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Apple released new MacBook Pro and MacBook models last week, boasting innovative industrial design, much improved graphics capabilities – and a bit of controversy. We cover the releases, including the new 24-inch LED Cinema Display and an updated MacBook Air, as well as the issue of switching to all-glossy screens and omitting FireWire from the MacBook. Adam also looks at the numbers provided at last week’s event that indicate broader acceptance of all things Macintosh. In other news, Glenn Fleishman spends some hands-on time with T-Mobile’s Google-backed G1 phone, Adam notes how Apple’s latest “Get a Mac” ads take direct aim at Microsoft’s advertising, and we cover the releases of Microsoft Office 2008 12.1.3 and Office 2004 11.5.2, along with the availability of Adobe Creative Suite 4. In the TidBITS Watchlist, we spy Apple’s Migration and DVD/CD Sharing Update, Typinator 3.2, Mac HelpMate 2.6, Undercover 2.5, OpenOffice 3.0, Flash Player 10, Live Interior 3D 2.0, and Bento 2.0.

Doug McLean No comments

Microsoft Office 2008 12.1.3 and 2004 11.5.2 Updates

The recently released Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.3 Update tackles a major security risk, improves Office stability within Leopard, and makes some small performance enhancements. Once again, kudos to Microsoft for excellent release notes, and it’s great to see the company continuing to provide bug fixes for Office 2004, which still has many users.

The security risk pertains to important vulnerabilities in Excel that could enable an attacker to take control of a user’s machine. If a user were to open a specially crafted file, the attacker could remotely execute code to take complete control of the user’s system. Full notes concerning this risk are available via Microsoft’s Security Bulletin.

Additional general Office 2008 changes include a fix for a bug that could cause any Office application to crash, improved stability when working with documents that contain PDFs, enhanced performance for chart and picture display, and a bug fix for a problem encountered when opening documents containing PDFs in a Windows Office application.

In PowerPoint 2008, stability within Leopard has been improved, fixing a problem wherein PowerPoint would crash upon attempting to open a presentation. Also, a bug causing images imported from other applications to appear as URLs has been fixed. Finally, a minor issue with PowerPoint .ppt documents being issued incorrect time stamps when being saved has also been resolved.

In Excel 2008, calculation reliability has been improved, chart creation is faster, issues relating to Pivot Tables have been fixed, and Open/Save bugs have been repaired. This last change is a major one as Excel was having trouble opening particular file types, and complaining about insufficient memory when attempting to save.

Word 2008 sees fewer changes. Compatibility with Endnote has been enhanced, a small issue with the display of charts and pictures has been corrected, and a German language auto-correct bug was fixed.

Entourage 2008 also receives only minor fixes. Issues with calendar duplications have been resolved, time zones have been updated, and problems with establishing secure connections to machines running Exchange Server 2007 have been fixed.

The Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.3 Update requires Mac OS X 10.4.9 or later, and that you have already installed the Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.2 Update on the computer before you install the current one. It’s a 154.4 MB download and is available from Microsoft’s Web site or via the Microsoft AutoUpdate utility launched by choosing Check for Updates from any Office 2008 application.

The same security risk addressed by the Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.3 Update is also dealt with by the Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.2 Update. Additionally, this small update fixes two bugs in Excel 2004.

While the 11.5.2 update mainly focuses on the aforementioned security risk, Excel does receive some important tweaks. The most important fix addresses data loss that had been occurring upon attempting to save .xls files to a network volume after enabling the Always Create Backup option. Another issue that had caused the SUMIF function to generate inaccurate results has also been resolved. Aside from these two changes and the security patch, no other Office 2004 programs are individually addressed in this update.

The Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.2 Update requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, and that you’ve previously installed the Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.1 Update. It’s a 13.3 MB download, and is available either via the Office 2004 version of Microsoft AutoUpdate or as a standalone download.

Jeff Carlson No comments

Adobe Creative Suite 4 Now Shipping

Adobe announced that Creative Suite 4, its bundle of professional creative applications including Photoshop CS4, InDesign CS4, and Illustrator CS4, is now shipping. (For a look at what’s new in this massive revision, see “Adobe Announces Vast Creative Suite 4,” 2008-09-23. I also wrote about some of the smaller improvements to the suite in my latest Seattle Times column: “Adobe’s big, new Creative Suite helpful in many ways,” 2008-10-11.) I would imagine that graphic designers, video producers, and publishers of all stripes are submitting requisition forms to their bosses.

When I say “massive,” I don’t just mean the number of features rolled into the applications; there are a lot of applications offered in six different bundled configurations. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Design Premium includes InDesign CS4, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Dreamweaver CS4, Fireworks CS4, and Acrobat 9 Pro for $1,799 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Design Standard includes InDesign CS4, Photoshop CS4, Illustrator CS4, and Acrobat 9 Pro for $1,399 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Web Premium includes Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Fireworks CS4, Acrobat 9 Pro, Soundbooth CS4, and Contribute CS4 for $1,699 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Web Standard includes Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, Fireworks CS4, and Contribute CS4 for $999 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Production Premium includes Photoshop CS4 Extended, Illustrator CS4, Flash CS4 Professional, After Effects CS4, Premiere Pro CS4, Soundbooth CS4, OnLocation CS4, and Encore CS4 for $1,699 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)
  • The Master Collection includes everything (except Photoshop CS4, since Photoshop CS4 Extended is part of the lineup) for $2,499 new. (Upgrade pricing varies.)

