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Our 2007 coverage begins with the release of the first-ever TidBITS Archive CD, containing the complete archive of our 17 years of Macintosh reporting! Then Glenn Fleishman examines Apple’s stock option backdating woes, and Joe Kissell looks at the VMware Fusion beta for those interested in virtualizing Windows on a Mac. We also write up the releases of PreFab UI Browser 2.0, Simon 2.2, and updates to Microsoft Office 2004 and Office X, and pass along some Macworld Expo event updates. Anchoring the issue is the first installment of an occasional column by college freshman Dan Pourhadi aimed at explaining how and why young people interact with technology as they do.

Adam Engst No comments

Introducing the TidBITS Archive CD

A few months back, I wrote a brief bit about how MacTech Magazine had created a CD containing the complete archives of the magazine (see “MacTech Creates Archive CD,” 2006-11-13). At the end, I mused that perhaps we should do the same with TidBITS, a suggestion that immediately generated a number of “Yes, please!” messages from readers.

So I’m happy to announce that, working with our friends at MacTech (hey, why reinvent the wheel?), we’ve created the first-ever TidBITS Archive CD. It contains every article we’ve published from our founding in 1990 through the last issue of 2006 – that’s over 6,500 articles in 860 issues, written by more than 300 Macintosh experts – despite the popular misconception, I really don’t write everything in TidBITS!

Putting this treasure trove of Macintosh information at your fingertips is the TidBITS Viewer, a custom application written by MacTech that uses Apple’s Spotlight technology for lightning-quick, relevance-ranked searching, and the WebKit technology used in Safari for text display. It offers a three-paned interface, with the left pane providing a hard-coded list of navigation links, the top pane showing search results, and the large center pane displaying the content. You can use the TidBITS Viewer right from the CD or copy it to your hard disk; because of its use of current Apple technologies, it requires Mac OS X 10.4.5 or later.

The TidBITS Viewer is extremely easy to use, and works much like a framed Web site. Links to articles or other content on the CD load in the main pane instantly, and links to pages out on the Web load in your default Web browser with no fuss. Along with searching, you can browse our content chronologically by year, by author, and by related articles. Whenever you’re viewing an issue, you can navigate to the previous and next issues or click through to any article in that issue. And when you’re reading an article, a blue box provides links back to the issue summary, to related articles, and to other articles in the same issue. It’s pretty slick.

(Special thanks to Glenn Fleishman, for the database wizardry to export our content in appropriate formats, and to Jeff Carlson, for all the necessary graphics.)

The CD normally costs $49.95, but through 31-Jan-07, we have an introductory offer through MacTech’s online store for $29.95; that price will also be in effect as a show special at the MacTech booth (#N3320) at the upcoming Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Oh, to sweeten the deal, the CD includes a one-time coupon that will save you 50 percent off your next Take Control ebook order, and if you’re not sure which ebooks you might want, I put a folder containing PDF samples of each of our ebooks right on the CD so you don’t have to download them from our Web site. Enjoy!

Adam Engst No comments

Macworld SF 2007 Event Updates

Macworld Expo is always a hectic time for us, what with oodles of appearances and signings, and sometimes we can’t nail them down entirely before our last issue of the year. This year was no exception, so here are some updates and reminders. (For the full lineup, see “Macworld SF 2007 Events,” 2006-12-18.)

  • Wednesday, January 10th: At 2:00 PM, I’ll be at the MacTech booth (#N3320) to show off the snazzy new TidBITS Archive CD that you can buy there for a show special of $29.95, sign CDs, and generally reminisce about events from yesteryear that the CD makes easy to find. Remember RAM Doubler? How about DiskDoubler? At 2:15 PM, Glenn Fleishman will be answering questions about 3G cellular technology and Wi-Fi at Macworld’s booth stage (#408) as a follow-up to their technology trends issue.
  • Thursday, January 11th: If you don’t already have dinner plans, be sure to sign up for what is actually the 22nd annual Netter’s Dinner, or depending on your perspective, the 12th Annual Last Netter’s Dinner. It’s at 6 PM; meet at the top of the escalators leading down to South Hall and be prepared for a brisk and geek-intensive walk. Alas, the indefatigable Jon Pugh will be incommunicado, so I’m in charge once again (insert evil laugh here). Freebies are always welcome for me to award to particularly good answers in the raise-your-hands survey.
  • Friday, January 12th: I’ll be talking with Shawn King at 2:00 PM, though not on the Macworld magazine stage as previously noted, but at the Taste of the Conference stage.

