Practicality reigns this week, as Will Porter explains how to upgrade elderly iMacs to run modern Mac OS X software, Matt Neuburg looks at using DEVONagent to extract relevant content from the list of links delivered by Internet search engines, and Jeff Carlson points at a pair of utilities that help locate your cursor when you’re using a big screen or giving a presentation. In the news, iPhoto 5.0.1 fixes bugs and we look at a neat info-graphic that gives a visual overview of Apple’s product line.
iPhoto 5.0.1 Fixes Annoying Bugs
iPhoto 5.0.1 Fixes Annoying Bugs — Apple last week released iPhoto 5.0.1 via Software Update to address a variety of bugs in the company’s photo management software. In particular, iPhoto 5.0.1 improves the process of upgrading iPhoto 4 libraries, makes dragging of albums into folders work better, solves some crashing problems with books, and addresses issues with importing of MPEG-4 movies. The update is 2.7 MB and Apple is recommending it for all iPhoto 5 users. [ACE]
Apple Product Line Info-Graphic
Apple Product Line Info-Graphic — With the Mac mini, Apple further expanded the old Macintosh model matrix that had once cleanly separated desktop from laptop, consumer from professional. The matrix, which Steve Jobs used to show how the iMac and iBook fit into Apple’s product line, first grew with the short-lived Power Mac G4 Cube and later with the eMac. Technically, the Mac mini probably fits into the desktop consumer Mac slot, along with the iMac and eMac. But with the iPod becoming such an important part of Apple’s strategy as well, the old product matrix is a less relevant tool for visualizing Apple’s approach to the market.
Although it’s not from Apple, a new info-graphic has appeared that aims to explain Apple’s full product line of Macs and iPods. Created by Paul Nixon, the "Apple’s Tipping Point: Macs for the Masses" graphic offers an Edward Tufte-inspired view of Apple’s current products, complete with prices and suggested market niches. One can quibble with some of Paul’s explanations and discussion, but as a quick way to understand Apple’s product line, it’s well worth a look. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: photoprinto Winners
DealBITS Drawing: photoprinto Winners — Congratulations to Delia Lamb of gcsf.com, Dale of comcast.net, and Norbert C. Ballauer of cox.net, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of SmileOnMyMac’s photoprinto, worth $29.95. Even if you didn’t win, you can save $5 off the purchase price of photoprinto using the third link below; this offer is open to all TidBITS readers. Thanks to the 856 people who entered, extra thanks to the 89 people who entered after being referred to DealBITS, and for those of you who subscribed after entering DealBITS, welcome to TidBITS! Keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings, and remember that telling your friends, family, and colleagues about new drawings is a great way to increase your chances of receiving a prize; over 10 percent of our entries this time came from people who learned about DealBITS from a friend. [ACE]
Tools We Use: PinPoint and Mouseposé
At Macworld Expo last month, Peachpit Press included a presentation area as part of their booth. In addition to letting authors like me demonstrate techniques found in our books, the area was used by Apple and the National Association of Photoshop Professionals for hands-on training sessions. It sported a Power Mac G5 hooked up to a fairly large projector that showed the Mac’s screen large enough for people to see.
The problem with setups like this is that it’s sometimes difficult to follow the mouse pointer as the presenter performs actions. In this case, it was often easier for me to take a step to the left and point out some iMovie interface elements using my hands, but of course then I wasn’t using the computer, so nothing was happening on screen. The problem is exacerbated on much larger screens, especially when demonstrating applications (such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Photoshop) that have a plethora of windows, palettes, and other interface elements. In the past, presenters would often move the mouse pointer in circles to highlight an element – leading, at least in my case, to tired eyeballs trying to track the swirling cursor.
PinPoint — This year, however, the folks who set up the presentation Mac added a tiny detail that made it twice as easy to follow along: a small red circle surrounding the mouse pointer at all times, courtesy of MacChampion’s PinPoint 2.1. This little Mac OS X utility lets you change the size, color, transparency, and shape of the cursor highlight; in addition to the seven built-in shapes, you can download others such as arrows or even Halloween images from the company’s Web site. You can set it to always display, or show up after a set amount of time to locate it easily when you step away from your computer. PinPoint 2.1 costs $10 normally, but is available for free to visually impaired persons (though the free version cannot import new highlight shapes); it’s a 1.7 MB download.
