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We had a full TidBITS issue ready for you, and then Apple overwhelmed us with major announcements at the Worldwide Developers Conference today. We expected more details about the iPhone OS 3.0 Software Update and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, but we were pleasantly surprised by the updates to the MacBook Pro line and the announcement of the iPhone 3GS, and that’s not even mentioning the release of Safari 4. Read on for details. In news that would normally have been interesting, Apple has also released updates to most of the iLife ’09 applications, and Jeff Carlson gives you a look at the undocumented features in iMovie ’09 8.0.3. Plus, we just published a notable update to Glenn Fleishman’s “Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network,” and we look at the just-updated Fetch 5.5. In the TidBITS Watchlist, we glance at the releases of BackJack 5.1.4, AirPort Utility 5.4.2 for Mac, and Sandvox 1.6.2.

TidBITS Staff No comments

New iPhone 3GS Boosts Power, Performance, and More

We don’t think there’s any connection to the Apple ][gs from 1986, whose letters referred to “graphics and sound,” but Apple has appended an S to the iPhone 3G’s name to indicate that the new iPhone 3GS has enhanced speed. Gotcha. (Technically, it’s “iPhone 3G S” – with a space before the S – but those of us who spend our lives writing about these products have to draw the line somewhere, and a standalone S is untenable in running prose.)

With the iPhone 3GS, Apple has boosted the performance of the processor (without revealing the actual technical specifications), the throughput of its connection to the cellular network, and its storage capacity. The built-in camera has been upgraded to 3 megapixels, with improved low-light sensitivity along with video recording capabilities.

The new iPhone 3GS will be available in 16 GB and 32 GB models, both of which are available in either black or white. Apple says that the iPhone 3GS should arrive in stores and via mail order from the Apple Store on 19-Jun-09 in the United States and six other countries. Pricing in the United States – well, that’s trickier than it should be, and depends on whether you’re a new or existing AT&T customer.

Pricing — U.S. customers new to AT&T or those adding a line will pay $199 or $299, respectively, for 16 GB and 32 GB models with a 2-year commitment. A qualifying voice plan starting at $40 per month is also required, and you pay $30 per month for unlimited data. No text messages are included; messaging plans start at $5 per month for 200 messages. New customers pay an $18 activation fee, and existing customers who qualify for an upgrade also pay an $18 upgrade fee.

Here’s where it gets murky. Some AT&T customers, including a TidBITS editor with a 23-month-old first-generation iPhone, are being offered the $199/$299 pricing with a new 2-year commitment. All the iPhone 3G owners we know, none of whom could have had their phone for a full year yet, are being offered a $399/$499 upgrade price, again with a 2-year commitment. With no contract, AT&T and Apple will sell the iPhone 3GS for $599 or $699, depending on storage capacity.

Apple will also continue to offer the iPhone 3G under a 2-year contract for $99 for new customers or lines, or $299 for AT&T subscribers ineligible for an upgrade, and $499 without a contract.

This reduced price may be an attempt to woo “value” customers, who see $199 or $299 as too much to spend on an iPhone 3GS, but can justify $99 for an iPhone 3G. The $99 iPhone 3G might also lure some potential buyers who are looking at a Palm Pre or Android-based phone.

An AT&T spokesperson told Ars Technica that there’s no hard and fast rule about when you qualify for the full subsidized prices, but that for most customers it’s about 18 months. That means that most AT&T iPhone 3G subscribers won’t see the cheapest price until December 2009. You can log into your account at AT&T to check on current eligibility.

Some people have been suggesting that paying AT&T’s $175 cancellation fee and signing up again could be cheaper than the upgrade price. Even more confusing is that AT&T, along with other carriers, voluntarily started prorating cancellation fees for new contracts starting in early 2008, which apply to all current iPhone 3G subscribers. However, the iPhone may have continued to carry the full $175 cancellation penalty per phone.

There’s currently a lot of anger on Twitter about the upgrade pricing. If you bought the iPhone 3G when it was released 11 months ago, it seems unfair to pony up an extra $200 – maybe $75 to $100 would be reasonable. However, AT&T hasn’t recouped enough from your monthly fees to pay back the phone subsidy it offers with a contract. Remember, AT&T loses money on each iPhone it sells, recouping that loss through basic monthly service fees and high-margin extras like unlimited text messaging.

The Camera — The improved camera in the iPhone 3GS addresses several complaints with the 2-megapixel still image camera in the original iPhone and iPhone 3G models. The 3-megapixel camera has auto focus, auto exposure, and better low-light sensitivity. It also sports a macro capability with focus down to 3.9 inches (10 cm). In addition to capturing close-up images of your favorite flora, this feature will enable applications on the new iPhone to capture bar codes in focus, enabling the bar codes to be used for tasks such as price comparison, linking to additional information (via a new 2D bar code format that’s spreading fast), and

A new “tap to focus” feature, which helps when the camera can’t guess what you’re looking at, lets you specify not just where the iPhone’s camera should focus, but what portion of the image should be used to set exposure levels.

On top of that, the camera now supports video capture at VGA resolution (640 by 480 pixels) at 30 frames per second. Video capture includes auto focus, automatic white balance, and auto exposure. Video can be trimmed with touch gestures.

It’s unclear at the moment whether developers will be able to build video chat or similar applications around video capture, or whether Apple has limited the use of video to mimicking a camcorder.

