We need to work through some control issues this week: Adam reviews Apple Remote Desktop 2.0, which lets you control other Macs and much more, while we also announce the publication of Take Control of Panther Volume 1, a new print collection of our first four ebooks, along with the Japanese translation of Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther. Also in this issue, Yahoo gets into the online music business by purchasing MusicMatch, and we cover the releases of Ovolab’s Phlink 1.5 and Apple’s Security Update 2004-09-16.
Security Update 2004-09-07 1.1 Fixes FTP & Safari — Just after we put last week’s issue to bed with a warning about Security Update 2004-09-07 1.0, Apple released Security Update 2004-09-07 version 1.1, which offers two important fixes. First, the update changes the Safari version number to provide compatibility with Web sites that improperly identified Safari as a different browser; Apple also offers advice on detecting Safari’s user-agent string and on object detection. The 1.1 version of the security update also fixes the installation of the FTP server (it turns out that tnftpd is just a renamed version of lukemftpd, if you were confused) to eliminate the user login problems, and in our testing this appears to be true. The 1.1 version of the security update ranges in size (depending on your version of Mac OS X) from 7.1 MB to 12.6 MB and is available via Software Update and Apple’s Software Downloads page. There are no other changes from the 1.0 version, but we can now recommend that everyone install it. [ACE]
Security Update 2004-09-16 Fixes iChat Vulnerability — Apple last week released Security Update 2004-09-16 via Software Update and as separate downloads. The update includes a new version of iChat that fixes a potential problem whereby someone could send a link that would launch an application on your Mac. After the update is applied, clicking such a link brings up a dialog that asks you to confirm that you want to run the application. If you don’t use Software Update, three separate downloads are available, each about 1 MB in size, depending on the version of Mac OS X and iChat you’re running. [JLC]
Ovolab Phlink Adds Network Caller ID Announcements — Ovolab’s Phlink is a USB device that plugs into your phone line and, when bolstered by the Phlink software for Mac OS X, enables all sorts of fun telephony-related functions triggered by receiving a call. The recently released Phlink 1.5 adds a particularly cool and welcome feature that I’ve been wanting for a while – network caller ID, where a copy of Phlink running on a Mac connected to the Phlink device broadcasts caller ID information (you must have that service from your local phone company) for incoming calls to all other Macs running the Phlink software on the local network.
It’s a brilliant feature and seems to work fine. The only confusing part is that the Phlink software erroneously implies, during installation, that it won’t work without a Phlink device attached. One solution might be to have Phlink ask if it should install in minimal, network caller ID notification-only mode, if it doesn’t detect a Phlink device during initial setup. The network caller ID notification is limited to a transparent window that appears and then disappears; the remote copy of Phlink doesn’t seem to log the fact that a call came in or perform any actions based on the remote notification.
The primary competition for Phlink is Parliant’s PhoneValet, which offers a roughly similar set of features for handling incoming calls, though PhoneValet doesn’t yet have network caller ID notification. [ACE]
Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther in Japanese — In our continuing expansion of Take Control to other languages, we’re pleased to announce the release of the Japanese translation of Kirk McElhearn’s "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther." Translated once again by our volunteer Japanese translation team, the Japanese version of "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther" costs $7.50, and we’re also offering a $1.50 discount for anyone who buys this translation along with the Japanese translation of Matt Neuburg’s "Take Control of Customizing Panther." As with previous translations, Japanese speakers who already purchased the English version of "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther" are entitled to a free copy of the Japanese translation; if you didn’t receive mail from us, click the Check for Updates button on the first page of the English version of "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther," and then click the download link at the bottom of the page. If your copy lacks the Check for Updates button, you need to upgrade with the instructions we sent on 10-Apr-04. If you have any troubles, please use the form on our FAQ page to ask Tonya for help. [ACE]
Apple’s iTunes Music Store may be the current 800-pound gorilla of the online music industry (as far as paid downloads are concerned), but now Yahoo – possibly the most visited site on the Internet – is getting into the fray, paying $160 million in cash for MusicMatch, a Windows-only online music service.
