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ATPM 12.12
December 2006


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A Song of Opposites

I ran into firmware and/or driver problems with a Western Digital internal hard drive. Same answer: we’re working on something, don’t know when we’ll fix the problem, but why don’t you try one of our other (slower, lower capacity) drives? I returned their drive and bought a LaCie external 500 GB FireWire drive with multiple ports (FireWire 800 and 400, USB 2). Fast, quiet, works great.

—Gregory Tetrault

Currently, there is a new drive en route from WD. At first, they billed my credit card for the cost of the drive—at a darned sight more than I paid for the original. They also wanted me to pay the postage costs to and from Germany.

I said “Fine, and I’ll write about the drive’s failure and the hassles and expense you’ve put me through in my blog and ATPM column.” Now, they decided to refund my card and are shipping me the drive for free with a return coupon. I wonder why.

It didn’t stop me writing about it. ;-)

—Mark Tennent

Web Accessibility: PageSpinner

I use BBEdit for fast edits of Web pages opened right from the Web server. And I use Dreamweaver 8.0 now and then when editing complex table layouts (created by others), but PageSpinner is my favorite. In fact, when using Dreamweaver, I have PageSpinner set up to edit my HTML code. Why do I like PageSpinner so much? It’s fast, I can very quickly find what I need most often, it auto-converts punctuation to HTML entity codes on saving, and it hooks up very nicely to my FTP program so that I can just click on files to edit them.

PageSpinner doesn’t get in my way. True, I suppose part of the appeal is that I can use it on my G4 or my little G3 laptop and it zips along. I thought that it would take a back seat after I bought Dreamweaver, but PageSpinner is still my main tool for editing and creating Web pages.

—Doug Hogg

• • •

I am another PageSpinner user who really loves this tool. Like Doug said, it doesn’t get in my way. How odd that you would come across it and demand that its interface be changed to suit you, while we users who have been using it for years would then have to adapt. You may call it quirky, but not erratic. “Erratic” implies that it is not trustworthy, which I believe it is. You seem to have found the missing alt tag, become outraged over that, then saw every little difference between what you found in PageSpinner and what you expected to find as a flaw.

Some things you did not have time to find were:

Include tags, which allow you to edit something like a footer or a navigation menu, and have it updated in all pages that use it. They can also insert the date or other useful things. The ordinary user would appreciate not having to run around a folder full of pages, updating them all.

PageSpinner includes AppleScripts that will work with a database to create pages from the data. This is like having a database running on your server, but you can serve the pages from any Web server. If your data doesn’t change often, this could be a huge benefit. Your Aunt Minnie could have a catalog of her embroidered potholders hosted on SpyMac. This struck me as a feature for the little guy, because while it does require you to know AppleScript, that is much nicer that having to learn PHP and find a hosting service that will let you use it.

You didn’t mention the semi-WYSIWYG nature of PageSpinner. Of course, you can’t anticipate how somebody’s browser is going to render your page, but it is nice to see headings that look like headings, bold that’s bold, etc. This was a huge help when I was starting out building Web sites. As you mentioned, it’s a matter of one click to preview your page in PageSpinner’s live preview (which is a lot like BBEdit’s) or in a browser. You can have (if I remember correctly) eight Web browsers in your list of browsers to use, so you can try your Web page in all of them. It strikes me that this would be very useful to ordinary folk, as not all browsers handle HTML the same way, and you’d want to see any lack of accessibility before your visitors did.

I was surprised at your comment about how, if you’re just typing along, you can hit Command-Return to create the paragraph tags, but they include the cursor. Of course, you’re correct in saying that if you finish writing one paragraph, then type Command-Return, you then have a paragraph within a paragraph, which is bad HTML. But I don’t encounter that problem, and I wondered why. So I started PageSpinner and started typing and realized that I have been typing a down-arrow when I get to the end of a paragraph. I don’t enter tons of text this way, so I don’t run out of blanks lines

Since you appreciate AppleScript, I would think you would really like PageSpinner. I write AppleScripts for PageSpinner all the time; one will take a folder full of photos and a list of captions and turn it into a slideshow. The authors really believe in the value of AppleScript, and there’s even a Web site to support the use of AppleScript in PageSpinner. This goes far beyond the token, reluctant access some apps give you via AppleScript.

I hope you’ve sent your comments (especially the one about the alt=" " missing from image tags) to Optima. You may not want to use PageSpinner, but they are very responsive to suggestions, and correcting that omission would result in better access for many.

I recommend PageSpinner to people interested in creating efficient, hands-on Web pages because I find it strikes a good balance between ease of use and power. I hope you haven’t chased away any potential users.

