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It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since the first Take Control ebook, but our current catalog of 44 titles doesn’t lie. Adam looks at how this grand experiment is going (well!) and marks the occasion with a 50 percent-off sale. Also in this issue, Glenn Fleishman details the facts and FUD about a new AirPort Card security vulnerability. On the software front, Charles Maurer returns with a look at some alternatives to Adobe Photoshop, and we note the releases of SpamSieve 2.5, DVD Studio Pro 4.1.1, Final Cut Express HD 3.5.1, iTunes 7.0.2, Aperture 1.5.1, and an 8 GB version of the (PRODUCT RED) iPod nano. Finally, we note Windows Secrets, which Glenn sees as the closest thing to TidBITS for Windows users, and announce a new DealBITS drawing for PDFpen.

Adam Engst No comments

DealBITS Drawing: Microsoft Office Winners

Last week’s treat from Microsoft of five copies of Microsoft Office 2004 turned out to be extremely popular, with a record 1,959 entrants, more than for any other DealBITS drawing. Congratulations to Gerry Swislow of, Anthony Patrinos of, Lou Hosta of, John Williamson of, and Peter Boctor of, whose entries were chosen randomly and who received a copy of Microsoft Office 2004 Standard Edition, worth $399. For those who didn’t win but are still looking to pick up a copy of Microsoft Office 2004, Microsoft is currently offering a holiday rebate coupon worth up to 25 percent off – between $15 and $100 – for various versions of Office through 16-Jan-07 (it’s good on copies of Office purchased between 31-Oct-06 and 16-Jan-07).

Adam Engst No comments

DealBITS Drawing: PDFpen 3.0

I do a lot of work with massaging PDF files these days, and while I can’t escape using Adobe’s Acrobat Professional for certain tasks, I find that I prefer SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen for many activities, such as moving pages around when preparing print-on-demand versions of our Take Control ebooks, deleting pages to make Take Control samples, adding text to pages to make class copies, and so on. (For those who want to create PDF-based interactive forms, SmileOnMyMac offers PDFpenPro, which is otherwise identical, though nearly twice as expensive.) New features in PDFpen 3.0 include support for replacing text in original PDFs; moving, resizing, copying, and deleting images; copying and pasting rich text; and selecting and copying text across columns. If you work with PDF, it’s an absolutely worthwhile tool.

In this week’s DealBITS drawing, you can enter to win one of three copies of PDFpen 3.0, each worth $49.95. Entrants who aren’t among our lucky winners will receive a discount on purchasing PDFpen or PDFpenPro, so be sure to enter at the DealBITS page linked below. All information gathered is covered by our comprehensive privacy policy. Be careful with your spam filters, since you must be able to receive email from my address to learn if you’ve won. Remember too, that if someone you refer to this drawing wins, you’ll receive the same prize as a reward for spreading the word.

Adam Engst No comments

SpamSieve 2.5 Enhances Spam Filtering

Michael Tsai has released SpamSieve 2.5, the latest version of his popular spam-filtering tool for Apple Mail, Emailer, Entourage v.X and later, Eudora 5.2 and later in Sponsored or Paid mode, GyazMail, Mailsmith, Outlook Express 5, and PowerMail. Among numerous enhancements in SpamSieve 2.5 are improved accuracy for the image spam that had started to slip through, greater performance and smaller memory usage, and a new software update feature for simplifying updates. SpamSieve 2.5 is a free update for registered users; new copies cost $30. A 30-day trial version is available as a 3.6 MB download.

Adam Engst No comments

Take Control’s Third Anniversary (and 50% Off Sale!)

We’ve now finished our third year of publishing electronic books in the Take Control series, and to celebrate that fact, we’re having a 50 percent-off sale on every one of our ebooks through 13-Nov-06. Just use this link to visit our catalog and place an order; the discount will appear once you’ve added one or more ebooks to your cart in eSellerate (it doesn’t apply to print books purchased through QOOP or, however). Along with the sale, I wanted to share some of our accomplishments over the last year and give you a sense of where we think we’re going in the next year.

