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The big news this week revolves around Web browsers, as Apple releases a public beta of Safari 4, showcasing a new tab interface, the graphical Top Sites view, and Cover Flow for bookmarks and history. Doug McLean looks at what’s new in Safari 4, and also passes on the news that the Omni Group has made its OmniWeb Web browser (and three other programs) free. Matt Neuburg reviews his favorite new keyboard, the utterly retro Customizer 104 from Unicomp, designed to feel like IBM’s legendary Model M keyboard. Elsewhere in the issue, Adam shares a look at a wonderful site that obsessively documents iPhoto’s book themes, and Glenn Fleishman offers a hands-on review of Amazon’s new Kindle 2 ebook reader. In the TidBITS Watchlist this week, we look at 1Password 2.9.9, Photoshop 11.0.1, MacSpeech Dictate 1.3, Corel Painter 11, and Cocktail 4.3.1.

Adam Engst No comments

Liz Castro’s iPhoto Book Themes Site

I’ll admit that I prefer iPhoto’s calendars to its hardcover books, simply because if I spend the time creating a calendar, I’m certain it will be displayed (on our wall, or by whomever I give it to) for an entire year. In contrast, lovely as iPhoto’s hardcover books are, my experience is that they’re looked at a few times and then put away on a shelf. That’s not a bad thing – a book may be perfect for documenting a special trip or event and not require constant attention.

But honestly, the other problem I have with books is that they’re quite a bit of work to create, at least if you’re as obsessive as I am about getting things just right. Even after selecting all the photos and figuring out what, if anything, I want to say about them, iPhoto offers oodles of themes and layout options within each theme. Sometimes I become overwhelmed just picking my desired layout and have to go read email or something easy.

If you’re thinking about making a book in iPhoto, my fellow Peachpit author Liz Castro has created a wonderfully useful Web site where she obsessively documents each and every iPhoto book theme. For each theme, she uses screenshots from iPhoto to summarize the outside layouts, the inside layouts, and possible backgrounds.

Then she moves on to provide examples for each layout option, for the cover, for the introduction page, and for pages containing each of the possible number of photos for that theme. Each page is exhaustive, but it’s far easier to scan them than to work your way through all the options in iPhoto itself.

Liz first started this site to document the themes in earlier versions of iPhoto, and while the pages for iPhoto ’08 are still available, she has updated them all for iPhoto ’09. For the most part, the book-related changes in iPhoto ’09 revolve around the Travel theme, but it’s worth noting that you can add either an introduction page (really just a text page, since it can go anywhere in a book) or a map page to any of the themes, although the Travel theme offers the most customization options. Liz also provides some useful tips on using the new map pages.

So if you’re a bit overwhelmed by all the options in iPhoto, or are just looking to figure out what has changed with books in iPhoto ’09, drop by Liz’s site.

Doug McLean No comments

OmniWeb and OmniSiblings Run Free

The Omni Group recently announced on its blog that four of its previously commercial programs are now available for free download without restrictions. The products include the popular Web browser OmniWeb, the screen effects and presentation tool OmniDazzle, the disk cleanup tool OmniDiskSweeper, and the memory optimization tool OmniObjectMeter.

OmniWeb, the most widely used of these applications, previously cost $14.95. Like Safari, OmniWeb relies on Apple’s WebKit rendering engine, and thus provides page display capabilities similar to Safari 3. When reached for comment, Omni Group head Ken Case confirmed that the company plans to update the embedded version of WebKit regularly and would be including a newer version in a future 5.9.x update.

Although OmniWeb’s innovative features, such as site-specific preferences, graphical tabs, persistent workspaces, and expandable text area fields, caused the browser to attract a devoted following, OmniWeb had difficulty competing against the Mac’s major browsers, Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox. Both Apple and Mozilla can bring far more development resources to bear, and the free status of Safari and Firefox overshadowed any technical superiority OmniWeb may have enjoyed in specific areas.

Now that OmniWeb is free, it may see significantly increased usage, since it’s certainly a very good browser, just not one that could compete against free alternatives. We would strongly encourage everyone who cares about Web browsers to give OmniWeb a try. If nothing else, it’s often useful to have multiple browsers around for checking recalcitrant Web sites.