Yahoo already offers a free online streaming audio service called LAUNCHcast; it works with Windows and (badly) with Mac OS 9; Mac OS X has never been supported. LAUNCHcast features user-defined stations with major label artists as well as independent artists from places like GarageBand.com.
By acquiring MusicMatch, Yahoo gets an online music service with:
A 700,000 song catalog (compare to 1 million songs for iTunes, 500,000 for the preview of MSN Music, and 700,000 for Rhapsody and Real Music Store)
Songs for sale at $0.99
An $8 per month subscription online radio service that lets customers listen to any song in the MusicMatch library
MusicMatch Jukebox, a highly regarded jukebox application for Windows that supports many portable digital music players, but not the iPod. One of the key things about MusicMatch Jukebox is that it makes it trivially easy to purchase a song you hear via one of its stations.
MusicMatch is privately held, but it has about 170 employees and its annual revenue is estimated at about $50 million. MusicMatch’s all-you-can-eat music service has about 250,000 subscribers. Yahoo expects the acquisition to increase its online music audience from about 13 million people to nearly 24 million people by the end of the year.
I see a few take-away points from the acquisition. One is that Yahoo isn’t so much trying to compete with Apple’s iTunes Music Store as trying to get a leg up on other Internet entry points – Google, MSN, AOL – by offering both digital music downloads and a streaming music service.
The second is that, if Apple wants to keep the iTunes Music Store vital, it needs to offer some sort of online streaming audio service (for free and/or on a paid subscription model) and make it simple for users to purchase tracks they hear on the streams.
Third, if Apple wants to keep innovating with the iPod (and justify its never-declining sticker price!) it may have to look back to the days of transistor radios. Remember, Apple was the company that brought wireless networking to the masses, and recently shipped wireless music to stereo systems via AirPort Express. Can the day really be that far off when iPods sport wireless technology and are capable of tuning in online audio streams from your base station – or from hotspots in your neighborhood, your school, and your favorite coffee shop?
We started the Take Control project, about a year ago, with one goal: to publish in a whole new way. The key to our approach was the production of electronic books, which are more timely, more focused, more economical, and more easily updated than print books can be. In this way, we felt, we could avoid the problems that bedevil the traditional publishing industry.
Nevertheless, we’re cognizant that, much as ebooks have many advantages over print, a lot of people prefer to read on paper, and many people think only of traditional books when they need technical documentation. Of course, if you have an ebook, you can print it out on your own printer; our ebooks look quite good when you do that. But not everyone has a printer or wishes to consume that much paper and ink, and besides, for most people the presentation and experience of reading a nicely bound book is better. Another good thing about print books is that they already have a large marketing and distribution channel, and it makes business sense for us to try to take advantage of that.
Therefore, to better serve those who prefer traditional print books, we’re pleased to announce that our first Take Control collection is now available: Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, published in association with our friends at Peachpit Press. It costs $30 (discounted to $20.39 at Amazon right now) and is a 272-page collection of our first four Take Control ebooks: Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," Matt Neuburg’s "Take Control of Customizing Panther," Kirk McElhearn’s "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther," and Glenn Fleishman’s "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther." The print book collects the latest versions of these ebooks in a nicely designed, full-color layout. In addition, I’ve written an introduction, and the book includes a professionally created index.
What’s Different — Even though Take Control of Panther, Volume 1 looks like a normal print book, it benefits from many of the advantages of the Take Control model.
Perhaps most notable is that everyone who buys the print book is entitled to download free copies of each of the ebooks inside. Although it’s hard to compete with the resolution of print and the familiarity and accessibility of a physical book, there’s no question that our ebooks still offer benefits such as internal links for references (no flipping around trying to find a section), clickable URLs and scripts (no extra typing), and of course, free updates. So we expect that a large percentage of the people who buy the print book will also download the ebooks, thus also gaining a gentle introduction to the brave new world of electronic books. While it’s a simple matter – and economical – for us to provide a free copy of the collected ebooks for print book buyers, including minor revisions as they appear, the finances of print publishing sadly don’t allow us to offer the print book to existing ebook owners at a larger discount than provided by Amazon.com, other online booksellers, or brick-and-mortar bookstores.
