This week’s issue brings a potpourri of Mac news, including Adam’s coverage of an iPod infestation of the biological sort (Monomorium destructor, to be precise). Adam also notes how you can add a USB-to-Ethernet adapter to a Mac using new open source drivers. Mark Anbinder looks briefly at Google Talk, and Jeff Carlson follows up last week’s Mac to School article with some software suggestions for students. Glenn Fleishman resolves a problem with AirPort preferred network listings in upgraded versions of Tiger and turns to Flashblock to eliminate Flash-based ads. Finally, we note Safari updates, FileMaker Pro 8, the 2nd annual Mac Networkers Retreat, and a Math+Magic DealBITS drawing.
Safari Updates for Panther & Tiger
Safari Updates for Panther & Tiger — Apple has released updates to its Safari Web browser, which the company says improve support for third-party Web applications, make Safari more stable, and improve Web site compatibility. We’d love to offer more specific information, but Apple’s release notes (as usual) are woefully terse. However, the company has released the Safari update in two forms: Safari Update 2.0.1 for users running Mac OS X 10.4.2 Tiger (4.5 MB), and Safari Update 1.3.1 (3.8 MB) for users running Mac OS X 10.3.9 Panther. (The appropriate software should also be available via Software Update.) Despite the paucity of detail, it’s nice to see Apple making good on its intention to provide important updates for the Safari engine under Panther as well as Tiger, at least for a time. [GD]
FileMaker 8 Adds Features, Retains File Format
FileMaker 8 Adds Features, Retains File Format — FileMaker, Inc. today took the wraps off FileMaker 8, the latest version of its flagship desktop database product. Long-time FileMaker users will be happy to learn FileMaker 8 files are backward compatible with FileMaker 7, the company’s recent major overhaul of the venerable product (see William Porter’s review in TidBITS-721). They may also be happy to see FileMaker 8 offers built-in PDF and Excel spreadsheet export capabilities, making it simpler to exchange data with Excel and other applications and product electronic versions of documents with FileMaker data. Other new features include auto-complete data entry, a visual spell-checker, a built-in email mail merge feature for sending customized email messages, calendar drop-downs for entering date information, mouse wheel support, a visual graph of database relationships, and built-in tools for managing tabbed panels within layouts. FileMaker Pro 8 is available today for $300; FileMaker 6 and 7 users can upgrade for $180.
FileMaker Pro 8 also marks a change for FileMaker Developer Edition, which has been renamed FileMaker Pro 8 Advanced to appeal to users who are sophisticated enough to create their own database solutions but who don’t necessarily see themselves as developers. FileMaker Pro 8 Advanced enables database builders to customize menus, as well as create standalone applications and kiosks. New features include flexible tool tips, an enhanced script debugger which includes a data viewer and can disable individual script steps for testing, and an expanded database design report providing an overview of database and field setups. FileMaker Pro 8 Advanced costs $500, and FileMaker Developer 6 or 7 users can upgrade for $300. Additional FileMaker 8 products – FileMaker Mobile 8, Server 8, and Server Advanced 8 – should be available by the end of the year. [GD]
2nd Annual Mac Networkers Retreat Approaching
2nd Annual Mac Networkers Retreat Approaching — Macworld Expo in Boston may have shrunk, and ADHOC/MacHack may be no more, but other Macintosh events carry on. From 30-Oct-05 through 01-Nov-05, the second annual Mac Networkers Retreat promises to provide the kind of real-world information that Mac network and IT managers need. It’s particularly good to see the organizers acknowledging that the conference needs to offer training that goes beyond what can be learned from online sources, with topics like advanced Mac OS X Tiger Server administration, AirPort network design and management, implementation of LDAP and Directory Services, services and security in Mac OS X Server, and a Mac Admin Beginners Bootcamp. The retreat, held at the Seascape Resort in Aptos, CA (near Monterey), will have over 30 hours of instruction, and it costs $700 before 30-Sep-05, $800 after. The only downside as I see it? Much as I enjoy trading denial-of-service attack stories and practicing wireless network traffic sniffing, spending Halloween with a bunch of cool network geeks could be really scary. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: MathMagic Personal Edition
The college students have started to return to campus, making this a great time to look into new software for science and engineering disciplines that require high-quality equations for papers, reports, and other publications. Traditionally, creating equations has been a time-consuming, difficult process, and the results seldom looked as good as the surrounding text. With MathMagic Personal Edition, you can create complex equations and export them in TeX, EPS, GIF, JPEG, or PICT format for use with word processors, presentation programs, or graphics software. MathMagic Personal Edition works with Mac OS X, the classic Mac OS, and Windows.
