This week marks the second anniversary of our Take Control project, so we celebrate with a 50 percent-off sale and a look at how we’ve done. In Apple news, Geoff Duncan covers Apple’s new PowerBook and Power Mac G5 models, and Jeff Carlson gives an overview of Aperture. Glenn Fleishman stays wireless with looks at Salling Clicker 3.0 and the back-room battles surrounding the next wireless standard: 802.11n. We also include brief bits on preventing hard drive sleep, encoding video for the iPod, and the slow demise of the eMac.
Preventing Second Drive Sleepiness — A while back I wanted some more disk space in my Power Mac G4, but I didn’t want to buy a new boot drive to replace the 80 GB drive I’ve been using for a while. I had a 60 GB drive sitting around, so I installed that in a spare drive bay in the Power Mac. All has been well and good, with one exception: the second drive was constantly spinning down and causing delays whenever Mac OS X decided to spin up the drive, which was frequently, even though the drive sees only sporadic use. My first stop was the Energy Saver preference pane, where I confirmed that I had deselected the "Put hard disk(s) to sleep when possible" checkbox. But that clearly wasn’t working. Next stop, Google, where my search turned up a Web site called The X Lab, associated with an ebook called "Troubleshooting Mac OS X."
The X Lab site explained that the Energy Saver preference pane was really just a graphical front end to the Unix pmset command. If you select the "Put hard disk(s) to sleep when possible" checkbox, Energy Saver essentially issues the pmset command with the "disksleep 10" (Tiger) or "spindown 10" (Panther) option, where 10 means to spin down the drive after 10 minutes. But as we’ve seen, leaving that checkbox deselected doesn’t work either. What’s going on? It turns out that to force the Mac to honor the "Put hard disk(s) to sleep when possible" checkbox being deselected, you must also set the "Put the computer to sleep when it is inactive for" slider to "Never." Only then will Energy Saver issue the pmset command with either the "disksleep 0" (Tiger) or "spindown 0" (Panther) option. If you want the best of both worlds – your Mac going to sleep after some amount of idle time and secondary disks not spinning down – you could create an AppleScript script or iKey shortcut that issued the appropriate pmset command at startup. Doing so is left as an exercise to the reader. [ACE]
Encoding Video for iPod — Since the release of the new video-enabled iPod, a few noteworthy articles have appeared about getting video content onto the device. iLounge looks at the options for encoding video for the new video iPod: "iPod-Ready Videos? Not So Fast, and Not So Clear." QuickTime 7.0.3 adds an export option to QuickTime (and therefore, to applications such as iMovie) to encode video for iPod, but you don’t get to customize its settings. Jeremy Horowitz performed a bunch of tests to see how long it takes to encode, and what the quality of the results was. Also, Jonathan Seff at Playlist shares his experiences encoding content, including ripping DVDs using HandBrake. I watched a few movies on a weekend train trip from Seattle to Portland and back, and found the experience surprisingly good. [JLC]
eMac Fades Away — Sources have confirmed that the eMac, Apple’s inexpensive all-in-one Mac with a CRT-based screen, is no longer available for individual sale, although educational institutions can still buy the model. It’s likely that Apple felt little need to carry on with the eMac line with the Mac mini taking over as the least expensive Mac for individuals and the iMac G5 holding up the all-in-one end of the line. Although it’s hard to see Apple keeping the eMac available to educational institutions indefinitely, it does meet a specific need there – schools are less likely to want to use difficult-to-secure Mac minis in public labs, and the iMac is quite a bit pricier than the eMac. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: MaxProtect II Winner — Congratulations to Paul Perry of sympatico.ca, whose entry was chosen randomly from 452 valid entries in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who received a MaxProtect II PowerBook case, worth $49/$59/$69, depending on size. Even if you didn’t win, you can still save 10 percent on the MaxProtect II through 02-Nov-05 by entering "DealBits003" in the Additional Comments field when ordering; MaxUpgrades tells us that the discount will not show on order confirmations, but will be accounted for in the amount billed. Keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
At a special press event in New York last week, Apple rolled out new revisions to its professional line of PowerBook computers and unveiled new high-end quad-processor Power Mac G5 systems.