Mouseposé — If you don’t need to give presentations, but get frustrated when your mouse pointer disappears (darn those dual 30-inch Apple Cinema Displays!), another simple utility that can help is Boinx Software’s Mouseposé (that’s "mouse-po-zay" with an accented E at the end). When you hit a function key, this application dims the screen except for a circular area around the mouse pointer. You can change the size of the circle, as well as the opacity and color used to mask the rest of the screen. The effect stays on for a certain amount of time, or until you manually turn it off.
One disadvantage of Mouseposé is that you can only choose a function key as a trigger, which makes it a little more awkward on laptops or for people who launch applications using their F-keys. It’s also not as useful for presentations when you need to see the screen as a whole (though setting the opacity at its lowest setting is still functional, even if the screen is slightly darker overall). Still, Mouseposé is simple, effective, and is a free 255K download; it requires Mac OS X 10.3 or higher.
DEVONagent Rushes In Where Google Fears to Tread
As I keep telling my mother when she doesn’t know or can’t remember a fact: "No problem, this is why heaven gave you the Internet!" Isn’t it great? You don’t need a memory; the Internet is a giant encyclopedia. No matter what you want to know, someone, somewhere, has been nutty enough to be extremely interested in it and to have written it up in excruciating detail. And it’s just sitting there, waiting for you to find it.
But how? There’s the rub. Finding facts on the Internet is not easy. Google is nice (and don’t you wish you’d bought stock?), but what it gives you is just a list of links. Basically, Google alone doesn’t solve your problem unless the first two or three links happen to consist precisely of a complete discussion of exactly the question you had in mind, which rarely happens. Instead, Google just confronts you with a completely new task, namely, to start visiting all those links and perusing them, with hand and eye and brain, hunting for the information you want.
The truth is that when you have a question, what you want is not a list of links; what you want is content, and in particular, content that answers your question. What if you had an application that provided exactly that, by taking the second step for you? Using a search engine, it would perform the search, then visit all the top links, download the content, and filter that content by relevance and index it so that you could find the particular facts you were looking for, quickly and easily.
That is what DEVONagent does. The recent advent of version 1.5 is a good excuse to write about DEVONagent, but the fact is, I’ve been meaning to mention this wonderful program for a long time – ever since I first tried it, to learn the answers to questions like these: "Prior to the artificial revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in post-War Israel, when did Hebrew go extinct as a living vernacular?" and "What’s the story behind the Lisa Della Casa / George London recording of Richard Strauss’s ‘Arabella’?" In both cases I ended up learning exactly what I wanted to know, immediately, and I knew instantly that this program was a keeper.
Way and Means — The first few times I used DEVONagent, I didn’t even read the manual: I just started it up, did a search, and was amazed. If you do read the manual, you learn that DEVONagent is full of options. When you perform a search, you use what’s called a "search set," which is simply a collection of instructions for how the search is to be performed. These instructions involve such things as: What search engine(s) should DEVONagent use? (DEVONagent comes with lots of plug-ins that know how to interact with standard search engines and information sites such as Google, Yahoo, dictionaries, Wikipedia, and so forth.) How many results should we gather? Should we also follow links in the resulting content? Should DEVONagent "intelligently" filter out irrelevant or repeated material? Should we look for some particular kind of content, such as downloadable binaries, or movies? You can also, or instead, specify particular Web sites where DEVONagent should look. In this way, DEVONagent also functions as a reader of news feeds (DEVONagent understands RSS and so forth) or as a Web crawler.
In all probability, you won’t even attempt to configure a search set; you’ll just pick one from the pop-up menu in the search field, enter some search terms, and press the Start button. Let’s say you picked "Internet (Fast Search)" and your query is "formation of snow crystals". After a while, DEVONagent finishes the search, and you are presented with two panels of results.
The Pages panel lists all the found pages, ranked by relevancy, much like a set of Google results. The difference is that clicking a page listing shows you summaries of all relevant sentences or paragraphs from the content of that page, immediately. Thus you can quickly peruse the found pages to see which one looks promising. However, I almost never do this; I use the Digest panel instead.
The Digest panel lists "topics," which are keywords used often in the content results, ranked by frequency. This is where it gets interesting. When you click on a topic – or when you enter search terms of your own – you are shown a text digest of the actual content of the relevant pages, in order of relevance. Each text digest is several paragraphs long; it may well contain the very information you’re after. Even if it doesn’t, the text digest ends with a link to the Web page so you can go there – and the digest is full enough so that you’ll know whether you want to go there.
