite the machine’s 2-inch depth, the power supply is integrated into the unit, making it a true all-in-one computer (compare that to the tiny Power Mac G4 Cube, which was small in part because it had a large external power supply).
One of the best features of the iMac G4 was its adjustable display. With the iMac G5, the entire body tilts vertically between -5 and 25 degrees on its aluminum base (the negative tilt can be handy for children and users looking up at the computer), but the iMac G5 cannot be raised or lowered, and only pivots side to side by moving the entire base.
Then again, who wants to adjust it at all? You can add a VESA mount to the iMac and hang it from your wall like a picture. Combine a wall-mounted iMac G5 with Open Door’s Envision and Apple’s Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse and you’ve got one heck of a cool Mac that doubles as art when you’re not using it. Apple will be selling an iMac G5 VESA Mount Adapter Kit starting in October; no price is yet available.
As you might expect, the PowerPC G5 processor requires clever heat dissipation within such a small area. Three variable-speed fans cool the processor, hard drive, and logic board, and are capable of running quietly: the machine runs as soft as 25 dB when idle (whispered speech is about 30 dB), but there’s no telling yet how loud the fans are during normal use, and TidBITS readers who saw the new iMac at Apple Expo in Paris weren’t able to judge the noise level on the loud show floor. Heat also rises upward through a slit on the back of the iMac; it will be interesting to see if all that heat coming out of the top is detrimental to a mounted iSight.
Other small touches abound, in typical Apple industrial design fashion. The front of the iMac G5 isn’t cluttered with exposed speaker grilles; rather, the built-in speakers are directed down from the bottom of the case, so that the sound bounces off a desk or tabletop.
The iMac G5 is also extremely user-accessible – not just in terms of how you interact with it, but also how you get into its innards. The entire back shell comes off (using screws that won’t fall out of their holes and get lost), exposing the components that Apple says can be user-replaceable: the AirPort Extreme card, memory, hard drive, optical drive, power supply, LCD display, modem card, and the logic board, power supply, and fans (which Apple calls the "mid-plane assembly"). Removing the back also reveals four diagnostic LEDs that can help you troubleshoot a problem, or relate to an Apple technician over the phone.
A Big iPod? As Adam wrote in "Macworld Expo SF 2004: Enter the Musical Trojan Horse," the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are Apple’s secret weapon for convincing Windows users to switch to the Mac. After all, both the iPod and iTunes work in Windows, so it’s not as though people are being forced to buy a Mac; they’re buying Macs because they’ve seen what attention to design and detail means on an everyday basis. And if you don’t believe that Apple is playing that connection for all it’s worth, note the headline on the Apple Web site: "From the creators of the iPod. The new iMac G5." Buy one, buy the other. Make Steve happy.
Apple’s announcement last week of the iTunes Affiliate Program, iTunes on Campus, and the iTunes Volume Discount program represents the next escalation in what is turning into a heated battle for control of the Internet music services (which is somewhat surprising, given that no one is yet making money on music sales, something that may never happen). With these programs, Apple is raising the bar yet again for knock-off services from companies like Roxio and RealNetworks, not to mention Microsoft’s just-announced MSN Music.
The Competition — If you haven’t been paying close attention, you might not have realized that Roxio, maker of the highly regarded Toast 6 Titanium and Jam 6, is selling its consumer software division to Sonic Solutions, a company that specializes in DVD mastering software for Windows. This sale provides Roxio with $80 million to spend promoting Napster, though I’m placing my bets on Napster being crushed by Apple’s iTunes Music Store (which currently has 69 percent of the market and the market-leading iPod player) and Microsoft’s MSN Music (from Microsoft, so it will be seen by millions of Windows users, whether or not it’s any good).