More Pixels — First up, Apple refreshed the 15-inch and 17-inch members of its PowerBook line, adding larger displays, increasing battery life, and making DVD-burning SuperDrives standard across the entire PowerBook line. The 15-inch PowerBook now features a 1440 by 960 pixel screen resolution (slightly larger than the previous 17-inch model), while the giant 17-inch "lunch tray" PowerBook now offers a 1680 by 1050 pixel display, the same number of pixels as Apple’s 20-inch flat-panel Cinema Display. Apple says the new machines offer up to 22 percent longer battery life (up to 5.5 hours), include speedy 5400 rpm hard drives (with 7200 rpm drives available as build-to-order options), ship with a minimum of 512 MB of RAM, feature optical audio input and output, and come with built-in support for Apple’s mammoth 30-inch Cinema HD display. (Because, naturally, the first thing you want to do with a portable computer is hook it up to an enormous, non-portable screen! Am I wrong?)
Both systems feature 1.67 GHz PowerPC G4 processors, DVI and S-video output (adaptable to VGA and composite), 8x SuperDrives, Gigabit Ethernet, AirPort Extreme (802.11g) and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR wireless networking, a built-in V.92 56 Kbps modem, illuminated keyboards, FireWire 400 and 800 ports (one each), two USB 2.0 ports, and a Type I/II PC Card slot.
The new PowerBooks are available now, with prices starting at $2,000 for the 15-inch model and $2,500 for the 17-inch model. Apple’s 12-inch PowerBook is also available starting at $1,500, although its specs remain largely unchanged (save for an 8x SuperDrive and a 5400 rpm hard drive now being standard).
Core Values — Apple also unveiled a revision to its Power Mac G5 line of professional-level desktop computers, rolling in PCI Express expansion slots, pro-level graphics controllers, and a high-end option with two dual-core PowerPC G5 processors running at 2.5 GHz for a total of eight floating point units, four AltiVec units (which Apple has always dubbed "Velocity Engines"), four 1 MB L2 caches, and a total processing capability in the neighborhood of 76 gigaflops.
It’s not quite accurate to call the new high-end Power Mac G5 a "quad-processor" system: like its dual-CPU predecessors, it still contains only two CPU chips, but the difference is that those CPUs each contain two processor cores, rather than one. Similarly, the mid-range Power Mac G5 system is no longer a dual-processor system, but a dual-core system, containing one dual-core G5 chip running at 2.3 GHz.
The new Power Mac G5 systems also feature a new architecture which supports up to 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB of internal Serial ATA hard disk storage, PCI Express expansion slots (two four-lane and one eight-lane) designed for high performance expansion hardware like graphics cards, DSP audio processing, and FibreChannel storage. Apple’s also offering four professional level graphics options for the Power Mac line, including the new Nvidia Quadro FX 4500, that company’s fastest workstation video card, which can support dual 30-inch displays. The Power Mac G5 systems also feature 16x SuperDrives, one FireWire 800 port, two FireWire 400 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 1.1 ports (on the keyboard), two internal disk bays (one available), dual Gigabit Ethernet, optical audio input and output, analog line-level audio input, and optional AirPort Extreme (802.11g) and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR wireless networking. They come with an Apple Keyboard and a Mighty Mouse; the Apple Mouse is no longer available separately or with any Mac.
Power Mac G5 prices start at $2,000 for a 2 GHz dual-core G5 system and run up to $3,300 for a 2.5 GHz quad-core system, with numerous build-to-order options available. Dual-core G5 systems are available immediately, and Apple says quad-core systems should be shipping by mid-November.
At a press conference in New York last week (which coincided with PhotoPlus Expo), Apple announced Aperture, a new professional application geared toward photographers shooting and working with digital photos in RAW format. Aperture aims to concentrate all of the activities pro photographers need – capture, correction, and output – in one application. The software is available for pre-order now at $500, and is expected to ship in November.
Aperture’s focus is on the RAW format, the unprocessed digital information captured by higher-end digital cameras (most consumer-level cameras capture an image and save it to a memory card in JPEG format, which applies lossy compression); Aperture also supports other common image formats such as JPEG and TIFF. It can copy photos directly from the memory card, enabling you to preview the shots before extracting them – a feature I’ve long wanted to see in iPhoto. It also grabs the EXIF metadata tags.
Once within Aperture, the images remain in RAW format, where you can apply correction using tools such as white balance, color shifting, red-eye removal, and more. The editing is non-destructive, so you can always revert back to the original. Clever photo-friendly features such as a light table arrangement (where you can view numerous photos in a large work space) and a loupe feature (which shows you a magnified circle to view selections of an image without zooming the entire photo) should appeal to photographers. Aperture also features extensive support for grouping and collecting images in albums and smart albums using IPTC metadata tags, as well as tools to compare multiple photos against one another. Other nice features include a built-in backup system for archiving photos, Web and book publishing that offers flexibility well beyond what iPhoto includes, and Photoshop compatibility.
