Sunday, April 30, 2006

Worst OS X bug: Public and Shared folders

I like OS X, but there are some bad bugs. This one is the worst I know of in 10.4.6 -- because it's not even recognized and it disables major functionality (Caveat - maybe something's broken in my system):
Shared Folders and Public Folders

Use Shared folders and Public folders to share information with other users of your computer.

The Shared folder is located in the Users folder (where your home folder is located). The Shared folder is set up with read and write permissions so that all users can open files in and copy files to this folder.

The Public folder is located in your home folder. It is set up with read only permissions that allow others to see and copy its contents. The Public folder also contains a Drop Box folder where other users can copy files but cannot see the Drop Box folder contents.
Frequently, if not always, when I drag folders into my Shared Folder or Public Folder they retain the permissions they had on my desktop. That means others can't read or write them. These folders should have a 'rewrite on drop' behavior that would set permissions. On my system they don't. I have to set them by hand.

I run as a non-admin user. It's the only way to go, running as admin is asking for bad trouble. I wonder if admin users don't see this bug.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nisus Writer Express: My Review

After much consideration, I bought Nisus Writer Express, now on version 2.6.1. Here's how a review of a much earlier version concluded:
ATPM 10.11 - Review: Nisus Writer Express 2.0:

Nisus Writer Express isn’t—yet—the power user’s word processor its namesake was. But it shows a high attention to detail in what really matters: the act of writing. And, more than any of the alternatives—Mellel, Mariner Write, Microsoft Word itself—it has a high quality of “Mac-ness.” Express just feels right in a way that no Mac word processor has to me since the venerable WriteNow. If you’re looking for a writer’s word processor from a responsive company, definitely take a look at Nisus Writer Express.
So why did I opt for NWE?

My requirements were:
1. It had to use an open file format. Practically that means RTF, RTFD or OpenOffice. I cannot abide yet another file format that will strand my data. That ruled out Mellel and, sadly, AbiWord. I don't care if it's the second coming of WordPerfect, it has a stupid proprietary file format. That also rules out Pages and AppleWorks.

2. It had to be a reasonably decent wordprocessor. That ruled out TextEdit. I thought TE might do, but I eventually realized it's a toy.

3. I wanted it to run on my old iBook well. That ruled out Pages.

4. I hate Word, despite being a certified Word guru. That ruled out Word. I have an XP version if I need it.

5. It had to be something my wife would be very comfortable using. That ruled out Word and Pages and OpenOffice and various GUI front ends on TeX engines.

6. It had to be able to save to an SMB share. That rules out TextEdit and a number of other OS X apps bitten by the SMB save bugs.

7. I really wanted a Cocoa app that would play well with OS X and support services. That ruled out OpenOffice, AbiWord, etc.

8. It had to be fast and reliable. That ruled out OpenOffice, AbiWord and a few others. I'm not sure NWE really qualifies but I'll find out.

9. It had to be able to open most Word documents so they can at least be read, and it should be able to save as a Word file tolerably well.

10. I would have loved lots of other wordprocessor features, things I remember from the Golden Age. I'd have liked outlining and hypertext and table of contents and more. Alas, this is not the Golden Age. So this is the least of my demands.
There was only one Mac wordprocessor left standing after I'd made my list -- Nisus Writer Express. So, even though I had qualms about their rigorous license enforcement and price, I bought it.

How's it stack up? I'll add comments here as I learn about them.
1. I encountered my first bug within 10 seconds of installation. If you are a non-admin user, you can't enter a license for the entire computer. The app gives an error message and continues, but the license isn't installed.

2. It does save to an SMB share. Many Mac apps have trouble with this. Stupid Apple bug, good work Nisus.

3. I have a family license. I installed on my iBook for all users. I had two user sessions run NWE. It didn't complain. So I seem to have a license for simultaneous use on 3 machines, and by a number of simultaneous users on each machine. In practice, it's very unlikely we'll have 3 simultaneous users so we're well within the official licensing rules.

4. It does outline style lists. True, they don't collapse (it's' not an outliner), but really I didn't expect that much. It would be marvelous if this turned out to be good WP, but they key test will be reliability.

5. It launches very quickly and is very responsive on my old G3 iBook.

6. It has styles! Unlike the butchered "styles" in Word they may even work.

7. It supports LinkBack, as does OmniGraffle (but, not OmniOutlinter - yet). So OG drawings can be embedded in NWE and edited. Interesting! I was one of the few people who liked Publish and Subscribe. BTW, OLE embedding in Word is worse than you could imagine.

"... In addition to these Services, Nisus Writer Express enables you to include content from other applications and then edit that content again with just a double-click (Classic users will remember Publish and Subscribe as well as Embedded Graphic Objects.)

The LinkBack Framework is an open framework that brings editable objects to Mac OS X. Using LinkBack-enabled applications, you can paste content created in other applications into a Nisus Writer Express document and later edit or update the content from the original application. When activated, content can be updated automatically by the provider application or the provider application can display the content for the user to edit. Any changes automatically replace the original embedded content."

8. This dictionary tip works in NWE! Very cool, if a bit weird. Mouse over a word, hit Cmd-Ctrl-D, a definition window appears. It don't think it works in every Cocoa app, but it does in NWE. (Maybe 10.4 required?)

9. I couldn't find out what file formats NWE imports. I thought for a while that the list was very short, but this web page has a longer list. So, really not too awful. Nisus does need to document this better, I couldn't find it in the help files or PDF documentation.
... Much more to come ...

