Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Sunday, May 02, 2004 10:25 am
Email programs
My my, the number of email clients out there are mind boggling. Despite the fact that both Microsoft and Apple include one in their operating systems (and MS including one in their Office for the Mac -- have to cover all bases I suppose).

I still use the old standard Eudora. Works for me, and has some features not seen on any email program. Itching for change though. Eudora seems to be intent on maintaining it's oldey but functional interface. Using Eudora makes me think 3 things:

  1. Man, this interface is so functional, and great features.
  2. Why can't anyone adopt these features and improve on this interface?
  3. Why can't Qualcomm (the Eudora makers) maintain these features, and improve on this interface?
I think there's so much variant in every email program, with different focuses, that some email programs stand out. Others... that just try to emulate the leaders, well… stay as emulators. e.g. of market leaders and their focus:

Entourage: database, with fantastic searching. Calendar integration
PowerMail: multilingual
Mulberry: IMAP
Mail: Cocoa, gorgeous. OS X integration (address book, iChat)
Mailsmith: text management, apparently clever filters. Database based.

“The others” include Gyazmail, Sweetmail… blah.

The fact that Eudora contains about 12 years of my email, in bloody text files, I think is testament to how well thought out it was in that regard. And also shows how the developer is intent on “keeping it running”. Thanks Steve Dorner.

But can you please make it look nicer, and work better with OS X?

I'm on the constant lookout for email programs to replace Eudora. I always go back though. After 1 day or 1 week. Even when using Windows for 3 years, I used Windows Eudora during that time.

Recent tryouts have included Apple Mail, and Mailsmith 2. Mmm… not bad. But not great. I have objections against using Entourage—I think an email program should be updated more frequently than everytime a word processor or spreadsheet program is updated. And PowerMail… can't remember why I didn't stick with it.

That's the other problem with trying out new email programs, is that I can never remember why I didn't like them.

Maybe one day I'll make a list of what I think is “right” about Eudora. In the meantime, I'll make a point to one day... have a look at Thunderbird (or whatever that Mozilla based email program is called).

1:02 am
Old sites
I seem to be bumping into old outdated expired Internet companies.

First, I had to hunt for a new telephone company, since the Australian bigwig telephone company Telstra was raising its phone rental rates. Unacceptable. But it was either stay on the expensive rental rate plan with cheaper calls, or the lower price rental rate plan with pricey calls.

So, I went looking for companies from which I could use an override code to make cheaper international calls, and long distance calls.

I’ve had my fair share of involvement with phone companies in the past. So it was quite nostalgic going to

Back to 1997, Optus had just about managed to wrest a significant number of households over to themselves. Australians were getting used to have more than one company to look after their calls, and lots of 3rd parties were welljoining the party.

I remember one day going to a Telstra shop for something, and had to fill in a form that said, “who are you with for long distance?”, and there were 2 boxes: Telstra and Optus.

So I said “AAPT”. And they said, “Who is that????” a little rudely I recall.

Anyway, we were with AAPT for a while enjoying incredibly low rates, and then I got smart, and had a look on the Internet. There was a company called WorldXChange that was really really cheap. And I remember that we could call using their override code, and at the end of the month we just had to call them on the phone, and let them know that actually DigiPlus was cheaper, and they’d credit double the difference back to us! I think they were counting that most people wouldn’t. But I did.

More recently, we started to use DigiPlus, and then moved over to Eztel when the quality of DigiPlus was horrible. This was followed by yet another switch to GoTalk, because the rates to Malaysia was about 17.5% lower with no catch. Well, the was a tiny catch—although they said their override code was 1488, it turned out that their override code was actually 1414, same as EzTel. So all the calls I made, thinking it was going through EzTel, actually went through GoTalk. No big loss, in fact, it was a little cheaper. But it meant I could never use EzTel again. EzTel had a capped national call rate, while GoTalk didn’t.

Today, I took a peek at only to find that it was gone! What the hey?

The next company I already knew was gone, but had been a great company at the time. That was still miss you Dingo boy. Great call rates, and great Internet rate. And a great attitude.

As for non-telephone companies: I was looking at my old email, and hey, saw this company. I bought a few things from this auction site. One day Yahoo! Australia bought them to compete with eBay. But the problem with auctions is that the more people use ONE, the better. And the less likely a 2nd company would succeed. Or survive. Anyway, switches to Yahoo now, and then to!

Next: Once upon a time, even before WWW, there was an IRC craze. Especially among the international students where we were studying. The concept of passing messages to people back home was incredible. Instant delivery. No waiting. This was the Internet explosion in about 19967. Another company called ICQ became popular among the same crowd, I think because it was damn slick, there was little else in the market, and they had a viral sort of promotion where users would send emails encouraging others to download ICQ. ICQ would tell others when you were online, and able to type-chat. Great idea!

Anyway, the support on the Macintosh lagged. As other companies released their own chatting program like Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN (also slow to the game), the Macintosh clients were slow to show up, and were often feature deplete. I still remember using Gerry ICQ because essentially it was a better than the official ICQ. Users on the PC also used 3rd party clients, but at least they had a decent 1st party client.

