Series: TidBITS History
TidBITS has been publishing continuously since 1990. Here's what we've had to say for ourselves - then and now.
Article 1 of 29 in series
Happy Birthday to us. TidBITS is officially one year old and what better way to celebrate (OK, so we can think of a few) than by reporting the results of our TidBITS SurveyShow full article
Happy Birthday to us. TidBITS is officially one year old and what better way to celebrate (OK, so we can think of a few) than by reporting the results of our TidBITS Survey. We ran the survey in December and still receive occasional responses, although the majority arrived in the first month or two. What took us so long? Data entry. It's time consuming, a lot of work, and boring beyond belief, even though we could just copy from QuickMail and paste into Double Helix. If we had figured out some method of getting everyone to return answers in exactly the same format, we could have had Nisus clean it all up. Maybe for next year's TidBITS Anniversary.
As far as the organization of this issue goes, we'll talk a bit about year-end numbers, the statistics we gathered from the survey (and do remember Mark Twain's dictum "There are three sorts of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics."), and then we'll list a bunch of the responses we got to different categories and our comments on those responses.
This issue is a lot to read at once, being over 60K of text, and since it's not like the timely news we normally report on, feel free to read at your leisure. If you think 50K is a lot, though, we got well over 700K of email responses and 20 snail mail responses that we typed into Double Helix manually.
Article 2 of 29 in series
Happy Birthday! This issue marks TidBITS's second anniversary. As you can see, we've put out 120 issues, averaging 60 per year or slightly more than one per weekShow full article
Happy Birthday! This issue marks TidBITS's second anniversary. As you can see, we've put out 120 issues, averaging 60 per year or slightly more than one per week. We feel that TidBITS is getting better all the time, to quote the Beatles, and we couldn't do it without you and the massive levels of enthusiasm we receive. Some of our TidBITS highlights of the last year include moving to Seattle and discovering a large and enthusiastic computer community, gaining access to the great people and resources on ZiffNet/Mac, and especially the creation of our TIDBITS LISTSERV at Rice University thanks to Mark Williamson. Thank you all, and here's hoping for continued success for us all. Cheers!
Article 3 of 29 in series
We don't know how many of you have been with us since TidBITS#001, but those who have might realize that this issue marks the beginning of the fourth year of TidBITSShow full article
We don't know how many of you have been with us since TidBITS#001, but those who have might realize that this issue marks the beginning of the fourth year of TidBITS. We would like to thank you all for making TidBITS a success. Over 50,000 people in 40 countries read TidBITS each week, and it's all happened by word of net. The best way you can help us keep TidBITS growing is to tell a friend or two about TidBITS. It's free, it's easy, and you can get more information by sending email to: <email@example.com>. Thanks again for an enjoyable three years, and here's hoping we can reach TidBITS#1000 and mess up my three-digit numbering scheme.
Article 4 of 29 in series
The first issue of TidBITS is dated 16-Apr-90. I sit here, four years later, working on our 222nd issue, and think about all that has changed and all that has remained the sameShow full article
The first issue of TidBITS is dated 16-Apr-90. I sit here, four years later, working on our 222nd issue, and think about all that has changed and all that has remained the same. Permit me a rambling and decidedly non-sequential recollection.
Tonya deserves credit for the concept for TidBITS. We were living in Ithaca, NY, after having graduated from Cornell University the year before. I was working as an independent consultant, and Tonya had the impressive title of "New Technologies Consultant" in the part of Cornell that sold computers. Unfortunately, Tonya's title translated to "Seller of Macs and DeskWriters," a task which she did along with several others. She thought a weekly newsletter of sorts might help her co-workers keep up on the industry. We figured that we could easily create such a summary, given that we read MacWEEK, PC WEEK, and InfoWorld weekly, and I regularly scanned the nets.
Tonya had an ulterior motive. Her degree from Cornell is in Communications (more appropriate than my double major in Hypertextual Fiction and Classics), and while we were students, she edited the newsletter for the local users group, MUGWUMP. But after passing that on, Tonya felt her skills in PageMaker were rusting away, and thought this newsletter might provide some lubrication, though she was concerned with potential waste of paper.
At the time, I was heavily involved with HyperCard, so my immediate reaction was that we should use the same text to create an electronic HyperCard version to distribute freely on the Internet. And so it was decided, although after only two weeks it became clear that electronic distribution was the way to go; trees would be safe from TidBITS.
You can go back and look at the early issues - I cringe every time I do. We started out summarizing the top stories in the trade rags, but quickly became uncomfortable with the legalities involved. We weren't concerned about copyright, since everything we wrote was in our own words, but there's another legal concept called misappropriation that might or might not have applied. That concern pushed us in the direction of writing our own articles, using the magazines only as sources (which we cited carefully, being good little academics).
The first few weeks of distribution were... interesting. I posted a note on the nets announcing TidBITS and a mailing list for it. I knew how to set up a mailing list on one of Cornell's IBM mainframes, so we stuck with that list for three weeks until it hit about 300 people. It was after the third issue that Tonya got the phone call saying that something with her name on it was crashing Navy computers in California. The Robert Morris Internet worm was still recent history, but a few panicked calls and email messages later, the truth came out. Certain old versions of the BSD mailer used by Unix boxes had a bug that prevented them from dealing properly with headers containing more than several hundred recipients, so when one of these machines received the issue of TidBITS (remember, it was a HyperCard stack, stuffed and BinHexed), that machine bounced the issue back to Cornell's main email computer, which looked at it, saw that there was nothing wrong, and sent it back again, repeating the entire cycle. You can imagine what this did to the Internet, but it all ended well.
We then went looking for alternate methods of distribution. The first people to come through were the net heavies who run major Internet sites to this day. After talking over the issues with them, they allowed us to post TidBITS to the moderated Usenet group comp.sys.mac.digest, which had around 30,000 readers or so back then. Not bad, from 300 to 30,000 in a week, although not all of those people downloaded and defunked each issue to read it in HyperCard.
Around this time we started uploading to the commercial services as well, although I only had an account on America Online, so other people handled redistribution for us. I no longer remember the chronology of when certain people came on, but Dennis Cohen (then, and perhaps still, of Claris) uploaded to CompuServe, Masato Ogawa moved issues to NIFTY-Serve in Japan, Jean-Philippe Nicaise redistributed issues to Calvacom in France, Riza Nur Pacalioglu (who lives in Turkey, making for a roundabout path) and later Eric Apgar of Apple uploaded to AppleLink, and Jay Vollmer and later Randy Simon took care of GEnie. Denise Petersen puts issues on Delphi, and before I was given an account, Larry Loeb and then Paul Raulerson uploaded to BIX for us. These are merely the people whose names rise to the surface of my memory - I cannot count all the folks who have helped spread TidBITS around the networked world of the Internet, commercial services, and BBSes. We owe every one of them a massive debt. Since those early days we've traded accounts for uploading TidBITS each week, and working with Chris Ferino on America Online, Ben Templin and Ric Ford on ZiffNet/Mac, Charlie McCabe and Arwyn Bryant on AppleLink, and Paul Raulerson on BIX, has enabled us to spread TidBITS far and wide.
Right after we started (he's first mentioned in TidBITS #06 and wrote about Macworld Expo in TidBITS #36), Mark Anbinder began writing articles for TidBITS. Mark graduated from Cornell with a degree in Linguistics the same year Tonya and I did, 1989, but went to work for Baka Industries, the main Macintosh dealer in Ithaca. Mark later became the president of MUGWUMP, the local users group, a post he holds to this day. He continues to write for TidBITS frequently and is the only person to whom we've ever given an editorial title. Other regular, though less frequent, contributors have chipped in as well. Matt Neuburg has written extensively on various programs, including a massive 90K review of Nisus, a special issue on the hypertext editor Storyspace, and reviews of several outliners. To close the loop, Matt was my Classics professor at Cornell before ending up in New Zealand, and his Greek Composition class taught me more than any other class in those four years. We've also published a number of articles from Ian Feldman, who created the setext format. The first year of TidBITS I wrote 90 percent of the articles, but that percentage has thankfully been declining, because I never pretend to be an expert on everything, and would far prefer to have someone who is an expert write about what she knows. Oh, if you're wondering, all those who are Pythaeus prefer to remain unnamed - "Pythaeus" is one of the names of Apollo at his oracle at Delphi.
In May of 1991, the world changed. Tonya accepted a job with Microsoft supporting Macintosh Word. We married in June and moved to the Seattle area in July. I had no consulting contacts in Seattle, so I devoted my time to TidBITS and frankly, my Internet contacts kept me sane during those first few difficult months. We realized that although we could live on Tonya's salary, just barely, it would help if TidBITS could bring in some money as well. That's when we came up with the corporate sponsorship program that has resulted in various select companies such as Nisus, Dantz, and APS providing information to interested readers.
Back to the HyperCard stack. One reason I originally used HyperCard was that my stack could merge its contents into another copy of itself, creating a single archive. Information is useless if you cannot find it, and the single stack archive helped solve this problem. Unfortunately, my stack proved equally problematic. Programming quirks caused the archive size to grow too rapidly, but I fixed that after 25 issues. The stack also devoted too much room to background decoration and navigation controls, reducing the text space. After the first few issues, Ian took me to task for the stack, and we started discussing issues surrounding the dissemination of electronic periodicals, and those discussions resulted in Ian creating setext, or structure-enhanced text.
This all took time, and in fact, we published the first 99 issues of TidBITS in HyperCard format. My master archive of all the issues had increased to well over 10 MB, and merging an issue took a long time. It didn't look as though we would have a HyperCard browser for our setext files any time soon as 1991 drew to a close, but I couldn't live with HyperCard any more. TidBITS #100 was our first issue in setext format, and in one of the chronological conjunctions we like so much, it was also the first issue of 1992.
Switching to setext format was terribly important. Every previous issue had to be stuffed and BinHexed before being sent out, forcing everyone to jump through hoops to read it. This limited readership to those who could download to a Mac. Once the issues were in setext format, everyone who subscribed to comp.sys.mac.digest could easily read the issues without additional processing. Currently estimates place comp.sys.mac.digest's readership at about 75,000.
Setext format opened distribution doors in other ways. Alvin Khoo of Simon Fraser University set up a mailing list that garnered over 1,000 subscribers before his home-brewed mailing list software and the SFU machine had trouble with the volume. Luckily, Mark Williamson of Rice University saved the day with the Rice LISTSERV, so we transferred everyone over. The LISTSERV list has grown steadily since the spring of 1992 and now serves about 8,000 people. Also because of the setext format (which looks like plain text but is implicitly structured for decoding by special programs), TidBITS appeared on some Gopher servers and Ephraim Vishniac of Thinking Machines created a WAIS source for it, enabling anyone on the Internet to search the complete text of all issues. A World-Wide Web server is up as well, and I'll announce that officially soon, probably next week.
We still had no browser for setext, though, and no way of creating an archive of all the issues, which was one of my original design goals. I've used a Nisus macro to encode issues since TidBITS #100, but my Nisus macros for decoding setext never worked right. In August of 1992, Akif Eyler released Easy View 2.1 with the capability to browse setext files. Easy View not only had all the features of my simple HyperCard stack, but it could do things like extract all articles that contained a search match. Since Easy View worked on the original setext files, we didn't have to modify our distribution at all, although over the years we've tweaked the format of the issues to make them more attractive for reading in Easy View.
Software reviews were a major step for us. I remember the first time I was sent a commercial program to review, Now Utilities 2.0. Being in poor college-student mode still, I couldn't believe my good fortune and wrote an in-depth review for TidBITS #45. Other products slowly followed suit, including the long-gone Kennect Drive 2.4, and MacInTax back when it still came from SoftView (then purchased by ChipSoft, which recently merged with Intuit). Needless to say, we've looked at many other programs over the years, but I think I'll always have a soft spot for Now Software for that day when Now Utilities 2.0 arrived on my doorstep. It's easiest to talk about products we use regularly, and of all the programs we've used over the years, the constants have been Nisus, uAccess (now UUCP/Connect from InterCon, a full-featured UUCP-based email program), and QuicKeys.
Hardware-wise, we've evolved slowly. The first TidBITS issues were produced on a 4 MB double-floppy SE with a 30 MB home-built hard drive. It eventually transmogrified into an SE/30 with an APS external 105 MB drive and 5 MB, jumping to 8 MB relatively quickly. My strategy was to keep that SE/30 viable, so I added an APS SyQuest drive for backup, a Micron Xceed video card and an Apple 13" color monitor (and since then have refused to use any single-monitor Mac other than a PowerBook). Our second Mac was a Classic with a 40 MB drive that we actually bought for the floppy drive - our SE/30 only had a single 800K internal drive and it was dying. A new SuperDrive was only slightly less than a Classic without a hard drive, although we weren't able to resist the hard drive model. On the whole, the Classic was a mistake - we seldom use it and it's painfully slow. In August of 1992 I jumped the SE/30's memory to 20 MB and adopted my seemingly unusual technique of launching all my standard applications at startup, which makes scheduling easier and simplifies single-key program switching with QuicKeys.
Our third Mac was an extremely cute 8 MB PowerBook 100 with a 20 MB drive that we got during the PowerBook 100 fire sale. I use the PowerBook for most of my serious writing - I wrote some of Internet Starter Kit and all of Internet Explorer Kit on the PowerBook. The hardware purchases that made writing the first book possible were an APS 1.2 GB hard drive and an APS DAT drive for backup - books suck hard disk space and nightly scheduled backups with Retrospect have eased my backup paranoia significantly.
When she started writing her book on Microsoft Word, Tonya bought a Duo 230, which I'm basically forbidden to touch. Eventually, in November of 1993, I broke down and replaced the SE/30 with a Centris 660AV. Tonya snagged my Apple 13" color monitor for double-monitor use on her Duo with a MiniDock, and I switched to the combination of an NEC 3FGx 15" color monitor and an Apple 12" monochrome monitor that I bought used. The only major thing I regret about the 660AV (other than the fact that the speech recognition doesn't really work) is that the Curtis MVP Mouse trackball and footswitch that I used stopped working. I've switched to a Kensington TurboMouse trackball but still miss the footswitch.
The pointing devices remind me of perhaps the worst problem we've faced and continue deal with daily. In early 1992, Tonya injured herself and ended up with tendinitis in her hands and arms. Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, which has similar symptoms. We were pretty pitiful for a few months, wearing wrist braces in bed and to go grocery shopping, but we've gradually recovered. The most important factor in our recovery was the realization that a repetitive stress injury is related to extreme amounts of stress that must be reduced. In addition, these silly lycra gloves called Handeze Gloves have made an incredible difference for both of us.
I could ramble for a lot longer, and if I went back and read through my outgoing mail I might remember even more of the stories that make up our history. But what's important about TidBITS is people - the people who have redistributed issues, the people who have contributed articles, the people who have read the issues, and the people who believed in us for years before electronic publishing was conceivable to most publishers. I've always said that I write to the person behind the personal computer, and as my interests lean more and more toward the Internet, I believe all the more in the importance of the individual. This is why we avoid corporate-speak and distribute TidBITS for free. It's worked for four years and 222 issues and although I never predict anything more than a year or so in the future, another four years seems no more inconceivable than the first four were.
Article 5 of 29 in series
This issue marks the fifth year of TidBITS, making it one of the oldest edited electronic publications on the Internet. We have survived 273 issues, a format change from HyperCard to setext at TidBITS-100, the rise of the World-Wide Web, and the inevitable burnout that Tonya and Geoff have helped eliminate from what is no longer a one-person jobShow full article
This issue marks the fifth year of TidBITS, making it one of the oldest edited electronic publications on the Internet. We have survived 273 issues, a format change from HyperCard to setext at TidBITS-100, the rise of the World-Wide Web, and the inevitable burnout that Tonya and Geoff have helped eliminate from what is no longer a one-person job. If you're wondering about the history behind TidBITS, check out the article I wrote about it for our fourth anniversary in TidBITS-222.
I think our five years and 273 issues, along with the estimated 150,000 people who read TidBITS, show that what we're doing is valid (despite paper publication naysayers), valuable (to our readers), and viable (Macs, modems, and managing editors don't grow on trees, you know). Although we, unlike many publications, refrain from publishing the self-serving congratulatory letters we receive that compare TidBITS to sliced bread, every now and then it feels good to revel in public for a moment.
There's no telling how many people have read our first issue by now (and it's suitably embarrassing whenever I go back and look it), but I think it's safe to say that only a few hundred read it that fateful week in 1990. Our circulation has grown with the Internet, and the TidBITS mailing list ranks as the third largest LISTSERV-based list with (as of today) 20,237 readers (thanks to Rice University!). When you add the estimated 110,000 people who read <comp.sys.mac.digest>, the several thousand who read TidBITS on the Web at Dartmouth and the thousands who get TidBITS from BBSs and the various commercial services (oddly enough, download counts on the commercial services remain relatively constant), you end up with a large group of people.
Along with our burgeoning readership, TidBITS has received recognition in a number of more traditional ways, included extremely nice mentions in recent issues of MacUser and Macworld, thanks to Andy Ihnatko and David Pogue. TidBITS has also received several BMUG Choice Product awards in the Online Magazine category - awards that are very complimentary given BMUG's overall high standards. We even made the mainstream press with a small mention in Newsweek in August of 1994.
Sometimes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and although numerous electronic publications have come and gone (it's not as easy as it looks), a number of publications (see the URL below) seem to have arrived for good. One such publication, Mac*Chat, even comes out weekly and uses the setext format.
All I can say is, thank you, everyone.
What are our plans for the future? That's a good question, and not one for which we have a ready answer. The overall idea is to make TidBITS available to an ever-increasing number of people - we joke that our goal is world domination by the year 2000, our tenth anniversary. So, TidBITS will be appearing in an increasing number of places both on and off the Web. Who knows, maybe we can get Power Computing to bundle a free subscription to TidBITS with all of their Macintosh clones.
We also have plans to use what clout we have due to our large readership to do cool things for readers. Nothing's official yet, but we think we can continue to create situations, as with our sponsorship program, where everyone wins. And, of course, in the process we hope to promote some of our basic philosophies about how customers should be treated no matter where they live, how online support can improve service and cut costs, and how the Internet can break down barriers between people. Everyone has an agenda, and you should always keep that in mind. We hope that ours is sufficiently out in the open that you can judge for yourself whether or not you approve of our actions both in the past and in the future.
Article 6 of 29 in series
We're a little too tired to make much of this fact, but this issue of TidBITS marks our sixth anniversary of publication. We started publishing TidBITS each week in April of 1990, which makes us one of the longest running solely electronic publicationsShow full article
We're a little too tired to make much of this fact, but this issue of TidBITS marks our sixth anniversary of publication. We started publishing TidBITS each week in April of 1990, which makes us one of the longest running solely electronic publications. If you know of any regularly published, edited publication (mailing lists and digests don't count) that is solely electronic, started on the Internet before we did, and continues to publish today, please drop me a note with a pointer to it. [ACE]
Article 7 of 29 in series
This week marks the seventh year of TidBITS, making us serious Internet geezers. If you're new to TidBITS (and many of you are!) I thought I'd take a moment to note where TidBITS is on this anniversaryShow full article
This week marks the seventh year of TidBITS, making us serious Internet geezers. If you're new to TidBITS (and many of you are!) I thought I'd take a moment to note where TidBITS is on this anniversary. Back in April of 1990, Tonya and I released the first issue of TidBITS to the Internet in HyperCard format (a format that survived for 99 issues before being replaced by setext). Since then we've published on a weekly basis through several Apple CEOs (Sculley to Spindler to Amelio), numerous business cycles for Apple Computer, the release of more Macs than we can count, the arrival of Macintosh clones, the continuing ascendancy of the Internet, the hyping of Java, and the change in fortunes of industry luminaries like WordPerfect, Aldus, Borland, Ashton-Tate, and Lotus.
You could argue that the world has changed completely since we began, and in many ways it has. Heck, even some of our April Fools jokes (such as in TidBITS-052) have come true. But, just as everything continues to change at an increasingly fast pace, there's also a case to be made for everything staying much the same. Microsoft still calls many of the shots in the computer industry. Apple still gets bad press even when it's undeserved. The Mac OS is still the easiest operating system to learn and use. Macworld Expos are so similar that it's almost impossible to remember what happened at any given show.
Some Numbers -- Even TidBITS embodies this dichotomy (and we've never been afraid to use the occasional word that might require a trip to the dictionary - think of it as expanding horizons). Our format has stayed extremely consistent since the switch from HyperCard, and we've stuck within our informal limit of 30K of text per issue without fail (other than a few special issues). And yet, the number of people reading TidBITS continues to skyrocket. Our English-language mailing list (originally run thanks to the generosity of Rice University, and now run on a Power Mac 7100 and StarNine's ListSTAR) served about 19,000 people in April of 1995, 37,000 in April of 1996, and 46,000 today. In April of 1995, TidBITS went to 65 countries; today that number has hit 106, including a number of countries that weren't on the Internet two years ago (or weren't even countries). Want to help those numbers? Tell your friends they can subscribe to TidBITS, for free of course, by sending an email message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
We've found it difficult to estimate the number of TidBITS readers, thanks to redistribution lists and popular areas like the comp.sys.mac.digest newsgroup, which can't be tracked well. Nonetheless, we've always committed to publishing in as many ways as made sense, so we'll continue to make issues available via email, FTP, Usenet news, and of course the Web. Check our Web site for the latest issue and links to every past issue of TidBITS.
The Top Seven -- Leading the pack in number of English-language subscribers in the country category are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden. The top seven Internet providers are AOL, EarthLink, CompuServe, Netcom, MindSpring, Northwest Nexus, and AT&T WorldNet. The top seven non-ISP companies (many others have internal distribution lists we can't track) are Apple, Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, Microsoft, DuPont, McDonnell Douglas, and Schlumberger. The top seven educational institutions are University of Minnesota, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Cornell University, University of Washington, University of Texas, and Harvard University.
In my mind, our most impressive achievement is that we've published on a regular weekly schedule the entire time. In the early days, a weekly schedule and a shorter lead time than any paper publication put us on the edge of speedy computer journalism. These days, it's hard to avoid being inundated with poorly-written, poorly-researched daily news (though there are notable exceptions, like Matt Deatherage's MDJ and Ric Ford's MacInTouch). We try to do more than merely report the news, and instead try to offer some context or analysis so you can get a better sense of what it all means. And, sometimes we ignore events because we don't want to clutter your brains with useless information. I believe that's what sets a publication apart from a stream of raw data.
Finances -- I'm pleased that we've kept TidBITS completely free all these years. I won't pretend that TidBITS has made us rich, but we've never lost money (in fact, we made about $900 million more than Apple last year, if you want to talk bottom line). Most of TidBITS's income comes from our sponsors, and it has enabled us to contract with Geoff Duncan and Jeff Carlson, our Technical and Managing Editors. Without their help, we'd never be able to keep up our schedule and quality, both of which are important to us. As much as TidBITS remains an idealistic venture, it must also remain a viable business.
Interestingly, we started the sponsorship program back in July of 1992, before the Web had appeared and years before advertising on the Internet was even acceptable, much less commonplace as it is today. Although a few of our early sponsors have been acquired or are no longer around, most current and past sponsors have proven to be the stalwarts of the Macintosh and Internet worlds. Among this group are (in order of appearance) Nisus Software, Dantz Development, APS Technologies, Northwest Nexus, PowerCity Online, Hayden Books, InfoSeek, Power Computing, America Online, EarthLink Network, Aladdin Systems, Small Dog Electronics, and our most recent sponsor, StarNine Technologies.
Any Macintosh or Internet company that's interested in supporting a high-quality, free resource like TidBITS and reaching a few hundred thousand readers each week should contact Tonya at <email@example.com> for more details. Who knows, one of these years Apple or Claris might even sponsor us.
Translations -- 1996 also marked the year in which TidBITS translations came into their own. The Japanese translation team has done a wonderful job since TidBITS-281 (and has amassed their own mailing list of over 8,600 people), and the other five language teams (Chinese, Dutch, French, German, and Spanish) basically all appeared in 1996. Thanks to our early status as one of the few sources of timely information for readers in other countries, and our efforts to not ignore international concerns, being able to publish in six different languages has been a real treat. As always, if you're interested in helping the volunteer translation teams by translating an article every so often, check our Web site for the address of the appropriate coordinator. We're always happy to have more help with translations.
Further Reading -- If you're interested in TidBITS history, you might want to browse our past anniversary issues. Check out TidBITS-001, TidBITS-120, TidBITS-173, TidBITS-222 (the most detailed history so far), TidBITS-273, and TidBITS-324. We're proud of the fact that every single one of our issues is available online. Two conversions were necessary for that to be true. In 1992, my sister Jennifer Engst converted the first 99 HyperCard issues into setext, and toward the end of 1996, our Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg converted the first 275 setext issues into HTML to flesh out our Web presence. Everything's available on our Web site, so feel free to browse.
Article 8 of 29 in series
by Tonya Engst
Bring Your Own Badge -- This week, TidBITS celebrates its eighth anniversary, making it one of the oldest and largest edited publications on the InternetShow full article
Bring Your Own Badge -- This week, TidBITS celebrates its eighth anniversary, making it one of the oldest and largest edited publications on the Internet. We've marked previous anniversaries by writing about TidBITS history (see "TidBITS 7.0" in TidBITS-375), but this year we created TidBITS Web badges, which we hope loyal TidBITS readers will display on Web pages (or corporate memos, bumper stickers, forehead tattoos, etc.). If you've been reading TidBITS for years, check out the badges saying "TidBITS Reader Since 1904, 1990, 1991, 1992," and so on. Other badges sport slogans like, "The Best Bits are TidBITS" and "Powered By ASCII." Suggestions for new silly badges are welcome. Also, you'll find special badges for TidBITS authors and sponsors, and for linking to a software review in TidBITS. The TidBITS Badges Web page contains the badges plus sample HTML code. [TJE]
Article 9 of 29 in series
In honor of our recent eighth anniversary of publication, we're trying something new, and you're invited to participate. Though TidBITS is often described as a mailing list, we consider it a publication that chooses electronic methods of distributionShow full article
In honor of our recent eighth anniversary of publication, we're trying something new, and you're invited to participate. Though TidBITS is often described as a mailing list, we consider it a publication that chooses electronic methods of distribution. Though that's not unusual now, it was eight years ago, when discussion-based mailing lists ruled.
So, we've set up a small auxiliary mailing list, called TidBITS Talk, for discussing TidBITS-related topics. The goal of TidBITS Talk is to open a public channel of communication so TidBITS readers can more easily communicate with each other and with the TidBITS staff.
This list should prove beneficial for readers and staff members. Sometimes we want to ask a question or float ideas past readers without cluttering a TidBITS issue or soliciting responses from thousands of people. And, we know from experience that many of you have questions, comments, or suggestions surrounding TidBITS articles that are valuable, but which we lack the space to publish or time to answer fully. Now we'll have a place to forward the best of those that we can't address personally.
Acceptable Topics -- It's important that TidBITS Talk not degenerate into a high volume discussion list, so we'll start by moderating with a heavy hand. Since moderation is extra work, I hope that the list will stay sufficiently focused that we can turn off moderation on a sporadic basis. Discussions are restricted to topics related to TidBITS, including:
- Questions about a TidBITS article
- Comments on TidBITS articles
- Suggestions for future TidBITS articles
- Staff questions while researching articles for TidBITS
- Meta discussions of TidBITS itself
- Anything else we feel is appropriate
The following types of messages are not okay:
- Spam, chain mail, or virus warnings (posting these is grounds for removal)
- Press releases, commercial notices, attachments, or Web site announcements
- Questions asking if TidBITS has covered a topic previously (use our Web search engine)
- Questions relating to a TidBITS subscription (send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>)
- Support questions that don't relate to a current topic in TidBITS (ask on a general Mac discussion group, such as Info-Mac or a comp.sys.mac.* newsgroup)
- Me-too postings after a topic has been addressed sufficiently
- Anything else we feel is inappropriate
We plan to keep the volume of postings low to avoid overwhelming subscribers. We may even hold messages to avoid sending out too many in a single day. Also, we're more likely to post messages that are well-reasoned, well-written, and avoid unnecessary vitriol. Don't take message rejection personally; it will be done in the interests of making the list a useful resource for us all.
Technical Setup -- For the moment, TidBITS Talk runs in FogCity's LetterRip Pro 3.0.1 on our SE/30, which has a 56K frame relay Internet connection. We want to see how LetterRip Pro stands up to the traffic on the SE/30; if necessary, we'll move the list to a faster machine.
The trade-off with using LetterRip Pro is that the list is divorced from the subscription database we use for the main TidBITS list. Our main system is currently designed for a weekly distribution schedule, not a discussion list. So, if you want to unsubscribe from both TidBITS and TidBITS Talk, you must do so separately. We also can't do sophisticated bounce processing as easily.
Usage Instructions -- Subscribing and unsubscribing to TidBITS Talk is easy. No commands are necessary - just send email to the appropriate addresses, which also appear in the headers of every message.