—Lyle Gunderson

Lyle (and everyone), thanks for your comments. I’m glad PageSpinner’s working well for you. I wasn’t writing a full review of the software though, but looking to see how readily people could use the software to create accessible Web pages (but without being a professional Web designer).

I’m not demanding the interface be changed to suit me. I simply found that the current interface makes it harder to create a basically accessible page.

Correctly using paragraphs, headings, lists and alt text is the very least that one can do to create an accessible page.

—Miraz Jordan

I, too, have been using PageSpinner for several years—both for my personal sites and for work. I agree with Miraz that PageSpinner should include alt attributes every time it places an image tag. (Yes, I said alt attribute, so I am correcting Miraz and everyone else. img is the tag. alt is an attribute of that tag, just like height and width.) Yet, I’m not sure about using a space.

Miraz offered a “useful link” that said, “alt text is an alternative, not a tooltip.” Following that logic, a space character is not an appropriate alternative for an image.

Personally, I have taken to simply typing anything I feel like in the little alt field when setting up an img tag just so that PageSpinner includes the alt attribute. Then, I immediately erase that character after the tag is rendered.

But, instead of a space, remember that a null is an acceptable value for the alt attribute. In other words, instead of alt=" " you would have alt="". This is the way, for example, to have an image on your Web page that makes up part of the visual design but has no useful purpose for someone who is blind and listening to a utility read the Web page. When said utility sees the null alt attribute, it would simply skip it.

—Lee Bennett

VirtueDesktops 0.53

I use You Control: Desktops from You Software. It works very nicely, and has a number of features I don’t see in VirtueDesktops. You can pin an application to a particular desktop; you can have a particular application or window appear on all desktops; you can even pin a particular window of an application to a certain desktop. And it is easy to move things from one desktop to another.

—Allen Watson

(Editor’s note: ATPM reviewed You Control: Desktops last year.)

That’s new software for me! If I wasn’t satisfied with what I’m using, then I’d definitely be after YC:D.

I’ve heard that Leopard will have a virtual desktop feature when it’s released. If it works well, and like I want to use it, then I’ll abandon third-party applications and go with the operating system. Otherwise, I’ll be scanning the horizon once again for an appropriate tool.

—Dave Thompson

• • •

…has a number of features I don’t see in VirtueDesktops…

Allen, VirtueDesktops does all of these things.


• • •

This may fall under the category of “if you don’t know why you’d use it, you probably don’t need it,” but I’m just not sure I understand the point of multiple desktops. I use an iBook exclusively, and often have multiple apps open and use the Command-Tab to toggle amongst them. What’s the point of having them sequestered in their own desktops? Obviously, there is a point, since so many people do it, but I have yet to read a review of one of these programs that explains it in a way I can understand.


If you don’t “get” the idea of multiple desktops, then I’d say that operating paradigm is not for you. Mark Tennent basically said the same thing—he found the use of multiple desktops confusing. I’m of the opposite type—I find too many windows open on a single desktop confusing.

I prefer to organize my tools by task. For example, I have Camino and Mori open on my “browsing” desktop, MacJournal open on the “writing” desktop (I might have TeXShop open there too and a couple of Finder windows as well, if I was doing a little more writing, and perhaps BBEdit too…), Mail, iCal, and AddressBook are open on the “mailing” desktop, and so forth.

This model works for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s just the way my brain is wired.

—Dave Thompson

Rather funny, actually, but I have a completely different rationale for multiple desktops. My primary one is, unfortunately, loaded with icons on the desktop that I’m doing stuff with. Another has just some work-related stuff, and another is completely clean for when I want to show off.

—Lee Bennett

Outliner Writing Environments

This past spring/summer I completed and published a book (234 pages, about 100 photos), doing everything from writing, editing, to page layout to PDF production for the commercial printer. My initial drafts were in Word (relatively unstable after 100 pages). I started this five years ago, and then I moved to Mellel two years ago. The outline capability of Mellel was more than sufficient for that stage of my work. I found it easy to understand and use, and flexible enough to meet all my needs. I could adjust chapters and sub-chapters easily just by dragging in the outline pane.

Mellel is my primary word processing tool, but it couldn’t handle photo placement easily. So when I moved into the page layout work (I couldn’t afford Quark or InDesign), I settled on Papyrus XI (I have since upgraded to Papyrus XII). I kept each chapter as a separate file; however, Papyrus allows consecutive numbering of chapters and captions for photos across multiple files. So even with major structural changes, Papyrus easily handled the work and changes. I made the PDFs in Papyrus, then joined them into one PDF using PDFLab, which I then sent to the printer.