As a smaller company with limited staff and resources, the Omni Group decided they were unable to devote the necessary development and marketing efforts to these products. But rather than let them languish, they decided to make them free. However, the company has clearly stated that the programs have not been discontinued or abandoned. While they are no longer considered to be under active development, the Omni Group hopes to update them as possible, with Linda Sharps of the Omni Group stating, “We have lots of ideas for what we’d like to add to these products, and it’s possible that at some point we’ll have more resources to allocate to them.”

Some users are concerned that, despite these words, the move to freeware will slow the development of these programs to a halt, perhaps putting them in the dreaded “maintenance mode.” Some commenters on the Omni Group blog have suggested the company consider making the programs open source, thus enabling a wider community to continue their evolution. When asked about open-sourcing the programs, Case said, “We considered making any or all of these apps open source in addition to being freeware. But a good open source project still requires good project management, good filtering of submissions, etc., which isn’t exactly a recipe for focusing our attention on our other products! But we haven’t ruled out the idea either.”

Despite the jury being out on open source versions, loyal OmniWeb fans may be comforted to know that a new version is in the works. Case said, “We didn’t want to keep charging people for OmniWeb 5.x just because we hadn’t shipped 6.0 yet. We’re still continuing to work on [OmniWeb] 5.9.x updates, as well as a more major 6.0 upgrade – they’ll just all be free.”

Sharps also noted that this move in no way indicates any serious trouble on the business end of things. In fact, according to Sharps, 2008 was the company’s “best year ever,” and it is continuing to grow steadily, to the point of conducting a hiring search for new developers. These newly free programs may even contribute to the bottom line by acting as positive PR for the company, drawing in new users who may then discover the Getting Things Done-inspired OmniFocus, the OmniGraffle diagramming program, the popular OmniOutliner, and the project
management program OmniPlan.

Doug McLean No comments

Apple Releases Beta of Safari 4

After more than a year without a major update to their Safari Web browser, Apple has released a public beta of Safari 4, bringing a host of new features, interface enhancements, and performance boosts.

The major changes include a new Top Sites feature that enables users to view and connect to their most-visited sites; Cover Flow integration for bookmarks and history; the relocation of tabs to the top of the window; an updated WebKit renderer featuring the new Nitro Engine that handles JavaScript with improved speed; and a full set of developer tools.

A brief post-release survey of Twitter traffic about Safari 4 indicated a mixed reception: glowing reviews and gripes about missing features or buggy behavior were equally present. But despite it being too early to tell whether the update will be a hit or not, Safari 4 provides lots to talk about.

Top Sites — Arguably Safari 4’s most dramatic new feature, Top Sites provides an at-a-glance springboard to your most heavily visited sites. The view appears when you open a new browser window, or you can click a new Top Sites icon (a grid of squares) in the Bookmarks bar. When opened, Top Sites displays an in-browser window containing a grid of screenshot thumbnails of your most visited sites (utilizing the most recent appearance of the sites).

The grid has an edit mode which enables you to move the thumbnails within the grid, pin them to a certain location, and select from three grid sizes (6, 12, and 24 viewable thumbnails). The Top Sites view also shows when changes have been made to a site, signified by a blue star appearing in the right hand corner of the thumbnail. Clicking any of these miniature windows in Top Sites brings that window forward in the browser tab and displays the site.

While I think the Top Sites feature looks fantastic, and enjoy opening sites from its interface, I question its underlying philosophy. Essentially, I want more control over determining what my Top Sites are, rather than having Safari tell me. Clicking an Edit button lets me remove sites in the view or pin sites to a specific location (for example, if I always want Google News to appear in the upper-left corner). But removing a site brings up a replacement chosen by Safari; why can’t I simply type the URL of a site I want to appear?

The issue here lies in the word “top.” I want a feature that will show me my favorite sites; Apple is giving me a feature that shows me my most visited sites and assumes it’s the same thing. This is undoubtedly true for some users. My mother, for example, visits the same handful of Web sites regularly, and rarely strays from them. But what about people who frequently get caught up in Web surfing, or do heavy Internet research? If I spent a day researching a new piece of software, it’s possible that several of the pages I trafficked in that search could supplant my truly favorite sites, those sites I want easily accessible. This is especially true were I to do any regular cleaning out of my browser history.

