People using Safari or Mac OS X’s FTP server should take care with last week’s Security Update 2004-09-07; read on for the details of problems experienced by early upgraders. Looking for wireless headphones for your iPod? See Adam’s review of Bluetake’s i-Phono. Need help organizing your thoughts? Matt Neuburg’s review of MindCad’s Pyramid might offer a solution. Interesting releases this week include Nisus Writer Express 2.0, DragThing 5.3.1, XBit 1.0.1, and Allume’s Creative Essentials bundle.
Allume Carries the Graphics Torch — One of my favorite graphics suites, CorelDRAW and Corel PHOTO-PAINT (see "CorelDRAW 8: A Hedy Experience" in TidBITS-457), after years of undeservedly lukewarm public reception, and having been recently updated to version 11, finally had its Mac development cut off in January. I thought this was the end of the road – but not quite! Creative Essentials, a new package of graphics software assembled by Allume (formerly Aladdin), is a great opportunity for folks to obtain the Corel software at the jaw-droppingly low price of $150 (and through 11-Oct-04, Allume will donate $1 from each sale of an Allume product to charity). Just bear in mind that bugs won’t be fixed. Oh, and do use the fastest computer you can find, since the program can be a little sluggish.
As if that weren’t enough, Creative Essentials includes the 3-D landscape painter Bryce 5 and entitles you to upgrade pricing on the next version. (Corel also killed off Bryce, having acquired it from MetaCreations; now Bryce has been picked up by DAZ Productions, who are actively developing it.) Creative Essentials also includes Toon Boom Studio Express, an animation tool, along with upgrade pricing for the full Toon Boom Studio, and 25 Bitstream fonts. [MAN]
Nisus Writer Express 2.0 Ships — Nisus Software has begun shipping Nisus Writer Express 2.0, adding more than 30 new features to the company’s streamlined word processor for Mac OS X. Improvements include user-defined styles, footnotes, endnotes, a built-in table tool, a Find/Replace dialog that works more like the one in Nisus Writer Classic, and more. Some features, such as word auto-completion and the capability to apply bold or italic to any font (which often isn’t possible in Mac OS X if the font in question lacks bold and italic variants), are available only under Mac OS X 10.3. Nisus Writer Express 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later and is a free upgrade for owners of Nisus Writer Express 1.0. Otherwise, it costs $60 as a download, or $70 for a CD; owners of Nisus Writer 6.0 and later can upgrade for $45 (download) or $55 (CD). A free 30-day trial version is available as a 21 MB download. [JLC]
DragThing 5.3.1 Adds Email Count — TLA Systems has released DragThing 5.3.1, adding features to the launcher and Dock replacement. New in this version is the capability to display the number of unread message in the email In box for Apple’s Mail, Entourage, Eudora, Mailsmith, NetNewsWire, and PowerMail. (However, note that version 5.3.1 disables the feature for Eudora due to excessive processor use when dealing with a large In box; you can re-enable it using a downloadable patch.) Also new is the capability to display application-specific contextual menu commands (such as a Play/Pause control for iTunes). A number of other fixes have also been applied. DragThing 5.3.1 is a free update for owners of DragThing 5.0 and later; a new license costs $29, and upgrades from versions 2 and 4 cost $12. The update is a 9 MB download and requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later. [JLC]
Apple last week released Security Update 2004-09-07 to address a slew of security-related issues. Updated components include Apache 2, CoreFoundation, FTP, IPSec, Kerberos, OpenLDAP, OpenSSH, PPPDialer, QuickTime Streaming Server, rsync, Safari, SquirrelMail, and tcpdump – see Apple’s site for details. Unfortunately, two of the changes may have negative consequences.
The changes to Safari resulted in rendering problems on a number of Web sites, though the trouble apparently originates with the Web sites themselves. Many sites detect browser versions and present slightly different versions of their pages to different browsers. It seems that some sites were accidentally identifying this new version of Safari as Netscape 4 and thus feeding it dynamic HTML that failed in a modern browser. In at least some of places suffering from this problem (including FedEx, CompUSA, and Best Buy) the problem stemmed from a product called QuickMenu Pro, from OpenCube. OpenCube has since fixed the problem, though it’s up to the sites to update their copies of QuickMenu Pro. Kudos to Jeff of the HyperJeff Network for tracking down the bug in QuickMenu Pro.
