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As longtime word-processing wonks, we’ve watched as Google Docs and others take writing and editing online. But what if you want to work on something where you don’t have Internet access, such as on a plane? Adam looks at how Google Gears and its new implementation for Safari give Google Docs offline capabilities. Sticking with the text editing theme, Adam then digs into Bare Bones Software’s latest release, BBEdit 9.0. Also this week, Glenn Fleishman looks at the reports of Google’s forthcoming Web browser, called Chrome, and the comics that explain it. In the TidBITS Watchlist, we note the releases of Final Cut Express 4.0.1, VMware Fusion 2.0 RC1, Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder 1.0, Coda 1.5, and RapidWeaver 4.1.1. Lastly, TidBITS is hiring at our global headquarters in Ithaca, NY.

Adam Engst No comments

TidBITS Is Hiring… in Ithaca

After a summer of feeling utterly overwhelmed despite our best attempts to work more efficiently and use the Getting Things Done techniques, we’ve decided that the most effective way to get things done is to hire other people to do them. Plus, it’s cheaper and safer than messing about with the time-space continuum.

We’re currently hiring for two contract positions: a technology writer to help with TidBITS and Take Control research, fact-checking, and writing; and a personal assistant to handle necessary tasks that aren’t a good use of time for Tonya or me. These positions will involve regular collaboration and meetings in person, so applicants must be located in Ithaca, NY.

For more information about the positions, see our Jobs page.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Google Explains Its Forthcoming Web Browser with Comics

Understanding technical concepts, even for those who spend their days with their “heads inside the computer,” as I conceive of it, can often be a reach. People learn in different ways, and hearing an explanation, seeing a visual representation, and reading about something all reach different individuals.

Google decided to hire the talented Scott McCloud to explain in graphics using the company’s words how their new Chrome Web browser differs from all those currently available. It’s a neat idea: in explaining their JavaScript optimization, for instance, you don’t need to understand what a classless programming language is if you look at the graphical representation, which is simplified, but entirely accurate.

The comic was released under a Creative Commons license, and accidentaly sent ahead of schedule through postal mail to an unknown number of people. Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped explains that he received, scanned, and posted the comic; Google later posted the full comic at the company’s book site.

The site referenced in the comic,, isn’t live at this writing, but a Google blog post says that a beta for Windows will be released on September 2nd, and that Mac OS X and Linux versions will follow further on in the development and beta testing process.

Chrome has a key difference from previous browsers: each tab runs as a separate process to isolate JavaScript slowdowns, security exploits, and browser crashes to that tab. This is much the same compartmentalization that multi-tasking operating systems use to prevent one crashing program from bringing down the entire system.

Google says in this comic that they have vastly improved the speed of JavaScript by commissioning an advanced JavaScript virtual machine. In June 2008, the WebKit project announced its own JavaScript virtual machine optimization project dubbed SquirrelFish.

For pages that feature pop-up windows, whether useful or advertising come-ons, each tab will capture the pop-ups and enable you to convert them into freestanding windows.

Security is enhanced, Google says, by disallowing each tab from writing files or examining data on the hard drive. This is a typical behavior, and something that Apple and Microsoft have implemented in some form in Safari 3 and Internet Explorer 8. Google has also implemented a three-tier hierarchy of trust that it believes will prevent unintentional privileges being granted to programs or scripts on Web pages that shouldn’t have them.

The browser will also let you shroud a given tab in secrecy – an “incognito” window – so you can exclude its pages, passwords, and other details from the browser’s cached or saved elements. People typically use this mode to avoid leaving traces on a shared computer – often for personal research, viewing unclothed individuals, or keeping a gift or party secret.

Chrome will be based on WebKit, the same open-source project used as the fundamental basis of Apple’s desktop and mobile Safari and Nokia’s S60 browser, which Nokia will ultimately use to replace all its current browsers and which is part of the future direction of the Symbian platform.

Scott McCloud is best known for his “Understanding Comics” and “Reinventing Comics,” in which he uses the medium to explain its past, present, and potential future, a future in which McCloud has been deeply involved.

This is the best kind of browser war: unlike the monopoly-driven efforts by a certain firm to kill Netscape Navigator in the 1990s, we’re in a time of browser plenty. Microsoft recently released a second beta of Internet Explorer 8 for Windows; Firefox 3 for all platforms appeared not long ago from the Mozilla Foundation, the spiritual heirs of Navigator; and Apple keeps pushing WebKit and Safari to have greater speed and more security for Windows, Mac OS X, and the iPhone and iPod touch. And that’s not even considering other entrants such as OmniWeb, Opera, iCab, Camino, and Flock.

