The past and the present come together in this issue: we celebrate the anniversary of Samuel Morse’s historic telegraph message with a 50-percent-off Take Control sale, Jeff traces the path of the now-stagnant FreeHand, Glenn marvels at the arrival of a 1 terabyte hard drive mechanism, Mark is surprised to learn how dependent he’s become on his MacBook’s two-fingered scrolling trackpad, and Matt looks at how the future of Drop Drawers lies with the long-standing DragThing. Elsewhere in the issue, Adam covers Microsoft news: the Mac BU’s release of a converter for Word 2007 documents and how the company’s legal department is going after open source with patent threats. On the Apple side of the fence, last week saw a minor update to the MacBook and FCC certification for the iPhone.
Almost exactly a year after its initial release (see “MacBook Fills Out Laptop Line,” 2006-05-22) and six months after the last processor jump (“MacBook Gains Core 2 Duo Processor,” 2006-11-13), Apple has updated the MacBook line of laptops with faster Intel Core 2 Duo processors that add roughly .16 GHz to each model, a standard 1 GB of RAM across the line, and larger hard disks. Prices remain the same, but the stock choices now include a white 2.0 GHz model with an 80 GB hard disk for $1,100, a 2.16 GHz model with a 120 GB hard disk for $1,300, and the black 2.16 GHz model with a 160
GB hard disk for $1,500. Apple is also now advertising the MacBook as supporting 802.11n, which presumably means that the 802.11n enabler is no longer necessary.
If you find yourself needing to access Office Open XML documents created by Windows users in Word 2007, Microsoft now has a free beta converter that may help. The Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 0.1b can convert .docx and .docm documents (the latter are Word macro-enabled documents) into RTF format, which can be opened in Word 2004 and Word X on the Mac. The converter provides both individual file and batch conversion.
In this beta release, macros and Visual Basic scripts are dropped from the converted file, and charts and SmartArt graphics are converted to pictures. Other problems that might crop up in the beta include resizing of graphics, loss of color fills and shading in tables, loss of certain document formatting and layout, loss of some Unicode characters and picture bullets, and font substitution. The conversion might fail entirely if the document contains a bibliography, citations, WordArt, or very large pictures, or if you use an SMB network volume as the destination. To summarize all that, most documents should convert fine, but some that use less-common features may have troubles. Nonetheless, it’s great to see Microsoft’s Mac Business
Unit releasing this beta now; even though it’s clearly not done, it will undoubtedly be useful to Mac users right away. Now if only they could give it a snappier name.
The Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac beta is a 24.9 MB download and expires on 31-Dec-07. It requires Mac OS X 10.4.8, and either at least Office 2004 11.3.4 or Office X 10.1.9 to open the converted documents. Free upgrades to both versions of Office are available from Microsoft’s Mac Downloads page.
If you find yourself needing a conversion capability that this free beta doesn’t support, it’s worth taking a look at Panergy’s $20 docXConverter, which promises to convert the majority of Word 2007 features to RTF as well.
Microsoft tells us that updates to the converter in a few months will include support for PowerPoint and Excel documents, and a version of it that provides read/write conversion will be integrated into Office 2004 six to eight weeks after the release of Office 2008 for Mac. For more about it, check out Geoff Price’s post in the Mac Mojo blog.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has certified the iPhone for use. When Steve Jobs announced the new smartphone at Macworld Expo in January 2007, he said it would take some time to pass the necessary FCC tests (see “iPhone Seeks to Redefine the Mobile Phone,” 2007-01-15). With a release that still seems likely in June, Jobs estimated the time frame accurately. Apple filed many testing reports and documents with the FCC in February and March, but a few items have early May dates, indicating re-tests or new tests. Certification is required in advance of offering the phone for sale.
AppleInsider appears to be the first news site to have noticed the FCC filings, which are available in a database when released, but typically are not announced by the agency or manufacturers. Apple later confirmed the timing with Reuters based on this certification.