Update 5/24/06
10. The Word import can't handle Word's change tracking feature. So if a Word document has had changes tracked, and the owner hasn't told Word to "accept all changes", it will be badly mangled when viewed in Nisus Writer Express. This is a tough test for Word document import; Nisus doesn't pass.
Update 1/7/07
11. The HTML export is text only. It's really inadequate and shouldn't be on the export list.
12. It can't auto-generate a table of contents based on the styles. A feature of WordPerfect (and Word) which I do miss.

Blogger success: Safari is a better client than Firefox

Blogger has reached a new level today. Safari is a better client that Firefox! How did they do that? They so bunged up the Firefox rich text editor that it's safer to edit raw html in Safari.

I swear the Blogger team must work for Microsoft.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Aperture Disaster: Gruber's take

Gruber is a deity among Apple bloggers. He's tackled the Aperture disaster. Basically, he agrees with my prior post.

Aperture 1.0 was a true disaster; he adds that it was 9 months late. Aperture 1.1 is a good improvement. Steve Jobs is committed to Aperture. If Apple buys Adobe Lightroom would go, not Aperture.

Bottom line, the shakeup is a good thing and Aperture was not designed to be awful. I'm looking forward to 1.11.

The Aperture disaster: is it about buying Adobe?

Cringely has another explanation for the rumored termination of the Aperture team:
PBS | I, Cringely . April 27, 2006 - Killer Apps

.... There's only one way to make that happen for sure, and that's for Apple to buy Adobe.

Apple has the stock, they have the cash -- such a purchase would effectively cost Apple nothing, the market would like it so well. The Feds would allow it because this current bunch of Feds allows just about anything (just look at Oracle). Efficiencies would abound. For example, Adobe's Premiere editing program could go away in favor of Final Cut Pro. Apple's Aperture photo touch-up program could die so PhotoShop could reign supreme.

Hey, could that be why Apple is rumored to have this week just laid-off its entire Aperture development group?

Could be.
I like Cringely, thought lately I think he's getting a bit wilder. This seems plausible, except Aperture really is pretty good. It would make more sense to keep Aperture and extend it with Photoshop capabilities and the Photoshop plug-in architecture. They'd kill Lightroom though.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Apple Aperture Disaster

This is very good news. I'd come to decide that Aperture's performance issues and bugginess reflected advanced decay at Apple and a cynical ploy to force customers to buy new machines quickly. I was shocked, for example, that Aperture 1.01 couldn't import iPhoto 6.02 data. The performance problems seemed fundamental.

This claim that the real cause is a disastrous engineering/management failure is encouraging. This also explains the recent price drop.
Think Secret - Aperture future in question as Apple axes bulk of team

Apple recently asked the engineering team behind its Aperture photo editing and management software to leave, Think Secret has learned. The move, which resulted in the departure of several engineers while others were transferred to different projects inside Apple, raises questions about the future of Aperture, Apple's most heavily criticized and bug-ridden software release in recent years.
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Sources familiar with Apple's professional software strategy said they were not surprised by the move, describing Aperture's development as a "mess" and the worst they had witnessed at Apple.

Aperture's problems stem not from any particular area that can be easily remedied but rather from the application's entire underlying architecture. In the run-up to Aperture's November release last year, for example, sources report that responsibility for the application's image processing pipeline was taken away from the Aperture team and given to the Shake and Motion team "to fix as best they can." Some of those enhancements emerged in the recently released Aperture 1.1 update, which saw its release delayed for about two weeks as a result of the extra work needed to bring it up to spec.

In tandem with the 1.1 update, Apple dropped Aperture's price tag from $499 to $299 and offered owners of version 1.0 a $200 coupon for the Apple Store. Industry watchers and users alike have viewed the price cut as a maneuver to stave off competition from Adobe's forthcoming LightRoom software, a beta of which is available for Mac OS X users, and see the Apple Store coupon as a concession for early adopters who collectively appear to have been expecting more from Apple.

Perhaps the greatest hope for Aperture's future is that the application's problems are said to be so extensive that any version 2.0 would require major portions of code to be entirely rewritten. With that in mind, the bell may not yet be tolling for Aperture; an entirely new engineering team could salvage the software and bring it up to Apple's usual standards.
Now that the news is out I hope Apple will make some kind of a statement. They ought to apologize to all the Apple Discussion posters who've had their complaints deleted ... Apple needs to set out a path of both incremental bug and performance fixes and architectural revisions.

Outlook Current View display bug: finally found a workaround

Maybe this will help someone, it's an exotic Outlook 2003 bug.

I make heavy use of Outlook's 'Views' to change how data is presented to me and I create my own custom views. This is particularly important for tasks. A couple of months ago Outlook stopped showing me the list of views -- I could only see a single view choice in the Advanced Toolbar Current View drop down list, or in the 'View:Arrange by:Current view" menu drop down. It always showed the current view. To change views I had to bring up the View edit menu and apply from there.

I thought this bug was related to our ancient corporate exchange server, but an upgrade to the latest version didn't fix it. It only happened with the Tasks stored on the exchange server, not archived tasks stored in my PST files.

The fix was, of course, to delete every custom view I ever created and reset every Outlook view to its defaults. Now the drop down works again. It's not that hard for me to recreate was was lost, so this is a big improvement.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

gCal, iCal, iPod, Palm phone: Geek joy

It seems there are a few ways to have the OS X iCal app subscribe to items entered on Google calendar: HOWTO: Subscribe to a Google Calendar using iCal - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

The items on iCal sync to the iPod via iTunes, and to our Samsung Palm phones using MissingSync (and thus to my wife's future Treo p700). Assuming we do data entry via gCal (google calendar -- since email carries much calendar info, users of gmail get rapid data entry to gCal) to our family calendar, this has some interesting options.