And finally, Ilene Hoffman’s Hess Events List has filled out nicely, so if you’re not sure what to do, be sure to check it out.

Jeff Carlson No comments

Microsoft Releases Office 2004, Office X Updates

Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (also known as MacBU) wrapped up 2006 by releasing updates to its core suite of productivity applications. Office 2004 for Mac 11.3.2 Update, a 13.7 MB download, fixes a problem that could cause PowerPoint 2004 to unexpectedly quit. Entourage 2004 now correctly handles contact names with special characters, corrects a problem with duplicated messages in public folders, and improves compatibility with Mirapoint Message Server. The update requires Office 2004 for Mac 11.3.0 Update (57.6 MB), which was released in October 2006 and provided bug fixes and patched security vulnerabilities.

Owners of the earlier Office X can download Office for Mac Update (2006-12-19), a 3.33 MB download that fixes the stability issue in PowerPoint noted above.

Adam Engst No comments

Simon Monitoring Tool Updated

Dejal Systems last week released Simon 2.2, the latest version of the company’s Internet service monitoring tool, which can also check for content updates to Web pages. Notable in 2.2 is the addition of a Script service that enables Simon users to create their own specialized tests using AppleScript, shell scripts, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, or any other scripting system available at the command line. The Basic service, for checking Web sites, now supports checking https, feed, and file URLs; can check forms that use POST as well as GET, and remembers and uses cookies. Other changes include a new MySQL service, a Specific DNS service for looking up a domain name with a specified DNS server, a Growl notifier, numerous interface tweaks, and a variety of bug fixes, among much else (see the full release notes for details). Simon 2.2 is now a universal binary; upgrades are free to registered users, and new copies cost $30 to $200, depending on the number of tests.

Although we don’t have that many servers to test with Simon, it has worked well in my usage, alerting me promptly when something goes awry and when it returns. And since it’s often checking while I’m asleep, I particularly appreciate its flexible notifiers, which can, for instance, speak alerts, but only during work hours.

Matt Neuburg No comments

PreFab UI Browser 2.0 Better Than Ever

PreFab UI Browser is a scripter’s tool. You don’t need it unless you need it, but if you need it, it’s exactly what you need. As I explained in TidBITS four years ago (“Scripting the Unscriptable in Mac OS X“, 2003-03-10), as well as in my AppleScript book, when you need to write a script that clicks buttons, reads scrolling lists, and chooses from menus, the Accessibility API and System Events are the only way to go; and UI Browser is the best way to figure out how to use them. UI Browser enables you to inspect an application’s interface in terms of the Accessibility API, and generates the AppleScript commands you’ll use to tell System Events how to interact with that interface.

UI Browser version 2.0 has recently been released. Aside from its new universal binary incarnation and some significant bug fixes, most of this version’s visible improvements are small changes to the interface, but they add up to a lot. Most notably, the new “screen reader” responds in real time as you pass the mouse over an application’s interface items. UI Browser is now also savvy about interface items that have recently appeared in the Cocoa repertory (such as date pickers), and has some added capabilities aimed at developers who want to test their application’s accessibility conformance.

PreFab UI Browser costs $55; the upgrade from an earlier version is $10, or free if you purchased after the start of 2006. It requires Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and a full-featured 30-day demo is available as a 1.2 MB download.

Joe Kissell No comments

VMware Releases Fusion Beta

Last week VMware finally made good on its promise at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), releasing a public beta version (registration required) of its new virtualization software for Mac OS X, code-named Fusion. Like Parallels Desktop and Q, Fusion enables anyone with an Intel Mac to run Windows, Linux, or most other PC operating systems within Mac OS X; unlike Boot Camp, these solutions require no rebooting.

Because Parallels Desktop is so highly regarded and has become an early hit, Fusion seemingly has an uphill battle for market share. But the program is certainly on the right track. This beta release offers full support for most USB 2.0 devices; even the latest beta version of Parallels Desktop, which has preliminary USB 2.0 support, doesn’t yet work with isochronous devices like video cameras. (Isochronous means “happening at regular intervals.” Isochronous devices don’t buffer their information but need the operating system to accept what they send when they send it.)

Fusion supports drag-and-drop between Windows and Mac OS X, a feature added to Parallels Desktop only a couple of weeks ago in a recent beta. And Fusion enables users to specify how many processor cores should be allocated to virtual machines; in Parallels, only one core is used at present. Early reports from beta testers indicate that Fusion’s performance is excellent, in some cases exceeding that of Parallels.

