Our topics span the gamut this week, as Jeff Carlson leads off with news of Adam’s #3 ranking in the latest MDJ Power 25 survey. Mark Anbinder looks at the new education-only iMac, Matt Neuburg examines how Dashboard phones home to Apple and covers the release of Style Master 4.5, and Adam looks at how Google has become a verb and lists some recent Take Control author and staff interviews. In the news, we welcome Mark/Space as a sponsor, cover the release of Opera 9 and SOHO Notes 5.5 (replacing StickyBrain), and point you toward a particularly hilarious week of posts at Crazy Apple Rumors.
Mark/Space Sponsoring TidBITS — We’re pleased to welcome our latest long-term sponsor, the synchronization experts at Mark/Space, Inc. Mark/Space has been around as long as TidBITS, both having been founded in 1990, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve made a point of stopping by their trade show booths to say hello to Brian Hall, Mark/Space’s president and CEO, and to see the latest cool handheld device he had managed to connect to the Mac. Although Mark/Space still sells several Palm OS programs, the company has recently focused most of its attention on The Missing Sync, connectivity software for syncing Macs with a variety of handheld gadgets, including Palm OS devices, Windows Mobile handhelds and smartphones, and Sony PlayStation Portables (PSP). With the ever-evolving capabilities of these devices, The Missing Sync has kept pace, such that it can now sync (as appropriate to the device): contacts, events, notes, documents, photographs, music, and even movies. I was particularly surprised to see the announcement of The Missing Sync for Sony PSP, since I hadn’t quite realized just how capable and flexible the PSP is. Mark/Space also just announced the acquisition of MySync from MildMannered Industries, a synchronization program that can sync any data type that’s compatible with Apple’s Sync Services in Tiger, with automatic detection of other Macs on your network via Bonjour. MySync is still in public beta, but it looks extremely useful, particularly for people who don’t subscribe to .Mac and thus can’t sync with .Mac as an intermediary. Thanks to Mark/Space for the support of TidBITS and of the Mac community! [ACE]
Opera 9 Released — Opera Software has released Opera 9, the latest version of its traditionally quirky Web browser. In a world where browsers are included with the operating system (Internet Explorer under Windows, and Safari on Mac OS X) or available for free (the open-source Firefox), you might think it’s crazy for a third-party company to develop a competing Web browser. However, Opera has managed to make inroads on all platforms, from Windows to Mac OS X to cellular phones. The release of Opera 9 also shows that you need to innovate to survive.
For example, this version adds built-in support for file sharing using BitTorrent (a peer-to-peer technology for more efficiently sending very large files over the Internet); a content blocker that enables you to choose which types of items are blocked from viewing (such as ads); the capability to add search engines to the search field; and a new widgets feature that can run small Dashboard-like programs within Opera (although not as exciting under Mac OS X 10.4, this feature is seen more as a preemptive strike under Windows against the similar widget functionality of the upcoming Windows Vista operating system). Lastly, taking a cue from OmniWeb, Opera 9 can display a thumbnail preview of an open Web page by hovering the mouse pointer over the page’s tab. Opera 9 is free, with the option of paying $30 for a one-year Premium Support service. It’s a 13.1 MB download. [JLC]
StickyBrain Replaced with SOHO Notes — Chronos LLC announced today that its highly regarded snippet keeper, StickyBrain, is being discontinued in favor of SOHO Notes, a product with a nearly identical interface but more features. StickyBrain started as a more-powerful replacement for Apple’s Stickies application and evolved into a multipurpose database-driven repository for notes, URLs, Web pages, and other information; it offered Spotlight searching, a system-wide menu for grabbing information, and numerous other capabilities. (For more about StickyBrain, see "Stuck on StickyBrain: Info-Clutter Organizer Extraordinaire" from 2003 and "Three Simple Snippet Keepers" from 2001.) SOHO Notes includes all this plus multi-user capabilities, note syncing via .Mac, and support for multiple simultaneous databases. The announcement corresponded with the release of SOHO Notes 5.5.2, an update that adds several new features, such as blog posting using the Atom protocol, color-coded labels, dated and time-stamped journal entries, and audio recording.