There was a program called iChat which was PC and Mac capable. This is NOT Apple iChat, but somethiing that has evolved to GlobalChat. There was also something called iVisit, which I was afraid to use, as it contained quite a bit of “ahem” adult stuff.

Anyway, a Mac-first company called AbbottSys released AtChat which had a Mac and PC client, and was stable, small and slick. Unlike every other chat program, it had a central server only to show who was online at the time. The user did NOT have to enter a username or password. They just needed to enter a unique piece of textwe usually used our email address (maybe not a good idea now in this age of spam).

This was superb. No registration needed, fast, secure, and essentially slick. All messages went directly between clients, not through Abbott’s servers; similar to the DCC command in IRC. I thought AbbottSys should put a copy on every single Mac out there. Because the more people that use a chat program, the better. A snowball effect happens, and there’s more encouragement to actually launch the application, and get familiar with it.

Unfortunately, Abbottsys didn’t do that. I can’t remember if I actually sent them a message to express my opinions. No one heard of AbbottChat; or even if they did, how could they convince all their friends to use it? And AbbottChat languished. About once every 2 years, I visit to see whether they’ve unleashed AbbottChat on the general public. Unfortunately no. It’s now a Windows only application, and users need to pay $29 to use it. Right.

Guys, Bitwise Chat just ate your lunch.

Anyway, Apple did eventually release a chatting program, and chose AOL to partner with. Now, iChat comes on every Mac. I think that’s the single thing that has made iChat so popular. Previously, every Mac user had AIM to play with prior. But with iChat, instant messaging has never been as popular among the Mac users as it has been now.

So, that’s my experience with dead companies. Hopefully Apple will still be around in 10 years time. They survived the last 10 years, which was a miracle.

Lots of companies have not survived the switch to OS X either. Examples: TypeIt4Me—looks like evolution has ended. Sad. Ircle is a shadow of what it used to be. Maybe due to the ease of creating IRC clients that look nicer under OS X. SpeedyFinder, Netlink, KALI, XNS, Pointcastall gone.

12:00 am
Video conferencing
Why is it, the people who have webcams, are the ones who are not interested in video conferencing?

I invested in an Apple iSight the day it was announced. This was used on a 800MHz iBook. I already had ADSL, and it was wonderful. My brother got one ASAP, and we sort of had a good time. Lots of hiccups. My dad, sister, and cousin eventually got theirs as well.

Now, we are a family that lives far away from each other: Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Australia—and still moving. So we thought: hey, this would be great. We all have broadband anyway.

But it seems that I’m the only one who has an iSight that’s permanently available to connect. And everyone sort of has to make an effort to drag their iSight out of its case, connect it via a single wire and plonk it on their PowerBook. OMG. It’s not like there’s a powercable, or even an Ethernet cable to fiddle with. It’s plug and play!

One of the problems is that 2 out of 10 times, it fails to work. And all that expectation goes out the window. It’s like 2 buckets of cold water (one on each end). Another problem is that, it’s just cheap enough with the current telco rates, to pick up the phone, and call the other side—No video, but good sound, no echo…

The 3rd problem is that my brother’s free time is in the car, driving, where he calls me via his mobile while on his hands free.

The 4th problem: well, we don’t sit in front of the computer all the damn day.

It’s been said before, that video conferencing is the cool tool that no one uses. I’ve seen people log on to MSN Messenger on their little PC laptops, and start voice chatting. Video is more of a symbolic thing, given it’s too jerky to do anything with. But it’s great. Communication is a fantastic thing.

MSN has the advantage of having a preinstalled base. Highly important in instant messaging. No point having the best IM tool on the planet if everyone is using something else. Apple probably chose AIM to partner with because of historic links with AOL. The only other real option was Yahoo!. Maybe Yahoo! will still be a future iChat collaborator. Now, that would kick major ass.

Anyway—it’s just sad that the people who have webcams, just won’t use them.

I just had a session today where a friend wanted to video conference. Friend is on a Mac, parents are on PCs. Friend has used iSight/iChat before, but with other Mac users. Parents are super keen to use the PC + the plethora of cheap USB webcams. So they bought one, and ball was in our court.

Well, we had to hunt down a PC, install MSN Messenger 6.1 on it, and make sure audio/video was ok. We didn’t have a webcam, so we used the Apple iSight, which surprisingly did work. But the internal mic wouldn’t work. So had to hunt for a microphone. Nil. Tried inverting a set of headphones, to see if that would work—nope.

So, I had the idea of the century, and activated audio passthrough from my iBook, and then plugged the audio out from the iBook into the PC audio in. So, now I could talk into the iBook microphone, and that would work as a microphone on the PC. Elegant, and worked well.

Tested the PC speakers, and that was ok.

Then connection time: we could see them, I think they could hear us. But nothing else. Video conferencing is so annoying in that way. People just keep repeating “hello” “hello” “can you hear us?” As if things will improve when they are horrible to start with.

So, I pissed off and said, problems not on our end, and they’ll have to fix their Windows 98 stuff otherwise I’m not interested. We’re on Windows XP, and know what we are doing.

Thing is—why is it, that it’s the people who don’t know anything about computers—that want to video conference??? Just use the telephone guys!