- To subscribe, send email to <email@example.com>.
- To unsubscribe, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
- To switch to digest mode, send email to <email@example.com>.
- To change your address, first unsubscribe from the old address, then resubscribe from the new one.
- To post a message, send it to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Unless you note otherwise in a message, we reserve the right to edit and publish materials posted to the TidBITS Talk list in TidBITS itself (with full credit, of course).
So hey, if you're one of those people who sends us comments after every few issues of TidBITS, subscribe to TidBITS Talk and share your comments with other interested readers. If we're all careful, we can turn TidBITS Talk into a great resource for everyone.
Article 10 of 29 in series
This issue marks our ninth year of publication, and if anything, I remain all the more amazed that we're still publishing TidBITS. Flux runs rampant in the computer industry, and many Mac publications have come and goneShow full article
This issue marks our ninth year of publication, and if anything, I remain all the more amazed that we're still publishing TidBITS. Flux runs rampant in the computer industry, and many Mac publications have come and gone. TidBITS has participated in the rise of the Internet, changing to match the latest technologies and trends while remaining true to our roots. I'd like to take this opportunity to explain some of the motivations that have driven weekly publication of TidBITS since 1990 and the philosophies that influence what and how we publish.
Motivations -- A common question about TidBITS is: "How do you make money?" The short answer is "via sponsorships," of course, but a question we hear less frequently is "Why do you publish TidBITS?" It's all due to motivation, and although our motivations have evolved, they remain similar to those we had in the beginning.
Back in 1990, Tonya and I created TidBITS because we wanted to update her coworkers at Cornell University with the latest developments in the computer industry. Tonya also wanted to hone her PageMaker skills, and I immediately abstracted the idea to electronic publishing via HyperCard and the Internet. Our overall goal was to spread interesting information and opinions to other people. In my opinion, that desire to tell the stories must be the primary goal of most writing.
We didn't consider money as a goal for quite a while. I can't recall when we came up with the idea of sponsorships in TidBITS, but reality touched down in 1992, when we attracted our first sponsorships. At that time, the Web was still over the horizon, graphical banner ads were unimaginable, and advertising was distinctly not kosher on the Internet. We worked hard to ensure that our sponsorships were more than just advertisements, offering information via email that was hard to get in those pre-Web days.
Over the years, we've had to consider business realities when making decisions, and, particularly now that TidBITS supports a small staff, maintaining an income flow is an important goal. That said, no one will ever get rich from TidBITS, so despite the need to bring in money, our original motivation of sharing information remains ascendant.
We've also stayed true to another of our original motivations - to create a constantly expanding archive of quality information that people could use as a research tool, both for current projects and historical looks back. That's why the original TidBITS HyperCard stacks knew how to combine themselves into an archive, why we worked with Akif Eyler on his Easy View program for browsing text, and why we now put so much effort into our online database to expose older content that's still relevant (see Geoff Duncan's article below).
This desire to create an archive of related information was also one of the reasons I created TidBITS Talk last year. TidBITS is too small of an organization to produce all the content we want or to have expertise in every field. By opening up TidBITS Talk to knowledge from many of our readers, we expand the amount of knowledge we can provide to others.
TidBITS Talk is also the embodiment of something we've enjoyed about TidBITS since the beginning - an online community. To paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous comment about defining obscenity, online communities are difficult to describe, but you know them when you see them. Before TidBITS Talk, we felt a sense of community around TidBITS, but we weren't sure to what extent our readers felt they were participating. Since its creation, TidBITS Talk has coalesced into a true online community that keeps members coming back both for the information and the sense of belonging.
Philosophies -- Due in part to our limited journalistic experience when we started TidBITS in 1990, we've formed an unusual set of philosophies surrounding what we publish in TidBITS.
First and most important, we select the information that appears in TidBITS carefully. We hope that by focusing on topics of particular interest to us, our enthusiasm will show through. It's an unfortunate fact of life that our interests don't precisely overlap the interests of our entire readership, but there are plenty of other sources of information for topics we don't cover. Also, we don't wish to compete in the "all the news, updated constantly," field of Web journalism because, frankly, we can neither handle the immense workload required to do that work right, nor force ourselves to write about topics that we don't find compelling.
Although we're serious about being editors and creating a professional publication on a regular schedule, we're also firm believers in the statement, "If it's not fun, it's not Macintosh." For us to continue publishing TidBITS, we have to enjoy what we're doing. Having fun was hard during the end of 1997 and beginning of 1998, when Apple seemed caught in a death spiral, but now we're glad we stuck with it.
Another of our major philosophies is that our information should be as accurate as we can make it. We usually avoid writing about software that isn't available; we shy away from reporting all but the most universal bugs or conflicts, and we publish essentially no rumors - all in the name of hard information. We're well aware that this attitude means that people read other publications for the rumors, pre-release news, and troubleshooting information, but we can't do everything. Long ago, when our weekly electronic publishing schedule meant that we could scoop MacWEEK's print edition, we were more likely to publish a rumor, news of a new product, or a conflict between popular extensions. Today we avoid publishing this sort of information unless we can confirm the rumor absolutely, test the pre-release software, or both reproduce the conflict and confirm it with the developers. It's a trade-off between the rush of the scoop and the satisfaction of publishing something you're positive is correct.
Why have we shied away from such popular types of information? Two reasons. First, the longer you spend in the industry, the more you learn that there are multiple sides to any story. Whatever you publish will have an effect on a company, individuals at that company, and a wide range of Macintosh users. So, if we hear a rumor, we judge not just the reliability of the information but also the effect that publishing the rumor will have. After this many years, we're privy to a great deal of information that we can never use in TidBITS or even mention to friends, but that is still extremely useful to our understanding of the ebb and flow of the industry. People talk to us because they know we'd never pass on even possibly privileged information.
Second, whenever we published rumors or bug reports in past we were immediately inundated with email from readers asking for more information. Since even now we try to respond to every message sent to us (with varying degrees of success), receiving a few hundred messages after publishing an article was overwhelming. We dislike being overwhelmed, so we avoid publishing incomplete information that seems likely to stimulate cries for more details.
Third, when we look back at what we've published, we're happiest with the articles you're unlikely to see in any other publication. News that a product has shipped is widespread and essentially public domain, so we prefer to devote our space to unusual subjects, in-depth reviews, or even multi-part overviews of a topic. We're trying to reveal tiny bits of the universal truths about the world, and we're happy to speak at enough length and in enough depth to do that, describing experiences, thoughts, research, or even historical background as necessary.
Individuals & the Macintosh Ecosystem -- Related to all of this is our belief in the importance of the individual, "the person behind the personal computer," as we used to say. To us, the Macintosh industry is not a collection of faceless impersonal corporations out to make a buck, but a civilized ecosystem of individuals including developers, product managers, marketers, PR representatives, other members of the press, and - most important - users. Our utopian belief is that everyone within the ecosystem has a responsibility to other members of the ecosystem. The system relies on a capitalist structure, so competition can and should benefit the ecosystem. If two competing products continually leapfrog each other in a quest to offer the best solution to users, everyone benefits.
But everyone within the ecosystem must understand the effect of their actions, not just on the macro level of a company, but on the micro level of the specific people who are affected. Every ecosystem will have dominant life forms, but sustainable ecosystems have a balance between a diverse set of life forms. The Macintosh ecosystem is no different. Buying an expensive program rather than pirating it might help improve a company's bottom line enough to allow one of its programmers to set up shop on her own; she, in turn, may produce a unique shareware product that enhances the user experience sufficiently that Apple decides to license the code for inclusion in the Mac OS. Similarly, a good idea from a single programmer distributed as freeware might catch on and change the whole industry's expectations for how software should work.
To quote Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext, "Everything is intertwingled." It's easy for us to focus on ourselves, but in fact looking outward and considering the impact of our actions on the ecosystem is more likely to improve life for all of us.
Thinking of others is what created the Macintosh community. That level of community doesn't exist in most other industries, and it is directly responsible for the Macintosh's success over the years, especially during the tough times. Craig Isaacs of Dantz Development told me recently that in a survey to find out how people learned about their backup program Retrospect, he was stunned to learn that 37 percent of the respondents heard about it via word of mouth. That tells me Macintosh users talk to each other, support each other, and create a self-sustainable network with users and companies - in short, an ecosystem.
We're often asked if there is a PC equivalent of TidBITS. We've looked, but we've never found a publication that resembles what we do with TidBITS. In large part, we believe this is because the PC world lacks a sense of shared community, perhaps due to the sheer number and diversity of PC users, the lack of a single company to rally around, or the fact that using a PC is often more of a default action than a conscious choice.
In 1990, TidBITS started life as a gift to the Macintosh online community, and over the years, we feel it has become a significant part of the Macintosh ecosystem. In turn, though, we have many people to thank for our success, including our staff, our authors, our sponsors, our volunteer translators, and most important, our readers. If it weren't for you, we wouldn't bother, and you have our sincere appreciation for giving us a reason to do something we love.
Article 11 of 29 in series
With this issue of TidBITS, we're marking our 10th anniversary of continuous Internet publication. We've watched as Apple's fortunes have waxed and waned and waxed again, as software products have come and gone, and as Macs have become faster, smaller, and more colorfulShow full article
With this issue of TidBITS, we're marking our 10th anniversary of continuous Internet publication. We've watched as Apple's fortunes have waxed and waned and waxed again, as software products have come and gone, and as Macs have become faster, smaller, and more colorful. We like to think we played a small role in the ever-increasing popularity of the Internet and the rise of the Web while continuing to promote tried-and-true methods of email distribution. We've shepherded TidBITS through transitions from a simple HyperCard stack to a universally readable structure-enhanced text format to a multi-faceted publishing model that tightly integrates our original content with information polled from readers and moderated discussions among our most interested subscribers.
We've kept TidBITS free the entire time, initially through sheer perseverance, then through careful implementation of one of the very first sponsorship programs to appear on the then-non-commercial Internet. We're able to keep producing TidBITS through the continued support of our corporate sponsors, and most recently with the assistance of the nearly 500 readers who support TidBITS directly through our reader-instigated voluntary contribution program. Our approach to reporting the news, issues, and products that interest us (and hopefully you) has evolved over the years, but we've retained our basic philosophy of attempting to provide solid, accurate information that's relevant to most Macintosh users.
To give you an idea of the scope of what we've done, as of this writing we've published 527 issues containing over 4,500 articles written by more than 250 authors. These include 209 reviews, 212 news articles, 198 how-to and informational articles, 138 analyses and commentaries, and 140 technology overviews. Plus, in its two years of existence, TidBITS Talk has carried almost 6,700 messages in over 1,000 threads. Each issue of TidBITS is translated into five languages by teams of volunteers translators - you can now read TidBITS in Dutch, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
All this is by way of saying that we think we've accumulated some small amount of experience during the last ten years. Although we can by no means claim any unique wisdom, we have learned a bit about the world in publishing TidBITS and working with the Macintosh community. This week we'd like to share ten of those lessons with you. We try to conduct our personal and professional lives by these rules; perhaps you'll find them interesting, useful, or even applicable to your own life.
Maintain Lines of Communication -- As a general rule, we try to reply to every piece of email we receive, and although that's become less possible over the years as the volume of mail has increased, it remains a major goal to reply in a prompt fashion. Similarly, though we attempt to avoid spending too much time on inefficient telephone conversations, we always answer our own phones and return messages. We feel that these approaches to remaining accessible are important for both staying in touch with the community and remaining part of the community.
Live by Your Word -- This lesson boils down to "do what you say you'll do." We've stuck with our regular weekly publication schedule for ten years (excepting announced breaks), and it continues to amaze us that reliability in meeting deadlines is apparently considered an unusual trait. When attempting to assess reliability, we've asked people how many papers they turned in late or failed to do in college, since the answer often reveals basic information about how motivated the person is to complete projects on time. That said, as much as we believe a verbal agreement is binding, we've also become fans of brief written contracts that outline an agreement since they tend to eliminate confusion later on. In a few cases, we've been paid by sponsors only because of our insertion order contracts, and we've been quite saddened by the few sponsors who have failed to pay even then.
Make Friends, Not Enemies -- Though it's impossible to get along with absolutely everyone, we feel strongly that it's worth giving an extra effort to make friends with people. That's one reason we try to respond to all of our email, and time and again that effort has paid off. In the early days, distribution of TidBITS was significantly aided by people who had nothing to gain by helping, and today, our translations exist purely from the goodwill of the volunteers who do the work each week. Simply put, if you help people, they're much more likely to help you later on, potentially in significant ways. It turns out some of those fairy tales we read as kids were right.
The corollary to this lesson is that although we would quibble with the first part of the cliche "It's not what you know, it's who you know," we can't argue with the second part. Personal networking is what drives much of the computer industry, and the more people you know, the more valuable you are in almost any position.
Care about Your Community -- Personal relationships are incredibly important, but you must also keep the community in mind. People are social animals by nature, and we both form and find ourselves included in communities all the time. We've found tremendous good in giving back to the Macintosh community. After all, the community is where we live (physically or virtually), and ignoring your community is always self-defeating. One of the best examples of this kind of work is FreePPP, which was created by a group of programmers who provide the results of their labors for free, but who ask companies using it for commercial ends to pay a licensing fee of a $1,000 charitable donation. I've coordinated licensing of FreePPP for the last few years, and in that time it has raised about $20,000 for various charities.
Learn When to Stop Working -- Any idiot can work all the time, and most do. We may spend much of our lives in our little virtual worlds, but there is a real world out there as well, and it's populated with real friends and real family. We learned long ago that no matter how strongly we felt about our work, we had to force ourselves to get away from the computers and experience the rest of what life has to offer. Take a walk in the woods, enjoy a fine meal, lounge in bed occasionally - the details don't matter, but isolating yourself from the real world only narrows your field of view.
Do Everything for the Right Reasons -- Although TidBITS does have to continue to be a viable business, it will never make any of us rich. We publish TidBITS because we want to help people and because we want to try to shed a little light on how we understand things to work. Note that our "right" reasons don't always necessarily correspond to everyone else's. For instance, I wrote last week's article on buying a PC to help Macintosh users who found themselves in that situation. A few people were compelled by their passion for the Macintosh to accuse us of being "subversive to the Macintosh cause." We can respond only that our record speaks for itself - we feel our readers are sufficiently intelligent to take the article in the helpful spirit in which it was clearly intended.
Work with the Best -- Not everyone has the luxury of choosing their colleagues, but it's worth trying, since the people around you are in many ways the most important aspect of any situation. We saw this first in college, where a good professor could make any topic, no matter how obscure or daunting (Greek Composition?), into an amazing learning experience, and a bad professor could ruin the most interesting class. The rule applies to business as well - we intentionally keep TidBITS small for a variety of reasons, but primarily because we're not interested in becoming managers who run a business instead of doing the real work that interests us. The most important part of keeping a small organization successful is to work with only the best people, and I can say without hesitation that the folks who help with TidBITS - Tonya Engst, Geoff Duncan, Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder - are of that quality.
Everything Is More Difficult than It Appears -- As we've become more deeply immersed in the industry, we've learned numerous stories behind the creation of products or technologies. In many cases, even when something isn't rocket science, it's not easy, even for the largest companies with the largest budgets. Even the basics of a product launch involve a vast number of details, and the execution is often performed under rushed and difficult circumstances. In short, it's easy to criticize when a company screws up, but try to keep in mind that there's more to the story than meets the eye. Obviously, we're not attempting to excuse mistakes, but merely to note that problems happen, and observers of the real world should understand that they're inevitable.
Assume Innocence, Admit Mistakes -- Learning the real stories behind the screw-ups has also driven home the lesson that lousy situations are for the most part just the result of a variety of mistakes and bad planning, and aren't part of some larger conspiracy or aimed at you personally. It's easy to moan about how some company is just out to screw users, but when one takes the time to understand the entire situation, screwing users is almost never on the agenda. Of course, the fact that many companies are accused of conspiracy is directly related to their refusal to admit their mistakes in a public fashion. In the worst cases, this refusal translates into a denial that the mistakes actually occurred. The spin doctors may disagree, but we feel that no one believes anyone else is perfect, and to admit mistakes makes people and companies seem more human. We're always more sympathetic to a company that screws up a product release but quickly owns up and fixes the problem, than we are to a company that denies any problems exist.
Strive for Accuracy and Value -- Sturgeon's Law states that 90 percent of science fiction is crud, but that's because 90 percent of everything is crud. Theodore Sturgeon may have been right, it's all the more reason we should try to create works that fall into the remaining ten percent. When we think about writing something for TidBITS, the questions that we always ask ourselves are:
- Will this article provide useful information or perspective?
- Are we adding value beyond what others have already done?
Those questions are generally easy to answer for articles, but with basic news items, our added value often comes in selection of the most relevant news and creation of an overall archive of information for posterity. That's one reason we focus on important products and events that related to previous coverage in TidBITS, as well as why we seldom cover pre-release software.
Looking Forward -- What will the future bring? I honestly can't say. We certainly have no plans to cease publication at any time, but nothing lasts forever. In an industry where the average job seems to last about 18 months, we've resisted the urges to move on so far, and as long as we continue to find the industry sufficiently interesting and can keep TidBITS viable as a business, I see no reason we'll change things.
The most significant challenge we, and in fact many in the Macintosh community, face is maintaining enthusiasm for computing in general. It's too easy to become hyper-critical out-of-touch old coots, in the words of Jeffrey McPheeters in TidBITS Talk. We live in exciting times, and although hype and promises constantly threaten to dull our appreciation of the industry, we must always keep an enthusiastic eye out for the product or the technology that's going to change the way we think about computers and our lives.
Article 12 of 29 in series
Today marks the beginning of our 11th consecutive year of publication, finally giving us the right to play off the famous Spinal Tap quote, "These go to eleven." Previous anniversary articles covered our basic history, motivations ("TidBITS Nets Ninth Anniversary"), and the lessons we've learned over the last ten years ("Lessons from Ten Years of TidBITS"). To crank up the volume this year, I decided to read through the TidBITS issues from ten years ago, when we'd had a chance to smooth out the rough edges of our first year of publicationShow full article
Today marks the beginning of our 11th consecutive year of publication, finally giving us the right to play off the famous Spinal Tap quote, "These go to eleven." Previous anniversary articles covered our basic history, motivations ("TidBITS Nets Ninth Anniversary"), and the lessons we've learned over the last ten years ("Lessons from Ten Years of TidBITS").
To crank up the volume this year, I decided to read through the TidBITS issues from ten years ago, when we'd had a chance to smooth out the rough edges of our first year of publication. What I was most curious about is how things have both changed and stayed the same over the last ten years, and as I read, the names of people, products, and companies came flooding back. Here then are some of the high points of that year for both TidBITS and the Macintosh industry, with some thoughts about how these changes have rippled forward to affect today's world.
If you're interested in browsing through history like this (and I'd challenge other publications to make their entire publishing history available online), the easiest method is to download all of our setext files from ftp.tidbits.com and use Easy View to page through (Easy View hasn't been updated in years, but it's still functional and fast on my Power Mac G4 running Mac OS 9.1). If nothing else, think back to where you were in April of 1991 as you read on.
Changes in TidBITS -- The most striking change I noticed was how short our articles and issues were and how similar they seemed to the kinds of discussions that now take place in TidBITS Talk. In particular, the MailBITS section we now use for short news items really was devoted to reader mail then. Reviews were also shorter, though we tended to publish them on their own rather than in our regular weekly issues. Eventually I realized why we'd lengthened our articles.
When Tonya and I started TidBITS, we intended articles to be short news summaries. I proved unable to resist commenting, but back in 1991 and 1992, I didn't know all that much about the Macintosh and the industry. I was willing to try anything, and I experimented far more than today, but I simply lacked the background data with which to fill in articles. Additional evidence of my ignorance comes from the frequency with which I made mistakes and corrected them in the next issue. Now, since I've been at this for eleven years, the information I can call to mind on almost any topic has increased, making it easier to add useful details. Mistakes still happen, of course, but our editing and fact-checking skills have improved tremendously.
The scarcity of information also played a role. This was before the rise of the Web, and I gleaned information from personal email, mailing lists like the Info-Mac Digest, Usenet news, discussions on AOL, trade publications like MacWEEK and InfoWorld, and spec sheets picked up at Macworld Expos. With generally incomplete information, it was hard to write long pieces, and mistakes were easier to make. Rumors played a larger role, since solid information was scarce and the online world wasn't large enough to merit much concern from Apple. Everything was smaller and simpler, with fewer models of the Mac, less software, fewer companies, and many millions fewer Macintosh users. I was especially struck by how we'd occasionally direct a comment at a specific reader, and once we passed on a note asking for information about three Macs stolen from a Maryland warehouse. I hesitate to think how many Macs have been stolen in the last ten years.
Another factor was our publishing medium - a HyperCard stack that merged itself with an archive of previous issues each week. Reading in HyperCard was a bit clumsy, so we switched to setext (structure enhanced text) format in TidBITS-100, at which point there's a definite uptick in issue sizes.
Personal & Personnel Changes -- We've always tried to run TidBITS on a personal basis, since that's how we interact with the world, and personal comments in TidBITS issues from 1991 and 1992 brought back many memories. Those were pivotal years for us: Tonya and I married in June of 1991; we moved from Ithaca, New York, to Seattle in August of 1991; I went to my first Macworld San Francisco in January of 1992. From the way I wrote about the move and Macworld, I was much younger and geekier. I was also scared, although I don't think it showed in the issues, and I was desperately trying to prove myself in many ways.
All those changes added up to a stressful time. We were young and resilient, but finances were tight. My primary lifeline turned out to be the Internet (via a 2400 bps modem connection to a UUCP system run by a guy who later helped start Northwest Nexus, our current ISP). TidBITS gave me something to concentrate on at a time when I needed focus in my life. That was when I created our sponsorship program so TidBITS could start to earn its way. When I announced our first sponsors in July of 1992, TidBITS was among the very first to carry advertising of any sort on the Internet. If we'd patented the concept then, perhaps we too could be going bankrupt today.
The sponsorship program took years to reach today's level, but sticking with TidBITS in 1991 and 1992 gave me enough of a reputation and writing confidence to write the first edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh in 1993. It evolved into a series of best-selling books, changed the stresses in our lives significantly, helped hundreds of thousands of people get on the Internet, and, not inconsequentially, swelled the ranks of TidBITS readers.
Along with the navel-gazing that comes when reading one's own past writing, I was struck by how many people we still know were involved with TidBITS in those days. Contributing Editor Mark Anbinder has helped out since the very beginning, and he shepherded TidBITS through the time I spent without decent Internet access in Seattle (we may complain about slow DNS changes now, but back in 1991, it took a month for the UUCP maps to update). Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg first wrote for us in TidBITS-095, providing a full issue review of Eastgate Systems' hypertext editor Storyspace. And Glenn Fleishman, with whom we later started NetBITS, first appeared back in 1991 and 1992 as well. A number of other names from those years - Marshall Clow, Edward Reid, Mark Nagata, Paul Durrant, Larry Rosenstein - frequently appear today in TidBITS Talk.
TidBITS Services -- These days, we provide numerous Internet services, from our basic Web site to our searchable article database, and we've evolved a system that distributes these tasks among eight different Macs. In 1991 though, we weren't even distributing TidBITS via a mailing list, just via Usenet news and the Info-Mac Archive.
Then, on the issue that coincided with my 24th birthday, I announced an email-based file server run via ICE Engineering's UUCP program uAccess. Basically, you could send a specially formatted email message to a fileserver address and it would return the file to you via email.
I had only a 2400 bps modem then, so I couldn't serve issues or run a mailing list via uAccess. However, a short while later, Alvin Khoo at Simon Fraser University offered to host a mailing list for TidBITS. The interest in subscriptions almost instantly overwhelmed Alvin's homegrown mailing list server, and within a month Mark Williamson at Rice University offered to host our list on Rice's LISTSERV. A few weeks later, the system administrators at Simon Fraser decided they didn't want to baby-sit Alvin's list, so we moved everyone to the Rice LISTSERV, where we stayed until we set up our own server running ListSTAR in mid-1996. Interestingly, nineteen people who subscribed to TidBITS in the brief time it was at Simon Fraser still receive TidBITS via those subscriptions today.
Looking Forward from 1991/92 -- Although ten years is a long time, many of TidBITS's old themes echo today. Even back in 1991 we emphasized backups, with reviews of Retrospect and DiskFit Pro. Other recurring topics include the use of multiple monitors, coverage of digital cameras, HyperCard (which the International HyperCard Users Group is trying to convince Apple to carbonize for Mac OS X), Mac OS usage tips, and advice for donating old computers
I was also pleased to see that TidBITS paid attention to international issues related to Apple and the Macintosh. Our resources were limited and we didn't have volunteer teams of translators, but a number of readers contributed news from other countries and helped with distribution around the world.
Some topics were grounded more in desire than reality. Wireless networking appeared a number of times, since Apple was agitating with the FCC for some wireless spectrum for Data-PCS, and a number of other bits of news came along shortly thereafter. It's a little sad that it took until Apple's release of the AirPort products in July of 1999 for wireless networking to become real for most people.
A painful read from 1992 was the article in which I laid out the basics of preemptive multitasking, protected memory, multi-threading, and dynamic link libraries, speculating that Apple would be building these features into the Mac OS at the same time as the move to PowerPC. Shared libraries and multi-threading came to the Mac OS some time ago, but it took a full eight years and numerous dead-ends for Apple to bring preemptive multitasking and protected memory to market with Mac OS X. It didn't need to take this long - all the stillborn options failed due to management and leadership failures, not overwhelming technical difficulties, and the main reason Mac OS X has seen the light of day is Steve Jobs's management aggressiveness. Since the move to the PowerPC chip, no other Apple CEO had the guts to force developers to rewrite or even recompile their applications for a new Mac OS.
The biggest story in 1991 and 1992 for TidBITS was the 24-bit ROM debacle that started in May of 1991. The ROM chips in the SE/30, IIx, and IIcx limited those machines to 16 MB of RAM even though Apple advertised them as being able to access 128 MB (RAM cost about $40 per megabyte then, compared to 35 cents per megabyte now). Jim Gaynor (then at Ohio State) started a mailing list to discuss the problem, but politics there forced him to shut it down, and I ended up coordinating an open letter to Apple asking for a statement about the ROM problem. I gathered 576 signatures, sent the letter off, and was thoroughly ignored by Apple management. (See? Some things never change.) By June, Connectix solved the problem with MODE32. At first MODE32 cost $170, but by September the pressure on Apple - some of it legal threats - resulted in Apple's licensing MODE32 from Connectix, distributing it for free, providing official support, and even reimbursing those who had paid for it. It was a major fiasco, and lest we think such a thing couldn't happen again, think of the recent firmware update brouhaha, where an independent developer stepped up to solve RAM problems that Apple should have addressed.
Prescience in Action? Some realities of today's computing environment appeared in TidBITS in fictional form. For instance, I fabricated an article about a distributed computing product (complete with a suspiciously familiar supercomputer ad slogan) in our April Fools issue in 1991 and followed up with discussions in two later issues about how it wasn't so fictional. Today, we have the SETI@home project (and many others) pulling together vast computing resources from all across the world.
The 1991 April Fools issue was good (it also predicted IBM buying Lotus, which happened four years later), but I'm equally as fond of our 1992 prank. I wrote about modem-based remote backup using Retrospect, something that has become commonplace over the Internet with recent versions of Retrospect and the BackJack service. I also talked about how Microsoft would be porting its applications to the NeXT operating system, something that has come true after a fashion with the carbonized version of Internet Explorer 5.1 for Mac OS X. And in an article about an upcoming third-party Finder replacement, I suggested it would enable alias creation by holding down a modifier key while dragging (got that one!), that the Standard File Dialog would boast an outline view (much like what later appeared in Apple's Navigation Services), and that it would have "super folders" that sound a bit like Mac OS X's packages (collections of files that appear to the user as a single file).
Quote the Raven, "Nevermore" -- Although many technologies, products, and companies have evolved through to modern times, others have fallen by the wayside. Most telling was the issue from Macworld Boston in August of 1991, since almost every product mentioned died long ago. Remember Lotus Jazz, Claris Resolve, More After Dark, Abaton InterShare, Spectre, Hand-Off II, Outbound Macintosh laptops, and the NewTek Video Toaster?
We wrote frequently about compression software, since 1991 fell during the days of the compression wars. Hard disk space was expensive, and compression helped conserve what little space you had. Archiving programs like Aladdin's StuffIt Deluxe, Bill Goodman's Compact Pro, Salient's DiskDoubler, and Alysis's SuperDisk were the first wave, followed shortly by transparent compression programs that worked at a deeper level, such as Salient's AutoDoubler, Aladdin's SpaceSaver, Alysis's More Disk Space, and Golden Triangle's driver-level DiskSpace. The speed and extent of innovation in this space was a testament to the power of competition. But as hard disk prices dropped and capacities rose (we wrote about $200 88 MB SyQuest and 90 MB Bernoulli cartridges then; now an 80 GB IDE hard disk costs roughly the same amount), the speed hit and compatibility issues raised by the transparent compression programs eventually drove them to extinction. Of all the companies and products, only Aladdin and their StuffIt Deluxe product remain active.
