• Newsletter Issue #285

    May 16th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    The exciting May 12th episode featured a special Tiger upgrade seminar with Joe Kissell, author of the new e-book, Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger and Jason Snell, Editorial Director of Mac Publishing, the company behind Macworld and Playlist magazines. We were also joined by John Lowrey, the developer of one of the most popular Mac OS X maintenance utilities, Tiger Cache Cleaner.

    Our May 19th program will return to the world of digital music, and we’ll have author Christopher Breen on hand to talk about the future of the iPod, Apple’s music service and whether the new subscription plan from Yahoo is going to make much of an impact. If you have a Mac that is not officially compatible with Tiger, you’ll want to hear about a possible upcoming solution from Ryan Rempel, author of XPostFacto. That’s the application that has, so far at least, allowed you to install Mac OS X on older hardware and it appears a Tiger version is in the offing.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. We’ve had four weeks if iPod shuffle giveaways, and this week will be offering a 1GB memory upgrade, courtesy of the folks at Crucial Technology.

    If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.

    THE TIGER REPORT: SO WHAT ABOUT THE OPEN/SAVE DIALOG BOXES?

    It’s easy to come up with a laundry list of the things you’d like to see in Mac OS X. But that doesn’t mean Apple has the same priorities, and even if it decides to give you what you want, it may take months or years to get it right. Such are the uncertainties of software programming. Even though it’s a mere 18 months between Panther and Tiger, you don’t really know how long some of Tiger’s features were actually in development. Some may have been in the works even before the very first version of Mac OS X appeared.

    But there’s one feature that has been woefully inadequate, well actually downright broken, for the past 20 years, and that’s the Open/Save dialog box. It has gone through three basic evolutions through the years. First the bare bones version of the early Mac OS, the “navigation services” version in Mac OS 8 and 9, culminating in the browser-style motif of Mac OS X. Now it is fair to say that Tiger variation, with built-in Spotlight search screen, isn’t all that bad, but it has a long way to go before it realizes its potential.

    In fact, I am willing to bet that a surprisingly large number of our readers actually never use the Open dialog box, and I’m not a betting man. Some of you simply launch a file directly from the desktop, the Finder, or, now, in a Spotlight search window. I still, in fact, get a “what’s that” when I talk to some people about the process of choosing Open from the File menu.

    What is doubly troubling, though, is that third party developers have had solutions at hand for years, but, so far at least, Apple hasn’t taken the hint.

    My first exposure to such a solution came in the early 1990s, when I first installed Boomerang, a handy shareware utility developed by Hiro Yamamato. At its core, Boomerang did what its name implied, and that was to make the Open/Save dialogs jump back or rebound to the file or folder you used last. That made navigation among the nooks and crannies of your files far easier. It also allowed you to save your files to the same location as previous files, without jumping through folders. It would also list recent files and folders, so you could click on a pop-up menu to find the ones you wanted.

    Boomerang was later acquired by Now Software and became Super Boomerang, which grew into essentially a Finder replacement within the Open/Save dialogs that even incorporated a search feature, and the ability to rename and delete files. When it worked, it was great, but like other components of the Now Utilities bundle, it could be downright flaky at times. In fact, I dare say that many instances of unstable behavior in those days could be traced to this collection. Finally, when Mac OS 7 gave way to Mac OS 8, Now Utilities was barely compatible, and a new version was never produced.

    But there was little time to mourn the passing of Super Boomerang with the arrival of ACTION Files, the first of a set of handy system utilities from Power On Software. Power On later acquired the Now Utilities line, including the Now-Up-to-Date contact manager and, in fact, still sells ACTION Utilities for owners of the Classic Mac OS, but there will never be a Mac OS X version. That is, unless another company takes over the line and wants to take a stab at it.

    There is, by the way, a relatively new company that has developed Mac OS X variations of some of the original Now Utilities, and that’s You Software which, coincidentally, is run by some of the original Now Software developers. So far, however, an enhancement for the Open/Save dialog box isn’t in its repertoire, but one can always hope.

    Today, if you want to extend the Open/Save dialogs, there’s Default Folder, a shareware utility from St. Clair Software. It has been, over the years, the main rival to Super Boomerang, and it’s great to see it getting regular updates, including a recent one for Tiger compatibility. At $34.95, it’s a genuine bargain, and there is discount for ACTION Files users who have migrated to Mac OS X and are looking for a similar solution.

    Now I don’t want to see St. Clair Software lose its crown jewels, any more than I wanted to see the developers of Konfabulator and Watson confront Apple-bred competition. On the other hand, Default Folder and its various predecessors over the years have simply offered features that Apple should have thought about and delivered early on. After all, it has been 20 years, and surely the brilliant developers laboring away on Mac OS X could have come up with variations to the Open/Save dialog boxes that would simply blow us away.