Perhaps over time my Top Sites would be the sites I check often, but what if I want a site easily accessible from this page even if I don’t go there often? For example, I might be interested in a site that updates infrequently, and would want it accessible from this page as a way of seeing when new information has been posted. In short: let me tell Safari what my Top Sites are, not the other way around.

It turns out there is a non-obvious method of doing this. Open a browser window and load the site you want to appear in your Top Sites. In a separate window, bring up the Top Sites screen and click the Edit button. Lastly, drag the URL from the first window and drop it onto one of the Top Sites thumbnails, and then click the pin button to hold it in place.

Hopefully, the final release version of Safari 4 will provide a better way to manage what appears on Top Sites, such as a menu item for Make Top Site. Still, as a visual way of catching up on often-visited sites, the feature has boatloads of potential.

Cover Flow — Another major addition to Safari is the integration of Cover Flow browsing to your bookmarks and history. Just like in the Finder or iTunes, Cover Flow here enables you to sift through snapshots of browser pages in your History or Bookmarks lists. Safari still has its classic drop-down menus from the top menu bar, where you can find a text listing of your recent History or Bookmarks. However, if you open these to a full view or click the Bookmarks icon on the Bookmarks bar, you will see the new Cover Flow view.

I’m skeptical about the utility of Cover Flow as applied to bookmarks, though I think applying it to history makes more sense. In either case I’m interested in determining whether Cover Flow will speed up my search, much as it undoubtedly looks cooler than your typical text-based list.

Typically, when I’m searching through my history I’m looking for sites I don’t visit often – things I found while surfing or searching whose names I don’t recall (otherwise I’d probably just Google them). So for searching my history, I imagine looking at image files might be a faster way to search, at least for me, given that I’m a highly visual person. There have been countless times when I opened a site from the History list that sounded correct, only to discover it was different from what I thought. The image-based Cover Flow could solve this sort of problem.

However, applying Cover Flow as a search method for bookmarks seems slower because a fundamental difference exists between the two situations: in my bookmarks I usually know the name of the site for which I’m searching. In this case, the application of image-privileged searching seems like a detriment. Searching through iTunes with Cover Flow is helpful because album covers look drastically different and often incorporate a recognizable name. However, most Web sites don’t look that different from each other, especially at a distance. When I speed through my bookmarks with Cover Flow, many of the pages look quite similar, especially when it comes to blogs. In this case, it’s more helpful to have a list of words to scan through, because
the site names stand out more drastically than their appearance.

Tabs — The new tab placement at the top of the window in what’s normally known as the title bar is aimed at opening up more screen real estate. To that end, the tabs work well and provide a clean and streamlined appearance. (Google’s Chrome first introduced this placement of tabs.) As a big fan of tabbed browsing, my concern isn’t so much with the elimination of a dedicated tab bar, or the location of the tabs at the top, but with the shifting sizes of the tabs themselves.

In Safari 4 the size of each individual tab is dependent on the number of tabs currently open in the browser. Thus, if two tabs are open, each takes up half of the top bar; if four tabs are open, each takes up one quarter of the top bar, and so on. This is quite different from Safari 3, or even from Firefox, wherein tabs are equally sized, with each new tab being added to the right hand side of the tab bar until the tab bar is filled. When the tab bar is filled, the tabs shrink in width, and after a certain point, a tab with three dots (a graphical ellipsis) appears that, when clicked, enables you to scroll amongst the open tabs. The consistent size of the tabs makes it easy to locate them quickly, and close them. Safari 4’s new
shifting tab sizes means that the location of your tab changes slightly as new ones are opened, as does the close tab button. Though the difference is slight, it does slow you down enough to be annoying.

Also troubling is that the loss of the title bar means that there’s no single name for the current window in a consistent location, as is true for nearly every Macintosh application. Plus, clicking on the title bar can result in unexpected clickthrough, since clicking on a tab not only switches to Safari, but displays that tab.