I’ve released electronic versions of my last few print books, but the experience has been somewhat unsatisfying, since a design that looks great in print generally works poorly when viewed on screen. Unfortunately, the effort of reformatting a print book for online display, particularly one that’s as heavily formatted as a Visual QuickStart Guide, is far too great to consider. With Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, we were able to move in the proper direction: electronic to print. We publish all of our ebooks using Microsoft Word, and we’re careful to rely on styles at all times. As a result, it was relatively easy to import the Word files into InDesign CS, and future books will be easier yet. The tricky part was creating the InDesign template, since most book templates aren’t set up for ease of import, but Jeff Tolbert (whose day job is a freelance designer and illustrator, when he’s not writing ebooks about GarageBand) came up with such a template (we did have to buy a tool to augment InDesign – the Smart Styles CS plug-in from WoodWing Software).
A big problem with traditional print books about software is that the software can change soon after, or even before, the book goes to print, thus making the book wrong and out-of-date. And once a traditional print book is published, there’s no calling it back. Our approach eliminates this problem. All of our ebooks went through at least one revision before being included in this print collection. Those revisions have enabled us to keep pace with Apple’s upgrades to Panther, incorporate user feedback, and eliminate mistakes. For example, Glenn’s book "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther" put considerable effort into explaining soft mounting – which Apple eliminated entirely in Mac OS X 10.3.3! So Glenn updated the ebook, and the print book includes that updated version. And what if, in the future, Apple brings back soft mounting, or makes some other drastic change? No problem: we update the ebook, and every print book customer downloads a free copy. Thus our books are more accurate than traditional print books both before they are published (because they’ve had a history as ebooks) and after they are published (because they continue to evolve as ebooks)."
We also anticipate increasing the timeliness of print books. To be sure, this book is coming out a long time after Panther was released; but most of the slowdown came in the contract negotiations, with actual book production requiring only a few weeks. And the production itself will speed up as we learn to make our Word files more appropriate for import into InDesign, and as our collaborative editing process improves. Plus, many of our print books, like this one, will probably be by multiple authors, who can all be working at the same time, which should contribute to speed of publication as well.
The print books also contribute to the sustainability of the overall Take Control model in another way. We’ve negotiated with Peachpit so that authors receive, proportionally, a considerably greater percentage of the book’s price than has traditionally been the case. And republishing in print means that the author receives some revenue that wouldn’t have been there if the ebook were the only outlet for that content. The result is that our authors, who put significant and ongoing efforts into writing and maintaining their ebooks, are more fully recompensed for those efforts. This encourages the authors to keep their ebooks up to date, and that, in turn, benefits readers.
More to Come! Take Control of Panther, Volume 1 will soon be joined by two additional books (by the beginning of November, since we’re just finishing the layout now): Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Apple Mail (bringing together his two ebooks about Mail) and Glenn Fleishman’s Take Control of Your AirPort Network (which was long enough after its 1.1 revision to stand on its own in print). Both will be a bit shorter and less expensive – 160 pages and $17 are our current estimates – but they’ll still be full-color and offer free copies of the ebooks. They’ll also sport different cover designs from Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, since we’re still working with Peachpit to refine the overall look of the cover.
So take a look, and if you’ve held off checking out our ebooks because you prefer traditional print books, we hope you like what we’ve done.
For many of us, the days of working with a single Macintosh are long gone. I regularly use my main desktop Power Mac G4, my 12-inch PowerBook G4, the 450 MHz Power Mac G4 that’s our internal file and backup server, the PowerBook G3 that acts as a wireless gateway for our long range wireless Internet connection, Tonya’s old blueberry iBook that’s our kitchen Mac, and our Xserve at digital.forest that runs Web Crossing. Obviously, I access some of these computers directly, but sitting down at others ranges from difficult (the internal file server, which lacks a monitor most of the time), to impossible (the Xserve, which is across the continent). For such Macs, remote control software is essential.
