Forwarding Address: OS X

Monday, April 29, 2002

Development of Chimera, the Mac browser of the future, has been proceeding very rapidly, and is up to 0.2.6 as of today. In the last week the developers have turned on plugin support and a good deal of configurability. If you like the idea of Mozilla but find it fugly and sluggish, check out Chimera.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I recently wrote an extended rant about my problems with Entourage and my yearning to switch to a mailer that stores its material in flat text files. Tim McLaughlin wrote in to describe his solution to the problem which involves <geek>running fetchmail on your OS X machine, storing the mail in a store that a local IMAP server can access. That way, you can use any email client, point it at your IMAP server on localhost, and away you go. In other words, there are no migration issues (modulo address-books) if you want to switch mailers. Lock in? What lock in?</geek> Link Discuss (Thanks, Tim!)

I've never really cared for pine, mutt handles threads and massive mailboxes much better. Plus it's the most standards-compliant email reader on the planet. (according to mutt afficionados) But firing up mutt the first time presents you with a pretty ugly worldview. You need to know how to cobble together a .muttrc. I have one that works very well for me, if somebody wants it, I'll mail it to you.

Cory's horrible tale is fairly common. In fact, it is more common on Windows machines than it is on OSX because Windows programs use the very-shaky Windows Registry which is easily corrupted and/or overwritten.

I use Eudora for my daily mail, and have been using it forever. It is adequate-to-good, and I don't dislike the UI as much as others do. I'm seriously thinking of switching to Mulberry because many of the Mac-using Internet experts I know use it. If you are an IMAP user, Mulberry is considered one of the best, and it's supposed to be just fine with POP as well. I'll do some tesing this month to see if I want to migrate. For those of you who don't mind text-oriented UIs, you can't go wrong with Pine. It is still well-supported (thank you University of Washington!), is very predictable, and handles all the latest protocols.

And a hint for everyone: if you have direct control over your mail server, or are friendly with your server administrator, you should be keeping a copy of every piece of email that comes in for you. Simply have the incoming SMTP server save one copy of every message to your archive and another to your "real" mailbox. Disk space is essentially free these days. I get a buttload of mail and more spam than most people, and my archive-of-everything for the past year is about .6 gigabytes, or about $1 worth of hard drive.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Funny that mailers should come up here today. I went on holidays for a three-day weekend, which meant that I had approximately 300 critical, must-answer mails waiting for me after I got in last night and downloaded my mail (I get about 75 critical mails/day on weekends and about 150 on weekdays; it's kinda gross, actually).

So just before I went to bed, I decided to file my sent mail (I file all my mail into 50+ folders, by hand), but there was a weird display-bug, some of the messages weren't showing up. When I tried to select them, Entourage crashed. It did this repeatedly, so I decided to rebuild my mail-database, using the Advanced Rebuild.

Now, I have a lot of archived messages in Entourage: Over 100,000. My mail-database is edging up on 1.5GB, and a rebuild takes about an hour. So I went to bed. When I got up this morning, I checked my mail, pruned out 200+ spams, and started to go through the prioritized inboxes (High, Medium, Low, Rock-Bottom) that I use to keep track of what I need to do.

They were empty. Nearly 300 critical messages, vanished. Panic set in.

I opened up my Microsoft User Data folder and checked out my Main Identity dir. There was the new database (1.45GB) and my database (which Entourage had backed up to a file called "Old Database") (1.5GB). 50MB of mail was gone. Some of that was reclaimed empty space, but also gone were my 300 messages.

So I did the logical thing. I quit Entourage. I renamed the Database file to "Database.bak" and the Database Cache file to "Database Cache.bak." I renamed Old Database to "Database" and "Old Database Cache" to "Database Cache." I relaunched Entourage.

I was looking at the same view I'd seen the last time I'd launched it. My inboxes were empty and the new messages were there. OK, I thought, Entourage is still looking at the rebuilt database and cache. Must be referring to them by alias instead of pathname. Fine. I tarred the rebuilt files, trashed them, and relaunched.

Same goddamned thing. I was definitely looking at the original database file, but all the messages from the night before were gone and all the new messages I'd fetched this morning were there, having magically leapt from one file into another.

I started to hyperventilate. I called MSFT support and waited to get it fixed.

They couldn't fix it. But the CSR I talked to told me a couple things:

  • If you want to archive 100,000 messages, don't use Entourage. Run Outlook under OS9 (ugh, you're kidding me, right?). Entourage isn't intended for heavy use.
  • The behavior Entourage exhibited is totally inexplicable.
  • Before rebuilding a database in Entourage, duplicate your Main Identity dir and throw out the Database Cache file. That way, you can switch between the two spools using "Switch Identity."
  • Your most recent messages are the most likely source of sudden corruption in your mail database, and therefore most prone to being deleted during a rebuild
The story has a happy ending: After quitting and relaunching Entourage dozens of times, all my missing messages came back. I dragged them to the desktop, switched to the rebuilt database and dragged them back in.

