Are you sitting down? Apple is switching to Intel processors, starting next year. Read on for our analysis. Multimedia news takes over the rest of this issue. First, Geoff Duncan covers the resolution of the iPod battery lawsuit and iPod recycling announcement, then Adam looks at the fuss surrounding QuickTime Pro 7, and Andrew Laurence wraps it all up with a look at the Squeezebox2 music player. In the news, QuickTime 7.0.1 fixes a security hole.
QuickTime 7.0.1 Fixes Security Hole — Apple has released QuickTime 7.0.1, a 26.6 MB download via Software Update. This update replaces the Quartz Composer plug-in, which was found to be capable of sending local data to an arbitrary Web location using an encoded URL. The new component prevents this from happening. QuickTime 7.0.1 supports Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later.
QuickTime 7.0.1 also includes unspecified bug fixes and allegedly improves compatibility with Apple’s Final Cut Studio. TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan discovered fixes for a couple of annoying QuickTime 7 problems on multi-channel audio interfaces: QuickTime 7.0.1 respects the user’s default stereo output pair (where version 7.0 sent stereo audio only to channels 1 and 2 – bummer if your speakers are connected to outputs 3 and 4!), and version 7.0.1 plays monophonic audio correctly. [JLC]
MathMagic Sponsoring TidBITS — We’re pleased to welcome our latest long-term sponsor, InfoLogic, a small company known for their powerful equation editor MathMagic. As anyone who has attempted to include even simple equations in published documents knows, creating high-quality equations for publications has historically been quite difficult, either in terms of actually creating the equations or producing attractive output. That’s been particularly true when trying to insert equations into traditional layout programs. MathMagic got its start as a QuarkXPress XTension; the company has since created the standalone applications MathMagic Personal Edition and MathMagic Pro Edition. The Pro Edition differentiates itself from the Personal Edition by offering high-end features like Color EPS export, and plug-ins that enable users to create equations directly within Adobe InDesign 2/CS and QuarkXPress 5/6 without going through an import/export process. The Personal Edition is instead designed for people who need to insert equations – exported into TeX, EPS, GIF, JPEG, or PICT format – into word processors, presentation programs, and graphics software. MathMagic Pro Edition is available for Mac OS X (and Windows), whereas MathMagic Personal Edition is available for Mac OS X, the classic Mac OS, and Windows. So, if you find yourself needing to publish equations, give MathMagic a try. You can download the full version of each program and use it up to 30 times in trial mode.
It’s great to see software of such utility to the scientific and engineering communities not only being made available for the Mac, but in the case of MathMagic, being made available first on the Mac, with Windows trailing behind. It’s a testament to the increasing strength of the Mac in these technical worlds. We’re glad to count InfoLogic among our sponsors, the list of which has also just been bolstered by the return of audio software maker Rogue Amoeba and distributor/reseller Dr. Bott. [ACE]
At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today, Steve Jobs dropped a bombshell on the Mac community by confirming rumors that the company will transition its computers from the PowerPC architecture to Intel processors by 2007. The news was leaked in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago and confirmed by CNet and the Wall Street Journal last week.
The reason? Power. Citing each company’s processor roadmaps beyond 2006, Jobs said that the PowerPC provides 15 "units of performance" per watt, while Intel’s processors will be able to offer 70 units per watt. Jobs also mentioned that they’ve been unable to get a PowerPC G5 processor that will run cool enough to put into a laptop, a long-standing sore point among PowerBook aficionados.
However, it’s important to note that the WWDC keynote was short on hard details: no specific hardware nor specific gigahertz targets were mentioned. Support for other hardware that Apple software depends heavily on, such as AltiVec, was also not addressed. However, you won’t be able to run out and buy any old Intel box and install Mac OS X, according to comments by Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller; Apple will restrict the operating system to Apple-sold Intel computers. It’s likely that these future Macs will be able to run Windows applications better than with today’s emulation software.
Jobs said that Apple has been co-developing an Intel-based version of Mac OS X for the last five years in order to keep its options open; every release of Mac OS X has been compiled in-house for Intel processors. During the WWDC keynote, Jobs demonstrated third-party applications such as Photoshop CS2 running on a 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 processor-based system under Mac OS X 10.4.1.