Ten years ago, viruses were a much larger problem on the Mac than they are today, and I'm happy we haven't needed to write about new viruses as PC publications have. That's due mostly to the lack of significant new viruses in the Macintosh world (pesky macro viruses remain the main trouble) and also because the anti-virus programs can now update themselves automatically, whereas in 1991, every new virus required a revision of the anti-virus software, such as John Norstad's venerable Disinfectant.
Finally, we frequently wrote about pricing issues back in 1991, passing on news of deals, special offers, and unusual bundles. It made sense then, since there few other resources that could disseminate news before a special deal expired. We gradually phased out such news, since it felt like we were just providing free advertising for vendors, and there were an ever-increasing number of deals. In October of 1995, we started a sister publication called DealBITS to provide nothing but special offers, but it was several years ahead of its time and didn't play to our strengths - a much better job is done by our friends at dealmac now.
Moving On -- Although paying attention to history and learning from it can be useful, that's different from living in the past. When you read exactly what was happening in the Macintosh industry ten years ago, you see the goal then, as now, was to move the Macintosh platform forward. There may be hiccups, missteps, and even serious dead-ends along the way, but there's always a basic drive to improve, enhance, and try new approaches to computing. Individuals may choose (quite reasonably) to hop off the industry bandwagon or to change to a different path, but at this moment the Macintosh industry is larger and arguably more vibrant than at any point since we started TidBITS in 1990. My fervent hope is that today's Macintosh community, like the community of a decade ago, will advance the platform in an active, constructive way, and continue to make the Macintosh the first - and best - platform for personal computing into the future.
Article 13 of 29 in series
This issue of TidBITS marks our 12th anniversary of continuous publication on the Internet. On some of our previous anniversaries I've written about the early history of TidBITS, lessons we've learned over the years, and how things have changed from the early daysShow full article
This issue of TidBITS marks our 12th anniversary of continuous publication on the Internet. On some of our previous anniversaries I've written about the early history of TidBITS, lessons we've learned over the years, and how things have changed from the early days. Those articles remain accurate and relevant, so rather than regurgitate them here, I'd merely encourage you to go back and check out the originals in our article database, particularly if you weren't a subscriber back then.
For artifacts from our earliest history, though, we're indebted to Google, which recently finished bringing 20 years of Usenet archives online - a total of over 700 million messages. My memory certainly isn't good enough to tell just how complete the archive is, but I was able to find two items of interest: the first announcement of TidBITS to the comp.sys.mac newsgroup and the first actual issue of TidBITS as sent to the comp.sys.mac.digest newsgroup as a binhexed HyperCard stack (bonus points to those who can remember and perform all the steps necessary to read the stack in HyperCard in Mac OS X).
This year I don't want to look back or dwell on past successes. Instead, I'm going to pretend briefly that TidBITS is a public company that has to reveal the challenges facing our business going forward. Some of these, such as the possibility of Apple going bankrupt, are sufficiently severe (and unlikely) that there's little point in planning for them. So I'll focus on two very real things that would keep me up at night if I didn't have a small child in the house already helping with that task. I expect that other small organizations may find themselves facing similar issues; perhaps my thoughts or an ensuing TidBITS Talk discussion will help crystallize your thinking on the topic.
Staff -- When chatting about who will take responsibility for any new TidBITS project, the discussion always centers at some point on the "hit by a bus" concern. In any small organization, each individual is extremely important, and planning for what should happen if that person suddenly disappears for whatever reason is essential. Our goal in the past has always been to set things up such that any member of the staff, armed with appropriate passwords and internal information, would be able to write and distribute an issue of TidBITS. For many years, in fact, I published TidBITS almost entirely myself, but as our services have increased in number and complexity, it's become difficult to imagine any one person doing it all.
Nevertheless, I still believe that the short-term possibility of such a single-handed effort remains a valid goal for TidBITS. We do pretty well with the writing and editing portion of TidBITS, and we bring in outside authors when possible for additional knowledge and fresh opinions. And as I'm sure is the case with many publishers, I have a mental short list of people I'd love to suck into the TidBITS staff vortex if funds were suddenly to become unlimited.
More concerning is how our staff interrelates with our technological presence. When no off-the-shelf solutions have been available to solve a given problem, we've generally responded by rolling our own - "off-the-wall solutions" if you will. As with our article database and the TidBITS Talk archive, we (and by "we" I mostly mean "Geoff") would design and write the necessary code and back end database. We're quite happy with our results, but there's no question that these homegrown solutions require more baby-sitting and maintenance than is ideal. That means that Geoff's "hit by a bus" quotient is pretty high in the short term; in comparison, my "hit by a bus" quotient is relatively low in the short term, but obviously very high when looking at TidBITS over the long run.
Technology -- Minimizing our collective "hit by a bus" quotient leads directly into our second challenge, that of updating our Internet servers to something that doesn't remember Bill Clinton's first term as president. Right now the machines we use for the main Web and email server, databases and searching, and for the mailing list are a pair of Power Mac 7600s, a Power Mac 7100, a Performa 6400, and a Power Mac 8500. Plus, we're sometimes several versions behind on WebSTAR, EIMS, FileMaker, Lasso, and ListSTAR. The sheer age of these Macs and programs doesn't bother me - there's nothing wrong with using older technology that meets one's needs, and what we have now does meet our needs. But at the same time, I've started to think more about replacing our elderly systems for a variety of reasons.
Digital entropy. My experience, and I have no empirical evidence to back it up, is that despite their digital nature, both hardware and software systems age in a very analog way. After you set something up, there's often a short period of break-in, where there are a few unexpected problems. Some you may figure out and fix, but others just go away after a while as the machine gets comfortable with itself. Then there's a long period of basic stability, or at least predictability, sometimes punctuated by short bursts of instability. But as time goes on, the accumulated cruft of years of basic use and occasional problems builds up to the point where problems start to become more frequent and more random, to the point where major changes become necessary. Again, I can't point to any specifics here, but my gut says that it's time to start thinking about the future.
Continued relevance. It would have been impossible for us to keep TidBITS relevant if none of us had upgraded our personal machines to Mac OS X. In a similar vein, we need to be learning about new versions of server software so we can pass on our experiences. That involves testing and running Mac OS X server software, and doing that essentially requires all new server hardware.
Periodic Refresh. Although we're generally happy with how we've designed our systems from both front and back ends, the fact that they've evolved slowly over years means we constantly notice things we'd do differently if we were starting over. That might mean replacing certain pieces of software we've found to produce bottlenecks, changing processes so any one of us can perform them, and so on. It's pointless to put any significant effort along those lines into our current systems, providing yet another reason to start looking toward new systems.
Your Opinions Count -- Obviously, the fundamental reason we do all of this is to serve our readers better, and as such, I certainly hope people who are interested in our technological challenges and solutions will chime in to TidBITS Talk discussions with thoughts about what we're doing well, what we could be doing better, ways we might do those things better, and new ideas about what we might do in a new system. Long ago, we even asked readers to develop some sample systems for us with our search engine shootout, in which we chose among a number of excellent search engine systems. Our massively increased data set might preclude such an approach this time, but either way, your opinions are important to us because, let's face it, you're the people who will be using these systems.
There's no question this development effort will be a huge task, but I hope we can all have some fun putting it together. Luckily, we have no specific schedule and if necessary, we're happy to wait for the necessary versions of some of our old server friends from the past to make the jump to Mac OS X.
Article 14 of 29 in series
Being a teenager means living in an awkward time when you no longer quite wish to behave like a child, but you boomerang between rebelling against adult society and revelling in the fascinating world of adulthoodShow full article
Being a teenager means living in an awkward time when you no longer quite wish to behave like a child, but you boomerang between rebelling against adult society and revelling in the fascinating world of adulthood. That confusing age springs to mind because this week TidBITS becomes a teenager and starts its 13th year. Publication years may not equate to dog years, but it certainly feels as though TidBITS has been around for one heck of a long time. Tonya and I were only 22 years old when we started publishing TidBITS in April of 1990, so TidBITS has occupied nearly our entire adult lives. For a quick trip through TidBITS history, check out other anniversary articles we've written over the years.
Perhaps it's natural, as we age and TidBITS ages, for us to spend more time thinking about the bigger picture - what do we want TidBITS to look like when it turns 18 or even 21? And, as Tristan would have asked a year ago: why, why, why? As annoying as the incessant questions of a small child can be, the answers can sometimes be revealing. Why do we want to share information with others? What compels us to review certain types of products? What accounts for the topics that interest us? What do we hope to accomplish with TidBITS?
These deeper questions have occupied many recent late night conversations. Our original motivations for creating TidBITS and TidBITS Talk, such as the desire to share information with others, to establish an archive of quality information, and to create an online community, remain in place, but they are now informed by four goals that we hope will help us evaluate future project ideas and directions. Only time will tell if we can free up the time to implement a number of the ideas we have for new projects, but we hope both our improved focus and our forthcoming content management system will help.
Increase Understanding -- Long ago, we decided to concentrate on providing in-depth content, whether in the form of a detailed review, an informed and considered analysis, or a comparison of multiple products. Although we also cover news events and product releases in brief, the point of doing so is not to be comprehensive, but to continue to build on the foundations of previous articles. Most product releases we cover are for products or genres we've written about in the past, and the news events either continue previous coverage or set the stage for future analysis. There are many other publication models, but this is the one we've chosen, and it will always distinguish us from other media outlets, much as a weekly magazine like The New Yorker will never be mistaken for a daily newspaper like The New York Times.
But why do we publish articles that are longer than would appear even in some monthly magazines? In trying to answer that question, we realized that our goal is to increase our readers' (and our own) understanding of technology. That means not only covering an event or product, or providing a piece of advice or an opinion, but also explaining the reasoning that informs the entire article. To torture an aphorism, we don't want to hand you the fish of a fact, we want to help you learn how to determine where the fish facts are biting and land your own.
This goal runs counter to the way many people merely want answers to questions or can't make time for anything longer than a sound bite. To be fair, sometimes a simple fact is all that's needed; understanding what lies behind that fact is overkill. But in most cases, we feel that saving time by learning only the fact is a false economy, since there are an infinite number of facts, but a far smaller number of systems explaining those facts. Read TidBITS and you'll learn along with us.
Independent Information Source -- We in the media aren't always a creative bunch - we republish thinly recast press releases, read each other's articles, and frequently offer yet another article on the same topic. Add to that the ever-increasing corporatization of the media, and you can perhaps see why our second goal for TidBITS is to act as an independent source of news and information.
This goal is more subtle than it might seem initially, since the Macintosh and Internet worlds do not suffer from too-few independent voices. The problem is filtering the wheat from the chaff and being able to present it to a sufficiently large number of people. This was one of the huge promises of the Internet, in that it would provide an answer to A. J. Liebling's famous quote, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Today, Liebling might be more concerned with how freedom of the press to publish alternative or unpopular ideas is limited by its ability to attract attention in a world where so many people have printing presses.
Providing an example of a high-quality independent publication is also important from the standpoint of showing that publications don't need to be beholden to large corporate masters, as is true of so many mainstream media outlets. We have no specific plans to create new publications that venture outside our primary topic areas, but we have heard time and again from people who have been inspired by TidBITS to create their own small newsletters on a wide variety of subjects. That's a good feeling.
Promote Innovation -- As much as it can be difficult for independent voices to be heard on the Internet, it's even harder for a programmer with innovative ideas to introduce a product to large numbers of users. That task is certainly easier than it was in the days before the Internet, when mass distribution required a boxed product publicized by paying the large mail-order catalogs for advertising. But once again, so much is available on the Internet that it's difficult for anyone to tease out the most interesting pieces of software and make sure people know about those packages.
That's where our third goal comes in - we want to promote innovation in the computer industry by supporting small developers with big ideas. As many developers can attest, for us that doesn't mean simply writing solid reviews of worthy but little-known programs. We often provide direct feedback and advice to developers on a wide variety of topics ranging from interface to marketing, and we'll also try to make sure that the right people know each other to encourage any available synergies. It's also why I speak every year at the MacHack developers conference about the best ways to work with the press and to present products to users. (As I did last year, this year I'll conduct a hands-on workshop to evaluate documents necessary for a successful product release, including release notes, press releases, and Web product pages.)
Digital Content Experimentation -- Our final goal aims deep at the heart of what we do each week - create content in a digital world. It's navel gazing, to be sure, but we're fascinated by the currents and eddies surrounding the creation and consumption of digital content. How is digital content different from content delivered in a more analog format? Should one be worth more than another? Is the content truly separate from the medium in which it's consumed? Are sustainable business models for digital content possible?
These are all questions we continually ask ourselves, and they lead to our fourth and final goal. We want to examine, explain, and promote sustainable models for the creation and consumption of digital content. We've done a lot of this work in the past, with our coverage of the copyright wars, our ongoing PayBITS experiment, and the ways I've made electronic versions of my books available.
Keeping It Personal -- None of the above goal setting suggests to us that we're going to change anything major with TidBITS. The point of discussing and articulating these goals is to give TidBITS as an organization more focus, or, to look at it another way, a more concrete awareness of why we do what we do. In particular, we think it's important that TidBITS remain personal, that we try to answer all the email we receive, and that we all think of one another as individuals.
Along with our efforts to treat you as individuals, we've been on the receiving end numerous times as well. Along with all the kind words you've sent us in email, the generous voluntary contributions you've made to TidBITS, and the support you've shown both us and other authors via PayBITS, many unique interactions with readers stand out, far too many to share here. For instance, a while back, the folks at Power On Software took me up on a joke I'd included as the last line in the bio on my book covers: "He has yet to be turned into an action figure." Showing extreme creativity and a wicked sense of humor, they modified an action figure to look like me and outfitted it with tiny copies of my books. It was truly hilarious and an excellent example of hacking the press, and I've changed my bio appropriately. More recently, Paul Durrant sent Tonya a book on helping children sleep better after she made a comment about motherhood-related sleep deprivation, and just a few weeks ago, a mysterious plastic box with no return address arrived from Berkeley, California containing some "Tidbit" caramel candies. Yum!
You're a good lot, and it's a pleasure and an honor to write for you each week. Here's hoping we're all still going strong and enjoying what we do in another 13 years.
PayBITS: Contribute to TidBITS and help support a world of
content that's not pre-chewed for your convenience by weasels!
Read more about PayBITS: <http://www.tidbits.com/paybits/>
Article 15 of 29 in series
Take Control 50% Off Sale for TidBITS 14th Anniversary -- While we were in Hawaii last week for my sister's wedding, TidBITS celebrated 14 years of continuous publicationShow full article
Take Control 50% Off Sale for TidBITS 14th Anniversary -- While we were in Hawaii last week for my sister's wedding, TidBITS celebrated 14 years of continuous publication. Who knew a teenage electronic publication could throw such a big party while its parents were away? Anyway, we're marking the occasion officially this week with a half-off sale on our Take Control ebooks about Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. If you've been hesitant to upgrade from Jaguar, if you'd like to customize Panther to make it work exactly the way you want, if users and accounts in Mac OS X befuddle you, or if you want to make sure you're using the best and most secure methods of sharing files, our ebooks not only contain the information you need now, but also include free minor updates. Through Friday, 30-Apr-04, use coupon code CPN40426TB14 to take 50 percent off your entire order, whether you order a single ebook or all four. [ACE]
Article 16 of 29 in series
This week marks our 15th anniversary of TidBITS, and although we remain somewhat astonished that we've maintained a weekly publication schedule through so many years, the evidence that we've done so is incontrovertibleShow full article
This week marks our 15th anniversary of TidBITS, and although we remain somewhat astonished that we've maintained a weekly publication schedule through so many years, the evidence that we've done so is incontrovertible. In many ways, the world has changed around us; back in 1990, could anyone have anticipated what it would be like to use Mac OS X on a dual 2.5 GHz Power Mac G5 or 17-inch PowerBook G4? But although TidBITS has evolved to accommodate such changes, we've also stayed true to our core mission of attempting to bring clarity and understanding to the Macintosh community. Both evolution and the avoidance of unnecessary change remain ongoing tasks, and I'm sure we'll be walking that fine line for years to come. After all, we're only at issue #776, leaving us 224 more weeks (about four and a half years) before we're forced to face up to our 1992 decision to use a three-digit numbering scheme!
Along with offering a 40 percent-off sale on Take Control ebooks this week, we wanted to take a trip back through the last 15 years of Macintosh models, looking briefly at the models that meant the most to us from each year so you can see just how far we've come (thanks to the Apple History site for jogging my memory on dates and details). Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1990!
1990 -- In 1990, Tonya and I were recently out of college, sharing a Macintosh SE that we had later upgraded to an SE/30. It had a 30 MB hard drive that I'd built from a bare mechanism, a case, and a SCSI card. We had also added a video card to drive a second monitor - an Apple color display that ran at 640 by 480 and ensured I would never use a single-monitor system again. But the SE/30 was old hat in 1990, when Apple pushed the high end with the Mac IIfx (the "wicked fast" Mac) and the low end with the Mac Classic. The Mac IIfx was ludicrously expensive; in fact, it was reportedly the most expensive Mac Apple ever made at $9,870 (presumably in some seriously tricked-out configuration).
The IIfx shipped in March; in October of 1990, Apple released the inexpensive all-in-one Mac Classic, which we purchased early the next year so Tonya could have her own Mac - and because we needed a 1.4 MB SuperDrive floppy disk, and buying one built into a Classic wasn't much more expensive than buying a new floppy disk drive for our SE/30. We never liked the Mac Classic, and it was passed on to a friend a few years later after we had no more use for it. The main interesting thing about the Mac Classic was that it could, if you held down the right keys at startup, boot from ROM.
1991 -- Ah, the year of the PowerBook. Apple's first non-desktop Mac had appeared in 1989 - the Mac Portable - but at almost 16 pounds (7.3 kg) it barely deserved the name. So in 1991, when Apple released the PowerBook 170, the PowerBook 140, and my favorite, the tiny PowerBook 100, the Macintosh world was agog. We purchased a PowerBook 100, and it remained one of our favorite Macs. In fact, it's still in the attic; with a minuscule monochrome screen and a 16 MHz 68000 processor, there isn't much we can do with it, but every now and then I ponder the possibilities.
1992 -- In 1992, Apple began to ship a collection of truly undistinguished desktop Macs, and made many of them even more indistinguishable by coming up with the Performa name and giving each model a different number. On the PowerBook front, however, the company redeemed itself by creating a machine even smaller than the PowerBook 100: the PowerBook Duo. Tonya bought a Duo 230 and loved it; its small size matched her small hands perfectly, and she has griped about too-large keyboards ever since. What truly set the Duo apart were the docking stations Apple also sold; the full-fledged PowerBook Duo Dock, which the Duo slipped into like a really big disk into a drive, and the PowerBook Duo MiniDock, which clamped onto the back of the Duo and provided all the necessary ports. Our Duo 230 remained in service for years after it was too slow for real use; it ran a data-collection program hooked to an analog-to-digital converter that monitored weather conditions when we lived in Seattle. The Duo still works; I just brought it down from the attic the other day to see if I could set it up to monitor our Internet connection and power cycle the cable modem via Sophisticated Circuits PowerKey Pro 600 we have (I ran out of time when trying figure out what was necessary to get the Dayna SCSI-to-Ethernet adapter and the old Linksys hub that supported 10Base-2 Ethernet cabling to connect to our network).
1993 -- The Performa line bred like bunnies in 1993, adding 13 models, all of them slight variations on a theme so different retail outlets could advertise "the lowest price!" on a particular model. The Performa trend would continue through 1996, ensuring an inexhaustible supply of difficult trivia questions for the next century. For me, though, 1993 was the year I finally moved away from the SE/30 and purchased a Centris 660AV (with a second video card and a second monitor, of course). The Centris name was short-lived, soon to be replaced by "Quadra," and my particular Centris 660AV was even more unusual because it had a transitional floppy drive. Until that point, Macs had automatic-inject floppy drives - a fancy way of saying that the drive sucked the floppy disk out of your hand. Some models of the Centris 660AV had automatic inject floppy drives, but mine didn't. Like the Quadra 660AV that would replace it three months later, it had a manual inject floppy drive, for which you had to push the floppy disk in yourself. The AV stood for audio-visual and was based on the fact that the 660AV had a DSP (digital signal processor) chip for voice recognition and video processing, which, honestly, I never used at all.
Despite switching to the 660AV for my main Mac, I managed to hold onto the SE/30 by writing an article for MacUser on Apple's PowerTalk communications technology; for that I needed two Macs, and I earned more from the article than I would have from selling the SE/30. The SE/30 went on to be our Web server for some time, and then to run mailing lists in LetterRip Pro until we moved from Seattle to Ithaca in 2001; now I can't get it to boot from the internal hard disk.
1994 -- With 1994 came Apple's well-handled transition from the 680x0 CPU to the RISC-based PowerPC CPU in the Power Mac 6100, 7100, and 8100. Tonya moved from her Duo 230 to a Power Mac 7100 for her main Mac, and I finally admitted that the PowerBook 100 could no longer cut the mustard and replaced it with a PowerBook 520. I was never all that fond of the PowerBook 520, and the main memory I have of it is its hard drive making one of the loudest noises I've ever heard emanate from a computer before it eventually died.
Tonya's 7100 saw 10 years of service, since it was still running ListSTAR and managing our main TidBITS distribution list until 2005, when we finally moved that list to Web Crossing running on an Xserve. The Power Mac 7100 merited another footnote in history, since it was initially codenamed "Carl Sagan," a move that drew a lawsuit from the Cornell astronomer. It was a bit of a fuss, with many people claiming that Sagan was overreacting given that it was just a codename, but even as a codename, it was an insult, given that the 6100 and 8100 were codenamed "Piltdown Man" and "Cold Fusion" respectively; in other words, the theme was scientific hoaxes. Apple changed the codename to "BHA," which reportedly stood for "Butt Head Astronomer," but which was sufficient to appease Sagan. Personally, I thought it was at best poor manners and at worst rather offensive to associate with a pair of scientific hoaxes a living scientist who had worked tirelessly to popularize science, but I wasn't exactly unbiased, having taken Sagan's "Seminar in Critical Thinking" while at Cornell and having come away with a high opinion of him.
We also later bought an Apple Workgroup Server 6150, which was essentially a speed-bumped Power Mac 6100, to act as our Web and mailing list server. Amusingly, the 6150 has most recently seen action as Tristan's Mac, because every small child needs his or her own Apple Workgroup Server! That task is coming to an end, though, since something has gone wrong with its caddy-loading CD-ROM drive, and if I remember right, that drive was already cannibalized from our 660AV due to problems with the 6150's original drive. Tristan doesn't care for the computer much, but he occasionally likes to mess around with CD-based Living Books, so a working optical drive is essential, especially since I was never able to get disk images of those CDs to work.
1995 -- In 1995, I replaced the PowerBook 520 with a PowerBook 5300c, one of the first PowerPC-based laptop Macs. It wasn't one of Apple's better portables, suffering several recalls for burning batteries and cracked cases, but mine worked fine. I did like the fact that it could run an external monitor in extended Desktop mode, since it was also my backup Mac in case anything happened to my Centris AV. I never needed to use it as a backup Mac, but toward the end of its life, it had the distinction of serving as our first kitchen Mac and MP3 player when I wasn't travelling.
1996 -- The time had come to upgrade my desktop Mac again, and in 1996 I moved from the Centris 660AV to a Power Mac 8500/150 and a pair of Apple 20-inch monitors. After years of using monitors of varying sizes to extend my desktop, having a matched set was heaven, and the Power Mac 8500 put the performance of the Centris 660AV to shame with PowerPC-native software. Tonya also felt the need to upgrade to a Power Mac 7600, which replaced her 7100. By now we needed an ever-increasing number of servers, so whenever we bought a new desktop Mac, the Mac it replaced was often immediately pressed into service, either as an internal file server or as an Internet server.
Speaking of Internet servers, 1996 also brought the release of the only Performa we've ever owned, a Performa 6400 that has worked for years as a server. It was our second most-recent internal file, print, and backup server; we replaced it with a Power Mac G4/450, and I'm planning to use it in place of the 6150 as Tristan's Mac.
1997 -- As far as I can remember, we didn't buy any Macs in 1997, a fact that was largely related to Apple's heavily publicized woes, which I commented on in TidBITS-392 in an article about MacUser and Macworld merging. Ad sales were down across the industry, and we simply didn't feel as though we had the money to buy new Macs. Nevertheless, Apple did release two interesting, if short-lived, models in 1997: the elegant Twentieth Anniversary Mac and the diminutive PowerBook 2400. Neither spawned any direct successors, though it's possible that some of their design decisions influenced later Macs.
1998 -- As Apple's death spiral continued, we stayed on the sidelines when it came to buying Macs. However, in 1998, my PowerBook 5300c was stolen when our house was burglarized, and our homeowner's insurance provided a PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet) as a replacement. In fact, the PowerBook 5300c was the only Mac to be stolen, most likely because it was small and relatively recent. Woe to the thief who tried to walk off with my 20-inch monitors! The insurance agent was fine to work with on the purchase, though I did have a bit of explaining about why I need a Road Rocket PC Card-based video card as well, since the PowerBook G3 couldn't run two monitors in extended desktop mode as the 5300c had been able to do, and I've always wanted my PowerBooks to be able to take over for a dead desktop Mac.
The PowerBook G3 was a good machine, and one I liked quite a lot. It has stayed in constant use (running Jaguar) after being replaced by other laptops since it has a PC Card slot into which I put the Lucent WaveLAN Silver card cannibalized from our original AirPort Base Station. That Lucent WaveLAN card hooks to a pigtail that then connects to the 24 dB parabolic antenna used for our long-range wireless Internet connection. The PowerBook then routes all the traffic internally; it also ran LetterRip Pro and Swiki until we switched to Web Crossing.
Of course, 1998 also saw the release of the original iMac, which almost single-handedly reversed Apple's fortunes, though we've never owned one.
1999 -- By the time 1999 rolled around, things had changed rather a lot for us. Tristan was born, and Tonya switched into mother mode, which changed the way she used her computer significantly. At first, we brought her desk and Power Mac 7600 up into the dining room from our basement offices, but providing it with an Internet connection required running 10Base-T Ethernet cable along the floor, which only the cats and Tristan liked. But then, in July, Apple announced the first iBook along with AirPort, and when they became available, we bought Tonya an AirPort-equipped blueberry iBook and an AirPort Base Station, which enabled her to read email and browse the Web while nursing. And, of course, we promptly dragooned the 7600 into being a server; for the last number of years, it acted as our primary Web and email server, finally giving way to our Xserve in 2004.
That blueberry iBook has been another solid performer; it's a little large and unwieldy on the lap, but it has worked well for us as our kitchen Mac and MP3 player. The 800 by 600 screen is a small liability, and we've had trouble with replacement batteries over the years, but for some unknown reason, it's charging the battery now, and in conjunction with the AirPort Express Base Station, which also hooks to our stereo, can be used entirely wirelessly again.
In 1999, my family also purchased a pair of iMacs, a tangerine one for my grandmother and a blueberry one for my other grandparents. I spent quite a bit of time setting them up in grandparent mode, and both have worked well overall. The tangerine iMac gets little use these days, given that my grandmother is 89 and suffering from the human equivalent of bad RAM coupled with directory corruption, but I just upgraded the blueberry iMac my other grandparents use with more RAM and Mac OS X so they could use a modern Web browser necessary for online stock trades.
2000 -- In 2000, it was time to replace my desktop Mac again and move the Power Mac 8500 down to server duties (it's currently hosting some of our article databases). I opted for the mid-range Power Mac G4/450, which had actually been introduced in 1999, though Apple had trouble getting enough chips of the right speeds and had to rejigger the performance and price points for a while. I quite liked the Power Mac G4/450, and in fact, the reason I replaced it in 2002 was not due to performance problems, but because of the cost of supporting a pair of monitors.
2000 also saw the release of the Power Mac G4 Cube, which had numerous adherents, including my parents, who still use it as their main desktop Mac. The Cube was, of course, a design tour de force, and wonderfully silent, but it was too expensive for the fact that it couldn't be expanded. Apple didn't sell many, and quietly (but never officially) discontinued it in 2001.
2001 -- We made our move from Seattle back to Ithaca, NY in 2001, and the move figured directly in several Mac purchases. I had a number of trips scheduled in the May through August time frame, and our move itself was on June 30th, so I decided it was a good time to replace the PowerBook G3 with the just-released 500 MHz white iBook. I didn't regret that decision at all; the iBook was a great workhorse machine for a number of months when I was using it more than the Power Mac G4, and its combination of decent performance, solid construction, and wireless networking endeared it to me.
