Do you rely on Entourage for handling your email, calendar, and contacts? Matt Neuburg and Joe Kissell dig into the details of Microsoft’s just-released Office 11.2.3 update, which brings major improvements to Entourage (and a few bug fixes for the rest of the package). Then Adam gets obsessed with burning discs that retain the Finder’s window attributes when opened, and Glenn Fleishman looks at synchronizing RSS reading history in NetNewsWire. In the news, we officially welcome Joe to the staff, Ovolab ships Phlink 3, Apple releases Security Update 2006-002 v1.1, and we publish new editions of our Take Control ebooks about GarageBand and launch a Take Control podcast about podcasting.
Security Update 2006-002 v1.1 Fixes Safari Glitch — Apparently, some people who moved Safari out of their Applications folders ran into a problem after updating to the recent Security Update 2006-002 where Safari would have a blank icon and not launch. If you were bitten by this glitch, Apple has released Security Update 2006-002 v1.1, available for PowerPC Macs (13.9 MB) and Intel Macs (15.4 MB). So far, the update appears only as a downloadable file, not via Software Update. [JLC]
Ovolab Ships Major Phlink Update — Ovolab has released the long-awaited version 3 of its flagship telephony software, Phlink. [Conflict of interest disclaimer: I wrote the manual for version 2 of this product.] Phlink turns your computer into an intelligent phone-answering machine. By means of preferences, configuration files and folders, and (for ultimate power) AppleScript, you customize what you want to have happen when the phone rings. By reading caller ID information from the phone line, by coordinating with your Address Book, and by responding to touch-tones emitted by caller’s phone, Phlink can enact decision-making scenarios, such as playing different outgoing greetings to different callers, storing recordings for different recipients in different folders, notifying computer users of calls across a network, automatically sending recordings via email, and much more.
Phlink 3, aside from numerous bug fixes and interface tweaks, brings "call snooping", which is the ability to record a call even if a human answers the phone. There is also improved outgoing dialing, accompanied by easy callback functionality. Plus, a new Voice Mailbox Setup utility helps you set up sophisticated voicemail scenarios, including remote retrieval of messages. Phlink 3 is a universal binary. The cost is $150, or $40 to upgrade from version 2. It comes with software and a USB breakout box that connects to the phone line. Phlink has many Tiger-only features, but will run fine on Panther (my copy of version 2 operates under 10.3.9 on an old Tangerine iBook that was gathering dust); Tiger is apparently required, though, for the new Voice Mailbox Setup utility. [MAN]
Desktop Picture Transparency Hacks — Every now and then I come across a site documenting something truly clever – not necessarily useful, but clever nonetheless. The French-language MacBidoulle site has been collecting pictures of computers – mostly Macs – whose desktop pictures have been very carefully manipulated such that it appears as though the monitor is entirely transparent. Some were clearly created purely as a joke, such as the desktop picture of a cat, with the real cat’s tail snaking out to the side. But with others, such as the picture of wood panelling that makes its iMac blend into the wall behind, you get the impression that the creator really wanted to make the Mac fit into its surroundings. Next time you have a few minutes to burn, check out the Flickr set collecting all the images. [ACE]
Although some people seem to believe that I do everything with TidBITS, nothing could be further from the truth – TidBITS wouldn’t exist without the ongoing work of Tonya, Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, Glenn Fleishman, and Mark Anbinder. But for a number of years now, TidBITS itself has been more or less in steady state, with most of our new project time going to Take Control. There are many and varied reasons for this fact, but we’ve decided to devote more effort to helping TidBITS evolve in new and interesting ways.
We may not have the resources of a large company, but we do have a lot of highly capable friends, and one of them, Joe Kissell, has agreed to join TidBITS as Senior Editor. We’ve worked closely with Joe since we convinced him to write "Take Control of Upgrading to Panther" for us in 2003, and his dedication to accuracy, helpfulness, and timeliness not only made his Take Control ebooks essential reading for many, it also caused us to think that Joe would make a fine addition to the regular TidBITS staff.
