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ATPM 12.08
August 2006



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On the Topic of Leaving Mac for Linux

I very much enjoyed your commentary on the departure of one of the Mac legends for the world of Linux. Conversely, after many years of SuSE Linux, I made the opposite switch. Not having the knowledge or computer skills that your departed friend has, I nonetheless found that Linux is a very usable system, as long as you don’t have a need for drivers. For example, I had to use a third-party driver loader to use my Linksys wireless card. Upgrades to the kernel are constant. Having now switched to Mac OSX, let me make some observations:

  • I miss KDE, its power and its flexible features.
  • I miss context menus.
  • I don’t miss fighting with drivers and searching all over the Net for files, due to dependency issues.
  • I love the smooth, integrated environment of OS X and having one company to call for hardware and software support!
  • I find that with OS X, I am not spending time having to work around issues. Instead, I am enjoying the machine.
  • OS X has the stability, security, and eye-candy that makes me feel very good about my own switch.

I am enjoying beautiful graphics, superior fonts, more stable video drivers, and a fully-supported system. For me, this was a good move.

—Mike Reith

Maybe You Ought To Be Using Automator

Like you, I’ve been thinking for a while that there must be ways I could use Automator, but I never bothered to investigate until your fine article. With your helpful instructions, I have now created workflows to back up my Documents and Pictures folders to an external hard drive once a week.

I do have a question, though: I saved the workflow as an iCal plug-in, and set a recurring event to run the backup. However, in your directions you say to choose “Run Script” under Alarm Type, and choose the plug-in. First, I had no idea where the plug-in was saved to, but finally ran it to earth in the Library/Workflows folder. But it was grayed out and unselectable. So I fired up the Automator Help, which indicated that rather than “Run Script” I should choose “Open File” for the Alarm Type, at which point I was able to choose my saved workflow from a pop-up menu. I guess I won’t know if it’s right until 2 AM next Saturday morning.


Thank you for the positive response and the correction. I am in the process now of backtracking to find the specific hint that led to my directions. As you can tell I too am new to Automator. I may have inadvertently included directions for my first attempt where I got the same behavior that you did.

—Sylvester Roque

• • •

Thank you for spreading the word about Automator. With your help and the assistance of great Web sites like and, more and more Mac users are finding out about this powerful tool.

May I also recommend as a place to download free actions and projects.

Keep up the good work!

—Sal Soghoian

• • •

Y’know, I have mixed feelings about Automator. Like tripdragon and others have said, it’s nice as long as you don’t go outside the bounds of what’s permitted. When I try to use it I’m constantly running into things I’d like to do but can’t. Maybe once Automator is better integrated with GUI Scripting, and when you can more readily create a library of script actions to be used over and over again, this will improve.

I do agree that everyone should at least play with it and be aware of what it does. It may help to look at it as sort of a Visual AppleScript, or an AppleScript for Workflows.

Right now Automator feels a lot more like a technology demo than something useful. Maybe that’ll change over the next couple of years.

—Drew Thaler

• • •

Automator has limited value for me. Automator is great when someone creates and distributes workflows and actions that meet my needs. But this is rare. When I need to automate a process, I find Automator too limited or too awkward. I prefer my old reliable applications: QuicKeys and AppleScript.

—Gregory Tetrault

• • •

I have copied the second workflow as described, but Safari still opens the URLs in separate windows. I am using the “display in tabs” action you said to download. Any idea why this is happening and how to stop it? Would love to make this work, as it’s a fantastic idea—looking at a few same sites and checking my mail are the first things I always do on my computer. Perfect for Automator—if only it worked! Is there any way of making it open up Firefox and not Safari? thanks.


Lynden, I hope this solves your problem.

For that workkflow to operate correctly you must open Safari’s Preferences and enable tabbed browsing from the Tabs pane. You must also go to the General tab and change the Open Links from applications to “in a new tab in the current window.” The action created by ATPM editor Eric Blair does not require additional configuration.