Tonya kept relying on her blueberry iBook for much of the year, but after we were settled in Ithaca, she wanted to switch back to a more-powerful desktop Mac, so we bought a Power Mac G4/733 (Quicksilver) and an Apple 17-inch LCD monitor. That enabled the blueberry iBook to take up its kitchen Mac and MP3 player duties full time. The Quicksilver has performed fairly well, but it came with a CD-RW optical drive, which has proven quite irritating on a number of occasions when we need to install something from DVD.
Interestingly, although we tried to give away as many old Macs as we could before we left Seattle, we ended up moving the SE/30, the PowerBook 100, the PowerBook Duo 230, the Centris 660AV, the Apple Workgroup Server 6150, and the Performa 6400. Only the last two have seen much use (and I cannibalized parts from the 660AV for the 6150), but it can be tricky to get rid of Macs that require so much obsolete knowledge to set up and use.
2002 -- As you can see, I generally go 3 to 4 years between new desktop Macs, so buying a dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Door) to replace my perfectly functional Power Mac G4/450 was a bit unusual. It was driven by two factors. First, one of my two 20-inch Apple CRT monitors finally died, and although I worked for a while with mismatched monitors, I wasn't happy about it. The problem was that I wanted a pair of Apple 17-inch LCDs, which would have required expensive adapters for their ADC connectors, and possibly a new video card as well. If I remember my calculations at the time, it was going to cost about $600 in adapters and cards alone, which seemed ridiculous given that the dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 had a double-headed video card and would support the two Apple LCDs with the addition of only a single adapter. Adding urgency to the decision was the fact that the Performa 6400, which had been acting as our internal file and backup server, was having real troubles with Retrospect. It was too slow, and we were having issues with the SCSI-based VXA tape drive as well that caused me to want to switch to FireWire hard disks. Clearly the solution was to decommission the Performa 6400 and replace it with my Power Mac G4/450, and buy the new dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. Don't you love geek rationalizations?
I did end up buying another Apple 17-inch LCD monitor, and absconding with the one that Tonya had been using, replacing it on her desk with a pair of refurbished Dell 17-inch LCD displays that are extremely decent and especially cost-effective when purchased refurbished.
Perhaps the universe knew that line of thinking was a rationalization, since the dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 has struggled a bit. It has never seemed as fast as I think it should be, but I've never been able to prove there were any problems. For quite some time it would go into a tight loop and just lock up for 10-20 minutes... assuming I let it go that long. That problem defied all efforts at troubleshooting, though in my attempt to isolate the RAM I did end up with a whopping 1.75 GB of RAM that I quite enjoy. Oddly, the problem eventually disappeared, and I was never able to associate the improvement with any particular change. I also replaced the power supply to make the Mac somewhat quieter, though it's still far louder than I'd like, particularly when my office is hot. A lightning strike near our house took out its onboard Ethernet, but I worked around that with an Intel Ethernet card that didn't require extra drivers.
2003 -- In 2003, I had a fair amount of travel, including a keynote address to give at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference several days after we released our first Take Control ebooks and Apple had released Panther. I was running Panther on an external hard disk, since I hadn't dared upgrade my iBook from Jaguar just before an important trip, and the amount of work I had to do while away convinced me that I needed a more powerful laptop. Luckily, Apple had just released the 12-inch PowerBook G4, and I bought an early unit (something I seldom do). So, I handed the iBook down to Tonya, and I've liked the 12-inch PowerBook G4 a great deal. Perhaps the only criticisms I can make is that I can't change batteries while it's in sleep, and it doesn't feel quite as indestructible as the iBook did.
In 2003, we started on our great server migration by purchasing a dual 1.33 GHz Xserve G4 to run Web Crossing. I've only seen pictures of it, since it was delivered directly to digital.forest for hosting, but I've been extremely happy with it from afar.
2004 -- All of our computers had been doing their jobs acceptably, so 2004 didn't bring any new additions. However, I did receive a third-generation 20 GB iPod as a Christmas present at the end of 2003, so I'll count it in the 2004 category. Initially, I thought I'd use the iPod for bringing music into our bedroom, given that everything we owned was now in MP3 format, and I couldn't bear to deal with physical CDs any more. I also thought the iPod would be useful on car trips, and for that purpose bought a TransPod from Lifestyle Outfitters for the car; it holds the iPod in a dock, charges it from the car's outlet, and provides a relatively easy-to-use FM transmitter. Thanks to the awkwardly jointed arm that plugs into the car charging socket, it's tremendously clumsy to use. As much as it works and does provide the collection of features I wanted (hold the iPod so it can be used, charge it, and transmit it via FM or cassette adapter), I rather dislike the TransPod and explicitly do not recommend it. Luckily, thanks to living in Ithaca, where you're hard pressed to drive more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time, we use the iPod in the car only for occasional long trips. Where the iPod has proven life-changing is in helping us go to sleep every night - we're now on our second listening of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything audiobook, and we're still learning things.
<http://www.everythingipod.com/suggest.tpl? command=search&db=dbs/products.db& amp;eqPRONAMEdatarq=DLO%20TransPod%20FM%3Cbr%3EAll -In-One%20Car%20Solution>
2005 and Beyond -- So far this year, we've managed to resist a Mac mini, although bad noises have been emanating from the fan of the Power Mac G4/450, which continues in its role as internal file and backup server. The Mac mini is so cheap that I'd have to think carefully about the cost of replacing the power supply in the Power Mac G4/450 if it died entirely. Of course, the other, more likely alternative is that we'd buy Tonya a new Power Mac G5 after the June/July time frame, when my research for "Take Control of Buying a Mac" indicates that we're likely to see either a speed bump or a major model change. Then her Power Mac G4/733 could take over server duties. And of course, I'm starting to itch for a new desktop Mac that's quieter than my current one, but I want to see what appears with the next round of Power Macs.
I hope you've enjoyed this trip through the history of Apple's Macintosh development, seen through my eyes over the past 15 years. I'm a little shocked that we've owned so many Macs - 20 all told - but I'm also tremendously pleased to see how long we use them. In fact, every Mac we've bought since 1998 is still in everyday use, and of the seven Macs we bought from 1994 to 1996, only the PowerBook 520 and stolen PowerBook 5300c either aren't still in use or were finally turned off in 2005. I'll gladly pay a little more for computers that I can rely on in varying capacities for 7 to 10 years.
Article 17 of 29 in series
TidBITS 16th Anniversary Vacation -- This week marks the 16th anniversary of TidBITS, which we're celebrating with a West Coast vacation that will also feature a dinner with the Seattle-based members of the staff, along with a visit to our Xserve at digital.forest to install Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger ServerShow full article
TidBITS 16th Anniversary Vacation -- This week marks the 16th anniversary of TidBITS, which we're celebrating with a West Coast vacation that will also feature a dinner with the Seattle-based members of the staff, along with a visit to our Xserve at digital.forest to install Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger Server. We can't guarantee we'll have (or want to use!) Internet access for much of the trip, so don't expect quick responses to email while we're away. Nevertheless, we're packing a slew of technology so hopefully I'll have plenty to write about once we're back. With all that, we're taking next week off, so look for our next issue on 01-May-06! [ACE]
Article 18 of 29 in series
Today marks the 17th anniversary of TidBITS, which we've published continuously since 1990. On previous anniversaries, I've written about our accomplishments, our goals, lessons we've learned, and moreShow full article
Today marks the 17th anniversary of TidBITS, which we've published continuously since 1990. On previous anniversaries, I've written about our accomplishments, our goals, lessons we've learned, and more. I had hoped this year to roll out some flashy new services and approaches to publishing, but as is so often the case, development has taken longer than expected, so the public face of TidBITS hasn't changed much in the last year. As Apple said when delaying Leopard, "We think it will be well worth the wait."
But like a 17-year-old in his or her senior year of high school, preparing for graduation and subsequent passage to college, there's a great deal of upheaval happening beneath the surface. College is where it becomes possible to reinvent oneself, and we've been doing a lot of thinking and working behind the scenes to make that reinvention happen in the next year for TidBITS. We've always tried to be transparent about what's happening at TidBITS; here's a look at our current efforts.
- Inline images in articles. For the last few months, articles that contained image links in the email editions of TidBITS have actually displayed those images inline on the Web (for an example, see "Add a DJ to iTunes with SpotDJ," 2007-03-26). That's right, after 16 years of TidBITS being text-only, graphics have finally crept in. Cutting-edge, I know, but with tools like Plasq's Skitch on the horizon for making screenshots even snazzier, we're pretty sure that mixing graphics and text isn't just a short-lived fad.
- Bookmarks for sharing articles. At the bottom of every article on our Web site and in the HTML edition of TidBITS in email, you'll now see a line of links to major social bookmarking sites, including del.ico.us, digg, reddit, Slashdot, and Yahoo's MyWeb (let us know if you'd like to see other sites included). If you're unfamiliar with the idea of social bookmarking, it's a way to recommend an article to other users of a particular service. The more people who vote for an article, the more it rises in the rankings and the more people are likely to go read it. We implemented social bookmarking links because it became apparent from our recent reader survey that we have a long-standing, loyal readership. The flip side of that, however, is that we need to work harder on introducing new readers to our content, and we're hoping that social bookmarking links will help. You can help by using them to recommend articles or to vote for already recommended articles - thanks!
- TidBITS Talk usability redesign. Our TidBITS Talk discussion list has nearly 1,700 email subscribers, but I'm noticing an increasing number of people finding discussions via Web searches and asking questions (sometimes even years later, which feels odd from the email perspective, but is perfectly understandable from a Web viewpoint). In an effort to improve the usability of TidBITS Talk, I've fiddled with the CSS styles to clean up the design, reworded a lot of the boilerplate text that Web Crossing supplies in order to improve clarity, and made it possible for registered users to give usefulness ratings to individual messages.
- Connecting articles and discussions. We've also started down the path of connecting articles and their discussions directly, so if you look at articles from last week that have generated discussion, the "Discuss This Article" link at the top takes you directly to the appropriate TidBITS Talk thread. If no discussion has been started, that link merely creates an email message to TidBITS Talk; engineering a Web-based solution that's invulnerable to spambots proved more difficult than we anticipated, so we're still working on the final approach.
- Mailing list subscription management. I've mentioned this feature before, but it has been and will continue to be an important part of our infrastructure moving forward, since it lets everyone manage their own email subscriptions easily. As an added bonus, when you log in to manage your email subscriptions, you'll remain logged in for easy addition and rating of TidBITS Talk messages.
TidBITS Editing System -- A year ago, in "Wanted: Better Document Collaboration System" (2006-04-03), I discussed what we needed in a document collaboration system. Although at least one project is in a very early stage to provide such a system, we needed something that worked today. Luckily, Bare Bones Software came to the rescue with BBEdit 8.6, which added word-level diff, so we can compare two revisions of a document and see exactly which text has changed (most diff implementations for displaying the differences between two documents work at the paragraph level, not the word or character level). Then contributing editor Matt Neuburg set up the Subversion version control system for us to provide versioning, a centralized repository, and a transfer mechanism.
BBEdit can act as a Subversion client, which lets us avoid using the Subversion client programs available for the Mac, none of which worked well for those of us who aren't programmers. But even BBEdit doesn't offer a particularly helpful interface to Subversion. After putting up with our griping for a while, Matt wrote a utility for us that significantly improves the Subversion workflow from within BBEdit by handling locking and unlocking of articles; it also simplifies status checks, commit messages, and file management.
Now, between Matt's utility and BBEdit's built-in features, I can easily add a new file to the central repository, making it available for other staff members to edit. When I want to edit again, I can check to see if anyone has it locked, and if not, lock it myself to ensure that no one else will make changes simultaneously. Once I have the file open, I can check the version history to see who has made changes, and read any notes made about each version. I can also compare the current version of the file to the last version I saw before diving into new edits. When I'm done, it's trivial to write a commit message describing my changes, unlock the file, and send my changes back to the master copy in the central repository. The file is available for editing offline, and can be sent to outside contributors for edit checks.
There's still room for interface and process improvement, but this system has made our collaborative writing and editing far faster, easier, and more confident. The next step for the collaborative editing system is to integrate it with our other major piece of infrastructure, the TidBITS Publishing System.
TidBITS Publishing System -- It's a testament to the work of technical editor Glenn Fleishman on the TidBITS Publishing System that no one has seemingly noticed changes in TidBITS since our 26-Feb-07 issue, when our entire behind-the-scenes publishing approach changed. For many years, we would manually assemble each issue in a single file, and then send out that file.
Now we add articles to the TidBITS Publishing System throughout the week, and if an article is ready for public consumption, we merely set a status that makes it available on our home page under the ExtraBITS section. This approach is part of our overall goal to move away from thinking of TidBITS in issue-centric terms. In the TidBITS Publishing System, we create articles and combine them to create an issue, whereas in the past, we created an issue and then broke it apart into articles for our Web archive.
On Monday, to generate an issue, we simply go through all the available articles we've published or staged but not previously included in an issue, set an order for those we want to publish, add a summary, and push a button. Actually, we still take a number of publication-day editing passes to improve the quality of the writing, but the effort to release an issue has dropped tremendously from just a few months ago.
Largely that decrease in effort is because previously we all tended to put off writing and editing until the last minute, whereas now it's easier to get something written and posted to the Web or to a staged area sooner. Plus, we can all take edit passes whenever it's convenient, rather than putting off the work until it's necessary. Since none of us like to see typos creep through even on the Web version that precedes the issue, it's all the more likely that articles will get an early edit pass.
Looking Forward -- All these efforts lay a foundation upon which we'll be building in the upcoming year, and we hope you find the improvements useful. Rest assured that changes to the email editions of TidBITS will be minimal, since there's no reason to mess with a successful formula. But as we've been learning from our reader survey, the ways in which people get their information on the Internet are changing, and we need to change with the times as well. That's fine - like a high school student contemplating college, we're both excited and a little scared by all the possibilities.
Article 19 of 29 in series
TidBITS turns 18 this week, and Adam celebrates by looking back at Mac news in each of our anniversary issues to track just how far we've come since 1990.Show full article
This week marks the 18th anniversary of TidBITS, which dates all the way back to 1990. We've written something to celebrate the event most years; see the TidBITS History series.
This year, in honor of TidBITS becoming old enough (in the United States) to vote, be drafted, bear arms, own property, marry without parental consent, see an NC-17 rated movie, and serve on a jury, I want to look back at each of the anniversary issues of TidBITS to see just how far we've come and how much things have changed. Follow along then, as we start in...
1990 -- In TidBITS #1, I wrote about Lotus and Novell merging "in a blow to industry leader Microsoft." Change the names and you have Yahoo contemplating a merger with AOL to stave off Microsoft's hostile offer. Also in that issue, I mentioned a powerline networking technology that offered 38.4 Kbps of throughput; powerline networking is now up to 200 Mbps, but still hasn't become mainstream.
1991 -- For TidBITS #54, we reported on the results of our first survey of TidBITS readers. It's amusing to compare to the results of our 2007 reader survey - see "TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey Results: Who Are You?," (2007-03-12) and "TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey Results: News & Info Sources" (2007-07-16).
1992 -- Jon Pugh joined us in TidBITS #120 to review SuperMac's VideoSpigot card and ScreenPlay software for recording video; it's interesting to think about how far video creation capabilities have come since, with HD camcorders and software ranging from iMovie to Final Cut Pro. We also had coverage of the CODE 252 virus, apparently the third one to appear in a short time. Happily, the virus problem on the Mac didn't worsen, and we have yet to see any viruses that target Mac OS X.
1993 -- In TidBITS #173, I bemoaned the demise of ThoughtPattern, a free-form database and snippet keeper that I dearly loved at the time. It's telling that we've seen (and reviewed) numerous similar programs over the years; see the Conquer Your Text series. This issue also marked the first appearance of Glenn Fleishman in TidBITS - he was writing about the loss of the Quadra 700 from Apple's product line. Little did we know then just how essential Glenn would become to our future coverage and infrastructure.
1994 -- In TidBITS #222, I noted that Tonya had started writing more for TidBITS, having left her tech support job at Microsoft following the success of my "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" book. She wrote about upcoming PowerBook releases, including the 520/520c, the 540/540c, and the Duo 280/280c, along with the Duo Dock II. We may still have Tonya's old Duo 230 in the attic; we should put it side-by-side with a MacBook Air.
1995 -- By TidBITS #273, Geoff Duncan had joined TidBITS, and he wrote about how Apple was announcing next-day support on their eWorld online service to bolster existing telephone support. Telephone support is still available, but Apple has traded one-on-one online support for the retail store Genius Bars. Of course, having access to Apple's Knowledge Base online, along with the Apple discussion forums, makes up for a lot. Tonya also reviewed a CD-ROM-based ZIP code and telephone number database called ProPhone. Now there's a product category that has been thoroughly eliminated by the Internet.
1996 -- In TidBITS #324, we announced our first translation of TidBITS - into Dutch! The Dutch translation team has continued apace and has been matched in consistency by the Japanese translation team. Other languages have come and gone, and we have plans to make translating individual articles much easier in the future. Amusingly, we also reported on the possibility of IBM licensing the Mac OS in that issue; although licensing is a thing of the past, last week saw both much fuss about a potential Mac clone from Psystar and reports that IBM was making it easier for employees to switch to the Mac.
1997 -- TidBITS #375 saw the release of Eudora 3.1 and Emailer 2.0. As huge as both programs were back in 1997, neither remains in development. Although Eudora 6.2.4 continues to work in Mac OS X for many users, development on the classic Eudora code base has ceased and it remains to be seen if the program will transition successfully to an open-source approach based on Thunderbird. Although Emailer never made the jump to Mac OS X, some of its development team made a different jump to Microsoft, where they worked first on Outlook Express and then on Entourage. Also in that issue, the $13,000 prize in the "Crack A Mac" challenge remained unclaimed, a far cry from the quick takeover of a MacBook Air in the Pwn2Own contest at CanSecWest (see "Apple Becomes First Victim in Hacking Contest," 2008-03-28).
1998 -- In TidBITS #425, Matt Neuburg reviewed Word 98, noting "many of Word 98's new features are really old features with additional, optional interfaces laid on top of them." In some ways, this is exactly what Microsoft has once again done with Word 2008, changing the interface in an attempt to reveal existing features more than changing the feature set itself.
1999 -- In TidBITS #477, we noted Apple's $135 million profit in Q2 1999 (the sixth profitable quarter in a row), giving the company $2.9 billion in cash. That's not chump change, but Apple's Q1 2008 earnings report showed a $1.58 billion profit and $18.4 billion in cash. Wow. Also in that issue, Connectix released a fix for Virtual PC that fixed floppy disk problems on PowerBook G3s. As much as Virtual PC was an amazing technical feat, it pales in comparison with today's VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop running on Intel-based Macs. Virtualization trumps emulation!
2000 -- TidBITS #527 saw the release of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9, with Palm synchronization. Although Now Up-to-Date & Contact made the leap into Mac OS X and continues to be a viable product, Now Software is working on a complete rewrite. But more telling is the fact that Palm synchronization isn't a big deal any more, partly due to Apple's synchronization technologies and partly due to the slide in popularity of Palm OS-based handhelds. It's all about the iPhone these days.
2001 -- In TidBITS #576, we covered the release of Mac OS X 10.0.1, a mere three weeks after the initial release of Mac OS X. Over the last eight years, Mac OS X has seen five more major releases that have taken the operating system from a curiosity to an industrial-strength operating system used by millions. But you can still bet on a quick bug fix release appearing within a few weeks of each major release of Mac OS X.
2002 -- In TidBITS #626, I announced the first edition of my "iPhoto for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide." I didn't quite realize then that I'd be updating it for the rest of time; I now have seven editions on my shelf, the latest of which is "iPhoto '08: Visual QuickStart Guide." More interesting, though, was the fact that we released it as an ebook for those who pre-ordered the print book (iPhoto 1.0 had significant problems, and we wanted to wait for the soon-to-be-released 1.1 version before going to press). The huge success of this ebook was one of the key factors in our decision to start the Take Control series - clearly people liked ebooks when they provided information that wasn't available in print form.
2003 -- TidBITS #676 saw the release of the second public beta of Safari, which we were able to describe as "widely adopted" even though it hadn't yet seen its official release. Safari has gone on to become the de facto Web browser for Mac users, and although no one expected as much back in 2003, it has also migrated both to Windows and to the iPhone.
2004 -- In TidBITS #727, we looked at Apple's Q2 2004 financial report, which included revenue from sales of over 750,000 Macs and 800,000 iPods, and resulted in a $46 million profit. Cash on hand had almost doubled since 1999, to $4.6 billion. Although the numbers aren't quite comparable (since Q1 2008 includes the holiday season and Apple isn't set to report Q2 2008 results until 23-Apr-08), the most recent quarter saw nearly 2.4 million Macs sold, along with over 22 million iPods.
2005 -- TidBITS #776 saw both the release of Mac OS X 10.3.9 (the final version of Panther) and the announcement that Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger would appear on 29-Apr-05, marking an 18-month gap between the initial release of Panther and the appearance of Tiger. Previous intervals had been shorter, but the jump from Tiger to Leopard would take 30 months, and it remains to be seen how long we'll be waiting for the next big cat. Q2 2005 financials once again appeared in this issue, with Apple selling 749,000 Macs and 807,000 iPods to post a $290 million profit and reach $7.06 billion in cash.
2006 -- In TidBITS #826, we were talking about Aperture 1.1 and Apple Remote Desktop 3, and Kevin van Haaren contributed an article of Windows tips for Mac users, given the increasing use of Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation (soon to be renamed Parallels Desktop). What I find interesting about this is just how current it seems - Aperture 2.1 shipped only recently, and Apple Remote Desktop is still at version 3.2. Sure, there have been improvements, but two years just isn't that long for a platform as mature as the Mac.
2007 -- TidBITS #875 brought the news that Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard wouldn't arrive until October 2007, attributing the delay to Apple's need to devote more resources to the release of the iPhone in June 2007. The iPhone has been huge for Apple, and we expect a second-generation iPhone and the opening of the iPhone App Store in the relatively near future, two moves that could put the iPhone on the exponential sales curve pioneered for Apple by the iPod.
Looking Forward -- That concludes our spin through history both ancient and recent, and I hope you've enjoyed contemplating how the Macintosh world has evolved since TidBITS first appeared on the scene back in 1990.
We never anticipated that we'd be publishing TidBITS for so long, but now that we're at 18 years, clearly we need to aim for 20, and for 25 after that. Besides, we have to keep going, if only to maintain our position as the oldest continuously updated technology publication on the Internet (and the second oldest in general behind the Irish Emigrant News, which has archives going back to April 1987).
Article 20 of 29 in series
On the 19th anniversary of TidBITS, Adam takes a moment to look back at how the technology world has changed and to look forward at the trends we'll see continuing into the future. Bold prediction: we'll keep publishing TidBITS for the foreseeable future!Show full article
This month marks the 19th anniversary of the founding of TidBITS, making it (and us!) almost inconceivably ancient in Internet years. When Tonya and I started TidBITS back in April of 1990, we communicated with one another via email and telephone; moved files around the Internet with FTP; and did our social networking on mailing lists, Usenet news, and IRC (Internet Relay Chat).
Our Internet connection initially consisted of a slow modem hookup to one of Cornell University's IBM mainframes and to a Unix box run by Cornell's Theory Center. Back then, if you wanted an Internet connection, you just asked someone who had one already if you could connect to them - there was no Comcast Internet or Road Runner or EarthLink. We've used the tidbits.com domain for many years, but well before that became an option, we operated a UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy Program) node - the first email address I controlled was email@example.com, and messages would hop their way from machine to machine on their way to me.
There was no World Wide Web - that wouldn't start to become real until 1993 and 1994. The concept of an affordable always-on Internet connection in the home didn't start to become common until the later 1990s. We installed the first "high-speed" Internet connection - a 56 Kbps frame relay connection - in our house in 1994 (see "Mainlining the Internet", 1994-11-14).
Apple and Microsoft existed, and would be entirely recognizable to someone who went back in time, but of course, there was no Google, no Yahoo, no eBay, no Amazon, no Skype, no Flickr, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter. Companies like Compaq, WordPerfect, Lotus, and Ashton-Tate muscled their way around the industry like raging thunder lizards, but all would eventually succumb to the force of change and be consumed by other, more successful competitors.
Mobile phones also existed, at least in the cars of the well-off, but their eventual ubiquity was merely in the dreams of phone manufacturers like Motorola. Portable music players used either cassette tapes (launched by the Sony Walkman) or CDs (like the Sony Discman). And the only wireless signals most people were going to receive were AM/FM radio and UHF/VHF television.
So we've come one heck of a long way, with our modern Macs, our iPods, and our iPhones, all using Wi-Fi and 3G data to search the Web via Google, watch video via YouTube, talk via Skype, and connect with far-flung friends via Facebook and Twitter.
The TidBITS anniversary rolled around this year while we were in New York City for spring break, which got me to thinking about some of these sea changes and what they mean for the future.
Computing to Communication -- Perhaps the most significant change in the face of computing over the 19 years we've been publishing TidBITS is the extent to which computing resources are used largely for communication of one sort or another. Perhaps this trend should have been obvious from the earliest days of computing: after all, Alan Turing, considered by many to be the father of modern computer science, was best known for his work on decoding German communications during World War II.
But when the age of the personal computer started, most people considered computers to be computing devices for crunching numbers and sorting databases. One significant aspect of the Macintosh, with applications like MacWrite that offered font-handling and layout capabilities, was its emphasis on creating print materials for communication. The arrival of Aldus PageMaker and the Apple LaserWriter cemented that role, but many people failed to see it, instead thinking about these applications as "productivity" apps, perhaps because the costs limited their use to professionals who could justify the expense.
During the 1990s, we all stumbled onto the Internet in various ways, and looking back, it's fascinating to see just how tentative those early steps were. Apple may have had an early FTP site in ftp.apple.com, but it took the company several more years before the necessary system software was in place for every Mac to be able to connect to the Internet. Today, a computer that can't connect to the Internet is nearly inconceivable.
I'm struck by how we continue trying to improve our communications methods. Every technological method of communication is an effort to break time and place constraints on in-person talking - postal mail, the telephone, email, instant messaging, Twitter, and so on. Every so often, when I'm trying to explain Twitter to someone, I flash back to the same earnest explanations of email in the 1990s.
All modern Internet communication services are really just refinements on what email provided from the beginning. Viewed that way, you can see how email will never go away - it's ubiquitous, the lowest common denominator, and based entirely on open standards. As popular as Facebook and Twitter are, they'll never replace email, being proprietary (not to mention the fact that they come from companies that aren't exactly stable businesses).
We've even seen computers become our primary news and entertainment devices, displaying our news stories and playing our audio, video, and games. For things that don't work quite as well on a traditional computer, we've seen specialized devices - game consoles, portable music players, and even ebook readers - appear. But this is all communication as well - even these forms of mass entertainment are just particular forms of communication within our culture as a whole.
Lastly, even those things we once thought of as pure productivity applications - word processors, spreadsheets, and databases - are embracing communication technologies, becoming collaborative in the process. It makes sense - in most cases, there's no point in producing something unless you'll be communicating the results to other people, and of course, much of what is done in this world is too complex for a single person to accomplish it alone, making collaboration essential.
Modern Necessities of Life -- In the decade before we started TidBITS, personal computers were a luxury of the well-off - the kind of thing parents bought their kids instead of a set of encyclopedias, based on the belief that computer literacy would be necessary for their children's future job prospects. Starting in the 1990s, that changed, as computers become increasingly inexpensive and capable. When Tonya and I were at Cornell in the late 1980s, we were unusual in having our own computers, but on my last trip through a Cornell dormitory a few years ago, every student's desk had a computer on it. (And when was the last time you heard the term "computer literacy" used in conversation?)
Those students, once they graduate, don't stop using computers, since computers have become their connection to the outside world via email, instant messaging, Facebook, and the Web in general. Plus, these computers also act as stereos and TVs, and, with the rise of Skype, allow them to talk with college friends around the globe for free. In short, the computer has become a necessity of life in the modern age - almost no one is willing to give up that ability to communicate and to consume the products of our entertainment industry.
Want one reason Apple's Mac sales haven't been suffering badly despite the difficult economic climate? People can't avoid buying a computer any more - they might put off upgrading or buy a cheaper one, but an educated individual today simply needs a computer. It's not just adults - the age at which children need computers is dropping all the time. (The reason other computer manufacturers haven't done as well, I'd argue, is that a higher proportion of their sales come from businesses, which are more likely to delay purchases until things improve.)
The iPod is in somewhat the same situation - it may not be necessary in the way that a computer is, but if you've had an iPod and arranged your life around having it available, you won't go without if it breaks or you lose it. I don't see Apple's iPod business slowing for some time because of this.
Similarly, mobile phones, which were an expensive luxury back when we started TidBITS, have become far more prevalent in the United States, and even more so elsewhere in the world. As of 2008, there were 4.1 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, and nearly 15 percent of U.S. households have opted for a mobile phone rather than a landline. You want to talk about a modern necessity, look no further than the mobile phone.