SOHO Notes costs $40. Registered users of StickyBrain 4.0 or higher can upgrade to SOHO Notes for free; upgrades for owners of older versions cost $25. [JK]
Crazy Apple Rumors Site Skewers Week’s News — John Moltz’s Crazy Apple Rumors site is one of my must-reads every day, and while I find the site funny most of the time, not many weeks have as many news stories so ripe for skewering. On 03-Jul-06, John picked up on the news of several well-known bloggers switching from Mac OS X to Ubuntu Linux. The site’s coverage announced excitedly that it would henceforth be known as Crazy Ubuntu Rumors, a euphoria that lasts for several paragraphs until reality set in. Two days later, John was back, with a graphical look at all the different devices that sources claimed would be running "Leopard Mobile" (a rumored version of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard for the iPod), ranging from the Motorola Razr cell phone to, well, a bagel. The picture of the "Leopard Mobile" screenshot pasted over a cream-cheese slathered bagel says so much about rumors in the Mac world. And finally, on 06-Jul-06, the news of Microsoft’s impending "iPod killer" came under John’s knife, as he poked fun at Microsoft’s staid naming scheme, calling it the "Microsoft Windows Media Player 11 Portable Media Player Device Media Player Media Player Media Player," after which he listed out the first six steps in the device’s instructions, an over-the-top parody of the worst Windows documentation imaginable. If you haven’t visited Crazy Apple Rumors recently and need a laugh, last week’s posts are utterly worth the visit. [ACE]
We’re pleased to note that TidBITS publisher Adam C. Engst achieved his sixth consecutive top five ranking in the MDJ Power 25, moving up two places this year to rank behind only Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs and COO Tim Cook. Voters in the nearly annual survey said that Adam’s ranking was due to the reach of TidBITS and the success of the Take Control ebook series, along with his vast number of connections and desire to make the Mac community a better place by making sure that the right people know each other.
For those who haven’t followed the MDJ Power 25, it attempts to ferret out who wields power and influence in the Macintosh community – whether or not the names are familiar to most users. It’s not a public popularity contest – votes are gathered only from a select set of Macintosh industry insiders: journalists, programmers, executives, and others in key positions.
Filling out the top five this year were Apple industrial designer Jonathan Ive and Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg, who broke into the top five for the first time. Also moving up significantly was Macworld’s Jason Snell (#6), who is now officially Vice President and Editorial Director of Mac Publishing. You can see the entire list at the first link above; to read the full explanations of what each person does and why they warranted inclusion on the list, sign up for a free trial subscription to MWJ, the weekly version of the daily (and even more detailed) MDJ.
Newcomers to the list include:
Paul Otellini (#9), president and CEO of Intel Corporation, thanks to his direct involvement in Apple’s transition to Intel CPUs.
Tony Fadell (#12), Apple’s senior vice president of the iPod division, because of the "halo effect" that has caused iPod owners to become Mac users.
John Gruber (#14), the author of the excellent Daring Fireball weblog that has become required reading for many in the Macintosh community.
Brent Simmons (#16), the developer of the popular NetNewsWire RSS reader that so many people use for their daily news intake.
Scott Forstall (#18), Apple’s vice president of "platform experience," which means that he oversees the high-level parts of Mac OS X, including the human interface.
Nick Ciarelli (#23), the publisher of the Think Secret rumor site who was catapulted to fame by being sued by Apple.
Bob Mansfield (#24), Apple’s vice president of Macintosh hardware engineering.
Congratulations to these people and everyone else who made the list this year!
Yet another PowerPC-based Macintosh is consigned to the history books. Apple last week introduced a new, low-end, stripped-down version of its Intel-based 17-inch iMac computer, replacing the eMac for the education market. The new $900 model, priced $300 below the education cost of the existing 17-inch model, boasts many of the same features.
Apple has economized on the new model by replacing the 8x dual-layer SuperDrive of the $1200 model with a 24x Combo Drive, capable of burning CDs and reading, but not burning, DVDs; including a smaller hard drive (80 GB instead of 160 GB); using the same Intel GMA 950 graphics chipset with shared memory as the MacBook and Mac mini; and leaving out Bluetooth and the Apple Remote that has become a standard feature on new Macs.
The low-end iMac still features a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, 512 MB of memory, AirPort Extreme wireless networking, and a built-in iSight video camera. The hard drive capacity and memory can be expanded via build-to-order options, and an Apple Remote can be ordered as an add-on, along with Apple’s external USB modem.
Apple says the new iMac model, which was shown last week at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Diego, is available immediately to education customers (and only education customers at this point). The all-in-one eMac, with its PowerPC chip and Apple’s last remaining CRT monitor, will remain available as long as supplies last, alongside remaining stock of the G4-based iBook.
Anyone who has ever run Activity Monitor (in the Utilities folder) and chosen Administrator Processes from the pop-up menu is aware that a Mac OS X computer is actually a hotbed of little programs that start automatically and whose purposes are probably unclear to most users. This is not usually a source of concern; most of these programs were put there by Apple and are part of Mac OS X. Ignorance is Bliss, and Big Brother Knows Best.