Also, to work around a security problem in the lukemftpd FTP server in the client version of Mac OS X, Apple replaced it with the tnftpd FTP server (Mac OS X Server uses xftp instead); unfortunately the change has caused login difficulties for some users when connecting to upgraded Macs via FTP. The Apple support forum discussion linked below offers some solutions, but perhaps the best one is to use this problem as an excuse to switch to SFTP, which eliminates long-standing security problems with FTP. Apple will likely release a fix for normal FTP in the near future.
The security update applies to the client and server versions of Mac OS X 10.2.8, Mac OS X 10.3.4, and Mac OS X 10.3.5. The easiest way to get Security Update 2004-09-07 is via Software Update; otherwise you’ll have to pick the correct version from the Apple Downloads page. The client downloads are 7.6 MB; the server downloads are 12.6 MB. [ACE]
Those of you who have been around for a decade or so probably remember Easy View, Akif Eyler’s free text browsing utility. Easy View understood a number of text formats, including the setext format that we use for the text edition of TidBITS, and provided a three-pane view into TidBITS. One pane listed issues, the second listed articles in an issue, and the third large pane displayed the actual text of the article. Alas, Akif moved on to other things, and although he donated the source of Easy View to anyone who wanted to update it, nothing ever came of it.
Now, however, Kevin LaCoste of ZenVilla Software has released XBit 1.0, an Easy View-like utility for Mac OS X that provides a triple-pane approach to viewing the setext issues of TidBITS. Although XBit doesn’t have some of Easy View’s flexibility in indexing multiple formats, it uses a better pane display, can mark articles and issues as read so you can keep track of your progress, and it can download new issues from our FTP server automatically. XBit can search inside an article, but not across multiple articles.
At $15, XBit isn’t free, but you can download a fully functional, non-expiring demo. To be clear, I have no problem with Kevin charging for this utility; he’s not making money from TidBITS itself (which would be a no-no), and he developed XBit entirely on his own with no help or input from us. I don’t know that there’s much of a market for XBit, given all the other ways people can receive, read, and search TidBITS, but that’s Kevin’s concern. I do need to make clear up front that I can’t guarantee we’ll continue to use the setext format or provide issues for download via FTP indefinitely, although Kevin will always be able to access whatever public formats and services we do provide just like everyone else. Still, if you’re a fan of browsing text collections offline in a dedicated program, XBit is worth a quick look.
I like my iPod, but I’ve always detested the wired earbuds, partly because I dislike things inside my ears, but mostly because the wires are constantly tangled and in the way. Yes, I know the white wires are almost as iconic as the iPod itself these days, but they still bug me. And I’d bet they bother Steve Jobs, with his notorious dislike for wires on Macs.
Nevertheless, when I asked Phil Schiller about the possibility of a Bluetooth-enabled iPod back at Macworld Expo San Francisco in January of 2004, he basically laughed at me. Now, thanks to the i-Phono from Bluetake, I can laugh right back at him.
At Macworld Expo Boston a few months ago, a guy named Clement Wen came up to me in the hallway and asked if I’d like to try his company’s Bluetooth dongle and headphones for the iPod. I of course said yes, and I listened to them for a few minutes there in the hall. They seemingly worked fine, but it was a terrible environment for serious testing, so I asked him to send me a set to review in more detail. I’ve now had a chance to use the i-Phono in a real-world environment.
Setting Up the Hardware — The i-Phono has two parts: a small audio dongle on a short cable that plugs into the iPod’s headphone port (it also works with any other standard headphone port) and a pair of sport-style headphones (i.e., they wrap across the back of your neck instead of over the top of your head) that also include a microphone for use with a Bluetooth-capable cell phone. The dongle is fairly awkward, as you’d expect, although Bluetake includes a velcro strip and some double-sided tape for securing it in place. A future version will reportedly fit neatly on top of the iPod. Charging the built-in batteries in both the dongle and the headphones was easy; Bluetake includes both a wall wart charger and a USB-based charger, along with a splitter cable that enables you to charge both devices simultaneously.