Because the iPhone handles cellular calls and data, plus Wi-Fi, the FCC certification is in four parts, two for each set of frequencies. The iPhone uses the worldwide GSM standard, which only AT&T and T-Mobile employ in the United States. AT&T’s licensed cell frequencies are grouped in two separate ranges. The iPhone also features Wi-Fi for browsing and email – the major two services initially announced by Apple – and Wi-Fi also requires certification. (Verizon uses only one cell standard, called CDMA, which is in widespread use only in South Korea and the United States; Sprint Nextel primarily uses CDMA, and is working to move its Nextel customers from an even less-used standard.)
The iPhone is a quad-band phone, Apple said at launch, but two of the four frequency bands aren’t available for use in the United States, and thus not only can they not be used here, but the FCC doesn’t need to – cannot really – certify them. Other regulators will issue their own certifications in their own countries for use of those bands.
You can view the filings at the FCC site through its engineering site search engine. The FCC unfortunately fails to provide persistent URLs for searches. At the top of the search engine in the Grantee Code field enter BCG; in the Product Code field enter A1203.
IDG News Service reports that AT&T employees may now take iPhones outside their offices for testing, according to an unnamed AT&T employee. Features on the phone are being lit up one by one, the report says, with music, video playback, and visual voicemail currently disabled – three of four features most in demand from this device, I’d wager! (The fourth? Web browsing.)
In what may be the first (and last?) press release datelined simultaneously “Glasgow, Scotland” and “Tel Aviv, Israel,” TLA Systems and Sig Software have announced that, henceforward, the upgrade path of the latter’s Drop Drawers is now the former’s DragThing 5.8.
DragThing is essentially a launcher – a Dock supplement or substitute – and TidBITS has been covering and recommending it since it first appeared over 12 years ago (see our first mention in “Making Choices: Desktop Launchers, Part III of IV,” 1995-05-15, and “Version 5.1: A DragThing of Beauty,” 2004-04-12, for more up-to-date details). Drop Drawers is also a launcher, which restores the Mac OS 9 feature of tabbed pop-up windows that slide into view from the edge of your screen and lets you put aliases into them (see “Top Mac OS X Utilities: Alternative Controls,” 2002-04-29). But DragThing,
too, has long employed the sliding drawer visual metaphor as a way of accessing its windows; thus, a merger between the two applications is a natural fit.
To enable this merger, DragThing 5.8 can now import Drop Drawers files, maintaining settings and appearance so that Drop Drawers users will find the transition comfortable. At the same time, DragThing’s drawer behavior gets a number of tweaks that even long-time users will find very welcome.
Drop Drawers users can keep using Drop Drawers if they like, but support and development will stop at version 1.6.6. The cross-grade to DragThing is $20 for Drop Drawers users, and Sig Software has provided an extensive guide to the importing process, explaining how the DragThing experience will differ. DragThing 5.8 requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, and is a universal binary. It’s a 7.3 MB download and costs $30. DragThing 5.8 is a free upgrade for DragThing 5.x users.
My first computer, purchased in 1979, had 8K of RAM and 8K of ROM, BASIC baked in, and no persistent storage. My first hard drive was 60 MB and cost $600 in 1989. Now you can purchase one terabyte (TB) of storage in a single 3.5-inch Hitachi hard drive mechanism for about $400.
It’s easy to purchase 1 TB of storage in a single package. LaCie, for instance, has offered a 1 TB Big Disk for some time, using two 500 GB drives in one enclosure; their USB 2.0-interface version costs just $350, less than Hitachi’s raw drive.
But form factor is important for devices that can accept only a single hard drive, and in the drives included in basic consumer systems. For instance, a digital video recorder like a TiVo could store 1,000 hours of programming on a terabyte drive; adding an external drive is problematic (though possible) with most DVRs.