The Year in Numbers — All told, we published 35 ebooks in our third year: 15 new titles, 14 updates, 2 translations, 3 Macworld Superguides, and the ebook version of my “iPhoto 6: Visual QuickStart Guide.” That’s two more new titles than last year, but five fewer updates. We reduced the number of updates through improved planning and by making it easier for authors to post new information on each ebook’s Check for Updates Web page. This update mechanism makes new information available to readers more quickly than producing a new PDF every time something small changes.

The addition of the Macworld Superguides and the ebook version of my “iPhoto 6: Visual QuickStart Guide” brings our catalog to a total of 44 ebooks plus 8 translations. Of course, our earliest ebooks about Mac OS X 10.3 Panther sell only a few copies per month, and the translations also tend to sell only sporadically. We don’t have enough titles yet to consider these a particularly long tail, but we’re happy that those people who are buying the older ebooks can still find the assistance they need, something that can be difficult in the traditional book world where obsolete books are hard to find.

In terms of sales, we saw another increase, with about 34,000 copies sold, up from 31,000 last year, about a 10 percent increase. Although we had hoped to do better than that, it proved more difficult than expected without the additional sales generated by a major release of Mac OS X, as we had in our first year with Panther and our second year with Tiger. Our fingers are crossed for 2007’s release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Overall, we’ve sold about 89,000 ebooks now, which puts us on target to surpass 100,000 sold sometime next year. I’ll write more as we get closer, but we’re planning to do something nice for the person who buys our 100,000th ebook.

From the perspective of individual titles, the best-selling ebook for our third year was Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac,” with nearly 3,000 copies sold so far. But more interesting is that Joe’s “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups,” has been our steadiest seller over time, working its way up to more than 6,300 copies sold; that puts it second only to his seminal “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther.” It’s therefore not surprising that the “Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups” print book was performing well in’s sales rankings until they ran out of stock a few days ago.

Making Printing Easier — Our main accomplishment for the year was establishing our print-on-demand service. A portion of our readers do print their ebooks, and we wanted to provide a cost-effective way for readers to have the ebooks professionally printed, so the result looked like a book, not a pile of printer paper. With print-on-demand services abounding, it would seem easy to find a good service, but the options fell like dominos for many months – some used weird looking paper, many charged too much, and we needed a service whose financial reporting allowed us to determine how much to pay each author. What we really wanted was a system that we could plug in to our existing eSellerate shopping cart, but that proved impossible.

Eventually, we found a company called QOOP that could offer readers print-on-demand books as a secondary option for new ebooks as they came out, via each ebook’s Check for Updates button. Readers who buy a new ebook and want to print can now purchase a nice spiral-bound copy. With “Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner,” we started offering the option to buy a print book instead, right from our Web site, for those who want only a print version.

Our main challenge now is to standardize and clarify the print options for all the books, as much as is possible. Currently, close scrutiny of our catalog page reveals the format (print-on-demand, traditional book, etc.) in which each title is available, as does a look at the left side of any individual title’s page. Another Web page about print-on-demand also summarizes the offerings and shows photos of one of the printed books.

Speaking of print, another big accomplishment was publishing two books with Peachpit Press. Along with Joe’s “Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups,” which I mentioned earlier, we also published Sharon Zardetto Aker’s two ebooks about fonts in the form of “Real World Mac OS X Fonts.”

Reflections and Ponderings — One thing Tonya and I learned this year is that it’s difficult and not necessarily desirable to keep pumping out new titles. The problem appears to be the attention to detail we find ourselves insisting on, which can slow down editing and which has made it difficult to delegate production tasks. As a result, publishing a new book or a significant update takes large amounts of time for us, time that we would like to spend on big-picture tasks that would benefit all the ebooks equally. For instance, the promotion we did with Apple to offer .Mac users an excerpt of “Take Control of .Mac” along with a discount required a lot of work and coordination, but proved quite successful across the board. Also, I have a number of ideas that require me to write code for our system, something I’ve been unable to find sufficient time to finish so far.