Each suite also includes Bridge CS4, Device Central CS4, and Version Cue CS4; the Production Premium and Master Collection also include Dynamic Link.

Additionally, each major application is available for purchase without buying a suite.

Adam Engst No comments

Apple and Microsoft Snipe in Ad Campaigns

Since 2006, Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign featuring Justin Long as a relaxed, hip Mac and John Hodgman as a stuffy, stressed-out PC have poked fun at the PC industry and Windows in particular. For years, Microsoft ignored the campaign, but in September 2008, Microsoft launched what is reportedly a $300 million ad campaign aimed at, to quote the internal Microsoft email about the campaign, telling “the story of how Windows enables a billion people around the globe to do more with their lives today.”

As “an icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context,” Microsoft made a set of ads featuring Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld (whose character in his eponymous TV series was a highly visible Mac user). The ads were, at least for me and nearly everyone I’ve talked with, essentially inscrutable. The first featured Gates and Seinfeld buying shoes, and the second showed them living with a supposedly stereotypical American family. Perhaps I’m just not sufficiently sophisticated about advertising or utterly not the target audience, but they made no sense to me. (Clearly I wasn’t alone, since Microsoft
pulled the campaign abruptly – after having reportedly paid Seinfeld $10 million for his work.) The followup “I’m a PC” ads were far more powerful and effective, and at their best make Apple’s ads seem smug.

It’s not unusual for one company’s advertising to take on the competition directly, but it’s far more so for the target to respond with its own ad campaign. Doing so risks cementing the negative points made by the initial campaign. But we’re stepping into even more rarified advertising territory now, since Apple has just released a new “Bean Counter” ad that tweaks Microsoft for spending $300 million on advertising rather than putting it into Vista development.

Although there’s a risk that Apple’s “Bean Counter” ad could be seen as relying on a reference that only loyal Apple fans would possibly understand, the ad continues to hammer home Apple’s criticism of Windows Vista, and I suspect that anyone not following the Apple/Microsoft ad wars will see it purely in that light. And that, I’m sure, is just fine with Apple.

Adam Engst No comments

DealBITS Winners for PDFpen 4

Congratulations to Gilles Brissette of, Fearghas McKay of, and Patrick Skelly of, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who received a copy of SmileOnMyMac’s $49.95 PDFpen 4 PDF manipulation software. If you didn’t win but wanted a copy of PDFpen, I hope you entered because entrants received a 20-percent discount on PDFpen. Thanks to the 955 people who entered this DealBITS drawing, and we hope you’ll continue to participate in the future!

Glenn Fleishman No comments

T-Mobile’s Google Phone Promising but Unpolished

I’ve had my hands on the T-Mobile G1 with Google this last week, the first release of a smartphone using the Open Handset Alliance’s Android platform – a platform initially developed and still heavily influenced by Google. The T-Mobile phone was made by HTC, a leading Windows Mobile handset maker, and while it has many drawbacks, it shows a lot of potential. The phone starts shipping 22-Oct-08 from T-Mobile in the United States, and next month in the UK. (For more background on Android, see the now somewhat inaccurately titled, “Google’s View of Our Cell Phone Future Is an Android, Not a GPhone,” 2007-11-12.)

Over at Ars Technica, I wrote up a first impressions article which largely compared the G1 with the iPhone (both the first and second generation models). The G1 lacks a lot of the polish that the very first iPhone had out of the box in June 2007, not to mention the refinements that have come since.

But it’s also clear that – given that Android will run on any hardware that makers choose to design, and that Android can be expanded in ways that Apple doesn’t and will never allow – there’s a lot of room to fix and grow.

The iPhone is a closed platform, with developers needing to use Apple as a gatekeeper for constrained applications. Android, by contrast, is all about openness: open source (not the whole platform yet, but that’s the goal), with a commitment by carriers to allow any phone running any software accessing any service. (There are some limits to make sure networks aren’t overrun, but the intent is that those limits are slight compared to most current carrier restrictions.)

The components that come with the G1 are quite similar to the iPhone, and some BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones. The G1 pairs a touch screen with a slide-out keyboard, a combination that’s found on very few phones. It also has the laundry list of radios – 3G, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth – and what seemed to me a very decent 3-megapixel camera with auto-focus. Despite all these components, the G1 and Android currently seem unexceptional, but I don’t expect them to remain so. (The touchscreen only allows single finger gestures, by the way: slide and tap, notably. Apple has patents on multi-touch technology, and that might be constraining HTC.)

For instance, a persistent irritation I had with the G1, echoed by most other reviews, was dealing with the orientation of the phone for basic tasks. You can use the G1 in a portrait mode, with the touchscreen and a few buttons dominating the action, or in slide-out mode, with the keyboard exposed and the screen automatically changing to landscape orientation. This part makes perfect sense.

But despite having a built-in accelerometer, no software I used (including the main multi-page screen, which is rather clever) detected changes in motion. If you want to view a Web page in landscape mode, you must slide open the keyboard; and portrait mode requires the keyboard be closed. (I downloaded an application from Market, Google’s in-beta and currently all-free software store, that let me confirm the accelerometer was on and active. It was.)

