TidBITS is 800! No, we didn’t start counting dog years – this week marks our eight-hundredth issue, and Adam commemorates the event by looking at three trends that will govern the future of the Macintosh world. Also this week, Apple appears to loosen up on its Google AdWords restriction, DD Poker Tournament 2.0 is released, and NewsGator acquires NetNewsWire. Finally, enter this week’s DealBITS to win BeLight Software’s Swift Publisher!
Apple Loosens up on "Mac" Trademark Use — The email has been coming fast and furious as Macintosh developers, consultants, and resellers have been contacting me after reading "Apple Cracks Down on Google AdWords" in TidBITS-799. A number of people forwarded their entire discussions with Google AdWords Support, which has been amusing for just how similarly each interaction unfolded. Google did start to provide additional information to people who pushed hard last week, even acknowledging that the request had come from Apple and was specifically related to ads running in the European Union. Randy Murray of Now Software was even told that the ban applied only to ads running in Switzerland and Eastern Europe, and when he tweaked the geographic distribution of his ads to eliminate those countries, the ads were approved again.
The best news, however, came from Craig Isaacs and Kerry MacInnes of Neon Software, who, after going through exactly the same rigmarole that everyone else did, were finally told by Google AdWords Support that, "At this time we are no longer monitoring the term ‘Mac’ per the trademark owner’s request." Intrigued, I immediately created a new ad in Google AdWords that used every one of the Apple trademarks I listed previously, and in fact, it appears to be true: "Mac" and "Macintosh" no longer trigger the trademark warning from Google. The other Apple trademarks I listed – Apple, iPod, shuffle, Mac mini, iMac, iBook, PowerBook, Power Mac, iTunes, and iTMS – all still trigger Google’s warning, although you may be able to work around that problem by setting your geographic distribution appropriately and requesting an exception from Google. I’ve queried Google PR and Apple PR to see if they’ll admit to this change officially, but as usual, neither has deigned to offer a statement. [ACE]
DD Tournament Poker 2.0p2 Released — In "Trying My Hand at Poker: DD Tournament Poker" in TidBITS-784, I wrote about DD Tournament Poker, a Java-based poker game that plays the Texas Hold ‘Em variant, and mentioned that the next version would be released soon. Version 2 was recently released, and Donohoe Digital has just made a 2.0p2 update available.
The new version adds online play, so you can play against other live opponents running DD Tournament Poker 2 (without ponying up actual cash, as with many other online poker sites). The skills of the computer players are now customizable, and several hand-analyzing features have been added. One drawback is that the sound effects, which were done so well in version 1, are worse in version 2: shuffling cards sounds like flatulence, and actions such as calling or raising elicit beeps that could be found in a mid-1980s PC running DOS; fortunately, there’s an option to play with audio turned off. Otherwise, this is a strong upgrade that improves on a solid poker-playing program. DD Tournament Poker 2 costs $30, or $25 if you’re upgrading from version 1; the 16 MB download also serves as a limited demo until you enter a license number. [JLC]
DealBITS Drawing: A Stuffed Dog and Fetch 5.0 — Congratulations to Glenn Blauvelt of cs.colorado.edu, whose entry was chosen randomly from 720 entries in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who received a plush Fetch toy, along with a license for Fetch 5.0, worth $25. Even if you didn’t win, you can still save 20 percent on Fetch 5.0 through 31-Oct-05 by using coupon code TIDBITS05 when ordering from within the Fetch application (choose Purchase from the Fetch application menu). This offer is open to all TidBITS readers (although those who entered the drawing received a 30 percent-off coupon). Keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
With the importance of the Web for many of us, it can be hard to remember that the entire world doesn’t sit in front of a Web browser all day. But as we’ve realized in working with Tristan’s school (a small parent collective), plenty of people don’t even have email accounts, and those that do can’t always be relied on to check email regularly, making paper announcements, newsletters, and flyers a must. Word processors are often frustrating for such tasks, and publishing programs like InDesign and QuarkXPress are overkill, leaving the field wide open for programs like BeLight Software’s Swift Publisher. It’s designed purely as a page layout program for everyday tasks like creating flyers, putting out weekly newsletters, and laying out nicely folded brochures. A variety of designs and clip art images help you get started, and advanced features such as text flow between columns, adjustable layout guides, text wrapping, and foreground and background layers let you go beyond the basics. That said, my favorite feature is the smart guides that help you align objects in relation to one another, since they let me eyeball a design without worrying about exact measurements. It’s a fun program.
Seattle-based Ranchero Software is selling its flagship NetNewsWire product to NewsGator, and Ranchero founder, owner, and programmer Brent Simmons is joining the acquiring firm. Both companies primarily make RSS news reader software for non-overlapping platforms.