If you are using the other action, you must complete an additional step. Create Internet Connection Files for the sites that you want to visit. Go to the site that you want and drag a bookmark for it to a convenient location; I put them all in a single folder. In that first step where it says “Get Specified Finder Items,” point it to the location of your connection files.

I have tried several ways to get this working with Firefox. The workflow that relies on Internet Connection Files almost works. In researching this article I have not found any similar Automator actions for Firefox. It should be possible to create a similar Automator action for Firefox, but it will probably have to be done in something other than AppleScript since Firefox appears to have a limited AppleScript vocabulary.

—Sylvester Roque

Outlining Interface Futures

I sometimes call myself an ‘industrial ontologist.’ I am one of a handful of people who make their living applying ontologies to knowledge-based software. So I have some cred when I say the ‘attack on folders’ is just plain dumb.

The concept of subsumption, containment, inheritance, IS-A, etc is fundamental to all the useful ontologies I know of. Sure there are other relationships, and, yes, subsumption can be inferred, but in practice it’s a first-order relationship.

The concept of nested folders, or outliner levels, particularly folders that allow multiple memberships (graphs), is a very useful way for humans to view and revise subsumption relationships. One of the things that drives me nuts about every full text search engine except Yahoo Desktop Search (X1) is they don’t treat the parent folder string as a key search term. How stupid. OS X makes the same mistake (which is why I purchased an aftermarket Spotlight extension).

Subsumption is useful. Folder outlines are a good way to view this relationship. We need robust metadata and better ways to manage graphs, but we still need the folder metaphor.

—John Faughnan

• • •

Your observation that three different models can be supported by outline structures has some very definite practical significance. It implies that outlines are not only useful tools of thought but also pose a certain threat to thought. We outline without giving much thought to the meaning of the subsumptive relationship. If those relationships can have categorically distinct import, we had better be very careful not to mix metaphors in one argument. At least at first sight, any call for increasing the paradigm count sounds like an exacerbation of a bad situation.

Fortunately for outlining, I think your interesting idea is quite wrong. It is all whole/part. General/detailed is whole/part applied to properties; whole/part is general/detailed applied to objects or entities conceived as objects.

—Stephen R. Diamond

• • •

I definitely agree folders and other forms of hierarchy shouldn’t be the only means to represent user constructed and emergents relationships, and I also agree they are much overused, but I did want to argue for preserving them.

I’m a full text search addict. It’s been transformational. At one point I got rid of every folder in Outlook except “save” and “save older” (for technical reasons it was easier to split up my archives into past 6 months and 6 months to 10 years).

In the e-mail/Outlook world there’s a lot of rich metadata, so I could make do without folders, though recently I’ve returned to creating temporary folders for active projects—folders don’t really cause much trouble with full text search.

In the file system there’s far less metadata (alas, I wish I’d had a chance to use BeOS), and containment relationships (name of containing folder) are invaluable, so I really need to treat containers as first rate metadata. I still create hierarchical structures with lots of “pointers” (shortcuts); I’m just more comfortable with shuffling them about.

With enough metadata one can deduce subsumption relationships. SNOMED, a medical ontology, does this using a Description Logic engine. In practice, hand crafted hierarchy is still needed, I think it will always be helpful.

Constructed hierarchy will play a role too…

How does this relate to outliners? I think the user defined hierarchy will always have a place (OK, pre-singularity anyway), even though acyclic and cyclic graphs are very useful too…

—John Faughnan

• • •

Almost in passing, you make another interesting point—that Mac users, being more creative and intellectual on average, drive the development of outlining applications further than does the environment of Windows users. The theory that users create a favorable environment based on the percentage receptive users rather than on their absolute number may also explain the rise and fall of the outliner on the Mac platform, which happens to coincide with a similar rise and fall on Windows. The computer was a new thing, and creative or adventuresome people were more concentrated on both platforms back then. What I find terribly interesting, though, is that while the Mac platform’s outlining had important features that outliners on neither platform can yet attain, this development went much further on DOS than on either Apple or Windows.