So, for my purposes (aside from this book, mostly theological writing) Mellel and Papyrus meet my writing and outline needs. Given more time, I would like to try some of the outliners you have covered over the past three years, but time is a sparse commodity.

Keep up the good work and informative articles.

—Rich Shields

• • •

Ted, thanks for another terrific article. Because I am not a writer, I fall into the other major category of outliner users—the task managers.

My question is this: why are the software companies that are developing these types of programs not giving the users what they need/want?

I am sure that the companies (or individuals) are listening; they just don’t seem to hear what the people are saying. I have been to numerous user forums and I find them inspirational and optimistic in what the people are saying, asking for, and envisioning. And, if you really take all of that in, a program emerges that is not as much conceptual as it is a combination of two or three existing programs. There are all of these companies getting closer to this perfect solution, but no one has hit the nail on the head yet. I believe the first company to do so will shape the direction of this market.

My frustration has reached the point to where I have sketched out my “perfect program” (I run a small design firm) and have thought about investing in the development of my own (don’t know where to start and it seems like a large investment of time and money). Granted, it would be perfect for me, but a lot of the core features that I have put together are the same ones that the majority of people are asking for. I have been to every Web site and downloaded just about every outliner/information manager that I can get my hands on. I have also been to just about every user forum that I can find for all of these products, and people are all asking for the same things: outlining ability, user-defined columns, smart folders, etc. As I have said in a post on OmniGroup’s OmniOutliner forum (JasonI: post 1, post 2), every program is just one core feature away from being the program that a lot of people want. Now, maybe there are some technical reasons why this hasn’t happened yet, but from my perspective I just do not see the issue—all of the features I am looking for are out there; they just aren’t in the same software.

Another frustration is that even if a company were to come out with this great product, how long will they be around? In this market, a number of smaller companies have sprung up to offer their product. This is really good in a number of ways, creates competition, etc.), but it is also bad. It is bad because a lot of times these smaller companies are just a couple of people that are really good at one thing (programming), but bad in some other area (UI, marketing, etc.) And, to have a really good, well-rounded product you need to offer everything. As much as I want a program to do exactly what I want it to, I also want a program that is intuitive, easy to use, and looks good. Mac software has set a pretty high bar, and any program that is lacking in any area really stands out. This is why I have high hopes for OmniGroup—they are a proven and respected company that puts out really nice software, and I think that they are in it for the long-haul.

Another problem that goes with the above paragraph is this: there doesn’t appear to be any standards. One test I use on all of the software is whether or not I have the ability to export out my information in OPML format. This seems to be the easiest way to take my outline from one program to another. OPML is not the greatest format (you still can lose information—columns, formatting, etc.), but it is the closest thing I can find to a universal format. The problem is that not all outliners allow you to import or export in this format. When that is the case I will usually just casually test the software out without using my “real” information. So, my point is is that there really needs to be some new standards so we can feel more comfortable in investing our time with new software—we need the ability to pick up our data and move it to another program if needed.

Anyway, I have been meaning to write you for quite awhile, so thanks for taking the time to read my ranting.

—Jason Ivey

• • •

I think a lot of your desires, Jason, are valid and shared by me and probably many others. But I still don’t think it’s that easy to just simply come to the perfect program because even the widest of users end up with different requirements.

You are definitely not alone in purchasing many licenses in the quest to find the right fit. I bet many of us reading these articles own more than a few. Part of my frustration is that there are so many excellent choices on Mac, and each of these programs does something else a little better than the other. But how exactly with such a complex piece of software and demands do we agree on what those essential items are? It seems obvious at times, but I think each user builds a different world inside of them.

For instance, one of my central desires is to be able to import many types of media (ie. audio files, pictures, film clips, etc.). And the reason for that is even though I use this diverse breed of “outliner” for writing and for work control (to do lists, project tracking), I also like to utilize a powerful information management tool as my companion in cataloging the various snippets of information that are part and parcel of the new Internet. For no clear reason beyond the fact that I want it all in one place! I think that’s a valid usage of these tools but it may not be first in mind for say, a new program to better implement GTD and the like.

It makes me wonder just how big this community of particular software users is. Because though it’s large enough to support a large community of conversation, and seemingly more than just a few excellent programs for our diverse wishes, I don’t know if it’s big enough to keep all those developers in continuing business or to spend untold hours and years building the one ultimate program to bind them all!

Thanks for linking to your discussion at Omni. I think your concerns are excellent, and I hope they are heard by more developers.

—Guthrie Neidhardt

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