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Apple is hosting its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week, and kicked things off by previewing key features of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and completing its transition to Intel processors by retiring its PowerPC-based Power Mac and Xserve lines in favor of faster Intel-based Mac Pro and Xserve systems. Also this week, Adam announces new “Take Control of Syncing in Tiger” and “iPhoto 6: Visual QuickStart Guide” ebooks; Matt Neuburg keys into TypeIt4Me 3.0; Jeff Carlson looks at Apple’s latest security update; and Glenn Fleishman covers AOL’s conversion to a free Internet service, the announcement of VMWare for Mac OS X, and a possible Wi-Fi exploit which could affect Apple’s Intel-based Macs.

Adam Engst No comments

First Issue Served by Our New System

So we’re suckers for punishment. We just had to schedule the first real-world use of our new issue creation and generation system on the same day that Apple released the new Mac Pro Intel-based desktops and previewed Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard at WWDC. As a result, we spent much more of the day writing up the news (keynote days like this are our primary use of SubEthaEdit, since we can all write and edit simultaneously) than doing the final testing we had planned on. I won’t go into the details of the new system, since you have enough to read this week, but suffice to say that you’ll be seeing some changes in the format of your issue, and the transition to our new system makes certain things both possible and desirable. We’ll continue tweaking over time, so if you notice particular things that strike you as a problem, let me know.

Jeff Carlson No comments

Apple Releases Security Update 2006-004

Apple last week posted Security Update 2006-004, which patches a number of potential vulnerabilities. Some updated components include AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) Server, Bluetooth Setup Assistant, Bom (which handles archive files), fetchmail, and gunzip. A number of image-related problems have been addressed as well that could enable malformed images to crash the computer or execute code. Also, changes in LaunchServices, OpenSSH, telnet, and WebKit deal with connecting to malicious servers or Web pages. The update is available via Software Update, or as stand-alone downloads for Mac OS X 10.3.9 Client (29.5 MB), Mac OS X 10.3.9 Server (42.7 MB), Mac OS X 10.4.7 Client (Intel) (8.3 MB), and Mac OS X 10.4.7 Client (PPC) (5.4 MB).

Glenn Fleishman No comments

More, Less, and No Information on Running Windows on a Mac

VMware, a leading developer of virtualization technology, will offer an Intel-based Mac OS X version of their virtual machine software, while Microsoft will not revise Virtual PC for Intel-based Macs, the two firms announced today during WWDC. Apple provided no new information in public statements about Boot Camp’s integration with next spring’s release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. (Microsoft’s FAQ on Intel support was not updated at this writing; we received word via press release.)

In general terms, virtualization software enables a computer to run one operating system parallel with another; for instance, virtualization software for Mac OS X might enable a user to run Mac OS X and Windows XP (or a distribution of Linux) side by side without switching from one to the other via rebooting. Robert Movin covered virtualization technologies in TidBITS-825, and reviewed Parallels Desktop in TidBITS-834.

VMware expects to release a beta version of their product “later this year,” and offers a signup page to signal interest in being part of that testing. More significant than VMware offering competition for running Intel-based operating systems within Mac OS X is the firm’s plan to provide interchange support for disk images created on all platforms with each other. This support means that a virtual machine running on VMware’s Windows XP client edition could be copied or mounted via a fast network shared volume on a Mac and run without conversion. VMware claims four million users.

Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit ended months of speculation about whether the division would update Virtual PC to work with Intel-based Macs. The company said it would have to start from scratch rather than revise current software, and stated that “alternative solutions” offered by Apple and others would do the trick.

Parallels has already released their Parallels Desktop for Mac package for running Intel-based operating systems.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Wireless Driver Hack Could Target Macs and Windows

A potentially serious exploit of Mac OS X’s wireless networking hardware drivers has had a very limited demonstration. The exploit, which apparently relies on a flaw at the lowest level of the drivers’ interaction with Mac OS X’s kernel, has not yet been independently confirmed, nor has Apple released a statement on the matter. The flaw, if proven, could allow an attacker to gain root access privileges via Wi-Fi.