It appears one can do private sharing of a calendar:
What's a "Private Address"?

A "Private Address" lets you easily view a read-only version of your calendar from other applications. Using this address, you can access your calendar from various applications, such as a feed reader (like Google Reader) or a product that supports the iCal format (like iCal for Mac).

To obtain your calendar's private address, just click on the "XML" or "ICAL" icon. A pop-up window with your calendar's private URL will appear.

Additionally, you can export your calendar information by clicking on the "ICAL" button and clicking on the displayed URL.

Note: The private address was designed for your use only, so be sure not to share this address with others. If you want to let others view your calendar, you can share your calendar's public address (or "Calendar Address") with them. If you accidentally share your calendar's private address, click on the "Reset Private URLs" link to regenerate your calendar's private addres
My geek radar is tingling. Look at how Google is managing creating merged views of calendars, the notification functions including notify to cell phone, the variety of subscription options, the search and private integration .... This could be the best webapp thingie since ... Gmail. It almost makes me forgive Google for their Blogger atrocity.

If Palm had half a brain they'd jump on this like berserkers, but of course that company zombied a long time ago. This must be painful for Apple to watch, they almost had it with .Mac (dotMac) but they lost focus and got greedy.

Macintouch reports: slide and tape digitization

These MacInTouchreports are always excellent. Great community:
We have a great report today about Digitizing Slides collected as part of a family project and another report with lots of advice about Digitizing VHS Tapes and converting them to DVD.
I scanned the slide digitizing report. Walmart was cheapest for digitizing slides and one guy found the most efficient approach was to photograph the slide projection (I'd never have thought of that one). This is a market problem that will eventually have a better solution. I'm amazed we still don't have bulk solutions for print imaging -- a much easier problem. Maybe later this year or next year ...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ars Technica reviews: iPod speaker systems

High-end iPod speaker systems

The Apple iPod Hi-Fi did surprisingly well. If compactness is important I'd say it's the winner, but the Klipsch outpointed it. Nice review. I'm tempted ...

Monday, April 24, 2006

GMail's been eating comment notifications!

Gordon's Notes: Missed comments: Gmail eating them!

Very annoying. Sorry!

I hate Palm. Outlook too. Oh yeah, also Microsoft.

Another fight lost in the HotSync wars.

Today Outlook/Palm/Exchange/BeyondContacts (OPEB) duplicated all of my tasks. I'm so used to cleaning up this nonsense I have special Outlook views defined to help the cleanup.

Why did it do this? Beats me. Every so often OPEB decides to punish me.

I hate sync. I hate Palm. I hate Outlook. Exchange too for that matter. Oh, yeah, Microsoft too.

Sync is hard enough when a single vendor has complete control of both transaction partners. When sync crosses vendors (bilateral messaging, reconciling disparate data models, lack of well managed identifiers), and when sync is three-way (PDA to Outlook to Exchange) it's like juggling antimatter. Every so often, it explodes.

BTW, most healthcare environments do the equivalent of "sync" across vendor systems every day. It's ugly there too.

PS. When I first tried to post this I got a "blogger has gone splat" message (ok, they said "down for planned maintenance -- at 6pm CT). I hate Blogger too. Also Google.

iBook: enhanced batteries - TruePower

Macintouch had this one:
TruePower Apple PowerBook & iBook Batteries

FastMac introduced a new line of TruePower high capacity batteries for the PowerBook G4 (Titanium and Aluminum), iBook (all models), and PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet, Lombard and Pismo). The TruePower batteries claim capacity up to 56% more than the Apple originals (depending on model) and include safety features to protect against overcharge, short circuit, and power surges, along with a one year warranty. Introductory prices range from $99.95 for most models to $119.95 for the PowerBook G4 Aluminum 17" and PowerBook G3 (2000) Pismo models.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Aperture woes - and iPhoto 6 image export

[PS. If you have trouble reading this, note that Blogger's formatting and editing tools are astonishingly broken. Don't use bullets!]

Apple - Support - Discussions - Aperture performance vs. iPhoto ... sums it up. Aperture 1.1 is just too darned slow save on the very highest performance machines and the very highest end GPUs. It's an application for the next generation of Macs. The only caveat is that there may be a way to make it workable by constraining views to smaller thumbnail subsets.

So now I'm on Plan B. This is using Adobe Elements for initial RAW and JPG image review and edits, then export as JPG 99% and store in iPhoto 6. Alas PNG won't work since it strips metadata and JPEG2 won't work because of unclear metadata standards and an uncertain future. TIFF 6/EXIF with compression or DNG (basically TIFF 6 with better metadata) is the other option, but when iPhoto edits TIFF I think it stores the edited file as uncompressed TIFF -- huge.