Voice Control — Another huge complaint among iPhone users has been the lack of voice dialing, a feature that has been commonplace even in inexpensive cell phones for years. With the iPhone 3GS, Apple has added not only voice dialing, but voice control over a variety of functions in iTunes. You can dial the phone, ask what’s playing, play particular songs or playlists, activate the Genius feature, and so on. We anticipate that additional commands will become available over time.

To activate voice control, you hold the Home button for a few seconds and then speak a command. The iPhone 3GS scrolls the available commands across the screen as you use it as a subtle reminder of what it can do.

Voice control is apparently made possible by a hardware update to the iPhone, and the feature won’t be available to older iPhone models. Since phones with far less performance can handle voice dialing, Apple must have decided that it could offer the feature only if it raised the bar considerably.

Miscellaneous Additions — For those who have found the 3G cellular data connectivity too slow, the iPhone 3GS supports 7.2 Mbps HSPA (that’s High Speed Packet Access; for more details, see “AT&T Plans for Mobile Data Onslaught,” 2009-05-28). This new HSPA flavor has twice the raw throughput of the current 3.6 Mbps offering in the iPhone 3G and other AT&T-sold 3G phones, and net throughput to an iPhone 3GS should be at least 50 percent higher. HSPA 7.2, as it’s known, will start being installed later in 2009, but network upgrades won’t be completed until 2011. In other countries, HSPA 7.2 is on a variety of different timetables, from already installed to not
yet on the table.

The iPhone 3GS has a digital compass that you interact with via a whimsical display in the new Compass app – where it shows both degrees and compass rose labels – or as integrated into Maps and other apps. Previously, the iPhone was useless as a compass, which Adam discovered when trying to see if it could be used in orienteering. Since there’s an API for the digital compass in the iPhone 3GS, we expect to see such apps appear fairly quickly. (An accurate compass requires an additional hardware sensor that wasn’t included in the original iPhone and iPhone 3G.)

The iPhone 3GS will also have built-in hardware encryption, a feature that some businesses require for compliance or security plans. Plus, if you use the iPhone’s Exchange service or the Find My iPhone feature, a remote data wipe that you initiate is instantaneous. All phone backups are also encrypted.

For people who aren’t afraid of exposing a several hundred dollar device to sweat or the possibility of rain, the iPhone 3GS now has the Nike+ receiver built in, much like the second-generation iPod touch. Those of us who run regularly will continue to leave our iPhones at home, thank you very much (see “Nike+iPod Only for Fitness Runners,” 2007-03-12).

Battery life has also been improved, with Apple claiming that the iPhone 3GS can provide up to 5 hours of 3G talk time and up to 9 hours of use when working via Wi-Fi.

Final Thoughts — The iPhone 3GS sounds utterly fabulous on paper, so much so that at least two of our staffers have already placed their orders. The only thing dragging it down, honestly, is the expense of upgrading for those who already own an iPhone 3G. Otherwise, we anticipate that the iPhone 3GS will be a huge hit for Apple, and will continue to push the company to the forefront of the smartphone market.

TidBITS Staff No comments

iPhone OS 3.0 Ships 17-Jun-09

At last we know. The iPhone OS 3.0 Software Update will be available 17-Jun-09. The software is free for all iPhone owners; iPod touch users will pay $9.95 because of accounting regulations. And it’s a good thing it’s not expensive at all, since you’re going to want it. It may not come with a pony, but nearly everything else seems to be there.

Although Apple initially showed off the new iPhone 3.0 software a few months ago (for details, including many we’re not repeating here, see “Apple Previews iPhone 3.0 Software,” 2009-03-17), the company kept a few features in reserve to reveal at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple also trotted out a number of third-party developers to show how previously announced features work in the real world.

Among the most notable features unveiled were tethering, which lets you connect a computer to an iPhone as a mobile broadband modem, and Find My iPhone, which uses MobileMe to keep tabs on your phone in case of loss or theft and helps you find it if it’s merely misplaced. Also demoed were in-application purchases and subscriptions, peer-to-peer networking for games, turn-by-turn navigation services (GPS manufacturer TomTom has already announced TomTom for iPhone), push notification, and parental controls. The new software will also enable iTunes movie and TV show rentals and purchases, and the purchase of audiobooks directly from an iPhone, although downloads over 10 MB can happen only over Wi-Fi

Tethering — The tethering feature should be a huge hit in every country but the United States, where AT&T is apparently and perversely refusing to offer the feature at launch. Tethering connects the iPhone to your computer directly via USB or using a Bluetooth connection. (Bluetooth 2.0 tops out at about 2 Mbps of real throughput, which is somewhat below the top real throughput rates available in the new iPhone 3GS on AT&T’s 7.2 Mbps HSPA network.) AT&T came off as a major spoilsport on tethering, with Apple announcing 22 cellular carriers worldwide that would offer the option, and quietly but conspicuously leaving AT&T off the list.

AT&T does offer tethering plans for the BlackBerry and other smartphones, as well as a $60-per-month laptop mobile broadband service (via PC Card, USB dongle, or ExpressCard). But AT&T’s laptop plan tops out at 5 GB of transfers per month and requires a 2-year commitment, as well as the purchase of an adapter. Tethering at a flat monthly rate might promote more usage than AT&T wants to sustain, while a 5 GB limit could irritate iPhone users, as iPhones come with unlimited 2G and 3G data plans.

