Tag Archives: Apple

iTunes Plus DRM-free music price drop, still can’t upgrade individual songs

Less than a year ago iTunes announced iTunes Plus, higher quality songs for $1.29 instead of the regular $0.99. I loved the idea of better sounding music, but I was ticked off that I couldn’t upgrade individual songs for the incremental cost ($0.30 per song). Instead I’d have to upgrade my entire library at once: not an inexpensive proposition.

Now iTunes is selling those iTunes Plus songs at the same price as regular songs. It’s great: I’d much rather buy DRM-free songs, and I’d certainly rather not pay a premium to do so. Now, there’s no reason not to buy a DRM-free song if it’s available, and one less reason to search Amazon’s MP3 store for a song (although Amazon does still sell many songs for $0.89 each, also DRM-free).

Alas, I still can’t upgrade individual songs to DRM-free versions. I don’t mind paying something for the benefit of owning a DRM-free copy, but the additional $0.30 isn’t an understandable price. Before, it was the incremental cost: a regular song cost $0.99, the DRM-free version cost $1.29, you pay the difference.

Now there is no difference, yet I still have to pay $0.30 per song, and I have to do it on all of my songs. I might really like Here I Am (Come and Take Me) by UB40, but not enough to pay a third of the price again.

iTunes, please let me upgrade individual songs to DRM-free!

Ignoring Macs for parental controls

I’ve long been frustrated by San Francisco Chronicle’s “computer guy” column by David Einstein. He regularly ignores Macs in his columns, either willfully, through ignorance, or because he believes that his audience doesn’t care about Macs.

In his most recent set of questions and answers, from May 5, 2008 included a question about setting limits on computer usage for middle schoolers. In his response, he said:

If your computer is running Windows Vista, the User Accounts and Family Safety feature in the Control Panel will let you create a user ID for your child and restrict the time of the day when he or she can sign on.

If you don’t have Vista, don’t despair, because you still have options.

How disappointing that those “options” didn’t include anything other than Windows. The latest version of Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” has great parental controls, including the ability to limit total computer time (say, 3 hours a day), with separate limits for weekends, and prevent use during specified times (“bedtimes”).

You can also limit who your child emails and chats, allowing only certain email and chat addresses, and restrict which websites can be viewed. You can even limit which applications can be used.

Beyond what’s provided by Leopard itself, other applications include their own parental controls. For example, iTunes lets you restrict movies and TV shows by rating (G, PG, etc.) and to prevent purchase of “explicit”-tagged content. You can even prevent access to iTunes Store completely.

For parents, Leopard provides a significant control over how a child uses their computer. I don’t understand how Mr. Einstein could fail to acknowledge the Mac at all in his response, and it bugs me every time he does it.

Getting ringtones on your iPhone for free

Update: Now that Apple’s updated GarageBand, you can make your own iPhone ringtones without any of the hackery below! Don’t have GarageBand? It’s part of iLife ’08. It also comes for free with any new Mac, like the all-in-one 20″ iMac.

First of all, I didn’t figure this out. I’m simply putting a few pieces together from other people. That said, here’s how I was able to get ringtones on my iPhone from my MacBook, completely free.

Clue Number 1: You can mount your iPhone as a hard drive. I don’t remember where I first learned about this, but MacFuse and iPhoneDisk makes this trivial. This allowed me to mount my iPhone and copy files directly to it.

Clue Number 2: Ringtones are stored in a user-accessible location. One place I learned about this is Erica Sadun’s article on the O’Reilly Network. Erica’s article says to put the music files in /var/root/Library/Ringtones (which, when you mount your iPhone via iPhoneDisk translates to /Volumes/Library/Ringtones); this location didn’t work for me, though.

Clue Number 3: Ringtones need a special file to point to them. I got this from a post on pastebin.com, where the author Keldegar points out that you need a specially-formatted file called a “plist” (short for “property list”, which store preferences and so on). The author also pointed to a different location from what Erica at O’Reilly pointed to; this new location (/Volumes/Media/iTunes_Control/Ringtones) worked for me.

Putting these three clues together, I’m now able to use any audio files iPhone can play as a ringtone! Here’s the step-by-step; it’s more complicated to write it out than to actually do it.