But now I'm thinking that Entourage and me aren't long for this world. I'm thinking I'm going to switch to something like mutt or pine, which store their messages in good, old-fashioned ASCII files. I hate Eudora's UI, but I have a feeling that Eudora can read the mbox files that mutt and pine use, so I can switch to a GUI app when I want to use a windowed mailer instead of a command-line utility. I'll miss some of Entourage's features (especially the automatic linking of messages, threads and address-book records), but my mail is far, far too important to trust to a crash-prone mailer that eats recent messages when it dies.

Patrick, I downloaded Mozilla 1.0RC1 the other night, tested it for half an hour, and had the exact opposite experience as you did. On my system (600 MHz 14" iBook), IE5 seemed much snappier. If you are using a desktop system, I wonder if the speed of rendering has something to do with the graphics card in the computer (the iBook has a wimpy one) or, God forbid, the L2 cache size (the iBook design has a small L2 cache for some asinine reason).

Fortunately, both browsers are free, easy to install, and easy to test against each other.

Morbus Iff's latest Apache on OS X article:
"Following the first five Apache Web-Serving with Mac OS X articles Kevin Hemenway (aka Morbus Iff) returns with a "put your legs up" sixth tutorial. This time he walks you through the various Apache modules that come with your Mac OS X installation and shows you what they can do."

For what it's worth, I've been using Mozilla 1.0RC1 for OS X, instead of MSIE, for a few days now, and subjectively it seems snappier. I had a lot of problems with Mozilla 0.9.9, none of which seem to be happening with one-point-oh.

I'm not on the Well any more, but I seem to recall that Our Cory posted a magisterial rant about OS X email-program options over there a few months ago. I'm sufficiently annoyed with Eudora, and unsure of its future, that I'd like to prod him into doing another such overview. (Of course, yes, running all kinds of fine Unix character-based email clients is trivial on OS X, and in fact I have mutt working, but I want to know my click on the bunny options.)

FA: OSX's very own stevej took issue with my Chimera/Blogger chide a few posts back and investigated: the posting bug is with Chimera's USER_AGENT string and evidently it will be fixed in v2.4. Sweet.

(In the interests of full disclosure: Steve works for Blogger and I this info came from him. He could be making it all up ;-)

Typesetting. Let's talk about typesetting.

On Mac OS X, possibly a typesetter's dream OS due to Quartz and the Unix base, I use TeXShop, iMacTeX, and BibDesk with the TeXLive-teTeX distribution.

TeXShop and iMacTex are both TeX IDEs (with a TeX aware editor, front end to teTeX, and hooks into DisplayPDF for viewing typeset documents), with TeXShop being further along for my uses, but iMacTeX supports more encodings beyond TeXShop's ISO Latin and Mac OS Roman. iMacTeX is developed by Jerome Laurens, who was a contributor to the TeXShop effort, but decided to split off and pursue a different development path.

TeXShop, by Richard Koch and Dirk Olmens, is my general TeXery workhorse application on OS X, and it's great. There's not much more to say. Download it and hack TeX right now!.

Why use two different TeX front ends on the same platform? They're both free and good! Why not?

BibDesk is a nifty tool from Michael McCracken that allows you to organize and use BibTeX bibliographic databases, and comes in very handy when you want to search a ".bib" database and cite papers.

TeXLive-teTeX, by Gerben Wierda, combines the TeX program base of TeX Live (the central TeX development system for Unix) with the package and macro support of teTeX, one of the best TeX distributions around. What's more ubercool are the neato OS X installers Gerben has built.

You might be wondering what compiler I use for all this. On OS X, there's scant better choice than PDFTeX.

Monday, April 22, 2002

StreamCatcher is a MacOS X utility for storing MP3 streams to disk as MP3 files -- a nice testimonial to the strength of Apple's new Unix underpinnings, as the app consists of nothing more than a GUI built on top of the GNU/Linux utility Streamripper. Link Discuss (Thanks, Fred!)

Shareware is great, but I really love freeware. Cute little freeware makes me remember old skool computers. I have been looking for a little, inexpensive (as in free) program to tell me what time it is in other parts of the world. Finally found it: @-time. No frills, incredibly simple, nice.

Those Chimera guys are fast, 0.2.3 was just released. When Chimera announces itself as Mozilla 1.0 RC 1 or above (it calls itself 9.9+ currently), it'll work with Blogger Pro. I'll see what I can do from both sides.

Anyway, I think Version Tracker does a better job of this than we do. ;-)

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Chimera 0.2.2 has been released. This is becoming one sweet browser; I love the way rendered text looks in the pages and its pretty snappy. Ironically though, I could not write this entry with it - Blogger doesn't support it. Huh.