Find My iPhone — Find My iPhone keeps MobileMe subscribers in contact with their iPhones. If your iPhone is lost or stolen, you can log into MobileMe and see where on a map the phone is located. You can then remotely trigger an alert, so someone will find the phone (including you if it’s under the cushions). The alert sound plays even when the iPhone is in silent mode.

In the event of theft or if you can’t let anyone else access your iPhone for business reasons, you can remotely erase the contents of your phone via MobileMe, too. This option would be ripe for pranking, but it’s tied to a MobileMe account. (If you find the iPhone later, plugging it into the computer and re-activating it restores all of your data.)

In a more serious vein, this feature has huge implications both for safety and privacy. On the safety side, when someone disappears due to being lost, kidnapped, injured, or confused, it’s often tricky to involve the police until a certain amount of time has passed – especially for competent adults. (In a case in Washington State not long ago, a woman drove off the road in an accident, and her husband couldn’t persuade police or the cellular company to provide information for days. Ultimately, he prevailed, her cell phone was still on, and she was found quickly.)

On the flip side, however, Find My iPhone users will need to consider carefully who has access to the MobileMe account, because anyone with access will know precisely where you are at any time. Apple has apparently kept MobileMe quite secure, with no breaches of access or passwords. You can take advantage of this, though, by seeding your MobileMe account information with those you trust just in case they ever need to find you.

In-App Purchasing — This new option will enable users to acquire (for an additional fee) new content or updates to apps that they’ve purchased while running them. Terms for developers are the same: 70 percent of the fee goes to the developer, with no credit card fees deducted, paid monthly. In App Purchase is not available for free apps, which must remain free to the end user for the life of the app. Unfortunately, free apps are still allowed to repeatedly encourage users to “upgrade” to the paid versions of free “lite” apps they’ve downloaded.

Safari Enhancements — The mobile Safari Web browser receives several improvements, some of which were previously known. On the performance end, JavaScript has been boosted, with Apple saying that JavaScript could run three times faster than in the iPhone 2.0 version of Safari.

Safari can remember passwords to Web sites and on Web pages, and autofill that information on your return, which is highly welcome given the clumsy virtual keyboard. Safari in iPhone 3.0 also supports HTML 5.0, which, among other things, expands support for media playback features.

Automatic Wi-Fi Login — Before iPhone 3.0, you had to tap in your credentials each time you connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot that required a Web-based login. Safari’s new autofill feature should help in that regard, but Apple says (without any elaboration at this point) that iPhone 3.0 will automatically reconnect you to any hotspot that you’ve previously logged in to. Currently, you need third-party software to get that seamless login for hotspots that require a login (and, often, a fee to gain access). AT&T iPhone subscribers already get free access to 20,000 domestic hotspots in AT&T’s Wi-Fi network.

Upgrade Recommendation — Despite the excitement about the new software, we recommend you wait at least a day or two before upgrading any existing iPhone to the new software. The upgrade requires reactivating the iPhone, and there were plenty of glitches during the 2.0 release due to the load on servers at Apple and telephone companies. Do yourself a favor and exercise a day of restraint, or at least read the early reports to make sure there are no glitches that might brick your iPhone.

TidBITS Staff No comments

Apple Refreshes MacBook Line at WWDC

In the past, Apple has seldom introduced new Mac models at the Worldwide Developers Conference, but chose today to announce that it has revamped nearly its entire laptop line. The 13-inch MacBook has transmogrified into a MacBook Pro, and Apple pushed out revised versions of the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro models as well and dropped the price on the MacBook Air. All the revised models are shipping today. According to Apple, each model meets the criteria for the EPEAT Gold standard and Energy Star version 5.0.

15-inch MacBook Pro — Apple led off by revealing a new 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 7-hour non-removable battery that takes advantage of the lithium-polymer battery technology previously available only in the 17-inch MacBook Pro. The new model has an improved display, with 60 percent more color gamut – a mapping of the portion of all possible visible colors that a given display or output device can show or use.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro also sheds its ExpressCard slot, the primary expansion option available for laptops, because, as Apple’s Phil Schiller said, fewer than 10 percent of buyers used it. In place of the ExpressCard slot, the 15-inch MacBook Pro gains an SD (Secure Digital) slot, a card format used primarily for storage in digital cameras.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is available in three standard configurations:

  • 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with a 250 GB hard disk and Nvidia 9400M graphics for $1,699
  • 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with a 320 GB hard disk and both Nvidia 9400M and 9600M GT graphics for $1,999
  • 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with a 500 GB hard disk and both Nvidia 9400M and 9600M GT graphics for $2,299 (only this model can be upgraded with a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo for $300)

All models come standard with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and support up to 8 GB. 128 GB and 256 GB solid-state drives are also available as options; the price increase varies by model.

17-inch MacBook Pro — The 17-inch MacBook Pro retains its ExpressCard/34 slot and doesn’t pick up an SD slot, but Apple has dropped the price $300 to $2,499. The standard model of the 17-inch MacBook Pro has a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with 4 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard disk, and both Nvidia 9400M and 9600M GT graphics. It can take up to 8 GB of RAM, and a 3.06 GHz option is available for those who want more power.

If you are interested in cards to use in that ExpressCard slot, check out Jeff Carlson’s Macworld article on the topic.