Speaking of Photoshop, Apple isn’t positioning Aperture as a "Photoshop killer," just as Motion isn’t an After Effects killer. Rather, its strengths appear to be offering a workflow for pro photographers in one attractive package, instead of a mashup of Photoshop plus assorted plug-ins that deal with specific image adjustments (see Charles Maurer’s article series, "Through the Digital Lens," starting in TidBITS-748 for examples of this sort of thing). The question will be whether photographers, who have probably already invested in Photoshop, will be willing to cough up another $500 for Aperture.
Salling Software’s latest releases extend its remote-control software across all kinds of technology. The original Salling Clicker let you use a cellular phone to control a Mac via Bluetooth. Now, you can control multiple computers across a network, use Wi-Fi on Palms and other Wi-Fi-equipped handhelds, and run Salling Clicker under Windows.
The $24 software, a free upgrade for existing users, is preconfigured with scripts for programs that beg for remote control options, such as Apple’s iTunes, iPhoto, and Keynote, and third party applications like NetNewsWire Pro, Squeezebox’s SlimServer, and VLC Media Player.
Salling Clicker is extensible through its guided creation of AppleScript scripts or through user-written scripts. A Phone Events tab lets you trigger scripts based on activity like the phone ringing, or a device coming into proximity so that it forms a Bluetooth connection. Some people set up their events so that when they leave their computer, Salling Clicker pauses music, stops checking email, and sets iChat status to Away.
Network support is new, and it enables a remote handset or handheld and one Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-enabled Mac to control multiple computers on a network (this feature works only on the Mac for now).
Version 3.0 requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, and supports 90 different makes and models of cell phones, handhelds, and similar devices. It’s a 4.3 MB download.
Apple has signed on as part of a broad alliance to push a new proposal for faster Wi-Fi. The group, called the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC), comprises 27 companies, and was formed outside the standards process that has been working on next-next-generation Wi-Fi for several years.
The IEEE standards group handles wireless local area networks in its 802.11 Working Group. Within that group, there’s a Task Group N, the members of which have been working on efforts that have coalesced into two competing proposals for what’s called 802.11n. The goal of 802.11n is increased bandwidth – up to a theoretical 600 Mbps. This 600 Mbps standard would also have much higher real-world throughput, too: plain vanilla 802.11g delivers maybe 25 Mbps of its 54 Mbps rated speed. With a 600 Mbps standard, it’s possible that we could see 400 Mbps or even more in actual use.
The two competing proposals have stalled in Task Group N. Technically, they’re rather close, but in terms of how voting happens, neither side can achieve the 75-percent supermajority necessary to take a proposal into its final stage of development. The IEEE voting procedure is typical among standards groups in that members vote as individuals and only receive voting rights after attending several meetings. The meetings take place all over the world every two months, which puts a large financial strain on attendees without company backing.
Intel, Broadcom (Apple’s Wi-Fi supplier), Atheros, and Marvell, which sell most Wi-Fi chips worldwide, quietly built their own synthesis of the two proposals – the Enhanced Wireless Consortium – even while an IEEE group with broader membership tried to hammer out a joint solution by the November 2005 meeting. This splinter group circulated its proposal to Task Group N members and convinced 23 of them to sign on, including the largest consumer Wi-Fi firms: Apple, Buffalo, D-Link, Linksys, and NetGear. Only Belkin is missing from that list.
The ostensible purpose of this end run around the standard process is to cut several months off the time necessary to reach a supermajority-approved proposal. Companies left out, including the pioneer of multiple-antenna technology Airgo, are furious. Nokia and Motorola declined to join the EWC, stating that the EWC approach doesn’t have the tools necessary to put 802.11n into cellular handsets and preserve battery life.
Apple’s involvement in the EWC is good news for Mac users who like to be on the cutting edge. Apple was one of the first companies to introduce the 802.11g standard as AirPort Extreme in January 2003, and could be an early adopter of 802.11n. Based on user experiences, Apple jumped the gun a little with 802.11g; hopefully the transition to 802.11n will be smoother.
Task Group N could finish its work by early 2007, but if the direction in the EWC proposal is set in stone shortly, new chips that will interoperate among hardware from EWC members might appear by mid-2006. The EWC says that if the IEEE doesn’t adopt its proposal, members may finalize their standard and release equipment based upon it without the IEEE blessing.
As of today, the Take Control publishing project that Tonya and I started in 2003 marks its second year. We’ve come a long way from our first copy of Joe Kissell’s "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," and since we’ve been tracking Take Control’s progress here in TidBITS all along, I want to share what we’ve accomplished and give you a sense of where we’re going. But first, to celebrate the anniversary, we’re having a week-long, 50 percent-off sale on every one of our ebooks. Just use coupon code CPN51024TC2 when placing an order to cut your grand total in half (the link below automatically enters the coupon for you; also note that you can have only one coupon per order).
