Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts tagged Mac

Buzz Andersen of PodWorks fame has an interesting series of “Apple Complaints” going. In Apple Complaint #8 he writes about using .dmg files (disk images) to distribute software:

…The problem, as I see it, is that most people, when they download software from the Internet, are accustomed to receiving some sort of archive (Zip, StuffIt, Tar or what have you) which decompresses into a folder on their desktop. They then drag the this folder into their Applications folder, where it lives happily.

Unfortunately, as I have discovered, many people try to use this same procedure with disk images, which is a sure recipe for frustration. Earlier today, I received a rather irate email from a customer who was complaining that PodWorks was giving him an error dialog instructing him to “insert the volume” (the understandably brusque subject of his message: “YOU insert the damn volume”).

He also links to an earlier discussion on the subject.

From what I see, quite a lot of software for Mac OS X uses .dmg files for distribution. The advantages are quite clear for me:

    The software is downloaded as a single file, easily backed up.
    Double-clicking the file checks the file’s integrity, displays a license agreement (or installation instructions), and opens a Finder window containing the application and any ancillary files – or at least it should do so, perhaps with a background image.
    The user can then drag&drop the application to the Applications folder or wherever; no need to keep the other files around.

Here are the supposed disadvantages:

    Users freshly migrated from Mac OS 9 may not know about disk images.
    Users who are new to computers in general may not know about drag & drop or the application folder.
    .dmg files will not work on Mac OS 9 or older.

For my own applications, I found that my users are usually well-informed about .dmg files, drag & drop, double-clicking and so on; and they’re Mac OS X-only anyway.

Looking through my support e-mails, I found only two users who tried to drag & drop the .dmg file itself into the application folder, and they were easily instructed on the proper procedure. For experienced users, having no installer was favorably commented-upon.

Buzz also comments on Apple’s new-fangled Internet-enabled disk images. Frankly, I think they’re useful only in restricted cases: when the disk image contains a single file, and when you don’t want to keep a backup of the image. I found it very strange to download one file, only to have it disappear, and a differently-named file to appear in the same folder; indeed, the first time I mistakenly assumed the download had gone wrong, and downloaded it again a few times. Also, this will tempt users to leave the application on the desktop or in a download folder, instead of moving it to the Applications folder.

John Gruber posts a follow-up about clickthrough. He puts the ball into Apple’s court:

Only Apple can fix this. Where by “fixing it”, I mean three things, all essential:

    Mandate correct click-through behavior in the HIG.
    Make Apple’s Cocoa frameworks do the right thing by default. Supply sufficient API hooks so that it’s easy for third-party frameworks to do the right thing.
    All of Apple’s own software needs to follow these guidelines.

Hmm… I need an “applause” smiley here…

Here’s an additional interesting tip from Sven-S. Porst:

One thing I’d like to add on the topic of click-through is that while it had been possible for ages in MacOS to drag background windows without activating them by holding the command-key while doing so, support for this background manipulation has improved in OSX. In Cocoa applications you can command-click most controls and use them without activating the window first. I like that. Click-through for the people who want and it and can handle it. It’s far from perfect, though, as it doesn’t work uniformly through all applications and doesn’t work for toolbar items either as the command-Key is used for moving items there.

John Gruber affirms a conviction I’ve long held, namely that “clickthrough” is usually a bad idea in Mac OS X applications. In the process, he goes into interesting detail about the Mac’s emphasis on the frontmost window, and how this differs from Microsoft’s window-centric approach.

The concept of the frontmost (or active) application is absolutely essential to understanding how to use a Mac. The frontmost application controls the menu bar and handles all keyboard input, including command key shortcuts. The concept of the frontmost window is related and similarly important. You can click on background windows (thus giving rise to the potential for click-through), but that’s it – everything else you can do with your computer is directed at the frontmost window of the active application…

I just bought a CanoScan N670U, sold here in Brazil under the Elgin label. This scanner is already discontinued, but is equivalent to the LiDE 20. I downloaded and installed the latest Mac OS X drivers, and brought my iBook to the store for testing – they’d never seen a Mac before.