1. Download and install MacFuse. You need at least MacFuse Core 0.4.0.

2. Download and install iPhoneDisk. The latest version as of this writing is iPhoneDisk-20070826.

3. Double-click iPhoneDisk; it shows an icon iPhoneDisk menu item icon in the menubar to show it’s running.

4. Connect your iPhone. A hard-drive icon named “Media” iPhone Media hard drive icon should show up in Finder. iTunes will launch and sync if it’s set to automatically do that.

5. In Finder, open the Media drive and then the iTunes_Control folder.

7. Create a new folder inside iTunes_Control named Ringtones.

8. Copy the music you want to use as a ringtone into the Ringtones folder.

Now comes the slightly tricky part. You’ll need a text editor (not a word processor!). I’ll assume you’ll use TextEdit, but you can use BBEdit/TextWranger, TextMate, Coda, etc.

9. In TextEdit, make a new file (File > New) and convert it to plain text (Format > Make Plain Text).

10. Copy and paste the following code. You will need to change it in a couple of places to match your songs (see the next step).

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
            <string>A Song Name</string>

11. You want to change the following sections to match your songs:

  • SongFileName.mp3 is the filename of the song (as saved in Finder).
  • A Song Name is the name you want iPhone to display.
  • The number 1 can be any number, as long as it’s unique in this file (that is, if you add a second song, that song gets 2, a third song gets 3, etc.)

This file, as is, will give you one song. Here’s an example of a file with two songs:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
            <string>A Song Name</string>

            <string>Another Song Name</string>


Hopefully it’s clear what to copy and where to paste it. Download this Ringtones.plist file as a starting point. (As an aside, if you’re a Mac developer with the Xcode tools installed, you can use /Developer/Applications/Utilties/Property List Editor to make short work of editing this file.)

12. Save this file as Ringtones.plist to /Volumes/Media/iTunes_Control/iTunes/Ringtones.plist.

Now navigate on your iPhone to Home > Settings > Sounds > Ringtones and you should see your list of ringtones!


Things don’t always go perfectly. Here are a few items that might cause some issues (usually your songs don’t show up in the Ringtones list).

The plist file is misnamed, malformed, or not in the right location.

The file is /Volumes/Media/iTunes_Control/iTunes/Ringtones.plist.

Try creating the Ringtones.plist file with only a single song to be sure that works before adding additional songs.

The Ringtones folder is in the wrong location.

I got this working by putting the Ringtones folder inside /Volumes/Media/iTunes_Control; this puts it at the same level as the Artwork, iTunes and Music folders.

This Is Not Mac OS 9

I recently got into an, uh, discussion with an associate about Mac OS X. The gist was Mac OS X hides “useful” things from people. He was told to try (from the Terminal command-line):

% grep 90210 /usr/share/misc/zipcodes

and enjoy the results. He then tried looking for that file using Finder, and Sherlock, only to get no results. Upon realizing this, he exploded:

“This is where OSX makes me CRAZY, and every little pulsating blob of blue glass on the screen just makes me want to PUNCH ITS FUCKING FACE IN that much more. Where is this file? Why can’t I find it?”

For those of you familar with Unix, you know that the file “zipcodes” is in a directory structure starting at “/usr“; this directory us part of the Unix heritage of Mac OS X, and as such, is hidden from “normal” users.

We went on and on for hours, hashing out the “it’s hidden from me and I don’t like that”, “It’s hidden from you because it’s Unix and you can easily access it anyway” argument.

He was pointed to the Terminal. “Terminal’s no friend of mine,” he retorted. “What, exactly, was wrong with The Finder? All I want to do is locate and open a file.”

Get to know your OS, I told him, directing him to the Go > Go to folder menu in the Finder, where he could enter “/usr/share/misc” and have the folder open.

“I really don’t like the idea that it’s the GUI that’s restricting my access to files,” he exclaimed. I reminded him that Apple made a concious decision to hide the Unix-y part of the OS as much as possible, but gave full access to the system for those who insisted on it.

He claimed Apple was acting as though their user-base was evenly divided “between butterfingered grannies and Unix ninjas” and that Apple was preventing the “average user” from accessing useful information. I pointed out that the vast majority of Apple’s Mac OS X users were anything but “Unix ninjas”, and could care less about the Unix side of things. I also noted that while those some of these files are indeed “useful,” they certaily aren’t “essential”, and still, the Finder will allow you access to them.