Researchers Jon Ellch and David Maynor found the flaw in Apple’s Intel-based Macs running Mac OS X and in PCs running Windows XP using certain Wi-Fi adapters, and presented their findings at the Black Hat USA 2006 Briefings last week. They declined to show the exploit live to avoid giving out details that could be turned into a security threat in the wild.

The researchers maintain that the flaw can affect any Wi-Fi equipped computer as noted above, regardless of whether the computer is actively connected or connecting to a network, and the exploit does not involve a rogue access point – one that attempts to fake an identity to get a connection from a client.

The videotape that the researchers showed didn’t demonstrate that. The researchers connected what appears to be a covered-up USB device to a MacBook, which is then connected to a network running on a Linux computer. They then show files being manipulated on the desktop but no other attack being carried out.

There is lively discussion at the Washington Post’s Security Fix blog about whether this is just a rigged demo or a real event, although beware the personal abuse directed at the blog’s writer, Brian Krebs. (Many are taking this attack against a MacBook personally. Surprise, surprise.)

According to two experts TidBITS has heard from, the videotape is inconclusive and could be either a staged stunt or a real exploit. Jim Thompson, a veteran Wi-Fi engineer and security expert, is dubious, and he explains why in great technical detail. Security expert Rich Mogull, research vice president at Gartner, said that the exploit is credible and that it’s possible that similar exploits on multiple platforms developed independently are already in the wild. Mogull has seen reports that a similar exploit may have been used at a recent conference that he declined to identify for security reasons. The researchers who presented at Black Hat are taking significant precautions to prevent their particular research from getting out of their grasp, he said.

Lending credence to this potential flaw was the release by Intel in July of driver updates for three of their Centrino wireless products. Notes for the release label the patch for their oldest adapter (an 802.11b-only model) as having an exploit that could allow a “malformed frame,” a packet-like chunk, to allow a hacker to gain control of a machine. Two newer adapters seem to have a severe, but less frightening flaw. Mogull said that these Intel patches show that this kind of exploit is not an unknown issue.

As noted, there is no confirmation of this exploit from anyone who has seen the actual attack carried out in person, no separate validation of the attack from third parties using different equipment and the same approach, and no public response from Apple, Intel, or Microsoft, despite the firmware patches from Intel. There is also no identified attack of this sort in the wild.

At the moment, our suggestion is not to worry. The likelihood of this flaw being exposed, becoming widespread, and threatening your particular machine over the period of time it might take Apple to issue a patch is extremely remote. The exploit also appears to be limited to Intel-based computers at the moment, making it even less of a concern for many Mac users.

We’ll update this story as details become available, but if Apple releases a security update that describes a fix for a malformed frame and you travel around with your MacBook or MacBook Pro, you should consider installing it as soon as is practical.

Matt Neuburg No comments

TypeIt4Me Returns Again, Again

Riccardo Ettore’s TypeIt4Me has a long history; it’s been around since 1987, which is longer than I’ve been using a Mac. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how it works. You supply TypeIt4Me with pairs of abbreviations and expansions (such as “ty” and “TypeIt4Me”). Then TypeIt4Me watches you type and substitutes expansions for abbreviations in just about any application.

As I explained back in January, 2003, you’d think that TypeIt4Me would be impossible to reimplement under Mac OS X, given the latter’s deliberate resistance to system-level hackery. But not so. Earlier Mac OS X versions of TypeIt4Me were ingeniously implemented as an input manager, a mechanism that evades this resistance. However, whether because this implementation was proving somewhat limited and unreliable or because input managers have recently been tainted with ignominy thanks to their proven potential as a security hole, TypeIt4Me 3.0, which was released late last month, has been rewritten to use the Accessibility API instead (like its rivals, Typinator and CopyPaste + yType).

So now, when you install TypeIt4Me, you see – or rather, you don’t see – a background-only application, controlled by a System Preferences pane and optionally manifesting itself as a menu extra (an icon and menu at the right side of the menubar). When you type an abbreviation followed by whichever of three dozen delimiter characters you’ve specified (e.g. “ty@”, where “@” is the delimiter), TypeIt4Me observes this fact through the Accessibility API and tells the application you’re using to select those characters and paste in their place the expanded version, restoring the clipboard afterwards. A special expansion syntax enables you to perform many useful additional tricks, such as specifying where the insertion point should be after the paste, or inserting the original contents of the clipboard at some point in the pasted material (good for entering HTML opening and closing tags, for example).