The key point in the acquisition appears to be synchronization, something that has bedeviled Simmons for many months. This synchronization lets users keep one active set of subscriptions no matter how they access their news feed; new RSS feeds can be added and items they’ve already read are updated from whatever device they’ve read them from. Ranchero doesn’t operate servers that enable synchronization, but NewsGator does, and has been developing synchronization across its Web site, Windows software, and mobile-device access.
Paid users of NetNewsWire Pro will get two years of NewsGator Online’s premium Platinum Edition (normally $50 a year), but that service apparently won’t be required to handle synchronization.
NewsGator started as an online service and extended its reach to handhelds via Web sites formatted for handhelds and cell phones that can support HTML browsing. It purchased FeedDaemon to get a foothold on Windows. NetNewsWire neatly extends their platform support. The free NetNewsWire Lite will continue to be developed and free synchronization will be added.
Simmons will stay in Seattle. Other Ranchero products aren’t part of this deal, including MarsEdit; Simmons and Ranchero are still working out plans for these applications.
This issue marks the 800th weekly installment of TidBITS. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s almost unbelievable that we’re still publishing TidBITS after all these years, with so few changes to our basic approach. Perhaps that’s what happens when you mix a good idea with energy and a deep streak of stubbornness, not to mention support from many thousands of readers over the last 15 years. But the world has changed over these last 800 issues, and to commemorate this milestone, I want to look at three trends that will undoubtedly affect what we write over our next 100 issues.
The genesis for this article came while at Macworld Boston in July. I was struck by how small the show had become of the last few years, all while Apple sold three to four million Macs each year, along with 21 million iPods. Apple has more customers than ever before, but doesn’t seem to be able to share with the rest of us – no Macintosh developer, publication, conference, or user group that I know is growing in step with Apple, much as I’m sure we’d all like to. Why is this?
The Mac is an Appliance — Steve Jobs always envisioned the Mac as an appliance, but he was 25 years ahead of his time. Now, the Mac has more in common with your coffee maker than ever before. But the ultimate appliance is the iPod – you can plug things into the iPod, and you can wrap things around it (including many cars), but from a software standpoint, it’s essentially a closed system (yes, you can install Linux, but you won’t hear Apple say that). This "appliancification of the Mac," to coin a phrase, is the end-goal of usability and undoubtedly a good thing, since it means that nearly anyone – even a PC user – can use a Mac for basic tasks without special training, much as anyone who can drive a Honda can drive a Toyota or a Ford.
But turning what was once a complex system into a friendly box that hides almost all of its complexity under the hood has consequences for an industry that grew up around simplifying external complexities. Technical book and magazine publishers explained complicated topics for readers who lacked a basic grounding in using computers, but who understood that there was a better way. But as Macs have become easier to use, authors have struggled to find topics that meet the needs of those who like to learn by reading. How many people would buy Dishwashers for Dummies or subscribe to LaundryWorld? Clearly, publishers must focus on the non-obvious topics that interest who still want to do more, work faster, and think different.
The appliancification of the Mac affects software developers in a big way. Even though the Mac remains a general-purpose computer, new Mac users – particularly those buying the least expensive Macs – aren’t likely to think of buying additional products, just as few people buy enhancements for their washing machines or vacuum cleaners. Heck, I’ll bet at least some people at Apple would prefer a Mac that was entirely closed, like the iPod. Closing the Mac would increase ease-of-use and improve the user experience by reducing confusion from the mere existence of that pesky independent software, not to mention bugs or usage peculiarities caused by using software not from Apple. It’s not unthinkable that a new product line could provide what looked like a Mac but ran software only from Apple. In the meantime, strategies for developers struggling with appliancification include setting up partnerships that help them increase exposure to new groups of Mac users and thinking of ways to enhance the communications and entertainment capabilities of the Mac in ways that don’t make users learn anything new. Focusing on business software is also a good direction, since business users are more likely to want software that works in a particular fashion, rather than as a general solution.
User groups are feeling the effects of appliancification as well. After all, who attends a dishwasher user group? Most user groups are seeing memberships drop for this reason (the appliancification of the Mac, not too much dishwasher-related content), and they’re struggling with how to meet the needs of long-time members while evolving to become relevant to new Mac users. Honestly, I think it’s going to be a tough row to hoe, since it’s difficult to focus the efforts of a group on a topic, like the Mac, that most people take for granted these days. Perhaps user groups should try broadening out with Mac-related child care, Mac-enabled speed dating, or Mac-related exercise classes (just try bench-pressing a Power Mac G5!).