I felt that had he been aware of how to access these files, he wouldn’t be complaining that he couldn’t get access to these files; it irks me when people aren’t familiar with their tools and vocally display their ignorance.

Having (admittedly round-about) access to the files wasn’t enough. “What I’d really like to do is poke around inside to see what’s there,” he submitted. “Trust me to tell the difference between user-servicable parts and things I shouldn’t touch. Is there really and any differences from OS 9, where there’s something in my Extensions folder called “N065U Library” which my spidey sense says Don’t Just Trash It?”

So let me say this to everyone out there using Mac OS 9 and looking to move to Mac OS X.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Over the last two years or so, i’ve heard that complaint a million times, in fact, early on in my OS X career, and occasionally since then, I’ve made that complaint myself.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s a brand new operating system, based on Unix, with much of what made Mac OS 9 one of the easiest user interfaces available for computers. Note that i said “much”, not “all”.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

Much of what is “hidden” in /etc, /usr, and so on are things that either didn’t exist in Mac OS 9 (and are there only as legacy bits because it’s Unix, and thus could be safely ignored by folks who don’t give a whit about Unix), or items that were previously subsumed by things like the System and Finder files. Those files were large, and contained many things that you couldn’t easily get to.

This Is Not Mac OS 9.

It’s Mac OS X, and it has its own quirks to get used to. Certainly, it hides some of what’s “under the hood” from 99.99% of the users, but it’s “under the hood”, it’s supposed to be hidden from 99.99% of the users… why should a user care about the Unix bits and all these extra files that they know nothing about? And yet, and yet, Mac OS X allows those who do care to get to the files! How much more flexibility do you need?

That’s what’s wonderful about Mac OS X. For those who don’t care, they can successfully use their machine without being encumbered by thousands of extra files on their system. For those who do care, they can get extra power from their system, at very litle cost, just by changing their expectations a tad and learning a just a bit of Unix.

Mac OS X makes it possible for people to use their machines as they see fit. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can at least give them options.

Media delays facts about Apple

Apple’s relationship with the mainstream press has always been one of love-to-hate: on the one hand, Apple is the underdog to Microsoft’s homogeny, and a media darling, the company who creates stunningly-designed, easy-to-use computers. On the other, they’re an arrogant, marginalized, ready-to-fold business with a sub-five-percent marketshare, which cares more about form than function; and the press revels in painting Apple in a bad light.

So when Apple announced recently that they were ready to release the next generation of their QuickTime software, which would include MPEG-4 (along with other products based on the new version) and at the same time announced that they would delay shipping QuickTime until they could negotiate better user licenses from the MPEG group, it came as little surprise (but with great frustration) that the press headlined with “Apple delays next version of QuickTime”.

Well, what do you expect from an industry that for years must have though the company’s full name was “beleaguered Apple Computer”?

From the headlines (another example, from the L.A. Times: “Apple Set to Withhold Latest QuickTime”), you’d think there was a technical reason that forced them to delay the release, when in fact it’s because Apple is trying to do the right thing by its customers.

The issue at hand is MPEG-LA (the largest group of MPEG-4 patent holders) wants to charge both the companies making the software using MPEG-4 and the people creating and streaming content using MPEG-4. In other words, they’re double-dipping, wanting their cake and to eat it too….

Apple on the other hand, thinks content providers should be able to use MPEG-4 without paying additional royalties to stream their creations.

The sound you just heard was a massive, collective Duh! from the creative community.

Content providers have no problem paying for software to create their masterpieces, but will balk, rightly, at being asked to pony up two cents for every hour of paid video.

So here we have Apple taking a stance to protect an important part of their customer base (many of whom are media, by-the-way), and instead of being praised to the heavens for doing so, are made to look like incompents for “not getting their software out on time”.

The mainstream media has to start giving Apple some even, unbiased coverage for a change. In this case, a simple “Apple’s newest QuickTime software ready but delayed by licensing concerns” would have sufficed and gotten both important facts out.

Apple releases new machines

Apple released new machines today. Nothing significant, really. Intel and crowd have had machines with higher megahertz than what’s now available on the Macintosh for a while. After all, what good is a dual-gigahertz Macintosh when you can get an Intel running Windows at 2.2 gigahertz, right?

And you’d be right.

Except for the rest of the specs.