In the meantime I did some experiments with iPhoto image formats and export/import. I used GraphicConverter 'save as' to make some of these inferences. I'll update what's below with more testing:
  • If I import RAW from my Digital Rebel XT into iPhoto 6.02/10.4.6 the resulting image uses the Adobe RGB color space.
  • iPhoto image export does not include an image preview (good!)
  • If I edit a RAW file in iPhoto the edited file format is JPG. Oddly enough iPhoto has a "reprocess RAW" option, which can only transform the original, not the JPG. I assume that's related to how RAW processing occurs in Aperture. [Note: There's an advanced iPhoto option to save edited RAW as 16 bit TIFF. This would not only change this behavior, I suspect export original might export the edited TIFF rather than the CR2 file. Since 16bit TIFF files are enormous I didn't do this.]
  • When iPhoto exports as PNG, JPG or TIFF it exports the edited image. When it exports as "Original" it exports the edited image for PNG or JPG, but the original image for RAW/CR2. The latter makes sense when one realizes that iPhoto always converts CR2 to JPG for editing, there's no "edited CR2" to export. So the app has to choose between exporting a JPG (clearly wrong) and exporting the original (not so clearly wrong, but not right either).
  • When iPhoto exports TIFF the metadata is well preserved on round-trip but there's no compression at all. A 5-6 MB PNG vs a 22MB TIFF!
  • When GraphicConverter converts TIFF to JPG (resource fork turned off, the fork adds about 100K, use QuickTime for compression) there's very little growth in file size from a 90% to 100% image quality setting. When using GC to produce images that will be archived, there's no reason to drop below 100% quality.
Some interesting comparisons on an exported image from iPhoto (image sizes in millions of bytes, not in MBs). Note that Preview is an amazing little application, but it doesn't let one save CR2 or 16bit TIFF as anything but lossless.
TEST ONE

Original CR2: 13.27 converted to:

JPG w/ iPhoto: 4.1
PNG w/ iPhoto: 13.1
TIFF 8 bit w/ iPhoto: 23.9
TIFF 16 bit LZW w/ Preview: 62.23 (Note that CR2 RAW images have 12 bits of color. JPG only has 8. TIFF has either 8 or 16; one sacrifices date, the other wastes disk space.)
PSD w/ Preview(!): 47.7

The 8bit TIFF converted to:

JPG BEST w/ Preview: 8.56
JPG 100 w/ GC: 4.11
JPG 99 w/ GC: 4.03
JPG 95 w/ GC: 4.01
JP2 Lossless: 8.63

TEST TWO

CR2: 11.1
JPG w/ iPhoto: 2.9 (23.83 as TIFF)
JPG in camera: 3.54 (23.89 as TIFF)
Wow. This surprised the heck out of me. A few comments as I figure this out:
Preview has a lot of unexpected capabilities. Most apps, including GraphicConverter, can't fully handle 16 bit TIFF, but it has no problem.

I'd figured from my first test that iPhoto's JPG export was minimally lossy, the only less lossy export coming with Preview -- it seems to save as lossless JPEG (rare format). In my second test the in camera JPEG is significantly larger than the out-of-camera iPhoto CR2 to JPEG result. I wondered then if the camera was losing less data than the iPhoto CR2 to JPG conversion. However, when I normalized both by using GC to save as TIFF, the sizes were 23.89 and 23.83 respectively. In other words it in-camera JPEG is simply a less efficient compression, it holds no more real data than the JPEG iPhoto produces from the CR2 file.
More conclusions later, but for now:
CR2 is a very compact format. In terms of capturing all image data, the next jump is to PSD. Almost 400% growth required.

iPhoto's JPG output is better than I'd expected. It's the equivalent of GraphicConverter's 100% option. Also to my surprise, there's no reason to use anything less than 100% when saving images in GC -- file size savings from greater compression are minimal.

Preview may support lossless JPG, which is almost unheard of. JPEG2000 lossless gives similar results.

iPhoto is a very sophisticated product.
My new workflow is as follows:
Use RAW in my camera.

Import images from camera into an 'iPhoto Intake Library' (I use IPLM to switch libraries).

Edit in the Intake Library. When done export as JPG. Note, however, images will have Adobe RGB color space rather than my preferred sRGB.

Rename the exported images using my personal convention (date/roll info is part of file name, no possible future name collisions).

Import into iPhoto for storage.
My primary concern with this is that I'm working in Adobe RGB rather than, as I prefer, sRGB.

Why PNG sucks: It's the metadata, stupid

I've been experimenting with various file formats to use with iPhoto and RAW images. iPhoto generated TIFF files completely uncompressed and thus quite large, iPhoto doesn't provide JPG fine tuning (lossy compression control), JPEG2000 is still not widely used, etc. PNG seemed a good option -- reasonable sizes, well specified, decent color tables, etc.

But PNG has a lethal flaw, as documented by the Library of Congress digital preservation project:
PNG

The PNG specification allows labeled text (ASCII or UTF-8) elements to be embedded in text chunks and predefines a few standard keywords(element labels): Title, Author, Description, Copyright, Creation Time, Software, Disclaimer, Warning, Source, Comment. The compilers of this resource are not able to assess the degree to which such metadata is found in practice or whether other keywords are in common use. An attempt in 2000 to develop open source tools to convert EXIF images (including EXIF metadata) to PNG seems to have been abandoned. See
http://pmt.sourceforge.net/exif/drafts/d020.html. Without such tools and agreed practices, PNG can not rank highly for self-documentation.
In other words, there are no standards, or even exif-like pseudostandards, for embedding metadata (time image acquired, etc) in PNG images. Obviously there are no standards in common use for associating a portable metadata XML file (for example) in a bundle with a PNG image.

So 'save as PNG' means toss out the metadata. PNG is worthless as an image archival format. Shame.