Apple plans to ship low-end Macs using Intel processors by this time next year, while higher-end systems for professionals will appear in 2007. Jobs specifically apologized to those who surely wished they could have a PowerBook G5 by now, so we wouldn’t be surprised to find a high-end laptop high on the development priority list.
DRM in the Chip — One aspect of this transition that could prove interesting, in all positive and negative connotations of the word, is the so-called "trusted computing" capabilities of Intel’s CPUs. Little has been done with them yet, but as we understand these capabilities, they’re designed to work with a Microsoft digital rights management (DRM) system. There’s no telling if or how they may play into Apple’s existing music or future video plans.
Making the Transition — Developers who use Xcode should be able to make minor changes for their programs to work with Intel processors. Compiled binary applications will be able to contain the processor-dependent code for both PowerPC and Intel chips, meaning that developers can release a single program for both types of Macs. Jobs said that more than half of current Apple developers use Xcode and another 20 percent were planning to start using it soon. Not surprisingly, he suggested that everyone else get on the bandwagon, too.
Jobs also discussed Rosetta, a binary translator that turns PowerPC code into code for Intel chips on the fly. While this kind of conversion has been used for some forms of emulation by other companies in the past, Jobs indicated that Rosetta is optimized enough to avoid comparisons with the often clunky and funky operation of Classic within Mac OS X. It should be a more seamless experience for Mac users, comparable to the PowerPC transition, when the vast majority of older 680×0 applications simply ran. Jobs demonstrated Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Office, and Quicken running in unmodified PowerPC-binary form using Rosetta. Of course, just because they run doesn’t guarantee that they will run well, especially for something like Photoshop, which is commonly used to benchmark processor speeds. However, it does signal to users that they don’t have pay for upgrades to all of their software, as many did with the Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X transition simply to run it on a new architecture.
Apple has a long history of carrying its older users on its back as it forges across a river dividing two architectures. The change from 680×0 to PowerPC was generally good – with exceptions – and Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X was a long, slow, but ultimately successful transition as developers produced applications that could run in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Even the addition of a 64-bit processor in the form of the PowerPC G5 produced relatively few problems.
Jobs also announced that Mac OS X 10.5 will be codenamed Leopard and ship in late 2006 or early 2007, around the same time as Microsoft Longhorn – just to heighten the comparison, one wagers.
Small Developer Crunch? The Intel processor transition is likely to affect smaller developers much more than larger ones. Most large software companies that create products for Mac OS X also have Windows versions. The code base can be largely identical. Smaller developers typically program for a single platform and may not have the financial or staff resources for the testing necessary.
But Apple made overtures to cater to this audience, which includes thousands of companies that currently release Mac software. Select and Premier members of Apple’s Developer Connection will be able to purchase a $999 Developer Transition Kit that comprises an Intel processor-based computer and preview releases of Mac OS X and Apple software. This system won’t be available to the general public, nor will it work like a normal consumer system, being geared for programming and testing. Interestingly, developers will have to return these Intel boxes by the end of 2006 – it’s a loan, not a purchase.
Too Hot to Handle? In the past, Intel chips ran hotter and required more power than comparable PowerPCs. But the company has learned a lot from tuning its Pentium 4M and Pentium M for laptops, and its new dual-core architecture that has the equivalent of two processors in a single integrated circuit package doesn’t double heat or power as it doubles computational performance. (Multi-core technology is apparently the near-term future of most processors, with IBM releasing a nine-core system called Cell.)
Beyond wattage figures, IBM and Intel had closed the gap on true computational measures, a previous bone of contention dubbed the "megahertz myth" when focusing on cycles per second instead of actual tasks completed. Intel has suffered a number of setbacks in the last year that have slowed their processor speed targets, but is still on track to outpace IBM dramatically in the future. IBM has had noticeable stumbles including delayed G5 deliveries last summer that pushed G5 iMacs back three months.
Gutting Sales? Technical issues aside, the real question is the reaction of consumers and professionals. Do customers respond to this announcement by embracing the current Macintosh platform more heavily, knowing there’s a steady uptick ahead for processor performance with what could be a relatively seamless transition that allows them to use current software? Or will hardware sales plummet as companies and individuals decide to wait for faster machines in a year or two? (We always suggest buying what you need when you need it; there’s invariably going to be something newer, better, and faster around the corner, and it’s silly to wait forever until they stop innovating.)