Another lesson for the year is that we have a lot to learn when it comes to expanding outside the technical world, and we’ll be taking this more slowly in the future. Although Sam Seller’s “Take Control of Booking a Cheap Airline Ticket,” might seem non-technical, it’s really about how to use the Internet for a particular purpose, and it has performed entirely reasonably. More challenging has been Joe’s “Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner,” which has required us to learn how to market to a rather different audience, given that it has little intersection with the technical world. (For instance, note that we’re donating $1 per copy of that ebook sold in the month of November to the San Francisco Food Bank, where Joe has volunteered, and which has plans to put him and the book on TV as part of an upcoming promotion. Exciting stuff!) Our goal here isn’t to become a cookbook publisher, but to expose the Take Control series to a wider audience and to encourage more people to try an ebook.

Unfortunately, the the task of producing good PDFs remains fussy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – without Apago’s PDF Enhancer 3.1 and PDFpenPro 3.0 from SmileOnMyMac, I’d go mad trying to bend Acrobat Professional to my needs. PDF Enhancer works magic in compressing our PDFs to reasonable sizes (often reducing them by 80 to 90 percent), performing a variety of scaling and image manipulations for our print-on-demand versions, and generally fixing problems deep in our PDF files. PDFpenPro is also helpful for re-arranging pages for the print-on-demand versions, deleting pages for samples, and stamping sample and class copies, all things that are much clumsier in Acrobat Professional.

Too many things in Microsoft Word are also fussy – for instance, internal links must be created in Word’s Hyperlink dialog, which hasn’t been updated since before the mouse scroll wheel appeared and which lacks type-to-select for selecting headings. (Word’s built-in internal reference feature has proven too buggy to be relied upon.) Even with automation via iKey, Word’s Hyperlink feature is time-consuming, unpredictable, and at times uncooperative. Further, those internal links can be brought to life only through a PDF-generation pass that must take place in the Windows versions of Word and Acrobat. At least we can now run those on Tonya’s new MacBook Pro via Parallels Desktop. Here’s hoping the next version of Microsoft Word for the Mac provides better tools for generating fully linked and bookmarked PDFs.

Thank You! From our perspective, Take Control has been extremely successful – we are thrilled at how many people own a dozen or more of our ebooks, and we love reading success stories from readers who write in to tell us how an ebook made a difference in their lives. We also truly enjoy experimenting in the world of electronic books.

Our primary thanks for that must go to the many thousands of people who have purchased our ebooks. Although we certainly had high hopes back in October 2003 when we published our first ebook, we had no idea that Take Control would become a central part of our lives, that it would stretch us in so many ways, or that it would introduce us to so many interesting people. Thanks also to our talented crop of authors and editors, without whom none of this would be possible: Joe Kissell, Glenn Fleishman, Matt Neuburg, Kirk McElhearn, Tom Negrino, Jeff Tolbert, Caroline Rose, Larry Chen, Scott Knaster, Steve Sande, Brian Tanaka, Clark Humphrey, Lea Galanter, Andy Affleck, Sharon Zardetto Aker, Sam Sellers, Arnie Keller, Dan Frakes, Michael Cohen, Don Sellers, Jeff Carlson, and Karen Anderson. And from me personally, a special thanks to Tonya, who does way more than many people realize.

Jeff Carlson No comments

A Bevy of Apple Updates

Apple has posted a number of maintenance updates over the last couple of weeks, providing few details about some of them (as we’ve come to expect, unfortunately). The updates are available via Software Update or as stand-alone downloads.

DVD Studio Pro 4.1.1 (a 2.3 MB download) fixes an issue with DDP (Disc Description Protocol) and CMF (Cutting Master Format) files on Intel-based Macs. Final Cut Express HD 3.5.1 (a 14.5 MB download) simply “addresses compatibility on specific hardware.” And iTunes 7.0.2 (a 25 MB download) addresses bugs and adds support for the Second Generation iPod shuffle, which began shipping last week.