There’s more. The touchscreen has no glass keyboard, which is the only way of entering information on an iPhone. So when you’re browsing in portrait mode and need to enter even a word or two on the browser, you must slide open the keyboard, which changes the browser’s orientation to landscape, and then type in what you want. This is tedious and something I also expect can be easily changed: even if the Open Handset Alliance doesn’t opt for a glass keyboard addition, a developer could add such support, or a Web browser maker like Opera could add the feature to a browser they offer as an alternative.

Clearly, adding support for seamless orientation changes will be something we see in revised Android releases for its built-in apps, and it’s something developers could add in third-party programs right away.

It’s funny how much the initial iPhone seemed like a complete release, even with all the subsequent software releases and the critical addition of 3G to the second model and the App Store for third-party programs. (With regard to the most glaring omission in the iPhone, the G1 does have a copy and paste feature. Alas, I haven’t yet figured out precisely where it works! Apparently it’s active only within certain text fields and requires a keyboard shortcut.)

Android and the G1 so far seem more like an interesting prototype, and as such a lot of reviewers cut the phone slack in anticipation of what’s to come. I’d rather review the phone I have in front of me, but it’s easy to see how Google and its partners could move light years beyond this first release by the middle of next year.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Redesigned 15-inch MacBook Pro Unleashed

At first glance, Apple’s new MacBook Pro is clearly a new professional laptop, sporting the company’s first significant case redesign since the middle of the PowerBook G4 era. Apple has applied the manufacturing process invented for the MacBook Air to the rest of the laptop line, bringing a strong, unibody aluminum design that allows for more environmentally friendly manufacturing, and a stronger case that doesn’t weigh significantly more.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro measures 0.95 inches (2.41 cm) thick and weighs 5.5 pounds (2.49 kg) – just slightly thinner than its predecessor (which measured 1 inch thick) but actually 0.1 pounds (45 g) heavier.

(Apple bumped the 17-inch MacBook Pro to 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard disk, but it doesn’t share the 15-inch model’s design improvements. Apple is rumored to be updating the 17-inch MacBook Pro in the near future, possibly at Macworld Expo in January 2009.)

In the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, as with the new MacBook, Apple has gotten rid of the separate trackpad button. Well, sort of – the Multi-Touch trackpad now is the button – made of etched wear-resistant glass. Simply press the trackpad area to click (the entire area depresses). The result of this button-absorption is a trackpad area that is 39 percent larger than past notebooks offered. Apple is taking advantage of that expansion with the incorporation of even more Multi-Touch functionality – now accommodating four-finger gestures for more complex actions such as a downward swipe to trigger Expose. It’s unclear yet as to how users will respond to this change – if the button proves too sensitive, too awkward, or too difficult to
customize satisfactorily. Presumably, Apple engineers have spent a lot of time attempting to ensure its ease of use and intuitiveness so hopefully the transition will be an easy one for users.

The MacBook Pro’s Core 2 Duo processor isn’t dramatically changed from the previous version; the new models offer speeds of 2.4 GHz or 2.53 GHz; 2.8 GHz is a build-to-order option. The graphics processors, however, are another story.

The MacBook Pro (and MacBook) includes an integrated Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip with 256 MB of DDR memory. According to Apple, the GeForce 9400M is up to five times faster than the Intel integrated graphics found on the previous MacBook and Mac mini models, incorporating 16 parallel graphics cores for 54 gigaflops of processing power. In other words, it’s fast.

But it also has company.

The MacBook Pro includes another Nvidia chip, the GeForce 9600M GT with either 256 MB or 512 MB of memory and 32 graphics cores. The laptop can use either one, but apparently not both at the same time. When you need more graphics processing power, you can switch to using the beefier processor. The option requires you to specify which graphics mode to use in the Energy Saver preference pane: Better Battery Life or Higher Performance. Then you log out and log back in; restarting the Mac would also work but isn’t necessary. Switching to the 9600M drops battery life to four hours per charge versus five hours using the integrated 9400M (keeping in mind that those are likely optimal battery estimates).

This emphasis on graphics processing is likely to make professional creative users happy, as more high-end applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Apple’s Aperture, and Final Cut Studio offload much of the processing workload to the GPU. It should also improve the MacBook Pro’s standing among hardcore gamers. (At the same time, the MacBook Pro’s glossy screen – the only option – is upsetting many pros; see “On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens?,” 2008-10-18.)

Another significant feature new to the MacBook Pro (and also found in the new MacBook and MacBook Air) is the Mini DisplayPort that can drive external displays at up to 2560 by 1600 pixels, the resolution of 30-inch widescreen displays. DisplayPort is a relatively recent digital display interface standard put forth by the Video Electronics Standards Association. New adapters are available for using Mini DisplayPort with older generation VGA, DVI/HDMI, and Dual-Link DVI displays. The Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter, priced at $29, connects the new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air to monitors with a DVI connector, such as the old 20- or 23-inch Apple Cinema Displays. The Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter is also priced at $29 and
connects the new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air to a standard analog monitor, projector, or LCD that uses a VGA connector or cable. And the $99 Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter connects the new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air to an external display or projector using a DVI connector, such as the 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display.