512MB RAM, standard. A brand-new, still-to-be-announced-by-the-company-who-makes-it NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX with 64MB of DDR RAM, with dual monitor hookups. An 80GB Ultra ATA hard drive. A SuperDrive, Apple’s pet name for a drive that can burn home-viewable DVDs, in addition to your run-of-the-mill CD-R/RWs. Gigahertz Ethernet. USB. Firewire.Airport-ready.Oh yeah, and those two one-gigahertz G4 chips, offering up 15 gigaflops of pure, mainlined power.

Yeah, yeah, whatever, you say. Who can afford to pay Apple’s historically high premiums for their top-of-the-line, drool-inducing computers?

Anyone with three grand.

You read it right. All that power, all those flopping gigas, can be yours for $2,999.

I suspect this is going to be hugely popular.

Ultimate Re-cap: MacWorld Expo, San Francisco 2001

Well, another MacWorld has come and gone, and left in its wake a ton of product litter-ature, six months’ worth of t-shirts and enough tchotchkes to fund your retirement account through eBay sales.

As I have every year since 1995, I roamed the bright, carpeted halls of MacWorld Expo, the bi-annual gathering of Macintosh faithful, held every January in hilly (and chilly) San Francisco, seeking out products useful to my clients and friends.

In this brief recap, I’ve focused on a few “Ultimate” items from the expo. Top of the list, of course, is Apple’s gorgeous new PowerBook G4. So let’s jump right in!

Ultimate Sleekness

Without a doubt, the greatest buzz was generated by Apple’s stunning new PowerBook G4. This has to be the sexiest laptop I’ve seen since the Sony Vaio. Unless you’re in the market for a new portable, don’t get anywhere near this baby. Sure, the long list of technical specs, like a 500 MHz G4 processor, up to a gigabyte of RAM, a built-in slot-loading DVD, a five-hour battery and a 15.2″ screen are fantastic, but that’s not what had everyone who caressed this hotrod ooh-ing and ahh-ing.

No, the reason hordes of fawning fans were ready to sacrifice their credit cards for a machine that won’t even ship until the end of January was the silvery titanium case, which, when closed, measures a miniscule one inch thick.

Yes. Titanium.

Yes. One inch.

If you’ve lusted after one of Sony’s Vaio laptops (and, honestly, who hasn’t?), you’d better have a napkin to wipe off the drool after seeing this PowerBook. Sure the Vaio is a bit lighter, but it doesn’t have a built-in DVD player; its battery lasts only two hours; and you can’t hook it up to a presentation system on the road. Add all that stuff, and you’ve blown past the 5.3 pounds and $2,599 price tag of the everything-included PowerBook G4 (the loaded Vaio weighs in at 6.5 pounds and $3,350).

And don’t forget those technical specs! This is not some wimpy retread laptop in a pretty wrapping. Oh no. This is Apple’s fastest laptop ever, and it’s faster than most Windows portables on the market.

Every executive, designer, sales manager and sysadmin you know is going to want one. As Steve Jobs said during his keynote, “Power + Sex”. www.apple.com/powerbook

Ultimate Compatibility

Even non-Mac users might consider the PowerBook G4 thanks to Virtual PC 4, from Connectix. Thanks to this ingenious software, Macs are now the most compatible computer in the world. You can run Windows 98, ME, NT and 2000, along with Mac OS 8, 9, the forthcoming OS X and Linux–all on one machine.

This version takes full advantage of the G4 processor so you might be hard-pressed to tell you aren’t running Windows natively.

Web designers can now use a single machine to see their work in multiple browser and operating system combinations; sysadmins can use the best tools available to manage their networks; and support specialists can solve problems from a single workstation.

Think of the desk space you’ll save! www.connectix.com

Ultimate Undo

I have an itchy trigger finger. If the phone rings, I save. If I pause to think, I save. If I’ve deleted 15 paragraphs worth of brilliant prose, and I’ve saved… well, that’s what screaming into a pillow is for.

Or, more productively, I can jump over to Power On Software’s Rewind window, click the document name to see the last several versions I’ve saved, and revert to the one containing my pearls of wisdom.

Rewind tracks every change to your computer’s hard drive, including deleted preferences, corrupted System files, and, yes, bone-headed mistakes. Your computer worked fine this morning but suddenly won’t boot? Rewind has a startup feature that lets you jump back to that working System, so you can get back to work.