13-inch MacBook Goes Pro — The changes made to the 15-inch MacBook Pro trickled down to the 13-inch aluminum MacBook, but with a twist. Since the specs make it nearly indistinguishable from the 15-inch model, aside from the size of the screen, the MacBook has now become the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Most notably, the 13-inch MacBook Pro gets FireWire 800 back (yay!), picks up the improved screen, and has an SD slot. Plus, it can take up to 8 GB of RAM, up to a 500 GB hard disk, and even an optional 256 GB solid-state drive.

Standard configurations of the 13-inch MacBook Pro include:

  • 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with 2 GB of RAM, a 160 GB hard disk, and Nvidia 9400M graphics for $1,199
  • 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, with 4 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard disk, and Nvidia 9400M graphics for $1,499

Those prices are worth noticing, since the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is actually cheaper than the 13-inch aluminum MacBook that it replaces, something that Apple doesn’t generally do when releasing updated models.

The white MacBook retains the MacBook name, and it’s worth remembering that it too received a small improvement recently, with a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (up from 2.0 GHz), 2 GB 800 MHz DDR2 RAM (up from 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 RAM), and a 160 GB hard drive (up from 120 GB).

Updated MacBook Air — The MacBook Air drops in price, with one configuration providing a 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard disk for $1,499 (down $300), and another offering a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of RAM and a 128 GB solid-state drive for $1,799 (down $700).

TidBITS Staff No comments

Apple Previews Snow Leopard for September Release

Apple announced last year that Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard would have under-the-hood improvements, but wouldn’t include a bunch of new features aside from support for Microsoft Exchange Server (for the primary rundown on features, see “Mac OS X Snow Leopard to Focus on Performance, Not Features,” 2009-06-08). Until now, however, details have been sparse. Today, Apple showed off Snow Leopard’s speed and improved performance, as well as some minor feature updates. The company also revealed Snow Leopard will ship in September and cost $29 to upgrade from Leopard. Snow Leopard works with any Intel-based Mac with 1 GB of memory, at least 5 GB of free disk space, and a DVD drive.

Safari 4, Shipping Today — One piece of Apple’s Snow Leopard engineering effort is making its appearance today. Safari 4, available since February 2009 as a public beta, boasts impressive speed gains in JavaScript and HTML rendering speed. It also has new features such as Top Sites and a Cover Flow browsing mode (for more detail, see “Apple Releases Beta of Safari 4,” 2009-02-24). Safari 4 passed the Acid3 standards compliance test with a score of 100 out of 100, compared to Internet Explorer 8’s score of 21 out of 100.

One new detail is “crash resistance” when running under Snow Leopard: if a plug-in crashes in Safari, the rest of the browser session will continue to be usable. Apple claims that plug-ins are the number one cause of Web browser crashes.

Another interesting change from the beta version of Safari 4 is that tabbed windows behave the same as in Safari 3: the tabs appear below the address bar, instead of at the top of the window. Apple must have received enough negative feedback on the new tab placement that it scrapped that feature.

Safari 4 is available for Leopard via Software Update. You can also download it as a standalone installer for Leopard (43 MB), for Tiger (29 MB), and for Windows XP/Vista (47 MB).

QuickTime X — Also making its debut in Snow Leopard is the latest version of QuickTime, which has been completely overhauled, boasting ColorSync and hardware acceleration support. The update also enhances HTTP streaming, enabling QuickTime streaming from any Web server, which means the player software takes more responsibility for managing the connection. (With a streaming server, the player and server can communicate with each other; with plain HTTP, the player sends a request and then has to deal with the stream that is dealt to it.) Previous versions of QuickTime require special Web server modifications for best results.

Additionally, the QuickTime Player, long overdue for a user interface refresh, has been updated and is now visually similar to the iTunes video player. Finally, you can now trim clips and share videos to MobileMe directly from within the application.

Other Notable Features — Apple claims that Snow Leopard will have over 100 new features. While Safari 4 and QuickTime X are among the most significant, there remain a handful of other notables. The Finder has been rewritten in Cocoa for better performance, but the interface remains essentially the same. A new Services menu simplifies the technology for sharing applications’ functionality, and gives hope that people may actually use the feature in the future.

Expose is now built into the Dock: clicking and holding an application icon displays all of that program’s open windows. Stacks in the Dock can now access deeper levels, enabling users to see files within subfolders. The contents of a Stacks window can also be scrolled, making it easier to view all items. And one particularly cool feature is the capability to draw Chinese characters on a MacBook Pro’s trackpad with your fingers!

iChat has been made more robust and provides higher resolution while using less bandwidth. Video chats at 640 by 480 pixels now require 300 Kbps instead of 900 Kbps. iChat Theater, which lets you share a screen remotely for a presentation or other purpose, works at 640 by 480 pixels as well. Apple also claims that iChat is more reliable, working around more router bottlenecks than the Leopard version. This would be welcome, since we’ve switched almost entirely to Skype for audio chats, due to iChat’s flakiness and problems with audio quality.

For file sharing, Snow Leopard combined with at least some models of the AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule will let a computer enter a sleep-like mode yet continue to share files and media. That’s a fascinating option, and at long last provides an affirmative answer to a question we receive frequently from readers about file sharing – can I share files when my server is asleep?