On the other hand, Fusion currently has nothing to compare to Coherence, the new Parallels feature that effectively lets Windows applications run independently alongside Mac OS X applications, rather than being constrained to a separate Windows window. And the initial beta of Fusion cannot read Boot Camp volumes (as the latest Parallels betas can), forcing Boot Camp users to install a separate version of Windows.

VMware has not announced the final name, pricing, or release date for Fusion, but they’re clearly aiming to give Parallels a run for their money. The inevitable competition will be interesting to watch.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Apple Releases Stock Option Backdating Report

Steve Jobs did not benefit from the discontinued practice of stock-option backdating at Apple, a company board committee led by board member and former Vice President Al Gore reported at the end of December. While Jobs approved back-dated options for others, the committee said he did not “appreciate the accounting implications.”

Apple restated its earnings as part of a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), dropping their previously stated figures over a period that stretches back as far as 1998 by $105 million before tax, or $84 million after tax.

We discussed Apple’s involvement with stock-option backdating a few months ago (see “Apple Reports on Options Backdating Problems,” 2006-10-09), noting that while the practice of choosing the optimum date on which to set a stock option price is legal, backdated options must be reported and correctly accounted for.

The backdating options probe did not look into allegations raised in a lawsuit filed against Apple late in 2006 that allege spring-loaded options. In that case, advance knowledge of a positive event are used as a catalyst to issue options before the event occurs. According to the Los Angeles Times, the lawsuit claims that one million spring-loaded options were awarded just prior to the 1997 investment of $150 million by Microsoft shortly after Steve Jobs return to Apple. The options gained $7.7 million in value within one day of being issued due to news of the Microsoft investment.

The practice of backdating options does not materially affect companies, because the expense associated with option grants isn’t an outlay of cash. Thus, the accounting issues have more to do with the overall viability and perceived ethics of a company, and the perception of its future potential earnings and profit – really two different kinds of net income. Backdating sucks money out of the stock market, not a company’s own coffers, by gaming the system, essentially using retrospective knowledge of the stock price over time as a kind of time machine. It’s not fair to stockholders or stock traders.

Apple has offered a small degree of transparency about the problem, disclosing a few early details before this filing. Jobs even apologized for engaging in the behavior. Apple, like many companies, revised its practices in 2003 when a new law went into effect governing the reporting of option grants. Grants must now be reported within two days, minimizing even legal backdating, but some financial academics have said they have found backdating problems in some firms – not Apple – dating from 2003 and later.

A summary of the findings of the board’s special committee are found in Apple’s 10K filing, their report to the SEC for the fiscal year ending 30-Sep-06 that was delayed until this internal investigation was completed. Over 42,000 option grants were made in the period in question – between October 1996 and January 2003 – and about 6,500 had incorrect dates.

A small number of grants had a large effect, however, with 660 special grants representing $48 million of the restatement, and one set of options given to Jobs – and later canceled – causing $20 million of the restatement.

Jobs’s grants were originally issued in 2000 and 2001, covering 10 million and 7.5 million option shares, respectively. The second grant was backdated from 18-Dec-01 (stock at $21.01, adjusted for later splits) to 19-Oct-01 ($18.30) or a difference of about $20 million. The board later canceled the options and gave Jobs 5 million restricted shares in March 2003 (now split to 10 million shares). He thus never saw any financial advantage from the option grants. (Jobs had Apple sell nearly half the stock in March 2006 to pay a $300 million tax bill when the stock vested that month; he retained about 5.5 million shares now worth a bit under $500 million.)

On page 85 of the 10K filing, Apple states bluntly that “the investigation had raised serious concerns regarding the actions of two former officers in connection with the accounting, recording, and reporting of stock option grants.” This might be read as referring to former financial head Fred Anderson, who resigned from the board in October 2006, and general counsel Nancy Heinen, who left in May 2006 without a reported reason.

Anderson’s attorney told the Wall Street Journal that Anderson wasn’t involved in “any day-to-day role in the granting, reporting, and accounting of stock options.” An attorney for Heinen told the New York Times, “Nancy Heinen has a well-earned reputation over 20 years for honesty and integrity, and any rumors to the contrary are without foundation.”

There’s still the potential for the SEC to find other fault via its own investigation, although the bona fides of having Al Gore lead a committee that reports it spent nearly 27,000 person-hours poring through a million documents and interviewing 40 employees should forestall any surprises for the current management. The SEC may require penalties from Apple, and could decide to pursue legal action against Jobs or other current or former management.