Once I had everything charged, I paired the devices following the instructions – it was trivially easy once I remembered to turn both devices on. Then it was merely a matter of plugging the audio dongle into the iPod and trying to figure out how to position the headphones on my head (they’re the first sport-style headphones I’ve tried).
Ear Check — The sound quality was decent, if not stunning, although I won’t pretend that I’m qualified to comment on audio quality. I did hear a few crackles for no apparent reason, even when I was sitting still with the iPod a few feet away on my desk. Walking around my office (with the iPod still on my desk) didn’t affect the sound quality at all, but going into the next room caused the sound to break up badly. Luckily, it’s easy to press a button on either the headphones or the dongle to turn off the audio quickly (though turning it back on from the headphones took longer than from the dongle, oddly enough). Volume control was good; I could easily increase it beyond my comfort level. The headphone also has a pair of volume buttons, but they have only a few settings.
Wearing the headphones for a few hours chafed at the skin on my head, just above my ears, but then again, with the exception of my headset phone, I’ve had trouble finding any headphones that don’t squish or irritate my ears in some uncomfortable way. These weren’t comfortable enough that I wore them outside of testing, though if I worked in an office environment where playing music through normal speakers was a problem, I might put more effort into becoming accustomed to the headphones. I have no idea if the headphones would be likely to stay on when exercising, and it probably depends on what you do. I’d never consider wearing them (or carrying an iPod, for that matter) for the kind of running I do.
Battery life is supposed to be about six hours of continuous play, though I wasn’t able to spend that much time in continuous play, nor was my iPod (and outlasting the iPod is all that’s really necessary).
Other Uses — After using the i-Phono with the iPod successfully, and proving to myself that it worked fine when I plugged the audio dongle into my Mac’s headphone jack as well, I wondered if I could use the headphones directly with my 12-inch PowerBook, which has Bluetooth built in. Pairing worked fine, but the Bluetooth preference pane never reported that the headphones were connected, and they never appeared in the Sound preference pane. While researching this article further, I found a note on one site that confirmed that the headphones aren’t directly compatible with the Mac, and said Bluetake is working on a fix that should be available soon.
Not having an appropriate cell phone, I wasn’t able to test Bluetake’s claim that you can pair the headphone with a cell phone as well and have it automatically turn off the music when you answer a call (some of the other reviews listed below comment on that feature). I briefly tried to plug the audio dongle into the headset jack on one of our cordless phones, but it’s a different size, and no doubt wouldn’t have worked with the microphone built into the headphones anyway.
Conclusions — There’s no question the i-Phono scores major points for cool technology. It was great being able to walk around with my iPod deep in a pocket without fussing with the wires. However, it isn’t cheap at $250 (street prices are more commonly between $200 and $230), and it’s a bit difficult to find, although I eventually tracked it down using price comparison services like Shopping.com and MySimon (check the sponsored matches at the latter).
If you’re not yet desperate to eliminate your iPod’s wires (or not so desperate that you’d spend more than $200 to do so), I recommend waiting a few months to see how Bluetake improves the i-Phono in future revisions. The awkward dongle should disappear in favor of a form factor that mimics the FM transmitters currently available for the iPod, and it sounds as though Bluetake may also improve the headphones so they’ll be directly compatible with the Mac for use with iChat audio chats, voice control, and voice-over-IP telephony software. Lastly, I’d like to see some additional form factors for the headphones, preferably ones that I could wear without any discomfort.
On the other hand, if you’re addicted to your iPod and dying for a pair of wireless headphones, give the i-Phono a look. I do encourage you to read additional reviews before you plunk down that much cash for a pair of headphones. Modtown and iPodlounge have both published detailed reviews, and Bluetake links to a number of other articles as well.