Recently, though, a new and unknown process, "dashboardadvisor", has been making an occasional appearance on the Activity Monitor scene. What’s more, users of Objective Development’s Little Snitch utility, which intercepts outgoing network connections, were alerted to the fact that such a connection was precisely what this process, each time it runs, was attempting to form (under the name "dashboardadvisoryd"). It was connecting with a server at apple.com. Your computer, in popular parlance, was "phoning home!" This discovery cued the usual spate of reactionary and indiscriminate Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Big Brother, so far from Knowing Best, was apparently Watching You. What was the process doing? Counting Mac OS X users? Reporting your name and address? Stealing your password?
Let’s put the matter in perspective. What’s wrong with a program making an outgoing network connection? That is precisely the job of your Web browser and your email client; you’re more likely to be troubled when it doesn’t do it. But in that case, in some sense, you initiated the connection, and in some sense you can "see" the connection as it happens (by means of a progress indicator, for example). An automatically launched, background-only task that "phones home," on the other hand, is an invisible program secretly sending an invisible message. And this, after all, really is how spammers and hackers learn your secret information or attack servers from the machines of innocent, unsuspecting users.
But this process, you happen to know, is not the work of a spammer or a hacker. It is part of Mac OS X; in particular, it was introduced into the Dock application as part of the recent upgrade to Mac OS X 10.4.7. Apple made no secret of it; they announced that "you can now verify whether or not a Dashboard widget you downloaded is the same version as a widget featured on www.apple.com before installing it." Furthermore, interception of the actual network "conversation" initiated by the process in question (easily performed with Stairways Software’s Interarchy) shows no information is being transmitted; rather, some information is being requested and received. It’s exactly like what happens when the Software Update window suddenly appears unbidden on your computer and announces that "New software is available for your computer." How do you think Software Update knows this? It’s because an invisible background process initiated an invisible network connection to Apple’s server, and information was requested and received.
Still, there is one tiny but arguably crucial difference between the behavior of Software Update and that of "dashboardadvisory": Software Update gives you a way to turn off its automatic behavior (through the Software Update pane of System Preferences). The advertised behavior of the Dashboard check is that "you can now verify," whereas the reality turns out to be that "your computer is going to check in periodically with Apple whether you like it or not." That difference is enough to raise the hackles of many users, including me. Apple might have elected to use any of several nicer ways to implement this, and didn’t.
So, even though this feature is probably benign, one can’t help imagining a silent mass protest in which every Mac OS X user would assert freedom of choice by turning it off, notwithstanding Apple’s failure to provide an on-off switch. And this, it turns out, is not difficult to do. The process in question is triggered through a file located in /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ (the file is called com.apple.dashboard.advisory.fetch.plist). Files in this folder are actually commands to a kind of ultimate background process called launchd, whose job is basically to launch other processes. These commands are just text files, and therefore they can be edited. And there’s a wonderful freeware program, Peter Borg’s Lingon, that allows you to do just that, very easily.
So, if you’d like to participate in the protest, here’s what to do:
- Download and run Lingon.
Switch to the "System Daemons" pane (you’ll have to supply administrator authorization).
Find and select the line whose Label is "com.apple.dashboard.advisory.fetch".
Click the Unload button in the toolbar.
That’s it! The plist file will have a Disabled key written into it, and the Dashboard advisory process will, I believe, never again be run automatically through launchd. Of course, it’s possible that you’ve now opened your computer to a new risk, where you might download a malicious Dashboard widget masquerading as a legitimate one; but my favored solution to that, given its annoying implementation and inherent insecurity, is not to use Dashboard at all.
Western Civilization has released version 4.5 (quickly updated to 4.5.1) of its flagship CSS editor, Style Master, making the creation of good-looking Web pages easier than ever. TidBITS has followed the growth and development of Style Master for many years.
Changes are minor but useful. For example, previously, CSS statements were listed in the order in which they appeared in your style sheet; this version introduces searching, sorting, and grouping of CSS statements. Gone are the drawers that slid in and out every time you switched from editing one type of CSS statement to another; the editor is now a single floating window. Furthermore, if you know a property’s name and usage, you no longer have to hunt among different editor panes for the one containing it, as there is now for the first time an additional editor pane that lists all properties.
There are those of us who wouldn’t try to write CSS without Style Master, because its CSS statement editor dialogs guide your hand and head through every possible option so that you end up with perfectly correct CSS. Nevertheless, it’s disappointing to find that Style Master’s CSS analysis tools, introduced over a year ago in version 4.0, are not significantly improved; I much prefer, for this purpose, the gorgeous and brilliant dedicated CSS/HTML analyser Xyle Scope ($20).