Abbreviation/expansion pairs are stored in files that can live anywhere you like, and an abbreviation file (or an individual abbreviation) can be associated with a specific application. TypeIt4Me can also be disabled for particular applications, and in a pinch you can even temporarily turn off TypeIt4Me’s automatic behavior entirely, by choosing Pause from its menu. In that case, you can still enter an expansion by choosing its abbreviation from the menu.

In my view, TypeIt4Me 3.0 represents a significant architectural revision; it is elegant and simple, appears reliable, and truly makes for a fine blend of flexibility and user confidence. TypeIt4Me 3.0 requires Mac OS X 10.3 Panther or higher, and is a Universal Binary. It is a 4 MB download, and costs $27 ($9 to upgrade form any previous version); you can try it free for 30 days.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

AOL Drops Fees, Offers 5 GB Free Storage

America Online dropped a fee bomb last week: You can use their antiquated, funky, irritating software with an AOL account at no cost, as long as you don’t want to use dial-up Internet access. Dial-up accounts cost just $10 per month for unlimited usage and unlimited customer support. (Some press reports stated that dial-up service would remain nearly $26 per month for unlimited use and that the free accounts wouldn’t be available until September. Rather, $26 per month accounts will drop in price to $10 per month for existing subscribers over what appears to be a one-month transition. Current broadband-only users pay about $15 per month, and that fee will disappear.)

AOL has 18 million subscribers, but lost one million in the second quarter. All dial-up service providers, including EarthLink, AOL, and even a corporate reseller called iPass, are seeing significant quarter-over-quarter declines as U.S. users switch to broadband Internet service.

Having dealt with AOL in the past, I wanted to see this with my own eyes. I went to AOL’s Web site, clicked Sign Up Now in the upper right corner, and was offered free (bring your own bandwidth) or $10 per month for unlimited dial-up connectivity. My in-laws have been paying the $10 per month rate for unlimited use for some time, and I previously thought it was a billing error. Now I think AOL has quietly been ratcheting the cost down to customers who complain (as my in-laws did) during the transition period. They’re now broadband users and will keep AOL, since they don’t want to get new email addresses at the moment.

AOL says that they will make money through – volume! Underpants gnomes! Spaghetti feeds! Advertising! Guess which one of those four is true. The company also expects to save oodles of money by dropping thousands of employees who deal with issues of billing, payment, and associated matters, and the elimination of four million billion tons of AOL CD-ROM inserts and mailings. The company also believes that selling ads to what they expect will be a new, larger audience will produce better returns. (About 1,300 customer service job cuts were announced in May, and 5,000 on 03-Aug-06. AOL currently employs about 19,000 employees worldwide.)

What can AOL offer you? If you like their form of newsgroups and chat, walled-garden news sites, and horrible, horrible email, then it’s for you. I have a hard time seeing how AOL offers anything unique within its package. Its Web-based interface for email is not bad at all, by contrast, and a number of Web-only services are just fine. And AOL Instant Messenger forms the basis for Apple’s iChat services.

Oh, and AOL wants to give you 5 GB of free online storage, too. AOL acquired online storage firm Xdrive almost precisely a year ago. The company currently charges $10 per month for single-user access to 5 GB. (Larger amounts of storage and workgroups cost extra, and they work hard to hide the pricing link.)

Xdrive will start offering 5 GB of online storage for personal use to all comers in early September. These accounts offer ways to create public folders to let others retrieve files. Offering this amount of storage for free raises the bar on Internet-based storage in the same way that Google’s Gmail – now in its second year as a public beta! – did for free and cheap email storage, transfers, and attachments.

What all this means for AOL is hard to say. AOL’s software still stinks. AOL’s email filtering is highly erratic. Any of us who run mailing lists are familiar with suddenly having all of our double opt-in, fully approved AOL users bounce our email for some obscure reason that’s impossible to address directly with AOL.

And, well, AOL has betrayed users’ general trust over and over again, primarily in terms of its unpleasant, legally proven behavior in making it almost impossible to stop being charged for their service. This will all change when AOL becomes uninterested in collecting user revenue, and the marketing machine is replaced by an advertising machine.