Cold Hard Numbers — For our second year, we stayed roughly on par with the number of ebooks we published and sold. We released 13 new titles and 19 updates, a few of which were minor, though many others offered significant amounts of new and improved information. That’s one more new title than our first year, and one fewer update, though with so many more total titles in our library, the number of necessary updates was quite reduced, largely through better editing and production procedures. We sold nearly 24,000 copies in our first year, and our second year has seen about 31,000 copies sold, which is about a 30 percent increase. For those doing the math, that’s a total of about 55,000 copies, and while that’s across 25 titles, we’re pleased.
No individual ebook this year matched the 6,500 copies we sold of "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther," although "Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger" has broken the 4,500 mark, "Take Control of Customizing Tiger" is nearing 4,300, and "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups" is approaching 3,800. Of our most recent titles, we have seen particularly strong early interest in "Take Control of Your Wi-Fi Security" and the just-released "Take Control of Permissions in Mac OS X."
Although our ebooks see a sales spike at release, like print books, they continue to sell over time, and because they’re electronic, we’re happy to keep them available as long as people want them; we have plenty of room in our virtual warehouses and can maintain a one-to-one inventory ratio at all times. Interestingly, August 2005 was the first month that a particular ebook (not counting translations) didn’t sell any copies: both "Take Control of Sharing Files in Panther" and "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther" struck out in August, but rebounded to sell a few copies in September and October.
Honestly, we wanted to publish more books this year, but the massive push to have four books ready at the exact minute Apple released Tiger (tweaked appropriately for different time zones around the world, even) took a huge amount of time and energy in the early part of the year, and recovering from that effort took a while as well. Plus, as anyone who has written a book knows, even shorter titles like ours can take longer than expected if life intervenes, as it is wont to do.
Although our Tiger ebooks certainly sold well, they didn’t match up to their equivalent Panther editions for a variety of reasons. Most notably, because of the long delay for Tiger, there was a lot more information available about it right away, both on the Internet and in print, increasing the competition for attention. Also, Panther was a much more significant upgrade from Jaguar than Tiger was from Panther, so it’s entirely likely that many people simply didn’t feel the need for extra documentation. Since so many people had read the Panther editions, it’s entirely possible that they felt sufficiently empowered to tackle Tiger without updated help from our authors. And finally, Tiger lacked the showstopper bugs (like FireWire hard drive erasures and RAM incompatibility) that caused later adopters to approach the Panther upgrade with more trepidation and desire for assistance.
One last nod to numerology. The Take Control team decided to support the hurricane relief effort by donating 10 percent of our proceeds for the month of September to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund. Thanks to sales of two new titles published that month, the total donation came to $1,865. It may be the merest drop among the hundreds of billions that will eventually be required, but every bit helps, and unlike with taxes, the ability to specify where the funds should be used helps us feel that we’re making a difference.
New Tools — Figuring out which titles will sell is tricky work, and we’ve guessed both right and wrong (though we’re happy with the content in all of our books). We’ve also heard lots of suggestions, but for topics that are outside our areas of expertise, we’ve had trouble evaluating how popular an ebook might be. So I’ve created a Suggestion page where you can vote for titles that have already been proposed and suggest additional topics. The main thing that’s unusual about this survey is that we ask that you vote for a hypothetical title only if you would buy it – please do not vote for a title just because you think it would be a good idea. Too many "I think it’s a good idea, but I wouldn’t buy it myself" votes could result in a huge waste of time for an author and editor. We’ll also send you email should we publish a title for which you’ve voted. There aren’t many titles to vote on right now, but I’ll add new topics as they come in, so it’s worth checking out the page every so often to see what’s new. Thanks for helping us publish ebooks on the topics you want to read about!
If your organization is interested in a custom version of an ebook, or in a site license (for instance, to all our Tiger ebooks if you’re deploying Tiger across hundreds of desktops), be sure to contact us. We did a pair of manuals in the last year, and we have an ebook in progress that was commissioned by a large Mac-using company that wanted custom documentation written, edited, and produced by professionals.
Fairly early on, we put a Help a Friend button on the cover of each book as a way readers could easily tell their friends and colleagues about an ebook they found helpful. It seemed like a great idea at the time, especially since we sweetened the deal with a 10 percent off coupon for both parties. But it didn’t work particularly well – only about 100 orders used the coupon, and we’ve received way more enthusiastic email messages than that. In trying to figure out why the Help a Friend button hadn’t worked better, I asked for opinions on TidBITS Talk and was told that my technique was lousy: I’d set it up via a Web form, and people didn’t like using Web forms to send email, nor did they like putting their friends’ email addresses into Web forms, and that assumed that they even remembered their friends’ email addresses without an email address book.