If the summit of Mac outlining was More 3.1, the summit of DOS outlining was GrandView. My knowledge is second hand—I couldn’t begin to use DOS—but confirmed by numerous trustworthy sources.

This, it seems to me, provides some very strong support for your theory that the level of the users drives the development of outlining applications. A small select group of early computer users created a temporary market for a product way ahead of anything produced today. Average level counts in this area, apparently, not raw numbers.

But the past peaks to which you look should for inspiration and guidance should not be limited by platform-chauvinism.

—Stephen R. Diamond

• • •

I agree with those who suggest that quite a few people will be upset if Apple dismisses the benefits of hierarchical folders and files too aggressively. It’ll be making the same sort of mistake Microsoft made about a decade ago when someone powerful (Gates?) thought their UI should look like a Web page.

I write and edit books. Folders provide a marvelous place to “stuff” everything that goes into a book. It’d be a waste of my time to try to invent some elaborate schema that works as well as a folder for each book with subfolders for graphics and text. The very presence of something there reminds me that I need to use it. I even have a Junk folder so nothing really gets thrown away.

That said, smart folders are a good idea, particularly for time-based organization, i.e. so I can look at every file I was working on yesterday. But as a primary tool of organization—no way. Smart folders for content would force me to remember too much about how I organized something months ago, meaning coming up with long-forgotten words.

And doing keyword searches with Spotlight is a bit like many Google searches. There are so many hits, the results are almost worthless. All too often, I know in some vague sense there was another document I meant to include. But for the life of me I can’t come up with any phrase that would locate the file for me. I need everything like that stuffed in one specific folder.

In short, files/folders are still best for major projects. Smart folders are handy for time or some easy-to-remember categorization scheme like red for urgent. Most of the time searches are only useful when you’ve found the file (or at least folder) you want and need to get to a specific place in it. Searching an entire hard drive that way is absurd.

Finally, if we’re going to be attaching attributes and keywords to documents, Apple needs to make sure adding that sort of content much easier than it is now: saving, going to the Finder, finding the file, and using Get Info. One neat trick would be to give document windows a flip button, perhaps on the right away from the red light row. It would seem to flip the window over to a side where attributes could be set for each type of file and useful keywords added, as well as scratch notes for the user. That’d be much more intuitive than yet another menu selection. It’s also more likely to be used, and the eye candy would impress switchers.

—Mike Perry

iDisk Ennui

Mark, you might like to try FileChute for transferring data to your iDisk. It actually made iDisk usable for me, and now I regularly transfer more than 1 GB of files now with zero failures.


The Clayton’s Web

My wife owns a very nice digital camera that takes great snapshots but I’m a professional photographer and I’d never use it in my line of work—not even for taking preparation shots. If I reviewed her camera with my professional needs in mind I’d skewer that camera as badly as you’ve skewered iWeb. And I’d have done every casual photographer a disservice because for what it does and for what it was made to do her camera does a wonderful job.

Before you write any more reviews for any other product take the time to consider the market for which the product was created and who fits in that market. Then write your review with that in mind. It is one thing to say iWeb isn’t the right program for many users. It is another to damn a program because it doesn’t fit your conception of what a program should be.

And let me go one step further—if this is the kind of garbage I can expect to find on this Web site regularly, it is a site I’ll soon eschew on a regular basis.


This was not a review. It is a recurring column about Web accessibility. Therefore, whether iWeb makes it easy for novices to create nice looking Web pages is beside the point. The issue at hand was how iWeb handles accessibility. Reviews in ATPM are explicitly labeled as such and consider a wider range of criteria.

—Michael Tsai

XIII Review

An addendum to my review above: e-mail support for XIII from Feral was returned within 24 hours, but unfortunately was lost in the middle somewhere. So fear not! Feral is there and ready to help you with questions. (They did emphasize it’s useful to use the “Generate Report” feature in the game when doing so and attach that to your mail.)

—Matthew Glidden

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