For photographers, Apple released Digital Camera RAW Support Update, which improves compatibility with the Canon Digital Rebel XTi/400D/Kiss X Digital, the Nikon D80, and Pentax *ist DS cameras. It also addresses issues with handling large Canon RAW files, addresses DNG compatibility on Intel-based Macs, and fixes a problem with exporting from Aperture. The update is available for PowerPC Macs (a 1.4 MB download) or in universal format (a 2.4 MB download). (I suspect that Apple means “Intel-only” on the latter, since universal implies that it would work on PowerPC or Intel-based Macs; however, the universal version would not install on my PowerPC-based machines.)

A more significant update is Aperture 1.5.1 (a 125 MB download), which tackles more than 100 issues related to reliability and performance. Examples include improved keyword support, Loupe behavior, and preview responsiveness, among other changes.

Apple also released a free Aperture 1.5 trial, a fully functional version that works for 30 days. The 132 MB download does not include the sample images and tutorials found in the retail version.

Finally, although it’s not a software update, Apple began offering an 8 GB version of its (PRODUCT RED) iPod nano (see “New iPod nano sees (RED),” 16-Oct-06). The bright red music player sells for the same price as the black 8 GB iPod nano, $250, but Apple contributes $10 of each sale to the (RED) movement to help fight AIDS in Africa.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Another Minor AirPort Vulnerability Exposed

Mac OS X may be at risk via the original AirPort Card because of an attack methodology published last week as part of the Month of Kernel Bugs. The attack can corrupt some “internal kernel structures,” and causes a kernel panic – a crash. The developer of the attack believes that he may be able to modify this with some effort into a root exploit in which control of the machine could be seized.

The approach as published works only with the AirPort Card, the internal 802.11b Wi-Fi adapter for Macs introduced in 1999, and used in all Mac models introduced until late 2002. Apple stopped selling the AirPort Card some time ago – much to the dismay of people whose adapter died on an otherwise usable computer. All Mac models introduced in 2003 and later sport a slot for AirPort Extreme (802.11g) networking; the AirPort Extreme Card slot is not compatible with the original AirPort Card.

Further, the developer of the attack notes that the exploit works best when a Mac has been placed into active scanning mode, which requires a command-line tool included with Mac OS X or the KisMAC utility. In a brief interview with Brian Krebs of The Washington Post’s Security Fix blog, the exploit developer told Krebs that he found some vectors for breaking Macs with AirPort Cards that were in an idle, non-associated state, but hasn’t produced results he wanted to discuss yet.

The exploit was published as a recipe for reproduction, more or less, so it’s not embedded in a prefabricated application designed simply to crash computers, but it will be incorporated into the open-source Metasploit framework, which is a system to stress-test software and operating systems in an automated fashion using malformed packages of data and other techniques. (At this writing, the developers say it’s part of Metasploit, but I don’t see an item representing it in the list of modules.)

The Month of Kernel Bugs (MoKB) uses a small set of standard tools that stress test operating system kernels by generating massive amounts of arbitrary input – fuzzing – which can be associated with resulting errors on the attacked computer to figure out what input caused which exploitable errors or crashes. The project says they have five more Apple kernel bugs that will appear over the next 30 days. (No additional Apple bugs have appeared as of this writing.)

In a fairly irresponsible move, the MoKB coordinator said there will be no advance notice to the makers of affected systems in any systematic way prior to release of the exploit. Exploits that are released on the day the vulnerability is identified are called “zero-day exploits.” In the security world, this is considered bad form, somewhere between taking a dump in a swimming pool and selling drugs to children. There’s little reason to not provide advance information to affected parties unless you’re trying to be clever, instead of smart.

The justification by the MoKB coordinator, identified only as LMH, is the tired old “Apple doesn’t listen to security flaws and pretends it doesn’t have any” argument. The industry soap opera that began in August, “To the Maynor Born: Cache and Crash,” apparently has led many hobbyist and professional security researchers to decide that Apple systematically denies security flaws when they exist. In the case of that saga, it’s fairly clear that only a handful of people have actually seen what was alleged to have been given to Apple, which means that relying on that case as an example of Apple ignoring security issues or misusing security researchers requires second- or even third-hand knowledge. (Apple told Krebs that they are investigating this latest AirPort flaw, which they learned about “recently.”)