Nitro Engine — Apple claims its new Nitro Engine handles JavaScript 30 times faster than Internet Explorer 7, more than 3 times faster than Firefox 3, and 4.2 times faster than Safari 3 according to benchmark tests using iBench and SunSpider. Apple also reports that Safari 4 bests those other browsers in HTML performance, loading pages 3 times faster than either Internet Explorer or Firefox.

From my own testing, and reading anecdotal evidence on Twitter, I must say Safari 4 is noticeably faster than Safari 3 and Firefox 3. This is especially true on JavaScript-heavy pages. The updated WebKit also now supports HTML 5 and CSS 3, and Apple boasts, “Safari 4 is the first browser to pass the Web Standards Project’s Acid3 test, which examines how well a browser adheres to CSS, JavaScript, XML and SVG Web standards that are specifically designed for dynamic Web applications.”

Developer Tools — Safari 4 enhances its set of developer tools, enabling developers and Web designers to examine page structures, debug JavaScript, inspect offline databases, and test code. Despite the welcome inclusion of these tools, the Save as Web Application option that was widely reported to be available in the developer seed version of Safari 4 is now missing.

Other Changes — Additional updates include the replacement of the somewhat irrelevant SnapBack button in the Address Bar with the Refresh button (when a page is loading the Refresh button switches to a spinning gear, and if hovered over, switches again to the Stop button), thus further streamlining the new interface; the welcome addition of full-page zoom instead of just text zoom (accessible via Command +/-); updated versions of the Smart Address Field and Smart Search Field that offer more sophisticated search suggestions; and finally, enhanced phishing and malware protection that better protect you against these risks.

[Updated to remove mistaken information about there being a bookmark file format change. -Adam]

Download and Install Information — Keep in mind that Safari 4 is a public beta, so you’re likely to run into rough edges. If you’re currently using Firefox, the recently released Foxmarks bookmark synchronization tool does largely support Safari 4 and makes it easy to sync bookmarks between the browsers, even on multiple machines. Be sure to back up your bookmarks before installing. Also, just to note: the update requires a full restart upon installation.

Safari 4 is a 31.7 MB download. The update requires Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.6 or Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11. If you’re running Leopard, Security Update 2009-001 must be installed first.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

Kindle 2 Improves Design, Not Features

Amazon’s Kindle 2 should have been its Kindle 1. That might be a left-handed compliment from this southpaw, but I found the original Kindle electronic book reader to be awkward in design, navigation, and handling.

Fundamentally, the Kindle 2 retains the same software, type display, restrictions on content, and technology as the previous release. Nonetheless, the new version makes a better case for itself.

Function Follows Reform — The Kindle 2 ($359) eschews the first model’s overly designed form in favor of a flatter, thinner, more conventional, rounded-corner rectangle. Instead of a strange iridescent vertical selection bar, designed to avoid a refresh delay issue in the display, there’s a tiny square joystick nubbin for navigation and selection. It’s a huge improvement.

Amazon also rearranged the tiny keyboard into a more sensible, simpler layout: a regular matrix of circular buttons with a spacebar lozenge at the bottom, instead of the simulacrum of an ergonomic split keyboard found in the original Kindle.

These changes aren’t cosmetic. They take the device from feeling like a version 0.5 prototype to having the polish and fit of something that deserves to be released.

Redesigned buttons for navigating to the next page, previous page, or home, moving back to the previous action, and bringing up a contextual menu are all enormously improved, even though they’re all smaller. On the original Kindle, it was sometimes hard to press the correct button, and easy to trigger the wrong action by accident.

The Kindle 2 sports 2 GB of storage built-in (though no option to add more), with most of that initially unused. Amazon estimates 1,500 books could be stored in the available space. The built-in battery can’t be replaced by a user, but Amazon says the battery life was improved.

The Kindle 2 can be charged via a USB cable, and Amazon includes a nifty iPhone-like sleek adapter that’s distinct from Apple’s, but is similarly compact.

When T-Mobile released its Android-based G1 phone, I complained that the maker, HTC, had given little thought to power adapters, providing a cheap and generic brick. Amazon is clearly on Apple’s page about small touches paying big dividends.