    But you don’t have to wait for Apple to get its act together. Today, Default Folder gets the job done in an efficient, and reliable fashion. Download a demo copy from St. Clair Software and you’ll see what I mean.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: SHORT TAKES IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

    The Headset Epidemic: Not too long ago, if you saw someone talking to nobody in particular in the street, you’d think they would be better off sending some time in a padded room under the care of some people in white uniforms. Today, before you call the authorities, check to see if these people are wearing a plastic appendage on one of their ears. You see, we live in the era of the handsfree cell phone. In some states, such as New York, you could face a traffic ticket if the men in blue caught you driving and holding a mobile phone at the same time. I’ve already tried, albeit for a brief period, using a luxury car’s audio system to handle my phone calls, but that’s a very expensive solution. Being the practical sort, I decided to see if I could get used to one of those wireless headsets. Fortunately I didn’t have to look far to find one. You see, Motorola packed the V710 phone I reviewed in last week’s issue with one of its ultra tiny and slick HS850 headsets, which Verizon Wireless offers for $79.99. Initial setup, of course, involving pairing the headset and the phone, meaning they learn to talk to one another. Once in operation, you only have to press the silver multifunction button on the HS850 to receive or make a call. Voice recognition of the V710 is somewhat rudimentary and the robotic responses are typical of the early efforts at voice command on Macs, but it gets the job done. In a few test calls, the recipients sound I sounded loud and clear, and audio quality on my end was pretty decent, though it tended to distort slightly at higher volume levels. I wasn’t able to make calls via voice, however, in crowded surroundings, and the headset, while comfortable, seemed a little loose on my ears. Maybe it was designed for someone with big ears, such as Keifer Sutherland. And just one more thing: Technically, these devices are obviously not totally hands free. I mean what do you use to press that button to make and receive calls? Just asking.

    Bose 3·2·1 GS II Update: In my original review of this surround sound system, I waxed enthusiastic over the easy setup and surprisingly superior sound quality. I was also impressed by the effective surround sound simulation from just two speakers and a subwoofer. Now, a few weeks later, I’m not prepared to change that review, but I did run into one problem. One afternoon, I turned the unit on only to find the sound highly distorted. The usual troubleshooting steps, involving checking, removing and reinserting cables didn’t work, nor did resetting the unit to its factory defaults. I contacted Bose and arranged for exchange of the control center which, after setup, performed flawlessly. Unlike some consumer electronics makers, Bose doesn’t offer an extended warranty, but in my experience, if one of these components is going to fail, it’ll happen in the first few months anyway. Besides, extended warranties are mainly cash cows for the dealers and are seldom worth the price.

    The Ghosts of Voom: Although Voom, the would be third force in the satellite industry, failed big time, it lives on, well sort of, courtesy of Dish Network. Earlier this year, Echostar, Dish’s parent company, paid $200 million for Voom’s sole satellite. Just recently, without much fanfare, it added 10 of Voom’s exclusive HD stations, covering the gamut from sports, to movies and news. The extra stations cost just $5.00, but you need one more thing to receive these stations, and that’s a second satellite dish. The reason is that Voom’s satellite points in a different direction than the ones from Dish. That involves an extra $99.00 setup charge, an extra step not clearly explained at the company’s site. Is it worth it for just 10 stations? Depends. The paucity of HD programming on Dish and the other satellite service, DirecTV, is unfortunate. Part of the reason is lack of demand, since HDTV sets are still a minority of a minority. The second reason is capacity. Existing dishes don’t have enough capacity to handle the higher bandwidth required by high definition fare. Right now, if you want to receive local HDTV programming, you have to buy a separate antenna optimized for high definition, which is usually, but not always, broadcast in the UHF band. However, both Dish and DirecTV are working on solutions. One is to switch from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 compression technology (the same codecs used in Apple’s QuickTime 7), so far less bandwidth would be needed for the same quality signal. That would mean, however, that millions of existing receivers would have to be replaced or or somehow retrofitted with new video hardware. Clearly you’d balk at having to pay a large sum to replace your receiver, especially if you recently paid a bundle for an HD receiver with built-in TiVo or a similar recording system. Another option is to launch more satellites, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars each. And when is the changeover to MPEG-4 going to happen, if it happens? Depending on whom you ask, it may be rolled out beginning late this year or early in 2006. In the end, though, I expect the satellite providers will come to realize they’ll have to subsidize a large portion of the expense of delivering replacement receivers.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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