Owners of MacBooks and MacBook Pros that support multi-touch gestures but which weren’t granted 3- and 4-finger gestures in Leopard will gain them with Snow Leopard. That’s a nice extra, although one suspects it was added to reduce compatibility problems in supporting older laptops.

And lastly, iCal gains a persistent inspector window, eliminating the truly awful interface in the Leopard version of iCal that requires much extra clicking to edit events.

Performance Enhancements — The lack of major new features in Snow Leopard can be attributed to the work that Apple is putting into improving the operating system’s performance. We’re not talking about a tweak here and there – Apple is laying a lot of technology foundations in Snow Leopard for the future.

To handle all the capabilities that Snow Leopard offers, Apple has approached performance from multiple directions. All of Apple’s major applications have been updated for 64-bit support, and Apple has also developed a way to use the multiple cores in all current Macs and multiple processors with multiple cores in the Mac Pro and Xserve more efficiently. The Grand Central Dispatch method enables any software to spread computational load. Currently, most programs have to be written so that specific features use multiple cores, and that’s typically a reasonable allocation of development time only for gaming, scientific, and video and image editing applications.

Apple has long supported threading, a programming technique that divides tasks in an application into dependent tasks that can run simultaneously across multiple cores and processors. A thread is almost like a sub-program, and can operate simultaneously and independently from other threads and programs. But threading isn’t necessarily efficient by itself. An application programmer has to write code that manages threads properly for optimum performance, which isn’t always easy.

Apple’s approach pushes threads down a level into something that the operating system itself manages. This allows a developer to focus on the tasks that a program performs, and to hand off thread management to Mac OS X. By having the operating system manage threads, tasks are not only better managed with many programs running, but usage can be better split among all available cores. The less waste in using processor cycles, the faster tasks can complete.

All this translates to faster speed on common operations such as viewing images and PDFs in Preview. A specific example of speed enhancements would be that moving messages in Mail is, according to Apple, 2.3 times faster, and searching within Mail is 1.9 times faster.

Developers must update their programs to support Grand Central Dispatch. For existing complex programs, that may take a while, because such programs already have threading built in. Developers will also need to maintain Leopard updates and performance for some time, even with Snow Leopard’s cheap upgrade price. Programmers who never used threading, however, may adopt it and enable the option only within Snow Leopard.

Snow Leopard’s installation has been designed to be 45-percent faster than Leopard’s installation process, and recovers over 6 GB of space after completed. While this saved disk space seems like a minor issue when 1 TB hard drives cost $80, less space taken up means more efficient code. And it lets Apple talk about how much less bloated Snow Leopard is than Windows Vista or even the upcoming Windows 7 – even though there’s no possible Apples-to-Apples comparison. Besides, for users trying to make do with a 120 GB drive on the MacBook Air, every little bit counts. Finally, since the iPhone also relies on OS X, the space savings are undoubtedly even more welcome on that hardware platform.

On the Snow Leopard “Refinements” page, Apple also mentions that Time Machine backups to Time Capsule will be up to 50 percent faster, and the initial backup will be much faster as well. This makes perfect sense, because Time Capsule’s raw network performance is far faster for AFP file transfers than for Time Machine backups. Time Machine writes millions of tiny files; by optimizing the interaction with Time Capsule, it’s clear that a big speed boost is possible.

Snow Leopard Server — Although it wasn’t mentioned at the WWDC keynote, Apple also announced Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard, which will also ship in September 2009, but at a price of $499 for an unlimited client version (down from $999 for Leopard Server).

New in Snow Leopard Server, presumably along with all the changes in Snow Leopard, will be Podcast Producer 2, which helps automate the creation and publishing of podcasts, and Mobile Access Server, which makes it easier for Mac and iPhone users to access secured network services.

Other improvements include Wiki Server 2, a new Address Book Server for shared contacts, iCal Server 2, a new Mail Server engine with push email support, QuickTime X HTTP Live Streaming, NetRestore for easy custom image restores over the network, and the iPhone Configuration Utility for configuration of multiple iPhones with enterprise settings.

Pricing and Release Dates — As previously announced, Snow Leopard requires an Intel processor, which cuts the cord for anyone with a PowerPC-based Mac. The memory and storage requirements are quite compact: 1 GB of RAM and 5 GB of available storage space.

Snow Leopard will ship in September 2009 (a near-final version for developers is available today) and cost $29 for a single license and $49 for a family pack supporting up to five users (for more thoughts on those prices see “Why Snow Leopard Should Be (Almost) Free,” 2009-04-21).

Apple’s updated Technical Specifications page for Snow Leopard says that Leopard users will need a simple upgrade disc, but Tiger users will have to purchase a full Mac Box Set with Snow Leopard, iLife ’09, and iWork ’09. Pricing for the Tiger update wasn’t discussed, but the current Leopard Mac Box Set costs $169. (Leopard costs $129 and both iLife ’09 and iWork cost $79 when sold separately.)

Adam Engst No comments

iLife ’09 Updates Zap Bugs

Clearing the decks in preparation for the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple has released updates to the entire iLife ’09 suite other than iWeb. Most of the applications see only minor changes, though iPhoto ’09 garners a number of welcome bug fixes.

iPhoto ’09 8.0.3 — Boasting either the most changes or just the best release notes, the 8.0.3 update for iPhoto ’09 fixes a variety of issues related to Faces, Places, Web publishing, and slideshows – the main new features in iPhoto ’09.