The more storage packed into a single mechanism, the cheaper smaller units of storage become as well. Expect the release of the 1 TB drive to cause 500 GB drives to drop even further in cost (they’re already closing in on $100).
With the ongoing focus on video – particularly high-definition video – and the increasing resolution of still cameras, needing a terabyte of storage doesn’t seem nearly as far fetched as it used to.
Fax technology, as I mentioned in “PageSender 4.0 Shows Fax Isn’t Dead” (2007-05-14), is alive and kicking, and a comment in TidBITS Talk also suggests that it’s even healthier outside the United States. If you’re one of those for whom fax remains a useful mode of communication, you’ll want to enter this week’s DealBITS drawing for PageSender 4.0 from SmileOnMyMac, which provides a full-featured send-and-receive solution right from your Mac. We’re giving away three copies, each worth $40.
Congratulations to Angus Davol of mac.com, whose entry was chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who received a copy of Parallels Desktop on a 512 MB Kingston USB drive, worth $69.99. For those who didn’t win, Small Dog is offering a $5 discount on the bundle through 05-Jun-07, dropping the price to $64.99. Thanks to the 1,241 people who entered this DealBITS drawing, and we hope you’ll continue to participate in the future!
I’ve been using a Mac for 20 years, and a mouse for even longer. Clicking is second nature to me. For the last 13 years, I’ve been using trackpads, on laptops and even as external devices. (Amusingly, a trip to the TidBITS archive revealed that I covered the release of the PowerBooks in which the trackpad debuted, back in “The PowerBook 500 series,” 1994-05-23.) And for less than a year, I’ve been using the Apple Mighty Mouse with its secondary-click capability and clever scroll ball, and the MacBook trackpad with its two-finger secondary-click and scrolling features. I appreciate these features, but it would never have occurred to me that I couldn’t live without them.
So imagine my surprise to discover myself hamstrung by the one-button, uni-click trackpad on the PowerBook G4 I’ve borrowed from work while my MacBook is off being repaired by Apple.
Even after three days using the loaner laptop, my fingers keep insistently trying to scroll, despite the PowerBook’s stubborn refusal to recognize the two-fingered gesture. I did manage to slip back into the habit of using Control-tap instead of the two-fingered tap to bring up the contextual menu, though I miss that shortcut as well. (Similarly, I have apparently been spoiled by the Apple Mighty Mouse’s right-click feature, and now find myself a bit lost on older, single-button devices.)
Thanks to Adam for pointing out the availability of Raging Menace Software’s $15 SideTrack, a replacement trackpad driver for most iBook, PowerBook, MacBook, and MacBook Pro models. (The developer says an upcoming version will support MacBook and MacBook Pro models released after October 2006.) SideTrack looks terrific, offering a scrolling zone at the edges of the trackpad and even configurable secondary click features. For just a few days on an old laptop, I can’t see trying to retrain myself, but if I were going to be using a laptop without the two-finger features for a while, I’d definitely give SideTrack a try.
The Mac’s point-and-click user interface has changed so little over the last 30 years that it’s hard to imagine growing so dependent on small enhancements, but as the graphical interface we’re controlling with that mouse, trackball, or trackpad grows ever more complex, I’m finding myself taking advantage of – and becoming quite tied to – these capabilities.
I knew this day would come, but I honestly didn’t think it would take this long.
Earlier this week, Adobe’s John Nack, senior product manager of Adobe Photoshop, confirmed on his blog that my favorite drawing application, Macromedia FreeHand, is no longer being updated. It’s an Adobe Illustrator world, it has been for quite some time, and now the company is making it official. Adobe has written a migration FAQ (PDF, 180K) that explains some of the reasons for halting development.
FreeHand has followed an odd orbit around Adobe for its entire history. Originally created by Altsys, FreeHand was the main competitor for Adobe’s Illustrator. Aldus snapped up FreeHand from Altsys so that it could complement its page-layout application PageMaker, and eventually, in 1994, Adobe bought Aldus (see “Adobe + Aldus = Adobus?,” 1994-03-21).