RealNetworks, of course, has just finished about a month of selling songs from its Internet music store for $0.49 each. Analysts suggested the sale might cost Real over $2 million, leading to the question of whether the company would attract enough new customers to make it worthwhile. The sale, plus Real’s Harmony technology for playing songs from its own online music services on the iPod, and Real’s hypocritical "Freedom of Choice" PR campaign all feel like last-ditch efforts to make the company relevant in the Internet music marketplace. Some have suggested that Real is trying to be acquired; since the company is losing money and its stock is near an all-time low, it’s possible that Real is fighting for overall survival.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has unveiled a test version of MSN Music, its entry into the increasingly crowded Internet music sales market. Songs will sell for $0.99 each, and Microsoft claims a catalog of 500,000 tracks, with another 500,000 to be added in the first few weeks of operation. Like Apple, Microsoft isn’t expected to make money from selling music. However, Microsoft may benefit from increased use and licensing of the Windows Media music format, licensing of the reference designs for music players made by other manufacturers, and more advertising sales on MSN. Overall, MSN Music feels like a me-too service that gets Microsoft into the game and on which the company can afford to lose massive amounts of money for years (like MSN itself, and the Xbox). MSN Music shouldn’t be discounted, though, given Microsoft’s financial resources, marketing muscle, and tendency to get things right on the third release. Like Real, Microsoft is playing the freedom of choice card against the iPod, which is equally laughable, since MSN Music, not surprisingly, works only in Windows.
If you’re confused, "freedom of choice" to RealNetworks means the freedom for Windows users to choose to buy music from Real and play it on a variety of digital music devices, including (for now) on an iPod. To Microsoft, "freedom of choice" means the freedom for Windows users to buy music and play it on devices other than the iPod. Notice that neither company even allows Macintosh users to use their service; they’re both simply trying to lock users into different proprietary systems, with different restrictions.
iTunes Affiliate Program — The most interesting aspect of Apple’s iTunes Music Store announcements is the iTunes Affiliate Program, run via LinkShare (an eight-year-old company that manages affiliate programs for others), which lets anyone who links to songs in the iTunes Music Store collect 5 percent of the purchase price. Of course, at $0.99 per song, 5 percent ends up being a nickel per sale, so you’d have to drive a lot of sales for the numbers to add up to much. I think, though the legalese is a bit thick in Apple’s Terms and Conditions, that you also earn the affiliate cut on songs purchased in the same shopping session, where a session can last up to 24 hours.
Unfortunately, the iTunes Affiliate Program applies only to the U.S. version of the iTunes Music Store, so there isn’t much point in applying unless most of your audience is from the U.S. Hopefully Apple will make it, along with the iTunes Music Store in general, available in more countries (Canada, anyone?) soon.
One intriguing teaser: apparently iTunes affiliates can also apply to the Apple Store Affiliate Program, about which I can find no additional information on Apple’s Web site. However, Apple Europe two months ago started an affiliate program paying 2.5 percent (3 percent if you hit a certain sales volume), so perhaps that will be used as the model for this otherwise unexplained Apple Store Affiliate Program.
iTunes Volume Discount Program — Apple’s new iTunes Volume Discount Program allows companies and educational institutions to purchase large numbers of songs at discounted prices – up to 20 percent off, depending on the number purchased – in the form of codes that can be then given to users to redeem. By large numbers, we’re talking about a minimum of 10,000 songs for educational institutions and 25,000 for companies. And by extrapolation, even at the full 20 percent discount (which probably doesn’t apply at these minimum levels), that would mean at least $8,000 for a college or university, and at least $20,000 for a company. Although companies can bundle the codes with products, they can’t be resold on their own. Amusingly, Apple has a FAQ entry which notes purchasers cannot limit the songs that their codes may be used to purchase.
iTunes on Campus — On the face of things, the iTunes on Campus Program isn’t particularly impressive, since its only unique feature is a site license that allows an educational institution to provide the iTunes application (and QuickTime) to students for free. Since iTunes and QuickTime are already free to everyone, this mostly translates into some small bandwidth savings from being able to host iTunes downloads locally and to distribute the program on CD.
