• Newsletter Issue #416

    November 18th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    While new developments in the tech world don’t generally occur on an hourly basis, or even a daily basis, sometimes they can overshadow one’s best laid plans.

    That nearly happened to us in preparing this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, when Apple released its highly-anticipated 10.5.1 update Thursday afternoon, several hours before the show was streamed.

    Now as most of you know, our pograms have always included a mixture of live and recorded content, the better to get some unobtainable guests at their convenience, rather than ours. But it also means that some information can get, well, a little outdated.

    For example, the episode in question led off with an interview featuring John Rizzo of MacWindows.com. During the course of that interview, we both discussed issues with Leopard, and I speculated on the potential arrival of 10.5.1. I suggested it would be released some time between the Thanksgiving holiday and December 1, or maybe earlier. Well, I covered enough possibilities in my all-consuming response, because the latter statement was correct.

    Later in the show, you heard from Alan Oppenheimer of Open Door Networks. Alan is an expert on Mac security, and he was describing some of the problems with Leopard’s firewall. Almost as if Apple had heard all the complaints, the 10.5.1 update includes fixes for some of the key firewall-related issues.

    Another question that comes up: How well does Leopard’s Time Machine compare with third-party backup software, and will it mean the end of the latter? Well, Dave Nanian, of Shirt Pocket, publishers of SuperDuper!, says it won’t and explained why.

    By the way, a Leopard-compatible version is due shortly, most likely before the end of the year.

    And Denis Motova joined us to talk about the features and prospects for Web 2.0.

    On our “other” show, The Paracast, documentary filmmaker and UFO researcher Paul Kimball explains why the UFO field needs a major overhaul.

    Coming November 25: Get a big dose of intriguing information from researcher Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State.”

    THE DOWNSIDES OF MAC TIPS AND TRICKS

    When I was busy churning over the years churning out loads and loads of books about AOL, Mac OS X and other subjects, my publishers and editors always clamored for tips, tricks and more tips.

    So I probably spent a large portion of my research checking out the coolest tips I could find, and making sure they actually worked in precisely as described, and on at least several different Mac systems. You can’t imagine how often I’d check something out, only to find that it wasn’t accurately described, or just didn’t work quite as advertised.

    It was almost as if someone had a great theory that just didn’t pan out in practice.

    Now that we have a new operating system in place, those of you who lust after the greatest tips on the planet are now ready to see how far you can stretch the power into Leopard in ways that Apple never anticipated.

    These days, my particular interest is such things is no longer a book advance or royalty check, but something that will positively impact my productivity. So I tend to take a more practical approach to the sort of tips I’d care to try.

    What that means, for example, is that I’m not terribly interested in learning a set of neat commands in Terminal, since few, if any, will enhance my workflow. When I do delve into the command line, it’s for troubleshooting purposes. But as Mac OS X has become more reliable, I have found less need for such things.

    Unfortunately, it seems that some people who publish tips don’t always take the proper amount of time for vetting the techniques before they’re posted. Sometimes they just don’t work and may even have a negative impact.

    The other day, for example, I decided to search for some suggestions on how to better integrate Google’s Gmail with Apple Mail. Since I had been testing Google Apps, which uses Gmail’s engine as its centerpiece, I thought it would be worth a little experimentation.

    Now I can’t say that I have encountered any difficulties in the standard setup. I just followed the steps outlined in Google’s own online instructions, and everything went all right for the most part, except for a temporary glitch that I cite in more detail in the next article.

    But I was still curious about ways to possibly enhance the Gmail experience on Apple Mail, so I did some exploration, in Google of course, and discovered a blog that had some very specific instructions to improve the organization of mailboxes.

    Now you have to understand that Gmail isn’t set up in quite the same fashion as other mail systems. So, instead of creating folders to organize your messages, Google’s system allows you to configure Labels instead. Even more interesting is the fact that a message can occupy more than a single folder — make that label.

    In any case, for all practical purposes, the feature is similar enough not to present any confusion if you just use it as a folder, as I do. Maybe I’ll try a more convoluted system later on, but there’s always Mail’s Smart Mailbox feature, so why bother?

    Well, the tip in question made specific suggestions on setting up Mail’s preferences. Detailed steps were described in the Advanced settings in Mail’s Accounts window, which were supposedly designed to map Mail’s mailboxes to comparable mailboxes at Google. Only no such options are there, either in the Tiger or Leopard versions of Mail. The actual functions are known as “Use This Mailbox For,” and they’re found in the Mailbox menu.

    So scotch one group of tips.

    The next tip suggested entering [Gmail] as the “IMAP Path Prefix,” which allegedly would improve organization of your messages. Now it was indeed possible to make that setting, but when I did, not only did the mailbox of that name vanish, but so did the folders created by the Labels feature.