With Faces, the update fixes a number of extremely tweaky bugs that could make using Faces frustrating, including face detection boxes reappearing after being deleted, incorrect suggested matches, and Rotate not working on magnified photos accessed from the Faces corkboard.

Similarly, the fixes to Places are largely for things that most users wouldn’t have experienced, but could have caused consternation. Geotags are now properly attached to photos sent via email, and can be kept out of photos exported as maximum quality JPEGs. Other changes refine the behavior of the Add New Place window, which was previously a bit flaky in my experience.

On the Web publishing side of things, Facebook syncing now syncs updated email addresses when syncing albums containing photos with named faces. And two nasty MobileMe bugs have been squashed, one that could cause a named person to be removed from the Faces corkboard when deleting an album containing that person’s face from your MobileMe Gallery, and another that could cause published movies to be removed from a MobileMe album after resyncing the album with iPhoto.

Settings for existing slideshows are now properly preserved when upgrading from iPhoto 6. The update also fixes a problem that could prevent a DRM-protected song from playing back in a slideshow, if it followed another DRM-protected song. Add another few bucks to the societal cost of DRM technologies…

The iPhoto 8.0.3 update is 96 MB via either Software Update or as a standalone download.

iMovie ’09 8.0.3 — With iMovie 8.0.3, we have much less to go on from Apple, with the basic comment being that the update “addresses general compatibility issues, improves overall stability, and fixes a number of other minor issues.” The release notes do mention that the problems fixed revolve around the following:

  • Support for 720p AVCHD Lite cameras and camcorders
  • Deleting a beat marker no longer modifies the project duration
  • The Video Effects palette now uses the correct thumbnail for still images

However, Jeff Carlson details the update’s undocumented changes in “iMovie ’09 8.0.3 Adds New Hidden Features” (2009-06-05).

The iMovie 8.0.3 update weighs in at 35.2 MB via Software Update or as a standalone download.

iDVD ’09 7.0.4 — All we know about iDVD 7.0.4 is that it “addresses general compatibility issues and fixes an issue where iDVD is unable to add a title/comment to an image in the image details list.”

iDVD barely changed at all in iLife ’09, so it’s not surprising that there aren’t many bugs associated with it. (For whatever reason, Apple didn’t fix an obvious bug that prevents the iMovie project name from becoming the name of the iDVD project; instead, the title that appears in iDVD is just “movie”.) It’s a 27.5 MB update and is available both via Software Update and as a standalone download.

GarageBand ’09 5.0.2 — The 5.0.2 update for GarageBand ’09 “addresses general compatibility issues, improves overall stability, and fixes a number of other minor issues.” Specifically, the update improves the purchasing process for Artist Lessons in the GarageBand Lesson Store, and addresses issues in accessing Jam Packs installed in the loop browser. Recommended for all users of GarageBand ’09, and required for using the Lessons Store, the update is available from the Apple Support Downloads page, and via Software Update. It’s a 108 MB download.

iLife Support 9.0.3 — The iLife Support 9.0.3 update provides system-wide resources that are shared by iLife and other applications, and this particular update “addresses general compatibility issues, improves overall stability for the Media Browser, and fixes a number of other minor issues.” In particular, the update:

  • Resolved memory leaks for improved performance of the Media Browser
  • Corrected issues to display custom folders when added to the Media Browser
  • Maintained correct image dates when importing from iPhoto to Aperture

As you might expect from that last bullet point, the update is recommended specifically for users of iLife ’09, iWork ’09, and Aperture 2. It’s a 55.1 MB download, available via Software update or as a standalone download.

Digital Camera RAW Compatibility Update 2.6 — Finally, continuing Apple’s ongoing process of adding raw file format support for new cameras, this update enables Aperture 2, iPhoto ’09, and iPhoto ’08 to handle raw image files from the Canon EOS 500D, Canon Rebel T1i, Canon EOS Kiss Digital X3, Nikon D5000, and Olympus E-30. It’s a 3.9 MB download from either Software Update or Apple’s Web site.

Jeff Carlson No comments

iMovie ’09 8.0.3 Adds New Hidden Features

Apple released iMovie ’09 8.0.3 this week, a seemingly minor update that “addresses general compatibility issues, improved overall stability and fixes a number of other minor issues.” However, I’ve discovered that this small iteration turns out to have two new features, along with some other undocumented changes. (Which is good news and, to me, funny because my book “iMovie ’09 & iDVD for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide” has just been released. These changes don’t make anything in the book outdated or wildly incorrect, thank goodness.)

Ken Burns for Video — Until now, the Ken Burns effect has been reserved for still photos. When you import a picture, iMovie automatically applies the pan-and-zoom effect; for example, the clip begins zoomed into one corner of the photo and gradually zooms out to reveal the entire image.

Now you can do the same for video clips. Select a video clip and click the Crop, Rotate, and Ken Burns button on the toolbar (or just press C). Click the Ken Burns button in the Viewer to set a start and end point, just as you would with a still photo. This is a pretty big change, especially for an x.0.3 release.

Keep in mind that as you zoom into standard-definition video, the resolution will decrease, although you probably won’t see much of a difference when starting with high-definition footage. But in my quick testing, the results were perfectly acceptable.

New Optimize Video Menu Option — When iMovie imports most high-definition footage from a camera, such as HDV or AVCHD, it converts the video to Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC) for easier editing. However, some formats remain intact – the Flip MinoHD, for example, records in MPEG-4 format encoded with H.264 compression.