Toning Up — The E-Ink-based screen continues to be the star of the Kindle, improved on by what Amazon claims is a 20-percent-faster refresh. I know that the flash of the pixels being rewritten is less disturbing to my eye than the original Kindle. It’s also clear that Amazon and E-Ink have made it simpler for small areas of the screen to be rewritten more quickly to show selections, a spinning progress icon, and highlighting.

The screen now shows 16 levels of gray instead of 4, and it’s remarkable how so few distinct tones actually dramatically improve an image’s display. Dithering can barely work with 4 tones, but with 4 times as many, it works much better.

E-Ink and other firms are working like mad to produce better versions of their paper-like displays, and it’s easy to imagine that with a slightly denser screen with a faster refresh and – dare I dream – 256 colors or grays, a much more general-purpose device would be possible.

Mehr Licht, Said Goethe — The biggest remaining lacuna is the lack of illumination. The E-Ink screen is designed to draw no power when changes aren’t being written to it. It’s the closest thing to paper that you can read on today. But the contrast isn’t high enough for me to read comfortably without direct illumination.

I’ve been reading on the device in a variety of places since receiving a review copy, and most of them don’t work well with my otherwise perfect (with correction) vision. On a tabletop at lunch, I can read a newspaper or book just fine with bright overhead indirect fluorescents, but the Kindle needs to be propped at 45 degrees to get the right illumination. The matte screen avoids reflections at a large range of reading angles.

At home, on a couch on which I routinely read paperbacks with small print, I could barely read the Kindle. As someone who finds direct lighting unpalatable (to mix senses), the Kindle doesn’t meet my needs.

Whisper Me a Book — The Kindle 2 is equipped with the same Sprint cellular data connection for downloading files. The original model had a hardware switch for disabling the wireless connection to increase battery life or when using a Kindle on an aircraft. The Kindle 2 puts the wireless switch into software, available at the top of every menu no matter the context.

As before, the cell data connection is the Kindle’s secret weapon. You want a book? Navigate through what’s available for the device in the Kindle Store, which is linked to your Amazon account, and thus presents you with recommendations based on your past buying habits. Select a book, click buy, and it’s on the Kindle in under a minute.

There’s no monthly charge for the Sprint network; the price of its use for downloads is apparently built into what Amazon charges for books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers.

Amazon calls the delivery system WhisperNet, and it’s rather nice when you’ve subscribed to, say, The Washington Post, to have it simply available each morning, stored on the device.

If you drill down, there’s an experimental Web browser, seemingly unchanged from the original Kindle’s version, which needs an extra advanced setting turned on to support CSS. The browser is fine in a pinch, but it’s not something you’d use on a regular basis.

I’m still surprised Amazon didn’t go for the gusto and put in an 802.11g Wi-Fi chip. With an antenna and certain radio components already in place, adding Wi-Fi might have cost Amazon just a few dollars, and made the Kindle more usable in a greater variety of places. The Kindle 2, like its predecessor, can’t be used outside the United States with its radio on, and Amazon won’t sell a Kindle 2 to anyone without a U.S. delivery address and a U.S.-based credit card.

The other kind of whispering built into the Kindle is text-to-speech synthesis. The Kindle can read whatever text is on screen in a perfectly pleasant voice through its built-in speakers or while wearing headphones. I found the default voice just fine; it might become boring on a long flight or drive due to the lack of human inflection, however.

After some opening salvos by the Authors Guild about this feature, Amazon agreed to make changes that would allow publishers to turn the read-aloud option on or off for individual titles. The issue at stake is whether Amazon is purchasing just the right to sell onscreen reading or also the right to sell audio versions. Amazon says there’s no problem but is trying to assuage publisher and author concerns.

(I’m a member of the Authors Guild, and the group has done a great job in preserving the eroding rights of authors for the last several decades. This may appear to be about readers being denied access, but it’s actually about authors wanting to be paid for their words by those who resell them. I wrote a thorough explanation to accompy this article: “Why the Kindle 2 Should Speak When Permitted To.” You can also read Guild president Roy Blount, Jr.’s amusing editorial on this matter from before Amazon changed its policy last week. And you can listen to Harlan Ellison rant in this NSFW-language YouTube clip, “Pay the writer.”)

