Like It’s 1999 All Over Again
Did anyone else notice the Mac virus alert level briefly spiking to mauve from its previous lowered state at taupe? Or maybe you caught the return of “DVD Jon” Johansen to the DRM-cracking stage? Are you feeling nostalgic for products from a time when Apple’s prodigal son returned as triumphant CEO?
You belong in April, then. Flip your calendar back a month and try over again. Besides, April was a good month.
What’s with all the retro hubbub? Brownie points to anyone who can explain why it wasn’t, I don’t know, the Apple I (oh, wait), the mullet, or polyester leisure suits. Not like that would have been much of a Bloggable, but it might have made more sense.
Before I forget to write this, I want to point you to this column’s new companion blog, where from time to time I will post links that I don’t think are going to make it into the column or that are pretty timely and interesting. All the columns will also make it there, with various degrees of fleetness depending on my schedule during the school year. If you don’t feel like checking back manually, you can read my RSS feed, which is how I get most of the stuff I link here anyway.
OK then! First and foremost, rewind your 8-track all the way back to April 1 and refresh your memory of the CUPS chatter. We have an update, folks; it just took awhile. John Gruber, who must write his weblog knowing what I’m going to write about to be mentioned here as often as he is, jumped into the fray on April Fool’s Day with an impressive analysis of just what he sees as wrong with usability in the free software world: free software projects lack a firm controlling hand to force the issue. He cites Mozilla as a rare example of usable free software and then says that Mozilla isn’t so special either because the original Seamonkey UI sucked, too.
And we’re off to the races! Michael Tsai (yes, I know, my boss) has a good and pithy summary of the argument itself, with links that I won’t bother replicating. Rui Carmo summarizes the entire debate from the perspective of someone who uses OS X, Windows, and Linux. John Gruber revisits the question in explaining why some of the criticisms you can find via Michael don’t necessarily answer the question. Matt Gemmell thinks that the reason free software (and plenty of payware) is so hard to use is because programmers put user interface last and most users rightly put it first; make your application pretty without makeup is the general thrust. Also, not everyone agrees with Gruber’s criticisms, including his indictment of GNOME; I ran across a defense of GNOME 2.6 the other day.
Now we turn our clocks back to the early days of Apple’s Renaissance, after Gil Amelio’s Middle Ages. I’m going to fudge the dates of that period a little, but hey, all this happened when I got my learner’s permit the first time, so you’ll forgive me my time myopia.
Kevin Webb at Low End Mac and Charles Moore at MacOpinion are now certain Apple should bring back the Pismo PowerBook, or that you should at least buy one used. Does anyone remember our discussion of the Mac Portable last month? Well, imagine the same arguments, but for the Pismo instead. Kevin traded in his 12" aluminum PowerBook for a Pismo and loves it—dual expansion bays, black “wet suit” shell and all. He wants Apple to give it a G5 and lots of video RAM and thinks it’ll sell like air conditioners on an 80-degree April afternoon in Chicago (my phrase, if you’re quoting). Charles has his tricked out to the hilt and thinks it’s a better value than an iBook and more expandable to boot. (Plus, no logic board failures there.)
HyperCard is, sadly, gone. I can’t believe it took Apple this long to delete the pages its Web site, but yes, until March of this year you could even still buy a copy! Kevin Altis mourns its passing and refers users to either Runtime Revolution or PythonCard. Tim Oren, who actually worked on HyperCard, worries that its fatal flaw might have been that it was too many things to too many people and hopes for the future of the concept rather than the language in particular in other projects to come. Kirk McPike says that Apple should have given HyperCard away, and that they could have reaped the benefits they’re now seeing with Xcode if they’d done that, along with making HyperCard networkable and cross-platform.
Are Mac users back in virus-land? Think of the karmic retribution we’ve earned for our schadenfreude in PC users’ misery—or not. Intego interpreted a Usenet poster’s proof-of-concept Mac binary, which can also be an MP3, as a major virus threat. Well, a lot of news sources, including Wired News and BoingBoing, bit on the threat and then had to correct their accounts. It turns out it’s not a problem; not only does it not exist in the wild but it’s not nearly so stealthy as it seems to be. Apple’s response was as vague as it needed to be, but it remains to be seen if it or Symantec can do anything about it.
However, the increasingly famous Miraz Jordan hunted down a program called TrojanDefuser, which can solve this particular problem—even in the wild—by copying the file without its resource fork, where the malicious code would be stored. And, because I can’t go a page without his name, John Gruber grades the various characters in this sordid tale, saying that Wired and CNN were the worst offenders besides Intego themselves. He also criticizes the Mac press for running press release info as fact without bothering to report (which is admittedly an easy trap for a journalist to fall into, speaking as a journalism major). Anyone remember the last Mac virus? Wasn’t that in 1998? Crack out the Ricky Martin album!
Now what was this I said about Jon Lech Johansen’s second debutante ball? Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing is a substantial iTunes Music Store customer, and he was thrilled to see that with no fudgery you can make VideoLAN Client play an iTMS track on a computer with access privileges, and with a little (probably illegal) tinkering you can make even a computer without iTMS-granted access play them in VLC. Who’s behind this? Of course it’s DVD Jon! And you can almost print the instructions for this crack on a T-shirt, too. As it so happens another piece of software, PlayFair, popped up this month and then was removed by Apple, and I’m a little afraid to link you because it might expire. You can always check up on the companion blog.
You know what else is back? Microsoft antitrust pontification from the punditocracy! If I spot more I’ll keep you posted, but Robert Cringely insists that now that Microsoft and Sun have (strangely) come to a settlement, Microsoft can only die by committing suicide, i.e., missing the boat again like it did with the Internet.
Apparently Virgin Airlines thinks its high-end users will like having iPods in their airport lounges. This reminds me of the frenzy over the iPod’s initial release. Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, always funnier than I am, wants to know if you’d really want to listen to 40 GB of generic airport music—and also wonders at the sterilization required to use an iPod’s trademark earbuds after one of the other passengers. Gawker, not ordinarily a resource for this column, weighs in with the brief remark that sums it all up quite well: “Why aren’t rich people’s assistants properly managing their own iPods for them?”
Last but not least, since it’s impossible for such a rich topic to die off, the headless iMac (and its twin sibling the Cube) refuses to go away. I was surprised the first 19 times anyone brought this up, like in February, but now I’m just amazed that people insist on holding out that hope. It’s about as likely as Apple buying time at another Super Bowl for Ridley Scott’s famous “1984” spot; sure, it might be fantastic, but it’s not happening. Anyway. Stephen Van Esch at LEM wants a Cube again because there are lots of small PCs coming out now. He thinks maybe the Cube was just a little too far ahead of its time and targeted at the wrong end of the market. Jeff Adkins (also at LEM) wants to see a headless iMac model rather than a perverted, revamped Cube for the education market particularly, saying that the eMac just doesn’t always work out.
That’s a wrap for this month, readers. But don’t forget to poke your heads in at Your handy “Don’t Panic” guide to the Mac blogosphere if you want more news. I’ll see you over there—oh, don’t forget to reset your time warp clocks back to this month, or you’ll never get back on track.