Along with writing articles that draw on his extensive knowledge and experience (all bolstered by the vast amount of research he’s done while writing his Interesting Thing of the Day site), Joe will also be serving as the fingers behind our general <[email protected]> email address and helping us create new TidBITS online services. Joe’s getting his feet wet with programming in Web Crossing right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can create once he understands the subtleties of what Web Crossing can do.
Of course, as TidBITS Senior Editor, Joe will have to learn to deal with the burdens of fame: the podcast paparazzi, being sent up in Crazy Apple Rumors, and – if he’s not careful – being asked to sing at Macworld Expo parties. Welcome to TidBITS, Joe!
Microsoft has released the 11.2.3 Update to Office 2004. The 57 MB download incorporates all previous updates and service packs, so if you’ve neglected the care and feeding of your copy of Office 2004, now might be a good moment to mend your ways.
The Read Me file accompanying the download lists various minor bug fixes for Word, a stability fix for PowerPoint, and a security fix for Excel; but don’t go looking for your favorite pet peeve to be mended in this release. (None of ours were.) The emphasis of this release is on Entourage, with several bug fixes (such as improved calendar printing, meeting and event handling, and 10.4 Server connection support) plus two long-awaited new features: Spotlight support, and synchronization with Address Book, iCal, and iSync.
Spotlight — To turn on Spotlight support, choose Entourage > Preferences > Spotlight and check "Include Entourage items in Spotlight search results." You should then press the Rebuild button to create the initial Spotlight metadata files. After that, when you perform a Spotlight search, Entourage items are included in the results, and choosing a found item opens it in Entourage. For example, the top hit for "TidBITS#" on Matt’s machine is "TidBITS#820/13-Mar-06", the subject line of the most recently sent TidBITS issue; choosing it opens that email message in Entourage. Searching for "Engst" gives a top hit in the "Contacts" category of "Adam C. Engst", and choosing it opens Adam’s entry in the Entourage Address Book. Notes are also searchable (with the results appearing in the "Documents" category), as are Calendar Items and Tasks (with the results appearing under "Events & To Do’s").
Spotlight searching is implemented through an importer (stored in your /Library/Spotlight folder) and XML metadata files reproducing the contents of your Entourage database as individual items (in ~/Library/Caches/Metadata; Matt’s is now about 32 MB, about one-third the size of his database). Just to give you an idea of the possible power of a search on this material, the metadata for an email message’s Spotlight metadata file includes (along with its content) its date sent, its subject, its recipients’ names and email addresses, its sender name and address, and more than two dozen other bits of information. One’s overall impression, in short, is that the Microsoft folks have done this exactly right, and despite the extra hard disk space that the implementation requires, we’re not at all sorry to have the contents of the Entourage database (which is in a proprietary and always at-risk format) reproduced in a form that any text processor can retrieve.
Sync Services — Entourage’s use of its own internal Address Book separate from Apple’s Address Book has been a long-standing problem, to which the solution has traditionally been Paul Berkowitz’s excellent AppleScript scripts. Microsoft’s approach has the advantage of using Mac OS X’s Sync Services, which means that it’s much faster than AppleScript and works not only between machines (and even, in a very real sense, platforms) using .Mac, but also, even if you don’t subscribe to .Mac, it works on your own machine and (most important) it’s live, or nearly so. To start, choose Entourage > Preferences > Sync Services and check "Synchronize contacts with Address Book and .Mac". You’re offered a choice of replacing Apple’s Address Book contents with Entourage’s, or the other way around, or merging them. Merging can result in some duplicate items, but the good news is that all you have to do is resolve these duplicates in one place; changes in one address book are reflected almost instantly in the other.
When you set up Sync Services synchronization for events and tasks with iCal, on the other hand, Entourage creates an "Entourage" calendar in iCal, and that’s the only set of iCal events that it synchronizes with. This seems a reasonable approach. Conflicts are unlikely, and the use of different calendars within iCal gives you control over what’s read back into Entourage and what’s not. One downside, however, is that if you already have numerous items in iCal and you hope to move them into Entourage, you must select them (individually, or collectively using the list pane at the bottom of the window) and assign them to the Entourage calendar. Even then, because Entourage uses Categories and Projects to organize events and tasks, rather than separate calendars as iCal does, you may have difficulty maintaining a distinction between types of events and tasks that maps correctly between the two programs.