Apple has basically conceded that PowerPC G5 chips cannot be made cool enough to be used in laptops, which means that unless Freescale Semiconductor (Motorola’s spun-off chip division) can produce much faster PowerPC G4s, Apple will wind up releasing only modestly faster PowerBooks for a full two years, which could cost them quite a bit of the pro and speed-demon markets.
It’s likely that Apple’s roadmap shift to Intel will cause financial analysts and business writers to tell the public and institutions that Apple now is on a secure footing, no longer tied to a small fraction of a tiny part of IBM’s current revenue, but is rather tying its hopes on the core business of the world’s largest chipmaker. On the other hand, the stock market generally considers change to be a bad thing, and there’s a distinct tinge of defeat in switching CPUs (ignoring of course, that what makes the Mac different has always been the operating system, not the technical details of the hardware underpinnings).
Even more significant is that Windows XP and Longhorn will be facing head to head challenges with Mac OS X on what is likely to be highly comparable equipment. Running a native Intel Photoshop under Mac OS X versus Windows XP will reveal more about the efficiencies of Unix and Apple’s implementation than any of the apples to oranges (or Apples to Redmonds) tests yet performed.
Last week saw two significant developments regarding Apple’s now-iconic iPod music players: an Apple-sponsored recycling program designed to diminish the environmental impact of millions of iPods one day being landfilled, and a tentative settlement in a class action lawsuit over battery life in early iPod models.
Reduce, Re-use… and Replace! Effective immediately, users can take iPods they don’t want anymore to any U.S. Apple Store for free "environmentally friendly" disposal; anyone dropping off an iPod, iPod mini, or iPod photo will receive a 10 percent discount on the purchase of a new iPod. However, the 10 percent discount is only good that day – no saving a coupon and hoping an even cooler iPod ships next month – and, while Apple will presumably accept iPod shuffles for recycling, they don’t qualify for the 10 percent discount. Apple makes a point that iPods received in the U.S. will be processed domestically and no hazardous material will be shipped overseas. In the future, we hope Apple expands its recycling programs to products other than iPods – good candidates would be laptop batteries, monitors, and CPUs – and that the company makes product recycling available to customers internationally. It’s the same planet, after all.
Battery Charges Settled? Although you won’t see any word of it from Apple sources, on 12-May-05 Apple quietly agreed to a settlement of a class action lawsuit regarding battery life on older iPods. A California Superior Court judge still has to approve the deal on 25-Aug-05, although that’s expected to be a formality, and some iPod owners began receiving notice of the settlement last Thursday.
The terms cover first, second, and third generation iPods with a one-year warranty sold before 01-Jun-04 and which were advertised to play music for 8 hours on a single charge. Consumers who can show proof of purchase of an eligible iPod can receive a one-year extension of their iPod’s warranty. Consumers who can show proof of purchase and found their iPods either played music for less than 50 percent of the advertised time or that iPod batteries failed over time may:
- make a claim for a new iPod; or
- have their current iPod fixed by Apple; or
- receive a $50 credit for Apple products.
Although the settlement is estimated to apply to as many as 2 million iPod users, the proof-of-purchase requirement reduces Apple’s vulnerability a bit, since iPods purchased second-hand aren’t eligible. Under the agreement, Apple neither admits to any wrongdoing nor to any defect in the iPod; in fact, at least in public, Apple is sticking to the party line that iPods perform as advertised, so long as users practice good battery management.
Although Apple has considered QuickTime part of the Mac OS for many years, the company has also generated some additional revenue by selling QuickTime Pro for $30. This commercial version of QuickTime enhances the functionality of QuickTime Player by adding capabilities such as full-screen viewing (rather than restricting video to a clunky metal window), basic editing of QuickTime movies, and a variety of export options. Apple makes much of these capabilities and has pushed QuickTime Pro hard with nag dialogs in the free version of QuickTime Player over the years, though they’ve become less frequent in recent versions.
But QuickTime Pro is an odd duck aimed at very separate markets: some people buy it purely to be able to play movies at full screen, some use it to save movies from Web pages, and others rely on its movie editing and exporting capabilities. The one time I sprang for the $30 upgrade – to document how to convert movies exported from iPhoto into fast-start movies for the Web – I was unimpressed with QuickTime Pro’s ease-of-use, a problem exacerbated by a significant lack of documentation. Nonetheless, I presume QuickTime Pro is sufficiently useful to people more serious about video than I, but who don’t wish to pony up for more capable tools.