The convergence of the computer and the mobile phone into smartphones like the iPhone further cements the mobile phone's position of dominance. Computing is communication, and mobility increases the need for communication. I don't talk or text on my iPhone much, but on our recent trip to New York City, I found myself pulling the iPhone out of my pocket constantly. Sometimes it was for basic calls or text messaging, but other times I was using its computer-capabilities - viewing a map of the subway system, getting walking directions to the museum, finding an auto-glass repair shop, and so on. After that trip, I can't imagine living in an urban environment without an iPhone.
The Bar Keeps Rising -- While it's becoming ever easier to publish, thanks to the Internet technologies that have sprung up in the last 19 years, there's a contrary trend as well: the rising bar of what it means to be professional in your publishing.
When we started TidBITS, email was all that was necessary (and, largely, was all that was possible). With the advent of the Web, it became necessary to build a Web site, something done for us originally by friends at Dartmouth College. Then it made sense for us to run our own Web site, which involved getting a high-speed connection and administering a server. Soon afterwards, it wasn't enough to have a Web site comprised of static HTML files, and the entire thing had to be served from a database. Now we're to the point where even a database-driven Web site isn't really sufficient, and AJAX-style interactivity is necessary.
But it gets worse. Although text won't ever go away, it's become clear that the addition of graphics, sound, and video are becoming increasingly important for anyone who considers themselves a publisher. (That's one reason we have audio versions of our articles - look for the Listen link at the top of every article, or subscribe to our podcast.) Some publications are going even further, such as the New York Times Visualization Lab, where anyone can mix and match from various data sets. It's clearly an experiment, but this sort of thing may be far more common in the next decade.
I say all this in part to note that although TidBITS may not have changed outwardly all that much for those who receive the email edition, we have put a ton of effort into our Web site over the last few years. Partly we want to do this because it's interesting, but we also feel pushed - if we can't keep up with the Joneses on the technology front, we worry that we'll have an increasingly hard time attracting new readers. It's not easy being in a state of constant flux and reorganization and improvement, but the world around us is moving so quickly that we're running just to keep up.
There's another concern hidden inside this worry about the publication bar constantly rising. TidBITS is a testament to the fact that the Internet provides everyone with a printing press, and if you look at the major blogs, they all started out small as well. But I feel some concern that the difficulty of producing a full-featured Web site will mean that the number of voices on the Internet will be dropping - we've already seen blogs falling away in favor of microblogging services like Twitter. Blogging is becoming too hard, and very few bloggers even try to produce enough original content to earn a living any more.
Following this to the next step, are we looking toward the demise of the publication? Is a publication anything more than an LP album, an arbitrary collection of articles that made sense to bundle together largely because of economies of scale when printing? Yes, I know there are artistic and other reasons for content collections, but still, how many people read an entire publication these days instead of just cherry-picking articles from around the Web? Maybe the Planet Money podcast has a great explanation on the latest move in the financial crisis, and ESPN has the wrap-up on last night's game, and comics come from XKCD and Joy of Tech, and... You get the picture.
In the end, we're happy both that we cover a world that changes as much as it does and that we do so with original content, since that hopefully means that people read TidBITS for our perspective on a wide range of industry happenings.
A Little Bit Here, a Little Bit There -- Finally, the last topic that's been on my mind as I think back through our history is how we've scraped together a living all these years. The entire content industry is having conniptions right now about whether content should be ad-supported, subscription-supported, subsidized by a government, supported by sales of ancillary products, sponsored in some other way, or just given away for free.
Our experience since 1990 tell us that the answer is, "Yes." All of these models can be made to work, and the main thing that publications must realize is that it's worth using multiple approaches simultaneously. It's likely that in any given business climate, one particular approach will generate the lion's share of the revenue stream, but when times change - and they always do - other approaches may become more important.
As far as I know, we created the very first advertising program on the Internet back in 1992, before the Web had even arrived (see "TidBITS Sponsorship Program," 1992-07-20). We were sufficiently concerned about the NSF's Acceptable Use Policy that we modeled it after the PBS sponsorship model, and have kept it low-key all along. Being low-key, our sponsorship program has never scaled to the point where it could generate gazillions of dollars, like Google's search-based advertising innovation did, but it has kept our lights on. We've supplemented the sponsorship program over the years with direct contributions from readers, Amazon affiliate referral earnings, and some Google AdSense income.
The major change for us came with the creation of our Take Control ebook series, which was possible only because of the skills and contacts we had built while publishing TidBITS, and it got off the ground only because of the TidBITS audience. Take Control is a lot of work, but it has also provided a structure in which some of our friends can supplement their income. It's great when a business can build a close-knit community in addition to generating profit.
Just as we're constantly working on our Internet infrastructure (both the parts you see and behind-the-scenes tools that make our lives easier), we're also always thinking about things we can do to help the bottom line. It's tricky, since the lesson of "If you build it, they will come" is no longer true on the Internet, and the amount of traffic needed to make advertising, affiliate referrals, or any other per-visit income stream sufficiently large is nearly impossible to achieve these days. We have ideas, though, and will let you know when we're ready to pull the curtains back.
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the content industry (with newspapers especially up against the wall), I believe there are plenty of solid livings to be made publishing content on the Internet. Publishing hasn't been easy in the past, and it won't be easy in the future, and serious money will accrue only to a lucky few. But with an eye toward producing original content and creating an appropriate scale of business, I think we will be able to keep publishing TidBITS as far into the future as we can reasonably see. Another 19 years? Maybe, but considering how far we've come in the past 19 years, I can't even imagine what the world will be like in 2028.
Article 21 of 29 in series
It's official! TidBITS turns 20 years old this week, and we're celebrating by giving away an iPhone, iPod touch, or iTunes Gift Card, and by sharing what makes TidBITS special for us.Show full article
This is it - TidBITS has turned 20 years old! In what is a bit of happy coincidence, the email issue containing this article is #1,024. That's right, we've officially published 2^10 issues of TidBITS, or, roughly speaking, 1 kiloTidBITS. Geeky, eh?
To share our excitement, we considered giving away a staff-signed Twentieth Anniversary Mac, but they turn out both to be difficult to find and, given that they're powered by a PowerPC 603e, not particularly useful.
Besides, in honor of this anniversary and in recognition of how the world has changed, we're changing our Web logo's subtitle from "Mac news for the rest of us" to "Apple news for the rest of us." So instead of giving away a relatively useless old Mac, we're going to give one lucky TidBITS reader $200 toward an engraved iPhone or iPod touch, or an iTunes Gift Card. (The choice of prize is up to the winner, since many of you probably already have an iPhone or iPod touch, and we'll have to figure out the logistics with the winner, since they'll vary by country.) Enter at this tweaked DealBITS page before 26 April 2010. I hope our server holds up! (If you have a problem, just come back later.)
In thinking about how best to commemorate this milestone, I first considered those talking points we pull out when speaking with those who aren't familiar with TidBITS - our 20 unbroken years of Internet publication and our 1992 creation of the first Internet advertising program.
While I'm proud of those accomplishments, they aren't my favorite aspects of TidBITS. When I trained for and raced 26.2 miles in the New York City Marathon in November 2008, that required setting a goal and working hard to accomplish it. Publishing TidBITS for 20 consecutive years has never been a goal, it's simply become a way of life.
And while I'd like some credit for starting Internet advertising (using an understated NPR/PBS sponsorship model), I'm uncomfortable with many of the ways Internet advertising has evolved, what with pop-up ads, interstitials, and disgustingly illustrated ads from modern-day snake-oil salespeople. On the upside, maybe I can take an infinitesimal bit of credit for Google, which would never have become what it is today without Internet advertising.
No, the aspects of publishing TidBITS that get me out of bed every morning are quite different. For one, I love being able to write, edit, and publish articles that both explain complex topics and actually make a difference in the lives of our readers. There's no better feeling than reading an email message or article comment telling you how an article saved hours of troubleshooting, brought some device back to life, or helped eliminate time-wasting tedium.
I'm proud of the elegant technologies that we've designed and implemented: the TidBITS Publishing System, the TidBITS Commenting System, the TidBITS News iPhone app, the custom ExpressionEngine back-end for the Take Control site, our still-in-beta account management system, and more. These systems make life easier for us and improve TidBITS and Take Control for you, and while we lack the budget to develop everything we want as quickly as we want, I think we do extremely well, and it's amazingly fun to work on these projects.
More generally, it's wonderful to work with the other members of the TidBITS staff. They're top-notch, so much so that they're also in great demand by other publishers. And yet, Tonya and I must have done something right, since these talented writers and technologists have stuck with us for years, some of them from nearly the beginning. You can read more about how each of them got started with TidBITS in "TidBITS Staffers Recall How They Got Their Starts" (19 April 2010). I've also hugely enjoyed working with the volunteers who have generously translated TidBITS into various languages, expanding the reach of TidBITS and teaching me about the difficulties of translating English idioms.
But the most compelling part of my daily swim in the sea of TidBITS email, article comments, tweets, chats, and phone calls is the ineffable excitement of sharing discoveries, thoughts, opinions, jokes, tips, and advice with friends, colleagues, and TidBITS readers. Through TidBITS I've met some of the nicest, smartest, funniest, most interesting people I know. I've managed to convince a few of them to work with us on TidBITS and Take Control, and I've watched with enthusiasm as many others have gone on to do great things in the technology world. And rather than tell you more about them here, I want to introduce you to a number of them in "Twenty Years of Memories from Friends of TidBITS" (19 April 2010). It's a hefty article, with each sharing thoughts and memories about TidBITS in his or her own words. Set aside some time when you want to think back over the last 20 years, and I think you'll find it a tremendously enjoyable read.
If you'd like to extend that walk down memory lane, check out our "TidBITS History" series, in which we've covered all the bases - looking backward, forward, and inward, and sharing experiences, lessons learned, and much more. In re-reading these articles, I was struck by how relevant some of them, like "Lessons from Ten Years of TidBITS" (17 April 2000), remain years later.
I won't pretend that another 20 years and 1,024 issues of TidBITS is a goal, because it's not. TidBITS is what we do, and we'll keep going as long as events conspire to allow us to continue.
Thanks to one and all for enabling us to come this far!
Article 22 of 29 in series
Some TidBITS editors have written for the publication for nearly its entire history, while a few are relative newbies - this means you, Rich Mogull and Doug McLean. The staff peers into the past to remember how they were sucked into this venture, and what it has meant to them.Show full article
TidBITS is a joint effort, and always has been. While Adam Engst sits atop our virtual masthead, we collaborate on nearly everything in groups ranging anywhere from two to ten - such as this article's introduction. (No, we didn't! Yes, we did!)
A few of us date back to the pre-history of TidBITS, meeting Adam before the publication came into being. Others were long-time readers and contributors, while fresh faces - Rich Mogull and Doug McLean being the most pink-cheeked - have joined us to beef up coverage and add their own particular voices and specialties.
Herewith, then, are recollections of how and why we've arrived here, in order of how long we've been associated with TidBITS.
Tonya Engst -- When TidBITS began, Adam and I weren't married. We shared a cat and a Macintosh SE. Adam was working as a computer consultant, helping clients set up backup systems and create databases. I was working for Cornell University's computer store, helping staff and students choose among Macs, PCs, and NeXTs. Adam and I had recently graduated from Cornell University with a motley collection of majors and minors: Communications (me), the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (me), Classics (Adam), and Hypertextual Fiction (Adam).
One night, we had a long, intertwingled conversation about PageMaker and HyperCard, helping individuals keep up with the tech industry, academic versus commercial writing, and much more. Before we began talking, we were having an entirely unremarkable evening; once we had finished, we had set ourselves on a path that we had not previously anticipated and could not have predicted.
The result of that conversation was TidBITS. Call it a HyperCard stack, call it an email newsletter, call it the inevitable result of a mix of our college majors, call it the first Internet publication ever to accept advertising, call it a community, call it a database-driven and comment-receptive Web site, call it a collaboration between many writers and readers, call it what you will, TidBITS became the focus of our lives.
So, while Adam has been the frontman - writing and editing many of the articles, attending conferences, answering the constant deluge of email, inspiring and collaborating on ever-newer and whizzier ways to publish TidBITS, what exactly have I been doing?
I've been writing articles, editing articles, learning and teaching every last thing to know about early versions of Microsoft Word and early versions of HTML, pushing for change, being a passionate advocate for less-experienced readers, acting as a sounding board, inspiring articles, bookkeeping, budgeting, serving as CFO, serving as an ad hoc "human resources" department, being the iron hand of project management and scheduling, getting a "real" job during certain lean years, learning how to be a sane working mother, not minding the many days when working hours are odd, and - since 2003 - devoting the majority of my time to the Take Control ebook series which partly funds TidBITS.
Were working for TidBITS Publishing Inc. a normal job, there's no way I would have continued. The hours are murderous, the demands are many, and the to-do list endless. Fortunately, the enjoyment of interacting with so many interesting people and participating meaningfully in the technology world balances the downsides. Running TidBITS with Adam and everyone else has become a lifestyle that continues to surprise and delight, and to remind me that we are all connected.
Matt Neuburg -- Back in 1980, while completing my PhD studies in Classics at Cornell University, I startled my supervisors by writing, editing, and outputting my PhD thesis on the university's mainframe computer. This was a natural approach for me (I'd started programming a dozen years before), and it enabled me to complete my thesis efficiently; but personal computers were not yet widespread, and a Humanities scholar with a computing background was a rarity.
Fast-forward to 1987, when I returned to Cornell for a couple of years to teach Classics. By then I was using an Apple II to output complex documents that mixed English, Latin, and Greek, and to store lecture notes in outline form. One of my brighter students noticed this, and I told him about my use of computers, past and present; he, too, was a Humanities scholar with a strong interest in computers, and we struck up a friendship outside the classroom. That was Adam Engst.
In 1989, Adam told me about Storyspace, a pre-release application for making and reading hypertextual documents, which he was using to write his senior honors thesis. He also showed me the Macs in Cornell's computer labs, but failed to persuade me that the Mac was much more than a toy at that stage.
A few years later, though, I was teaching at Swarthmore College (my undergraduate alma mater), and they gave me a Mac as part of my office furniture. I became a Mac person, and I started creating classware in HyperCard, scholarly documents in Nisus, and educational documents in Storyspace.
In the early 1990s, as an academic, I had desktop access to the Internet, and kept up with Info-Mac, where programmers posted applications for download and users posted Mac questions and answers (for a brief history of Info-Mac, see Adam's "The Info-Mac Network Retires," 19 December 2005). Adam was an Info-Mac denizen, and he started posting TidBITS to it. So we remained in touch, and we still had many specific Mac interests in common: HyperCard, Nisus, Storyspace.
I naturally proposed to write about these applications for TidBITS, and Adam was very helpful, letting me write super-detailed reviews spread over many issues, and even volunteering to share authorship with me. Thus he appears as co-author in my review of Storyspace (my first TidBITS article, "Storyspace Introduction," 18 November 1991), and as guest commentator in my review of Nisus ("Nisus Review Preview," 6 April 1992).
By now I was emulating Adam's style of working and writing (the TidBITS ethos, you might say), and the rest, to coin a phrase, is history. I'll skip other ways in which Adam has affected my subsequent career and conclude by saying that the great thing about writing for TidBITS is trust. I try to adhere to the TidBITS philosophy and live up to its literary and intellectual standards, and in return Adam gives me freedom to write what I want, when I want, to whatever length I think appropriate. What could be better?
Mark H. Anbinder -- Adam, Tonya (who then went by her maiden name of Byard), and I were all students at Cornell University in the late 1980s. In addition to enjoying a college campus with a higher-than-most penetration of early Macintosh computers, we were also graced by Steve Jobs himself arriving on campus one winter to show off the NeXT Cube. (This was before his jeans and black turtleneck look, though Tonya did say she was wildly impressed with his shoes.) We had long known some of the same people, but that NeXT presentation was the first time I can remember meeting Adam and Tonya.
We all stayed around Ithaca after graduating, and our paths crossed more and more until the three of us became active participants in and organizers of MUGWUMP, the local Mac user group, whose name was an acronym for "Macintosh User Group for Writers and Users of Macintosh Programs." MUGWUMP never had a huge membership, but it was a committed group with a software lending library, a well-designed print newsletter in an era of desktop-publishing atrocities, monthly meetings and presentations on the latest software and hardware for Mac users, and regular gatherings of the steering committee. We found ourselves to be three of the most active members in that crew.
When Adam and Tonya decided to combine their affection for HyperCard and hypertext with the joy of sharing knowledge about Macintosh computing, I was there; before long I was involved helping set up their first (UUCP-based) TidBITS email system, occasionally helping publish an issue, and doing an increasing amount of writing. When they moved to Seattle in 1991, I kept TidBITS running for the month of August while Adam looked for a new Internet connection.
As a News Editor, and then a somewhat less-active Contributing Editor, I've been on hand for many of TidBITS's biggest collaborative coverage efforts - helping write about new computers, new operating systems, and the like, hardly ever face-to-face but often feeling as though we're huddled together around a big table. (There are still a couple of TidBITS regulars I've never met in person, though that number continues to shrink.)
Over the course of 20 years we've gotten to meet or otherwise interact with so many of our readers, and I think that interaction is a big part of what keeps TidBITS going for all of us. My TidBITS connections have also led to other writing opportunities, for which I consider myself very lucky. As I write these thoughts in a hotel in the Artists' Quarter of Safed, Israel, I'll wish a hearty "Mazel Tov!" to the rest of the TidBITS crew.
Geoff Duncan -- I first encountered TidBITS in the summer of 1990 (issue #10 caught my eye: HyperCard 2.0 and rumors of a color Mac SE - excitement!) but it was just a curiosity until maybe a year later when the smart lady in the next office idly asked "Hey, do you get TidBITS? You should. Adam and Tonya are great people." Turned out I was sharing a poorly lit computing center hallway with Linda Iroff, who knew Adam and Tonya from Cornell. When I packed up and headed for Seattle shortly afterwards, Linda said Adam and Tonya had moved there recently too and we should meet. I made a mental note (in my jumble of mental notes), but was surprised a few months later when I answered a knock on the apartment door. "Hi!" There stood Adam and Tonya, who had stopped by on their way to grocery shopping. I had long nurtured an interest in online publishing, and I eventually wound up signing on as TidBITS's first kinda-sorta-formal staff member.
I believed then - and believe today - that TidBITS occupies a unique and important position in the Macintosh community, not only because it publishes top-quality information and analysis (for free!) but because TidBITS connects so many dots. TidBITS isn't just about the when-where-and-how-much of a topic, but has the freedom to delve deeply into the why - and after 20 years in the biz, TidBITS has the knowledge, contacts, and connections to get those answers. It's a testimony to Adam and Tonya that they have pulled it all off not by sinking into the manipulation, posturing, politicking, and shady deals so common in the industry but by being their genuine, upfront, and warm-hearted selves. TidBITS's success really is that simple, and I'm proud to have been associated with it in some small way.
Glenn Fleishman -- I remember reading TidBITS in its early days, although I can't recollect where I first found it - probably in the comp.sys.mac.digest Usenet newsgroup that mirrored Info-Mac.
It wasn't long after reading TidBITS that I started writing to the Engsts about various things, including this 1991 complaint about an error in describing Multiple Master fonts. My first article ("Apple's 16-bit Solution," 19 April 1993) appeared several years later, just before I moved to Seattle. I had a lot of time on my hands after a job ended in Maine and before I drove west.
I corresponded a bit with the Engsts before I arrived in Seattle, and soon received invitations to attend the monthly soirees at their near-lakeside home in Renton. (Okay, it was a tiny bungalow a few blocks from a less-popular portion of Lake Washington - near a Boeing plant - within commuting distance of Tonya's Microsoft job.)
My first significant article for TidBITS was likely "The Experiment is Over" (1 May 1995), which explained how the Internet's then-backbone, run by the National Science Foundation as NSFNet, was in its final days of a transition to commercially operated backbone service. The article got a lot of traction in 1995 and was picked up and distributed all over.
Writing for TidBITS seemed like a big deal then, and it still does today. TidBITS was the voice of the user, in contrast to the huge trade journals of the day, which focused more on companies with lots of money to spend, partly because the publications were pumped full of advertising dollars as the information technology and personal technology markets were exploding.
I can draw a direct line from the confidence I got from writing for TidBITS to my later freelance career. While I started writing for money in 1995, it wasn't until 1998 that I began working with national publications like the New York Times, and later Wired, Business 2.0, Fortune, and others during the dot-com bubble.
I've been working hard for and with TidBITS (including a short stint trying to launch an Internet-focused offshoot called NetBITS in 1997-1998) for over 12 years.
The Engsts and I became friends after being colleagues, and I recall a lot of laughs in Renton, and then in their mountaintop mad scientist lair at the end of a road in Issaquah, WA. When they moved back to Ithaca, I shed a few tears, but our virtual contact became even stronger.
Jeff Carlson -- In 1994, inspired by the possibilities dangled in front of us by Wired magazine, I bought a modem for my Mac Classic II. To be honest, I didn't quite know what to do with it at first, but I could tell that "getting online" was going to be a big deal. I located a couple of local bulletin board systems, including one for writers. It was there I met Geoff Duncan, the TidBITS Managing Editor at the time, who pointed out that if I liked using BBSes, I really needed to get on the Internet. (Geoff was the virtual dealer tantalizing me with a gateway drug.)
Of course, the way to gain access to the Internet at the time was Adam's book "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh," which gave me not only the knowledge but also the software needed to get connected (MacTCP on a floppy disk attached to the inside back cover.) In addition to getting me on the Internet, "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" was instrumental because it taught me that a "computer book" could be entertaining as well as informative - I read it cover to cover.
By 1996 (thanks to a referral from Geoff), I was working as Managing Editor for Open House Books, an imprint in Seattle that wrote and packaged titles such as "Real World FreeHand" by Olav Martin Kvern and "Real World Adobe Photoshop" by David Blatner, Bruce Fraser, and the owner of the company, Steve Roth. Steve also co-ran Thunder Lizard Productions, a technology conference business that was taking off. In the nicest possible way, Steve told me that he was going to dissolve Open House Books and let me go.
Fortunately, I had started writing articles for publications like Adobe Magazine and still had a few books in the editing pipeline, so I was ready to test the freelance waters. My first appearance in TidBITS, appropriately enough, was a short April Fools article, "Netscape Sleep Plug-In" (1 April 1996).
Later that year, while attending a lunch with several Seattle technology writers (at the original Speakeasy.net café), I finally met Adam and Tonya in person. After lunch, Tonya came up to me and said, "So, tell me more about being a managing editor!" (That exclamation point is deliberate: for as long as I've known her, Tonya is unfailingly chipper, especially when meeting someone new.) I didn't realize right away that I was in the middle of a job interview, but I must have answered well enough. They soon offered me the part-time position and I accepted, thereby monopolizing almost every Monday (when we build the email issue) for the next 15 years.
Joe Kissell -- I started using Macs in 1991 while in graduate school studying linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington. Within a couple of years I had read Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" and started subscribing to TidBITS - I can't recall which happened first. But by the time I began working for Nisus Software in 1994, I had read quite a bit of Adam's stuff and regarded him as nothing short of a celebrity.
The following January I attended Macworld Expo in San Francisco for the first time, and when a colleague offered to introduce me to Adam, who was a Nisus Writer fan, I was star-struck. He was a famous author who seemed to know everything about my favorite computer, and relatively speaking I was a newbie.
A year later, I'd written my own first book, "The Nisus Way," and that was what I talked about with Tonya when I met her at the next Macworld Expo. She blew my mind by telling me about this new Web site called Amazon.com where, if I referred people to buy my book, I would somehow mysteriously get extra money for it. A couple of months later, Tonya reviewed my book in TidBITS ("I Am Joe's Book," 18 March 1996). I made a point of telling her that my own mother couldn't have written a more complimentary review, and that I would be happy to buy her a milkshake to say thanks. (Tonya, I believe I still owe you that milkshake!)
A few years later, while on our first vacation to Paris, I told my then-girlfriend Morgen about my goal to one day write an article for TidBITS - and maybe even, eventually, if I was lucky, one for Macworld. Even though I'd had a couple of books published by then, writing for TidBITS seemed like a stretch, something I wasn't sure I was qualified to do. After a five-year stint at Kensington, I wrote my third book, which was published in early 2003 and for which Adam generously contributed a foreword. That interaction finally led to my first TidBITS article ("Salling Clicker in Action," 25 August 2003), and then, a few months later, to the beginning of my involvement with Take Control Books. That, in turn, prompted an invitation to write an article for Macworld. In the years since, both publishers have kept asking me to write things and have given me titles with the word "senior" in them, so I've kept writing - still a bit mystified at my good fortune at being sucked into the TidBITS vortex, merely (so it seems) by standing too close.
I'm a bit of a geek. My tech and programming days started in the early 1980s with the Commodore PET in our elementary school. I was also lucky to have a friend with somewhat wealthy parents who owned an Apple II (I can't remember which model) upon which we spent countless hours playing Wizardry, Olympic Decathlon, and occasionally programming.
Flash forward to 2005. I was working as an analyst on the security team at Gartner and still didn't own a Mac, despite years of drooling over everything from the first PowerBooks to the first iMac. Chris Pepper, a childhood friend and long-time Apple user, constantly pushed me to take the plunge and switch, which I finally did with the release of the Mac mini since the price made it a low-risk investment. On Chris's suggestion I subscribed to TidBITS and bought a few Take Control books to learn Mac OS X.
Within a matter of weeks I realized that Mac mini had become my primary computer. I even started programming in AppleScript, relying on a rapidly dog-eared copy of Matt Neuburg's AppleScript: The Definitive Guide. When Apple announced the transition to CPUs from Intel, I was able to virtualize Windows on a Mac and continue my conversion.
As an industry analyst I did a fair bit of writing on technology, but it was all impersonal. By this point Chris had contributed some articles to TidBITS, and I asked if he could quietly approach Adam with a story idea about my "switcher's tale." The only problem was that, due to my day job, I would have to write under a pseudonym and my real identity would need to be kept secret.
Adam liked the idea, and thus I wrote my first ever TidBITS article ("From iPod to MacBook Pro: A Switcher's Tale," 13 March 2006). Over the course of the next year I wrote three more TidBITS articles under the name "Robert Movin." In August of 2007 I left my job, founded my own firm, and started writing the occasional TidBITS article under my real name.
As Macworld Expo approached I asked Adam in email if it would be okay if I used TidBITS as a reference to apply for a press pass. I didn't hear back right away - which is unlike Adam - leading me to assume I had offended him. When I gently inquired again, I was shocked when he offered me a staff position. I hadn't offended him; he was just bouncing the idea off the rest of the team.
It's been almost three years now, and I am still completely humbled and honored to be a part of this group.
Doug McLean -- My first knowledge of TidBITS came in an unexpected way for one of the world's longest-running electronic publications: by shuffling through the Jobs section in an actual newspaper! I had just returned to Ithaca with my girlfriend, who was beginning her master's degree at Cornell. The ad said something about a part-time opportunity for writing and editing about computers with a focus on Apple. Having just left a job managing a Mac-based network for a small art college near Boston, the job sounded perfect.
After a cheery phone interview with Tonya and a writing sample submitted, I found myself face-to-face with Tonya and Adam at a local coffee shop. It was one of the best job interviews I've had - not because I thought I nailed it, but because we actually had a fun and engaging conversation. An hour flew by talking about Facebook versus Twitter, Steve Jobs's performance and personality, and even a little about art (Adam and Tonya both have a keen interest, and I studied art in college and continue to maintain a studio).
Well, I lucked out, and got the job. Joining the TidBITS staff has been an enormously enjoyable learning experience. I can remember early on asking Adam if he could suggest some general reading on the history of the Apple, being invited over to the Engsts' home, and coming away with a heavy stack of books including everything from Guy Kawasaki's seminal "The Macintosh Way" to David Allen's "Getting Things Done" (a helpful book for those learning to work from home!) - as well as some of the many peaches produced by their overzealous fruit trees. I was also astonished by my first time collaborating in real time on coverage of a big Apple event. It was amazing to see the characters in the article appear, disappear, and change before my eyes as five other editors worked on it - like some kind of digital ant hill.
While I've been a part of TidBITS for only a tiny fraction of its existence, working alongside the rest of the TidBITS crew is a daily pleasure, and one for which I'm enormously grateful.
Article 23 of 29 in series
With TidBITS turning 20, we asked many friends and colleagues about their history with our little newsletter. The number and quality of replies has been overwhelming, and we're thrilled to share them.Show full article
When I think back on what I've enjoyed the most about TidBITS over the last 20 years, it's not the technology. Instead, the way TidBITS has enriched my life the most is through the people it has enabled me to meet and work with, at all levels of the Macintosh industry, ranging from independent Mac developers to Mac user group members to Apple executives.
So I want to share something special with you today - my friends and colleagues. I've asked a random set of people I've known in the industry for a long time to write a few words about how they first encountered TidBITS, what they remember from meeting me and Tonya, how TidBITS has influenced their lives, and so on.