If you are a .Mac member and have the relevant checkboxes (Calendars and Contacts) selected in the Sync pane of .Mac System Preferences, your Entourage contact, event, and task data also sync with .Mac. This means you can access your Entourage Address Book (though not, alas, your calendars) via the .Mac Web site, and that you can synchronize the data with other computers you own, even if they don’t have Entourage on them. Entourage also adds a new item to the Sync list: Entourage Notes. Since there is no equivalent Apple application, synchronizing this data at present simply means making a backup copy of it onto the .Mac servers, as well as making it available to other Macs you own that have Entourage on them.
In addition to Apple software, other Sync Services-compatible products such as SOHO Organizer can now access your Entourage data (and vice-versa). Similarly, if you have configured iSync to synchronize data with your Palm device, cell phone, or iPod, your Entourage data now suddenly becomes available to these devices as well (possibly through a third-party conduit such as The Missing Sync).
Unlike Apple Mail, which includes synchronization support for account settings, rules, signatures, and smart mailboxes, Entourage currently does no email-related syncing.
Overall, this seems on first meeting to be an extremely well conceived and implemented update. Entourage has suddenly become a far better Mac OS X citizen. With Spotlight searchability, Entourage users need no longer feel left behind by Mail users; with Address Book and iCal synchronization, they are no longer obligated to perform manual double-entry or risk forgetting which of two different venues contains a vital bit of information. There are some disappointments: Microsoft’s entire notion of Categories fails to cross the synchronization boundary, because it corresponds to nothing in Apple’s applications, and custom fields have the same problem. Nevertheless, it’s no exaggeration to say that a great weight has been lifted from the minds of Entourage users. To the Microsoft team that brought us this update: bravo.
RSS feed aggregator and news reader NetNewsWire released its first (and then second) public beta of the next major version of the software, numbered 2.1. Version 2.1b16 was released during the day, followed quickly by 2.1b17 after a few bugs were quickly fixed and found.
One of NetNewsWire’s key differentiating features among other RSS feed wranglers is synchronization, which enables you to use a copy of the program on different computers and, with some effort, keep both the feeds you subscribe to and the news items you’ve already marked as read in some sort of coordination. Supporting sync files can be written to either .Mac (for subscribers) or to an FTP server.
But this synchronization was never perfected. It wasn’t based on atomic transactions, so deleting a feed via NetNewsWire on one machine wouldn’t delete it from a corresponding machine. I also regularly saw items that I had marked as read at work appear as unread at home. These were minor carps, however, because I knew that developer Brent Simmons would ultimately solve these problems.
Instead of building the Web-based infrastructure that would make NetNewsWire more flexible (providing a way to read news online) and more accurate in synchronization, Brent sold NetNewsWire to NewsGator, one of the leading Web-based feed reading firms, and joined the company. NewsGator had a robust infrastructure that can handle large numbers of users and reduces the overall strain on RSS infrastructure by polling or retrieving items as necessary for all subscribers only once, regardless of the number of subscriptions. (For those of us who live and die by readership, this does reduce our ability to know how many unique visitors we have reading our feeds, but it’s a good trade-off.)
Subscriptions to NewsGator are free for Web-only usage, with fees from $3.95 to $7.95 for handheld, phone, and Windows Outlook newsreading depending on options. These subscriptions include limited access to paid content, too.
NetNewsWire 2.1 now uses the NewsGator infrastructure. First, sign up for a NewsGator account if you don’t already have one. Next, choose Show Sync Options from the File menu. The Account tab offers NewsGator as an option in the Sync Using pop-up menu. It also lets you name locations; the default name is taken from your computer’s Rendezvous (10.3) or Bonjour (10.4) name. (NetNewsWire works in 10.3.9 and later ostensibly, but a bug in the beta prevents Panther access at the moment.)
The Starting Over tab of the Show Sync Options dialog box lets you seed your feeds if you’re already using NetNewsWire. From my work computer, I chose to Replace Subscriptions on NewsGator Online. I have 228 feeds, and this operation took several minutes, but was completed accurately.