Google Stakes a Claim on IM Territory
Google, the ubiquitous Web search company that shook up the Web-based email world a year and a half ago by offering a gigabyte of permanent email storage with its free Gmail service, last week staked a claim to the instant messaging territory with the announcement of its free Google Talk service.
Based on the open Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) developed by the Jabber open-source community, Google Talk offers text-based instant messaging using any Jabber-compatible client software, and voice chats with the official Google Talk software. So far, Google has released a Google Talk client only for Windows 2000 and XP, but they point to third-party Jabber clients for Mac and Linux users. For instructions on how to use one of these programs to chat with Google Talk users, click the client’s name in the list linked below.
Apple’s latest iChat, released with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and the free Adium multi-protocol chat client both fully support text chats with Google Talk users. Fire, another popular, free multi-protocol chat client, works with Google Talk in the 1.5.3 version, but as of this writing has some bugs in defining new contacts. An upcoming 1.5.4 release of Fire should resolve the remaining Jabber issues. Currently, there is no Mac solution for Google Talk’s voice chatting feature.
The Jabber Software Foundation and others have pointed out that Google Talk leaves out one key aspect of the Jabber concept, inter-server chatting, which allows users on different, private Jabber servers to communicate with each other. Google promises to work on server interoperability, but in the meantime, users on separate Jabber servers won’t be able to communicate with Google Talk users any more than they can communicate with AIM users.
Adding Tiger’s AirPort Preferred Network List
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger added a neat feature for those of us who use Wi-Fi in many locations. It can now display a list of all of your preferred networks – networks you’ve connected to before and asked to remember after connecting. If multiple networks can be available simultaneously in particular places, you can rearrange the list of networks so that Mac OS X attempts to connect to them in a particular order.
However, many folks who have upgraded to Tiger aren’t seeing the Preferred Networks option in the By Default, Join pop-up menu. (To check your system for this anomaly, open the Network preference pane, choose AirPort from the Show pop-up menu, and look in the By Default, Join pop-up menu.) If you had an AirPort network defined in Panther, the Preferred Networks option won’t appear if you upgraded to Tiger. Luckily, you can work around the problem by deleting your existing AirPort network configuration and creating a new one. Follow these steps in the Network preference pane:
- From the Show menu, choose Network Port Configurations.
- Select your AirPort network and click Delete.
- Verify that no AirPort item remains. When Jeff Carlson and I tried this on his machine, deleting his first AirPort port created a new one, so we had to delete that one, too.
- Click New and choose AirPort from the pop-up menu.
- Name your network; it seems you can name it anything except "AirPort".
- Click OK when you’re done.
When you now select your AirPort network from the Show pop-up menu, you’ll see that Preferred Networks is an option in the By Default, Join pop-up menu.
Ants Invade New Zealand by iPod
iPods are everywhere, and according to a posting on the PestNet discussion list forwarded to us by loyal reader Frank Streeter, some unsavory characters are using the iPod to move around the world. The bad guys in this case were Singapore ants – Monomorium destructor. They infiltrated a packaged iPod sold in an airport duty-free shop, and an individual returning from Fiji to New Zealand purchased the iPod on his way home. Upon arrival, however, he discovered the ants, and, acting on instructions from the authorities, put the iPod and packaging in his freezer to kill the insects (I presume the iPod emerged unscathed, though its fate wasn’t mentioned).