The nice part for users is that with Google’s entry, we’ll have four browsers, all of which are intended to be fast, easy, and secure, and which use three separate rendering platforms (Chrome and Safari sharing WebKit). This ensures the kind of diversity of evolution that promotes better software and a lower chance of a single flaw being exploited in all extant browsers. It also means job security for Web developers used to tweaking designs to look good in multiple browsers.

Adam Engst No comments

BBEdit 9.0 Adds Something for Everyone

Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, one of the longest-standing applications in the Macintosh world, has received a major update to version 9.0, adding a number of features that will likely enhance the productivity of anyone who uses the text editor or currently relies on a less-capable program. Whether you need a Web authoring tool, a programmer’s editor, a utility for manipulating massive text files, a writing tool that focuses purely on text, or all of the above at different times, BBEdit 9.0 has new features that will make your life easier. Oh, and yes, if you look hard enough, it has ponies too.

Find Modelessly — Perhaps the most significant changes to BBEdit 9.0 apply to its much-admired searching capabilities. In this version, Bare Bones has separated the act of searching for text within a single file from searching for results across multiple files. A modeless, resizable Find window provides all the grep-capable searching power that BBEdit users have long appreciated. However, if you want to run a search across multiple files, you’ll instead rely on a new Multi-File Search window that’s also modeless and resizable. Multi-File Search can search through open documents, as well as the contents of disk browsers, recent folders, BBEdit projects, recent Xcode projects, and even saved Spotlight
searches. There’s also an option to colorize grep searches in the Find window, which should make complex grep patterns easier to parse.

After all these years, it’s great to see Bare Bones setting the old modal Find & Replace dialog aside (“Thank goodness!” exclaimed Tonya when I shared this news). But never fear, if you’re addicted to the old interface, or if you frequently want to switch from searching for text in a single file to searching for the same text in multiple files, an option brings back the old Find & Replace dialog.

Another related feature that has changed significantly, and for the better, is BBEdit’s Find Differences. In BBEdit 8.5, Bare Bones added the capability to display which characters within a line were different between two similar files. That was huge for us, since it enabled us to use BBEdit in conjunction with the Subversion version control system to work with TidBITS articles. Though code may have relatively short lines, a line of prose is a paragraph, and without knowing what within a paragraph has changed, knowing only that two paragraphs are not the same isn’t particularly helpful. In BBEdit 9.0, Bare Bones has enhanced the Find Differences feature such that it not only shows the changed lines, and the changed characters within
each line, it also lets you see and replace individual spans of differing characters within each changed line.

Browse and Edit — BBEdit has long had File Group documents that enabled you to bring together files and folders from disparate parts of your hard disk, but file groups were really just an alternative view of files that already existed in the Finder; you could open, rename, and delete them, but not much more. Similarly, the program has long featured Disk Browser windows that showed a view of files and folders on the hard disk; within a disk browser you could see, but not modify, the actual content of files. In BBEdit 9.0 both file groups, renamed Projects, and disk browsers now work the way they should in providing not just opening and previewing capabilities, but full editing. Whenever you click a file in
the left sidebar of a project or disk browser window, the file opens in the main window, fully editable. Double-click a file and it opens in its own window, just as in previous versions.

For programmers dealing with hundreds or thousands of files, BBEdit’s file groups and disk browser windows were useful before, and they’re far more useful now. For those for whom the previous features weren’t helpful previously, they very well may be now – I plan to give them a try, whereas I’d never seen the benefit before.

Alas, BBEdit’s FTP/SFTP Browser does not yet share this editable pane feature, which would be huge for Web developers. It would also be great to see additional version control interface within disk browsers, identifying files that had been changed in the repository but not yet updated, or that had local changes not yet committed back to the repository.

Because it’s possible to have a file open in a project window, in a disk browser, and in an independent window, BBEdit 9.0 also lets you change a file in any window and have the changes reflected immediately in all the others. I can’t quite imagine why you’d want to open multiple views to a particular file intentionally, but the alternative – keeping track of which window contained which changes to the same file – would undoubtedly cause fits of uncontrolled gibbering.

More Features — Though editable panes in Project and Disk Browser windows and the modeless Find interface are the marquee features of BBEdit 9.0, there are plenty of other additions. A Scratchpad window provides a constantly saved place to dump bits of text for editing or copying into other documents. If you use BBEdit on multiple Macs, the program can now sync the contents of the ~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit folder to other Macs via MobileMe – handy for maintaining the same clippings, text factories, and other settings between computers. One clever technique – if you have to use BBEdit 9.0 on someone else’s Mac temporarily, you can simply copy the version of the BBEdit folder on your iDisk down to
the Mac to recreate your personal environment.

Also new is text completion, which enables you to type a character or two, press a key, and select the desired expansion from a pop-up (text completion can also kick in automatically after a delay in typing, but I found that a bit overwhelming in normal use). This is probably mostly helpful for programmers, since BBEdit provides language-specific expansions pulled from the current document, nearby documents, clippings, and other sources. BBEdit’s built-in language support is also reportedly improved, particularly for Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, and Python.