Grr… annoyed big time.

- Radio Paradise - eclectic intelligent rock - music info & listener community at Dana Lyons—Cows with Guns.

Saturday, May 01, 2004 3:03 pm
Apple music
So, today some new issues about Apple iTunes 4.5 have turned up. These, I think, can only be described as limitations. There is hardly any way to spin it. Which is therefore why Steve Jobs didn’t mention it in his iTunes anniversary chat.

I’ll leave the outcry to other sites. I live in Australia, far away from the iTunes Music Store, and get music from other sources.

Now, if a global iTunes Music Store suddenly appeared—I’d be very wary of buying music from that site. The advantages of buying music online are: convenience, instant gratification, pricing, not having to deal with physical CDs… And even then, the last one is scraping the bottom of the barrel a little.

There are lots of negatives of buying iTMS songs (compared to buying a CD) though:
1. no CD backup
2. price not always lower. Fixed in fact. Stores have sales ocassionally on old music
3. compressed songs.
4. DRM
5. no liner notes

No CD backup does bother me a little bit. I mean, harddisks crash. On the other hand, having 600 CDs in a small space is damn bloody annoying as well. I suppose intermittent backups of iTMS songs (or MP3s) to DVD-R is a pretty good solution. iTunes splits music over multiple DVD-R disks nicely too.

Can’t comment much on point 2 yet. I don’t buy enough music, and who knows what Australian pricing will be.

Point 3 does bother me a little as well. I listen to compressed music about 99.9% of the time nowadays. This includes MP3 radio. Otherwise, it's music via normal FM radio � which is “lossy” as well right?. Truth is that most of the music I listen to—I probably could not care less if it's pristine original quality. Even “CD quality” isn’t what it used to be, what with record companies pushing DVD-Audio and SACD.

No liner notes: well� it just means I no longer get something that I used to get for free…

DRM: This is the real reason that buying digital music is A Bad Thing™.

I realise that DRM is necessary. Simply put, allowing songs sold on iTunes to be freely uploadable is unacceptable to anyone: the artist, record label, Apple, and (maybe) the person who buys the song. Apple has been quite generous in allowing up to 3 computers, unlimited iPods to play songs, and unlimited (essentially) audio CD-creatiion. It’s pretty clever stuff, especially avoiding things like “can only burn 3 times”, or “can only download 3 times” which is IMHO unenforceable. If there has been any disquiet about Apple's implementation, it's been when people fail to deauthorise their computers—during servicing, or when selling.

When iTunes 4.5 was first released, I started to have a few misgivings. Isn’t DRM music just a way for us to buy more Apple computers? Apple could easily make iTunes 4.5 or iTune 5 to be “G4 only”, and iTunes 6 to be “G5 only” or “OS X 10.4 Tiger only”. Or whatever. Any computer released in the last 5 years is capable of playing digital music. But, Apple now potentially has a stranglehold on the application that plays that music—that benign free fluffy application called iTunes.

iTunes we now know is linked at the hip with QuickTime. That fact didn't seemed obvious until Apple released iTunes Windows, and now even more glaring with iTunes 4.5 not working without QT 6.5.1.

Anyway, what if Apple did such a thing—not at all an unusual possibility. What if Apple said that iTunes 5 will be free for 10.4 Tiger and Windows XP users, but for 10.3 users, pony up US$10. Not impossible. It has been done before:

1. Panther doesn't run on the Wallstreet or beige G3s. Despite the fact it is technologically possilbe (XFacto).
2. iChat AV doesn't come free except with Panther or new computers.
3. iPhoto 4 doesn't come free except with a new computer.

Is it a feasible thing? To have your $100, $500, $1000 music collection held hostage by the speed of your Macintosh? I suppose there is the option of switching to Windows is there.

Not to mention the fact that iTunes 4.5 needs iTunes 4.5 to stream audio to. So, if you like iTunes 4.5 on one computer—you had better be sure your other computers will run iTunes 4.5 properly.

I didn’t realise the possibility that Apple would change the rules until I read on Macintouch about Apple now requiring that QT movies with authorised music be played only on authorised computers. Now, that sucks big time. I knew there was a catch when Steve Jobs said up to 5 computers could be authorised now. This is a form of limiting music transfer, rather than encouraging it. It is wrong? Well—it’s hard to say that it is. Rather, Apple was probably being more generous before, than it is now.

The disturbing thing: I think this represents Apple moving the goalposts, changing the rules of chess, or whatever… And there's nothing to stop Apple from doing so, and applying new rules to previously bought digital music.

This goes against everything I am used to with music ownership. I have simple needs: just a CD player (any low quality POS is OK), and headphones or speakers. With that, I can enjoy music. No funky incompatibilites or rule-changing, even if I use a graphic equaliser, or a power amp, or 5.1 speakers. I can alway sbe confident I can listen to my music in 2–3 to 5–10 years time. Well, at least 10 year old CDs still play like they were new.

Compare this with the uncertainty of digital music… Hmm… I’d stick with unprotected music thanks.

Currently listening to - Radio Paradise - eclectic intelligent rock - music info & listener community at

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