That merger left FreeHand in an awkward position. As Adam presciently put it then, “The new company may find it difficult to market two such closely competing programs without in some way differentiating them. The companies have also used competition to push advances in interface and features, each attempting to leapfrog the other. Will that disappear once they’re on the same side?”
FreeHand then passed back to Altsys (which allowed Adobe to avoid any antitrust issues involving owning the two dominant illustration programs on the market), which was sold to Macromedia. Ultimately, in 2005, FreeHand found itself once again at Adobe’s door when Adobe acquired Macromedia (see “Adobe Swallows Macromedia,” 2005-04-25).
FreeHand and Illustrator inspired heated wars akin to the Mac versus PC flare-ups of the day: FreeHand was so obviously superior, with its elegant interface, why would anyone use clunky Illustrator?
You see what I mean.
In truth, FreeHand was the first application that made me realize that software preference can be a nature versus nurture experience. Both programs did roughly the same thing – drawing vector artwork – with mostly similar feature sets that occasionally leap-frogged each other. (I remember my friend Olav Martin Kvern pointing out in his book “Real World FreeHand” that FreeHand’s new zoom capabilities enabled artists to draw bacteria at actual size!)
But because I learned FreeHand first, aspects of Illustrator continue to drive me nuts. For example, even at version 13.0, Illustrator CS3 can’t create multiple pages within a document. One of my design clients recently needed some changes to a two-sided postcard that was created by another designer some time before it reached me. The card arrived as two Illustrator files that had to be tracked and edited separately. Although not a terrible hardship, it was annoying, yet not irritating enough to re-create the piece in a layout application such as InDesign.
Long-time Illustrator users would probably point out that it’s a drawing program, not a layout program, and I’m crazy to want one program to do everything. (But like most customers, I do want everything, I want it right now, and I’d really like it to be free. Is that really too much to ask?)
In fact, that’s a key reason Illustrator ultimately outlasted FreeHand. When Adobe began bundling Illustrator as part of the Creative Suite (which included Photoshop, InDesign, and GoLive at the time), it was hard for designers to justify paying for a separate application that did the same thing (see “Adobe Checks Into the Creative Suite,” 2003-09-29). The interoperability among the Adobe programs gave Illustrator a further competitive edge.
Although essentially retired, FreeHand will still be sold for some time, and technical and customer support will be provided. However, FreeHand runs only under Rosetta on Intel-based Macs and won’t be receiving any code updates, so buying a new copy now doesn’t seem to be a wise investment. Adobe is encouraging FreeHand users to move to Illustrator by offering a $200 upgrade to Illustrator CS3 and providing resources for switching.
In an article in Fortune, several high-level Microsoft executives talked about the company’s plans to take on the open source world – notably Linux – on patent infringement grounds. Needless to say, attempting to go after open source developers themselves is like boxing with a cloud. And while Microsoft could theoretically try to hit up Linux distributors like Red Hat and IBM for licensing fees, the GNU Public License (GPL) expressly forbids them from agreeing to patent licenses on GPL-licensed code, saying, “We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent
licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone’s free use or not licensed at all.” Microsoft’s third option would be to convince large corporate Linux users to pay licensing fees, a strategy that could backfire, given that many of those companies are also big Microsoft customers and could suffer from the anger of the open source community.
Instead, Microsoft and Linux redistributor Novell came up with a clever workaround by which Microsoft bought “coupons” for Novell Linux that it could resell to customers, who would then redeem them with Novell for Linux server subscriptions. This approach avoided the GPL’s requirements that Linux redistributors like Novell cease distribution if conditions of a lawsuit or patent license caused a conflict with the GPL. Some large Linux redistributors endorsed the Microsoft/Novell agreement, but the open source community reacted hotly. Work was begun on the in-progress draft of version 3 of the GPL to plug the loophole that Microsoft had exploited, and potentially to make Microsoft, as a distributor of
Novell Linux via the coupons, subject to the GPL.