One last thought about Macs as appliances. The useful life span of a Mac has always been fairly long, but as Macs become more like appliances and as we’ve seen computers provide more CPU power than most people need, the average life span will likely increase. That’s bad for Apple, since people aren’t likely to buy Macs as often, and it’s bad for everyone else in the industry, since that point of purchase is probably the main chance to sell the customer additional software or hardware. It occurs to me that we may also see Apple starting to apply the iPod approach to Macs in the future, changing form factors and industrial design – imagine harvest gold and avocado colors to match your kitchen – to encourage new sales without changing the basic functionality in key ways.
Think Inside the Box — Over the years, Apple has significantly increased the out-of-the-box capabilities of the Macintosh with core Mac OS X programs like Safari, Mail, iChat, Spotlight, Dashboard, Address Book, iCal, Terminal, and more. By bundling the iLife suite – iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, and GarageBand – with every new Mac, Apple has provided enough tools to keep even the most hyperactive Mac user busy forever. It makes sense, since Apple must compete with the ever-increasing capabilities of Microsoft Windows and with the software bundles that come with many PCs. Plus, it’s a consumer-friendly move; people prefer to buy an Apple-approved bundle of software all at once, rather than having to choose among a bewildering variety of options later. And it’s worth noting that Apple is doing a pretty good job with their bundled software – it’s seldom the most powerful or flexible, but it sets the standard. As Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software commented when making TextWrangler free and thus setting the bar for text editors, "You must be this tall to play."
The dominance of the Macintosh box as the source of Mac software primarily affects third-party Macintosh developers, who have been squeezed into ever-smaller niches (not to mention apartments). Although the very large companies producing Mac software are still around – witness Adobe, Microsoft, and Quark – there has been a significant drop in the number and Mac-specificity of mid-sized developers. Many of the names from the past: Connectix, Casady & Greene, and CE Software, to name a few, have been purchased, gone under, or refactored (Startly Technologies came from a group of CE Software employees acquiring CE’s assets and taking the company private). At the same time, we’ve seen a profusion of new, smaller Macintosh development houses with amusing names like Circus Ponies Software, Rogue Amoeba Software, BeLight Software, the Omni Group, and untold others.
Practically speaking, I think it’s important for Mac developers to retain a healthy awareness of their place in the Mac world. All exist at the whim of Apple, and if your product becomes too popular, Apple very well may appropriate the idea, as has happened with technologies like Web browsing and email, not to mention products like Konfabulator and Watson. Attracting customers from new Macintosh buyers will become increasingly difficult for Mac developers, since most lack the curiosity or desire to do more than Apple provides, and they’re less likely to read Macintosh-related publications that might alert them to new possibilities. The new product areas that are likely to do well are those that work within the communications and entertainment spheres, but which avoid competing with Apple’s programs, significantly enhance Apple’s programs, or provide a professional feature set that meets the needs of those for whom Apple’s programs fall short.
Assume the Internet — It often feels pointless to state the obvious, but in this case, it’s worthwhile. The Internet has changed everything, making it possible for individuals to become publishers or software developers, and for groups of like-minded people to spring up without ever meeting in person. That’s all good, unless your organization still relies on a pre-Internet business model that’s going the way of disco music and 80s hairstyles. But it also means that we’ll see more small developers and publishers who exploit the way the Internet can make the very small look bigger and work together synergistically to provide solutions that would previously have been the purview of much larger organizations. Our entire Take Control model revolves around this philosophy – we work with independent authors and editors to create books and with eSellerate to sell them. If we didn’t have the Internet skills we do, we could probably outsource our Web site entirely as well.
On the downside for everyone who sells Mac-related products, the fact that most Mac users are paying $20 to $50 per month for Internet access eliminates $240 to $600 per year that might previously have been spent on Macintosh software, books, and peripherals, or sent directly to worthy causes like TidBITS. Even people who are interested in finding and using additional products will look more closely at free and less expensive options for this reason, forcing developers to lower prices to remain competitive for the available discretionary spending. Those lower price points in turn make it more difficult for companies to grow beyond a certain size.
The other compelling fact about the Internet is that it’s where the tinkerers now hang out. A programmer with a good idea is more likely to create a Web-based application or service that can be available to everyone (and then be acquired by Google or Yahoo), rather than make something accessible only to Mac users. And the involved users, the ones who used to play with ResEdit and hack startup screens, are now reading weblogs to learn about the latest site that hacks Google Maps or Flickr, listening to podcasts, or evangelizing Web standards and copyright reform. These people may use Macs, and they may squawk when Macs aren’t supported, but the Mac itself has merely become a conduit to what’s new and interesting, rather than being itself the focus.