Nickeled & Dimed — With QuickTime 7, available for Panther and as part of Tiger, however, there’s a catch in the free/pay divide that hasn’t previously appeared. QuickTime Pro keys from QuickTime 6 are no longer honored; you must purchase QuickTime Pro again for QuickTime 7. Apple claims that this is due to QuickTime 7 containing royalty-bearing technologies; in other words, Apple has to pay other companies for each copy of QuickTime Pro, and is thus passing on the cost to you. This has been the case with the last several major versions of QuickTime.
What’s new is that a number of people have been taken aback by this need to pay for QuickTime Pro again because it comes as a surprise after installing Tiger; you’ve just bought Tiger, but as soon as you try to use QuickTime Player for something that requires QuickTime Pro, you learn that you have to spend another $30. Whether or not the charge is warranted by Apple’s need to pay royalties or development efforts (remember that QuickTime Pro isn’t part of Mac OS X, and thus its development costs theoretically need to be paid for in other ways), Apple could have done a better job alerting QuickTime Pro 6 users to the need to upgrade beforehand. Worse, QuickTime Player 7 now displays all the QuickTime Pro-only menu items as disabled, with a PRO badge, which may be a fine way to alert newcomers to the possibilities of QuickTime Pro, but only further irritates existing customers who previously paid for QuickTime Pro 6.
I think Apple has realized the annoyance here, which is why the QuickTime 7.0.1 update now clearly says: "Installation of QuickTime 7 will disable the QuickTime Pro functionality in prior versions of QuickTime, such as QuickTime 5 or QuickTime 6. If you proceed with this installation, you must purchase a new QuickTime 7 Pro key to regain QuickTime Pro functionality. After installation, visit www.apple.com/quicktime to purchase a QuickTime 7 Pro key." At least Apple is informing users ahead of time now; if only they could have done so more obviously with the Tiger upgrade as well.
Also frustrating is the fact that QuickTime 7 moves into the Pro feature set at least one previously free feature from QuickTime 6 – the capability to save a movie viewed in a Web browser through the QuickTime plug-in. Luckily, you can still Control-click the link to such a movie and save it to disk from the contextual menu that appears.
Remembrance of Things Past — I don’t believe you can downgrade to QuickTime 6.5.2 if you’re running Tiger, but those people who have upgraded to QuickTime 7.0 in Mac OS X 10.3.9 Panther can do so with the QuickTime 6.5.2 Reinstaller for Mac, which removes QuickTime 7 and restores 6.5.2. Unfortunately for those who upgraded knowingly to QuickTime 7.0 in the hope that it would improve their QuickTime experience, and then upgraded again to QuickTime 7.0.1, the reinstaller does not currently handle downgrading from 7.0.1. A thread on Apple’s QuickTime discussion board offers some suggestions, however, and if you manage to eradicate QuickTime 7.0.1 manually, you can use the full QuickTime 6.5.2 installer to reinstall. Again, all this works only if you’re still using Panther; Apple nowhere says that QuickTime 6.5.2 will work with Tiger.
<http://discussions.info.apple.com/webx? [email protected]@.68b103ac>
If you purchased QuickTime Pro only for its full-screen capabilities, you might check out the open-source MPlayer OS X, the Mac OS X version of the Movie Player for Linux. Along with a full screen option, it features a simple library feature and can reportedly play a variety of formats for which QuickTime lacks codecs.
Making Nice for the Movies — Back in January, at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Steve Jobs said that 2005 was the year of HD, meaning high-definition video. At the time, he was explicitly referring to new features in iMovie HD, iDVD 5, and Final Cut Express HD, but as the year continues to unfold, with iTunes 4.8 gaining additional capabilities to play video, and it becoming more difficult to copy already viewed video to your hard disk from a Web browser, it seems clear to me that Apple is setting the stage for a major video push later in 2005.
In a situation where Apple is selling downloadable movies via the iTunes Music Store, or letting people watch streaming movies via iTunes, or introducing a video-capable iPod, or using the Mac mini as the centerpiece of a home media theatre, the company has to be able to assure the media moguls of the Content Cartel that their movies will be "safe," whatever that actually means. So although it may seem foolish and petty (and indeed it is) to remove the capability to save a viewed movie to disk in QuickTime 7, I think Apple knows exactly what’s going on and is making such changes to present a better face to the companies who can threaten to withhold their digital content.