Installation is very confusing. There are two applications to be downloaded: “CanoScan_N670U_v7010X.app.sit” and “CanoScanToolbox4110X.app.sit”. They have to be unstuffed after downloading. When you run them, they install 4 items on your desktop: two folders (“CanoScan_N670U_v7010X” and “CanoScanToolbox4110X”) and three aliases (“Deldrv.dmg”, “CanoScan Toolbox Installer” and “ScanGear CS Installer”). All aliases point deep into the folders. You’re supposed to run first the “CanoScan Toolbox Installer” and then the “ScanGear CS Installer”; naturally, I ran them in reverse order and it didn’t work correctly at first. One installs the CanoScan Toolbox application, which is run if you press any of the scanner’s buttons; the other one installs the ScanGear CS plug-in into both the CanoScan plug-in folder and, if you have them installed, Adobe PhotoShop/ImageReady plug-in folders.

The whole installation process is very Windows-like; you need to run 4 separate programs in a certain order, and a mess of aliases and folders is left on your desktop. And it’s not as if they never heard of disk images, as they include the “Deldrv.dmg” image which contains a deinstaller program. The installers also tell you to restart (but not why).

Anyway, after the initial unpleasantness, the scanner works quite well, if somewhat slowly, and with a high-pitched whine reminiscent of a wind-up toy. Running the “calibrate” option the first time (and every couple of weeks) is necessary, otherwise you’ll get unsightly streaks on the images. On the positive side, it needs no extra power supply, has a stand to hold it vertically, and is thin and light enough to be easiliy transported with a laptop. And it comes with a USB cable.

The CanoScan Toolbox application is a Carbon port of a Windows application; it has a non-standard window and non-standard buttons, close boxes and so forth. It saves scans, by default, inside the application’s folder which is a definite no-no. You can set the 3 scanner buttons to call one of several functions: two different scan settings, copy (scan and print), e-mail, OCR, save (in a dated folder), or file (just save). The names are somewhat confusing, and the two scan options ask you to select an application to assign the scanned file’s type/creator code. Unfortunately it knows nothing about application bundles, and so you need to drill deep down into the bundle to point at the actual executable, something non-technical users will have difficulties with. You also can’t set two buttons to do the same function, or set a button to do nothing, which was my first impulse. In all, this application is like the installation process itself (and like many Windows apps): overly helpful in some aspects, confusing in others. The included documentation just glosses over these issues.

The PhotoShop/ImageReady plug-in is of better quality, with both a “simple” and “advanced” mode. Some of the advanced preferences are obscurely named, and the tooltips usually just repeat the preference’s name instead of explaining what it really does. After some tests I decided to turn most automatic stuff like cropping and rotating off, and doing my own descreening and sharpening.

All in all, I found the scanner to be quite adequate for my intentions: low-volume scanning for semi-professional use. Non-technical users are advised to try it out first and compare it with other models or brands, or enlist someone knowledgeable to install and configure it.

Safari Beta v.73

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I’ve been running this for a few days now. It seems about as stable as the previous version – I get about one crash per day. However, speed and compatibility seem improved. I’ve never seen any sense in forms auto-fill and similar automations, so I’m keeping this off. In fact, I wish the autocompletion in the URL field were less aggressive; I often delete trailing characters in the URL only to have Safari put them back a fraction of a second before I hit Return. This often happens several times in a row; IMHO the correct way would be for the user to explicitly accept the completion by hitting Tab, which I believe is the standard.

The hot feature are of course the browser tabs. I’ve never used this before in other browsers and was quite skeptical. However, tabs in Safari turn out to be surprisingly useful in certain circumstances. For instance, I set up a “Comics” folder on my Bookmarks Bar with bookmarks to all comics I read daily; command-click on the folder name, and all comics are opened in the same window, one to a tab.

On the other hand, I also have several other bookmark groups on the bar which I definitely don’t want to open as a tab group under any circumstances – especially as some of them are rather large. As Safari previously required the user to press command before opening a bookmark from a popup menu in a new window (other browsers test the command key at mouse-up time instead), the first couple of days had me constantly opening dozens of unwanted tabs at the same time, requiring immediate closing of the window and sometimes even force-quitting.