For sysadmins, BBEdit can now read and write bzip-compressed files (.bz2) such as Leopard’s log files, much as it could already work with gzip-compressed files. And last, but by no means least for those of us who write for a living, BBEdit windows can now feature a constantly updated character, word, and line count; clicking it toggles between counting for the document and for the selected text.

Upgrade Details — Upgrades for registered customers of any previous commercial version of BBEdit cost $30. New copies of BBEdit 9.0 remain priced at $125, and the educational price remains at $49. The program is available immediately; there’s a fully functional 30-day trial version that’s a 15.4 MB download. It requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later, and is a universal binary.

Adam Engst No comments

How to Use Google Docs Offline in Safari

It’s ironic that with all the writing I do, I’ve never settled on a single word processor, instead picking and choosing among lots of different ones depending on the task at hand. Although it’s a mediocre word processor, we’ve started using Google Docs for certain sorts of collaborative writing, such as when Tonya and I are working on marketing materials for Take Control, or when I’m writing an article for Macworld. Its brilliant collaborative capabilities more than make up for its minimal feature set, and I have found it better for my needs than similar products like Zoho Writer and Buzzword, which don’t seem as focused on enabling quick collaboration.

Like all online word processors, Google Docs has one significant architectural limitation: if you don’t have Internet access, your documents are completely unavailable to you. Google has been working on eliminating this limitation with a technology called Google Gears (Zoho Writer and a few other Web apps also use Gears – it’s an open source technology that any developer can implement). Gears addresses the disconnected problem with a database engine based on SQLite, and Gears-enabled pages can send and receive data from this local database cache when offline. When connectivity is reestablished, Gears synchronizes the changes back up to Google’s storage cloud.

Gears has been available for the Mac via the Firefox Web browser for some time, but Google just released a “beta” version of Gears for Safari. (Nearly everything Google does is labeled as beta, even after years of development and millions of users, which makes it difficult to determine the actual state of the code.) I had tried Gears with Firefox briefly before our trip to Wales, but I found it a bit confusing and hadn’t come back to it until this Safari release, which I suspect will be attractive to more Mac users anyway. The Safari release was quiet, and Google’s Gears home page doesn’t yet acknowledge
that it’s compatible with Safari.

Gears for Firefox is a Firefox add-on, but for Safari, Gears has two parts, an input manager (installed in /Library/InputManagers) and an Internet plug-in (installed in /Library/Internet Plugins). Some people don’t like input managers; if so, stick with the Firefox version.

Installation and Setup — Until Google officially releases Gears for Safari, you can’t follow the normal installation method, which is to visit the Gears home page and click the Install Gears button (do that if you want to install in Firefox now). Instead, download this disk image and run the installer inside. You’ll have to restart Safari to finish the installation. Gears automatically updates itself, so when Google releases new versions, you should just get the updates. You can also verify that the installation has worked by looking for a Google Gears Settings menu item in the Safari application menu. But don’t choose that just yet.
Instead, go to Google Docs, and at the upper right of the page, click the Offline link next to your email address to continue the installation process in a series of dialog boxes.

First, Google Gears asks you to enable offline access; click the Enable Offline Access button. Next, Gears asks if it’s acceptable to store data on your computer (necessary, of course, but nice to be asked). Select the “I trust this site. Allow it to use Gears” checkbox and click Allow.

Gears then asks if you want to make a desktop shortcut, which isn’t necessary, and can be done later if you want. The desktop shortcut is actually a small application that’s created on your Desktop, but it doesn’t have to stay there. Double-clicking it opens Google Docs in the Web browser that was your default as of when you created it; it isn’t smart enough to switch if you change your default, but you can recreate it if necessary. Merely dragging the Google Docs URL from Safari’s address bar to the Desktop to create a .webloc file provides exactly the same functionality as the Google Docs application that Gears creates.

Once all that is done, Gears synchronizes your data, which shouldn’t take long unless you have a vast number of documents stored in Google Docs. Subsequent synchronization takes place regularly, and you’ll likely never notice it.

Basic Usage — If Safari is open, you can just navigate to manually, via .webloc file, or via the Google Docs application that Gears creates. Once there, click any document to open it, make changes as you would normally, and when you’re done, click the Save & Close button. Keep in mind that you can edit only word processing documents; spreadsheets and presentations can be viewed offline but not edited yet.