If you don’t believe me, just check out the sidebars on the QuickTime Pro page, one of which is entitled "Don’t Steal Movies." It’s a brilliant piece of work that in a few short sentences manages to:
- Plug QuickTime Pro’s capability to save your favorite content to your hard disk
- Imply that saving movies to your disk is equivalent to stealing from the movie studios (seems like a clear case of fair use to me)
- Point to the Creative Commons project as a source for material that you can legally cut, copy, and remix
If that’s not prettying up the place for the movie studios, I don’t know what is. It’s a shame that Apple feels the need to reduce the multimedia capabilities of the Macintosh (a long-running trend with iTunes ever since the launch of the iTunes Music Store) while simultaneously encouraging everyone to become a content creator via iMovie and iDVD and GarageBand. Sooner or later, I fear this inconsistency will come home to roost.
When it comes to playing computer-based digital media in the home theater, there are generally two types of solutions: local playback and network streaming. The local playback camp, exemplified by Windows XP Media Edition and MythTV, view the computer as a full-fledged audio-visual component, with library storage and playback wrapped up in one device. Problems develop, however, in crafting management and playback software (e.g. iTunes) that handles the multitude of media types one might have, with an interface that passes the couch test; they generally chase TiVo’s elegant functionality, and they generally fail. Along the way the computer becomes a single-purpose appliance and the user loses the ability to manipulate his data in a meaningful manner.
Conversely, the network streaming camp leverages the desktop computer’s historical strengths of data storage and management and ships the media over the network; this leaves the playback device free to concentrate on high-quality playback, effective interface, and reasonable remote controls.
Streaming devices are increasing in popularity, with a number of entries available from manufacturers such as D-Link, Linksys, Buffalo Networks, and a host of others. These devices stream audio, video, and pictures from a desktop computer, but to date these all-in-one devices remain jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. Worse for a Mac user, their server software runs only under Windows. Many devices use technology licensed from Syabas’s iBox platform; this in itself isn’t a problem, but the fact that so many vendors source their solutions from the same supplier indicates a general lack of industry imagination. El Gato’s EyeHome (itself a Syabas licensee) is the only all-in-one device developed and marketed especially for the Mac platform. (See "EyeHome: So Close, Yet So Far" in TidBITS-741.)
Amidst this chaos, the folks at Slim Devices forklift their own future with their third streaming music player, the Squeezebox2, and its software counterpart, SlimServer 6.0. The result is an effective, surprisingly flexible and configurable digital music player for the home stereo.
(Momma’s Got A) Squeezebox — Like its predecessors (the SLIMP3 and original Squeezebox; both of which I’ve previously reviewed for TidBITS), the Squeezebox2 is a svelte black network music player, roughly the size of a VHS tape. It attaches to your network via 10/100 Mbps Ethernet; if you opt for the wireless version it also connects to 802.11b or 802.11g networks and can act as a wireless bridge. Stereo connections come via analog RCA jacks, or digital audio S/PDIF connections with either coaxial or optical jacks. A headphone mini-jack is on the right side of the unit. All units include a stereo RCA cable and a serviceable IR remote control.
On the front, an exceptionally bright and readable vacuum fluorescent display provides Squeezebox2’s sole face and interface. Where past offerings from Slim Devices used a text display of 40 x 2 characters, Squeezebox2 uses a display of 320 x 32 pixels. Those pixels display lovely proportional fonts that are easily read from the couch, as well as eye candy such as EQ displays, progress bars, and even games.
The AC wall adapter is worth noting. Yes, the wall wart. Slim Devices includes a Unifive switching AC adapter that is freakishly small. Measuring only 33 mm x 23.5 mm and only 45.5 mm high, it’s so small that it doesn’t impede other power sockets. It’s nice to see vendors recognize that power strips exist.
Overture — To stream digital content to the Squeezebox2, you need to download and install the free SlimServer software disk image for Mac OS X from slimdevices.com. Run the included installer, choose whether the preference pane should be available for just the current user or the whole computer, and click Install. The installer completes in a few seconds, after which it opens the new SlimServer preference pane in System Preferences; choose whether the SlimServer automatically starts at boot or user login (or not at all), and click Start. By default, SlimServer processes the contents of your iTunes Library, and begins serving its contents to eager players. (SlimServer is also available in a binary installer for Windows, an RPM package for Linux, or Perl source code for any other platform you might have in mind.)