This quick thinking may have saved the entire country from an infestation of environmental, economic, and health significance – M. destructor is a stinging ant that, although not particularly dangerous to humans, is extremely annoying, mainly due to building large colonies in homes and other structures. Worse, the worker ants are highly predacious on other insects and are known to gnaw holes in fabrics, some plastics, and rubber goods. They can even remove the rubber insulation from electrical or telephone wires. We’re talking bad dude ants here.
My friend Ted Schultz, Chair of the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian Institution, works mostly with leaf-cutter ants, but he was intrigued by the iPod infestation story. He commented that he’d once been sent some ants from Singapore that were fouling up a microwave receiver antenna; some ants are known to be attracted to electromagnetic fields for unknown reasons.
The moral of the story: bugs aren’t just in software any more, so be careful out there, and keep an eye on your AirPort base stations!
Firefox Flash Blocker
I accept fully that many sites, including some I run, need advertising to operate. My Wi-Fi Networking News site has Flash ads on it right now, for instance. But I am, unfortunately, finding that Flash ads are now often highly intrusive even on sites I trust. They cycle endlessly. They use visual effects to knock my eyeballs on the floor. They play audio without my permission (even more annoying when I’m already playing music in iTunes or using voice over IP via iChat AV or Skype).
Since Flash is not under my control, I’ve taken stronger action on my Mac and started using Flashblock, a simple Firefox plug-in that loads Flash content, but doesn’t play it. Instead, Flashblock puts a replacement symbol in the spot occupied by the Flash object, that, when hovered over, changes to a play button. This approach puts me back in control of my attention, the sounds emanating from my Mac, and my Web browser.
If Flashblock catches on, it could become another reason for users of Internet Explorer (especially under Windows) to switch to Firefox, and it will probably reduce the response rate on Flash ads, thus moving advertisers to other mechanisms.
More generally, I’m troubled that advertising has become an arms race in which advertisers and consumers fight an ever-more-ridiculous war in which the advertisers feels empowered to violate a user’s space – just as badly as those 1/8th-screen-blocking ads on television now during programs for the next program – while consumers feel no compunction with using technology to suppress advertising entirely.
In the long run, it doesn’t benefit the advertiser to fight a war with the reader, however strong the return on a given style of intrusive and offensive advertising campaign is initially. It’s important to remember that Google’s billions come almost entirely from consistently formatted text advertisements. Advertisers are fighting for higher response rates than the gold standard of text ads, but they’re fighting a losing war when surfers just turn them off.
Adding a USB-to-Ethernet Adapter to a Mac
What would you do if you wanted to add a second Ethernet card to a Mac mini, iBook, or iMac to turn it into a router, a firewall, or a packet shaper? Or, how would you work around a burnt-out internal Ethernet chip in such a Mac? With a Power Mac, you can buy an inexpensive PCI Ethernet card and be up-and-running with a minimum of fuss (as I did for my Power Mac G4 after a lightning strike; see "Adding Ethernet to a Power Mac" in TidBITS-737). But it’s a trickier problem for Apple’s consumer Macs, though they have plenty of power and other attributes (such as minimal noise generation) that make them attractive as utility machines. In some cases, you might be able to use the Mac’s AirPort card as your second Ethernet interface, but AirPort isn’t as fast as Ethernet and AirPort networks aren’t quite as stable for a machine that’s acting as a server.
A better solution is a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, since they’re inexpensive (about $25 to $40) and readily available from companies like Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, and others. However, Mac OS X doesn’t include drivers for these adapters, and the companies in question aren’t the most Mac-friendly firms out there. Thanks to Peter Sichel of the Macintosh networking developer Sustainable Softworks, you can get USB-to-Ethernet adapters from these firms working with your Mac.