So I went back to the drawing board and figured out a way for most people (it’s browser-dependent) to have the Help a Friend button automatically generate a draft message in the user’s email program with the relevant URL and coupon information. For people using older or incompatible browsers, the previous method still works. So, if you find our ebooks useful, we’d appreciate any referrals you can send our way. And, to make it worthwhile for you to click that Help a Friend button this week, the referral coupon is also good for 50 percent off instead of the usual 10 percent off.
Looking Backward and Forward — When I look back at our goals for 2005, I see mixed success. Our partnership with Peachpit Press hasn’t brought as many new readers to the fold as we would have liked, largely due to the difficulty of selling print-based computer books. Other avenues for reselling also haven’t made significant impacts – for instance, we listed some of our ebooks on Amazon, but only a handful sold, perhaps because they’re difficult to find when browsing, or because they need some favorable reviews in their descriptions. Listing some of our titles with Google Print has been entirely ineffective so far – not a single order has come from someone searching Google Print and finding the answer in one of our ebooks. Only a few affiliates have sold more than a couple of books, probably since most don’t have large audiences.
On the bright side, our relationship with our friends at Small Dog Electronics has been fairly successful, and nearly 200 Macintosh user groups have joined our user group program to receive free review copies and discounts. Overall, though, we’ve learned that we should concentrate most of our efforts on direct sales, which is the most profitable approach anyway. It’s possible that direct sales are best for electronic goods in general, and our low prices (which don’t leave much margin for resellers) probably don’t help either.
Our back end publishing process has also become significantly smoother, as we’ve learned more about PDF and assembled a toolkit of essential utilities. Tonya and I now rely on Flow, from Near-Time Systems, for the collaborative writing and editing process for all our PR materials (we’re also using it more and more for TidBITS articles). BBEdit 8.2, with its tabbed editing, makes updating all the necessary Web pages as smooth as possible. PDF Enhancer from Apago and PDF Sages has become a key tool for compressing and optimizing PDFs, often shrinking them by 90 percent and more from their original size. And SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen Pro, particularly aided by a little AppleScript script written by Greg Scown of SmileOnMyMac, reduces the amount of time it takes me to create a sample of an ebook to a fraction of the time I spent in Acrobat Professional. And in general, I’ve distilled the overall process of setting up a new ebook in eSellerate to a science – it’s not instantaneous, but it’s about as fast as I can imagine given all the details in play.
Thanks to the increased ease of publishing, we’re hoping to again up our title count next year, and to expand from our core Macintosh focus to more general topics that will still interest existing readers. After all, there’s nothing wrong with doing new stuff, but it’s also important to stick with what you do well, and to support one’s early adopters. All that said, producing high quality content is hard work, and no matter how streamlined or automated our process is, at the end of the day, a smart person has to sit down and transfer his or her knowledge into the structure of an ebook, and a talented editor has to help make that knowledge understandable and enjoyable to read.
And that’s where I’d like to close – with a hearty thanks for the ever-growing Take Control team who have created – and shared in – our success: authors Joe Kissell, Glenn Fleishman, Matt Neuburg, Kirk McElhearn, Jeff Tolbert, Tom Negrino, Larry Chen, Steve Sande, and Brian Tanaka, editors Caroline Rose, Jeff Carlson, Don Sellers, and Lea Galanter, and of course my co-publisher Tonya Engst. We have quite a few more authors in various stages of completion, so I’m confident that we’ll be presenting all sorts of interesting ebooks in the next year. Thanks for your support!
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.
Internal Drive Reports Failing SMART Tests — When Disk Utility reports a hard drive’s SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) status as failing, is it time to retire the drive, or can it still be used? (11 messages)
New video-capable iPod — Apple has been careful to note that the new iPod is a music player that also plays video, leading to a discussion of the company’s marketing. (5 messages)
Multi-service IM clients — Readers look at programs that can communicate to all of the major instant-messaging services, versus having to run separate programs for each service. (2 messages)
Apple’s update barrage — Apple updated nearly all of its product line in the last month. What can we look forward to seeing at Macworld Expo in January? (6 messages)
AirPort Extreme power adapter — This vital piece of hardware disappeared during a reader’s move, so where can he find a replacement? (2 messages)
AirPort Internet sharing problem — A reader needs advice on setting up his Macs so that his Power Mac at work can act as a wireless base station for his laptop. (3 messages)