On the other hand, the apparently purposeful but unauthorized-from-the-top release 10 days ago of some 20 million search queries entered by over 650,000 AOL Search users during a recent three-month period shows that AOL may still not have the right internal controls and sensibility that benefits our interest. The data were intended for academic research, but the keyword searches were organized by user, and were not “anonymized” by having identifiable queries and private data removed. AOL pulled the data today and apologized, but it’s far too late to put that downloaded-genie back in the bottle.

Do we need and trust AOL in a world of a billion other Web sites, many of them offering better features and run with better oversight? They’ll have to show us why.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Mac Pro, Xserve Round Out Macintosh High End

Apple completed its transition to Intel-based computers today with the release of the new Mac Pro desktop and Xserve server machines, throwing significant weight at the top end of the Mac line and replacing the old Power Mac G5 and Xserve G5.

Goodbye Power, Hello Pro — The Mac Pro shares the same aluminum enclosure as the Power Mac G5, but inside, it’s no mere speed bump. The Mac Pro is powered by two 64-bit, dual-core Intel Xeon 5100 series processors running at up to 3 GHz, with 4 MB of shared L2 cache per processor. Replacing the PowerPC G5’s AltiVec graphics processor is a 128-bit SSE3 vector engine that Apple claims is faster than its predecessor. Not surprisingly, Apple claims everything is faster on this machine, from performance per watt (3 times better than the Power Mac G5 Quad) to general usage (1.6 to 2.1 times faster).

The Mac Pro can accommodate up to 2 TB (terabytes) of hard drive storage in four internal Serial ATA hard drive bays, which are easily swappable in slide-in carriers (similar to the bays in the Xserve). Four PCI Express slots are available for further expansion, one of which is double-wide to accommodate today’s high-end graphics cards. There are also two bays for optical drives: a 16x SuperDrive comes standard, and the other bay can be configured with a second SuperDrive. Although Apple is emphasizing how convenient it can be to burn two discs at once, we suspect that the real reason for dual optical drives is preparation for including an internal Blu-ray or HD-DVD burner in the future. (Roxio recently announced Blu-ray burning support in the next version of Toast, and DVD Studio Pro already supports encoding HD-DVD discs.)

The Mac Pro is available now in a single configuration for a base price of $2,500, which includes dual 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, 1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2 memory, an Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics card with 256 MB of memory, a 16x SuperDrive, and a 250 GB SATA hard drive. Other options are available as build-to-order options, such as 2 GHz or 3 GHz processors, more memory (up to 16 GB), a second SuperDrive, more hard drives, and beefier graphics cards from Nvidia or ATI. Surprisingly, the base configuration does not include Bluetooth or AirPort Extreme wireless hardware (or a modem, but that’s been the case for several revisions of Apple’s desktop Macs).

New Xserve Goes Intel — Along with the new Mac Pro, Apple today announced an update to the Xserve that replaces the PowerPC G5 with a pair of dual-core Intel Xeon processors running at 2.66 or 3.0 GHz. Other basic specs include a 1.33 GHz frontside bus per processor, 4 MB of L2 cache per processor, 1 GB of RAM (expandable to 32 GB), a built-in ATI Radeon X1300 PCI Express graphics card, and two open eight-lane PCI Express slots. In terms of storage, the Xserve comes with a 24x Combo drive (an 8x double-layer SuperDrive is available as an option), and three drive bays with one 80 GB SATA drive installed. You can install up to 2.25 TB of storage via SATA (Serial ATA) or higher performance SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives. Standard ports include a pair of FireWire 800 ports, one FireWire 400 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a DB-9 serial port. As always, an unlimited client copy of Mac OS X Server 10.4 – which is reportedly a universal binary as of today – comes with the Xserve. Pricing remains the same, with the base configuration coming in at $3,000. Apple claims the new Xserve will ship in October 2006.