Before Mac OS X, I used Netopia’s Timbuktu Pro to control remote Macs, and in fact, I still use Timbuktu Pro 5.2.3 in Classic to control the two servers we still have running Mac OS 8.6. But about the time I became interested in examining remote control software for Mac OS X, Apple had just released Apple Remote Desktop 1.0, and Netopia didn’t feel the need to respond to my requests for a review copy of Timbuktu. As a result, Apple Remote Desktop got the nod, and I started playing with it. That initial version was functional, but honestly, not very good, so I never formally reviewed it. When Apple came out with the Remote Desktop 2.0, though, I was extremely interested to see where they’d taken the program and if they’d resolved the irritations I had with 1.0.
Apples and Oranges — One thing that becomes immediately apparent when using Apple Remote Desktop 2.0 is that it isn’t just remote control software like Timbuktu. That program has always focused on the fastest possible screen sharing, and helping you move files back and forth with the specific machine you’re controlling. Remote Desktop does much more, including:
Remote control and assistance: You can control or observe any Mac or other VNC-enabled computer (more on VNC later). You can fit a controlled or observed Mac’s screen into a single window (no scrolling!) and you can even observe multiple remote Macs at the same time, which is great for classroom situations. If you choose to observe multiple computers but opt not to show them all at once, Remote Desktop utilizes Apple’s 3-D rotating cube effect to display all the observed machines. Also helpful is the capability to send messages to, and lock the screens of, remote Macs.
Asset management: With Remote Desktop, you can extract a great deal of information from remote Macs, which is essential to anyone attempting to manage multiple computers. These reports can tell you what USB and FireWire devices are attached, how much RAM is installed, what software versions are installed, how the network settings are configured, and much more.
Software distribution: Remote Desktop enables you to copy files to and from remote Macs, and to install packages on remote Macs.
Remote administration: You can send Unix commands to remote machines to be executed, and you can set startup disks. I couldn’t test this, but Apple tells me that Remote Desktop ties into NetBoot as well, enabling you to select specific NetBoot images to boot from.
You can also set whether non-administrator accounts are allowed to perform any given action within Remote Desktop, which is useful for making sure that certain people don’t have full and potentially damaging control over remote machines.
To be fair to Timbuktu, the fact that it lacks some of these features is because Netopia has built them into a different program: netOctopus. And although both Timbuktu and netOctopus support Windows and Macintosh, Timbuktu costs between $50 and $100 per copy (depending on platform and quantity), whereas netOctopus starts at $65 per client, making the pair far more expensive than Remote Desktop, which costs $300 for 10 clients or $500 for unlimited clients.
Remote To Do Lists — Whereas Timbuktu Pro is designed for a one-to-one interaction, Remote Desktop is designed for one-to-many interactions. That becomes clear when you observe multiple Macs at once, of course, but as soon as you start examining all the items in Remote Desktop’s Manage menu, you realize that Apple has given the program a task-based orientation. In other words, almost any task you can perform with one Mac, you can perform with multiple Macs.
This approach turns out to be wildly cool for anyone accustomed to the tedium of performing the same set of tasks on multiple machines, one at a time. For instance, if it’s time to update your asset database with the current configurations of your Macs, you can just select them in Remote Desktop’s main window, choose Memory from the Report menu, set the options as you want, and run the report to learn the Macs’ DIMM configurations. Some reports can take a while, but a status window shows the progress, and a report window pops up at the end with all the information you need.
You can export or print reports out of Remote Desktop, and if they’re the sort of thing you want to run on a regular basis, you can set them up to run on a schedule. You don’t necessarily have to think in advance that you’d like to schedule a task to run regularly, since Remote Desktop tracks tasks you’ve run (until you quit), and you can set up the scheduling after the fact.