In comments to a post about this on LMH’s Kernel Fun blog, he or she writes, “It’s actually a matter of time to demonstrate that all the pro-Mac paranoia is just plain useless. Apple does good stuff indeed, but they obviously do [make] mistakes as everyone does.” It’s hilarious that anybody credible thinks that vocal Mac zealots represent the interests of the entire Mac community. A more realistic view by an experienced Mac user can be found as the second comment (by Dave Schroeder) on Ryan Russell’s blog entry on this exploit.

May I state for the record as a regular reporter on Macintosh matters that I don’t reflexively believe that Mac OS X is invulnerable? In fact, I have written regularly about flaws that are reported, and about the risk that we face as a community of users that lack immunity. While Apple has built its operating system on a strong foundation, that in no way precludes exploits that use vectors that weren’t considered.

Your high-level takeaway? No Mac model that shipped beginning in 2003 nor older Macs without active scanning enabled are known to be vulnerable. The vulnerability requires a nearby user, too, or one with a high-gain antenna who can reach your computer. I’m guessing Apple patches this relatively quickly for Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4 users, and that they’ll be working overtime to stay on top of other MoKB announcements.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

An Independent Windows Mailing List Gets Bigger

We at TidBITS are sometimes queried, “Your list is great, but is there a version for Windows as well?” I’ve always told those people to sign up for fellow Seattlite Brian Livingston’s Windows Secrets newsletter. Brian is the kind of incorruptible journalist with a deserved reputation for exhaustive research that Windows users need. He was long a columnist for InfoWorld and has written several mammoth Windows Secrets books, starting with Windows 95. He has grown his list’s expertise through mergers with other mailing lists in the past, and he now has a staff of niche experts.

Windows Secrets is about to become bigger and better, with their merger with LangaList, which has specialized in tips and tricks for Windows users. The combined list will reach a non-overlapped total of over 272,000 subscribers. Fred Langa, a former Byte editor-in-chief, will be part of the combined publication – named Windows Secrets and LangaList during a brief transition – as well as Fred Dunn, a long-time PC World contributing editor.

Brian’s list comes in two forms: free and paid. The paid list includes ebooks, tips, archive access, and in-depth Windows patch analysis. But here’s Brian’s clever rub: There’s no minimum fee you have to pay for the newsletter. You can pay $1 or $1,000. By requiring at least a nominal payment for the extra features, the process makes people reflect on the value they’re getting, especially at renewal. While the upgrades page for the list displays $15, $25, and $50 as radio-button choices, you can enter any other amount manually. Brian said that while he and his colleagues neither release their total revenue figures nor the number of subscribers who pay any amount for the additional content, he would comment that most paid subscribers pay between $10 and $100 per year.

We can only drool at the reach that Brian and Fred have – we reach not quite 20 percent of that audience, well above the ratio of Apple to Windows market share – but we don’t begrudge them their success, nor the ever-greater number of Windows users gaining access to valuable information. Hey – obligatory joke at Windows users’ expense – they need the help.

Charles Maurer No comments

Camels and Horses: Alternatives to Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop reminds me of a camel: a horse designed by a committee. It is ungainly and awkward to control. It is remarkably useful – no other photo editor will do so much – but it is not an easy beast to ride.

I personally find Photoshop indispensable, not so much because of what it can do itself as because it is necessary to run some plug-ins by Asiva, particularly Shift+Gain. Unfortunately, Asiva have shut up shop. Their plug-ins work well with today’s versions of Photoshop but will not be recompiled for Intel-based Macs. For this reason, I have been keeping my eye out for a horse. I have not yet found one that I want to buy – Shift+Gain is difficult to replace – but I have found a couple that look interesting.

I have also found a cheaper camel, PhotoLine. This is the poor man’s Photoshop CS2. It is comparable to Photoshop CS2 in its powers to create and confuse, but it is priced like Adobe Photoshop Elements. It is not quite so fast and stable as CS2, but its speed and stability appear to be respectable. Unfortunately, its documentation is so meagre that for many people, its advanced functions are likely to be inaccessible.

Photo Editor Requirements — Before I talk any more about specific products, it would be sensible to describe my expectations of a photo editor. Here, in no particular order, is a list of what I want one to do.