All those specs are nice enough, but not unexpected in a new Intel-based Mac. What is new, and highly welcome, is that the Xserve now features an optional second power supply, finally providing the redundant, hot-swappable power supplies that network administrators have been wanting for so long. Also welcome, according to Chuck Goolsbee of the hosting company digital.forest, is the return of a video card, which was lacking in the Xserve G5, much to the consternation of support staff who needed to reboot and manage hosted Xserves in certain crash situations. Those folks would also prefer the USB and video ports to be on the front of the Xserve, since some management tasks require access to the power button and optical drive, and speaking from experience with our Xserve at digital.forest, it’s a pain to walk back and forth around the racks to swap CDs or toggle power, and in an entire rack of Xserves, it’s a little tricky to keep track of which is which in the stack.

On the downside, Chuck was unhappy about the fact that the new Xserve is about 2 inches (5 cm) deeper than the previous Xserve models, which were already deep at 28 inches (71 cm). The extra depth means that the new Xserve won’t fit inside many existing server cabinets, something that’s also true of Dell servers (there the rationale seems to be to sell Dell server cabinets; it’s not clear why Apple felt the need to extend the depth of the Xserve. digital.forest has already had to remove the doors on some of their cabinets, thus negating much of the point of a cabinet.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Previewed at WWDC 2006

At Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today, Steve Jobs teased the assembled developers with details of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, the next major release of the Mac operating system that is due to ship sometime in “spring” (which we in the United States consider to be roughly the March to May 2007 time period). Jobs offered overviews of ten new or improved features to be found in Leopard, and coyly referred to other “top secret” features that weren’t going to be shown so as to not encourage copying by Microsoft’s Windows Vista developers (who received a fair bit of competitive ribbing at WWDC). Developer preview versions of Leopard were given to registered attendees of WWDC; we’re concentrating here on the promised new features that end users will see, so those interested in Xcode 3.0, Leopard’s 64-bit application support, and new CoreAnimation framework will want to look elsewhere for immediate details.

Time Travelers Meet at this File — Perhaps the most interesting development in Leopard as previewed by Steve Jobs is Time Machine, which promises a sort of file journaling – automatic incremental backups of an entire file system of any changed files at whatever time you pick. In Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Apple added hard disk journaling, in which changes to directory structures were noted in a special file that could be retrieved on a crash, dramatically reducing the chance of directory corruption and reducing repair time. With Time Machine, Apple is extending this concept to individual files and more. Jobs claimed that a complete Time Machine backup could be used to restore an entire machine, system and all. Neat as it is, the concept isn’t new; Time Machine sounds similar to Rewind, an application offered for Mac OS 8 and 9 by Power On Software.)

Time Machine can back up specific folders or files, too, and it can write data to a hard disk or a server, although Jobs didn’t define whether that meant a network-mounted drive or a client-server software pair. In his demonstration, a series of receding screens represent restore points for files that you’re looking at, with a star field to indicate motion over time. Jobs located a file he had previously deleted by zooming back through time (either by clicking arrows or a timeline along the edge of the screen), and then clicked Restore to retrieve the file. A QuickTime movie on the Leopard preview site shows a similar example. A black hole or a wormhole appears behind all the zoomed files: watch out for that deletion event horizon when all files become infinitely long.

It’s unclear from details released to this point whether you can force Time Machine to keep a certain number of backups (and no more) of particular files or folders, or whether you can, for security or privacy reasons, delete all backups for a particular file. Time Machine can be tied into individual programs, and it’s already part of the next version of iPhoto (which was used in the demo). Individual photos could be restored or reverted within the application using Time Machine’s interface, without rooting around in iPhoto’s Trash or having to sort out where a particular file is located. The example of Address Book in the QuickTime video is even more compelling: you see where an entry was deleted and can restore that. Many programs that have internal representations of data within a database would benefit from Time Machine integration, too, by backing up objects rather than an entire database.

Although Time Machine may introduce a host of related effects, including system slowdowns, and massive backup files when you modify, say, 2 GB MySQL tables (now we understand why the new Mac Pro offers up to 2 TB of storage), for users that simply want the state of their system constantly recorded for easy retrieval after a catastrophe, there’s nothing like this on the Mac.

Time Machine doesn’t appear to mimic a much-loved Windows XP feature (if any feature in Windows XP could be so described) in which you can set a system restore point or in which Windows XP automatically creates one. With that feature, you can roll back to a previous working configuration when inevitable hardware driver conflicts occur. Deep Freeze from Faronics provides those features for Mac users.