One particular note: the Remote Desktop 1.0 software that’s built into Mac OS X 10.3 Panther doesn’t work with Remote Desktop 2.0, but Remote Desktop 2.0 can update the 1.0 client software on multiple remote machines over the network, just like any other task. It isn’t even necessary to reboot the remote machines after updating.
V Is for VNC — One of the most interesting changes in Remote Desktop 2.0 is its reliance on the open VNC protocol for screen sharing and remote control. It means that the Remote Desktop client software is actually a VNC server, and the Remote Desktop application is in fact a VNC viewer.
As a result, any computer with a VNC viewer can control a Mac that has the Remote Desktop client installed and configured to allow VNC access. Since VNC viewer software is available for many platforms, this VNC support makes the Mac fit into a cross-platform network better. Of the available VNC viewers for Mac OS X, I had luck only with the free (and endearingly named) Chicken of the VNC. Why use Chicken of the VNC? As long as you’ve bought at least one copy of Remote Desktop and upgraded all your clients to 2.0, you can give Chicken of the VNC to people who need only remote control, all without paying for additional copies of Remote Desktop. A free Windows VNC Viewer that I tried – UltraVNC – also worked, though not particularly well.
The opposite situation is also possible: a Mac running the Remote Desktop application can in theory control another computer running a VNC server. I say "in theory" because I spent a frustrating hour trying to control my Windows XP-based PC. At first, I tried the free RealVNC (making sure to set it to use the VNC 3.3 protocol), and even though I was able to control it with Chicken of the VNC, Remote Desktop wouldn’t connect at all. Then, based on a suggestion on Apple’s discussion forum, I tried UltraVNC’s server with no more luck. I may continue to fuss with the Windows VNC servers, just on principle, but for the moment, I’ll stick with using Chicken of the VNC to control the PC.
I’ve used VNC software a number of times over the years, and this experience fits in with my previous encounters. I’ve usually succeeded in finding some combination of software and settings that works, but it often requires a significant amount of testing and tweaking before I end up with a functional setup. Consider yourself warned. I’m happy that Apple chose to rely on VNC, but as soon as you venture beyond Remote Desktop on both sides of the connection, don’t assume the experience will necessarily be smooth.
All VNC enables is remote observation and control, and only with a single computer at a time. So even though you could theoretically control a PC with the Remote Desktop application, you can’t include that machine in any tasks or run any reports on it, as you could do with a Mac.
Opening up access to a Mac via VNC is a security concern, even though you can password-protect a VNC-accessible Mac and the password is encrypted in transit. The problem is that the graphical session data transferred back and forth is not encrypted, so an evildoer could conceivably record that traffic and decode it to learn passwords and other confidential information. Luckily, you can tunnel the VNC connection through SSH for additional security. VNC also requires that you open up port 5900 in your firewall. You can reduce these security concerns by running Remote Desktop on only specific occasions; an included kickstart utility lets you launch and quit Remote Desktop via the command line, which you can access via a secure SSH session.
While on the topic of controlling Windows-based PCs, note that Microsoft provides a free program called Remote Desktop Connection that enables Macs to log into and run programs on PCs running certain versions of Windows. Remote Desktop Connection uses Microsoft’s Terminal Services, not VNC, and my impression is that Terminal Services works quite well when both computers are running Windows. However, I’ve tried the Remote Desktop Connection client for the Mac, and although I was able to get it working eventually, it was flaky and proved to be too much trouble to use on an ongoing basis. Your mileage may vary.
Areas to Improve — Although Remote Desktop is a solid and capable program with entirely reasonable performance, there are areas in which I’d like to see improvement.
Although remote control performance is good (and it’s of course directly related to the speed of your network connection), there is always room for performance improvement. That said, I’ve had no trouble controlling my Xserve over a 1 Mbps Internet connection. Also, I can’t find any way to view the second monitor attached to a controlled Mac, but most of the Macs I want to control have only a single monitor (or none at all).