SBook is simply great. One of those terrific NeXT apps that's blessed with a new lease on life. It imports from nearly any kind of file format.

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Ogg Vorbis for the Mac.
Undoubtedly you're using your Mac to play mp3s but are you aware that there's another compressed audio format available that's free (in all the best of ways) and technically superior to mp3? Its Ogg Vorbis and its making its way onto the Mac, brought to you by the good people at

Today the QuickTime Components Project just released the first alpha of their Ogg Vorbis QuickTime plugin. Being alpha and all its likely still got some issues but thus far its working well. There are also stand-alone Ogg Vorbis players available for X as well. Check out either of the following: Unsanity Echo or Audion.

'Course none of this is of any use if you don't have any Ogg Vorbis files, now is it? For that you'll need Ogg Drop, a freeware encoder from No U-Turn Software. It'll encode your plethora of audio formats into svelt little Vorbis files.

I say: here's to making Ogg Vorbis the standard format for digital audio and to doing away with the absurd licensing fees and technical limitations of mp3. Viva Ogg Vorbis!

[Side note: while digging out the links for this posting I came across the Mac Digital Audio site. Well worth checking out if this sort of thing tickles your fancy.]

Friday, April 19, 2002

It's official: Wired News has generated stats (though they haven't disclosed those stats -- I'm gonna send email to Paul Boutin and see if he'll send 'em to me, so I can post 'em here -- demonstrating that IE for OSX is dirt slow. I've taken to using lynx for a lot of my browsing as a means of avoiding the dread spinning beach-ball.

Building the XNU kernel on Mac OS X 10.1.1 (for mortals) I missed this when it first came out.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Another reason to use Mozilla, Chimera, OmniWeb, iCab, Opera, Netscape, or Lynx: Microsoft security holes. There's a newly announced vulnerability in IE. If you use MSIE (and/or Office) you'll want to launch Software Update and fetch the IE 5.1.4 patch.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into OS X is an excellent OS X blog. Mark's entries are little primers on different tools -- the Terminal, the Users and Groups panel, etc -- with links to related sections.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

hmm...nice UI, this Blogger Pro. been a while (and i've had problems of my own w/blogaritaville, but i'm back to point out that Chimera, a Gecko-based, Cocoa browser is now up to v 0.2. it's a nice lightweight (just a browser, no e-mail, news, or IRC clients, or source editor) alternative to Mozilla and Netscape. it's also more Mac OS X-like in appearance (Aqua widgets and Quartz rendering, for example). being v 0.2, plenty of stuff is missing or wobbly (plug-ins aren't fully implemented, pop-up menus in HTML don't work, and it's prone to the odd crash here and there when you fiddle with bookmarks), but the most important thing is the fast, standards-compliant rendering (IMHO).

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Although Postfix looks nice, qmail has much more support. There is a very active qmail community creating extensions and good FAQ responses.

Have we covered alternatives to sendmail before? Hard to say which batch of migrators this is aimed at, since the Unix people probably know how to do this themselves, and the GUI people might not need it or want to mess with it. But, if you're somewhere in between like me and know just enough to completely hose your sendmail setup while playing around, consider taking the opportunity to replace it with, say, Postfix -- "fast, easy to administer, and secure, while at the same time being sendmail compatible enough to not upset existing users." I used the very helpful Postfix HowTo from HMUG; for configuration and operation tips once it's installed, check out Graham Orndorff's article at StepWise.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

An AppleWorks 6.2.4 updater is out. Among the minor changes listed is "the ability to read and write Microsoft Word and Excel files," a confusing phrase since this feature is not actually new. However, it does now properly open Office files when they are double-clicked in the Finder, which wasn't the case for me before (despite their having been identified as AppleWorks-owned documents). It also launches much faster than 6.2.2 did for me.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Like Paul H. I've been looking skeptically at that Macintouch fragmentation report. Certain enlightening messages posted there suggest to me that the fragmentation issue is a bogeyman, born of old-school Mac expertise applied uncritically to OS X. Look through the report for definitive descriptions of performance problems resulting from fragmentation. I couldn't find any.

There are definitely some unanswered questions, but IMO the moral at this point is: Let OS X be OS X. (I wouldn't mind seeing Macintouch, which I think is an excellent and highly professional site, display more Unix savvy in their OS X reports.)

There is a discussion on disk fragmentation in OSX over on Macintouch. Some folks were saying their drives were terribly fragmented, even after installing a new system on a bare drive; after they defragged with Norton Speed Disk, everything ran faster.

Well, I bought the new Norton Utilities, and I am skeptical. On my two-year-old system, I had 0.6% fragmentation. So I defragged anyway, and found a 5%-10% speedup on disk-intensive programs like starting up Classic mode. Big deal, and certainly not worth the time it took.