A while back, Peter found himself wanting to add a second Ethernet card to an iBook, but when he researched the situation, he found that the only driver that worked the way he wanted was an open source driver written by Daniel Sumorok for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Unfortunately, Daniel’s driver worked only with USB 1.1 devices, which are limited to a maximum speed of 12 Mbps. While 12 Mbps is roughly similar to the 10 Mbps of 10Base-T Ethernet, if there are low-speed devices such as a mouse or keyboard on the same USB bus, they bring USB 1.1’s speed down to 1.5 Mbps. That level of performance might be acceptable for Internet access over a standard broadband connection but wouldn’t be for local network usage. Luckily, there are also USB-to-Ethernet adapters that use USB 2.0 (which has a maximum speed of 480 Mbps) and that can keep up with 100Base-T Ethernet, but Daniel’s driver didn’t support these devices.
Peter contacted Daniel about helping to make Daniel’s original driver work with USB 2.0 devices. Daniel was interested in the project, but said that he lacked the hardware and software to test, so Peter provided him with the necessary resources, helped out with testing and, once it became clear changes would be necessary for Tiger, porting. The upshot is that after a few months of work, Peter and Daniel now have a pair of drivers, one for USB 1.1 Ethernet adapters and the other for USB 2.0 Ethernet adapters, and both are Panther- and Tiger-compatible. They’re also free and open source, released under the GPL license, so you can download them along with their source code. You can read more about the drivers and download them at the page linked below.
Back to School Software
Last week, I imagined myself in a college student’s shoes and offered several recommendations for Mac-related gear to take back to school (see "Mac to School 2005" in TidBITS-793). Perhaps because I’m drawn to shiny electronic toys, I focused on hardware from the iBook G4 to cellular phones and handheld organizers. This week, prompted by a few email messages, I want to cover some of the software that should run on all that cool hardware.
Before I jump into specific titles, though, I need to follow up on a few points from the last article based on feedback from readers.
I mentioned that getting an inexpensive inkjet printer was a necessity, because you don’t want to be waiting in line for a shared printer when a paper is due. But Ted Lomatski pointed out that "inkjets are not the way to go, especially for students who print out a high volume of papers (unless things have changed from my day!). The high cost of ink cartridges does not make sense. I have found that you can buy a new HP LaserJet, and the cartridge will last the year, most probably, and you will save money in the long run. I have also found that HP cartridges do not go up in price as do those of other manufacturers."
David Nicholson noted an essential device that completely slipped my mind: a USB flash drive (also known as a pen drive or keychain drive) "for those times when only sneakernet will do." Flash drives, which have replaced floppy disks as the best form of easy, portable storage, now come in higher capacities for less cost than when they were introduced: for example, a quick check at dealram.com today finds a 1 GB USB 2.0 flash drive for about $55. TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics also offers USB flash drives that are better designed than the norm, and of course, an iPod shuffle does double-duty as a flash drive, and the hard drive-based iPods can also be used as external storage devices.
I finally bought a flash drive for myself last year after I had to turn in a Macworld article while on a camping trip (I was writing about laptop batteries, and testing them away from power sources). There was no phone or Internet access at the campsite, of course, but the local ranger station surprisingly had two PCs – connected via a T1 line! If I had owned the flash drive at the time, I could have copied the Word file to it, then inserted it into a PC’s USB port. Instead, I ended up disconnecting one PC from the network, copying the Internet settings to my PowerBook, and connecting my machine to their connection via Ethernet. It wasn’t quite the great outdoors experience I was hoping for.
Finally, Forrest Snyder mentioned that as an alternative (or supplement) to buying AppleCare for a computer, some credit card companies include extended warranties on purchases you make with their cards. Check the fine print on your card’s terms of service to see if you can take advantage of this type of deal.
Now, on to the software!
Word Processing — There’s no getting around it: students write papers, lots of them. Although it’s often overkill for simple papers, the king of this particular category remains Microsoft Word. Microsoft sells a $150 Student and Teacher edition of Microsoft Office 2004, which also includes Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage and is cheaper than buying Word on its own at the normal retail price of $240 (unless you’re upgrading a previous version of Word, which costs $110). (See "Word Up! Word 2004, That Is" in TidBITS-734.)
<http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products/ office2004/office2004.aspx? pid=office2004>
If you’ve recently bought a new consumer-level Mac (iMac, iBook, or eMac), you can use the included AppleWorks 6 software, the suite that includes a page layout, graphics, database, and presentation capabilities, as well as compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats. To be honest, I haven’t used AppleWorks in years, so I can’t comment on how well it functions, but the basic tools are there for students.