The most annoying aspect of Remote Desktop for my regular use is that copying files to and from remote Macs is clumsy. To copy to a remote Mac, you must add the files to a dialog (at least drag & drop into the dialog works in 2.0, which wasn’t true in 1.0) and choose a location on the destination. That makes perfect sense if you’re copying the same set of files to multiple Macs, but if you’re controlling a single Mac and just want to slap a file onto its hard disk, you must still work through the dialog. Copying files from remote Macs is even harder; you must run an extremely slow search, and copy it from the find results dialog. Again, this approach is useful for collecting the same file from multiple machines, but insanely bad for working with a single Mac. Timbuktu has allowed users to copy to and from controlled Macs via drag & drop for many years; Remote Desktop should adopt that feature.
Also irritating is Remote Desktop’s inability to share clipboard contents with a controlled Mac, something that Timbuktu has again done for years. There is a workaround: Erik Lagercrantz’s donationware utility ClipboardSharing enables you to share, even automatically, the clipboard contents of two networked Macs.
Although I haven’t hit this personally, others find they can’t even use Remote Desktop 2.0 because the program quits when launched if you have more than 29 network port configurations – even inactive ones – across all your network locations. It’s a known bug that we can hope Apple fixes soon.
Another area where Remote Desktop feels clumsy is its handling of Unix commands. You can send a Unix command to a remote Mac, but forget about getting any relevant feedback in return. The feature is useful for kicking off tasks that don’t require user interaction or report back to the user, but that’s about it. It doesn’t have to be that way – Remote Desktop could easily integrate with Terminal. Similarly, although Remote Desktop lets you view all sorts of information about remote Macs, it doesn’t let you view log files on remote Macs. Log information can be extremely helpful when troubleshooting, and once again, Remote Desktop could integrate with the Console application for presenting and searching the logs. As far as I can tell, Remote Desktop also doesn’t integrate with the various server management tools for the Xserve either.
To summarize these criticisms, Remote Desktop would benefit from additional attention to the one-to-one communication capabilities that still lag behind Timbuktu, as well as some thought as to how the program could become the control panel from which you manage remote Macs in a variety of ways.
Roundup at the Remote Desktop Corral — Despite the places where Remote Desktop feels top-heavy for remote control, I have no hesitation in recommending the program to anyone who needs more than basic remote control, particularly if you’re managing more than a couple of remote Macs. The people who will most appreciate Remote Desktop are network administrators, help desk staffers, and teachers, I think, but I could easily see consultants and tech support engineers finding Remote Desktop beneficial as well. Anyone buying an Xserve without a video card would probably do well to buy a copy of Remote Desktop, and Apple should consider bundling a limited-client license of Remote Desktop with the Xserve – it would probably pay for itself in reduced phone support.
If all you need is remote control software for another Mac, Remote Desktop is probably overkill; I’d instead recommend either Timbuktu Pro or a VNC viewer/server pair. And if you need a cross-platform solution for more than remote control, netOctopus is probably in your future, expensive though it is for large numbers of clients.
Remote Desktop 2.0 requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, and it costs either $300 for a 10-client license or $500 for an unlimited number of clients. There is no upgrade pricing for owners of Remote Desktop 1.2.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
Suggestions for a USB ergonomic keyboard — The Tactile Pro keyboard from Matias has earned high praise, but some people prefer ergonomic keyboards. Readers suggest a few options. (3 messages)
Thinking of Tablet Macs — Is a tablet Mac in the future? Readers discuss how Apple’s thin computers could be adapted to a tablet design, as well as the quality of Mac OS X’s handwriting recognition software. (4 messages)
Mac Anti-Virus Programs — Apple posted, then removed, Virex 7.5 for .Mac members, leading to discussion of what was wrong with the program. (5 messages)
Problems with FTP on Panther — The recent security update troubles prompt comments about concerns with the security of SFTP. (2 messages)
Chording keyboards — Will the chording keyboard ever become more than a niche device? (2 messages)