Google uses only a tiny icon that switches between a green checkmark and a gray slashed circle to indicate whether you’re online or offline in the main Google Docs file list. Unfortunately, that icon doesn’t update quickly, so even after I disconnected my Mac from all networks, it claimed I was online for a few minutes before realizing otherwise. Similarly, when you’re in a particular document, a green, downward-pointing arrow indicates that the document is in sync; a gray, upward-pointing arrow tells you that there are changes that need to be saved next time you connect. Maybe it’s just because I’m feeling my way around what it’s like to work offline in an online word processor, but I would have appreciated more obvious status

Edited documents do get a little “Edited offline” tag next to them in the Google Docs file list, and shortly after you reconnect to a network, Gears notices and synchronizes your documents back to the cloud, erasing the “Edited offline” tag at the same time.

Note that if you choose to install Gears for both Firefox and Safari, the two don’t share the same data store. In other words, if you make a change in a document in Safari while offline, you won’t see that change in Firefox until the Safari version is synchronized back to Google Docs. That’s not unreasonable, but for those of us who use multiple Web browsers regularly, it could cause some confusion.

Protecting Against Beta — My only concern about the pre-release nature of Gears is that I’d hate to lose a plane ride’s worth of work should something go wrong. I haven’t used it much, and although I haven’t had any problems, I do worry a bit, since Gears is saving to a database, not a normal file that you could extract easily if necessary.

Of course, you can always copy the text and work on it in TextEdit or some other simple word processor, but what I’m considering instead is using a utility like Keyboard Maestro or CopyPaste Pro that maintains a clipboard history. Then, every so often, as a backup, I’d just select all and copy.

Needless to say, Gears is free, as is Google Docs, and it requires Safari 3.1.1 or later on Mac OS X 10.4.11 or 10.5.3 or later. Even if you don’t plan to use Google Docs offline much, I’d encourage you to give it a spin, since it might let you get some work done at a time when you’d otherwise be dead in the Internet water.

Adam Engst No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 01-Sep-08

  • Final Cut Express 4.0.1 from Apple resolves a permissions issue where projects would not open if they contained media not properly owned by the user. The update also adds easy setups for ingesting AVCHD footage as well as 720p25 HDV. A pair of Apple Intermediate Codec sequence presets have also been renamed to more accurately reflect the resolution of the footage. The update is available only via Software Update at publication time. (Free)
  • VMware Fusion 2 Release Candidate 1 from VMware includes a 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus to protect Windows against viruses, supports seven languages, improves the user interface surrounding snapshots, and fixes a number of bugs. One subtle new feature of interest to Web developers using Fusion to test Web sites in Windows: Windows XP normally exposes only the default Web browser as a valid HTTP application, preventing other installed Web browsers from appearing. Fusion 2.0 RC1 now works around this, enabling Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera in Windows to be advertised as HTTP
    applications, which in turn lets BBEdit find these applications in its HTML Preview preferences and use them for previewing HTML documents. (Free until final release, 247 MB)
  • Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder 1.0 enables users to play Apple ProRes files through QuickTime. Apple describes ProRes as “a visually lossless format that provides uncompressed HD quality at SD data rates. It is an excellent choice for mastering and can easily be transcoded to distribution formats like H.264. With new support for playback on both Mac and Windows computers, Apple ProRes can also be used for review and approval of Final Cut Studio sequences.” (Free, 396K)
  • Coda 1.5 from Panic is a highly significant update to the single-window Web authoring tool. The most notable new features include support for the Subversion version control system, the capability to search for text across multiple files, custom Web books for your favorite online reference pages, and improvements to the text clipping feature. Support for AppleScript has been expanded, a “Reverse Publish” feature downloads remote items, and tabs now indicate whether files are local or remote. There are numerous other changes and bug fixes in the program; be sure to read the release notes. ($99 new, free update, 19.9 MB)
  • RapidWeaver 4.1.1 from Realmac Software beefs up the WYSIWYG HTML authoring tool with support for Leopard’s Quick Look feature, an automatic resizing option for dragged-in images, and easier publishing of Web sites to MobileMe. There are a number of other bug fixes and minor improvements. RapidWeaver 4.x requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. ($79 new, free update for 3.6 and 4.0 users, 33 MB)

Jeff Carlson No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/01-Sep-08

App store mail list — Where does one go to find the latest releases in Apple’s App Store? RSS and Twitter feeds are available. (4 messages)

MacBook Pro power on airlines — Attempting to charge a MacBook Pro on a flight didn’t work, possibly due to the power required to charge versus the power needed to run the laptop without charging. (5 messages)

Screensaver/Expose issues — A reader’s screen saver starts and stops without any indication of the underlying reason. (2 messages)

Sleep Problems with Eudora — A bug in Eudora is keeping a Mac from sleeping. (7 messages)

VNC on Tiger — Readers share their experiences using Chicken of the VNC under Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. (2 messages)

Security Concern of an un-commanded start-up — An iMac mysteriously starts itself in the middle of the night. Gremlins? Or a bug? (6 messages)