Your Web browser is DEVONagent itself, and within it you can navigate between digest links without returning to DEVONagent’s main window; especially noteworthy is the "See Also" drawer, which lists the related found pages with their relevancy rankings. Another nice feature is the "objects" drawer, which lists items within the current page by type: all links, for example, or all images, all email addresses, and so on. (I don’t understand why all browsers don’t work this way; on the other hand, it’s a pity that DEVONagent doesn’t do tabbed browsing.) You can also archive a page for later study, or send it off to DEVONthink for even more advanced indexing and cross-reference.
In my case, I clicked the topic "snowflakes," I read the digest for the first entry, I went there in the browser, and I never came back – it was Kenneth Libbrecht’s astounding SnowCrystals.com, which shot the next hour completely out of my day.
Note that, with the rather clumsy query I originally entered, I would probably never have found this page using Google; it’s there, but not on the first page, and not with a promising-looking listing. Thus DEVONagent, with its indexing, its intelligent relevance rankings, and its digest display, completely compensated for my somewhat infelicitous initial search construction. And that’s the point: time after time, DEVONagent tells you what you really wanted to know, even if you didn’t realize you wanted to know it.
Conclusions — Whatever you want to know, some kind soul has probably written you a long and detailed letter telling you all about it. Unfortunately, that letter has been purloined; it’s hiding in plain sight, amidst all the other Internet content clamoring for your attention. DEVONagent searches intelligently so that you don’t have to, and presents the results with crystal clarity, slicing through the murk of the Internet, showing you just what you wanted to know. This version has been cleaned and polished, with tremendous attention to detail; DEVONagent is now stunningly straightforward and easy to use, and the underlying technology is just brilliant.
DEVONagent has a number of features I haven’t even mentioned, such as scheduled searches, and scriptability via AppleScript; using these, it could be part of some newshound’s regular automated workflow. The best way to appreciate the program is to download the 2.5 MB installer and evaluate it for yourself. DEVONagent is resource-intensive while it’s at work, so a broadband Internet connection is a must, and a fairly peppy computer is helpful too. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther is recommended but not required (10.2.7 is the minimum system). The price is $35.
Upgrading an Old iMac to Mac OS X
Just before Christmas, with a little help from my friends in the TidBITS community, I upgraded two old iMacs to Mac OS X. When Jaguar was first released, I purchased the Mac OS X Family Pack (5 installations) with these machines in mind, but I had put off upgrading the iMacs for a couple of reasons. Somewhere I had picked up the idea that it is possible to kill the iMac if you don’t upgrade the iMac’s firmware properly before installing Mac OS X. I was also afraid that Panther would run so slowly on a G3-based iMac that I would regret having installed it. Luckily, it turns out that my fears were entirely unfounded. Both upgraded machines run just fine. As Geoff Duncan pointed out in TidBITS a while back, while the firmware upgrade is critically important, it’s not hard to do it right. Anyway, I am here to report that you don’t have to be an expert to upgrade an old iMac yourself, and when you’re done, your iMac will have a new lease on life.
The two iMacs I upgraded were both 2001-vintage slot-loading models: a 350 MHz model with 192 MB of RAM (the original 64 MB plus a 128 MB upgrade DIMM), and a 400 MHz model with only the original 64 MB of RAM. These two machines presented somewhat different problems. The first machine, running Mac OS 9.0, was sitting in my office gathering dust; its hard disk contained nothing that needed to be saved. With this one, I wanted to run Mac OS X simply so it could run the Mac OS X applications I rely on everywhere else. The other machine, running Mac OS 9.1, belongs to my mother, and I wanted to upgrade it partly so she could use modern applications like iPhoto and Mail, and so I could more easily support her when she had problems. This machine’s hard disk stored all her files (email, photos, some word processing) and one important Mac OS 9-only application, Stitch Painter 2. I was pleased to learn from a rep for Cochenille, Stitch Painter’s developer, that a Mac OS X-native version is in the works, but because it’s not expected for many months, I decided that keeping Classic on this machine would be necessary. And although I didn’t download it until the end of the process, before doing anything, I also confirmed that a Mac OS X driver exists for her HP combination fax-copier-printer. (Drivers for this printer do not appear to be included with the Panther installation.)
In what follows, I have stuck fairly close to what I did with my own two machines. Before you set out to upgrade your own iMac, make sure you spot the differences between your machine and those I upgraded, and do a bit of research yourself to make sure you aren’t missing something important to your own situation.