  • Remove colour fringing. Some colour fringing is caused by lenses’ magnifying different wavelengths different amounts – chromatic aberration. This kind of fringing can be removed with a chromatic aberration control that enlarges colours differentially. Unfortunately, most of the colour fringing I encounter has other causes and is too irregular to remove this way. I usually need to convert the fringes to grey.
  • Sharpen either the entire picture or selected parts of it. There are many ways to sharpen a picture. The usual method exaggerates the contrast at edges, but it is often preferable to sharpen the image optically. To sharpen edges the computer first determines what is an edge – it usually does this by looking for differences, pixel by pixel, between the original image and a slightly blurred copy, an “unsharp mask” – and then alongside each edge it darkens dark pixels and lightens light ones. To sharpen optically is to reverse blur. Blur is the spread of a point of light into a disc. A computer can partially reverse this by transferring to each pixel some of the response of every pixel surrounding it.
  • Correct the barrel or pincushion distortion that is inevitable with zoom lenses. Sometimes I also use this facility to compensate for my having the wrong lens on the camera, to create a conventional perspective from a fish-eye lens.
  • Squeeze a picture anamorphically – more at the edges – to correct the distorted magnification that a wide-angle lens creates toward the edges of the frame.
  • Correct vignetting.
  • Blur selected areas to create the effect of selective focus.


  • Make converging lines parallel.
  • Rotate the photo so that vertical lines are plumb.
  • Remove the blur caused by a moving camera. To do this requires optical sharpening in a single direction.


  • Adjust the overall distribution of tones from dark to light.
  • Enhance or reduce the contrast of adjacent tones, both throughout the picture and in selected areas. I often want to control not just the contrast of brightness but also the contrast of hue and saturation. (See “Reality and Digital Pictures,” 12-Dec-05.)
  • Enhance the contrast of fine detail.
  • Remove colour casts differentially according to their location, to compensate for different sources of light in different parts of the picture, and according to their brightness, to compensate for the blue shadows of a sunny day.


  • Remove blemishes.
  • Replace one colour with another (e.g., change the red reflection in red-eye to white, change a necktie from yellow to dark blue).
  • Remove/add motion blur from/to selected parts of the photo, either to sharpen something that was moving or to create the appearance of movement.
  • Replace parts of a photo (e.g., insert a more attractive sky).
  • Add an image of the sun with naturalistic flare. If you take a picture with the sun in it, the flare and reflections it causes are uncontrollable. When possible I prefer to frame the picture with the sun just out of view or with something in front of it, then add it in the computer.


  • Remove digital noise.
  • Remove dust.
  • Enlarge the image by interpolating pixels, or shrink it.
  • Crop the image.
  • Edit the IPTC data fields attached to images.
  • Handle 16-bit colour.
  • Display colour using ICC colour profiles.
  • Read and write files in TIFF, PNG, and JPEG formats. (I have given up on JPEG 2000. Although it is preferable to JPEG, it has not become adopted widely enough to be useful.)

Photoshop and Friends — By various sets of hooks and crooks, Photoshop CS2 can do all of these things. Photoshop Elements 5 cannot squeeze pictures anamorphically but it can do everything else, although it’s currently available only for Windows. Photoshop Elements 3 and 4 are also unable to handle optical sharpening and removal of motion blur. In general, Photoshop CS2 offers greater control and complexity than Photoshop Elements, but for some complex jobs it is simpler. However, some of these tasks can be done even better and/or more easily using third-party products. I routinely supplement Photoshop CS2 with Photomatix to control contrast (see “Photomatix: A Virtual Magic Wand,” 16-Oct-06), Noise Ninja to reduce noise and enhance fine detail, Asiva Shift+Gain to manipulate colours and remove fringing, and PhotoZoom Pro to make enlargements. (For more details on these last two products, see “Editing Photographs for the Perfectionist,” 27-Sep-04.)

PhotoRetouchPhotoRetouch Digicam is the hobbled, amateur version of PhotoRetouch Pro. I was unable to try the Pro version, so my comments are inferences and not based on direct experience.