Once the Squeezebox2 is connected to your stereo system, power up the player to begin its configuration for your network. A delightfully helpful wizard asks you to specify an Ethernet or wireless network (WPA Personal and 64/128-bit WEP encryption are supported) and DHCP or a static IP number. Once on the network, the player finds your SlimServer via Bonjour (formerly known as Rendezvous), at which point you’re ready to play music.
Gettin’ In Tune — Using the arrows on the remote control, you navigate Squeezebox2’s menus to select and play music. The default menu list includes Browse Music, Search Music, Browse Playlists, and Internet Radio. Submenu options for browsing and searching among Albums, Artists, Genres and Songs are available, and can be elevated to the menu’s top level. To search for music, you enter letters on the remote’s T9 input keys, just like text messaging on a cell phone. To play a song (or an album, or an artists’ body of work, or an entire genre, or an Internet radio station, or a playlist), navigate to that item and press Play. The selected item is placed in SlimServer’s Now Playing queue, and the music starts.
The Now Playing queue deserves special attention. Most music players play only the selected item, but Now Playing functions like a stack of records on a record player – you can keep adding items to the queue. To do so, select another item and press Add. The flexibility of Now Playing’s queue is freeing, allowing one to slice and dice the music collection to match one’s whims. The experience is more fluid than building a static playlist in iTunes, and more open to whimsy than a Smart Playlist. And you can do it with the remote control, while sitting on the couch, while the computers are in another room.
Squeezebox2’s analog audio quality is, to my ears, quite good. Unlike other digital music players I’ve tried, I detected no flaws in the Squeezebox2’s sound.
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere — If the Squeezebox2’s two lines of text aren’t to your liking, you can use SlimServer’s Web interface. It runs on port 9000 of the computer hosting SlimServer, and advertises itself via Bonjour. Through this interface, you can start, pause, shuffle, clear, populate, and re-order the contents of the Now Playing queue. If multiple players are on the network, you can sync them to the same Now Playing stream, or control separate streams for each player. The Web interface offers advanced configuration options for the SlimServer itself, such as: whether to use the iTunes or MoodLogic music libraries; the location of your music library; supported music formats; Internet radio subscriptions; and RSS feeds. While the Squeezebox2 displays only two lines of text, SlimServer’s Web interface is limited only by the size of your browser window, making it much easier to use the search feature and browse through large lists.
Speaking of music formats, the options are dizzying. Squeezebox2 natively plays the AIFF, FLAC, MP3 and WAV formats. Other supported formats include AAC, Apple Lossless, Ogg Vorbis, Shorten, and Windows Media; these formats depend on the installation of other software, such as QuickTime on Mac OS X or Windows (AAC and Apple Lossless), or Windows Media on Windows (WMA), and are streamed to the player as FLAC data. Unfortunately, songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store are not supported, as Apple does not allow other vendors to participate in their FairPlay digital rights management scheme.
You can mix and match music formats. SlimServer imports information from iTunes on your MP3, AAC, and AIFF files into its own music cache, but what if you also have music stored in FLAC, or your spouse uses Windows Media? Just point SlimServer’s "Music Folder" field to wherever those files are stored, and click Rescan. SlimServer merges the two sources into its cache, and you can gleefully play music regardless of its digital format. (The SlimServer must be installed on a Windows computer for Windows Media compatibility.)
Many companies talk about embracing open source, but Slim Devices puts their money where their mouth is. SlimServer is free open source software, written in Perl and licensed via the GNU Public License (GPL). Astoundingly, you don’t need the Squeezebox2 to sample Slim Server’s goodness. First, the Now Playing audio stream is available to any MP3 software that can play an Internet stream; just point the player to "stream.mp3" on your SlimServer. Second, the included SoftSqueeze is a Java-based software music player that emulates the Squeezebox2’s interface; you can control Now Playing and listen to music – with the laptop on the patio! – while using the Squeezebox2 interface. To quote Chuck Berry’s Cadillac salesman, "No money down."
SlimServer is backward compatible with past players from Slim Devices, within those players’ hardware capabilities. (SLIMP3, for instance, plays only MP3 streams.)