Dan Pourhadi No comments

Younger Than Thou: Instant Messaging

[Adam here. I recently turned 39, and as much as I don’t feel old physically, there are times when reading about how teenagers use technology – the stuff I’ve been writing about for 17 years! – make me feel simply ancient. Oh, I understand how the technology works; I just don’t always get why these people – all of whom are much younger than I am – find it so compelling, to the point where a recent study found that teens use electronic media for more than 72 hours per week. I don’t think I spend 72 hours per week doing anything short of breathing.

Rather than curmudgeonly harumph around about the good old days of scouring BITNET for joke files and extracting 400K floppies from Mac Pluses, I’ve instead recruited an actual teenager, college freshman Dan Pourhadi, to write about how and why teenagers use the technology they do. Dan last wrote about choosing a Mac to take to college on a $2,000 budget, an assignment he carried off with aplomb, so I figured he was the perfect person to explain his generation to those of us who actually remember the Soviet Union and East Germany (see Beloit College’s Class of 2010 Mindset List for other facts about today’s college freshmen). To kick things off, I’ve asked Dan to explain instant messaging to his grandmother, but I’d like to open this sporadic column up to suggestions from you. If there’s something about how young people (we’re talking 15 to 25 here) use technology, send me or Dan a note and we’ll see what we can do.]

“Hi, Danny dear…”

Hey, Grandma!

“What are you doing there?”

Oh, nothing, Grandma. Just talking to my friends online.

“Hi, Danny’s friend! I’m his grandmother!”

No, no, Grandma. I’m instant messaging them. We’re not on the phone.

“Oh, you’re typing to him? Like the emails. Who are you talking to? That girl you introduced me to yesterday? She was nice.”

Yeah, Grandma. Her, and my friend Mike, and Kim, and Jennifer.

“You’re talking to all of them? Right now?”

Yep, we’re all having separate conversations. See, this is my buddy list on the left. That shows all of my friends who are at their computers right now. I can send messages to anyone I want, and they can respond and we can have a conversation right here in this window – it’s free and there’s no telephone or anything special needed. And I can talk to as many people as I want.

“That is amazing. But it seems kind of complicated.”

It’s a pretty great tool, really, once you get the hang of it. Imagine being able to talk to multiple people at once, while going about your other business. The more you IM, the better your typing becomes, and eventually typing messages becomes second nature – holding a conversation online feels nearly as natural as speaking on the phone.

“That’s crazy.”

Crazy, Grandma?

“Crazy. What if you want to show yourself as sad or happy? How can you know what the other person is thinking if you can’t see or hear them?”

Well, I’m sure that was first said about the telephone – how can you gauge emotion if you can’t see his or her face? Simple: contextual clues and talk patterns. If you upset someone on the phone, they’re likely to pause a few seconds before answering. Once you’re a phone-speaking veteran, understanding the tone of the conversation is simple.

The same applies to text-based instant messaging. When I’m talking to my friends, we use various techniques to relay feeling and tone through the conversation. Ellipsis can mean confusion or uncertainty; a fast typist who’s responding unusually slowly is probably unhappy; italics emphasize words or phrases; capital letters typically denote yelling or excitement. There are also the smiley faces that help broadcast a particular feeling.

“But how do you know they’re not lying? Someone could be lying about how they feel.”

Very true, Grandma, very true. And that happens a lot. But the more you talk to certain people, the better you’re able to understand their real tone. It’s hard to hide emotion, in any medium.

For example, I have a friend who unknowingly adds a period at the end of every message when she’s upset. Most folks I know don’t really use periods in instant messages (sentences are typically separated and sent in separate messages) – so when periods are used, they tend to have a special meaning.

Everything is manipulatable online. Take laughter: if you’re trying to show that you’re amused by something, you’ll typically type “lol” (short for “laugh out loud”). If something is funnier, you might type “hahaha.” The funnier it is, the more “ha”s you add. If something is freakin’ hilarious, you might go all out with a bold “HAHAHAHA.” Capital letters add emphasis, see?

Strategic use of speed, pauses, capital letters and italics, emoticons, punctuation, abbreviations, even word choice – an IM veteran reads and understands all of that to mean something, and that makes IM conversations as natural to them as anything else.

“Um, Danny…”

Yes, Grandma?

“Your friend sent something to you. Why aren’t you answering?”

