Graphical emoticons in Eudora 6.2? Luckily, the latest version of the intrepid email client also features more sensible enhancements. Equally improbable – but true – is news that GarageBand.com is teaming with MSN Music to feature audience-selected artists. Back on solid ground, Glenn Fleishman looks at welcome improvements in the AirPort 4.1 update, and Adam announces a new ebook twist: the Take Control product manual (for the automation utility iKey 2). We also note the release of SubEthaEdit 2.1.1, announce the move of www.tidbits.com to our Web Crossing server, and solicit your suggestions for our holiday gift issue. No issue next week due to Thanksgiving!
No TidBITS Issue on 29-Nov-04
No TidBITS Issue on 29-Nov-04 — Due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, we’re going to spend next weekend getting in touch with our inner turkeys (or meat-free substitutes, depending on the staff member), gorging on time spent with families and friends, and just plain resting up for the hectic race to the end of the year (complete with our annual gift issue). See you again on 06-Dec-04! [JLC]
Submit Your Holiday 2004 Gift Ideas
Submit Your Holiday 2004 Gift Ideas — It’s time once again to prop up the economy with holiday shopping, and what better sector to support than the Macintosh industry? As always, we’re collecting the best holiday gift ideas from readers for our traditional holiday gift issue, scheduled for the second week in December. So tell us what gifts you’re planning to give your closest friends and family, or what gifts you’re hoping to receive yourself. We’re collecting ideas in TidBITS Talk, so please send your suggestions to <[email protected]> or submit them directly in the Web archive (no HTML tags, please!) where we’ve already started threads for specific categories. Please suggest only one product or idea per message, give the reason why you’re recommending it, make sure to include a URL or other necessary contact information, and please recommend only others’ products. Ideally, suggest things that haven’t appeared in past years; I’ve linked to the last three gift issues so you can scan them before making suggestions. Thanks in advance! [ACE]
SubEthaEdit 2.1.1 Released
SubEthaEdit 2.1.1 Released — Our favorite collaborative writing and programming tool, SubEthaEdit, just hit its 2.1.1 release. The newest version overcomes a frustrating difficulty in establishing color coding for particular editors and making that consistent over time. This revision also allows the creation of sets that can be imported and exported, supports editing in an Administrator mode, and enhances printing capabilities. It also includes a new Unix command line tool for interaction with SubEthaEdit via Terminal and an AppleScript interface for automating basic editing. Lastly, you can now also include what the developers call "collaboration metadata" when you print or export documents to HTML. Note that version 2.1 was released on 16-Nov-04; the 2.1.1 release followed a couple days later, which patched a security vulnerability and fixed minor glitches. SubEthaEdit 2.1.1 costs $35, and is available as a 2.9 MB download. [GF]
TidBITS Web Site Moved to Web Crossing
TidBITS Web Site Moved to Web Crossing — At last! The entire www.tidbits.com domain (but not our tidbits.com archive) is now being served by Web Crossing 5.0 running on our dual-processor Xserve, which is a huge step up from WebSTAR 3.0 on an aging Power Mac 7600. Most of the work involved with moving files came in translating the server-side includes we used to include common chunks of text in different files, although there was also a bit of effort in rewriting the code that sends email messages for subscription management and DealBITS entries. Also tricky was setting up all the redirects so all old URLs work even when files are in new physical locations. I was stunned at the age of some of the files I moved, and I had to restrain myself from updating obsolete content, since I would never have finished at that point. Hopefully it will be easier to do that now, since Web Crossing’s performance is so much better that editing files remotely isn’t any harder than editing them locally.
If you notice any broken links or things that don’t seem to be working right, let me know. Next up: moving the rest of our email services, including the main TidBITS distribution lists, from ListSTAR to Web Crossing. I’ll be writing more about those moves soon, since they’ll involve creating a user account in Web Crossing for every subscriber, as happened for all TidBITS Talk and Take Control list subscribers already. [ACE]
AirPort 4.1 Fixes Encryption Irritation, Enables Remote Control
Apple last week released AirPort 4.1 software for Mac OS X 10.3, adding a feature that’s been in great need: the capability to use more modern and secure WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption when you’re also linking base stations wirelessly through WDS (Wireless Distribution System). This is common if you have an AirPort Express linked wirelessly to an AirPort Express or AirPort Extreme that’s connected to the Internet. WPA is highly recommended, as the weaker WEP encryption has been broken for some time.
The update also includes necessary support for the new Keyspan Express Remote, which can plug into the AirPort Express’s USB port to enable remote control of iTunes.