What’s most telling in this imbroglio is just how broken the U.S. patent system has become. The philosophy behind patents is entirely reasonable – as the U.S. Constitution says, it is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” But in the software world, a vast number of programmers have learned in roughly similar ways and have had to solve roughly similar problems over the years, meaning that any given solution to a problem has probably been arrived at independently by many people who may have thought the work potentially clever, but not so unique that it deserved to be patented. The problem is that once a
patent has been granted, it could cost millions of dollars in legal fees to invalidate, leading to a situation where it’s cheaper for infringing companies to license even clearly spurious patents than it is to fight in court. I recently explained all this to a Cornell sophomore during a noontime run, causing her to exclaim, “But that’s just legalized extortion!” Well, yes, and that’s particularly concerning in cases where the existence of a patent is being used as a legal weapon rather than a tool for innovation.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the patentability of software, so it’s possible that Microsoft’s efforts to wield its patent portfolio against open source could generate a legal backlash. The Supreme Court decision I mentioned in “Busting the Disc Link CD-ROM Patent” (2007-05-07) might indicate opinions on the Court against the willy-nilly granting of seemingly obvious patents. The Court said, “Granting patent protection to advances that would occur in the ordinary course without real innovation retards progress and may, for patents combining previously known elements, deprive prior inventions of their value or utility.” With software, “advances that would occur in the ordinary
course” are the rule, not the exception. Another rule with software is that the advantage of coming up with an idea first is not that you can extract patent fees from other companies, but that you can be first to market and can stay six months ahead of the competition through constant innovation.
Might this affect Apple in some way? Although Apple uses a lot of open source software in Mac OS X, none of the reports I’ve seen have indicated that Apple is infringing on the 235 patents that Microsoft says apply to Linux, OpenOffice, and other open source programs. Of course, Apple and Microsoft agreed to broad patent cross-licensing back in 1997 (see “Microsoft is Jobs #1,” 1997-08-11), so it’s possible that any infringement problems have already been cleared away.
That raises another point. A friend at a large chip maker who has been granted a number of patents and who has been involved in patent licensing discussions describes them as akin to the card game War. Each company starts with a stack of patents, and the companies compare the patents, one by one, until it’s clear whose portfolio is stronger. The loser then pays some amount of money to the winner, and a “broad cross-licensing agreement” is signed, a press release is issued, and everyone goes home. Needless to say, this approach favors the largest of companies, since a small company could neither win the game of Patent War nor afford to pay to license a larger company’s
portfolio. (It also makes me wonder if anyone has created a fantasy patent trading game, along the lines of fantasy sports. Although I couldn’t find evidence of such a thing, I did find a number of patents covering fantasy sports.)
Another question that comes up is why Microsoft is exploring how to utilize its massive patent portfolio against open source now. An article in Macworld, from Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service, offers a number of suggestions:
- It’s an attempt to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about open source to large customers by suggesting that using open source might expose a company to a patent infringement lawsuit or to the need to pay licensing fees.
- Given the way Windows Vista incorporates draconian DRM capabilities that could hamper adoption, it may be an attempt to eliminate a competing operating system that will always err away from DRM.
- Conceivably, there’s nothing special about the timing, since Microsoft has long seen the open source world as a competitive threat. Because open source avoids the conventional rules of business, Microsoft has long looked for – and with this patent claim, perhaps found – a way to attack open source’s business model.
- The commercial failures of the Xbox game console and Zune digital media player may be creating additional internal pressure to protect the company’s core businesses. In contrast, Apple successfully made the transition from a pure computer company to one that makes large portions of its income on entertainment devices, a market that seems to have a greater growth potential.