    Now this particular “tip” didn’t cause any serious, lingering damage. Once I reverted the setting by removing that entry, the lost folders reappeared, although it took a few minutes for the message listings to update themselves.

    In the end, this particular tip, though the author boasted of its usefulness, was erroneous. Many of the assumptions made were wrong, from incorrectly identifying options in recent versions of Apple Mail to suggesting a step that would cause Gmail to work less efficiently in displaying your messages.

    It’s no wonder that I do not wish to embarrass this particular blogger any further by listing the link. If you are determined to find it, you can search for it — with Google of course.

    In the larger scheme of things, though, I think it’s best to observe extreme caution when you try someone’s tips. While you’re going to get great ideas that are thoroughly tested and reviewed at such sites as MacOSXHints, which is managed by Macworld’s Rob Griffiths, other sites aren’t so responsible about the way they handle such matters.

    Sure, a minor change in preferences might not do any permanent damage, since it can be reversed easily enough. But something that might involve hard-coding an entry into the Mac OS X Terminal application can have a devastating effect.

    If you have a test account or Mac on which to play with this stuff, fine and dandy. If you don’t, and particularly if you use your Mac for work, I suggest you be extremely careful about trying out new tips, regardless of how intriguing they might seem. Be skeptical, and look for reader responses as to the impact — and possible negative consequences — first. Let someone else be the guinea pig, because you really don’t want something bad to come back and haunt you.

    Even then, don’t forget to make a backup, and I mean it, just in case something goes wrong. If you’re a Leopard user, it’s a good idea to wait till the most recent Time Machine run-through finishes.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: GOOGLE APPS ONE WEEK LATER: FLAWED, BUT COMPELLING

    After switching my company’s email to Google Apps earlier this month, I’ve watched the setup and results carefully, and, while I’m still mighty pleased with its performance and usability, there have been occasional glitches.

    The most significant one was a sudden spate of duplicate draft messages that were deposited in the Sent mailbox on all my accounts. Now, Apple Mail periodically saves your new messages in draft form as you write them. This gives you a backup in case your Mac freezes or shuts down for any reason (such as a power outage). That way the text you carefully crafted will remain intact, at least up through the last save process.

    However, Gmail resides, as I said last week, in a constant beta process. It will never be finished, because more and more changes are being rolled in all the time. Most of you, for example, can now activate IMAP support in Gmail, which provides a superior way of handling your messages in your favored email client.

    Fortunately, after a few days of finding those extra draft messages, the problem disappeared completely. Evidently, Google’s network people are working hard behind the scenes to make this service as robust as possible. There have also been some complaints of lost email — complete mailboxes in some cases — but not recently. So whatever problem existed there may also be history, although I still have a backup of my stored messages, just in case.

    Now in response to a few of your comments, yes, Google Apps lets you still receive email via your custom domain. It doesn’t have to be at gmail.com. All you have to do is configure your Mail Exchange (MX) records to point to Google. This is not a hard process, and Google gives you instructions for all the large Web hosts, and site management software, such as the WHM component of cPanel. Once you do that, and the new information propagates around the Internet, you’ll notice little difference in the way your messages are received through Google Apps.

    Except for one thing: I’m more and more convinced they have the most powerful spam filters on the planet, and I’ve tried more than a few. Their blogs claim an approximately one percent error rate, even though the amount of spam has increased. Better believe it, because that’s exactly what I’ve seen. True, I still probably receive as much junk as ever, but I don’t have to waste near as much time finding good messages flagged as bad, and the other way around. Over the past seven days, in fact, I can only think of a handful of mistakenly labeled messages out of the thousands that I’ve received.

    By far the most interesting side-effect of this Google Apps transition, though, is the fact that it seems to have had an extremely positive impact on our popularity over at Google. The number of listings for The Paracast, to cite one example, has grown considerably.

    Now I’m not going to go so far as to accuse Google of favoring people who use its commercial services when building search requests. At the same time, this seems more than coincidental.

    At the same time, I wonder how third-party email hosts, such as Webmail.us, are going to fare as Google Apps expands.

    What’s more, I haven’t begun to talk about the other Google Apps features, such as Docs, which is an online office suite that is largely compatible in file format to Microsoft Office. Sure Office has loads of features that Docs doesn’t possess, but give it time. It’s all the more reason Microsoft has switched on the panic key and struggling to compete head-on with Google in terms of Web services, online ads and so forth and so on.

    The problem for Microsoft is that they are quickly losing their focus on the very things that made them wealthy in the first place, which is Office and Windows. If they can’t keep their eye on the ball, they may eventually be buried in large part by Google and perhaps even a resurgent Yahoo, if that company can get back on track.

    It may be a totally changed online world over the next few years. Indeed, having Google’s CEO on its board is, more than ever, a good thing for Apple.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech 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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