Rights Remain Silent — So far, so good. But behind this new hardware sits the soul of the old machine. For the Kindle, Amazon sells only books that are in its proprietary, digital rights-managed format. You’re not buying a book; you’re licensing a specific use on any Kindle you own.

Amazon may extend that to smartphones. The company has made noises about something like Kindle reader software that could access the same library of 230,000 titles. If Amazon follows the policy it uses for video purchases and rental, the media you buy would be stored at Amazon and available on any supported device.

Adam wrote more about this in his preview of the Kindle 2, “Amazon Announces Kindle 2 Ebook Reader,” 2009-02-09. In short, Amazon has locked formats available, and books you buy in Kindle format can’t yet be viewed anywhere else.

Lighting the Fire — The Kindle 2 is a superbly updated ebook reader, and worth considering for any frequent traveler who is also a voracious reader. Instead of carrying pounds of books or facing the horrors of boredom on a plane or in a distant hotel room, the Kindle 2 neatly lightens the load and fills the gap.

For me, the price of the device and its minor flaws keep it off my wishlist: I travel little, have a short commute by bike or car, and read widely enough that the current Kindle library likely wouldn’t satisfy my needs.

Matt Neuburg No comments

The Greatest Computer Keyboard of All Time?

Back in 2004, Adam reported the tale of his relentless search for a keyboard that would meet his all-text, all-typing, all-the-time needs as perfectly as did the nostalgically recalled Apple Extended Keyboard, and how he settled on the Matias Tactile Pro (see “The Majestic Alps and the King of Keyboards,” 2004-03-29). Leap with me now, though, still further backwards in time, to a keyboard greater still: arguably the clickiest, springiest, most responsive keyboard ever, a massive hunk of sturdy plastic, whose tall, concave, solid, gently textured, large, separated, clacking keys once resounded through offices and computer labs all across the land. This was IBM’s legendary Model M, whose feel was intended to suggest that of Selectric typewriters, punch-card machines, and business equipment of all kinds.

The Model M’s keys operated on the principle of a “buckling spring”, which IBM patented in 1978. Supporting the keycap is a coiled spring, shaped like a piece of a tiny Slinky, running vertically from the underside of the keycap down to a knob sticking up from the pivot point of a rocking actuator switch. But the spring does not run quite vertically. The angles of the spring’s top and bottom attachments are such that it actually bulges or bows forward a little. As the user starts to press the key, the spring is compressed and (this is the important part) the bulge is increased. The force of the compression combined with the angle of the increased bulging is sufficient
to rock the actuator switch forward into the “on” position with a sudden, highly audible snap. The key character has now been typed. There is a good deal of travel left in the key, however, so it continues on downwards, with the spring resistance increasing all the while, until it is stopped by its housing.

There is something about the precise combination of all the forces, sounds, and nerve and muscle responses here that feels immensely solid, firm, predictable, and clean. As you rest your fingers on the keys, there is no chance whatever of depressing one of them accidentally; the resistance of the spring is too much for that. And even if some random twitching of your fingers does depress the key a little, the point where the rocker switch actuates is not reached. Yet as soon as you start to depress a key deliberately, it snaps the rocker switch very early, and the remainder of the downward key travel echoes this responsive feedback with the rising spring resistance until, if you are heavy-handed, your finger is stopped hard, with a
second click, by the key housing. At the same time, the keys themselves, as I mentioned earlier, are tall, the keycap tops being slightly concave and quite widely separated, almost cradling and guiding your fingers into place.

The result is that your chance of slipping onto the wrong key, or of not knowing with certainty when a key has been struck, or of getting the timing wrong so that keys are struck in the wrong order, or of key “bounce” emitting two instances of a character where one was intended, is reduced essentially to zero. If what you’re accustomed to is a typical modern rubber dome switch, then after about two minutes to get used to the keyboard, you suddenly find yourself typing more cleanly, steadily, and accurately, with more relaxed, precise gestures, than ever before in your life.