Style Master runs on Mac OS X 10.3 or higher, is not yet available as a universal binary (there is also a Windows version), and costs $60. Upgrades from earlier versions cost $30, unless you already paid for the upgrade to version 4.0, in which case this upgrade is free. Users are also requested to pay $20 for each additional computer on which Style Master will be used. A free 30-day demo is available as an 8.5 MB download.
Trademark lawyers everywhere are shaking their heads in dismay, as the Oxford English Dictionary has now added Google’s company name to the dictionary as a verb. Although this would seem to be a good thing for Google, thanks to the free advertising, such unofficial uses dilute company trademarks, making it more difficult to pursue trademark infringement lawsuits. Other companies whose names have fallen prey to "verbification" include FedEx, TiVo, and Xerox.
But let’s turn our attention from trademark law to usage questions. (Hey, we worry about this kind of stuff in TidBITS!) Here’s how the OED’s definition reads:
intr. To use the Google search engine to find information on the Internet. trans. To search for information about (a person or thing) using the Google search engine.
That’s clear enough, but from what we can tell, the OED seems to be sticking with the capitalization of Google, even when used as a verb, as in the sentence, "I’ll Google that information when we get back to the office." On the other hand, in April 2006 the editors of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary were considering adding Google as a verb, but lowercasing it, and this week they made the addition official.
There has been some discussion of whether or not capitalization is necessary. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that lowercasing such verbs is common, but that the final decision is up to authors and editors, and that whatever is chosen should be followed consistently throughout a work. Personally, I prefer my verbs lowercased, even if (or perhaps because) that pains the trademark lawyers. So if you want to read more about this story, just google for "Google verb".
Take Control Authors Speak… at Length — When we aren’t busy writing and editing, we can often be found talking about Take Control and the topics we cover in our ebooks. So if you’re looking for a little drive-time distraction from the taillights and talk radio, give these podcasts a listen:
Joe Kissell talks about "Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac" on Chuck Joiner’s MacVoices show and Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl Live; the book also received a 5 of 5 rating in a recent MyMac.com review.
Similarly, Sharon Zardetto Aker chatted with Chuck on MacVoices and Gene on Tech Night Owl Live about fonts in Mac OS X and her two Take Control ebooks on that topic. Her ebooks also received a nice review on Geek.com from Allan Warner, who notes that he’s from the old school when it comes to books, but says that "Take Control of Font Problems in Mac OS X" was "the first electronic book that I’ve felt comfortable with."
However, no author has been as busy talking as Steve Sande, author of "Take Control of iWeb". He made the rounds of Gene’s Tech Night Owl Live and Chuck’s MacVoices shows, and added an appearance on Shawn King’s Your Mac Life (the archive of which is unfortunately no longer available).
Meanwhile, Take Control Editor-in-Chief Tonya Engst and I made several appearances together on the MacNotables podcast, first in a joint show in which we talk about what it’s like to work together, and most recently in a group discussion with Ted Landau and Chuck Joiner about my Take Control-bolstered #3 ranking in the recent MDJ Power 25 survey of who wields influence in the Mac industry. In between, I participated in another group show with Ted Landau and Andy Ihnatko, two great guys whose utter coolness is marred only by not having yet written Take Control ebooks, about Apple’s latest ads, the problems with FileVault, and the Google Video Player for Mac. Last, but by no means least, I was interviewed about TidBITS, Take Control, and much more on the wonderfully named Dog Food for Thought Pawcast from Small Dog Electronics.
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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.
The Mystery of the Burnt Thighs — Readers suggest alternatives for keeping a hot laptop cool. (8 messages)
10.4.7 Update — The recent Mac OS X 10.4.7 update causes problems for some readers, especially related to use of the SOCKS proxy, while others see no difficulties. (10 messages)
Disable ssh password login under Tiger — Readers discuss ssh password authentication settings, including a way to turn off passwords altogether (and whether that’s a good idea). (6 message)
.Mac security question: security question & birthday were reset — A reader suspects that her .Mac account has been compromised when she discovers that the challenge questions for password access have been changed. How could this have happened? (2 messages)
10.4.7 ate my printer? After upgrading to Mac OS X 10.4.7, printing errors crop up. Is it the operating system update, or perhaps old printer drivers? (4 messages)
Adam more influential than Gates — Adam’s placement at #3 on the MDJ Power 25 list puts him ahead of some low-profile billionaire from Redmond. How are the rankings compiled? (4 messages)
Mac OS X Routine Maintenance — Randy Singer’s Macintosh OS X Routine Maintenance Web site gets an update that should be useful for TidBITS Talk readers. (1 message)