In fact, the iTunes on Campus Program really just brings together the iTunes Volume Discount Program and iTunes Affiliate Program in a way that colleges and universities can use to provide a limited amount of legally downloadable music to students on both Mac and Windows, something that’s not possible with any of the other (Windows-only) Internet music services. Realistically, since educational institutions aren’t generally in the business of giving music to students, the main utility of the iTunes on Campus Program is thus to help protect students (and potentially the school itself) against the slavering lawyers of the RIAA.
A college could, for instance, distribute 10,000 songs via the iTunes Volume Discount Program for students, and then collect 5 percent on all subsequent purchases via the iTunes Affiliate Program to help offset the cost of purchasing that initial block of 10,000 songs. And since a college likely controls all outbound traffic, it would be possible to rewrite all links to the iTunes Music Store to make sure they were affiliate links; I can’t see any language in the Terms and Conditions that explicitly forbids this.
In essence, the iTunes Music Store is CDs done right, whereas services like Napster (which is being used on a number of college campuses) are radio done right. Neither approach is necessarily better; some people prefer to own their music, at least within the limits Apple sets, whereas others will prefer to play (but not burn or copy) unlimited numbers of songs for no extra charge, as is possible with Napster. Since you "own" your iTunes Music Store purchases, you can burn them to CD, copy them to an iPod, and keep listening to them after graduation. In contrast, students using a Napster subscription at a participating university must pay extra to burn tracks to CD, use them on a portable music player, or listen to them after graduation.
Summer break is also potentially an issue. The ability to download new music ends with the semester, of course, but songs you’ve already downloaded can remain available as "tethered downloads" that expire some time later (three months for Cornell University, which uses the Napster service). That means Cornell students who prepare ahead of time will be able to play their tethered downloads until they return to campus; those who rely solely on the streaming will be out of luck over the summer.
Apple’s approach may put it at a disadvantage in one way. Since students who download a lot of music during school will be loath to download it again from another service, the path of least resistance is to pay the Napster subscription fee after graduation. Of course, that raises the question of whether educational institutions should be paid to get their students hooked on Napster.
Where Apple Needs to Look — These recent announcements show that Apple is by no means sitting still, although it remains to be seen how popular these various programs will be, given that they aren’t of much interest to the individual users who are Apple’s most loyal adherents. That said, I think there are several additional areas Apple would do well to investigate.
Streaming/Tethered Downloads: When Apple first introduced the iTunes Music Store, I was disappointed that there was no streamed iTunes Radio with songs from and links to the iTunes Music Store, since I find the 30-second clips rather annoying. I’d pay a subscription fee to listen to streamed songs in particular genres or from large groups of artists. Of course, such a service would have to make it trivially easy to purchase the song while it’s playing, and it could either get by with a significantly reduced bitrate or could rely on the tethered download model used by Napster. The Windows-only Rhapsody service from RealNetworks also operates roughly on this model.
Video: In the MSN Music announcement, Microsoft made sure to note that some of the players that can play purchased music also have small color screens that can display video. It’s entirely likely that much video is still too large and too hard to market (what would you pay to watch a TV show or movie on an iPod-like device?), but it’s only a matter of time before it happens. Apple may want to be the company that makes it happen.
I will admit that when Apple first released the iPod and started selling downloadable music via the iTunes Music Store, I didn’t anticipate that it would become such a key portion of the company’s business. (In the last two quarters, Apple sold roughly as many iPods as Macs.) I don’t see Apple losing focus on the Macintosh and Mac OS X, but I think it’s now clear that while Apple must continue to execute in the Macintosh world, the battles that are being fought over Internet music services and portable music players will play a significant role in the company’s future.
Normally, Matt Neuburg looks at all the text management and snippet keeping utilities for TidBITS, but back when AquaMinds’ NoteTaker and Circus Ponies’ NoteBook were coming out, he dove into NoteTaker (see "Take Note of NoteTaker" in TidBITS-677) and I opted to take a look at NoteBook. The decision was essentially random at the time, but since then I’ve become familiar with, and fond of, NoteBook, and the few times I’ve taken a peek at NoteTaker, I’ve remained happy with my choice of NoteBook.