Manufacture of the Model M keyboard was divested from IBM to Lexmark in 1991, and in 1996 the design was licensed by a small Lexington, Kentucky firm called Unicomp. At the end of January 2009, NPR did a story on Unicomp. According to reporter Martin Kaste, Unicomp’s founder is Neil Muyskens, who left IBM specifically to continue manufacture of this keyboard, using not just the original technology but the original plastic molds. Manufacture is both labor-intensive (the buckling springs are inserted by hand and individually tested) and high-tech (the key response times are rechecked by a robotic typist). The resulting price isn’t all that high – just a little
higher than an ordinary keyboard, really. But, according to the story, it’s high enough to make sales a problem; retail chains (any left in business) won’t stock it, and what Kaste calls “aging nerds” don’t buy fast enough to keep the company going, especially because these keyboards are so reliable and long-lived that you probably won’t buy more than one of them, once.

You can guess the rest. Once I heard that story, I had had enough. Enough frustration with decent but ultimately mushy, short-lived keyboards. Enough guilt about not putting my money where my heart and fingers are. I bought a Unicomp keyboard. I love it. I’m typing on it right now. And if you’re a real typist with plenty of desktop space, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It isn’t just that I type more accurately, more smoothly, and (therefore) faster; it’s that I feel better. I’m more comfortable, less frustrated, less tense; and I approach a day of typing at the computer with eagerness instead of a vague, nagging dread. This could really make me a happier, more productive writer!

If you want one, the place to start is the Web site (and don’t start puzzling over whether there’s an “s” at the end of the name; it’s all too confusing). What I got is listed as a “Customizer 104/105”. It comes in one color, black (with lovely grey keys), and two wiring configurations, PS/2 (boo, hiss) and USB (yay!). So what I ordered was a Windows (US) USB model with US English layout.

Now, don’t get all bent out of the shape over the use of the word “Windows” in that title. Nothing about this keyboard is going to remind you of Bill Gates except for the presence of a picture of something that looks like a flying window where the Option key should be, and the presence of the word Alt where the Command key should be, next to the Spacebar. I suppose you could paste something over those symbols if they really bother you (I think Unicomp will actually sell you alternative keycaps, but I didn’t look into that). You do, however, need to reverse the meaning of the Option and Command keys. Here’s how you do it.

Plug the keyboard into your computer. A dialog will appear stating that the keyboard isn’t known, and asking you to type the key to the right of the left Shift key (“Z” on my keyboard) and to the left of the right Shift key (forward slash), and then asking you to confirm that this appears to be a U.S. keyboard. Then, choose Apple > System Preferences, open the Keyboard & Mouse preferences, and click Modifier Keys on the Keyboard pane. In that dialog, set the Command key to mean Option and the Option key to mean Command. You’re good to go! Remember, though, that this reversal is made in software, for your individual user; during startup, when your user hasn’t loaded yet, to hold down the Option key (to display a choice of available
systems) you’ll still need to use Alt.

(Okay, I lied. There is one further indication that this is a Windows keyboard: the presence of the Application key next to the right Control key. I believe this is supposed to do the same thing as right-clicking the mouse – what a Mac user would call Control-clicking. On my machine, it doesn’t do anything, and that’s just fine with me.)

The Customizer 104/105 keyboard costs $69; shipping is extra (and earplugs for anyone who shares your office space must be purchased elsewhere). See the Web site for other models and configurations.

Doug McLean No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 02-Mar-09

1Password 2.9.9 from Agile Web Solutions updates the password syncing utility with support for Safari 4 Beta, as well as support for the iCab Web browser. The update also brings improved load time for Agile Keychain, expanded built-in documentation, enhanced imports from Safari and Firefox, and a variety of bug fixes including ones that address import performance, memory leaks, and crashing in Mac OS X 10.4. A full list of changes is available on the Agile Web Solutions Web site. ($39.95 new, free update, 11.4 MB)

Photoshop CS4 11.0.1 is a maintenance update to Adobe’s flagship photo editing program. In the latest version the Pen barrel rotation now works correctly with Wacom tablets, 3D textures edited by plug-ins are properly recognized, and the results for the Auto-Blend Layers command have been improved. Also, two crashing bugs have been fixed – one that occurs when pasting formatted text, and another that occurs when working with corrupt fonts. ($699 new, free update, 33.1 MB)