BTW, this LOC site is an exception reference. In contrast to the PNG tragicomedy, note the discussions of JPF (still in the twilight zone) metadata ("self-documentation"). There's some very sophisticated thinking there, unfortunately no-one supports this yet ...
All JPEG 2000 files are made up of "boxes," as described in the Notes below, including an XML box typically used for metadata. Regarding JPX_FF, Annex N of Part 2 of the specification provides detail about metadata and offers but does not require a specification based on DIG35 elements. This metadata specification includes four broad metadata categories: (1) image creation ("how," e.g., about the camera), (2) content description ("who," "what," "when," and "where"), (3) history ("how the image got to its present state," i.e., provenance metadata in the digital library lexicon), and (4) intellectual property rights (IPR) metadata (which may be used in conjunction with technological protection systems). Additional boxes inherited from JP2_FF include one for a unique identifier for the image or identifier-references to other digital objects, e.g., a UUID, and another for IPR metadata, possibly redundant with that included in the XML box.
JPF wraps JPEG2000 compression formats, which are proprietary and have lots of IP issues. Contrast now to Adobe's open DNG (described as a "subtype of TIFF 6"):
See TIFF_6. Additional metadata may be embedded in a file using tags from (1) TIFF/EP or EXIF_2_2 (see also TIFF_UNC_EXIF), (2) IPTC (TIFF tag 33723), and (3) XMP (TIFF tag 700). Regarding TIFF/EP and EXIF, the specification states that TIFF/EP stores the tags in IFD 0, while TIFF_UNC_EXIF stores them in a separate IFD. Either location is allowed but the EXIF location is preferred. Proprietary metadata that may be used by camera manufacturer's raw convertors is to placed under private tags, in private IFDs (Image File Directories), and/or a private MakerNote. (pp. 12-13)
TIFF 6 appears to be the preferred format for image archiving by the Library of Congress. I can't tell what version of TIFF iPhoto produces. It's not compressed, but that doesn't say much. It does contain EXIF metadata, so maybe it's TIFF_UNC_EXIF.

On review I'd say we need iPhoto to export to DNG with compression and use DNG as a native lossless format.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

iPhoto 6 is fast and responsive. But ... I export as JPG and what quality setting can I assign? None. I export as original, and what's exported doesn't have my edits (for the RAW files anyway).

And there's no supported way to combine or merge iPhoto Libraries.

Ok, so then there's Aperture, now at 1.1.. Still buggy by all reports. Still crashy. Slower than before, and it used to be very slow.

Arrgggghhh.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Play music without adding to iTunes Library

Macworld: Mac OS X Hints: Listen without adding to library in iTunes

Make sure you can see the iTunes window, specifically the Source column, along with the song you wish to listen to. Hold down the Option key and drag the song file into an empty spot in the Source column. iTunes will create a new playlist containing the dragged song, but it will not add it to the library. When you’re done listening, just delete the playlist. The original file will be untouched, and once the playlist entry is gone, iTunes will no longer be aware of the song, either.

Friday, April 21, 2006

OS X as OS/2: XP API in 10.5?

Will history repeat? IBM had the right to use the Windows API in the 1990s. That's why OS/2 could, really, "run Windows better than Windows". Alas, Microsoft did things with their source code and API to break OS/2's version of the API.

Cringely claims Apple has the same API rights that IBM once had, and that this time will be different:
PBS | I, Cringely . April 20, 2006 - Native Speaker

... I believe that Apple will offer Windows Vista as an option for those big customers who demand it, but I also believe that Apple will offer in OS X 10.5 the ability to run native Windows XP applications with no copy of XP installed on the machine at all. This will be accomplished not by using compatibility middleware like Wine, but rather by Apple implementing the Windows API directly in OS X 10.5.

Huh?

Wine is great, but it is also a moving target subject to Microsoft meddling. If Wine gets too good, Microsoft can "accidentally" break it at will. But Microsoft can't afford to do that with its own Windows API. The courts will no longer allow checking for a different underlying OS as Redmond did back in the days of DR-DOS. Besides, unless we are strictly talking about Microsoft apps, there isn't even much code involved here that Microsoft CAN meddle in. The wonder is, of course, that Apple could even dare to do such a thing?

Oh they can dare. Not only that, this is one dare Apple can probably get away with.

Remember Steve Jobs' first days back at Apple in 1997 as Interim-CEO-for-Life? Trying to save the company, Steve got Bill Gates to invest $150 million in Apple and promise to keep Mac Office going for a few more years in exchange for a five-year patent cross-licensing agreement? The idea in everyone's mind, of course, was that Microsoft would grab lots of Apple technology, which they probably did, and it quite specifically ended an Apple patent infringement suit against Microsoft. But I'm told that the exchange wasn't totally one-way, that Apple, in turn, got some legal right to the Windows API.

That agreement ran for five years, from August, 1997 to August 2002. Even though it has since expired, the rights it conferred at the time still lie with the respective companies. Whatever Microsoft grabbed from Apple they can still use, they just aren't able to grab anything developed since August 2002. Same for Apple using Microsoft technology like that in Office X. But Windows XP shipped October 25, 2001: 10 months before the agreement expired.

I'm told Apple has long had this running in the Cupertino lab -- Intel Macs running OS X while mixing Apple and XP applications. This is not a guess or a rumor, this something that has been demonstrated and observed by people who have since reported to me.

Think of the implications. A souped-up OS X kernel with native Windows API support and the prospect of mixing and matching Windows and Mac applications would be, for many users, the best of both worlds. There would be no copy of Windows XP to buy, no large overhead of emulation or compatibility middleware, no chance for Microsoft to accidentally screw things up, substantially better security, and no need to even take a chance on Windows Vista.

It would be great to have this functionality. I suspect Microsoft could still break support however, probably with an XP service pack. The DRM features they'll eventually require for Office won't be compatible with XP, and Apple won't have the Vista API. At most it's a transitional solution, though it might be a winner for a year or two.

Cringely also claims that 10.5 won't run on PowerPC CPUs due to kernel swap. Alas, I can believe that. Apple can be very cruel about obsoleting hardware; that's their perverse incentive. (Microsoft's perverse incentive is to break file formats -- of the two I actually prefer Apple's behavior). Maybe they'll give PowerPC users a coupon!