The update also enables you to rename a printer connected via USB to a base station. This solved a problem with the printer that my wife and I share at home; I could print wirelessly, but she had to remain connected via USB cable. After changing the name – its Rendezvous name, really – in the AirPort Admin Utility, my wife can now print to that printer. I suspect there’s a funky entry for that printer deep in some Rendezvous .plist file on her machine that, if deleted, would have made it work, too, but this approach was easier.
The update also includes AirPort Express 6.1 and AirPort Extreme Base Station 5.5 firmware updates. AirPort 4.1 requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later, and is available through Software Update, or as a 12.4 MB download. An AirPort 4.1 update is also available for Windows; the firmware updates are also available as separate downloads.
GarageBand.com Inks Deal with MSN Music
In an interesting move, GarageBand.com has inked a deal with Microsoft’s MSN Music whereby top-rated GarageBand artists will be featured on MSN Music services, and (eventually) artists will be able to distribute or sell their music via MSN Music. The deal marks the first time one of the major online digital music services (okay, a potentially major service; right now nothing compares to the iTunes Music Store) has dipped into the vast pool of independent and unsigned musical talent available via the Internet. It also marks the first time a (potentially) major music distribution channel has created an option whereby featured artists are primarily selected by music listeners, rather than by record labels, producers, advertisers, and marketing machines.
The basic idea is that featured artists are selected from GarageBand.com’s top-rated artists in a variety of genres; those ratings are derived from GarageBand’s listener review process, in which anyone can participate. The listener ratings act as a filter to highlight the strongest (and/or marketable) artists in each genre. MSN Music will launch a new "GarageBand Radio" channel on MSN Music which will stream tracks from GarageBand.com top-ranked artists; MSN Music will also enable GarageBand.com artists to submit music for distribution either for free or as paid downloads – the first time a (potentially) major online music store has opened up a direct channel to independent artists. MSN Music will also apparently carry "hundreds of thousands" of GarageBand.com songs as free downloads; some of these tracks will at least in part be comprised of participants in the original MP3.com’s TruSonic program, which GarageBand has acquired and is working to restore.
<http://www.garageband.com/bbs/showflat.pl?Cat=& amp;Board=announcements& amp;Number=156321&page=0& amp;view=collapsed&sb=5>
This move – for the time being – makes MSN Music the only major player in the online music scene making any direct effort to connect with independent, unsigned, and emerging artists. Something of an irony, considering the source!
Take Control Expands with iKey 2 Manual
Back in 1998, I wrote a TidBITS article entitled "The Death of Documentation," which laid out the reasons why manuals, even those for large and complex programs, had become so small and unhelpful. Six years have passed, and frankly, nothing has really improved. So earlier this year, I came up with an idea for solving at least a portion of the software manual problem that leverages everything we’ve learned from our Take Control project.
You see, there isn’t all that much difference between one of our Take Control ebooks and a manual. Our ebooks tend to be more focused on specific tasks, and don’t attempt to cover an entire program, but the problems we’ve solved, such as how to produce professional content presented in an extremely readable PDF-based layout, are identical to those faced by developers looking to create a manual. "So," I thought, "why don’t we just write the manuals for appropriate programs?" In considering how to answer my own question, I realized the key lay in figuring out how an author writing a Take Control manual would be paid for his or her effort.
Knowing the kind of sales figures we had for Take Control titles on extremely common programs like Microsoft Entourage 2004, Word 2004, and GarageBand, not to mention Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, it was clear that independent titles covering less-common applications simply couldn’t generate enough sales to be worth the effort. Even if thousands of people purchase a given application, the percentage that would buy a separate (and potentially competing) manual for the product won’t be all that high. Besides, manuals should come with the associated program; it feels wrong somehow to charge users for the documentation necessary to go beyond the visible interface. The solution soon became obvious: negotiate with a developer to write a Take Control manual that would be bundled with the product in exchange for a per-unit royalty. The developer could then decide how to handle the royalty, either taking less profit at the same price point or raising the price to offset the cost of the manual.
Of course, this strategy works only if the product sells in sufficient quantities for the total royalty to make the author’s time worthwhile; I suspect that with a $5 royalty matching a roughly 50-page manual, for instance, a product would have to sell at least a few thousand copies, although all those numbers could be tweaked to make the final recompense worthwhile.