Does Time Machine threaten EMC Insignia’s (formerly Dantz’s) Retrospect? It would seem not, given Retrospect’s client-server architecture and scheduling tools that probably won’t be found in Time Machine. Rather, Time Machine makes moot Apple’s own Backup software, which has always been a kludgy and difficult package, even with its recent improvements. Better still, Time Machine will be an integral part of Leopard and won’t be in any way tied to .Mac, although one could back up to a .Mac iDisk or to other online storage that offers appropriate network volume mounting that Time Machine will recognize.

Spaces Offers Virtual Desktops — Working on a single monitor and wishing you had more screen space for all of your open applications and documents? Although we’ve been promoting the virtues of multiple monitor Macs since 1991, not everyone can afford more than one monitor, or the necessary desk space to accommodate it. To help users avoid the clutter that Steve Jobs so famously hates, Leopard will introduce Spaces, a virtual desktop feature that will enable you to group applications while working on tasks, so you’ll only have to look at the windows that apply to what you’re working on at any given moment. With typical Apple flair, your screen view rotates horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally to show the “hidden” monitor you’d like to work on next.

Like many features Apple has introduced for Mac OS X over the years, Spaces isn’t a new concept; Unix windowing systems have long offered multiple virtual desktops so you could focus on one thing at a time, and third-party software such as VirtueDesktops already lets Mac users switch among multiple virtual monitors.

We’ll be able to switch Spaces by clicking an application’s icon in the Dock (which will switch to the Space that application is living in), bring up an Expose-like thumbnail browser for selecting a Space or for dragging applications from one to another, or use keystrokes to rotate among the Spaces.

Spotlight Gets Brighter — Not everyone is a fan of Spotlight, particularly those of us who mostly want to search for filenames and who find that Spotlight usually produces far too many results to be useful. Although relatively few details were available, it appears that Spotlight in Leopard may prove a bit more helpful, thanks to the addition of Boolean search terms (AND, OR, and NOT) and the capability to search on metadata like author, type, or filename extension. A feature called QuickLook will provide a way to preview items in the results list without opening an application, and if you regularly work on multiple Macs on your network, you’ll appreciate the capability to search across multiple machines simultaneously.

The Universe of Access Expands — A few years ago Steve Jobs mentioned in a keynote address that Apple was “in the market” for new text-to-speech options to replace the aging voices such as Victoria and Fred that have been essentially unchanged since the Mac OS 9 days. Apparently he got what he wanted, because Leopard will feature a new synthesized voice called Alex that’s dramatically better than both the current Apple voices and the current Windows voices. Among other subtle cues, this voice uses periodic “inhaling” sounds that add to its realism. It will also be available in several different languages, including Japanese and Chinese. The Alex voice, which even sounds clear when sped up dramatically, is one of the key features in Leopard’s improved accessibility offerings. VoiceOver in Leopard, which makes use of the Alex voice, will also feature improved navigation, positional cues delivered through stereo speakers or headphones, and greater customizability.

For the first time, Leopard will also offer direct support of Braille, using third-party Braille displays. Rounding out the accessibility improvements, QuickTime in Leopard will feature closed captioning support for a synchronized text track alongside audio and video.

Mail Call — The Leopard version of Mail will add several new features designed to enhance productivity and visual appeal. First is a template-based system that looks and acts remarkably like the interface for iWeb, Pages, and iDVD. Working from a predefined stationery file, you’ll be able to drag in images from your iPhoto library, type or paste in text, and get a nicely formatted newsletter, announcement, invitation, or greeting. Mail will send your message as HTML, readable in most modern email clients. (Enhancements to the plain text messages that make up the vast majority of email communications, if any, were not mentioned.) In addition to starting with a template, you can apply a template after the fact to a message you’ve already composed. The new version of Mail will also provide a facility for you to create your own templates.

Mail will also offer Notes, which enable you to write notes to yourself that appear in your Inbox (as well as in a separate Notes mailbox) without having to email them. Notes support full formatting, and can contain images, PDF files, and other media content.