My only regret is not having time to include even more people, but if you have a fun story about finding TidBITS for the first time, about meeting anyone on the staff, or how TidBITS has changed your life, please share it in the comments!
When Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" came out, I bought a copy at the Dartmouth Bookstore (I was working at Dartmouth at the time). As I stood in line waiting to pay, I happened to flip around the index and caught my name (at that time, I went by Andy J. Williams). I was shocked! Adam had mentioned my habit-at-that-time of providing LISTSERV access to various email lists and described me as "a sucker for resources in need of a home." The checkout person at the store was not impressed, but I was thrilled to have achieved some small amount of fame.
The following summer, during my annual pilgrimage to Macworld Expo in Boston, I discovered that Adam was signing books at his publisher's booth. I flipped my badge backward to hide my name and walked up to him and in my best stern-I-am-trying-not-to-smile-and-give-it-away look said, "You called me a sucker in your book, and I'm really upset!" He looked at me like I was some crazy (okay, to be fair, I was), and then I flipped my badge around and he laughed. And that's how we met.
I think I wrote my first article for TidBITS a while later, a review of a new LaserWriter (see "LaserWriter 16/600 PS," 14 November 1994).
TidBITS has been an integral part of my life since its HyperCard days. I hope it's going strong in 2,048 issues, and I wish everyone involved a happy 20th birthday!
[Andy Affleck is a Take Control author and TidBITS contributor who has become infamous for recommending the Solitaire Till Dawn card game for the annual TidBITS gift guide.]
David Blatner -- TidBITS, my old friend. Why, I remember when you were just a little thing, a strangely formatted recurring email in the wee-early 1990s that reminded me that I was far from alone in my odd proclivities toward all things Macintosh. (Yes, you remember that ol' "Mac" used to go by a longer name!) I don't recall much from those days, which seem a haze to my addled brain, though the memories are all fond ones. And, of course, it's hard to discern where my remembrances of TidBITS end and those of Adam and Tonya begin (as though, like Tron, they were early on pulled into the digital reality of their own writings, becoming one with the greater ASCII.) I recall that wonderful party at Adam and Tonya's house before they left for New York in 2001 (boo hoo), where we inherited a jade plant (now sprouted into several in our kitchen). I recall far-out conversations with Geoff Duncan and my surprise when my officemates and friends (Glenn Fleishman and Jeff Carlson) were suddenly enlisted into positions of greater editorial responsibility. I remember writing, re-writing, editing, and thinking all the time, "I'm really doing this article for free?" For that's the magic of TidBITS: it draws us all back to our childhoods, where we communally shared our experiences and got excited with our friends about the tiniest things - the things that were, are, most important in the minutiae of our lives. Congratulations, Adam and Tonya. I applaud you.
[David Blatner is the co-host of InDesignSecrets.com and the Print and ePublishing Conference. He is generally acknowledged to be one of the world's experts on publishing software, though he has also written on pi, aviation, and Judaism.]
Liz Castro -- I started reading TidBITS in the early 1990s when I was still living in Barcelona, translating the third edition of "The Macintosh Bible" into Spanish. It was my lifeline to news about the world of Apple, and I have depended ever since on its timely, accurate, incisive, and relevant stories. I can remember numerous times having read an article and later encountered the problem which it solved.
I love how TidBITS has evolved. In the beginning, it was mostly Mac stuff, but as Apple has added iDevices, TidBITS has stepped up to cover them. TidBITS always makes me feel like I'm up to date, like I have the inside track covered.
And to show how small the world can be, I first met Adam and Tonya at a Macworld Expo in San Francisco and after some conversation, it turned out we had friends in common in Ithaca.
Congratulations, and thanks for 20 years!
[Liz Castro is a computer book author best known for her "HTML, XHTML, and CSS: Visual QuickStart Guide," which has sold more than a million copies across six editions.]
Marshall Clow -- I've been reading TidBITS since my kids - now 21 and 19 - were very small, but it was sometime after the switch from the HyperCard stack format. Articles have helped me out of jams on several occasions, and just being able to point someone at a TidBITS article and say, "Is this the problem that you are having?" has made my life a lot easier over the years.
I've been mentioned a few times in TidBITS articles, which is always a kick because I get comments from other people: "Hey, I saw you in TidBITS!" But the most amusing bit was the year I received what turned out to be a one-off version of the TidBITS April Fools issue wishing me a happy birthday.
[Marshall Clow is a long-time Mac developer who has worked on products from StuffIt Deluxe to Eudora and whose birthday is indeed on April 1st.]
Michael E. Cohen -- I can't even remember the first time I read TidBITS, but it wasn't on the Web because Tim Berners-Lee hadn't yet unleashed the World Wide Web on the world. I vaguely recall using a Mac program called Easy View that formatted TidBITS email issues for easy onscreen reading. TidBITS was great for those of us hankering for Mac news back in the last century - it was a great source of, well, really useful and interesting tidbits, sort of a Mac and an Internet jungle drum that beat its way into my mailbox once a week. A year or two after I read my first issue, I picked up a copy of Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" to share with all my friends and colleagues. I probably read about the book in a TidBITS issue.
The first time I met Adam and Tonya (and, I think, the only time that we've met offline) was during Macworld Expo in San Francisco in 2007, a few months after they had published the first edition of my Take Control book on syncing. I remember thinking how much nicer they both were in person than in email and on the phone, and, given that they both are among the nicest people I've ever dealt with remotely, that was impressive. Congratulations on 1K of TidBITS!
[Michael E. Cohen has written three Take Control books about syncing, and currently holds the record for most puns per title.]
Colin Crawford -- In over three decades the Apple industry has experienced swings of great highs and deep lows. However, despite some turmoil there has been a remarkable camaraderie in the industry - it is bonded by a desire to see Apple and the whole ecosystem not just survive but continue to set high standards for others to emulate. It's not about unquestioning loyalty or fanboy fanaticism - we've all been willing to offer constructive criticism to help improve products from Apple and others in the industry. When subpar products have appeared, we've called the companies on them and dealt with some inevitable backlash. The focus has always been to serve Macintosh users, to give them the best advice we can.
TidBITS over the last 20 years has been a consistent voice of reason. The style is not strident, but it's authoritative, well reasoned, and always presented with great clarity and total editorial professionalism. In a nutshell, Adam and Tonya have created an indispensable trusted brand that is an integral part of the Mac community.
The contributions to this issue from all across the industry are testament to the tremendous reach and influence of TidBITS. I am looking forward to reading their insights for many more years.
[Colin Crawford was the CEO of Macworld Magazine from 1995 to 2003.]
When I first went to work at Peachpit, I was a Mac user, but I wasn't immersed in the world of Mac. My colleagues at Peachpit turned me on to TidBITS, and it quickly became a trusted source of news and, more importantly, a beautifully written (and edited) interpretation of that news.
I was introduced to Adam and Tonya a year or so later. By then I had read about them and learned a bit about them, but I can still recall that my very first thought on meeting them was, "This cannot be Adam and Tonya. They are so young!" I realized that because they wrote with such authority, confidence, and understanding of technology that I had unconsciously aged them in my mind. They couldn't possibly have all that experience and be that young, could they?
Soon thereafter I was assigned to be Adam's editor on his first Peachpit book. And I'll admit, I was more than a bit intimidated. Yes, with Adam writing and Tonya editing, I had a book editor's dream team, but how could I edit their work? How would I work with them?
I quickly discovered that they were indeed a dream team and a delight to work with. I am sure I learned far more from them than they did from me, but they were fantastic partners and consummate professionals, and ultimately, they have become my friends. I feel very fortunate to work with them, and to continue to learn from them. The TidBITS issues that arrive each week are a welcome sight in my overcrowded inbox, and the TidBITS archives are a treasure that I turn to for reminders, information, and sometimes, just fun.
Congratulations on 20 amazing years! Thank you for everything you do to keep this community strong.
[Nancy Davis is Editor-in-Chief of Peachpit Press.]
Sky Dayton -- My relationship with TidBITS and Adam goes way back. Seventeen years ago, Adam's TidBITS advice and his seminal "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" helped me get my Mac on the Internet for the first time. Soon afterward, I decided to start EarthLink, and I ordered "Internet Starter Kits" by the case to give to every EarthLink subscriber as they signed up. Later on, Apple selected EarthLink as their built-in Internet provider because of our long dedication to the Mac, which all started with TidBITS.
Through thick and thin, TidBITS has been the heart and soul of the Mac community for twenty years.
[Sky Dayton founded EarthLink in 1994 and Boingo Wireless in 2001, where he remains chairman of the board.]
[Steve Dorner is the original author of Eudora.]
Ole Eichhorn -- I first downloaded TidBITS on CompuServe, in the old setext format, starting with issue #7 or so. I remember being notified of new issues via a newfangled thing called Internet email to my account 70740,50. Yes, that's right, I had a seven-digit CompuServe account number.
Hundreds of articles in TidBITS have helped me with an important tip or pointed me to something interesting. I remember when just figuring out all the Apple models was challenging, and which models supported which features. That has sure changed. I think the software reviews were one of my biggest reasons for reading, since in the old days software companies couldn't easily offer trial versions, and this was before the Internet; you couldn't just Google for reviews. TidBITS always did "fair and balanced" views of products.
To me, the most amazing thing about TidBITS is its consistency and longevity. If I were telling a friend about TidBITS now, I'd probably tell the story about how, to celebrate its 20th anniversary and 1,024th issue, Adam contacted some longtime readers and asked them to talk a little about TidBITS, including relating the most amazing story about TidBITS they could think of...
[Ole Eichhorn is Chief Technology Officer at Aperio. His previous positions include Executive Vice President of Engineering at PayPal and General Manager of Online Billpay at Intuit.]
Twenty years is quite a long time in human appreciation. But twenty years of steady and robust determination is a wonderful achievement. Thank you...
I was an early Mac user between 1987 and 1997. I have known TidBITS since its second year. The importance of TidBITS in my life, however, is not as a reader or a Mac user. I took part in the development of browsing tools aimed at supporting electronic publishing. Easy View was one of the earlier tools - an academic work at that time - in the field. Our very similar dedication to "easily reachable archives" was the strong link between us.
[Akif Eyler is Professor of Computer Engineering at Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey. He is best known in the Mac world for developing the Easy View file viewer that was for many years the preferred way to archive and view TidBITS issues.]
Dan Frakes -- Honestly, I have no recollection of the first time I met Adam or Tonya - it seems like I've known them for ages, although it has probably been only 12 or 13 years. I knew of them long before that: I remember browsing a copy of "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" at the campus computer store back in 1993 or 1994, about the same time I started reading TidBITS regularly.
Back then, the idea of getting weekly Mac news that wasn't a week (or more) old was still fairly unique - the Web hadn't yet taken off as a primary source of Mac information. I still have fond memories of using Easy View to read those issues. In a way, Easy View and TidBITS were like an early RSS reader... albeit one that updated its feeds only once per week.
Here we are, nearly two decades later, and TidBITS is still going strong. One of the most amazing things about TidBITS is how long Adam and Tonya have been publishing continuously: the TidBITS Web site provides the oldest unbroken archives of Mac-related news out there.
But that archive has personal meaning, as well. I've written articles for TidBITS, but a search of the TidBITS Web site turned up a number of quotes from me as a reader that helps document my own technological history. For example, I discovered that my name first appeared in TidBITS in November 1998 (see "Talkin' About MP3," 30 November 1998). The staff had asked readers some questions about the nascent technology of MP3 audio and quoted my response. I didn't realize I was listening to MP3 files in 1998, but evidently I was, and regularly!
I bring this up not just because I found my 12-year-old quotes interesting, but because it points to a big reason for TidBITS's success: Adam and Tonya have always considered TidBITS readers to be not just passive consumers, but part of a community of contributors. I look forward to many more years of that community.
[Dan Frakes writes for Macworld and occasionally moonlights as a Take Control editor and TidBITS contributor.]
Greg Friedman -- Around the end of 1990, I applied for a job at Aladdin Systems, which had recently introduced the first commercial version of StuffIt. At the time, Aladdin was a company of six employees operating out of a house in Aptos, California. TidBITS was being published as a HyperCard stack at the time (a really cool HyperCard stack which aggregated back issues, if I recall correctly). Like many of us, I downloaded it from the Info-Mac Archives each week over my 2400 baud modem.
Anyway, TidBITS ran a piece on the imminent release of StuffIt Deluxe 2.0, which I read prior to interviewing with Aladdin. One of the guys who interviewed me was Dave Schargel, President of Aladdin and a well-known personality in the industry. Dave asked me what industry magazines I read. I told him I read MacUser, Macworld, and TidBITS. In fact, I told him, I'd recently read the TidBITS coverage of the upcoming StuffIt Deluxe 2.0 release. Dave hadn't heard of TidBITS before, but he was impressed by how up-to-date I was because of that article and we launched into a memorable first conversation about the evolution of media into the digital space. In short, TidBITS helped me land my first job in the industry.
Twenty years! That's just incredible. What a ride these past twenty years have been for all of us. Heartfelt congratulations to you and the TidBITS family!
[Greg is currently a Development Manager at Microsoft where, among other things, he worked on the first few releases of Internet Explorer for the Mac. Prior to Microsoft, he worked at Aladdin Systems and spent a few years working on Developer Tools at Apple.]
Lea Galanter -- I was a member of the Mac user group in Houston before I moved to Seattle in 1990, where I met Adam and Tonya at Seattle's dBug. Adam was the person who first showed me "the Web" - via something called Mosaic. I was blown away - one of those moments I remember in detail. I think I've been reading TidBITS since the beginning, and I still read TidBITS regularly; it seems even more important now with multiple Apple products in my life (a laptop, an iPhone, and one day soon an iPad). I can't think of anywhere else I can get the latest news and information that matters about Apple products all in one place.
[Lea Galanter is a Take Control editor.]
Jeff Ganyard -- Let's see, I would first have encountered TidBITS back in 1992. The Apple Assistance Center was in the process of being created in Austin, TX, out of the "System 7 Answerline." It was Apple's further foray into the world of direct end user support. One of the people in that group had been at Cornell just prior to coming to Austin to work for Apple. She introduced me to TidBITS. We all looked forward to each issue, and even as we were getting some excellent training within Apple, TidBITS provided us with the wider view of what was happening in the Mac world.
The things I can share about the early influence of TidBITS in my career...
- We formatted all the reference docs for the software support group at Apple in setext format and referenced it in Easy View, all based on an article Adam wrote. That was the beginning of several years of me building nimble and quick reference resources for Apple's support reps.
- I found out about BBEdit from TidBITS. I've spent an awful lot of time with BBEdit, Rich Siegel, and Bare Bones in the last 18 years.
- I learned about MacHTTP from TidBITS. As Chuck Shotton's work laid the foundation for Web serving on Macs, so he also helped create my career in Apple, as just a couple years later I became the Server Evangelist and then the Internet Evangelist.
- I don't recall when I first met Adam but I do remember helping him stash that splintery stake from MacHack under the sink in my hotel room in 2000. I wonder where in the hotel it is now? [To find out, read the articles in "The Story of the Stake." -Adam]
[Jeff Ganyard is Development Manger for Mac Products at Nuance Communications, which recently purchased MacSpeech, and formerly Internet Evangelist at Apple.]
Jon Gotow -- I've been reading TidBITS since before there were Web browsers - yeah, that's old. I first encountered TidBITS on the Info-Mac Digest, where Adam was an active contributor and TidBITS was one of the sources of Mac knowledge. TidBITS has always been one of those rare gems that provides enough technical detail and background for you to really understand topics, and Adam hits the right balance of technical depth and approachability. Plus he's always straight with his readers - even before meeting him, I felt I knew him and very much trusted his opinions.
After reading TidBITS for so long and emailing Adam on a number of occasions, we finally met at MacHack one year. I think the things that struck me the most were that this busy, incredibly well-known Mac expert sat down and talked to me for a long time and that he was as excited about what was going on in the Mac world as if he'd just discovered it - not as though he'd been writing about these things for years.
Lots of TidBITS articles have been helpful to me over the years, and back in the day, articles tracking virus outbreaks and explaining the workings of clever software like RAM Doubler were invaluable. It made me look smart whenever anyone had a Mac question. But the best part was my 15 minutes of fame in a publication that I really respected when Adam wrote an article about me and my son Ben when we won the hacking contest at MacHack (see "The MacHax Best Hack Contest 2003," 23 June 2003).
Even now, what sets TidBITS apart is how comprehensive it is. Say there's a big issue brewing - like the iPad - you can surf all over the place and spend a while collecting information and opinions, or you can just read about it in TidBITS and get a solid, well-researched perspective about what's up, with reliable links to more information.
[Jon Gotow is the president of St. Clair Software and the developer of Default Folder X and HistoryHound.]
John Gruber -- I started reading TidBITS in 1991, during my freshman year of college. I don't recall how I first came upon it, but I'd wager heavily that it was on one of the comp.sys.mac.* Usenet groups.
As a budding writer and Mac nerd, TidBITS immediately struck a chord. Not just because of what it was about, but because of what it was and how it was delivered. TidBITS has been delivered in a variety of formats over the years - HyperCard stack, plain text email and Usenet postings, and, now, of course, a Web site - but one thing it has never been about is print. And, more importantly, it has always been free of charge to readers.
We take digital distribution and free access for granted today. But TidBITS debuted years before the Web. Think about that. More importantly, TidBITS's standards for writing, editing, insight, and respect for its readership have been consistently excellent, right from the start. Most of the initial forays into digital publications were clearly from people who saw digital content as inherently inferior to print. Not TidBITS. Their attitude was, "let's make something great, and let's do it ourselves." If anything, TidBITS published higher-quality writing than the print publications covering the Mac market in the early 1990s. And, given the speed of digital distribution, it was more timely and more relevant. In short, TidBITS wasn't just "good for something that's free," it was good, period. It didn't try to replicate print. It instead emphasized what digital distribution does best.
Needless to say, I found this incredibly inspiring. TidBITS was the inspiration for the independent Mac publications that followed, including mine. And it's every bit as relevant today as it was in 1990 (when, I remind you, it was distributed as a HyperCard stack), by remaining focused not on any specific distribution format but on the writing.
Formats come and go. Great writing is forever.
[John Gruber writes Daring Fireball.]
My story, for what it's worth. I was in Zayre's department store with my Mom and one or two of my sisters. As usual, I was sort of off on my own and I wound up in the record department. I don't know why I was drawn to TidBITS specifically. I think it was the colorful cover. It was like a picture puzzle, almost. I thought I recognized Mae West and W.C. Fields. Actually, I'll be honest: there was a sticker on the plastic that promised that there were cutouts inside.
So I bought it with my birthday money. I opened it up when I got home and played with the cutouts. It was probably a couple of days before I got to actually listen to TidBITS. I had a cassette player in my room... Dad's hand-me-down from work, one of those kinds where it was shaped like a shoebox and the controller buttons were levers on the front. I wasn't allowed to use the family stereo downstairs.
But my oldest sisters had a record player and I was able to use it when they weren't home. I just remember putting on the headphones and sitting on the floor in front of the record player, listening to this freaky, freaky music. It was beautiful. But for all of its intensity, it played out like one of my story tapes; it had a beginning and a middle and an end. I wondered whether the TidBITS editors on the back were really "playing" the roles, or if they were just singing about characters they'd made up.
The last track sort of threw me, though. It was in the form of a dream that transitioned into waking and then getting on a bus. It was really familiar territory for a kid who went to public school. The thing was, though, that it appeared to be broken in half. Intellectually, I knew that this was how the song was meant to go, but it seemed like there was more to the story than that. So I was a little pleased with myself when I learned later that Tonya and Adam had each written two separate songs, and then when they were putting TidBITS together they realized that they could glue them together. I keep forgetting who wrote which part.
Anyway. If you'd told me way back then that I would one day count Adam and Tonya as friends, and moreover that I'd be asked to contribute a little piece of my own to commemorate TidBITS's anniversary, I would have told you that you were nuts. It's just one of a thousand little miracles that I've encountered in my career. Congratulations, you two.
[Andy Ihnatko writes about technology for the Chicago Sun-Times, does a vast number of other things, and long ago moved up from being the Macintosh world's 42nd most-beloved industry personality.]
Chuck Joiner -- TidBITS at twenty? Is that even possible? There are very, very few things in any category that have been part of my life for twenty years. Whether I outgrew them, lost interest, or they closed up or lost their relevance, they just aren't there any longer. TidBITS is a notable exception. Adam, Tonya and the entire crew have maintained not only relevance, but also a standard of consistent excellence while growing and evolving with the changes in the world of Apple technology and beyond. Their unique blend of tech reporting, insight and personal experiences set TidBITS apart early on, and continue to make it one of the few truly must-read resources for Apple product users of every stripe. Thanks for a great twenty years - and over one thousand issues - of useful, interesting, and thought-provoking information.
[Chuck Joiner is the indefatigable mastermind behind the MacNotables, MacVoices, and MacJury podcasts.]
Greg Joswiak -- Wow! It's mind-boggling that TidBITS is turning 20. I remember when I first discovered TidBITS in the early 1990s and thinking of it as an unbelievably timely, informative, authoritative, and classy publication. I couldn't wait to get each issue to stay up on the happenings in our beloved Mac community. Little did I realize that Adam and team were inventing the future with TidBITS long years before any of us would ever use the word "blog." But more importantly, they were also part of the fabric and soul of our community. We've all been through a lot with each other. And like a good friend, through good times and bad, TidBITS was always there for us. Never getting into the muck, always staying true to the TidBITS mission to keep us up on the latest news and info. Now 20 years later, TidBITS hasn't skipped a beat and is every bit as timely, informative, authoritative, and classy!
Congrats on your first 20 years. And THANK YOU to the entire team at TidBITS.
[Greg Joswiak is Apple's Vice President of iPod and iPhone Product Marketing.]
When our products get reviewed in TidBITS, we know someone has spent time and energy to use and understand the product. On the Web, amidst hundreds of sites which offer little new, that sort of effort has grown rare. TidBITS brings depth to everything it covers.
[Paul Kafasis is the CEO and Lackey of Rogue Amoeba Software.]
Jonathan Kahn -- I believe I first encountered TidBITS in the early 1990s in the Aladdin Systems days. Leonard Rosenthol introduced us at a Macworld Expo. I also remember that we really felt as a company that we'd made the big time the first time TidBITS wrote about us. It was through TidBITS that I learned about Chad Magendanz's ShrinkWrap, then a shareware product that we ended up buying, and which I used to make a lot of disk images back then. I also remember how TidBITS helped us out during the years, giving us advice on our products, acting as a sounding board, and providing insight on where the Mac was moving. That was especially helpful during the launch of StuffIt 5.0, where your advice helped us get though the switch from the .sit format to .sitx format.
[Jonathan Kahn is the Executive Vice President & General Manager Productivity & Graphics Group at Smith Micro; he was formerly the president of Aladdin Systems and Allume.]
Paul Kent -- In the same way people have favorite music that serves as the soundtrack of their lives, TidBITS has been a constant, trusted thread that has chronicled the world of Apple technology. The first time Adam spoke for me was at Mactivity '93, shortly after "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" came out. That seminal work informed the tone of his early presentations and mirrored the tone of TidBITS - always clear, concise, and compassionate, but never condescending. It's an inclusive tone that fosters community and makes us all feel that we're exploring the world of technology together. 18 years and several dozen presentations later, TidBITS continues to serve its readership with the spirit of the original Mac community and the vibrancy of our current world. Onward to 2,048!
[Paul Kent founded the Mactivity series of conferences and is now General Manager of Macworld Expo for IDG World Expo.]
My entire life for the past 17 years is Adam Engst's fault.
I was a poor starving college student, trying to find a job with my (to this day) meager skills. But I was really good at talking and explaining things to people and someone told me I should be a computer trainer.
"This Internet thing is going to be huge. You should look into that."
My local bookstore had a copy of Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh." $50 (Canadian). Gulp. I sadly spent my beer money on it and took it home, devouring it over the weekend. Installed the software and BOOM! A whole new world of information opened up to me.
Thanks to that book and TidBITS, I looked like a genius, and those of you who know me know how hard that is to accomplish. I could get fellow Mac users on the Internet with ease, troubleshoot their problems and tell them about cool software, hardware, tips, tricks and information - all things I gleaned from TidBITS. And better yet, they would pay me to talk to them!
A couple of years go by and I'm starting this little "Internet radio" show. I scraped up enough money to go to a Macworld Expo and got to meet Adam and Tonya. Now, we Canadians are generally a reserved, reticent folk, not given to public displays of fanboyism, but I just had to tell Adam how much I appreciated his work and how much he had (unknowingly and unwittingly) contributed to my career.
I fully expected Adam to dismiss me breezily, but he stood there for 10 minutes as we talked Mac stuff. He introduced me to Tonya (who I still have a little crush on to this day) and wished me well with my new show.
I could not have been more impressed - I've always been impressed with the style and quality of the writing in TidBITS - but it was at that moment I realized why. It's because Adam and Tonya are impressive, and they imbue everything they do with passion, intelligence, and respect, and yet still keep a sense of joy and excitement about their lives, both professionally and personally.
I am very proud to have been, to my knowledge, the only person to get Adam to curse during a live broadcast, but I'm even more proud to call them both my friends.
Here's to 20 more years of being who you are, Adam and Tonya!
[Shawn King is the host of Your Mac Life and is the original Internet Mac broadcaster.]
My more distinct memory is when I first became aware of Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh." At the time, I was using AOL or CompuServe as my main gateway to the Internet. These services seemed so much better than dealing with all the hassles that were inherent with what the Internet Starter Kit described. I just didn't understand what was getting Adam so excited, or what was making his book so popular. At the time, I would have placed bets that AOL or something like it would keep ascending while the stuff Adam was promoting would fade into oblivion.
It's a good thing no one was taking my bets or I'd be out a lot of money. Clearly, Adam and Tonya had their fingers on the pulse of where things were headed. They still do. Congratulations on 20 years of leading the way.
[Ted Landau is the king of Macintosh troubleshooting, having founded MacFixIt and written numerous books and articles on the topic. His most recent title for Take Control is "Take Control of iPhone OS 3."]
Pat Lee -- I started reading TidBITS back in 1992. I had just joined Dantz Development, the makers of DiskFit Pro and Retrospect backup software, and like most other small companies at the time we had a single "Internet-accessible" email address to the outside world. Chris Holmes, who also worked in our tech support team at the time, was responsible for distributing TidBITS to the rest of the company.
It's funny looking back now on those articles that TidBITS wrote about Retrospect and transparent file compression software (see "Retrospect and Compression Software," 25 May 1992). Does anyone else remember using Salient's AutoDoubler or Alysis's More Disk Space to get the most use out of our 40 MB (that's right, MB not GB) hard drives? Now 2 TB hard disks cost only about $150.
I first met Tonya and Adam at Macworld Expo back in the mid-1990s and looked forward to seeing them every year at Dantz's Macworld parties at the Thirsty Bear and then keeping in touch with them over email.
At VMware, it has been great collaborating with Adam, Tonya, and Joe Kissell on two "Take Control of VMware Fusion" ebooks. They truly get what Mac users are looking for, and I am glad we can work together to make life even easier for VMware Fusion customers.
I look forward to continued years of reading TidBITS, Take Control ebooks, and whatever great new ideas Adam and Tonya come up with that make life as a Mac user even better!
[Pat Lee is Director of Personal Desktop Products at VMware.]
Peter N Lewis -- The first email I can find from Adam was in August 1993, when he asked me, John Norstad and Steve Dorner to tech edit the MacTCP chapter of "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh." But I'd known of TidBITS since November 1991, when I received a report from one of its readers that my DeHQX 2.0 reported an error decoding issue #95 of TidBITS [which was then a stuffed, binhexed HyperCard stack -Adam].
I'm always pleased to see any mention or review in TidBITS because TidBITS has always been so discerning - anyone can get a mention on any of the various press release republishing sites, but only programs that TidBITS folks actually care about appear in TidBITS, which I think is where it gets a lot of its value. The first time I remember being reviewed in TidBITS was in "Anarchie Rules" (31 January 1994) - an article that has Adam raving about the value of URLs - at that point a new idea!
It also includes the comment, "I'm looking forward to the day when you can select a URL in TidBITS, hit a hot key or select an item from a menu, and have Anarchie snag the file for you instantly." Later in 1994, Quinn and I answered Adam's desire with the Internet Config utility, which was later rolled in to Mac OS by Apple (see "Internet Config Ships," 5 December 1994).
Congrats on 20 magical years! It is fantastic to see TidBITS still going strong, even while many other publishing companies are struggling - a true testament to the value of quality journalism and tenacity - well done!
[Peter N Lewis is the founder of Stairways Software and is well-known in the Macintosh Internet world for programs such as Anarchie (which became Interarchy and was bought by Nolobe), Internet Config, and FTPd. He also played a pivotal role in the founding of Kagi, and now publishes the macro utility Keyboard Maestro.]