Enter iKey 2 — It was a nice theory, but the next trick was finding the right program, one that was sufficiently complex and powerful to warrant a real manual, that was in the appropriate stage of development, and that had enough users to make the numbers work out. Plus, since I wanted to write this first Take Control manual myself rather than throw another author into the deep end, it would be best if it were a program I would use in my day-to-day work. Coincidentally, a good candidate appeared quickly. When we were in Hawaii for my sister’s wedding in April, we met with Julian Miller of Script Software, and after I told him about the idea, he suggested we work together on iKey 2, a major revision of their automation utility that was in the works.
On the face of it, iKey 2 was the perfect first case, since I was using the 1.0 version, it was already popular, the upgrade was sufficiently major that a large number of upgrades were likely, and it was in a relatively early stage of development at that time. We figured out the details, and I started in on designing a manual and documenting the beta of iKey 2. Six months later, developer Philippe Hupe had a finished version of iKey, and I had a complete 148-page manual. For those who aren’t familiar with iKey, I’ll describe it shortly, but needless to say, everyone is welcome to download and study the complete manual as a way of acquiring a feel for what iKey can do.
Six months may seem like a long time to write a manual, and it felt like it then, too. Some of the delay was my fault, since big projects are difficult for me to fit into my overloaded schedule as it is. Plus, I didn’t realize when I started just how deep and powerful iKey 2 would be, since iKey 1 was a relatively simple application. That added complexity was how I ended up with a 148-page manual.
There were also unanticipated challenges along the way. Since iKey 2 was in development, there were bugs to identify, report, and retest in the next version. Although I hadn’t signed up to be a tester, it made no sense for me to ignore bugs I found – I wanted iKey to work as well as possible, and I certainly didn’t want to document bugs that Philippe could fix easily. Although the basic interface was more or less done, changes were necessary in some areas that I found difficult to document; after all, if it’s hard to explain how to use an interface, it’s probably hard to use it. And lastly, Philippe is both French and a programmer, which meant that I couldn’t resist making suggestions about how to improve bits of text within the interface for English language clarity. All these issues made coordination tricky, since I couldn’t document a part of the program until it was finalized, and I couldn’t take screenshots until the interface text had undergone an edit pass. There was much back-and-forth, with Philippe being extremely gracious about my suggestions and edits. As it turned out, I ended up doing a lot of work just so I could get to the point of writing the manual I wanted to write. But the result was a program that improved greatly during its pre-release phase.
About iKey 2 — For those who haven’t seen it before, iKey is an automation utility, or what others might call a macro utility. No matter what you call it, such a utility helps you create shortcuts that automate repetitive tasks, much like QuicKeys from CE Software and Keyboard Maestro, now owned by Stairways Software. QuicKeys was one of the first Macintosh programs I ever bought, back in 1989, and I’ve relied on an automation utility ever since. With Mac OS X, I went through a period of using QuicKeys on my desktop Mac and Keyboard Maestro on my PowerBook, but when Panther came out, I standardized on iKey on both machines for compatibility and synchronization reasons. I won’t attempt to compare the three, partly since I haven’t used recent versions of either QuicKeys or Keyboard Maestro, but mostly because it wouldn’t be appropriate given my experience with iKey.
The two most common types of shortcuts that an automation utility enables for me are switching to specific applications when I press particular function keys and typing various bits of boilerplate text when I press an associated hotkey (you don’t really think I actually type "cheers… -Adam" at the end of every email message, do you?). Those are simple actions, but iKey performs other tasks for me that are a bit more complex. For instance, my new method of handling email in Eudora involves using a saved search rather than the In box, so I’ve used iKey to remap Command-1 such that it opens my saved search instead of my In box. iKey lets me change the functionality of the hotkey without changing the way I work. Things get interesting when you want to string together a variety of actions, complete with pauses or multiple iterations, to automate more complex repetitive tasks. iKey is good at automating complex actions, since it has over 100 individual commands that you can build into shortcuts. So, for instance, I’ve written a shortcut that creates a properly formatted HREF tag using the selected text as the target and a URL in the clipboard as the destination. That shortcut was tricky (iKey doesn’t attempt to provide full-fledged programming constructs, though it can of course execute AppleScript scripts and is itself scriptable), but I use it a lot to write HTML snippets in any program before posting on ExtraBITS or Web-based discussion areas that allow HTML.
iKey shortcuts can be invoked in ways other than hotkeys, too. You can have them trigger automatically at specific times: one of my shortcuts automatically checks a number of Web sites in OmniWeb and Safari every morning at 9:00 AM. Shortcuts can also go off when applications launch or quit, or are activated or deactivated. Then there are system event triggers, for activating shortcuts at sleep, wake, restart, or shutdown. And if you prefer a visual interface, you can create palettes and menus (either normal menus tied to the menu bar or pop-up menus that appear at the pointer location) that let you click buttons or choose menu items to invoke the associated shortcuts.