Apple’s more modern offering, iWork ’05, includes the visually friendly Pages, a combination word processor and page-layout application (see "iWork and iLife Together at Last" in TidBITS-762). I’ve not had an opportunity to use Pages much, certainly not for long documents such as term papers, but it does seem capable and it interfaces nicely with the iLife ’05 suite, which can be advantageous when you need to add visual supporting information such as photos and illustrations. You can also export documents to Microsoft Word format, which is important since I imagine most professors use Word, and with Internet access prevalent on most campuses, papers can be submitted electronically.
iWork ’05 also includes Keynote 2.0 for creating presentations, which I find more enjoyable and less frustrating to use than PowerPoint. iWork ’05 costs $80 retail, or $50 for Apple’s academic discount price.
Not everyone needs the bells and whistles of Word or Pages, however. If you’re looking for a simple text editor, you can’t go wrong with Bare Bones Software’s free TextWrangler. If you need more text-munging power (if you’re learning Web design or programming, for example), you can move up to BBEdit, which Bare Bones offers at a student discount of $50.
Lastly, I should point out OpenOffice.org, a free suite of Office-type applications that run in the X11 windowing system under Mac OS X. I’ve not used them, so I can’t judge how well they work.
Research and Organization — Most typical schoolwork involves accumulating lots of information, and more importantly, being able to pull it all together when you need to. Several programs for the Mac attempt to do this, with varying degrees of success. Fortunately, Matt Neuburg’s vigilant quest for the ultimate snippet-keeper has resulted in TidBITS having perhaps the best collection of reviews in this field. See the series "Conquer Your Text" as a starter, which includes such worthy programs such as Tinderbox, DEVONthink, and NoteTaker. Also make a point of checking out "Best Footnote Forward: Papyrus 8.0.7" in TidBITS-514 for a look at the bibliographic program.
For my own work, I started using Circus Ponies NoteBook after reading Adam’s review "The Well-Worn NoteBook" in TidBITS-745. I use it as a good central repository for notes and deadlines related to my ongoing projects.
Of course, a Web browser is likely to be the most-used tool in your collection, whether it’s accessing Wikipedia or current events. Adam is partial to OmniWeb (see "OmniWeb: The Powerful Web Browser" in TidBITS-742), while I still prefer the simplicity of Safari. To store Web page information for later, consider the page-downloading utility Webstractor (see "The Simple Brilliance of Webstractor" in TidBITS-737).
Financial Software — Although college students often subsist on minimal incomes, having a program such as Quicken or Moneydance will help keep track of where the money is going (see "Moneydance Eases a Tax Burden" in TidBITS-775). For many students, college marks the beginning of their financial independence, especially now that so many arrive at school with credit cards – trust me, you do not want to miss a few credit card payments accidentally.
Once you start earning money as a student, the tax man will be wanting his cut as well. In the U.S., at least, Intuit’s TurboTax is the main option for the Mac, though Intuit also offers an online version of TurboTax that you can use through a Web browser.
The Virtual Halls of Academia — I realize that my list above just scratches the general-purpose surface, but it hopefully provides a good jumping-off point. I’m deliberately not getting into specific disciplines such as the sciences, broadcast video, and others, since they probably have specific software needs that are assigned by the professors. Apple’s higher-education Web pages include many programs (including third-party software) broken down into general categories.
You can also use the TidBITS archives to discover other utilities, big and small, that we’ve found useful over the years.
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/29-Aug-05
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
iChat and Parental Control — A reader wants to restrict iChat buddy lists, but enabling the parental controls under Tiger disables the Bonjour messaging on the local network. (1 message)
Mac to School 2005 — Reactions to Jeff Carlson’s article about buying Mac-related equipment to go back to college, including information on product warranties and additional suggestions. (4 messages)
DEVONthink Professional — How easy is it to search within the versatile database program? Readers provide answers and opinions. (4 messages)