[Peter said he couldn't remember when we first met, but it's one of our most cherished stories, so I can't resist sharing. In June 1994, Peter sent me email asking if I was going to Mactivity that year so we could meet up. I had a conflict, but since we had corresponded online a bit by then, I sent what I thought was a throwaway social gesture, and invited Peter to visit if he was going to be up in Seattle (Mactivity was in California). I didn't understand that young Australians are among the world's most enthusiastic travelers, so I was somewhat surprised when Peter asked if July 12th through 17th was OK. I'd offered, so I couldn't say no, and I still remember telling Tonya that I'd accidentally invited someone we'd never met to stay with us for five days. Ever practical, she asked how old he was (our age) and what he ate (everything). The visit was a smashing success, and subsequent years saw many of Peter's Mac friends from Australia coming through, and we remain friends with all of them. So much so that we arranged to be in Perth in 1998 for Peter's 30th birthday party. -Adam]
Jean MacDonald -- Two particular articles from last year come to mind whenever I think of TidBITS. Matt Neuburg's "ClickToFlash Spiffs the Safari Experience" (28 May 2009) changed my computer-using life! I cannot use a browser without ClickToFlash installed anymore. I had no idea how much Flash was embedded in the Web pages I visited. Matt's article explained how it worked and how to install it so well, I shared that link with everyone I knew. And I got so many thanks for doing so.
And on the lighter side, I was amused when Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman approached me about doing an April Fools Day article about a rift between our company founders, resulting in a spin-off called FrownOnMyMac. We had never done anything like that before. I was a little nervous about proposing it to Philip and Greg since we're careful not to do anything that might tarnish our reputation. But I trusted Jeff and Glenn to do it well. The resulting piece - "FrownOnMyMac Fills New Mac Niches," 1 April 2009 - was very amusing and inspired me to create a mock Web page for the fake company. And only one person came up to me at Macworld that year to say he heard that Greg had left the company...
[Jean MacDonald is a partner at Mac utility developer SmileOnMyMac and a really good sport when it comes to April Fools jokes.]
Jim Matthews -- I started reading TidBITS when it was a HyperCard stack, and I think I first heard about it on the Info-Mac mailing list. TidBITS came from Cornell, Info-Mac from Stanford, Eudora from the University of Illinois, and I was working on Fetch at Dartmouth. At that time the Mac Internet community was primarily an academia-based phenomenon, just starting to break out into the wider world.
One of the things that made that breakout possible was Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh." There had been a couple of other Internet books before, but Adam's was the first to give you everything you needed: knowledge, hand-holding, and software - including a copy of Apple's elusive MacTCP! - to get onto the net. Seeing "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" on the shelves at Borders was a revelation, an unmistakable sign that the world was about to change.
One thing that hasn't changed is TidBITS's approach to journalism; it has remained remarkably scrupulous, patient, and devoted to clear explanations for a confusing and confused world. TidBITS is an Internet treasure.
[Jim Matthews created Fetch, one of the first file transfer programs for the Mac, while working at Dartmouth College in 1989. In 2000, Jim used some of his winnings from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to buy Fetch's source code from Dartmouth and form Fetch Softworks.]
Kirk McElhearn -- I bought my first Mac in 1991; a PowerBook 100. Shortly thereafter, I started buying a French Mac magazine (I live in France) that came with a floppy disk of freeware and shareware. One thing it had, with every issue, was a copy of TidBITS. In part because of TidBITS, I continued to buy that magazine for years, and TidBITS kept me up-to-date on the kind of news that the French magazine didn't report.
Some years later, I started contributing articles to TidBITS, and one article led to a Macworld editor contacting me, asking me to write about a specific program that I had reviewed in TidBITS for a feature article. Since then, I have become a Senior Contributor for Macworld, and I can only say that TidBITS - and Adam's personal help in making that Macworld connection - got my writing career going.
I don't contribute to TidBITS as much as I used to, but I read it every week, and recognize it as one of the essential reads for Mac users.
Congratulations to Adam and Tonya on 20 years!
[Kirk McElhearn has written several Take Control titles, numerous Macworld articles, and a variety of print books.]
Don Mayer -- I've been reading TidBITS for nearly all of its 20 years and in addition to the incredibly valuable tips, analysis and reviews, TidBITS was directly responsible for the launch of my own electronic newsletter, Kibbles & Bytes. You see, Adam and Tonya had DealBITS going for awhile and as a sponsor we would include some offers for TidBITS readers. When they put that incarnation of DealBITS on hiatus, I decided to launch a weekly e-newsletter. Naturally, Small Dog Electronics called it Kibbles & Bytes and 25,000 subscribers and 12 years later it is an integral part of our business.
Happy Birthday TidBITS, you rock!
[Don Mayer is the CEO of Small Dog Electronics, and he contributed this from his iPad while travelling in Hong Kong.]
Kee Nethery -- Back in the old days of Hayes 2400 baud modems, I first ran into TidBITS on a floppy disk from BMUG (Berkeley Macintosh Users Group). Back then floppies were the primary distribution media for bits. It would be extremely difficult to pinpoint the first TidBITS article that saved my butt. Even today in the era of online search, having TidBITS as a source of vetted Macintosh information is valuable. TidBITS was essentially the first Macintosh blog, before the term was invented and before the Internet was accessible to mere mortals.
In the beginning, TidBITS was the first and best source for details on any new Mac-related development. With Twitter and other modern developments, TidBITS might no longer be the first outlet with news, but it certainly has the best set of useful information. TidBITS explains what the situation used to be, what it is now, how that impacts the technology, how the technology impacts the users, and what developers have come up with to address the situation. In a world of Sound Bite News, a TidBITS article contains actionable information.
[Kee Nethery is the CEO of Kagi, the ecommerce company he founded in 1994 after leaving Apple, where he specified and delivered the Apple Internet Server Solution for the Web.]
Alan Oppenheimer -- It's hard to remember back that far, but I think I first learned about TidBITS when I met Adam. I was, in hindsight, somewhat isolated at Apple, and didn't get out into the general Mac community much, despite, for instance, my running a working group in the IETF and talking at WWDC. So it wasn't until I left Apple and started Open Door that I began to get a real world perspective. I met Adam and TidBITS in early January 1995, at Macworld Expo, when I launched Open Door to do ARA-based dialup Internet access. Someone at the show, possibly Kee Nethery, with whom I had worked at Apple, mentioned TidBITS, Adam, and the Netter's Dinner. I believe it was, amazingly, also the first time I heard about Eudora! Getting out of Apple opened a whole new world for me, quite literally.
Some of TidBITS's reviews of our products have certainly helped. Not just to let more people know about the products, but also because it feels good to get recognition, both from TidBITS and from your readers.
I'd like to see TidBITS continue to evolve with Apple, and add more coverage, as you've been doing, of the iPhone and iPad. It was so great of that reader to sponsor iPads for the entire staff. That must have felt good.
[Alan Oppenheimer is President and founder of Open Door Networks, and one of the creators of AppleTalk.]
Naomi Pearce -- Do you remember when the Internet essentially meant text: files, email, and such, rather than "the Web"? TidBITS started as interesting nuggets of text, and became like a bible to me, as a searchable source I go to over and over, and can trust. Being on the flip side of working with the writers can be non-trivial - TidBITS writers ask tough questions - and that's definitely the right approach.
Take Control has been useful too. I still don't know how Intel's employee #4 (Les Vadász) ended up in my mailbox asking Mac switcher questions. But after exhausting what I knew and hitting the wall, the Take Control ebooks came to the rescue, and the price was tailor-made for gifting.
I remember meeting Adam and Tonya way back, before a single gray hair, before any young'uns, before GeekCruises, way, way back when Jerry Garcia was still alive. Heck, it may have been back when Bill Graham was alive, but I can't remember that far. It was back when the Internet provided fast delivery of chunks of text, before it was about the Web and video on demand. These chunks of text were the little tidbits of info. Then, nobody had to tell you to keep it short, or to define "short" as 140 characters. Now, a bazillion tidbits of helpful TidBITS later, it's a weekly update and a repository of many thousands of individual articles for that emergency search. It's only in retrospect that it looks like a long time; and allofthesudden that Steve Martin line "some of these houses are over Twenty Years Old" is, and isn't, really funny.
[Naomi Pearce is the owner of Pearce Communications, one of the most highly respected public relations firms in the Macintosh industry.]
Chris Pepper -- In my mind, TidBITS is inextricably linked to Usenet, Info-Mac, and Eudora. It's good that at least one of those four has survived and prospered. I don't recall when I first encountered TidBITS, but I know I printed TidBITS and the Info-Mac Digest on a high-speed dot-matrix line printer (wide green-and-white striped paper) at Rockefeller University in the 1992-1995 period. It was invaluable there for supporting Macs - my first job.
My most memorable TidBITS moment came when Adam let me post a job listing in TidBITS Talk, and I not only filled the job, but made two good friends in the process. Appearing in articles was also very cool, and I made another friend that way. Being written about (rare) is more fun and surprising than writing for TidBITS, which is more significant but much more work! The most trepidation I've felt was in speaking carefully but honestly about relatives for a piece on family tech support (see "InterviewBITS: Family Tech Support," 23 April 2007).
TidBITS remains the best resource for Mac information that I'm aware of, with a long and illustrious history. It broke new ground in publishing, while many readers have been largely unaware of just how unusual TidBITS has been.
[Chris Pepper is a system administrator in New York City who has contributed a number of articles to TidBITS over the years and whose eagle eyes significantly reduce the number of typos and other errors in TidBITS articles. He has also contributed feedback on numerous Take Control ebooks.]
David Pogue -- Congratulations on TidBITS #1024! I've always appreciated TidBITS's insight, technical accuracy, and measured opinions; the only thing I don't appreciate is how old this anniversary suddenly makes me feel. :-)
Even so, I'm looking forward to the next 1,024 issues!
[David Pogue is Tech Columnist for The New York Times.]
Jeff Porten -- I found TidBITS in a grad school computer lab in late 1990 or early 1991. Early enough that it was still in HyperCard format, and "Hey, let's sit down and read all the back issues" wasn't a particularly nutty thing to do. I can't remember when TidBITS switched to setext, but yeah, I had Easy View to format it all pretty. I also liked the option of reading it in pine on the lab VT100 terminals - for some reason, they had trouble with HyperCard stacks.
I first met Adam and Tonya at my first Macworld Expo, which was the last one in Boston. Everyone was treating it like a wake, but I was psyched to meet people. I sat next to them at lunch, with these first impressions: Tonya is short, and Adam is completely insane. (He was training for some kind of double marathon up every hill in Ithaca, hopping backward in the dark in snowshoes. At least that's how I remember it.)
More importantly, my other first impression is that they seemed as happy to meet me as vice versa, and immediately made me feel like we'd been friends since I downloaded that first HyperCard stack.
I became a Mac and Internet consultant in 1993, catching the very early wave of clients when online meant either AOL or MacPPP. I think I urged around 1,000 people to subscribe to TidBITS, and told most of them that Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" was the best way to avoid tossing the PowerBook out a window. I value both reading and writing for TidBITS for the same reason I always have: it's the club with all of the smart, fun kids.
See y'all for issue #2,048. You should release it in HyperCard. Preferably with HyperCard itself.
[Jeff Porten has served as a roving correspondent for TidBITS at a number of trade shows, blogs for MacUser, and may one day finish a Take Control book.]
Quinn -- My memory of all things non-technical is, as always, very hazy. However, I dug through my old email archives to look for our earliest communications and I discovered the following letter to the editor I wrote back in 1992. It's astonishing how closely history has repeated itself with the release of the iPad.
In response to Adam's line "Despite this move away from numbers, the Mac is a computer, and no one pretends otherwise." in "Apple Newtons II" (15 June 1992), I commented:
"This may be true now but in 1984 I don't think that was what Apple intended. Remember the advert. The key speech therein is:
On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.
And you'll see why 1984 won't be like "1984."
"No mention of the Macintosh being a computer there. There's also lots of other evidence that the Mac was never intended to be a real computer. 'Welcome to Macintosh' proclaims it every time you boot. Macintosh doesn't just mean the hardware or the software but the entire system. This was Jobs's vision, the Macintosh as a 'bicycle for the mind.' Of course, there's a fine line between vision and hallucination. :-)
"With the Newton, Sculley is trying to do in 1992 exactly what Jobs tried to do in 1984. The only question is, will he do a better job?"
Drummond Reed -- TidBITS has the distinction of being the entire launch strategy for one of the first pure Internet software products back in 1993. The Internet Adapter (TIA), which solved the problem of how users with a text-only SLIP connection could use the newfangled graphical Mosaic Web browser, was sold exclusively online (digital keys for unlocking the product were delivered in email).
So it made sense to launch it via a review by Adam in TidBITS and let word of mouth spread from there. It was so successful that Adam's article was cross-posted to two dozen mailing lists within 12 hours, and it generated over $1 million of TIA sales in the next 6 months. I wouldn't be working in the Internet business today were it not for Adam and Tonya and TidBITS.
[Drummond Reed is Executive Director of the Information Card Foundation and Open Identity Exchange, and he's a pioneer in digital addressing and linking technologies with an emphasis on online identity.]
Michael T. Rose -- In 1990, as a very green intern, I was among the few, slightly nervous Mac-heads in Time Inc.'s manufacturing and distribution group. My boss, the late Dennis A. Chesnel, was encouraging us to explore the brave new world of professional-quality desktop publishing for the magazine business, and I was fortunate enough to have both a Mac IIfx and a NeXT Cube competing for real estate on my desk.
I'm not sure whether it was Dennis who first forwarded me an issue of TidBITS; it might have been Chris Green, the database lead at Fortune Magazine... but I definitely remember trying to figure out what "setext" was. Took a while, too; this was pre-Google, in the days of Gopher and WAIS, when 2400-baud modems roamed the land. I read about PostScript headers, RAM Doubler, and 32-bit compatibility; I read about SCSI termination and ADB, printer fonts and INITs. Good stuff.
My readership has waxed and waned over the years, but it has always been a pleasant moment to see TidBITS land in my inbox, forwarded or printed or subscribed, with savvy tips and solid information. It's hard to believe it has been 20 years.
Congratulations Tonya and Adam, congratulations extended TidBITS family, and congratulations loyal readers - here's to the next twenty years!
[Michael T. Rose is an editor at The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).]
Leonard Rosenthol -- Has it really been 20 years?! No wonder I feel old. I don't recall exactly how I first stumbled across TidBITS, but apparently I sent Adam email about screen savers in July 1990 (see "Save Our Screens," 30 July 1990), and "Macworld Impressions" (13 August 1990) documents the first time we met in person - in the wonderful heat of Macworld Boston with me doing software demos of MicroPhone II talking to CompuServe! That certainly would have been the first of many (many!) Macworld Expos during which we hung out, not to mention those sleepless days (or were they nights?) at MacHack. Adam and Tonya were always great sounding boards for the various software projects that I was involved in over the years - MicroPhone, StuffIt, CyberFinder, SITcomm, PDF Enhancer, and many, many more - all of which got fair and impartial reviews (no matter how much we tried to bribe them!) that helped make the software better the next time around. But my favorite article, of course, has always been "SEx and the Single Archive" (18 July 1994).
Watching the Mac industry grow up with you guys was wonderful - it's one of the things I do miss about my work outside the industry over the last 10 years. I don't know if you guys really want to do this for another 20 years - but whatever life brings you it should be great!
[Leonard Rosenthol was developing Macintosh software before TidBITS was born, and is now PDF Standards Architect at Adobe Systems.]
Steve Sande -- My first Mac was a 512K model purchased in the latter part of 1984. By 1986, I was the sysop of a bulletin board system here in the Denver area called MAGIC. In 1994, after seeing a demonstration of Mosaic at WWDC, I decided I needed to get onto this Internet thingie. A quick jaunt to my local bookstore netted me a book by some guy named Adam Engst. It was called "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" and helped me begin my journey in this strange little cyber world that we all inhabit.
One of the first Web sites I visited was TidBITS, and to this day I still visit the site regularly as a resource that's chock full of information and great writing. About five years ago, I noticed that Adam and Tonya were starting to publish ebooks, so I submitted a book that I had self-published, and to my amazement they wanted it as part of the Take Control series. Through Tonya's patient editing, I learned a lot about writing that I never would have picked up elsewhere.
Many congratulations to the entire TidBITS staff on your 2^10th issue!
[Steve Sande is a Take Control author and blogger for The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).]
Greg Scown -- My greatest TidBITS-related delight was to meet Adam, Tonya, and Tristan on the show floor of Macworld 2009 at the SmileOnMyMac booth for Tristan's 10th birthday. As a long-time TidBITS reader, I'd read lots about Tristan, so it was really fun to meet him along with his parents and in the always interesting environment of the Macworld show floor. I hope he enjoyed our happy birthday wishes.
[Greg Scown is a co-founder and partner at Mac utility developer SmileOnMyMac.]
Sanford Selznick -- I first encountered TidBITS in 1875. I was working as a telegraph operator in Missouri. If I remember correctly, Adam's new printing press with continuous roll paper was giving him fits. But TidBITS's articles about photography of the day were incredibly instructional. I'll never forget when Eadweard Muybridge himself came in to send a telegram. While he was writing out his communication, he spotted one of TidBITS's articles on the counter. Soon afterwards Muybridge proved to the world that when a horse gallops, all four legs are actually off the ground at the same time.
TidBITS is one of the few technology news sources on the wire that maintains its readers' trust with incredibly well-researched articles, complete with sources. The impact that TidBITS has had on the past is clear. Who would even know about the telegraph without it? But the future... I wonder. What other technology could possibly be invented?
Thank you for TidBITS!
[Sanford Selznick is the founder of Selznick Scientific Software, best known for the PasswordWallet family of programs. He's also the joker who once sent us a gallon of amazing kosher dill pickles after hearing Adam's "Hacking the Press" talk at MacHack.]
David Shayer -- I've been reading TidBITS since it was sent out by carrier pigeon. In those days it arrived once a week, with all the latest Mac news. It was far more timely than the monthly Macworld and MacUser magazines, with their long lead times.
When I finally wrote an article for TidBITS, it was great (see "Shootout at the Disk Repair Corral," 24 November 2003)! Instant fame and fortune, people stopped me on the street and asked for my autograph. But Adam tricked me. He said writing an article wasn't much work. Turned out there was a lot of research and fact checking involved. [True, but that was a most amazing article, and one that received a vast number of positive reactions. -Adam]
I value the news and reviews in TidBITS because I know they're honest and unbiased. Probably the single most useful article I've read in TidBITS was Joe Kissell's explanation of how to make Apple's Mail program work well with Gmail and IMAP (see "Achieving Email Bliss with IMAP, Gmail, and Apple Mail," 2 May 2009). It saved me many hours.
[David "if you're using white earbuds, you're running my code" Shayer is a long-time Mac developer acclaimed for his knowledge of filesystems thanks to his work on the low-level disk editor Sedit, the disk-repair program Public Utilities, and three versions of Norton Utilities for Macintosh.]
Peter Sichel -- I first learned about TidBITS from a colleague at Digital Equipment Corporation around 1993. I used Macs extensively at Digital and became part of a small group of Mac fans at an increasingly PC-dominated company. Talking one day with my fellow Mac-heads, we lamented the lack of a software IP router for the Mac. We all had several machines at home and increasingly needed them to be on the Internet. I knew from Apple that more than half of all Mac users owned more than one Mac, and that TidBITS was being sent weekly to over 50,000 subscribers who must therefore have Internet access. From these numbers I concluded there was a market for at least a few thousand software IP routers, so in 1996 I set off to write one. In this way, TidBITS helped launch Sustainable Softworks and IPNetRouter.
TidBITS has always been about serving the Mac community by bringing people and information together. Congratulations on reaching 20 years!
[Peter Sichel is the founder of Sustainable Softworks and the developer of IPNetRouterX, IPNetMonitorX, IPNetTunerX, KeyClick and Phone Amego.]
Rich Siegel -- The TidBITS email newsletter has been a part of my ongoing computing existence for longer than I can clearly recall. According to Adam, our first in-person meeting was at a party "in a pool hall, at Macworld Boston". Putting some equally fuzzy memories together suggests that the place was Jillian's, and the year would have been 1988, and the party was probably a Symantec company function.
A much more memorable occasion was the time that Adam and Tonya drove the hundreds of miles from Ithaca to Boston, to attend a dinner that we were throwing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first commercial release of BBEdit. That was a lot of fun, and it was that much more so because these two wonderful people made the trip to be a part of it.
Before then, since, and in between, I have always enjoyed the news and reviews and analysis that TidBITS deposits in my inbox on a continual basis. My thanks and congratulations to Adam and Tonya and all of the TidBITS staff and contributors, for a great twenty years. Here's to the next twenty!
[Rich Siegel is the founder of Bare Bones Software and the creator of BBEdit.]
Jason Snell -- I honestly can't remember how I first heard about TidBITS, back in those strange days when the Internet was a big, echoey room largely populated by people on university campuses. I believe I heard about it from Geoff Duncan, a friend of Adam and Tonya's (for his first article, see "Life in the Fast Lane," 11 July 1994) and later a TidBITS editor himself (announced in "New TidBITS Managing Editor," 12 December 1994), who was also the co-editor of InterText, an Internet-based short story magazine I had started in 1991.
In those days there was no Web to publish on, so we distributed InterText via FTP, newsgroup posting, and email, and I soon discovered that one of the only other publications out there back in the early '90s was a newsletter about the Mac.
A few years later, as an assistant editor at MacUser (I note that Adam first mentioned me in "MacUser arrives on the Internet," 20 June 1994), I was asked to speak with several of my colleagues at a meeting of a local Seattle-area Mac user group. The company paid to fly a bunch of us up and put us up in a nice hotel (man, those were the days!) and I got a chance to meet Geoff, Adam, and Tonya. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Also, the rental car company had inexplicably given me a Miata, and I remember Tonya being very enthusiastic about getting a ride in that crazy little car through the streets of greater Seattle.
These days I frequently receive email from people who aspire to write about technology in general (and Apple in particular) for a living, asking me how to get started. One of my most common suggestions is to try to break into TidBITS. Back when I was starting at MacUser, we didn't have a Web site for me to use as an outlet - just a very limited number of pages in print. So I wrote a couple of articles for TidBITS on topics that interested me (and the editors of TidBITS, thankfully). Apparently in 1995 I was interested in Macintosh mailing list programs ("Making a List: Mac List Servers Arrive," 24 July 1995) and running classic video games on a Mac ("Retro Software: Everything Old Is New Again," 18 December 1995).
These days, any TidBITS reader who pays close attention to the pages of Macworld and Macworld.com will discover a whole lot of familiar names. TidBITS is a magnet for quality technology writers, and we've found numerous key Macworld contributors through their excellent work for TidBITS.
It's a colossal understatement to say that things have changed a bit since TidBITS and InterText were two of the handful of publications on the Internet. But TidBITS has adapted to the way the world has changed. Today, quite honestly, I don't find myself reading TidBITS issues much - mostly because I've already read most of the articles on tidbits.com! But that's not a bad thing. Some people want to get their information in a periodical, while others want it right away on the Web. As someone who edits a monthly print magazine and a Web site, I understand the importance of having both.
Here's to another few decades - or kilo-issues or whatever other format gets invented - of great, balanced, sober, hype-free, and useful TidBITS content.
[Jason Snell is VP/Editorial Director of Macworld.]
Tom Standage -- I've read TidBITS since the early 1990s, when I started using Macs. It must have been 1994, I suppose, when I first got Internet access... but you guys were on CompuServe before that, right? Those were the days of the Quadra and MacWEEK. Centuries ago.
I got my start in journalism freelancing for MacUser UK, among other publications. 15 years ago, I even wrote a piece for TidBITS about lightweight text editors (see "Word 6.0 - NOT!," 10 April 1995). Having since moved into mainstream tech journalism at The Economist and then onto business writing more generally, I still enjoy reading TidBITS every Tuesday morning with my coffee. I'm still a Mac user after all these years, and I continue to do tech support for my Mac-using family and friends.
The funny thing is that I still write about Apple from time to time for The Economist - most recently, our cover on the iPad in January ("The Book of Jobs"). And Glenn Fleishman writes for our Technology Quarterly section sometimes. I relish the connection to the Mac community that TidBITS provides. Keep up the good work! Loved the iPad tips last week. You've done a good job of broadening your coverage from the Mac to include other Apple products.
[Tom Standage is the business affairs editor for The Economist.]
James Thomson -- I first came across TidBITS in the early 1990s, alongside the Info-Mac Digest postings on comp.sys.mac.digest. For our younger readers, that's a Usenet group - go look it up on your iPads. I was an avid reader, as it was one of the few sources of Mac journalism online.
Tonya reviewed DragThing in "Desktop Launchers, Part IV" (22 May 1995), calling it "a solid, easy, elegant application" - a quote I was so pleased with that it remains on my Web site almost 15 years later. Did I say 15 years? Okay, now I feel old... And PCalc was originally released in 1991, I think, which means I'm only a year behind TidBITS.
I remember meeting both Adam and Tonya at the post-WWDC parties held by Rick Holzgrafe of Solitaire Till Dawn fame. A very young Tristan was eating lemons from the tree, as if they were apples, and we rubbed shoulders and ate pizza with luminaries such as Jason Snell, Peter Lewis, and Quinn. Whatever happened to that Jason guy?
Congratulations on your 20th anniversary, and thank you for all your help and support over the years!
[James Thomson is a long-time Mac developer based in Scotland and founder of TLA Systems, which publishes DragThing and PCalc. In the late 1990s, he was on the Mac OS X Finder team at Apple and was the original engineer for the Dock.]
Neil Ticktin -- Wow, 20 years. TidBITS, Adam, and Tonya have been part of the landscape for so long, I don't even remember when we first met, or when TidBITS first appeared on my radar. One could easily talk about the unbelievably well written content, or the timeliness, reliability, and quality of our weekly glimpse into the Apple community. But what strikes me most about Adam, Tonya, and the rest of the team is how they stand out as people.
Credibility, integrity, and honesty are the first words that come to mind. It's so often that we see in the media, particularly the general media, content slanted to serve the requests of an advertiser, rather than that of the reader. TidBITS bucks that trend, and I welcome reading the insights each issue.
MacTech may be one of the oldest Web sites and publications in the Mac market, but TidBITS is clearly the original and long-standing trailblazer for Internet publications.
Congratulations Adam, Tonya, and the entire TidBITS team!
[Neil Ticktin is the publisher and editor-in-chief of MacTech Magazine, MacTech.com, and MacNews.com.]
Adam and Tonya have been stalwart supporters of the Macintosh user group community for as long as I can remember - as sought-after speakers at User Group University and in the Apple User Group Lounge at more Macworld Expos than I can count, by allowing user groups to reprint TidBITS articles in their print newsletters, and as sponsors of the generous and effective Take Control user group program that provides review and raffle titles for user groups worldwide. How thrilling it was to find out that they live only two hours from my own user group, MUG ONE. To have a speaker of Adam's caliber in our own upstate New York backyard is priceless, and he now presents to MUG ONE every year.
My favorite moment (of many) was having a quote from one of my Take Control reviews used as a promotional pull-quote on their Web site.
Best wishes for more decades of TidBITS goodness!
[Elsa Travisano is President of MUG ONE and chair of the Apple User Group Advisory Board.]
Khoi Vinh -- It's frightening to realize it's been so long, but I've been reading TidBITS for 16 years now. It's a tremendous comfort to see it landing in my inbox once a week, harkening back to those dark days when the Macintosh seemed on the edge of death. TidBITS was a great friend during that era, a reassuring reminder that others out there shared my passion for what technology could do if it was done superbly. Over the years I've turned to it again and again, and it always rewards me with something new, something unexpected, and, always, something really smart.
Congrats, Adam, and for many more years to come!
[Khoi Vinh is a graphic designer and the Design Director for NYTimes.com.]
Sharon Zardetto -- It was at a Macworld Expo, for sure, but Boston, San Francisco... there were so many that they've all run together. I was either signing copies of "The Macintosh Bible" or hanging out at the MacUser booth schmoozing with various writers and editors when Adam and Tonya came up and introduced themselves. They certainly looked like teenagers, though when I do the math, they must have been a little bit older.
I remember a slight stab of jealousy ("Wow, if only the Mac had been invented when I was in college, what I could have done with it!"). And when I saw Adam's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh" not long thereafter in a bookstore, I thought, "Hey, I met that guy and his wife!" and of course, I bought it. It's amazing how seldom, in the small-ish "professional" Macintosh community, that our paths have crossed physically over the years; equally amazing, and so gratifying, is that electronic communications and personalities being what they are, Adam and Tonya feel like friends, not just colleagues.
The early TidBITS publications: I remember thinking how dedicated someone would have to be to do a plain-text, free newsletter on a regular basis, and how odd it was to read large chunks of Mac information on the screen instead of in print. Small chunks? Sure, I was sysoping in the Mac forums on CompuServe. But the equivalent of a newspaper article? TidBITS was my first exposure to that concept!