This is total CYA protection. www.poweronsoftware.com

Ultimate Integration

I hate having multiple lists of contacts—one in my email program, another in my regular contact manager. When I add someone to one list, I have to waste time adding them to the other. Well, no more. Microsoft’s Entourage is an integrated Email , contact manager and calendar application that works great and might make me upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office 2001 for Macintosh (since that’s the only way to get your hands on Entourage: it’s bundled with Office).

Now, when I receive Email from someone asking for a meeting, I can add them immediately to my contact list, enter the meeting date on my calendar, and sync it all to my Palm device. It takes laziness—sorry, I mean productivity—to a new high. www.microsoft.com/mac

Ultimate Apple News

Apple’s new PowerBook wasn’t the only news to come out of Cupertino (just the best-looking). Here are a few highlights.

  • You know the megahertz wars mean very little in the real world (a brand-new 1 GHz Pentium 4 is just barely faster than an older 1 GHz Pentium III, for example, and Apple’s G4 processors handily beats Pentiums at the same speeds). But the general public uses those numbers as an indicator of speed, so Apple’s release of new machines with speeds from 466 MHz to 733 MHz is fantastic, and long over-due. www.apple.com/powermac
  • Media professionals are rapidly running out of space on ordinary CDs, and are looking to the higher-capacity DVDs to store and share presentations, portfolios and marketing materials. Creating professional-quality DVDs which play on almost any consumer DVD recently required $5,000 devices, but Apple’s SuperDrive, which reads and writes DVDs, along with CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, is bundled with their $3,499, top-of-the-line PowerMac G4. You also get the new iDVD software to easily assemble and burn your DVDs. www.apple.com/dvd

Ultimate Wrap-up

With three hundred or so booths and thousands of products, this brief recap can’t come close to doing justice to the spectacle that was MacWorld San Francisco 2001. Macintouch has an in-depth report, or contact me, and we can talk about which products might be useful to you.

The Mac’s strength is its usability

While “user-friendly” and “Macintosh” have been used together for a long time, it is not the only thing that makes a Macintosh a Macintosh.

Certainly the ease-of-use factor is a big one.

But inherent in the macintosh is a sense of “usablility”. I distinguish this from “user-friendly” and “ease-of-use” because I find that these latter two come from extended periods of learning, despite the concept of “intuitive”.

No, the Macintosh’s strength is its usability.

This means things work the way you think they should work; they show a level of consistency in the way they work; and using the system slows you down as little as possible.

All of these things lead to being both “user-friendly” and “easy to use”, but these two are the results of the Mac’s usability, not the cause of it.

When I see that Mac OS X is “un-Macintosh” I take it to mean that the user interface that has worked—been usable—for many years no longer exists. In Mac OS X, it often means that things that were once usable are no longer useable—or at least the usability has dropped significantly from previous incarnations.

In many cases, it’s tiny things: a huge clock that takes up significant portion of the screen, rather than a small corner; windows whose minimum size are two or three times larger than they were before; a font that is larger than it needs to be for no apparant reason; a lack of control in how the user is able to see their system.

I think of things like people with poor vision. In previous versions of the Mac OS, you could choose a font and size that was appropriate to your needs.

That’s no longer possible.

In many ways, using Mac OS X feels like we’ve stepped into the Way-Back Machine, to a time before many of the problems of previous Mac OS incarnations were not fixed. Why, for example, can you only change the name of a file while in icon mode, not in list or browse mode? The fact that it’s a known issue doesn’t excuse such basic functionality.

Likewise, why is the new Finder so difficult to navigate? In OS 9 and earlier, I could move around the Finder without ever touching a mouse. This didn’t require any command lines or dozens of paths: only the command key, the four arrows and the return key.

Basic things a Mac user with almost any time invested would come to expect.

Like pressing “command-period” to activate the close/cancel button in a dialog box.

Or “command-w” to close a window.

Or dragging and dropping of text.

Sometimes they’re implemented, other times, they’re not. And when they’re not, it’s often in the most unexpected of places, like Apple’s very own applications shipped with the OS.

The interface’s consistency has gone down the drain.

The frustration many people feel is based on not knowing why 16 years of a constantly-improving interface was so unceremoniously shoved by the wayside.