Both applications are designed specifically and exclusively for editing photos. Compared to Photoshop, they offer a limited set of manipulations – they will not do for laying out an ad or brochure – but for editing photos, the manipulations available seem well thought out. To apply a manipulation, you either paint it on with an air-brush tool or apply it to the whole image and then erase it where you do not want it. You never get involved with selecting, layering and masking. This makes PhotoRetouch less flexible than Photoshop but more efficient and straightforward.

On my list of requisites, PhotoRetouch can do everything with reasonable ease and competence except squeeze frames anamorphically, straighten curved lines, enhance the contrast of fine detail, remove or create motion blur, replace parts of an image, add a sun, and handle PNG files. It does not seem to do optical sharpening, but it provides a “smart sharpening” algorithm that is more sophisticated than a simple unsharp mask. The Digicam version is restricted to 8-bit colour.

I suspect that the Digicam version will fill the needs of almost anyone who does not use an SLR – i.e., anyone who uses a camera with an 8-bit image sensor. The Pro version will handle most advanced amateurs’ and professionals’ needs as well, and do so more handily than Photoshop, but any pro is likely to find Photoshop necessary some of the time, and I myself would supplement PhotoRetouch, as I do Photoshop, with Photomatix, Noise Ninja and PhotoZoom Pro.

Although PhotoRetouch has fewer controls than Photoshop, the controls’ labels can be comparably confusing. For example, “color change” is deemed different from “color modify” and “quantifier” removes colour casts. Also, although PhotoRetouch is simpler than Photoshop, it still requires a significant investment of time to learn, and the Digicam version includes no help files or manual, just a pointer to some QuickTime tutorials on the Web. I downloaded the Pro version’s manual and ignored the parts that are obviously inapplicable.

The Digicam version generally worked well for me, but I did find a built-in booby trap worth noting. Saving a 16-bit image overwrites it as 8 bits without any warning.

Binuscan sell the Digicam version over the Web with pricing and terms that are neither obvious nor straightforward. The PhotoRetouch Digicam Web page states that the program is free and has a Buy button that opens another page saying it costs 49 euros (~$60-$65), but that it can be purchased only from within the application. If you download the application thinking it to be free, after you try to save a file, a window pops up to inform you that you are using a demo limited to 30 saves. That window displays a Buy button. Clicking the button brings up a Web page stating prominently that the product costs 49 euros today but will cost 149 euros (~$180-$190) once 3,000 copies are sold. The clear implication is “soon.” In addition, fine print at the bottom of the page says, “We recommend reading our General Sales Conditions before confirming your order…. Downloaded software cannot be returned.” If you click on the link to those conditions, and if you bother to read what appears to be a typical license agreement and to decipher the legalese, then you learn that the agreement is not a normal one. You are purchasing the right to use the product on one computer only – not any one computer but the one you installed it on initially. An activation scheme prevents it from being moved. If your computer is stolen or breaks and needs to be replaced, then if you document this, Binuscan will permit you to activate it on another machine, but only once and only within the first year. Thus, Binuscan expect you to pay 49 euros now plus an additional 149 euros the next time you upgrade your computer.

Binuscan are even more opaque selling the Pro version. They do not advertise any price for it anywhere on their site. Neither do they reveal the terms of the license they are selling nor mention a guarantee. I queried them about price and licensing, but they did not answer. I then had some friends query them as putative customers. Binuscan quoted $950 plus $30 to $40 shipping. In answer to a specific question, they told one of them that the Pro version can be installed on any number of computers but requires a USB key to work. They did not answer his query about a guarantee, nor did Binuscan supply the copy of the license agreement that the other fellow asked for.

Considering these products on their own, I would recommend them highly, but the business practices of their developer give me pause. Also, I should note that the Digicam version holds a trap for the unwary. Learning to use a photo editor efficiently and effectively takes so much time that few people will willingly switch from one to another. In practice, people do not buy a photo editor, they purchase a license and then they marry the developer and support his future issue. If you own a point-and-shoot or “prosumer” camera, PhotoRetouch Digicam may be perfect for you now, but if you ever buy an SLR, then at least some of the time you will want to be able to work with 16-bit colour. To do this you will need the Pro version. If you have learned PhotoRetouch well, then you will have the choice of losing your investment in time – few of your skills will transfer to Photoshop – or shelling out a thousand dollars to upgrade.