Reams of Ruled Paper — NoteBook is, like so many of these programs, designed to make it easy to store, categorize, and retrieve information. It’s built, as you’d expect, on the notebook metaphor, with pages grouped into sections indicated by a tab (which you can Control-click to jump to any page in that section). You can add another layer of hierarchy by creating multiple files, of course, but I prefer keeping everything in a single NoteBook file for simplicity’s sake. Individual pages and entire notebooks can be encrypted for privacy.
Information on pages is organized into cells, which can contain text, graphics, audio, video, URLs, files, or aliases to files. You can organize cells in standard outline fashion, with multiple levels of hierarchy. Cells can have dates (creation, changed, due) associated with them, along with action item checkboxes that, when checked, can cause the cell to become greyed out. You can also assign styles to different outline levels, style text independently within any given cell, and set cells to be numbered. For additional metadata, you can assign keywords and stickers (think of them as little graphical keywords) to cells, and you can mark them with a highlighter tool.
I can’t say whether NoteBook would meet Matt’s standards for outlining controls; it seems to do almost everything I want, and I don’t do enough with outlines to care all that much. My only irritation, and I’ll explain why I do this later, is that you can drag a cell around to move it, but you cannot drag multiple cells at once; for that you must use cut and paste.
You can add data to a NoteBook page in a wide variety of ways. There’s nothing wrong with just typing, of course, but you can also paste in text or graphics, and you can drag data in from other programs. To create a page that collects bits of related text, the easiest thing to do is to assign a "clipping service" to a page; from then on, you can select text in any Mac OS X application (not Classic, of course), Control-click the selection, and choose the desired NoteBook page destination for your clipped text. NoteBook also has a Media Capture capability for importing multimedia files directly from cameras or other devices, along with a Voice Annotation feature for adding voice notes; I haven’t particularly used either of these features.
To find information you’ve stored in NoteBook later, various options are available. NoteBook maintains a number of indices automatically, so it’s easy to see entries by Text, Capitalized Words, Numbers, Internet Addresses, Highlighting, Keywords, Stickers, Attachments, Discarded Attachments, Creation Dates, Change Dates, or Super-Find Results. Each of these indices (really a concordance) is a separate page showing lists of cells that match the built-in searches. So the Capitalized Words index, for instance, appears as a big list of capitalized words, organized alphabetically; clicking any word expands its outline level to reveal the actual cells containing the clicked word, and clicking the bullet next to one of those cells takes you to the page containing that cell. You can of course perform normal searches as well, limiting the scope to the selection, to a page, or to the entire notebook.
Despite all that searching power, I seldom use it because I’ve organized my pages into tabs, and each tab page is a table of contents for the pages inside the tab. Most of the time, I know exactly where the information I want is, so I just go straight there without worrying about a search.
As far as getting information out, you can export in a variety of formats and print; I’ve used these features only occasionally, since my goal is to keep information in NoteBook, not to use it as a staging area for creating other types of documents.
My Usage — That’s how NoteBook works. I haven’t examined large numbers of other snippet-keeping programs to know exactly how they compare, but I will say that those I have looked at haven’t floated my boat. NoteBook does what’s necessary for my purposes, and it does it in an easy and elegant way. So what are my uses? Perhaps you’ll get a sense of what NoteBook could do for you if I describe what it does for me.