Update 4/22: Gruber politely and convincingly tears up this column. So, virtualization yes, but not likely API integration. Kernel change maybe, but probably not until 10.6.

Keylock and usability in the Palm Tungsten

My Tungsten E2 was dead in the water. It wouldn't respond to any keypresses or gestures. I figured either a disastrous hardware failure or a glitch with some of the old odd software I rely on. I was ready to try a hard reset. To do that one must press and hold the power switch -- a switch I rarely touch because it's known to fail in the T/E2.

That brought up the keylock warning dialog. Keylock had accidentally engaged, that's why nothing worked. I had only to press and hold the powerswitch to get the dialog to disable it. Press and hold turns it on.

Fascinating! Is it really a usability flaw, or more a side-effect of my use of the command buttons rather than the power switch to turn on my Palm? (I do that to avoid wear on the fragile on/off button.)

I've now disabled keylock so it never activates. It was previously set to manual activation.

Update 4/22: On reflection, I think it's a usability bug. With keylock on pressing the power button gives the message that it's on. However, pressing the other buttons that start the PDA do not produce this message. With keylock on, pressing any button that would normally power up the PDA should produce the same keylock notification message.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

World's best USB drive enclosure?

I bought this USB enclosure for my work backup drive about a year ago. Not only has it worked perfectly, it's quiet, fan cooled, has a perfect rating from over 280 geeky NewEgg buyers and is still sold:

AMS VENUS DS-2316B2BK Black External Enclosure - Retail at Newegg.com

It may just be the perfect USB drive enclosure. I'm buying two more to support my home backup.

Update 6/1/06: Never fails.

I write something nice about a device and it shows some warts. See the fan update to an earlier post.

Update 9/1/06: No spin down.

This is the killer requirement, but almost all USB enclosures have this problem. Dan's Data tells us that spindown is essential for the survival of consumer hard drives. I have my laptop set to spindown drives after about 15 minutes of non-use, but I don't think the drive ever spins down in this Venus enclosure.

In summary, requirements for an ideal USB/firewire enclosure:
  • drive spindown
  • extraordinary passive cooling (not sure this is possible)
  • high quality large circumference very quiet fan that's easy to replace (if not passive cooling)
  • well designed wall wart (I prefer the ones where the transformer is a foot or so from the plug)
I'm still looking, but maybe the Network Storage (NAS) devices will be the real answer.

Update 11/16/08: This is the same drive family as reviewed in 2004 by Dan's Data. I'm looking at this because my backups have exceeded the capacity of the drives in these enclosures. So I'm looking for 1TB drives but, for the sake of convenience, will probably buy then bundled with an enclosure. Now if I could find an enclosure that spins down the drive ...

Greenspun dSLR recommendations

Phil Greenspun's recommendation for an average family photographer:
Canon EOS Digital SLR System

* Canon Digital Rebel XT (Black), $690
* Sigma 30/1.4, $400, for high quality indoor photos without flash and general photography
* Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, $690, for travel
* Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM, $670 for sports (equivalent to 300mm on a full-frame camera), or possibly a telephoto zoom (Canon doesn't make any good telephoto zoom lenses designed specifically for the small-sensor cameras, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, $590 is probably the best match)
Personally I'd go for the crummy bundled zoom package, the very inexpensive 50 mm Canon, the very nice Sigma 30 and a decent flash. I'd hardly ever use the zoom, and often switch the 30 and the 50.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

MacInTouch: Bonjour for Windows

I've used Bonjour for Windows to locate a few network resources. Worked well, it's a good addition to an XP machine living in an OS X environment.
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh

Apple released Bonjour for Windows 1.0.3, noting that the update 'is recommended for all Bonjour users to improve usability and compatibility. This update also improves start up performance of Bonjour on Windows platforms.'

Monday, April 17, 2006

Drag-and-drop disk image creation

Disk images are wonderful. This is elegant ...
Macworld: Mac OS X Hints: Drag-and-drop disk image creation

... Just drag your folder onto the Disk Utility application icon—whether that’s in the Dock, the Sidebar, the Toolbar, or just in the Finder itself. Disk Utility will launch, displaying the image creation dialog. Set the type of image you’d like to create, and whether you’d like to encrypt it, and you’re set.

PDF Column selection in OS X

Command-option-select:
Macintouch: Mac OS X 10.4.6

David Barnett

If you need to select a column of text from a PDF you can do this by holding down the and

Yahoo! FareChase: bargains in travel

A NYT report on Yahoo's integration of a travel search into their general search utility was the first I'd heard of: Yahoo! FareChase Tools. They sound pretty interesting. I like the Yahoo Widgets integration; maybe it's time to take a more serious look at all of those Widgets (which started out on OS X).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pacifist is back

ExtraBITS notes Pacifist has been updated. I thought this essential OS X utility had been retired. Great to here it's back, my old Pacifist couldn't parse some of the newer packages. I won't mind paying if I'm due, but I'm probably convered by my old license.

OS X Safe Boot: easiest way to repair disk (fsck replacement)

It's oddly hard to find a clear explanation of what safe boot does, and how it compares to repairs using disk utility (boot DVD) or fsck:
Care and Feeding of Panther

... Under Jaguar, you could run an FSCK from here to manually fix system problems (see the earlier article 'Care and Feeding of Jaguar' if you are running any of the various iterations of Jaguar 10.2.x). Unfortunately, with the introduction of Panther, Apple included a feature called 'Journaling.' Journaling is a system that keeps track of your file and directory information. If something goes wrong, your system might be able to be reconstructed from the 'journaled' information collected prior to the crash. It's actually a pretty cool feature, and it may keep you from ever even noticing that your system had severe problems and fixed them!