In addition, in the Leopard version of Mail, any email message – or any selected text within a message or note – can be turned into a To Do item with a single click. These To Dos can have due dates, priorities, and alarms, and the capability to create them will be available as a system-wide service. For example, iCal and Mail will share the same To Do list, and third-party developers will also be able to contribute or access these To Do items.

Mentioned on Apple’s Web site but not demonstrated at the keynote was RSS support in Mail. You’ll be able to subscribe to RSS feeds and have the articles appear in your Inbox; using Smart Mailboxes, you can also sort, group, or filter news articles. Presumably this is in addition to, rather than a replacement of, the RSS support in Safari.

A More Dashing Dashboard — No Tiger feature was as polarizing as Dashboard: many people love it (as evidenced by the more than 2,500 widgets now shipping), and many people hate it (or just ignore it). The keynote crowd’s initial reaction on hearing that Dashboard was one of the top 10 new features in Leopard was muted at best, but by the end of the demonstration, there was hearty cheering. What got everyone excited was a new feature called Web Clip, which will enable anyone to create a custom Dashboard widget from a portion of any Web page in seconds, with no coding at all. After navigating to the desired page in Safari, you’ll click a toolbar button, which opens Dashboard and brings up your page in a new widget. Resize and reposition this widget to show just the portion of the page you’re interested in, click Close, and you’ve got a new, dynamically updating widget that can display auction progress, a webcam, news headlines, or any other Web content (as long as the X-Y coordinates of the Web content don’t change). You’ll also be able to choose any of several themes to adjust your widget’s border. Advertisers won’t be happy about this feature, which will likely be used to extract content from ad-laden Web pages.

For developers, Leopard will also include Dashcode, a tool to assist in designing, developing, and debugging widgets. Continuing the Leopard theme of templates everywhere, Dashcode will include templates for common widget content such as RSS, podcasts, and images, which can be modified or expanded as needed. Dashcode will also feature a parts library for common controls such as search fields and buttons. Finally, Dashcode will provide visual editing of HTML and CSS, as well as a JavaScript editor and debugger. Looking for something to ease widget development now? Check out Widgetarium, from Gandreas Software.

iChat to Add Screen Sharing and Effects — Apple’s iChat instant messaging client, which provided audio and video chats in Mac OS X 10.3 and added multi-user audio and video chats in Mac OS X 10.4, promises to leap further ahead with several new capabilities, some reflecting most-requested features (or features already found in other chat clients) and others reflecting new technologies not found in anything but high-end collaboration software.

Multiple logins – the capability to sign on to more than one AIM or Jabber account at the same time – leads the list of most-requested features, along with invisibility (being able to hide from any but certain buddies), the capability to auto-rejoin chats if you’re disconnected, and tabbed chatting, similar to the tabbed browsing feature in Safari. The latter will be a boon to anyone who regularly chats (separately) with more than one person at a time, and it matches similar features in such third-party chat clients as Fire and Adium. Other promised features that may or may not float your boat include animated buddy icons and enhanced parental controls.

More impressively, iChat in Leopard will also add the capability to share what’s on your screen with chat buddies, such as slide shows from iPhoto or Keynote presentations in a virtual presentation room, or even full screen sharing. Apple says you’ll be able to “browse the Web with a friend, or pick the perfect plane seats with your spouse,” all while using iChat’s audio chat feature to compare notes. We’re more intrigued with the possibility of using full screen sharing to simplify remote tech support tasks.

Photo Booth’s capability to squash your face and apply other effects to your image has proven so popular among younger iSight users that Apple has added real-time Photo Booth effects to iChat. Although we imagine this will hold limited amusement value for most of us, we know some five-year-olds who’ll never get tired of turning on the funhouse mirror effect while chatting with aunts and uncles.