To Do List: The reason I keep NoteBook running all the time is that I’ve taken to keeping my to do list in it. You may have noticed that I didn’t talk about any automatic moving of unchecked items or pop-up reminders or anything like that. Those approaches don’t work for me – I always end up ignoring them. Now Up-to-Date has a fine to do list capability, moving unfinished items along each day and reminding me nicely that they’re not done. But I’ve learned to ignore it entirely – it does too much for me. In NoteBook, I’ve created a tab for To Do List, and inside that, I create a page for each week. On each week’s page, I have top-level outline entries for the day of the week, and second level entries for each individual item. Most have action item checkboxes, though some items are just reminders to myself about appointments, and those don’t get checkboxes. Sometimes a second-level item will end up with notes underneath it (such as when I have a product briefing call with an industry company). Each day I manually move all the unfinished items to the next day (hence my earlier irritation with being unable to drag multiple cells), and each week I create a new page and bring forward everything that’s undone. By forcing myself to manage the to do list manually, I never find myself ignoring it for weeks or months, as has happened with every other approach I’ve tried.
Process Minder: As I’ve started to move to Web Crossing for our primary server, and as we’ve built up numerous processes for Take Control, keeping track of exactly how I perform certain tasks has become onerous. I just can’t remember how I deal with certain tasks that I perform relatively infrequently, and I also want a record of what I’m doing in case I need to train someone else to do the same tasks. A number of my pages are thus just sets of steps and notes to myself about how I perform a given action. They’re invaluable at this point – I would make far more mistakes and forget parts of processes entirely without them.
Internet Research Snippet Keeper: Every now and then I need to research something where I want to collect text from a number of Web sites and email messages, and I use clipping services in NoteBook to facilitate that.
Post-it Note Eliminator: Like many people, I write things down on little bits of paper all the time (not Post-it notes, actually, but old pages from daily calendars, which I love for that purpose). They’re great for highly temporary information, but those that contain more permanent notes tend to collect and breed on my desk, so every now and then I go through them and transcribe everything into NoteBook, where I can rest assured that the information won’t be lost, and where I can ignore it happily without cluttering my desk.
Project Notes: Sometimes, when I’m working on an article or a talk, I’ll need a place to store some notes before I start writing or work up a presentation in Keynote. I’ve used NoteBook to store those notes in the past, but I’ve never been wildly happy about it since it feels odd to enter information into NoteBook that I know is temporary; once I write the article or prepare the presentation, the NoteBook pages are utterly useless. I could delete them, but that seems wrong too, somehow.
Minor Quirks — I’ve been using NoteBook for quite some time now, and most of the annoyances I’ve had with registration numbers, crashes, moving files between Macs, and so on have been resolved by small updates along the way. My remaining problems are small. NoteBook doesn’t remember its window position on my second monitor, and it won’t let me move a window into the area that, if it were on my main monitor, would be occupied by the menu bar. Then there’s the inability to drag more than one outline item at a time. You can link a text in a cell to another page in NoteBook, which is handy (I use it in my process pages when a process can be broken down into independent chunks), but you can’t link from a cell to another cell.
These niggles aside, NoteBook has proven itself a worthy tool. Until I came up with my to do list approach, I couldn’t see how I’d use NoteBook sufficiently to keep it in the front of my brain, but since I started forcing myself to maintain my to do list manually, I’ve found additional uses for the program, and I’ve also found myself appreciating what it does for me. There’s no question that other programs can perform roughly the same tasks; Matt has reviewed oodles of them in TidBITS. But given a choice of any of them, I’ll stick with NoteBook.
NoteBook 1.2 costs $50; a free 30-day demo is available as a 7.7 MB download so you can see if it meets your needs. It requires Mac OS X 10.1 or later.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
New iMac G5 impressions — The new machines prompt talk about which components are included (and excluded), as well as hands-on reports from people at the Paris Apple Expo. (10 messages)
VoIP options on the Mac — Skype released a beta of its Voice over IP (VoIP) software for the Mac this week. How does it compare to Vonage and other Internet-based telephony services? (5 messages)
BBEdit 8.0: More Muscular But Worthwhile — Adam’s review of BBEdit 8.0 in last week’s issue encourages discussion of the heavy-duty text editor’s new features, price, and which programs are also available that offer similar functionality. (11 messages)