The Seeker — In addition to playing the music stored on your hard drive, SlimServer streams Internet radio to your player from the Live365, radioio.com, or SHOUTcast services. Live365 requires a free login account, which you input into the Live365 configuration panel in SlimServer’s Web interface. Slim Devices Picks offers their own suggestions from the various services, much like the iTunes celebrity playlists. At this writing, your SlimServer computer must be running in order for Squeezebox2 to play Internet radio. An upcoming feature, SqueezeNetwork, erases this requirement and turns the Squeezebox2 into a pure Internet radio player. SqueezeNetwork is currently available in SlimServer’s beta builds, and will presumably be rolled into a future SlimServer version.
Earlier, I mentioned RSS feeds, a feature that might seem out of place in a music player. However, Squeezebox2 is also a display device with a network connection, and it can certainly display other information. To this end, SlimServer includes an RSS reader that can be displayed on demand or configured as a screensaver. Six feeds are supplied by default, but you can add or modify them to your heart’s content.
SlimServer has a plug-in API, and in fact the included RSS reader, Internet radio stations, and Date/Time screensaver are all plug-ins. Dozens of other plug-ins are available from third-party developers and cover a wide range of functions. Plug-ins for news feeds, stock quotes, weather, and TV listings abound, as one might imagine. There’s a plug-in that updates the play count in iTunes, or one that sets your iChat status to match SlimServer’s current song. (Want to read your Eudora email on the Squeezebox2? There’s a plug-in for that, too.)
Underture — In reading this review, you might ask, "Dude, where’s my AirTunes?" Apple’s AirTunes, the technology for streaming audio to the AirPort Express, is an extension of iTunes, which might be a feature or a detriment, depending on your point of view. AirTunes can be controlled only at the keyboard of the computer running iTunes, but any computer with a Web browser can control SlimServer’s Now Playing queue. AirTunes only broadcasts to a single AirPort Express unit, but SlimServer can broadcast as many streams as your network will allow. While SlimServer handles FLAC, Ogg, or Windows Media formats, only AirTunes plays music from iTunes Music Store.
Squeezebox2 is a superb music player, and with SlimServer it offers a nearly complete solution for playing digital music on the home stereo. It’s a great solution, so long as your musical life isn’t tied to the iTunes Music Store.
Squeezebox2 costs $250 for the Ethernet model, or $300 for wireless. It is available in black or platinum finish and can be purchased directly from Slim Devices, or a variety of Internet and brick-and-mortar retailers.
[Andrew Laurence offers in-depth Mac mini reviews and analysis at modmini.com, which has published a remarkably similar review of Squeezebox2.]
Take Control Tiger Ebooks Pass 10,000 Sales — Last week we hit our second milestone with our Take Control ebooks about Tiger: 10,000 copies sold. Amusingly, the 10,000th copy sold went to Prudence Holliger of Issaquah, Washington, who we met years ago through the Seattle Downtown Business Users Group MUG. Thanks to Prudence and the thousands of other people who helped make our efforts to provide early documentation about Tiger worthwhile!
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
Reliable scanner vendor — Some people are running into problems with scanner vendors’ software under Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, prompting a move to the all-purpose VueScan software. (12 messages)
Reading Software Licences — Does anyone actually read shrink wrap software licenses? What happens if you do? (8 messages)
Tiger’s Preview annoyances — Tiger’s new version of Preview has some new capabilities, but it also seems to have lost some features. (4 messages)
Spotlight enabling the need for filing — Readers discuss whether Spotlight search technology could eventually do away with having to create filenames and specify locations for files. (3 messages)
Glenn Fleishman hits Slashdot! TidBITS contributing editor Glenn Fleishman wrote an article at his weblog wifinetnews.com about a Seattle coffeehouse that shuts off its free Wi-Fi service. After it got picked up by slashdot.org, readers wonder how his server handled the load, and share their opinions about free wireless Internet access. (5 messages)
USB 2 hub for Tiger — USB hubs are notoriously scattershot when it comes to quality, as one reader discovers. Fortunately, other models are recommended to provide USB 2.0 speeds. (3 messages)
Norton Utilities Incompatible with 10.4 — Symantec states on its Web site that Symantec SystemWorks and North Utilities will not be updated for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger compatibility. (1 message)