Now for the best part. The mechanism by which NewsGator and NetNewsWire synchronize is no longer a slow, modal process that must be manually invoked or scheduled. Rather, at every refresh, your NewsGator account is updated via a series of tiny transactions. The same is true when you create groups, remove or add feeds, or mark items read.
NewsGator also reduces the load on your Internet connection because NetNewsWire now first polls NewsGator to check whether a given feed has been updated since the last check. NewsGator’s centralized feed observation can tell NetNewsWire whether or not to retrieve the feed using a few bytes instead of hundreds or even thousands. NetNewsWire is noticeably faster as a result and should be much more usable on slower connections, such as 56K dial-up connections.
So far, the beta has worked flawlessly on my work and home computers, including refreshing my home computer’s feed from NewsGator and rearranging items in folders in NetNewsWire. As I tried feeds into folders, I could see those changes a few seconds later when I refresh the NewsGatorOnline tab on the company’s Web site.
NetNewsWire 2.1 goes a long way towards making RSS feed management and news reading a seamless and organized task. Perhaps I don’t need 228 feeds – I begin to have the overload factor that led me to RSS aggregation in the first place – but I can already more reliably see what I’ve read and remove feeds that are past their prime.
Sometimes easy things turn out to be more involved than you initially anticipated. Recently I wanted to burn a few CDs containing the full Take Control library for a user group raffle. Pop a blank CD into my Power Mac’s SuperDrive, let it mount in the Finder, drag the files over to it, and click the Burn button in that window. What could be easier?
Not much, if – and it’s a big IF – I didn’t care about user experience, in particular, what the window looks like when the user double-clicks the CD icon on the Desktop. Obviously, if the user views my CD in a column-view Finder window, I have no control at all, and that’s fine. But in the event that someone does double-click my CD’s icon in the Finder, I’d like it to open to a well-laid out window. And heck, why should users have to open the CD manually? If they insert it, it’s a pretty good chance they want to open the window. All this, reasonable as it might seem, turns out to be easier said than done.
With 31 ebooks and 3 folders for the Dutch, German, and Japanese translations, icon view doesn’t work well, leaving list view as the best option. But with 34 items in the folder, the default window is nowhere near large enough, and since some of our ebooks have fairly long titles, the name column isn’t wide enough either. It’s trivial to adjust the window size and column widths appropriately, but that’s where the fun begins. Follow along with my quest for the perfectly burned disc to learn the ins-and-outs of some common tools and approaches.
Just Burn It — The first and most obvious technique, as I noted before, was simply to pop a writable disc into my SuperDrive, drag the files and folders over to it, arrange the window as desired, name the CD, and click the Burn button in the Recordable CD row at the top of the window. The only problem is that the Finder ignores the layout of the window entirely, resorting instead to the default window size and icon view. Utterly useless. I’ve filed a bug with Apple.
Hot Folders — In Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, there’s another way: the burn folder. Choose File > New Burn Folder, and the Finder creates a special burn folder that makes it easy to burn multiple identical discs (in fact, when you burn a single disc, the Finder asks if you want to create a burn folder to simplify the task of making more). I thought that perhaps giving the burn folder the proper layout would transfer that layout to the eventual CD. I was wrong. Burn folders work in exactly the same way as burning one-off discs, and they ignore any changes the user may have made to the window size or layout. To my mind, this is even more problematic, since the entire point of a burn folder is to ease the process of making multiple copies, and once multiple copies are involved, it seems all the more likely that window layout would become important.