Other changes to the MacBook Pro aren’t as flashy, but are worth noting. Only one FireWire port is included, and it’s a FireWire 800 port; you’ll need to connect FireWire 400 devices using an adapter or a cable with a FireWire 800 connector at one end and a FireWire 400 connector at the other. The battery indicator now appears on the right side of the case instead of on the bottom. Gone, thankfully, is the annoying clasp latch of old, replaced by the magnetic latch introduced in the MacBook years ago. And if you’ve ever tried to swap the hard drive from a MacBook Pro, you’ll be thrilled that the process no longer requires a Master’s degree in engineering: the hard drive is easily accessible behind the battery door.

The new MacBook Pro is available immediately in two models:

For $1,999, the base model offers:

  • 15.4-inch LED-backlit display
  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3 MB of L2 cache
  • 2 GB RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce 9400M
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT with 256 MB memory
  • 250 GB hard drive
  • Slot-loading SuperDrive

At $2,499, the added perks include:

  • 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6 MB of L2 cache
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT with 512 MB memory
  • 320 GB hard drive

After unveiling the new notebooks, Apple immediately released MacBook, MacBook Pro Software Update 1.2. The update – for only the new notebooks – “improves compatibility with external displays and includes a variety of software fixes,” to quote Apple’s release notes in their entirety. The update is available via Software Update or as a 45 MB standalone download.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Updated MacBook Design Gets Metal and Glass

Apple unveiled a redesigned MacBook last week, ending a more-than-two-year period with only minor updates to the company’s most popular notebook (and indeed, the most popular Mac ever). The changes make the MacBook nearly identical in appearance to the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. The two share the same aluminum casing, LED backlit display, glass trackpad, and most of the same ports; the MacBook is just smaller and lighter. The biggest change is obviously the long-expected move away from a plastic body to one of aluminum and glass. The body has been cut from a single block of aluminum – a process intended to provide increased strength and durability, as well as slightly reducing the thickness and
weight of the notebook. The new MacBook drops half a pound to weigh in at just 4.5 pounds (2.0 kg), and is 0.95 inches (2.41 cm) in thickness – the same thickness as the MacBook Pro, though 1 pound (454 g) lighter.

Another major design change for the MacBook is the new Multi-Touch trackpad introduced with the MacBook Pro: at 39 percent larger than the previous incarnation, the entire pad is now the button – just press down anywhere to click. The trackpad is made from wear-resistant etched glass and responds to a host of multi-finger commands. You can also designate click areas through a software interface.

The display remains the same at 13.3 inches, but is now LED-backlit, which allows it to be thinner and eliminates the need to use toxic mercury. It also stretches all the way to the edge of the case, over a black bezel, which makes it seem larger than it actually is. The graphics card inside the new MacBook is the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M being used in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and it can now drive external monitors at resolutions up to 2560 by 1600, a very welcome addition that will become more welcome if Apple releases a 30-inch LED Cinema Display. A $99 Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter is necessary for connecting the existing 30-inch Cinema HD Display.

The primary drawback of the new MacBook is the lack of a FireWire port (perhaps to push some users up to the Pro line). Although FireWire is starting to become less common for external hard disks, it’s still used by many digital camcorders and other peripherals. Moreover, for those of us who troubleshoot other Macs, the lack of FireWire means we can’t mount a new MacBook as a drive on another computer using Target Disk Mode. For more on the controversy, see “On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens?” (2008-10-18).

The MacBook is available immediately in two configurations. $1,299 gets you a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB RAM (upgradable to 4 GB), a 160 GB hard drive, slot-loading SuperDrive, the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics card, and a 13.3-inch LED backlit display. For $1,599, you get a 2.4 GHz processor, a 250 GB hard drive, and a backlit keyboard. A 320 GB hard drive and a 128 GB solid state drive are available as options.

Apple is also keeping one configuration of the white plastic MacBook for the new low price of $999, which includes a 2.1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 120 GB hard drive, and integrated Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor; this model retains the FireWire 400 port. Larger hard drives remain available for the white MacBook, as do the old 20-inch Apple Cinema Display and 23-inch Cinema HD Display.

After unveiling the new notebooks, Apple immediately released MacBook, MacBook Pro Software Update 1.2. The update – for only the new notebooks – “improves compatibility with external displays and includes a variety of software fixes,” to quote Apple’s release notes in their entirety. The update is available via Software Update or as a 45 MB standalone download.

TidBITS Staff No comments

New MacBook Air Adds Capacity and Graphics Performance

As expected, the MacBook Air remained largely untouched during Apple’s refresh of the rest of the MacBook line, receiving only a few small but welcome upgrades that improve the svelte laptop’s specs. Included in these is an updated graphics card (a move to the Nvidia GeForce 9400M), the addition of a 120 GB hard drive, and the inclusion of the new Mini DisplayPort. Two versions, priced at $1,799 and $2,499, give you 1.6 GHz and 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors respectively – no changes there. The higher-end model comes standard with a new 128 GB solid state drive, though you can save $500 by dropping back to the 120 GB hard drive. The refreshed MacBook Air will not be immediately
available, but will instead hit stores in early November 2008.

The limited storage capacity in the MacBook Air, with a 120 GB hard drive or a 128 GB solid state drive as the only options, and no reasonable way to install a larger replacement drive, makes the machine most suitable for those looking for a small auxiliary Mac to supplement a desktop Mac with more capacious storage options. The MacBook Air’s slim form factor means Apple must use a smaller hard drive than the 2.5-inch drives that are available in standard laptops; the 1.8-inch mechanisms (also used in hard-disk-based iPods) allow for the smaller laptop, but restrict Apple’s supply choices – and so far, prices have remained high despite the limited capacities.