For many years, as TidBITS readers know, I’ve been on a quest for interesting ways to store and arrange data on the Mac. This never-ending quest is plenty of fun, and I’ve learned a lot about many interesting programs. I’ve also learned something about myself: I have a two-sided personality.
One side of my personality is the power user. It likes applications with lots of bells and whistles, applications that let it tinker and construct and customize everything in sight. The other side of my personality, though, seems to be into some kind of Zen aesthetic. It appreciates elegance and simplicity, even austerity, as may be seen from my reviews of iData Pro and Hog Bay Notebook.
MindCad’s Pyramid definitely appeals to the second side of my personality. It’s a mind-map program; with it, you draw a chart, a visual diagram showing the relationship between ideas. Pyramid lacks the "power-user" mind-mapping features of ConceptDraw, or even Inspiration: Pyramid makes just one kind of chart, with severe limitations on its degree of complexity, according to its own layout rules, and it has no accompanying outliner.
Yet Pyramid’s simplicity is exactly what’s so beautiful about it. When you’re trying to express an arrangement of ideas, clarity is a virtue. Pyramid is so small and simple, you can literally learn the whole program in two minutes. Instead of getting lost in a world of complex options, you just use the program, in a straightforward manner. You waste no time worrying about form; you go directly to content. Pyramid quickly becomes an extension of yourself, which is probably just what you want from mind-mapping software in the first place.
The Art of the Chart — A new Pyramid document is essentially a blank space. Command-double-click and you get a piece of editable text surrounded by an oval. This is a "topic," a main head. Now press a Command-arrow key – up, down, left, or right – to create a child "item" of this topic, editable text surrounded by a rectangle, branching from the topic in any of the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west. From a child item, you can use the Command-arrow keys to create a sibling or child of that item. Thus a topic can have up to four bunches of items attached to it. The relationship between items in a bunch is shown by straight lines that are drawn for you, each bunch of items looking rather like one of those genealogical diagrams you may have studied in history class.
It is also possible, by double-clicking, to create a loose item, not attached to a topic; it can have siblings and children, but the overall bunch can grow in only one of the four directions. A document can also be decorated with two other sorts of loose object, not part of the item hierarchy. An annotation (Shift-double-click) is an isolated box of editable text. An image is created by dragging an image file into the document.
So, four kinds of object constitute a document: topics, each with up to four bunches of related items attached to it; loose bunches of items that grow in a single direction; annotations; and images. You can freely reposition each kind of object as a whole by dragging, but the internal layout of a bunch of items, or of a topic and its attached bunches of items, is done by Pyramid.
The fact that you can’t manually adjust the position of an item within its bunch doesn’t feel like a limitation; it feels like you’re relieved of responsibility, so that you can concentrate on content while Pyramid takes care of form. It also means that the adjustments you can make are simple and clear. For example, if you do drag a sub-item, you can only mean to detach it from its bunch or attach it elsewhere to an existing item or topic – and that’s just what does happen.
Upward but Not Northward — Even a Pyramid document consisting of only what I’ve described so far can be useful, but Pyramid goes further by providing several extra dimensions. First, what I’ve described is not really a document; it’s a "sheet." A document can consist of any number of sheets, in the same way that an Excel workbook can have multiple worksheets. The sheets are tab views, and you can navigate between them using tabs at the top of the window. Sheets add a top level of categorization, and they make up for the relative simplicity of a Pyramid diagram. For example, a topic can have only four bunches of items, and things can become too crowded as a topic grows; to express additional information, add a sheet.
Individual items can also have a number of useful attributes. The most powerful of these is the link. An item can be linked to another sheet, and clicking the link switches to that sheet; or to a document of any kind on disk, where clicking the link opens the document; or to a URL, where clicking the link opens the URL in the usual way. This simple feature greatly increases your document’s power and depth.
An item can also have a "note" consisting of styled text. This is important because an item whose own text consists of more than a few words eats into your document’s real estate. An item is thus best expressed in a few words, with any further information expressed as sub-items, a link, or a note (or all three).