Since every shortcut, menu, or palette can have a context – an application in which it appears – you can easily make application-specific shortcuts that don’t get in the way except when you’re in that application. I have a palette, for instance, populated with buttons that type common Unix commands that I’ve set to appear only when I’m in the Terminal. As soon as I switch to another application, the palette disappears. And the Command-1 remapping I mentioned earlier works only in Eudora, since it makes no sense in any other application.
The possibilities abound with automation utilities like iKey, and the trick is to see when you’re performing the same task repeatedly, since almost any repetitive task can have a shortcut. I have a menu that lets me switch my network connections between my two Internet connections without opening the Network preference pane. I also have a handful of shortcuts that let me play and pause iTunes from the keyboard, rate songs, and move on to the next song if shuffle has picked one I don’t want to hear. Some shortcuts I use for a few days and then delete, such as one that sped up changing certain settings for many Web pages in Web Crossing’s Web-based interface, and others I may use only infrequently, such as one that helps me find bouncing email addresses in a text file of bounced mail and remove those addresses from an address list in another program. It’s not something I do often, but it’s so numbingly rote that it cries out for automation.
I won’t pretend that iKey – or any automation utility – is right for everyone. You have to be able to identify a repetitive action and be annoyed by the amount of time you’re wasting while performing it. Some people simply don’t feel the brunt of repetition, or the few things that bother them can be worked around in different ways or with different utilities. I far prefer switching to Eudora with the keyboard by pressing F3 than by Command-Tabbing through launched applications, and typing "cheers… -Adam" would get old fast with the amount of mail I send (and no, it doesn’t work to put that string in my signature; I’ve tried it and it often ends up looking strange). But if you do feel a niggling annoyance that the Mac should be able to make life easier for you by handling these various repetitive actions that occur, it’s absolutely worth a look at iKey. It’s $30 ($10 for upgrades from 1.x), and you can try it for 30 days for free. iKey 2 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later and is a 2.8 MB download (much of which is my manual, in fact).
The Future of Take Control Manuals — Obviously, I don’t yet know how financially worthwhile the amount of effort I put into iKey will turn out to be. However, there’s no denying the good feeling of having helped make an already useful program even better, and knowing that users will be able to do more with the program thanks to my documentation efforts. I learned a lot about the process, and although we’ll be proceeding cautiously with future Take Control manuals, I think it’s going to be one of those win-win-win situations where developers gain professional manuals for their products, users benefit from improved documentation, and skilled authors find a financially viable outlet for their efforts.
Eudora 6.2 Alternates Between Silly and Serious
I’ve been a Eudora user for a long time, and despite the improvement in other email clients over the years, I’ve never been tempted to switch away from Eudora. That’s in part because I grok the program at a deep level; in the parlance of a certain group of die-hard Eudora users, I can "think like Steve." Steve, in this case, is not Steve Jobs (who has expressed disdain for Eudora in the past), but Eudora creator Steve Dorner (who has his own disdain for Apple technologies – for years, typing "Appearance Manager" in a Eudora email message would cause Eudora’s invective identifier MoodWatch to rate the message as likely to cause offense). Steve Dorner is an email purist, and although he’s come around to various modern features, he’s still the guy who allowed users of Eudora 3.0 to toggle a preference called "Waste cycles drawing trendy 3D junk."
That’s why, when I first saw the emoticons feature in the just-released Eudora 6.2, I almost called Steve to make sure he hadn’t been secretly drugged and brainwashed into adding a feature that makes the "trendy 3D junk" of 1996 seem downright subdued. Eudora 6.2’s emoticons feature replaces (only in the local display) 24 standard smiley character combinations (like :-)) with iconic representations. Needless to say, many long-time Eudora users who, even if they didn’t mind the trendy 3D junk way back when, will react with justifiable horror to this wildly misplaced feature. Let’s face it, people who are still using Eudora despite the free and bundled competition from Apple and Microsoft probably like the program’s utilitarian interface and power user features and are uninterested in such silliness. I left the emoticon display on for a while to determine that I really did hate it as much as I thought I would, then I shut it off (in the Font & Display settings panel) and let my mail return to its 9-point Monaco goodness. Maybe I’ve been conditioned to think like Steve for too many years, but little icons littering my mail don’t make it any more fun to read, and they certainly don’t make dealing with the mail any faster. Graphical emoticons don’t bother me as much on the Web, where graphics and text are commonly mixed together, but I don’t want them in my email.