One notable improvement, presumably thanks to the Nvidia GeForce 9400M, is that the MacBook Air can now drive an external monitor at resolutions up to 2560 by 1600 pixels – the size of Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display. Previously, the MacBook Air could drive an external monitor at only 1920 by 1200. Although this points toward the MacBook Air coupled with a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display as the ultimate executive combination, Apple isn’t including any display as a build-to-order option with the MacBook Air, presumably since the new 24-inch LED Cinema Display isn’t yet available, and Apple doesn’t (yet) offer a 30-inch LED Cinema Display.

TidBITS Staff No comments

New 24-inch Cinema Display Goes LED, Gets Hydra Cable

At last week’s media event, Apple introduced the new 24-inch LED Cinema Display, the first Apple external display to feature LED backlighting, a trend that Apple embarked on in 2007 as a way of eliminating the mercury used in fluorescent lamps. Most importantly, Apple is aiming the LED Cinema Display at laptop owners (clever as we are, it’s pretty obvious by Apple’s tagline, “The first display made precisely for a MacBook”). To live up to that claim, Apple outfitted the LED Cinema Display with an iSight camera, a microphone, a 2.1 stereo speaker system, and a special cable with three connectors: USB, Mini DisplayPort, and MagSafe through which you can power your notebook. It also features three self-powered USB ports – all of which are
enabled upon plugging the USB connector into your laptop, but which continue to provide power to an iPod, iPhone, printer, or camera even when the laptop isn’t connected.

Unfortunately, the new display appears to be compatible only with the new MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro that are equipped with the Mini DisplayPort, according to Apple’s specifications page.

As with the previous model, the 24-inch LED Cinema Display has a 1920 by 1200 resolution, and will be priced at $899 when it ships in early November 2008.

Although not as prominently featured on Apple’s Web site, the existing line of Apple Cinema Displays (30-inch, 23-inch, and 20-inch) are still available and unchanged. Hopefully, we’ll see a transition to the LED style at Macworld Expo or soon after.

Adam Engst No comments

Running the 2008 Mac Numbers with Tim Cook

During Apple’s special event in Cupertino to announce the new models of the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air, Steve Jobs started off by introducing Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook to recap some of the numbers showing how well the Mac is doing. (There was some immediate speculation that Jobs intentionally handed the baton to Cook for this portion of the keynote as a way of acclimating the media to other Apple executives presenting; Jonathan Ive also handled a chunk of the keynote, and Phil Schiller participated in the Q&A session at the end.)

As with the article I wrote after the last special event (see “Running the Numbers with Steve Jobs,” 2008-09-09), these numbers are only those Apple wishes to share, and there’s seldom any independent confirmation of them. Nonetheless, they’re as good as we get most of the time, and it’s always interesting to see what Apple chooses to emphasize.

Cook led off by noting that in the last reported quarter, Apple sold 2.5 million Macs overall, which is not only a record, but also the continuation of a significant upward sales trend for Macs. That’s in contrast to the rest of the computer industry as well, apparently, since Cook claimed that Mac sales have outpaced the industry for 14 of the last 15 quarters – since 2004. (The sole exception was the quarter in which Apple started the transition to Intel-based Macs.) In the last few quarters, Mac sales have grown by two to three times the rate of the rest of the industry.

Apple didn’t give specific credit to particular models, although Cook cited the iMac and MacBook Air as being “far superior” to similar PCs, and Steve Jobs later commented that the MacBook is “the best-selling Mac ever” in a context that implied he was talking specifically about the MacBook itself, and not the MacBook/MacBook Air/MacBook Pro family. Who knew? But I’m not surprised, since the MacBook has long combined a reasonable amount of power in a nicely sized unit – it’s the sweet spot of the laptop line for me.

Those sales have given Apple a significantly increased market share, growing from what Cook identified only as “single digit” market share to 17.6 percent of unit sales in the United States retail market. Even better is the revenue share, where Apple has 31.3 percent. That’s because Macs are generally priced on the high end of the spectrum; although it’s usually difficult to find comparable PCs for much less, there are less-capable PCs available for notably lower prices. You get what you pay for, but on the other side of that, manufacturers of low-priced hardware also receive what you pay.

Cook didn’t clarify what “U.S. retail” encompasses, since a large number of PCs are sold outside of the traditional retail channel, in bulk sales to corporations, governments, and other large organizations. It’s possible that Apple is dropping those sales out of the comparison to make their numbers sound better. At the same time, retail sales are often indicative of what consumers are spending their own money on – in this case, nearly $1 out of every $3 spent on computers goes to Apple.

The retail Apple Stores play a notable role in Apple’s success. According to Cook, Apple now has 247 stores in 8 countries, with 400,000 visitors per day. But what’s really important is that 50 percent of the Macs sold in the Apple Stores are to people who are new to the Mac. Even accounting for the fact that the Apple Stores have become common meeting places for young people who want to check their email and check out the other people checking their email, that’s still an impressive number. It’s even more impressive if you consider that, at this rate, Apple Stores will receive about 150 million visitors in a year.