For better performance during playback and editing, you can convert clips using the new Optimize Video menu item, located in the File menu. With a clip selected, choose Full – Original Size or Large – 960 x 540 to transcode the clip into AIC. You can also choose these options from the contextual menu (Control-click or right-click a clip to view the menu).

Manual Audio Fade Duration — You can set a specific time over which a clip’s audio fades in or out. In earlier versions of iMovie ’09, that time was limited to 2 seconds, but now it can be up to 5 seconds.

Other Optimizations — Some of Apple’s “other minor issues” should be welcome for iMovie editors. Performance of rendering and playing back themes and maps has gotten faster, as has general application launch time.

As the release notes indicate, deleting a beat marker no longer modifies the project duration, but the duration is also maintained when you turn automatic transitions on and off.

iMovie is also smarter about locating missing audio files when a project is moved to another machine. For example, a song that exists in one computer’s iTunes library will be found in the other computer’s iTunes library if it’s present there.

Tonya Engst No comments

New Ebook Covers All 802.11n Apple Base Stations

Glenn Fleishman has been writing about wireless networking for many years now, both for TidBITS and on his Wi-Fi Networking News site, and I’ve served as his editor through many editions and versions of his various AirPort ebooks in the Take Control series. Earlier this year, when Apple released new models of the AirPort Express and Time Capsule, and added Back to My Mac capabilities to various 802.11n-capable AirPort base stations, Glenn started on a new version of his “Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network.” We first thought it would be a small rewrite, but by the end it grew by about 20 pages, as Glenn handled the scenarios that can now arise depending on which
base station model you use, and depending on how you mix newer and older models.

Now clocking in at 265 pages, the just-updated version 1.5 of “Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network” serves as a definitive guide to setting up, extending, and optimizing Wi-Fi networks. It provides assistance with maximizing performance, extending range with multiple base stations, choosing between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, understanding channels, complex Internet configurations, backing up with Time Machine and a Time Capsule, streaming music via AirTunes, adding old gear to a new network without impacting performance, sharing USB disks and printers, and lots more that you can read about at the book’s page linked above. Important changes in this update include:

  • We integrated coverage of the new simultaneous dual-band models of the AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule into the ebook, while retaining information about all older 802.11n AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule models and advice for mixing even older gear with 802.11n devices.
  • We updated and expanded the tables that summarize all the Apple base station models.
  • We added directions for setting up Back to My Mac access, a new feature for all 802.11n base stations released in 2007 or later. Apple made Back to My Mac access available via a firmware update earlier this year.
  • We added a short new section, “Light Reading,” that helps you decode what the light on your base station is trying to tell you.
  • We reworked the section about extending a network via Wi-Fi for enhanced clarity.
  • We made small revisions throughout the ebook to account for numerous changes in AirPort Utility, Mac OS X Leopard, and base station firmware that occurred since the October 2008 release of the previous version of the ebook.

The new version costs $15, but if you own an older version of one of Glenn’s AirPort titles, you can upgrade for free or at a discount, depending on which version you own. Check your email for an upgrade notice or open your PDF to the first page and click Check for Updates.

Adam Engst No comments

Fetch 5.5 Adds Quick Look, Improves Remote Editing

It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Fetch Softworks has released Fetch 5.5, a notable upgrade to the venerable FTP client, focusing improvements on user interaction with remote files and reliability of transfers.

Most important is an improved Edit command that enables you to edit any kind of remote file with any application that supports the appropriate file type and have the changes saved back to the server automatically. As with previous versions, you choose the application to edit a particular filename extension in the Info window for a file with that extension, although you can also use the new Edit With menu item to choose a non-default editor and, if desired, set it as the new default.

Also useful is the added support for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard’s Quick Look feature, though of course using Quick Look in Fetch with remote files isn’t as quick as with local files, since Fetch must still retrieve the file before displaying it in Quick Look. Subsequent uses of Quick Look in that session rely on a cached version of the file and so operate at full speed.

Fetch now supports MacBook trackpad gestures in the transfer window. Swiping left takes you back to the previously viewed folder, up navigates to the parent folder, and down opens the selected folder. If only there were an Easter egg that would cause the Fetch dog to do a flip when you used the rotate gesture!

Lastly among the user interaction features, the Info window now contains a Calculate button that calculates the size of the selected folder; by making this an explicit user action rather than calculating it automatically, using Get Info with folders works more quickly than before.

In terms of reliability, Fetch 5.5 can now automatically resume stalled or failed uploads, and in general handles transfers of very large collections of files more reliably than before. Since Fetch was already my go-to application for recalcitrant FTP sites and very large uploads, even more reliability is welcome.

Fetch 5.5 includes numerous other small changes as well. The file list remembers the last sorting choice. Deleting large numbers of files now works more quickly when Fetch is in the foreground. Certain errors when deleting files are now automatically retried. And, in a nod to the increased size of files we now see in the real world, Fetch 5.5 can now display file sizes in terabytes, petabytes, and exabytes. I still don’t have sufficient bandwidth to consider downloading a terabyte of data, but I’m sure there are researchers who regularly deal with such large files.