What I Needed — Apple recommends that machines running Mac OS X have at least 128 MB of RAM. I knew that more would be better, so I ordered 512 MB DIMMs from my favorite memory vendor, Crucial Technology ($103 each on 04-Jan-05), one for each iMac. These iMacs have two memory slots, so I knew I’d be able to use both the new 512 MB module and an old module, and end up with a decent amount of RAM. [Editor’s note: Ironically, I was also upgrading an old iMac to Mac OS X over Christmas, but my grandparents’ iMac was a tray-loading 333 MHz model (Rev. D), and apparently only some models of that iMac can see a 256 MB DIMM in the top slot, whereas others are limited to a 128 MB DIMM. I lucked out, so my grandparents’ iMac ended up with 288 MB of RAM, which turned out to be plenty for their Mac OS X needs. -Adam]
I also had to figure out what version of the iMac firmware my machines needed. At first, I found the article on Apple’s Web site a bit confusing, but with the help of Apple’s System Profiler, a Mac OS 9 utility present on both of my machines, I was able to determine current firmware version and also the processor speed of each machine. The processor speed helped me find the right row in the Apple chart for my machines. Both of my iMacs needed to be upgraded to firmware version 4.1.9. Your iMac may need a different firmware version, or its firmware may already be up to date, so be sure to research your own situation carefully.
I discovered that the 4.1.9 firmware updater wouldn’t work on my iMac because it was running Mac OS 9.0 and the firmware updater requires 9.1 or 9.2. Lucky for me, I’m a packrat and had the box for Mac OS 9.1 handy. Even if I couldn’t find the 9.1 CD, I could have downloaded the 71 MB Mac OS 9.1 upgrade from Apple.
The last thing required for the upgrade process was time. It took several hours to perform each of these upgrades. My iMac had to be upgraded twice (Mac OS 9.0 to 9.1, then 9.1 to Mac OS X). My mom’s iMac didn’t need the 9.1 installation, but I did spend some time backing up her files and cleaning out some other stuff.
Step by Step — Once I had collected all the ingredients, I proceeded with the recipe as follows. Note that the sequence of the steps here is important.
BACKUP DATA AND RECORD SETTINGS. One of these machines had no important files on it, and I was content to lose everything on the hard disk as a result of the Mac OS X installation. But the other machine (my mother’s) did have valuable files, so backing up was the first step. I enabled file sharing on this iMac, then copied its files over the LAN to my PowerBook G4. (As it turned out, no files were lost during the upgrade process on this machine, but I don’t perform even simple updates without backing up. The last thing I wanted to do was explain to my mom that I’d lost all her knitting patterns!)
SAVE IMPORTANT PASSWORDS AND SETTINGS. I talked to my mother to make sure she had a record of information that would be needed after the upgrade: account names and passwords for her Internet access provider and various Web sites she used to do banking, buy groceries online, etc.
UPGRADE TO MAC OS 9.1. As I mentioned above, I had to do this on my iMac because the firmware update requires 9.1. My mom’s iMac was already running 9.1, so I didn’t have to do this on her machine.
UPDATE THE FIRMWARE. I downloaded the firmware update from Apple, read the instructions, and followed them carefully. The only tricky part here was that the firmware updater asked me to perform a maneuver I’d never performed before: holding down the programmer’s button on the side of the iMac while powering the machine back on and then waiting for a long alert sound (more of a toot than a beep) before letting go. I recommend that you print the instructions out and do a dry run of the process to make sure you understand what buttons you are supposed to press and when.
INSTALL MORE RAM. This involved opening the back of the iMac, removing the smaller memory module completely, moving the larger module into slot #2, and placing the new module into slot #1. (If you place the iMac face down on a clean cloth, the #1 slot will be the upper slot as you peer into the upgrade area.) When I finished the upgrades, my iMac had 640 MB of RAM (512 plus 128) and my mom’s had 576 (512 plus 64). I wish my hands were a bit smaller, because the iMac doesn’t give you much room to move. And I was confused for a few minutes during one of the installations, because I was trying to insert the new module upside down. But otherwise, upgrading memory in an iMac is straightforward and the only "tool" required is a coin to unlock the iMac’s upgrade panel. Keys here: Wash your hands first, work in a well-lighted place, be patient, discharge static from your body, don’t touch anything inside the iMac except the catches on the memory modules and the plastic edges of the modules themselves, and remember which side is up when you put a new module into the slot. In short, follow the instructions at the first link below or as provided with the memory module. [Editors note: It appears that installing RAM in an older iMac is more involved, but I too found it straightforward after following Apple’s instructions at the second link below. -Adam]
INSTALL MAC OS X 10.3. On one machine I did an "Erase and Install". On the other machine, I installed Mac OS X over Mac OS 9 and the existing files. Because neither iMac has a large hard disk, I performed a custom install in both cases and told the installer not to install unneeded language modules. For a bit of good general advice on performing Mac OS X upgrades and updates, I recommend Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther" ebook.