Cook also called out Apple’s gains in the education market, which long ago was an Apple bastion, but which, over the last 10 years or so, gradually moved towards lower-priced PCs from Dell and others. Cook claimed that Apple has surpassed Dell to become the top seller of laptops in education, with a 39 percent market share. He also showed a slide of Mac market share at an unnamed major university going from 15 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in 2008. Last year I wrote about Mac usage at Cornell University (see “Mac Market Share Rising at Cornell University,” 2007-09-13), noting that Apple’s market share had grown from 5 percent in 2002 to 21 percent in 2007; in 2008, Macs were used by 27
percent of dorm residents connecting to the campus-wide ResNet. (Oddly, in both of the last two years, 6 percent of students were using Windows on an Intel-based Mac.)

To conclude the run through the Mac numbers, Cook showed a slide that demonstrated how Apple’s overall sales have grown over the last few years, from 4.5 million Macs in 2005, 5.3 million in 2006, and 7.1 million in 2007. In the first three quarters of 2008, Apple has already sold 7.1 million Macs, the same as all of 2007.

And as you’ll read elsewhere in our coverage of the keynote, Apple’s new laptops are only going to help push that number to new heights.

Oh, and one more thing.

To start off the question-and-answer session at the end of the event, Jobs said, “110 over 70, this is my blood pressure. This is all we’re going to talk about Steve’s health today. If you want to see it go higher, ask him more questions about it.” No one took the bait.

Adam Engst No comments

On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens?

Last week’s introduction of the redesigned MacBook and MacBook Pro brought a number of welcome (or at least interesting) changes – the buttonless glass trackpad, a magnetic latch for the MacBook Pro, the capability to drive a 30-inch external display, and more.

But two seemingly small details have generated a firestorm of complaints from Mac users: the elimination of FireWire from the MacBook, and the dropping of a matte screen option from the MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro (the 17-inch MacBook Pro retains the matte option for now). Has Apple gone too far in the quest to simplify, or are users just whining? And with the removal of FireWire – first from the MacBook Air and now with the MacBook – are we seeing the beginning of the end of the technology for Mac users?

Whither FireWire? The removal of FireWire from the MacBook is highly troubling, and many people have declared it a deal-breaker, opting instead for the previous generation of MacBook or for the FireWire 800-equipped MacBook Pro. Some have even opined that the dropping of FireWire from the MacBook is one way Apple can differentiate the more-expensive MacBook Pro from the increasingly capable MacBook.

FireWire is most commonly used to connect external hard drives and digital camcorders, but hard drives increasingly support both FireWire and USB 2.0, and in an email response to a user published on TUAW, Steve Jobs claimed that many HD camcorders now use USB 2.0 as well. So should we just learn to love our new USB 2.0 masters?

(It’s ironic that Steve Jobs himself responds to user concerns while Apple simultaneously deletes forum posts from its support discussions about the controversial removal of FireWire and the matte screen option. Of course, the Apple Discussions Use Agreement specifically says, “Unless otherwise noted, do not add Submissions about nontechnical topics, including: 1. Speculations or rumors about unannounced products. 2. Discussions of Apple policies or procedures or speculation on Apple decisions.” So no one should be surprised when such deletions happen.)

Unfortunately, USB 2.0 isn’t a full replacement for FireWire. Despite its nominal throughput of 480 megabits per second (Mbps) versus FireWire 400’s 400 Mbps, in real-world usage, USB 2.0 is significantly slower than FireWire due to increased overhead and – in theory – reliance on the Mac’s CPU. (I say “in theory” because I’ve heard results of informal tests run on an 8-core Mac Pro that still showed USB performance suffering badly, and that’s as much power as can be thrown at the problem right now.) Of course, FireWire 800, which has a theoretical throughput of 800 Mbps, is faster yet.

So on the performance end alone, FireWire trumps USB 2.0. But the real story of the attachment Mac users have to FireWire, I believe, is with Target Disk Mode. Boot any FireWire-equipped Mac with the T key held down, and the Mac will go into Target Disk Mode and act just like an external hard drive. This proves wildly useful for troubleshooting, since you can boot a recalcitrant Mac from a working Mac in Target Disk Mode to troubleshoot or repair a possibly troubled hard drive. You can also put a Mac with a dead screen or other problem into Target Disk Mode to work on its hard drive from a functional Mac. In particular, Target Disk Mode is a lifesaver when a Mac’s optical disk is non-functional.

Apple’s party line seems to be that there’s no more need for Target Disk Mode. An article at the Australian site quotes Geoff Winder, Product Manager for Hardware at Apple Australia, as saying that Apple believes Time Machine and the Migration Assistant (which now works over USB, Ethernet, and AirPort as well as FireWire) take over for Target Disk Mode’s primary features. That’s either wishful thinking or missing the point – Macs do experience problems, and nothing is more useful than Target Disk Mode in resolving those problems quickly.

Personally, I use Target Disk Mode in every hard disk- or boot-related troubleshooting situation I encounter. And in enterprise situations, Target Disk Mode enables support technicians to carry a utility-equipped Mac laptop to nearly any Mac that’s not working and perform all sorts of diagnostic and troubleshooting procedures, significantly reducing the cost of support, particularly in comparison with PCs, which lack a similar feature.