Perhaps something the rest of us will use more often is iChat’s backgrounds feature, which magically replaces whatever’s behind you in the frame with any still image, or even moving video, so you can appear to be on the beach or in Times Square while chatting with friends, or seem to be in your own office while playing hooky! (If these features sound intriguing to you, you don’t have to wait until next year for Leopard, since many of them are available today in Script Software’s $20 ChatFX utility. Happily, as he posted on the Script Software blog, Julian Miller and the folks at Script Software aren’t bitter about having a future version of iChat that copies their original ideas. No doubt by then they’ll have a new version of ChatFX to do still niftier stuff, and we’ve heard that they’re working on support for Skype and Yahoo Messenger.)

iCal Goes Multiuser — Apple’s iCal is popular with individuals, but it’s seldom used by workgroups that need to maintain shared calendars – for instance, we use Now Software’s Now Up-to-Date & Contact for that. iCal’s single-user focus will change with Leopard, thanks to support for the CalDAV standard. Apple claims that iCal in Leopard will enable multiple people to share a single group calendar, complete with access controls, and it will be possible to view the availability of group members before sending meeting invitations, although a new AutoSchedule feature attempts to find the best time for everyone to meet. Meetings can also be organized around resources such as particular conference rooms or projectors, and if you want people attending the meeting to preview a particular document, you can share it with them by simply dropping it on the event.

Adam Engst No comments

Take Control News/07-Aug-06

New Ebook Helps Mac Users “Sync Different” — Maybe you’ve figured out how to sync songs to your iPod or Safari bookmarks via .Mac. But there’s a whole universe of syncing options available to Mac users, and our latest ebook, “Take Control of Syncing in Tiger,” brings that universe to your Macintosh, helping you with everything from iSync to the kitchen sync. Topics covered include syncing phone numbers to a mobile phone or PDA; syncing files between desktop and laptop Macs; and how to connect devices via Bluetooth, USB, FireWire, and Ethernet.

Written by long-time Mac expert Michael E. Cohen, this 135-page ebook provides an interesting and detailed look at how syncing works under the hood in Mac OS X, lays out what software and hardware you need to sync in your particular situation, and offers the best strategies for successful syncing. Finally, a troubleshooting section offers reassurance and practical advice for anyone who has experienced a syncing feeling upon realizing that the wrong data was overwritten.

Master iPhoto 6 with New Ebook — Earlier this year, I was hard at work on a recurring project that has become a fixture in my life over the last five years: an update to my iPhoto Visual QuickStart Guide. This year’s edition took a little longer than usual because it was one of the first Visual QuickStart Guides to be published in full color, but the print book recently hit the bookstore shelves. More to the point here, I’ve just finished turning it into an ebook that I feel is good enough to sell alongside our Take Control ebooks. Anyone can print to PDF, but a true ebook has bookmarks and links (colored, so you can see them) for both internal and external references (special thanks to Sid Steward for the PDF magic that linked up every page number in the index and colorized every link).

So if you’ve been pining for help with iPhoto 6, check out my “iPhoto 6: Visual QuickStart Guide.” In it, I use concise, step-by-step instructions supported by numerous full-color screenshots to explain each task, one per page. (Those who have followed our exploits over the years might enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at our lives, since Tonya and Tristan feature heavily in the photos.) The book covers everything you can do in iPhoto 6, from importing and organizing to printing and presenting. It also includes a troubleshooting chapter with suggestions for dealing with problems, and an appendix offers numerous tips for taking better photos. The ebook version costs $15 (or less, if you buy it bundled with our other digital photography ebooks), and if you prefer to read on paper, there’s a link on the page above to add it to your Amazon shopping cart (for $16, currently).

TidBITS Staff No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/07-Aug-06

Getting Things Done with your Macintosh — Following Jeff Porten’s articles on the Getting Things Done organizational system, a reader endorses the approach while another points out an iCal-based workaround to Web-based tracking solutions. 2 messages

Merging iPhoto libraries — Apple assumes that each Mac user has just one iPhoto library on one computer, but reality is quite different. What options are available for merging several libraries together? 5 messages

Wireless Mighty Mouse — Apple’s now-standard multi-button mouse gained a Bluetooth sibling recently, and readers squeak in with their opinions. 12 messages

Talking Points Memo Goes Mac (and has questions) — The author of several high-traffic political weblogs made a public switch to the Mac and shared his impressions and questions, chief among them how to migrate Eudora mailboxes from Windows to the Mac. 3 messages

Just an off-the-cuff rant — A new issue of Consumer Reports tackles viruses, spam, spyware, and laptops, with nary a mention of the Mac. Can you say, “ARGH!”? Yes, yes you can. 2 messages