The unfortunate part is that this journaling behavior also makes the old Single User Mode FSCK maneuver unworkable. You can force the FSCK in Single User Mode with a little extra code, but you are quite likely to encounter erroneous error messages such that the system seems to have problems but really doesn't. The FSCK routine may not give you a clear idea of whether or not your system is actually fixed.

Luckily, there's a better way to do this. If you reboot your system into what is called a 'Safe Boot' (by holding down the Shift key after the 'bong' like the old Disable Extensions in OS 9), you will see the words Safe Boot in the loading box. When you boot into Safe Boot, Panther automatically runs a complete FSCK during the load process. It may be a slow boot into Safe Boot, because the FSCK running in the process takes quite a long time. It may even be necessary to reboot and run Safe Boot a couple of times, since FSCK may fix one thing one time and then find yet another thing the second time.

It's particularly important to run this Safe Boot FSCK process if your system has had a total lockout like a ten-minute spinning pizza. If you have had to force re-boot your system without shutting it down properly, it is quite likely that certain temp files have gotten corrupted. This may not show up as a problem today, but a week from now, you could get really nasty behavior and even unexplained crashing. Save yourself a little trouble and quickly run Safe Boot if this happens to you.
Despite running a journaled system I do get minor errors on occasion. I think it's worth doing this after major system updates as a maintenance step.

Friday, April 14, 2006

All that google does -- one search page

Phil Bradley sent me to this one. A set of links that maps out Google's many activities: Simply Google

Aperture 1.1 bug: unsupported format

Uh-oh. This problem is still an issue in Aperture 1.1:
Aperture: Metadata import/export issues (IPTC, keywords, EXIF)

Issue: Aperture won't import certain files with added metadata
Under certain circumstances with certain cameras, Aperture may not be able to import files which have had metadata added by Photo Mechanic or similar applications. Sometimes the file may import but then result in an 'unsupported format' message.
This sounds like a problem I've had with PictureSync. I know GraphicConverter also rewrites EXIF headers, I wonder if it's vulnerable to this problem.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google Calendar: No Safari, no sync?

Google Calendar does not support Safari.

I don't see a way to sync with iSync -- but maybe someone will build it.
Official Google Blog: It's about time

... integrated with Gmail so you can add events mentioned in messages to your calendar with just one click.
.... simple to see calendars from your friends and family, or calendars you find with the built-in calendar search tool, right next to your own calendar. You can choose to share as much or as little of your own calendar, too.
.... You can turn any event on your calendar into an invitation just by adding the email addresses of your guests. They can see and respond to your invitation, whether or not they use Google Calendar themselves.
... Event reminders by email and text message to your mobile phone
... supports the iCal standard
... can add customized Google Calendar event reminder buttons to their pages, letting visitors quickly add copies of events to their calendars.
The lack of Safari support is disappointing, but as I recall Gmail started out without it as well.

Aperture 1.1: cheaper, better!

Apple - Aperture - Aperture 1.1 Update

Wow. Apple has dropped the price by almost 50%. Clearly the 1.0 launch was botched.

With my Microsoft settlement check and my iPod battery settlement code and my educational discount this one's "free" for me. I guess it's time to buy and start testing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blogger defends a bad splog control process

Blogger must be getting a bit of static, because they defend their Spam Removal (splog delete) process. My experience was rather different. Needless to say, Blogger never apologized. They have been arrogant and cavalier in their procedures.

Update 9/18/06: See this note for more details.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Macintouch: Boot Camp and AVG Free edition

Macintouch an excellent OS X Boot Camp report. If I had an Intel Mac, I'd wait for the next release of the Boot Camp beta.

The article also includes a mini-essay by Henry Norr, a well known Mac guru -- on Windows antiviral solutions. I'm no fan of NAV, so I'm interested ...
... . After trying all the major commercial anti-virus products for XP - most recently TrendMicro's - I have for the last six months or so been running something called AVG Free Edition from Grisoft

http://www.grisoft.com/doc/289/lng/us/tpl/tpl01

I recommend it highly for home users. (According to the terms, "AVG Free Edition is for private, non-commercial, single home computer use only. Use of AVG Free Edition within any organization or for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.")

It's updated every day if necessary, automatically if you configure it that way, and it's very unobtrusive. I have no way of testing the protection it purports to provide, but the reviews put it in the same league as the top commercial products. Complete system scans are slower than with Trend Micro, etc., but since I have it set to do those in the middle of the night, it doesn't bother me. The free version is limited to one automatic update per day (!), so in theory you could be vulnerable to a new virus appearing between one update and the next, but the odds of catching a new virus on the very day of its release are pretty slim, especially if you practice basic principles of safe computing such as those Bruce outlines...

I left out the parts where Norr blames Windows users for not sufficiently securing their systems -- while denying he's doing so. Sometimes smart people can be pretty dumb.

Another writer mentions that XP rots relatively slowly if it's off the net. I think that's true; I've kept installs working for years. It's annoying that it rots at all, but I do fear that after 2 years of my laptop's install I'll need to schedule three days for a refresh and reinstall. (I have a lot of complex software on this machine, and a lot of complex configuration.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nothing beside remains: Software long gone

We moved last year, and before the move I dumped boxes of 5.25" floppy (really floppy) disks. I made a quick list of what I tossed, and in memory to old software long forgotten, here it is.