On the downside, the Apple-backed FireWire never achieved ubiquity, due largely to high initial licensing fees and component costs, both of which have since dropped. Only Apple and Sony ever made FireWire common in their computers, and digital camcorders were the only device that relied nearly exclusively on FireWire for a number of years (many audio interfaces also rely on FireWire, although there are PCI and USB audio interfaces as well). Intel’s USB 2.0 isn’t as flexible or speedy as FireWire by nearly any technical measure, but it’s good enough for most purposes, and it remains cheaper to embed in computers and electronic devices.

From Apple’s perspective, dropping FireWire must hurt, given the company’s role in creating the technology, but Apple is more interested in reducing component costs and increasing compatibility than in propping up a technically superior standard. The iPod started as a FireWire-only device, but to make it easy to connect to PCs, which seldom have FireWire, Apple added USB 2.0 support. As Macs gained USB 2.0 ports as well, Apple gradually dropped FireWire support from the iPod, which undoubtedly also reduced Apple’s manufacturing costs.

Some have called for Apple to support eSATA in place of FireWire, since SATA has theoretical throughput of up to 3 Gbps (or 300 megabytes per second – MBps – in real transfers). (SATA, or Serial ATA, is the data transfer bus used by most hard drives and other mass storage devices; eSATA extends SATA to external devices, largely via different connectors.) Although eSATA can be hot-swappable and might be welcome for connecting hard drives, SATA in general is aimed at mass storage devices and likely wouldn’t be appropriate to take over FireWire’s role in connecting camcorders, audio interfaces, and more. (Unfortunately, eSATA isn’t
necessarily hot-swappable in practice, as our friend Dan Frakes wrote in Macworld.)

Instead, we should probably look for Apple to support USB 3.0, which is supposedly nearly complete and will offer 4.8 Gbps of theoretical throughput. Apple was the first major manufacturer to support USB 1.0 with the iMac back in 1998, so it’s not inconceivable that Apple could be planning a major switch to USB 3.0 once it is finalized and chips start shipping in 2009 or 2010. I don’t know if USB 3.0 will address the architectural limitations in USB 2.0 that prevent Target Disk Mode from working.

Glossy or Matte? The other major controversy about the new MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro is that the choice of whether you get a glossy screen or a matte screen is gone – it’s all glossy, all the time.

Whereas it’s easy to explain why FireWire is important, the elimination of the matte screen option is, pardon the pun, fuzzier. (In essence, fuzzing is exactly what’s happening, since a screen is made matte by virtue of a polarizing film that reduces the intensity of light that’s reflected directly back into the eye of the user.)

Most people seem to think the glossy screen’s colors are brighter and more vibrant, with deep blacks and bright whites, and that text is crisper. Glossy demos well. Also, I’ve heard, but haven’t been able to confirm, that the glossy screens are entirely recyclable, as opposed to matte screens.

On the downside, glossy screens show smudges more readily, and they suffer much more significantly from reflections. You can of course adjust screen angle to minimize reflections, but my experience on a glossy-screened MacBook is that there are times when it’s nearly impossible to eliminate reflections while working in a brightly lit environment like an airport.

But the most violent reaction has come from professional photographers, many of whom say that they can’t color-calibrate a glossy screen accurately because the color and contrast vary too much based on viewing angle. There seems to be some debate about that question, but regardless, it’s clearly a topic of significant concern to photographers.

What to Do? There’s certainly no reason people who are upset by these changes should sit idly by. Go to Apple’s Product Feedback page and tell Apple exactly what you think.

To be blunt, though, I don’t see Apple changing anything in the current set of products, and almost certainly not in the next major revision either. Although there may be one, I can’t think of a single situation in which Apple has brought back a dropped technology that was loudly lamented by the Mac community.

Apple has been unafraid to break with the past before, and unless sales of the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models were to drop precipitously, I fear that those of us who are unhappy will just have to live with the changes. If we’re lucky, Apple or another company has other improvements in the works – such as Target Disk Mode that works over USB or anti-reflective screen films – that will alleviate our concerns.