Disk Utility — Clearly, I needed another way. My next thought was to create a disk image – a file that can be mounted by Mac OS X as though it were a real disk of some sort – containing my files and with its window laid out the way I wanted. Using Apple’s Disk Utility, I created a disk image of roughly the right size, mounted it, copied the files to it and set its window layout appropriately. Then I selected it in the lower part of the drive pane in Disk Utility, and clicked the Burn button in the toolbar. A minute or two later, Disk Utility reported success, and indeed, when I opened the window, it looked just the way I wanted. Yay! Now if only there was a way to make it open automatically. After asking some smart friends, I learned that the following Unix command, properly modified for the name of the disc (the quotes are necessary if there are spaces in the disc name) and invoked before burning, twiddles things such that the CD window opens automatically. Success!
sudo bless -folder "/Volumes/discName" -openfolder "/Volumes/discName"
But as much as the process worked, it was a bit clumsy to perform, what with blessing the mounted disk image so it would open its window automatically. Also, I need to add new ebooks to the disk image periodically, so it has to be large enough to hold them. When creating disk images, it didn’t seem to matter if I chose a normal read/write image, or a sparse image. Sparse images are more interesting, though, since they can be any size virtually, but take up only as much space on disk as data is contained within them. In other words, I could create a 650 MB sparse image, copy 62 MB of data to it, and have the disk image file take up only 62 MB on my hard disk. The unfortunate downside is that even when burning the sparse image, Disk Utility must still burn the entire 650 MB, which takes a long time. Given how much longer it takes to burn 650 MB instead of 62 MB, it’s worth recreating the disk image every so often when I run out of room instead of using a large sparse image.
Nonetheless, I had a full workable solution that could perhaps be automated somewhat with iKey, and one that used only free tools. But perhaps there was an even better way.
Toast 7 Titanium — Next, I looked to Toast 7 Titanium, the popular disc-burning software from Roxio, to see if it would provide a better answer, since data CDs are almost the least of its capabilities. The most obvious way of using Toast was an improvement over the Finder, but not quite there. I dragged my files into the Data tab, selected the Auto-Open Disc Window checkbox in the Formats drawer, clicked the More button in the Formats drawer to access additional options, selected List View, and then burned the disc. I couldn’t see how Toast could possibly know what size to make the window, and indeed, it wasn’t the size or layout that I wanted.
My next thought was to try a disk image. Toast can make its own disk images – just choose File > Save as Disk Image after you’ve dragged the files and folders you want into the Data tab, but burning the disk image ran into exactly the same problem as before – the correct view, but no memory of window size or layout.
While perusing Toast’s online help I ran across mention of temporary partitions, which I could create by choosing Utilities > Create Temporary Partition. Once created and named, I was able to copy the files I wanted to it, arrange the window the way I wanted, and burn it to a CD successfully using the Copy tab, selecting the CD/DVD Copy radio button, and choosing the temporary partition from the Read From pop-up menu. Yes! The only slight downside was that Toast didn’t provide the Auto-Open Disc Window option, as it had for creating a Data CD.
The Unix command above worked fine when burning via Toast as well, but I turned to Toast expert John Acree at Roxio to see if Toast had a better approach. John told me that once I had created my temporary partition, I should, instead of using Toast’s Copy tab, switch to the Data tab, drag the mounted partition into the Data tab, select the Mac & PC radio button in the Formats drawer, make sure the Auto-Open Disc Window checkbox was selected, and then burn. It worked like a charm, and even better, although I had made my Toast temporary partition 650 MB (roughly the size of a CD), the disc that Toast burned contained only the 62 MB of actual data.
But if the temporary partition was truly temporary, it wouldn’t do me any good, since I didn’t want to recreate it each time. Toast has an answer to that as well. By default, upon quitting, it asks if it should delete the temporary partition, and when I clicked the Don’t Delete button, I was left with a Toast disk image in my Documents folder. (Toast’s preferences provide a setting for the location of these "converted items"; oddly, my copy of Toast ignored that setting and always stored them in my Documents folder.) And indeed, double-clicking this Toast disk image file opened it in Toast’s Copy tab, where I could click the Mount button to mount it, then switch to the Data tab, drag the mounted volume in, and burn. Toast can also install a Mount It contextual menu item that mounts disk images directly.
So my Toast solution was slightly better than my Disk Utility solution at this point, since it didn’t require dropping into Terminal to invoke a Unix command. But I was still going to be wasting 650 MB of hard disk space to store Toast’s disk image, even if I had only 62 MB of data. I could make the temporary partition smaller, but after all, saving space on disk is what sparse image files are for. On a hunch, I created a 650 MB sparse image file in Disk Utility, mounted it normally in the Finder, adjusted it as I wanted, and then dragged the mounted disk image to Toast’s Data tab and burned. Perfection at last! Now I had a small disk image that I could mount easily in the Finder by double-clicking, add to any time, and, with a quick drag-and-drop, burn quickly and exactly as desired in Toast.