Pyramid comes with an astonishing repertoire of elegant shortcuts for accomplishing common tasks. It does everything you intuitively expect a drawing program to do, and much more. You can navigate, edit, and move the objects on a sheet entirely by using the keyboard. (Oddly, however, you can’t move from sheet to sheet, or jump from an item to its note, without using the mouse.) You can Option-drag to copy an item, Command-Option-drag to copy its text styling, and Command-Shift-Option-drag to copy its color. There are menu items for letting you align objects, lock objects, combine multiple objects into one, and split a multi-line object into several. Finally, an item can display a checkmark at its start or end (or both), so a Pyramid document can include a checklist, to-do list, or what have you.
A Pyramid document can communicate with the rest of the world in a number of ways. Styled text dragged into a Pyramid document becomes an item; an individual piece of editable text can be dragged out of Pyramid into another document, or you can export an entire document as styled text, which basically loses the document’s structure but preserves its order and all topics, items, annotations, and notes. You can also export a Pyramid document as OPML. This is a form of XML that preserves the document’s hierarchical structure, but loses its text styling. Finally, you can export a sheet as a PNG image.
Future Directions — As soon as I started using Pyramid, I began imagining ways in which this program could grow. This is not because the program as it stands is in any way inadequate, and I certainly would not want to see Pyramid increase in complexity or clutter. In fact, when the MindCad folks told me they were thinking of allowing the user to attach a custom icon to an item, or to reconfigure the entire document’s appearance (different styles of item connection lines, for example), I sort of balked; to me, this would spoil the program’s clean, ascetic lines. But I do have a small wish list of possible ideas for future growth.
AppleScript: It would be nice if Pyramid were scriptable. The MindCad folks already have plans to let an individual item have a script attached to it, which might be triggered by clicking an icon; I look forward to seeing this as it develops.
Keywords: Suppose a document could have a configurable list of keywords, and it were possible to assign keywords to any item. This would allow items to be categorized, thus providing another form of hierarchy. For example, in a diagram of tasks to be done by members of a team, you could arrange the tasks hierarchically according to type or temporal order and use the categories to say who is to do each task.
Better finding: Right now there is crude text finding, which might be expanded to include finding in notes, finding on other sheets, finding keywords if these were implemented, and so forth. (Indeed, keywords would make sense only if finding included them; you want to say, "Show me all items with keyword Joe," to learn what Joe is supposed to do.)
Object hiding: One of the most important things an outline can do is collapse sub-items into their governing item, essentially making them temporarily invisible; an item is marked to show that it has sub-items that aren’t presently showing. This reduces clutter and allows easy concentration on just one part of a complex structure. Pyramid could do the same sort of thing.
Better notes: Right now, notes are edited in a simple secondary drawer or inspector panel; it would be nice if the note editing milieu felt more like a genuine word-processing environment, a place for getting real work done.
Full XML export: All current export formats are lossy in one way or another. It would be nice if a Pyramid document could be exported in its entirety, including images, structure, object position, links, text styling, and everything else that Pyramid knows about it. That way, certain kinds of editing could be performed by exporting to XML, editing, and re-importing. (Compare Tinderbox, which does exactly this.)
Conclusions — Pyramid is a breath of fresh air. The simplicity and elegance of its interface, the attention to detail, the program’s clarity and responsiveness, make it useful and easy. Pyramid is proof in action of what I said when Mac OS X first came out: that Apple’s provision of a great system-level application framework and free developer tools will eventually make for some really original, interesting programs. And Pyramid is very reasonably priced. Anyone who has been attracted by the mind-map idea but has found the existing programs too complex or too expensive should definitely investigate Pyramid.
Pyramid requires Mac OS X 10.3 Panther or later. It costs $30, and a demo version is available as a 400K download.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
Do inexpensive color laser printers exist? If you’re sick of throwing money down the "inkjet hole," read about color laser printers that work with the Mac, as well as software for printing Postscript on non-laser printers. (17 messages)
NoteBook vs. NoteTaker — Who would have thought that snippet-keeping would spawn so many products? Here, a comparative discussion of two leading programs. (9 messages)
Internet Music Sales in Canada — Canada has yet to see an iTunes Music Store – why? Readers offer their theories. (3 messages)