Doug McLean No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 20-Oct-08

  • The Migration and DVD/CD Sharing Update from Apple addresses data migration to the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. As stated on Apple’s Web site, the update provides “enhanced customization capabilities and improved performance for migration over FireWire, Ethernet and wireless networks.” Since the new MacBook comes without FireWire capabilities, the Migration Assistant can now use Ethernet or AirPort. For Mac OS X 10.4.11, this update installs Migration Assistant 1.0.6, and for Mac OS X 10.5.5, Migration Assistant 1.2.3 (Free, 40.29 MB)
  • Carbon Copy Cloner 3.1.2 from Bombich Software updates the long-standing backup and disk cloning utility with a variety of bug fixes and interface improvements. An issue with failed incremental backups caused by the synchronization engine has been resolved, as has a bug affecting PowerPC-based Macs wherein creation dates for modified files were not preserved. The “Backup everything” method is now 25 percent faster, and can properly handle inherited ACLs. Finally, users can no longer abort backup operations by pressing the spacebar to wake up their monitors – the cloning process Stop button no longer has focus. (Free, 2.3 MB)
  • Typinator 3.2 from Ergonis Software is the latest version of the popular auto-typing and auto-correcting utility. The update includes a set of shortcuts for all FileMaker 9 functions, an Application Settings command in the Action and Status menus, an improved technique for defining application-specific exceptions, a refined English language dictionary, and workarounds for several issues with OpenOffice, NeoOffice, Apple Mail, and BlueJ. (19.99 euros, free update, 1.9 MB)
  • Mac HelpMate 2.6 from MOST updates the subscription-based remote control software designed largely for consultants and help desks to support remote machines regardless of intervening firewalls. New features in Mac HelpMate include zero-interaction screen sharing setup via URL, a Mac HelpMate widget to initiate screen sharing via Dashboard, improved Growl notifications, and a number of bug fixes and interface refinements. A separate subscription-based service, Auto HelpMate, now comes in two versions: a standard version that provides presence tracking and screen sharing to unattended machines, and a
    pro version that adds server monitoring capabilities. ($600/$79 annual/monthly subscription for Mac HelpMate, $175/$29 subscription for Auto HelpMate)
  • Undercover 2.5 from Orbicule optimizes the laptop-recovery software, which runs in the background after being installed, and checks in regularly to see if the computer it’s installed on has been marked as lost or stolen. The 2.5 release removes a feature that would automatically sound alarms after 2 months of a system being off the Internet when it wasn’t identified as stolen. Orbicule says they reduced the memory footprint and processor use, and fixed many other issues. (Starts at $49 for single user or $59 for household, free upgrade, 5 MB)
  • 3.0 is a major update to the open-source productivity suite. Major changes include native support for Mac OS X (no more X11!), support for OpenDocument Format 1.2, import filters for Microsoft Office 2007 and 2008 documents, a new Solver feature for spreadsheet calculations, collaborative spreadsheet capabilities, and a multiple page view feature within Writer. Concurrent with the update is the release of a variety of optional extensions and complementary tools. These include an Extension Repository, Mozilla-based calendar and email clients, and a Presenter Console extension that enables a speaker to
    view notes and upcoming slides on her laptop screen while simultaneously projecting a presentation. This update also includes core features introduced by minor releases since 2.0. (Free, 163 MB)
  • Flash Player 10.0 from Adobe is the latest version of the heavily used browser plug-in, released to coincide with the recent debut of the Adobe Creative Suite 4. Changes include added support for custom filters and effects, new 3D animation tools, advanced audio processing, improved drawing API capabilities, and an enhanced text engine. Senior Product Manager Justin Everett-Church goes into further detail on Adobe’s site regarding the changes. Flash Player 10 also works closely with the new Adobe Creative Suite 4 product line, enabling better collaboration between designers and developers. (Free, 5.4
  • Live Interior 3D 2.0 is the newest version of the 3D interior modeling utility from BeLight Software. A major change in version 2.0 is that BeLight now offers separate Standard and Pro editions. Both editions boast a redesigned interface, new Wall Designer tools, over 200 new objects, and over 300 new materials. Additionally, users can now edit any 3D object directly within Live Interior 3D using the Google Sketchup feature. Also new is the real-time rendering of reflections and lighting effects. Advantages to the Pro edition include multiple-story support (Standard supports only two
    stories), a more advanced materials editor, and higher quality export capabilities in QuickTime, QTVR, JPEG, TIFF, PNHG, and BMP. ($49.95 Standard/$129.95 Pro new, $39.95 upgrade to Pro, both editions are 122 MB with 197 MB of additional content)
  • Bento 2.0 from FileMaker, Inc. is a major update to the personal database software, focusing on performance and integration enhancements. New to this version is the capability to link Apple Mail messages and RSS feeds directly to information stored in Bento. Users can view these Mail messages instantly in Bento using the Quick Look feature. Google Maps and iChat are also directly accessible from within Bento 2, enabling users to start chats and check directions with the click of a button. Importing, exporting, and working with Excel, Numbers, and AppleWorks data is now supported. A new fill down feature is designed to make data entry faster and easier, and users can now edit
    records and modify forms without having to enter Customize Mode. Interface changes include a new split-view mode that simultaneously displays summaries and details, ten new themes, and improved template sharing capabilities. ($49 new or upgrade, 76 MB)

Jeff Carlson No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/20-Oct-08

Tales of Customer Service in the PDF World — Adam’s article about how two companies responded to bug reports brings up the question of whether fast turnaround for bugs actually impedes a product’s development. (3 messages)

TidBITS Outage Causes Editors Outrage — Would log monitoring have helped prevent the TidBITS outage last week? Readers discuss working with servers. (5 messages)

Peering Inside a Mobile Phone Network — Readers react to Rich Mogull’s article about the inner workings of mobile phone systems, including explaining the mystery of disappearing SMS text messages. (6 messages)

Windows Eudora replacement that’s not Outlook? Readers wonder which email programs can replace Eudora under Windows. (6 messages)

iWeb blogs — What’s involved in setting up a blog using iWeb, and can it be hosted somewhere other than via MobileMe? (4 messages)

Using sudo from normal user accounts — Gaining administrator privileges in Terminal is not straightforward when you’re running in a standard user account under Mac OS X. (1 message)

On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens? Readers chime in on the glossy-only screens in the new MacBook Pro and MacBook models, as well as the lack of FireWire on the MacBook. (7 messages)

MacBook Pro Repair Program Addresses Nvidia Flaws — Readers’ experiences with retail Apple stores versus dealing with Apple over the phone vary widely. (2 messages)