Parting Thoughts — The Finder turns out to be fairly poor at remembering window layouts for disk images. To get a window to retain its layout, I had to set it, close the window, open the window again, set the layout again (the window had always shrunk slightly) and close and re-open again. It’s not a big deal, but it would be nice if the Finder could remember a disk image window layout in one step. I filed another bug with Apple.
I also looked at FileStorm, from MindVision, which simplifies the task of creating discs for distribution; it has a slew of options for background images, icon positioning, automatic window opening, and so on. I couldn’t use FileStorm for my CD, since my 34 items really needed to be shown in list view, and FileStorm is designed for icon view.
Lastly, it’s entirely possible that this whole problem is merely additional evidence of my obsessive-compulsive battle with window positioning. Back in 1996, I wanted to include a CD of software with the fourth edition of my "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" book, so I bought a CD burner to make the CD. The only problem was, as you might expect, that I couldn’t get the window position and layout to stick the way I wanted, and in fact, they were different every time. This happened right at the deadline of a project that had been fraught with troubles from the very start, and after hours of failed attempts, I grew so angry at the entire situation that Tonya called our friend Chad Magendanz (author of the late ShrinkWrap disk image utility) to come calm me down before I broke something. At the time, Chad was working on Microsoft’s CD titles – Encarta, Cinemania, Music Central, and so on – and he had lots of experience with mastering CDs. Although he wasn’t able to solve my problem, he did manage to help me cool down and finish off the disc. We’ve come a long way since then, but it seems that some problems have managed to survive all the changes.
New Take Control Ebooks Cover GarageBand 3 — Regardless of your musical experience, if you want to make the most of GarageBand 3, follow along with Seattle musician Jeff Tolbert as he shows you how to work creatively with GarageBand and get the most out of its features. In "Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand," you’ll find step-by-step directions for using GarageBand’s built-in loops to plan, edit, mix, and export a tune, and in "Take Control of Recording Music with GarageBand," Jeff covers how to get the most out of existing gear and what to purchase, as well as real-world recording studio techniques, using a mic, and applying effects. Both ebooks include linked-in audio that lets you listen to Jeff’s examples while you read about them. If you own an older version of one of these ebooks, click the Check for Updates button on the cover of your copy to find update information.
"Take Control of Podcasting" Goes Live as a Free Podcast — If "Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac" helped give you podcasting fever, be sure to tune in to author Andy Affleck’s new "Take Control of Podcasting" podcast to learn more and stay up to date with the latest developments in the field. The first full-length episode covers the new podcasting features in GarageBand 3 (complete with sound effects!) and Monbots in Sound Studio 3, and includes an interview with fellow Take Control author Kirk McElhearn about iTunes, podcasts, and Skype.
You can hear even more of Andy’s dulcet tones on the popular MacVoices podcast as host Chuck Joiner interviews Andy Affleck about podcasting and his ebook:
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.
Comments on A Switcher’s Tale — Readers respond to last week’s article, including the need for using a Windows environment and the ongoing debate about Apple’s historic insistence on single-button mice. (8 messages)
Flash vs. iPod — A reader who keeps his Eudora email files stored on an iPod (and mounts it on whatever computer he’s using at the time) shares his experience attempting to switch over to flash memory. (1 message)
Intel-based Macs and virtual Windows — Robert Movin’s article from last week mentioned the possibility of running Windows on an Intel Mac, but other readers want to know about emulating Windows within the Mac environment instead of creating a dual-boot scenario. (5 messages)
Hacked by a font? After installing a new font, a reader’s Mac goes haywire, suggesting a problem with the font cache. (2 messages)
Recommend a Mac-compatible GSM Cell Phone for North America? TidBITS Talk travelers are looking for opinions on Mac-compatible cell phones. (1 message)