The release includes fixes for various bugs too, such as a problem that caused Microsoft Office documents in the new Office XML formats to be decoded into folders when downloaded, another that caused various file types to be compressed automatically on upload, and one that caused uploading files selected in the Finder’s List view to be uploaded twice. See the release notes for a full list of changes and bug fixes.

Fetch 5.5 costs $29, and upgrades from previous versions are $10 (anyone who purchased after 28-Jan-09 is entitled to a free upgrade). As always, free licenses to Fetch are available to students (including the home-schooled) and to employees of educational institutions or charitable organizations. It’s a 17.2 MB download.

Doug McLean No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 08-Jun-09

BackJack 5.1.4 from Synectics Business Solutions is the latest version of the online Mac backup service. The update adds a new DualSync capability that enables a second Mac to synchronize files being backed up by your primary machine, allowing for secure restores to a second Mac. Also, several under-the-hood enhancements have been made to improve the service’s speed and performance, especially when working on a congested network. Finally, in celebration of the company’s 11th anniversary, new subscriptions are available at 50-percent off. ($50 per year promotional offer, 7 MB)

AirPort Utility 5.4.2 for Mac from Apple is a maintenance update that addresses a number of minor issues. Bugs that have been fixed include one that caused AirPort Utility to be unable to read certain wireless device configurations, one that prevented wireless devices from being discovered when Back To My Mac was enabled, one that caused the utility to be unable to download firmware, and one that prevented the importing of Access Control Lists created in the AirPort Admin Utility. Also, the update adds the capability to display all wireless passwords in the “Equivalent Network Password” dialog. (Free, 16.9 MB)

Sandvox 1.6.2 from Karelia Software is a stability update to the template-based Web site creation tool. The update fixes a handful of bugs related to page editing, including an issue wherein text would be lost upon moving an existing page. Other fixes address publishing issues, such as content being unnecessarily republished given certain conditions. Finally, the update enables proper detection of anamorphic QuickTime movies when running QuickTime 7.2 on Mac OS X 10.5. ($57 Regular/$97 Pro, free update, 26.4 MB)

TidBITS Staff No comments

ExtraBITS for 08-Jun-09

Tonya Discusses Reading Ebooks on the iPhone and Kindle — Take Control editor in chief Tonya Engst chats with MacNotables host Chuck Joiner about file formats and hardware devices for ebooks, with a focus on the iPhone, iPod touch, and the Kindle. If you’re curious about where we think the world of ebooks is going, or wondering about what’s happening in the minds of ebook publishers, give this podcast a listen! (Posted 2009-06-04)

Coverage Extended for MacBook Pros with Nvidia Processors — Apple has announced that it will extend service coverage on MacBook Pros housing Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics processors from two to three years from the original date of purchase. The faulty processors, suspected to be found in MacBook Pros manufactured between May 2007 and September 2008, can be responsible for scrambled, distorted, or absent video output. (Posted 2009-06-03)

YouTube XL Sets Its Sights on Your Living Room — Keeping up with Hulu, whose recently released Hulu Desktop makes it easier to bring streaming content to your TV, YouTube has launched YouTube XL. The new Web-based interface works on any device that can support a browser – including the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii – and offers all of its regular and premium content in a streamlined design tailored for larger displays. (Posted 2009-06-03)

The Truth about Apple, Mac Security, and Responsibility — Over at Macworld, TidBITS editor Rich Mogull uses the unpatched Java vulnerability and a recent ComputerWorld troll bait article as an excuse to talk about who is really responsible for Mac security. (Posted 2009-06-02)

Pricey Punctuation — A picture may be valued at a thousand words, but a single misplaced comma turned out to be worth $2.13 million in a recent contract dispute in Canada. The Globe and Mail has the details. (Posted 2009-06-02)

Backblaze Promotes Backup Awareness Month with Giveaways — In 2006, Seagate (which had just acquired Maxtor) declared that June was to be known as “Backup Awareness Month.” To mark the occasion this year and encourage more people to back up, online backup provider Backblaze is giving away one free year-long subscription to their service each day in June (regularly $50 for unlimited backups), plus holding a drawing for a Nikon P90 camera. Everyone who downloads and installs their software during the month is eligible to participate in the drawings, and a 15-day free trial is available to all. (Posted 2009-06-01)

Jeff Carlson No comments

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk for 08-Jun-09

Jeff’s Three Screens — Jeff Porten provides details of his unique two-laptop setup following Jeff Carlson’s article about using three screens on his MacBook Pro. (1 message)

AirPort dead? If you think your AirPort base station is really dead, check out the advice here before tossing it out. (2 messages)

Protect Yourself from the Mac OS X Java Vulnerability — Readers note additional details about the Java vulnerability. (4 messages)

Blacklisted? Readers report notices of having their servers blacklisted (and therefore unable to receive email), and try to figure out what’s going on. (10 messages)

Web page set-up — What options are available for setting up an inexpensive Web site for a small home business? (10 messages)

Documentation creation tool? What does Apple use to create its documentation? A reader wants to take advantage of the same tools, if possible. (13 messages)

Recover Erased Photos from a Memory Card — Lexar gets high marks for its software, and someone suggests another program for retrieving lost images. (2 messages)

MacBook running slow – is Safari the culprit? Flash in open Safari tabs could be the culprit in slow MacBook performance. (4 messages)

Power cord for the MacBook — Jiggling a MacBook power cord could get it working again, but if that doesn’t work, it’s time to get the cord and the computer checked out. (4 messages)