1,024 issues? You've been planning this all along, haven't you?!
[Sharon Zardetto is best known in the Macintosh world for writing several editions of "The Macintosh Bible," but she has also authored a number of Take Control titles and innumerable magazine articles about the Mac over the years, including some for TidBITS.]
Article 24 of 29 in series
This week marks the 22nd year of continuous publication for TidBITS. Will you help us continue for another 22 years by becoming a TidBITS member?Show full article
With this issue of TidBITS, we’re officially marking our 22nd year of continuous publication, maintaining our rank as the oldest solely electronic technology publication on the Internet. During that stretch, TidBITS has evolved with the times, covering Apple’s entire integrated ecosystem of products and services and taking advantage of new forms of distribution — ranging from the World Wide Web in 1994 to an iOS app in 2010. But we’ve also remained remarkably constant through those 22 years, certainly with the distribution of our weekly email issue, but more importantly with our focus on helping our readers navigate the twisty little passages of technology.
The main change in TidBITS of late, however, has been our TidBITS membership program, which we launched at the end of 2011 to put TidBITS on a sustainable financial footing (see “Support TidBITS by Becoming a TidBITS Member,” 12 December 2011). With it, we’ve taken a page from the thriving community-supported agriculture model, which has enabled people to support small farmers directly, sharing in the risk of bad weather and the rewards of the crop. We’re calling our variant “community-supported content” and so far, nearly 1,700 TidBITS readers have pitched in to support our work at levels ranging from $20 to an incredibly generous $1,000.
But that’s still only 1,700 of over 25,000 people who receive TidBITS via email each week, not to mention the tens of thousands of people who read TidBITS via our Web site or iOS app. If you’re not yet a TidBITS member, can I ask you to join today to help us continue to bring you TidBITS? While our base TidBITS content will remain free to all, members also receive:
- A version of the TidBITS Web site free of graphical banner ads.
- A full-text RSS feed (non-members get a summary-only feed).
- The option to receive articles in email as soon as they are posted.
- The ability to post longer article comments, with live URLs.
- Recognition of your membership (with apple icons) when commenting.
- The option to receive an article’s comments via email.
- A 30-percent discount on our Take Control ebooks.
- Discounts on over 30 popular Mac-related programs, many of which we rely on every day. See the Membership Benefits page for the full list, which has grown since launch.
So what have we done with the funds from the TidBITS membership program so far? Along with paying for the hosting and bandwidth costs associated with running a Web site and large mailing list, and helping to defray the costs of developing and maintaining the many thousands of lines of code that underpin our Internet presence, the main thing we’ve been focusing on is bringing more writers to TidBITS.
One key problem we’ve faced is that most TidBITS staffers are industry experts who generate their primary income from publishing books, speaking, and consulting. That’s great from an expertise standpoint, but it also means that it can be hard to find someone who has time to write or edit any given article. To that end, we’ve begun to bring in other writers and editors, starting with Agen Schmitz, who has ably taken over the task of identifying and writing up our TidBITS Watchlist coverage of Mac software updates. We’re continuing to look for other people whose skills and schedules fit with how we work, and, honestly, whom we can afford, since we still can’t compete with the heavily funded publications on payment.
Tonya and I spent some of last week in Washington, D.C. for Tristan’s spring break, visiting museums and generally absorbing what it’s like to be in the nation’s capital. Perhaps our most successful outing was a day trip to the Newseum, a museum on Pennsylvania Avenue devoted to the press — as Tonya exclaimed at the end of the day, “Who knew there was a museum for my sort of people!” and Tristan was far more engaged at the Newseum than by the more-traditional exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum. But seeing the Newseum’s fabulous exhibits reminded us of how our editorial approach to TidBITS differs from that of many other publications. We cover the news in our field, certainly, but we’re always asking ourselves if what we’re writing is useful to our readers, rather than drumming up controversy and titillation, or merely reporting facts without context.
Thank you for reading TidBITS, then, and thank you for joining the TidBITS membership program to help us keep TidBITS going for another 22 years.
Article 25 of 29 in series
TidBITS marks its 23rd year of bringing you the most important news about the Apple ecosystem this week. To commemorate the occasion, Adam shares his thoughts about becoming the oldest active Internet-only publication, announces the hiring of a managing editor supported by the TidBITS membership program, and muses about what the role of TidBITS is in today’s Internet.Show full article
Here at TidBITS, we pride ourselves on consistently publishing quality content on a weekly schedule. With this week marking our 23rd consecutive year of continuous publication — 23 years! — I wanted to share a few milestones and thoughts on where I see TidBITS meeting your needs in the future.
The Methuselah Matter -- Back in 1990, when we started TidBITS, there were a variety of other Internet newsletters — we were early, but by no means the first. Most of those other early publications fell by the wayside over the years, succumbing to fatigue, irrelevance, or harsh economic realities. But one such publication — Liam and Pauline Ferrie’s The Irish Emigrant — started a few years before TidBITS and evolved in much the same way, switching from email-only delivery to an ad-supported Web site with daily updates. For years, I had to say that TidBITS was the oldest purely electronic technology publication on the Internet, or the second-oldest Internet-born publication. Nonetheless, I always had a soft spot for the Irish Emigrant, since it was clearly a labor of love for the Ferries, just as TidBITS was for us, and Liam Ferrie was even kind enough to send congratulations on our 18th anniversary.
It turns out that we moved into first place for active publications in February 2012, when the Ferries retired and published the final issue of the Irish Emigrant, though it wasn’t until late 2012 when reader Rob Smyth alerted me to that fact. (Rob was also the first to tell me about the Irish Emigrant back in 1996, so it was especially nice of him to remember and loop back 16 years later.) So we can now say that TidBITS is the oldest active Internet-only publication. And we have a new goal, since the Irish Emigrant ceased publication on its 25th anniversary, having started in February 1987. If we can keep going for another few years, we can claim the overall title for longest-running Internet publication.
Memberships and Managing Editors -- One reason I’m confident that I’ll be looking for something to say in this spot in a few years is that the TidBITS membership program has been a huge help in keeping TidBITS on a sustainable financial track. With your support, we’ve been able to pay more writers to bring you quality articles — you’ve seen the results in pieces by Josh Centers, Steve McCabe, David Rabinowitz, Kirk McElhearn, Sharon Zardetto, Marshall Clow, Alicia Katz Pollock, and others, not to mention Joe Kissell’s new FlippedBITS column.
Even more important, I’m tremendously pleased to announce that the TidBITS membership revenues have enabled us to hire a managing editor to help with article assignments, coordination, editing, and writing, plus the myriad other tasks involved in keeping TidBITS coming to you. Much as I hate to tease, it’s premature to share precisely who will be assuming this role, but I can assure you that this person’s skill and enthusiasm will be a huge asset for TidBITS, and will result in even better content going forward.
If you aren’t already among our 2,000 members, now is a great time to join the TidBITS membership program and help us continue to refine and improve the kind of coverage you’ve come to expect from us.
Why Is TidBITS Important? -- Back in 1990, when Tonya and I came up with the idea for TidBITS, our goal was to bring Mac news and information to people via the Internet, because there were relatively few Mac-specific magazines back then, and none were distributed in digital form. Clearly, that need has long since dropped away, with more Apple-centric content appearing every day than anyone would even have time to read. We’re well aware of that fact, and it has prompted soul-searching to figure out what the role of TidBITS should be in today’s Internet.
What I’ve realized is that TidBITS now serves a different need, which is to provide a view of the Apple world that is thoughtful, professionally written and edited, and above all, finite. You all have numerous demands on your time, and we want to respect that by focusing on those topics that are important and useful, rather than attempting to cover absolutely everything. We also feel a responsibility to give you complete stories, so you’re not left with more questions than when you started reading, even if that results in long-form articles in an age of 140-character tweets. And finally, we care deeply about including our readers’ voices alongside our articles in the form of comments that add interesting anecdotes, useful advice, important questions, and more, without the drivel and vitriol that drags down so many other forums.
So while we can’t guarantee that everything we publish will interest you specifically, our goal is to give you a well-considered collection of accurate articles each week from which you can choose. Plus, while you may not find every piece relevant when it’s published, our hope is that by maintaining a complete archive, you can come back to previously skipped articles if and when their content becomes important to you.
In that context, I want to share the most recent accolade we’ve received, our top ranking among sources of Apple info in David Deutsch’s list at Examiner.com, because it speaks to the importance of including only the most important topics in our weekly newsletter.
My favorite Mac read of them all. Great “tidbits” of info as well as extremely informative Apple info and the most complete weekly newsletter, probably the most jam-packed source of Apple info on the Internet, run now for 22 years by husband and wife team: Adam and Tonya Engst, two of the most interesting Apple experts on the planet.
Thanks to David for his kind words, and while I know I’ve thanked those of you who have written in with similarly generous thoughts, allow me also to thank each and every one of you right now for making the time to read TidBITS regularly. I’m honored that you consider our work to be worth your valuable time, and that we’re a key part of your strategy for staying informed without wasting precious hours on Internet distractions.
Article 26 of 29 in series
It’s a little shocking to realize just how long we’ve been publishing TidBITS, but thanks to the revenue from several thousand TidBITS members, we’re publishing more and better content for you than ever before. Will you join us?Show full article
We live in a different world from 1990, when the first issue of TidBITS covered an update to the After Dark screensaver, refilling HP DeskWriter ink cartridges, the Lotus-Novell merger, an accelerator/monitor combo for the Macintosh SE, the first 3.5-inch erasable optical drive (priced at $2,995 and supporting 128 MB disks that cost $129), and a wireless networking product that predated Wi-Fi by 9 years but ran at only 38.4 Kbps.
But you know, even that first issue still feels like the TidBITS you read today, 1,220 issues and 24 years later. That’s right, this week marks our 24th year of continuous publication, and here I am, adding to our book-length collection of previous anniversary articles, the more general of which could have been written yesterday. Great stories abound in that series, and I’d encourage anyone interested in lessons from our past or a trip down memory lane to read through.
The main realization Tonya and I had of late, after talking with a number of Apple industry media folks at Macworld/iWorld 2014, is that TidBITS is a bit unusual among small technology publications in that everyone on our staff is a full-time professional writer. None of us has a day job to get in the way or to provide a safety net to fall back on. That’s not a criticism of those for whom technology writing must play second fiddle to another career — such passion is entirely commendable.
But Tonya and I are also proud that we’ve been able to build enough of a business around TidBITS and Take Control that we can help so many of these people earn a living doing what they love, which is assisting others by explaining complex technical topics in a straightforward, understandable way. Also important is that we’ve been able to bring in other writers to broaden our coverage, including Geoff Duncan, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Nick Mediati, Steve McCabe, Kirk McElhearn, Alicia Katz Pollock, and David Koff so far this year. At Macworld in March, a number of people commented that TidBITS seems to be stronger than ever, and I think that’s true.
The credit for enabling us to pay these authors for their hard work and fine writing goes to the more than 2,600 TidBITS members who have helped put TidBITS on a sustainable financial footing over the last few years. As grateful as we are to our current and past corporate sponsors for their support, our income from sponsorships in recent years has waned (sponsorships are hard to justify for companies selling apps for $0.99). In today’s world, the revenue from the TidBITS membership program has become essential for being able to afford both Josh Centers as managing editor and all the writers he wrangles to bring you top-notch content each week.
Having 2,600 people in the TidBITS membership program is great, but if you’re not already counted among that large and ever-increasing number, please join us! To sweeten the deal, we try to make memberships worthwhile beyond the satisfaction that comes with supporting our editorial mission. Did you know members get a full text RSS feed and the option to receive articles in email as they’re posted? Members also get a banner-free version of the TidBITS Web site, chapter-by-chapter streamed ebooks for free, a standing 30-percent discount on all Take Control ebooks, and discounts on leading Mac apps.
If you find TidBITS useful and enjoyable — we work hard to produce articles that fit that description — or if you’ve received personal assistance from one of our staff members just because you asked, please become a TidBITS member. It’s hard to imagine publishing TidBITS for another 24 years — Tonya and I would be 70! — but we have no plans to quit. As long as you, our readers, continue to back our work, we’ll keep writing for you. Thanks!
Article 27 of 29 in series
It seems like only yesterday we were reviewing Now Utilities and writing about the latest update to WordPerfect. That’s right, TidBITS has now been publishing for 25 years, making us one of the oldest Internet publications of all time. Adam shares some of how we got here.Show full article
TidBITS was initially Tonya’s idea. In April of 1990, I was doing Mac consulting in Ithaca, and Tonya was working for Cornell Information Technologies, helping members of the Cornell community evaluate and purchase Macs, PCs, NeXT machines, and a wide variety of peripherals. Some of her colleagues had been there for a while and didn’t seem excited about recent innovations in technology, like affordable printers that provided the WYG in WYSIWYG or NeXT computers with their unusual mix of power and graphics.
So Tonya came up with the idea of writing a weekly newsletter for her coworkers that would summarize what had happened recently in the world of technology, which we knew about from reading print magazines like MacWEEK, MacUser, and Macworld, plus PC WEEK and InfoWorld (may they rest in peace). She also wanted an excuse to stay familiar with desktop publishing in Aldus PageMaker. I loved the idea and dove in wholeheartedly, offering not only to help write articles but also to distribute them more broadly on the nascent Internet in the form of a HyperCard stack. The print version of TidBITS lasted only a few weeks, but the electronic edition took off online.
The rest, as they say, is history: 25 years of history, to be exact, our entire adult lives. 1,269 weekly issues of TidBITS, over 14,000 articles, and more than 300 distinguished authors, plus millions of readers. Most of those are casual Web browsers, but 21,000 people continue to receive TidBITS via email each week and another 16,000 follow our RSS feed regularly.
Until today, I’d thought that this issue of TidBITS would not just mark our 25th anniversary, but give us the title of the longest-running Internet publication. Previously, that spot was held by The Irish Emigrant, which started in February 1987 as an email newsletter and evolved into an ad-supported Web site. Publishers Liam and Pauline Ferrie retired in February 2012 on their 25th anniversary, leaving the field open to us (for more on the story, see “23 Years of TidBITS: Thoughts on Our Past, Present, and Future,” 19 April 2013).
Alas, while researching this article, I saw a reference in the BITNET entry of Wikipedia to eAIR, the monthly newsletter of the Association for Institutional Research, which apparently started in October 1987 and is still going strong, making it 2.5 years older than TidBITS (albeit with several editors over the years). So I guess we’ll have to stick with saying we’re the second-oldest Internet publication. Easy come, easy go.
I’ve written many things on our various anniversaries, and if you’re interested the history of TidBITS and the Apple ecosystem, I’d encourage you to read through the full TidBITS History series. (Tip: Click the “Show full text of all articles” link at the top and then just scroll down.)
This year, we’ve been thinking about inflection points, those events, decisions, or happenstances that determine the path that will be taken. Inflection points are pivots between what could happen and what did happen, and are thus more interesting than the day-to-day business where everything happens essentially as expected. Here are some of the inflection points that have resulted in the TidBITS you know and hopefully love. Some of these stories may be familiar, or you may even have intersected with them, but others have never before been told in TidBITS.
Discovering the Internet in 1986-87 -- Before we’d come up with the idea for TidBITS, there were two key inflection points during our years as undergrads at Cornell University. Every student could have an account on CORNELLA, an IBM mainframe at Cornell, but most didn’t sign up. I did, and in the fall of 1986, a friend and I were in a terminal room of VT100s in Uris Hall when a guy next to us left without logging out. We couldn’t resist poking around in his account and discovered resources on BITNET, a store-and-forward university network that was my first hint of what Internet publishing could be. That summer, I learned about Usenet, a worldwide Internet discussion system, and as part of my degree work in hypertextual fiction, I created the rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup. I was hooked on the Internet, addicted to the idea that I could communicate with a vast number of people around the world. In some ways, that was the true genesis of TidBITS.
Connecting with Halcyon/Northwest Nexus in Seattle in 1991 -- The next challenge TidBITS faced was our 1991 move to Seattle, where Tonya had gotten a job supporting Word for Microsoft. I had no more consulting work and could focus on TidBITS, but I needed an Internet connection, and this was before you could just order one. Within a few weeks I had connected with Ralph Sims, who ran a UUCP machine called Halcyon and who gave me a feed for email and Usenet news. That was how it was done back then — passed-on favors. It was a lifesaver, and I repaid the favor several years later when I worked with Ed Morin of Northwest Nexus, with which Ralph had merged, to create the world’s first flat-rate graphical Internet account and include it in my “Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh” book. (Before that, all consumer-level Internet access was billed by the minute!) It was so much cheaper than the alternatives of the time that Northwest Nexus had customers calling from Japan.
First Internet Advertising in 1992 -- For our first few years TidBITS was purely a labor of love. That had been fine at first, but as it consumed ever more of my time, it became clear I needed to earn some income too. That’s when Tonya and I came up with the idea of advertising in the form of PBS-style sponsorships (see “TidBITS Sponsorship Program,” 20 July 1992), something that was previously unknown on the Internet, due to the National Science Foundation’s Acceptable Use Policies for the NSFNET, which comprised a large portion of the Internet backbone of the time. But in 1991, the restrictions against commercial use of the Internet started to fall away, and we pressed ahead, hoping mostly that, if we were breaking any rules, we’d merely be slapped and told to stop it. (Ah, the optimism of youth!) This predates the Web, and the ads in TidBITS were bolstered by an email-driven file server that readers could write to for more information about the advertised products. It was astonishingly primitive by the standards of today, but it showed the way and let me turn TidBITS into my career. For the record, I sincerely apologize for inadvertently spawning those “one weird trick” ads, but I’d also like to note that Google has never said thank you for making its billions in Web ads possible.
Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh in 1993 -- Ah, the big yellow book that changed my life, and the lives of vast numbers of other Mac users. I got the opportunity to write it for Hayden Books purely because of my work on TidBITS, and when it became hugely popular, selling several hundred thousand copies across four Mac editions, several Windows editions, and various translations, it also boosted the TidBITS subscription numbers dramatically. To this day, a large percentage of our subscribers are still those who joined in 1994 and 1995. Did you know that the third edition is still available in its entirety online? It’s now a great blast from the past.
Help from Friends -- In 1994, I was drowning under the workload of keeping up with “Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh” and dealing with email as people from around the world wrote with questions and requests for help (at one time, I believe I knew more about getting email working for customers of California ISP Netcom than their support people did). Luckily, we’ve had the great good luck to have some tremendously capable friends who have helped make TidBITS possible over the years, starting with Mark Anbinder publishing TidBITS for a month in 1991 while we moved to Seattle. Geoff Duncan played a key role starting in 1994, Jeff Carlson joined the crew in 1997, and Glenn Fleishman moved from being a reader and correspondent to hosting our servers in 1996 and in 2007 developing the TidBITS Publishing System that we still use today (for more of their stories, read “TidBITS Staffers Recall How They Got Their Starts,” 19 April 2010). Each made more of a difference than they probably know.
Sitting Out the Dot-com Bubble -- We were happily publishing TidBITS and writing books during the late 1990s, when the dot-com bubble was inflating. It was all very exciting, and Tonya and I had a lot of late-night conversations about whether we should try to expand the reach of TidBITS by seeking venture capital and hiring a staff. Actually making money wasn’t necessary back then, and our audience was large enough that it wasn’t inconceivable that we could pitch VCs we knew on the idea. But taking outside investment wasn’t our style, and we were highly dubious of the business models that were later proven to be insane. This is one of those inflection points where nothing happened, but I can’t see how it could have turned out well.
Taking Control of Our Future in 2003 -- By 2003, the dot-com bubble had burst, and we had weathered it easily. Our son Tristan was born in 1999, and in 2001, we’d moved back to our hometown of Ithaca, NY. I was busy with TidBITS, but Tonya needed a bigger challenge than writing articles and editing the occasional book for publishers like Peachpit. We combined our experience in writing and editing for the Internet, for magazines like MacUser and Macworld, and for a variety of book publishers to create the Take Control ebook series: rather than write books ourselves, we’d get friends like Joe Kissell and Glenn Fleishman to write them, split the revenues 50:50, and publish solely in ebook form (see “Do You Want to Take Control?,” 20 October 2003). Take Control has stretched us in unimaginable ways, but we’re tremendously proud of the content we’ve created, and the tens of thousands of readers we’ve helped. Take Control couldn’t have gotten off the ground without the TidBITS audience, but now the tables have turned, with Take Control’s mailing list being 50 percent larger than TidBITS’s and Take Control making up the lion’s share of revenue.
TidBITS Members to the Rescue in 2011 -- Although Take Control was keeping TidBITS afloat as we started the second decade of the twenty-first century, it wasn’t pretty. I was torn between working on Take Control projects that actually paid and TidBITS articles that didn’t, and sponsorship revenues had been dropping for years. With Glenn’s help on the back end, we turned TidBITS from being entirely ad-funded to being supported primarily by voluntary contributions from our readers through the TidBITS membership program (see “Support TidBITS by Becoming a TidBITS Member,” 12 December 2011). That money has allowed us to hire Josh Centers as managing editor and pay our contributing editors and freelance writers. As successful as the TidBITS membership program has been, with nearly 2,900 people stepping up to keep TidBITS coming out every week, that’s still not even 15 percent of our email subscribers, much less the many tens of thousands of people who read in RSS or on the Web. If you’ve found our work valuable over the years, or if one of us has helped you personally with a problem, could you kick in $20 to help TidBITS keep going?
What’s Next? -- That question is as much for you as for us. A quarter century ago, we never could have imagined we’d be at this so long. Nevertheless, many of these inflection points have directed us down the path of least resistance, since we love what we do and the people we’ve met along the way. Our challenge now is to keep what we do fresh, both for you and for us. Almost anything pales with too much repetition, and after 25 years of TidBITS and nearly half as many of Take Control, we’ve done a lot of things over and over again. We have some ideas for how we can mix things up while staying true to our mission of helping people by explaining technology, but if you have suggestions, or things you’d like to see from us, don’t hesitate to write.
Article 28 of 29 in series
On our 26th anniversary, TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst muses about the kind of company into which Apple has evolved. It’s not the Apple of Steve Jobs anymore.Show full article
This 26th anniversary of TidBITS snuck up on me, mostly because I spent the last four days sick in bed with a horrible case of a flu-like illness (in a nod to “The Princess Bride,” I call it the Dread Virus Roberts). I’m at least conscious today, if not vertical, but that’s what the MacBook Air is for. So bear with my fevered musings.
I won’t reiterate any of TidBITS’s history because many of you have seen it before, but I encourage anyone interested in a stroll down SIMM street (aka memory lane) to read through the book-length collection of articles we’ve written over the years to commemorate our anniversaries. Those pieces recall so many people, products, and companies.
When I think back across our history, though, the biggest changes have been at Apple. For much of that time, Apple was defined by its competition — PC-compatible hardware running Microsoft Windows. Apple’s switch to Intel-based CPUs and the rise of virtualization software was the beginning of the end of that era. But it was the creation of the iPod, followed by the iPhone, and then the iPad, that marked Apple’s transformation into one of the preeminent companies of all time. Those three products all came under Steve Jobs’s leadership, and when Tim Cook replaced Jobs as CEO, some were concerned that Apple would lose its magic touch. And indeed, neither the Apple Watch nor the fourth-generation Apple TV has been an obvious hit.
But that’s missing the point. At Apple’s scale, it’s almost inconceivable that a product could compare to the iPhone’s success unless it were to take over for the iPhone, much as the iPhone did with the iPod. What’s interesting about Apple’s products under Tim Cook is that they’re highly integrated platforms upon which others can build. They’re not about changing the world, they’re about extending Apple’s reach into your world, from your wrist to your wall. If the much-rumored Apple Car ever makes it into widespread production, it will likely fit into Apple’s product ecosystem similarly, rather than disrupt the market.
(Why? Cars are replaced much less frequently than even computers, with the average age of cars on the road being over 11 years. Plus, not that many cars are sold. The best-selling car in the United States last year, the Toyota Camry, sold only 429,335 units, and it’s estimated that the Tesla Model S managed only about 26,400 sales. None of this is to imply that Apple shouldn’t make a car, or might not make a boatload of money if it were to do so, but merely to note that an Apple Car probably won’t immediately change the world either.)
What I find more interesting about Tim Cook’s Apple is the company’s recent high-profile dustup with the FBI over unlocking an iPhone. It’s a tremendously difficult situation, of course, since no one would ever want a locked iPhone to stand in the way of solving a heinous crime or preventing a terrorist attack. But, unlike many in government, Apple understands both the danger and futility of compromising on encryption. Danger because breakable encryption is the very definition of false security, and futility because it’s trivially easy to create and use apps that offer unbreakable encryption.
In essence, Apple has encapsulated our right to privacy in every iPhone. It’s far from complete or perfect, of course, but in a world where intelligence agencies have been discovered to be violating that right wholesale, it’s fascinating — and a little distressing — to see more protection coming from a corporation than from the government itself. Perhaps this has come to pass because Apple is now so rich and so dominant that it can operate at almost the level of a government. Evil mega-corporations are a trope of dystopian science fiction, but I’ve never seen a fictionalization of a powerful but flawed megacorp on the principled side of a standoff with a theoretically democratic government. Regardless, it’s a long way from the “beleaguered Apple Computer” of yesteryear.
Or perhaps that’s just the Dread Virus Roberts talking. As TidBITS heads into our 27th year of continuous Internet publication, rest assured that we have no plans to stop anytime soon, budget willing. If anything, Tonya and I, and all the rest of the TidBITS crew, have been more energized since hearing from you in our reader survey at the end of last year (see “TidBITS 2015 Reader Survey Results,” 7 December 2015), thanks to having a better idea of what you want to read. Do keep letting us know when you find an article particularly helpful or interesting, and of course, if you’re not already a TidBITS member, becoming one is the best way to ensure that we’ll continue publishing for as long as you want to read.
Article 29 of 29 in series
While marking the 27th anniversary of the founding of TidBITS, publisher Adam Engst looks forward to upcoming life changes that might free up enough time to rebuild the increasingly creaky technical infrastructure around TidBITS’s strong content heart.Show full article
This article marks our 27th anniversary, with continuous publication from 16 April 1990 to today. I can barely wrap my head around that number. If it were a person, TidBITS would be old enough to drive, vote, drink, and rent a car. On the downside, it would no longer be able to piggyback on its parents’ health insurance and should really move out of the basement already.
Speaking of parents, Tonya and I have been publishing TidBITS for so long that our son Tristan, to whom many of you sent email to when he was born in 1999, is now an 18-year-old high school senior who will be starting the next phase of his life at Cornell University’s College of Engineering this coming August. We’re looking forward to stepping back from day-to-day parental responsibilities and once again setting our own sails — Life 2.0, we call it.
On the other side of the generation ravine, all our parents are now busily occupied by retirement. My most recent family tech support efforts went into helping my father and mother set up iCloud Photo Library so they could clean up their photo collection and run it as a screensaver on an old iMac that clings to life as a digital picture frame. They’re also deep into the project of digitizing many hundreds of older family photos in line with Joe Kissell’s recommendations in “Take Control of Your Digital Legacy.”
Chronologically, TidBITS falls between the passionate youngster charging off to challenge the world and the reflective retirees bringing order to the controlled chaos of lives long lived. But despite a healthy and well-trained heart that continues to beat regularly — the top-notch articles we publish every week — much of the rest of TidBITS feels increasingly creaky. We built our current technical infrastructure long ago, when homebrew was the only option, and while it continues to work as designed, expectations of a modern-day publication have evolved since.
This isn’t news to us; we’ve been well aware of the problems for years, and have long been trying to figure out how to bring all — or even parts of — our infrastructure into today’s world. But despite working with designers and developers, the enormity of the task has thus far proved too daunting, particularly while I have to write and edit articles and keep the business running. Starting from scratch would be vastly easier — I was able to spin up the membership-driven TidBITS Content Network site for Apple SOHO consultants in a few weeks.
Building a redesigned Web site that hosts 15,000 existing articles, a modern email delivery system for 20,000 subscribers, a membership management system for 2,600 TidBITS members, a content management system that enables fluid collaboration, and a collection of community discussion systems… that’s an entirely different ball of wax. Especially when I can’t throw a few hundred thousand dollars and a team of dedicated employees at the task, as is the modern way.
So I can’t promise anything in this respect, but as we enter into beta testing on Life 2.0, I hope I’ll be able to free up enough time and mental bandwidth to tackle these jobs. While it won’t be simple, I’m eager to get started because piecing together the blocks of technical systems that replace inefficient older approaches is one of my favorite things to do.
What I can promise, thanks in large part to the yeoman efforts of Josh Centers, Agen Schmitz, Michael Cohen, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, and other writers, is that the reason you continue to read and support TidBITS will continue unabated. Each week, we’ll keep bringing you articles whose topics we’ve selected for their utility, importance, and interest, and to which we’ve devoted significant time in developing, writing, and editing. That’s the heart of what we do, and as long as it remains healthy, we can rebuild everything else over time.