The aspects of the Mac community most harmed by the Internet are, of course, user groups and conferences. They were so large and so vibrant in the pre-Internet days because they offered essentially what the Internet does now – information and social networking. Particularly for people who are more comfortable with communicating electronically and who may have less free time due to work and family, the concept of driving to a monthly meeting or flying to a conference seems inefficient and foreign. Society today is becoming increasingly fractured and insular as well, a trend I’m certain we’ll regret at some point unless all of us make an effort to interact with others in person on occasion. For many in the past, user groups fit the bill, but maintaining them is real work, and as I noted before, they’ll need to evolve to survive and thrive.
The World Has Changed, News at 11 — Nothing I’ve said here is particularly controversial, I think, and each of the individual facts may be relatively obvious. And yet, I wanted to set it all down here because it can be difficult for those of us who have spent much of our adult lives participating in the Macintosh community to wrap our minds around how completely our world has changed. More practically, since large numbers of TidBITS readers still make their livings in the Macintosh industry, it’s important for us to look at where we’re all headed and make sure both that it’s where we want to go and that we’re prepared when we arrive.
"Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music" Released — If you own an iPod or are thinking about purchasing one, our latest Take Control ebook – Steve Sande’s "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music" – will help you make the most of your iPod experience. Although this ebook covers the basics of plugging in a new iPod and transferring music to it, most of its 128 pages focus on all the other cool stuff you can do to help your expensive iPod earn its keep.
Steve provides real-world advice about tasks like using your iPod as a read-only PDA for calendar events and contacts, off-loading photos to it from a digital camera, backing up your computer to an iPod, setting an iPod to put you to sleep at night and wake you in the morning, and even keeping it ready as an emergency boot drive. Leaving no stone unturned, he also looks at other unusual iPod uses, such as giving presentations from an iPod, reading or listening to text-based ebooks, recording classes or meetings, and installing Linux on an iPod. As a bonus for readers wanting to buy a new or used iPod, a detailed appendix helps sort out the members of the current iPod family and provides a complete timeline of iPod releases.
Although we were poised to release this ebook several weeks ago, we delayed slightly in order to incorporate the latest info about iTunes 5, the iPod nano, and – for the sake of .Mac users – Backup 3. Because the iPod and iTunes are used by many Windows users, the ebook includes cross-platform details, making it useful for Windows-using friends and colleagues.
Like all Take Control ebooks, "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music" comes with free minor updates that will keep it current with Apple’s constant stream of iPod and iTunes announcements, and if Apple announces yet another new iPod during the October 12th special event, you can depend on us to release a free update to keep the ebook up-to-date.
You can read more about the ebook, download a free 31-page excerpt, and place an order at:
"Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger" Updated to 1.0.2 — Okay, so you’ve upgraded your Mac to Tiger, but what about your spouse’s Mac, and that older iMac at the office, and your non-technical friend who finally bought a copy of Tiger? Before performing any more upgrades, you’ll want to make sure you have the latest version of Joe Kissell’s best-selling "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger," which features five additional pages of information about upgrading to Tiger. Among the snippets of updated goodness are information about incompatibilities with certain PCI cards, new material on installing Mac OS 9 for Classic support, a warning about sleep settings during the upgrade process, a new recommendation regarding using Software Update after the upgrade, and updates on software incompatibilities and Apple’s Media Exchange Program. Of course, if you’ve already purchased "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger," just click the Check for Updates button in the lower-left corner of your ebook’s first page to access your free update. Similarly, if you bought the print collection, "Take Control of Tiger," the URL you need to enter for free updates is on page xv of the Foreword. Try that with most books! And, if you haven’t yet bought your copy and upgraded to Tiger, remember that you can pick up the ebook for $5 and then go buy Tiger at Small Dog Electronics with the $5-off coupon, rendering the book absolutely free.
The first link for each thread description points to the traditional TidBITS Talk interface; the second link points to the same discussion on our Web Crossing server, which provides a different look and which may be faster.
Creating PDF-based ebooks — A reader runs into difficulty creating PDF files that work well for print and online reading, and finds answers in TidBITS Talk. (4 messages)
Mac OS X CAD programs — What programs are available for the Mac for creating architectural drawings? Programs spanning the range from professional to entry-level are discussed. (8 message)
Apple Cracks Down on Google AdWords — Adam’s article about Google’s restriction on terms such as "Mac" generates similar stories and discussion from readers. (10 messages)
Virtual PC 7.x: How deep? Is the latest version of Virtual PC good enough to use in place of a Windows-based PC? (4 messages)
Power Mac G5/1.8: The buggiest Mac ever? The Power Mac G5 1.8 GHz model seems to be more trouble-prone than others, but it depends on what you measure it against, and whether rumor outweighs reality. (3 messages)