I also wish that Safari were a little more consistent in checking for the command and shift key signals to indicate a new tab or new window. As it is, directly opening a bookmark from a popup menu in a new tab is now impossible; you have to generate a new tab with command-T and then open the bookmark there. Holding command down while selecting an URL from the History menu opens no new tab either. I hope this is just an oversight…

As expected, reactions to the new Safari are mostly positive. Here’s a great comment from Bill Palmer:

…if this is still beta, then I’m a giraffe.

…Somehow, after all those years of watching Microsoft use Explorer to slowly, nastily, illegally choke the life out of Netscape on both platforms, Apple manages to blow Explorer off the face of the Mac platform in a matter of months…with a product that’s not even finished yet?

…Something tells me that deep in the dark recesses of his mind, Steve Jobs had this all planned out five years ago when he made the original Internet Explorer deal with Microsoft in the first place. Now, Steve gets to kick back and watch Microsoft squirm, as he lounges around at the pool and maybe buys a record company or two…

John Gruber translates the Quark XPress 6 press release into English:

Quark has not yet announced pricing or an anticipated ship date for QuarkXPress 6.

QuarkXPress 6 will be expensive and late.

Re: I’m off…

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Back from São Paulo. The trip’s highlight was a visit to the Chinese exhibition, which included a dozen members of the Xi’an Terracotta Army in individual display cases, the largest number so far shown outside China. This alone was worth the trip.

Besides several other interesting museum visits we managed to see Deborah Colker‘s new dance, 4×4. We’d seen her previously in the wildly innovative MIX. Highly recommended.

In between, I visited Macmania Magazine‘s offices, to play with a 12″ PowerBook G4 they’d just gotten for review. I found it noticeably faster than the iBook/600 I’m posting this on, and the left handrest isn’t all that much hotter. If I find someone to buy my old one, I’ll switch in a minute.

Suddenly, several people started linking to Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzsch‘ new weblog. At least new to me… welcome to the weblog world! I’ve met Jon at previous MacHack conferences, he’s very friendly and an up-and-coming WebObjects expert… and we’re about tied in number of published MacHack papers icon_wink.gif. This year he may get ahead of me, as I’ll probably won’t be able neither to write a paper nor to go to the conference.

Anyway, the first important article I saw on his site was the interview with Peter Sichel of Sustainable Softworks. Required reading for any software author. Coincidentally, “Sichel” means “crescent” in German, and “Rentzsch” is pronounced “wrench”… hence the title of this post. Haha. OK, I promise not to do that again soon.

Now it gets interesting. Jon wrote about a serious difference between the Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X Finders:

Finder X, unlike Finder 9, allows the user to overwrite a folder with a file and vice-versa. You can reproduce this:

* Create a new folder named “test”

* Elsewhere, create a file named “test”

* Drag file “test” over into folder “test”‘s container.

* Finder X will warn “A newer item named “test” already exists in this location. Do you want to replace it with the older one you are moving?” with [Stop] [Replace] buttons.

Finder 9 correctly would not allow the action at all. That is, it would put up a “stop” alert with one unconditional button: [OK].

He also filed a bug with Apple.

Subsequently, several people posted their opinions. Bill Bumgarner disagrees that this is a bug. So does Erik Barzeski. Olof Hellman agrees with Jon. John Gruber gives a great summary of the problem, and agrees somewhat with both sides, suggesting that the overwritten folder be moved to the Trash instead of being deleted outright. While I was pondering my own position, Michael Tsai agreed with Bill.

Everybody now agrees that the real bug is that, after the folder is overwritten, the Finder’s “Undo” command moves the overwriting file back to its old location but fails to restore to overwritten folder. Michael also writes:

I’m not an expert on this stuff, but it appears that the Finder could exchange the file references so that aliases point to the new item, not the one in the trash…

All this said, I’m not sure I’d like the Undo command to bring the original item out of the trash, because I doubt the Finder can guarantee that the restored item will be identical to the original.

No, that wouldn’t be a problem; indeed, if you move a folder to the Trash and then “Undo”, the folder is moved back with no untoward side-effects, since this also is done by swapping file-references. Also, no extra disk space is needed for this, as long as both items were on the same volume.

I find myself agreeing with Bill and Michael. Overwriting an item with another should move the first one to the Trash, in such a way to make this fully undoable. If the new item is copied from another volume, and space is so crowded as to make it necessary to remove the first item before copying, the Finder should put up a very carefully worded alert explaining this.

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