Each of these products represented immense efforts, and all of them were commercially successful. Few are in use now, and even fewer are remembered. As each died thousands of old documents and files became unreadable and worthless.
Volkswriter: My first PC wordprocessor; prior to it I used
Grammatik: standalone DOS grammar checker
PFS First Publisher: ancestor to Apple's Pages
Harvard Graphics: create charts
Q & A: wordprocessing and lightweight database
Smart Software (Integrated: DB, WP, Spreadsheet): powerful and obscure
Sidekick: TSRs were awful. Truly awful.
Enable: Another integrated app. Wordprocessing, database, etc. Only Office survived.
WordPerfect, WP Editor, WP Library, DataPerfect: Remember the WP suite? DataPerfect was pretty bad. The WP Editor was excellent.
Reflex: Innovative database/analytics tool
Copy II PC: Before DRM, there was copy protection. Hence Copy II to break it.
PC File: Original shareware appl.
Quattro Pro: Borland's spreadsheet. Later bundled with WordPerfect.
Laplink: Connect machines before LANs
Grateful Med: PubMed is the inferior replacement
MS DOS 2.11: There grew the dark seeds of Gates' power.
DesqView and QEMM 386: The Horror, the Horror.
MS DOS "Leading Edge": Leading Edge had its moment of glory.
Software Carousel: Switch applications, not multitasking. Actually worked.
GeoWorks Ensemble: Shining moment of hope. Microsoft squashed it like a bug.
PFS First Write: another early wordprocessor
Norton Utilities: many versions, this was once a great product. Hard to believe!
Reams of medical software:
Cyberlog, Discotest, Grateful Med, PDQ, EpiInfo, Medical Letter Drug Interaction
Chessmaster
Sim City: This game is still around.
Falcon F-16
Turbo Pascal, C, C++: Those were Borland's salad days
Fastback: defrag
Spinrite: still in business I think ...
BBeard.arc: A BBS software package, from the modem days.
Procomm Plus: remember modems?
Ready 1.0: original outliner
GrandView: outliner/database
Folio Views: a wonderful product that fell when the web rose.
Norton NDOS (replaced command.com)
Norton Commander version 1, 2, and 3: never equalled. NCMail was my favorite email client for many years.
Magic Cap/General Magic (including letter reaffirming firm commitment from Apple)
Reference Manager: still around I think.
Yes, we do need standard document formats.

Firefox Google Toolbar updated

Google Toolbar for Firefox

It's now feature equivalent to the beta IE toolbar. Nice upgrade.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Boot Camp: inviting the devil into one's home

The Register outlines an imaginary future for Apple, now that Apple is providing the Boot Camp utility to support dual booting Apple hardware to XP or OS X. The real risk comes if Leopard really does run using virtualization technology, allowing Vista software to run seamlessly alongside OS X. At that point it's all too easy for Adobe or Microsoft to write XP software that fits that virtualization layer, rather than write OS X software.

It's a genuine risk, the counterbalancing force being that Apple is increasingly writing its own software for OS X. Aperture is a mean competitor to Photoshop for many users.

I hope it goes well. From my perspective it means if my old XP desktop ever chokes, it will be replaced by a MacBook. Similarly if I ever decide I need a Vista machine, it will be made by Apple.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Company that buys iBooks for parts

PowerBook Parts, and Repair Manuals - PowerBook Tech will buy an iBook for parts. My G3 is dying the hinge death, between the Airport card, the memory upgrade and the new battery and new 40GB drive I figure I might get $200 or so. Money to put against the replacement machine.

iBook: hinge of death

My G3 dual USB iBook is on its last legs. The drive died last year and I replaced it, but that was probably a mistake. Now the display is getting dimmer and the hinge is very stiff; these are known symptoms of a design defect that affects iBooks.

The G3 iBook has about a three year lifespan with average use. I think I fell a bit short of that, but I used it very heavily. Three years is the range of AppleCare coverage; if AppleCare service was higher quality I'd get it for my next iBook. Alas, it is not.

I'd hoped I'd make it to the Intel ibook, but the roll out of the Intel MacBook Pro has been so troubled I figure I'll just buy a G4 iBook. The old one may end up attached to an LCD panel in the kitchen, or it may just be junked.

I wouldn't mind a four year lifespan for a laptop, three is a bit short. My old PowerBook 165 lasted about five years, but nobody makes anything that reliable any more.

Update 4/2/06: Macintouch has the best information on this. Nobody mentioned iGlide in that query, it does show up in the few remaining Apple discussion posts on this (they archive older posts and there are few G3s left). WD-40 is a bad idea, it destroys the plastic. I wonder if iGlide is just Teflon spray but I may give it a try. I'll try loosening the bolts slightly to each side of the hinge then spraying it.

Update 4/9/06: Tried iGlide. It had no effect. The instructions require one to remove the rubber feet and loosen the associated screws, that broke 2 of the 3 feet. I sort of expected that from past experience, crazy glue holds them on now.

Update 4/11/06: Oddly, the function is now improving. It just took a couple of days. Crazy glue works well on those iBook feet ...

Update 5/11/06: Still works fine. I sent the company a note saying how pleased I was. I did mention the feet braking, and they sent me a set of replacements. The crazy glue will likely last the lifetime of the iBook, but that's impressive. They also gave me a strong hint of where the lubricant comes from. No, it's not WD-40 -- that would dissolve the plastic. I won't repeat it (sorry), but the source is consistent with the successful results I saw.

Update 11/18/06
: The hinge is again in bad shape, and now the cracks are growing and the alignment is off. The treatment gave me 6 months, time enough for the MacBook Core Duo 2 to come out. Worth it really, but not a cure. I suspect the hinges go when some teflon like surface wears off; they probably can't be cost-effectively repaired. I could probably reapply and get some more time, but instead we leave the iBook permanently open. It's not bad for carrying around the house.