Luckily, as counter to the core philosophy of Eudora as emoticons are, the other new features in Eudora 6.2 are more along the lines of what I know and love about the program. Most important for less-savvy users is ScamWatch, which helps you identify where a link embedded in an HTML-formatted message points by displaying a little yellow tooltip box that shows the real URL. If the real URL looks suspicious to Eudora, either because it points at a numerical IP address or because it doesn’t match the visible URL showing in the message, Eudora notes that fact in the tooltip, and if you click a suspicious URL, Eudora pops up a warning dialog to ensure you realize that the link is deceptive. This feature is subtle but brilliant. Far too many people are being fooled by "phishing" messages that purport to be from PayPal, Citibank, or eBay, and this feature should provide a welcome protection that could prevent the dire consequences of giving a scammer your passwords or personal financial information. In my real world use, since I’m alert to phishing messages, ScamWatch has mostly caught the links in Macworld’s weekly newsletter, since the domain in their visible URLs doesn’t match what I presume is a click-counting service domain that then redirects clicks back to the main Macworld site.
For those of us who have been forced to revamp our mail reading strategies of late, Eudora 6.2 offers another key improvement: Live Search. Many people don’t realize that you can set up and run a search in Eudora, and then choose File > Save to save it in a Saved Searches folder. Once a search is saved, you can invoke it instantly by choosing it from the hierarchical Special > Find menu (and of course, anything you can choose from a menu, you can attach to a toolbar button). With Eudora 6.2, searches are now live, so if you receive new messages while a search results window that would find those messages is open, Eudora automatically adds the new messages to the search results window. I’ll explain how I’ve altered my approach to reading email in another article; suffice to say for now that I’m using a saved search to collect mail from multiple mailboxes into a single window for easy access.
I’m not an IMAP user, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness of Eudora 6.2’s new IMAP capabilities, but they sound good. You can now transfer messages from IMAP mailboxes to local mailboxes even when you’re offline; deleted messages in IMAP mailboxes are immediately removed from view (although you can toggle an option to show them if you wish); and you can now turn on an auto-expunge feature to remove deleted messages from IMAP mailboxes immediately or when the space used by deleted message exceeds some percentage. You can also stick with manual expunging if you prefer.
Lastly, there are a few minor new features that may interest some users. Eudora can now show the number of unread messages on its Dock icon; such a feature is meaningless to me, since I always have tons of unread messages. (However, a nice touch is that the number applies to the frontmost mailbox window; so if you have no unread messages in the In box, but new messages are automatically routed to other folders – such as Junk – you can see immediately if Eudora’s new mail alert sound heralds important mail without bringing the application forward.) Eudora’s SSL handling has improved, and if a new SSL certificate is chained to a trusted root certificate, Eudora will automatically trust the new certificate. For those who spend time in Eudora’s Address Book (not me; I rely almost entirely on nickname auto-completion), there’s now an iChat button with every entry that, when clicked, starts a new chat with the selected person.
Eudora 6.2 is a 6.5 MB download, and it remains available in three modes. Light mode provides a reduced feature set but is free; Sponsored mode offers all of Eudora’s features except SpamWatch (its Bayesian spam filter) for free but displays a small ad window; and Paid mode gives you all of Eudora’s features, technical support, and free upgrades for 12 months. If you paid for Eudora within the last 12 months, Eudora 6.2 is free; if you last paid between 13 and 24 months ago, upgrading costs $40. New copies, or upgrades from versions paid for more than 24 months ago, cost $50.
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/22-Nov-04
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
Tracing an email message — Is there a way to locate the source of email blockage between you and a message recipient? The headers have it. (9 messages)
Odd http/ftp behavior — Several people have noticed problems accessing Web and FTP sites in the past several weeks: is the trouble caused by a Mac OS X update, or something else? (18 messages)
Audion Retired — Faced with the success of Apple’s free iTunes software, Panic has decided to discontinue work on their innovative music application Audion, making it a free download. (4 messages)
Information: torrent vs trickle — The original poster says it best: "We’re sitting with the grandest technology in human history to slice and dice data, and it JUST DOESN’T WORK EFFECTIVELY." What’s the best way to absorb and use information that arrives in our computers every day? (5 messages)
Setting up a secure FTP site on my Mac — You may know that Mac OS X can enable you to set up an FTP server, but what’s the best way to go about it? And is hosting from your Mac the best option? (6 messages)