Perhaps most telling is that Microsoft has merely asserted that open source software infringes 235 of Microsoft’s patents. According to Microsoft, the Linux kernel violates 42 patents, Linux’s user interface infringes on 65 patents, OpenOffice violates 45 patents, open source email applications rely on work covered by 15 more Microsoft patents, and various other open source applications infringe on a final 68 patents. But Microsoft has not given any further details, such as the exact patent numbers and the features or programs that infringe. Were Microsoft to provide those details or to actually file a patent infringement lawsuit based on them, things would get interesting. Without that information, there’s nothing but FUD here.
For another way of looking at that (summarized as the annual “Be Very Afraid” Tour), see the transcript of and comments on Eben Moglen’s talk at the Red Hat Summit 2007.
It’s time for a big Take Control sale, so you can save 50 percent on all our ebooks through 29-May-07 when you order with this link.
Whether you’re interested in setting up a solid backup strategy with the help of our best-selling “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups,” getting the most from your new AirPort Extreme Base Station with “Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Extreme Network,” or figuring out the best way to use Windows software with “Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac,” we have the expert help you need, coupled with instant-gratification downloads, free minor updates, and a carefully designed ebook reading experience.
Why have a sale now? History has been sneaking into our lives of late, as it is wont to do, and it turns out that 2007 marks the 200th birthday of Ezra Cornell, founder of Cornell University here in Ithaca. The university has been making a fuss over this anniversary, and in checking out the bicentennial exhibits at Cornell’s Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, I learned that Ezra Cornell strung the telegraph lines from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore over which Samuel Morse’s famous “What hath God Wrought” message would be transmitted. That message came on May 24th, 1844, or 163 years ago this week.
Ezra Cornell continued in the telegraph industry, the dot-com boom of its time, founding and investing in companies, building telegraph lines, and working non-stop. Since he took most of his pay in stock, he ended up with lots of little telegraph companies scattered around the Northeast (none of which were particularly successful), and in 1855 merged with his largest competitor to form the Western Union Telegraph Company, becoming the largest shareholder for 15 years. Yes, that’s the same Western Union that’s still around today. All that stock eventually made him incredibly wealthy, and he used his money first to found a free public library in Ithaca in
1863, and, a few years later, to found Cornell University.
All this made me think that Ezra Cornell would have particularly appreciated the concept of the electronic book, coupling as it does his interest in the telegraph with his enormous respect for the influence of books. Books as artifacts may not command the respect they did long ago, but I hope you too appreciate our efforts with Take Control to produce something that’s better conceived, written, edited, and published than run-of-the-mill content on the Web. And if you haven’t turned to Take Control ebooks for technical assistance before, this sale is a great excuse to give them a try. (Print books aren’t included in the sale.)
Powering down without losing state — Apple’s recent environmental announcements bring up the issue of leaving computers running all day and night, and what can be done to conserve energy. (14 messages)
Fax death is exaggerated — The demise of faxing appears to be a U.S. phenomenon, as usage around the world is still quite high. (2 messages)
Video conferencing with PCs — What are the best options for video-based chat between people running Macs and Windows-based PCs? (5 messages)
Good deals on .Mac renewals? Apple’s .Mac service can be renewed for less than the $100 the company charges, but where are the deals found? (3 messages)
Good deal on Applecare — Apparently, everyone is looking for a deal this week! In addition to .Mac renewal specials, AppleCare can also be bought for less than what Apple charges directly. (2 messages)
Microsoft Acting Like a Patent Troll? Readers ponder Microsoft’s latest legal maneuver that appears intended to intimidate Linux users. (2 messages)
Little Window on OS X 10.4 Desktop — After a mysterious tiny window appears on a reader’s Mac, other TidBITS Talk participants provide suggestions for how to banish it. (3 messages)
Restoring keychain from .Mac — A reader’s keychain data goes to the great lockbox in the sky, but he can’t resurrect it from the copy that exists on his .Mac archives. (1 message)