LightZoneLightZone is a new horse in the race, a yearling with real promise. It is somewhat unusual under the hood and has a unique user interface, an interface that is simultaneously simple and sophisticated. LightZone permits novices to do things that require advanced techniques in Photoshop.

Instead of painting pixels like Photoshop and PhotoRetouch, LightZone manipulates images by piling up layers of calculations – in computer jargon, by stacking vectors. You pull tools down into a windowpane and see their manipulations applied to the image. You can apply a tool to a limited area by drawing a region with a spline tool or bezier tool or polygon tool, and you can feather the edge of the region with the drawing tool. If you dislike the effect of a tool, you can change or reorder the tools.

Of course other photo editors stack vectors too – Aperture and Imaginator, for instance. The differences between LightZone and other products lie in a dearth of confusing gimmickry and a set of unusually versatile tools. For example, LightZone’s noise tool doesn’t just remove granular noise, it can remove thin colour fringing as well.

Working with LightZone is radically different from working with Photoshop. Instead of deciding which of many tools to apply once, you decide how to apply a few tools several times in different ways. For example, to control contrast Photoshop offers seven dialog boxes accessible directly from menus, plus, for advanced users, contrast masking. In lieu of these LightZone offers only a ZoneMapper and a ToneMapper. The former is a more intuitive equivalent of Photoshop’s Curves tool; the latter is unique. Imagine your photo is hammered in relief on a sheet of copper. You want to modify the depths of the relief to make it clearer. To do this you (1) choose the size of your hammer, (2) control the strength of your blows, (3) decide whether to spread your blows over broad areas or aim them at spots where the contours change, and (4) decide whether to adjust all parts of the relief similarly or to adjust them differentially, in proportion to their depth. That’s how Lightzone’s ToneMapper controls contrast. Sliders control the first three parameters and a pop-up menu controls the fourth. You can hammer the entire picture with it, or any portion of the picture, as many times in as many ways as you like. (The hammer is a combination of two esoteric manipulations applied to luminance: the application of a contrast mask plus the application of a mask defined by an arcane, non-linear mathematical device called a bilateral filter.)

LightZone will do some remarkably complex manipulations with a small number of simple tools but it is also missing a few basic capabilities. Two lacunae are particularly limiting: LightZone will not correct converging lines and it provides no way to deal with colours selectively – to brighten only yellows, for example, or to desaturate red fringing that is too broad for the noise tool to remove. The developers are planning to add those features soon. When they do, you can expect a lengthy review. This is a product worth watching.

Although LightZone looks as though it uses Core Image, it is actually programmed in Java. This means that it runs under Windows and Linux as well as Mac OS X. Version 1 costs $150 and includes a free update to version 2, which purportedly will cost $250. A demo of version 1 is free for the downloading, as are a public beta of version 2 and the complete package for Linux.

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Adam Engst No comments

Take Control News/06-Nov-06

Feed the Hungry While Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner — Thanksgiving is all about family and food, and to help those who may not have either, we’ll be donating $1 from the sale of each copy of Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner” during the month of November to the San Francisco Food Bank, a non-profit organization (where Joe has volunteered) whose mission is to end hunger in San Francisco.

If you’ve read one of Joe’s books, you know he’s great at helping you successfully work through complex computer tasks like installing Mac OS X or creating a solid backup scheme. He also did an amazing job with writing about the entire process of planning and preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, and honestly, given all the editing, testing, and internal linking, we think “Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner” is one of our best titles ever. You can buy the book in our usual electronic format for only $5 this week, during our 50 percent-off anniversary sale, but if you think you’ll need a printed copy in the kitchen, you can buy it that way too for $19.99.

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Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/06-Nov-06

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo hard drive options — Apple’s new pro laptops offer three hard drive configurations. How do they stack up to what can be bought from third-party vendors? Plus, we revisit how much actual disk capacity you get from a hard drive, versus its advertised capacity. (16 messages)