UPDATE CLASSIC TO MAC OS 9.2.1. I didn’t install Classic on my iMac at all, but I did keep Mac OS 9 on my mom’s machine, which was running 9.1 originally. The 9.2.1 upgrade provides better compatibility between Classic and Mac OS X. The CD for this installation was in the box for one of the earlier versions of Mac OS X; you can download it from Apple; or you can use the Software Update control panel in Mac OS 9 to download and install it.
8. UPDATE MAC OS X TO 10.3.7. I ran Software Update (from the Apple menu) and installed all the appropriate updates to take each machine from the original 10.3 to 10.3.7. Software Update also updated many of the Apple applications such as Safari, Mail, and iPhoto. I had to do this a couple times; apparently Software Update can’t perform all the updates at once. For some advice on using Software Update, take a look at a recent article on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball site.
RECONFIGURE. I provided the Mac OS X Network preference pane with the info needed by each iMac to connect to the Internet.
10. UPDATE DRIVERS, APPLICATION SOFTWARE, TRANSFER DATA. On my mom’s iMac, I downloaded and installed the Mac OS X driver for her all-in-one HP printer. I moved her old data into her user’s Documents folder in Mac OS X, and I imported all her old photos into iPhoto. I was also able to import her old Internet Explorer bookmarks into Safari. When it was all done, I tested both machines online and also ran a few applications such as iPhoto and Safari.
Merry Christmas — Everything works great! It was almost like getting a new iMac for Christmas. I had been toying with the idea of buying processor upgrades or larger hard disks for these machines, but now I don’t think I’ll bother. (If you want to go beyond simply upgrading the operating system, see the following article from Macworld online, which explains how to upgrade both memory and the hard disk on an old iMac.) I haven’t tried editing video on either machine and don’t plan to, but for email, the Web, iPhoto, and the few other applications I intended to run on these machines, everything seems very good. I’m mainly sorry I waited so long to upgrade these elderly iMacs to Mac OS X.
[William Porter is a former classics professor who, in 1998, gave up academic tenure to pursue "other interests," including developing database applications. An Associate Member of the FileMaker Solutions Alliance, Will is currently working on a book about FileMaker Pro 7 for No Starch Press.]
PayBITS: Do you have an aging iMac in need of updating? If William’s
article helped you out, onsider sending him a few bucks via PayBITS!
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Take Control News/07-Feb-05
The Take Control updates keep coming, and this week’s installment, the 1.1 version of "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups" is a particularly useful update that’s well worth the free download for existing customers and makes the $10 price even more worthwhile for those who still need to establish a solid backup strategy.
"Take Control of Mac OS X Backups" Updated to 1.1 — The 1.1 update to Joe Kissell’s ebook about Mac OS X Backups makes it even easier than before to figure out how to set up a personalized, sensible backup system that works. In particular, the update adds a page-long table that gives at-a-glance comparisons of different backup strategies (low-cost, easy, most effective), and makes specific recommendations for each strategy. Beyond that, readers will find more details about Retrospect and RsyncX, and improved coverage of topics including Internet backup services, optical media and newer SuperDrive formats, along with new utilities that promise to partition disks without requiring reformatting. Overall, the ebook has grown by 8 pages, to 103 pages. If you already own the 1.0 version, click the Check for Updates button on the first page to download your free update. [ACE]
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/07-Feb-05
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
Networked hard drives — Got spare hard drives laying around? Some new products help you put them onto your network without requiring a computer as a host. (3 messages)
Transferring Large Files via Email — Following Adam’s article about using YouSendIt to transfer large files via email, readers chime in with their experiences using Skype and iChat. (3 messages)
Control a PowerBook through a KVM switch — Use a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch to share components between a PowerBook and another computer. (5 messages)
Not impressed with new PowerBooks? Setting aside the fantasy of Apple announcing PowerPC G5-based PowerBooks, some readers think the newest speed-bump revision of Apple’s professional laptop line lack excitement. (12 messages)
Network control of many Macs — A presentation in a school computer lab prompts the question: can one control what’s displayed on all the Macs? Yes! Read on for several intriguing solutions. (6 messages)