MacSpeech Dictate 1.3 from MacSpeech is a maintenance update for the speech recognition utility, fixing reported issues and adding several features. Changes include new Cache Document and Cache Selection commands that enable users to navigate and edit existing documents by voice, microphone status indicators that have been added to the menu bar, new Press the Key commands that input the keyboard keys specified, and an added Cancel Training command that closes the Recognition window. Other changes include recognition window output now being handled without auto-formatting, and the removal of the Force Quit this Application command. Several bugs have also been fixed, including one that causes the
command Go to End to fail, and two that caused MacSpeech Dictate to crash. Lastly, the latest version includes a new online help book written by TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg. ($199 new, free update)

Corel Painter 11 from Corel is the latest version of the professional painting and illustration software. Changes include new Hard Media and RealBristle Dry Media controls that offer greater media options, enhanced selection tools including a new polygon mode for the lasso tool, increased support for Wacom pens and tablets, new color profiles for individual documents, a new resizable color palette, improved Adobe Photoshop support, and a feature that enables users to switch between Transform modes from one centralized location. ($399 new, $199 upgrade, 103 MB)

Cocktail 4.3.1 from Maintain is a security and stability update to the general purpose maintenance utility. This version addresses an issue wherein Cocktail stopped responding during a scheduled system cache clearing, adds the capability remove the Trojan Lamzev.A and the worm Inqtana, and improves the utility’s capability to clear potentially harmful files. ($14.95, 1.8 MB)

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ExtraBITS for 02-Mar-09

Exporting 720p from iMovie ’09 — Macworld’s Chris Breen spent the weekend crunching pixels to come up with a way to export deinterlaced 720p video from iMovie ’09, a process that seems strangely difficult (and made more difficult by an unresolved bug in the way iMovie handles interlaced video). (Posted 2009-03-02)

Dan Frakes Examines Safari 4’s Tabs — The beta of Safari 4 offers some notable changes to how tabs work, and while some of those changes are useful, others have provoked criticism. Macworld’s Dan Frakes runs down the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Posted 2009-03-02)

MacOS iPhone Project Puts System 7 on an iPhone — We thought running the classic Atari game Adventure on an iPhone was the epitome of retro geekiness, but a fully functional version of System 7 on an iPhone? Wow! It’s not available yet, but it’s worth checking out for the screenshots alone. (Posted 2009-03-02)

MobileMe Receives Various Improvements — None of this stuff is earth-shattering, but Apple has improved MobileMe’s performance in various areas, fixed some user interface annoyances, and made other small improvements. (Posted 2009-02-27)

iPhone Becomes Credit Card Terminal — People who sell at farmers’ markets or street festivals can now use an iPhone to process credit card transactions via ProcessAway. Now if only there could be direct iPhone-to-iPhone transactions, or the capability to use an iPhone to make payments more generally, as is increasingly common with mobile phones in Japan. (Posted 2009-02-27)

Hidden Preferences in Safari 4 Beta — Liking the beta of Safari 4’s speed, but ambivalent or truly annoyed by changes such as the top-mounted tabs and new toolbar? The Random Genius blog found hidden preferences to control these and other settings. (Posted 2009-02-26)

The Photographic Dictionary — Thanks to Photojojo for turning us on to The Photographic Dictionary, a Web site that defines words both textually and with a carefully chosen photograph. Particularly interesting are conceptual words, such as “unknown.” (Posted 2009-02-26)

Jeff Carlson No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk for 02-Mar-09

Backups Need Power, Too — Readers share tips about determining what size of a UPS to buy, and how best to deal with a power outage. (2 messages)

EtherPad Brings Simultaneous Writing to the Web — Dropbox’s versioning feature invites using it in tandem with SubEthaEdit, but for now the idea is just a wish list item. (2 messages)

Time Machine ignoring folders — Readers share ongoing, unexplained quirks with Time Machine. (2 messages)

iPhone to Add Location Logging? Is Google somehow getting around Apple’s limitation that non-Apple applications can’t operate in the background on the iPhone? (2 messages)

Safari 4 — The Safari 4 beta dispenses with the SnapBack button that would take you back to an earlier page, leading readers to comment on whether they ever used the feature. (10 messages)