See, that’s another great aspect of this whole thing: If you’re talking face-to-face or on the phone, you’re forced to answer right away. An IM conversation is completely controllable. You can pause a few seconds to think of an answer, type “brb” (be right back) and take a few minute break, or just a simple “g2g” (got to go) to high-tail it outta there. You tailor the conversation to your liking.

“That’s terrible!”

Why’s that, Grandma?

“It’s rude! Leaving someone like that, in the middle of a conversation. Imagine!”

Grandma, what’s rude on the phone or in person isn’t necessarily rude online.

IM vets tend to follow certain etiquette rules that make conversations manageable for both sides. You shouldn’t leave a conversation, for instance, without first saying “brb” or “g2g”; if you’re not at your computer or if you don’t want to respond to IMs, you put up an “Away” message – something that’s sent automatically when you receive a message, like “I’m away from my computer.” so your buddies know not to expect an answer.

When everyone follows those rules – which honestly are pretty common-sense – then rudeness is all but eliminated.

“That’s not so bad I guess. So what do you talk about?”



I’m kidding, Grandma. We talk about anything and everything. School work, work work, regular friend stuff. As odd as it sounds, I tend to be more open talking online than I am in person. Sure, doctors may say “that’s not healthy,” to which I’d respond “YOU’RE not healthy!”, but really, instant messaging is a lot easier for people like me. You have those extra seconds to analyze what’s being said and to plan your response; you can still convey and judge emotion; you can scroll up to re-read what’s been said; there are no awkward silences or odd looks or funny noises accidentally coming from your mouth.

Looking at it from a conventional, face-to-face-talking-is-the-best perspective, it may seem insincere and fake – a tailored, analyzed conversation – and it probably is, a little. But it reduces the risk of misspeaking and miscommunication, and it promotes honesty by making a conversation a lot more comfortable.

“You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

I have, Grandma.

“So you’re talking to four people right now?”

I am.

“Doesn’t that get confusing? Saying all those different things to different people?”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? It’s a habitual thing, like driving. When a newbie driver gets behind the wheel, he’s blown away by all the different tasks he’s supposed to accomplish at once – keeping his eye on the road, measuring his speed, watching for signs and anticipating other cars’ behaviors. It seems impossible to the poor sap.

But the more you drive, the more each task becomes habit, the easier it all becomes. The very same concept applies to instant messaging: At first, managing even one discussion is a hassle. But the more you do it, the more you’re able to compartmentalize the conversations; you learn to take clues from context and previous messages to know where you left off. Before you know it, you’re having conversations with ten or more people at once without batting an eye.

There is always the case of the mis-sent Message, though. Happens all the time: someone clicks the wrong conversation and sends a message that was supposed to go to someone else. It’s not necessarily a result of confusion: just acting before thinking.

“I’d never be able to do so many things at once. How in the world do you get anything done?”

Well, that’s when the Away message comes in handy. If I have work to do or TV to watch (both of which share a spot on the priority List), I’ll put up an Away message, hinting that I’m busy, unable, or even just unwilling to talk. I might talk with one or two people, but the Away message keeps other people from IMing me and helps to prevent distraction. It all has to do with willpower: if IM gets distracting, you shut it off. It’s not really a new concept – you probably thought that Mom talking on the phone got in the way of her homework. The solution – shutting down the distraction – is the same.

“Yes, she spent way too much time on the phone when she should have been doing her homework. But this all seems pretty neat to me.”

It really is. And there are all sorts of other cool features of IMing that make it an addictive form of communication: you can send pictures and files to your buddies; you can have IM chat-room conversations with two or more people; you can stay connected with people all over the world for free; it takes very little effort to initiate or participate in a conversation, which is great for lazies like me; there’s always the comfort of privacy; and it has what I call the “iPod Appeal”: you can enjoy it without making it the center of your focus. It’s entirely possible to have a serious meaningful conversation in the background while doing other things.

Case in point: I’m talking to you right now, Grandma, while writing a paper and talking to four of my friends. I’m obviously focusing on our conversation the most, then the paper, and then I’m answering my friends whenever they send me something. It works amazingly well. Try doing that on the phone, or even in person. I bet you couldn’t.

“Nope. You kids and your ‘younger than thou’ attitudes.”

Wow, Grandma. That’d make a great name for a column.

“I’m sure. So what about that paper you claimed you were working on?”

Sorry Grandma, g2g.


Auto-Response: I’m away from my computer right now.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/08-Jan-07

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Macworld SF 2007 Events — Adam Jackson notes the Macworld Expo events he’ll be leading. (1 message)

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