Oh, Good, This Again: Macs Vulnerable–This Time For Realz!

An AP story is making the rounds that Macs are newly–maybe–vulnerable to viruses and Apple–maybe–isn’t getting it, just like Microsoft didn’t get it until…um…recently…or…not.

Sigh. No, Macs are not invulnerable to all types of trojans, viruses, worms, or other malware. It should be noted, though, that despite the criticisms of Apple, all the vulnerabilities mentioned in the article have been addressed.

I have been readily getting Security Updates on a very timely schedule from Apple in five or six years I’ve been using OS X, starting with Developer Preview 3 and on through 10.4.6. I do some sensible things, like not clicking on things sent by people I don’t know or downloading programs from dodgy sites I’ve never heard of before and running them. I used to even run antivirus software, but since it never once found a single bit of malware, I quit.

The fact is, and to its credit the article points it out, the Mac is still far less vulnerable to malware than Windows, even accounting for its limited market share. Can you get by clicking on anything and everything and opening up every service on your machine and never updating it? Nope. But can you run it without much of a firewall and not act like an idiot and reasonably expect to stay free of malware? Yep. I’ve only seen one Mac running OS X with malware on it, and it is unclear how it got there.

So the lesson you should take away from this is not that Macs are no better than Windows at avoiding bad things on the Internet, but that you won’t be freed from the very basics of avoiding bad things–running programs from people you don’t know or downloading from sketchy sites. But the situation is so much better that if you are determined to be an idiot, your experience will be better on a Mac than on Windows. And if you’re not an idiot and you’re sick of messing with firewalls and virus updates, well, your experience will be better on the Mac than Windows, too.

OK, That’s Moderately Useless (Photocasting and Non-Safari RSS Readers)

So here’s the letdown part of the Apple Product Cycle. One of the coolest features the Steve introduced on Tuesday was “Photocasting,” or basically RSS feed creation for photos using RSS 2 enclosures, integrated deeply into iPhoto using .Mac.

The concept is simple: you get a collection of photos, say “Photocast these”, and it uploads them to a server and gives you a URL you can pass around to your friends. If they have iPhoto 6 or Safari 2.0, they can get a feed of your photos that they can view, with links to the full-size originals. Since it’s a standard, then if they don’t have those apps, they can choose any RSS reader that supports enclosures, including the ever-popular Firefox 1.5 to view your stream. So the slickest creation and consumption is on a Mac, but you can share with people who haven’t yet seen the light.

Or Can You?

Turns out every other reader I’ve tested it in, or that any Windows or Linux user I know has tested it in, has gotten a page that looks like this:


Clearly, Apple is sniffing the User Agent string that all browsers and RSS readers create and rejecting any that don’t say “WebKit” (their core HTML reading technology that all Apple apps use). Even other Mac-based ones I’ve tested, like the open source FireAnt, don’t work. [Update: Turns out FireAnt only supports video playback, not photos, so this wouldn’t have worked anyway. But it did give an error claiming the feed was invalid with the original URL.]

I really hope this is an oversight on Apple’s part, but it’s kind of embarrassing, trying to say how cool this stuff is and how nice it is when somebody plays by the rules, when they sabotage those very words in an effort to prevent people with an old RSS reader from using the service.

Lame, guys, hella lame.

Update: I’ve now found a workaround, with some caveats. As long as you’re not using Firefox to read RSS feeds, you can view my Dominica photos at http://web.mac.com/sandysmith/iPhoto/dominicaselect/index.rss.

Read on if you are having this problem with iPhoto or use Firefox and want an explanation why the defaults haven’t worked for you:

Continue reading

And So It Begins

We’re at the Golden Section of the Apple Product Cycle. This is the fun part, the Christmas that comes with every Keynote or announcement from Apple that features a performance by Steve Jobs.

Really, it is a performance. A three-ring circus designed to amplify the Reality Distortion Field and to build anticipation in a way that rock concerts normally do. It’s particularly telling when Steve (we all call him Steve, even though none of us know him even in the slightest) invites some other CEO to come on the stage and speak. To extend the rock concert simile, these are like the painfully dull 15 minute drum solos of yesteryear. They really highlight how good a showman Steve is, and how few other consumer product CEOs “get it” about generating excitement.

Reverting to the Christmas metaphor, there is also a letdown when it’s over. Invariably there are a couple of rumors that didn’t match reality (and, frequently, even the laws of physics) and no new iBrainImplant is announced by Steve. People wail and gnash their teeth, lament how far behind Apple is, and then begin to be distracted by the new shiny things and go out and acquire them.

While I’m far from immune to this draw (even the letdown), I’m probably not Steve’s favorite customer, and not just because I once wrote him a nasty note when he killed the Mac clones. I tend to obsessively read details about the new products, but rarely do I buy them. I don’t own an iPod. My desktop Mac is three or four years old. My Powerbook is over six years old. I still have a Mac clone that I really should just throw out, because I doubt anybody even wants it (plus I’d need to boot it and wipe the hard drive securely). That Mac clone is going on ten years old.

If that sounds like a lot of stuff, it’s nothing compared to what a lot of people do. In the PC world, a new computer every two years is pretty standard, and a lot of Apple fanboys match that just so they can have bragging rights. Instead, I get my jollies by being the go-to-guy when someone else wants a computer, especially a Mac. (Seriously, Windows people, why the hell do you ask me about what Windows machine to get? Do none of your fellow drones know anything about computers?)

But even if I don’t partake personally (I’m in my mind waiting until the second revision of Intel-based Macs to pick up an iMac or something low-power to replace my PowerMac, unless I get into some serious audio production between now and then), I enjoy the spectacle. I wish I could generate that kind of passion in people with what I do, but so far the people who blog about that seem to say “hey, make people love your stuff,” which is technically accurate but utterly unhelpful advice.

So, after the keynote is over, there’s usually a video available on Apple’s site. Go and watch it this evening to see a master at work, and maybe you’ll learn something concrete about making people love your stuff.

Gruber on iTunes 5

I almost posted this morning, predicting that there would be commentary/scorn on the new iTunes interface from John Gruber, but was too busy. The interface is unlike anything else on Mac OS X–again.

Sure enough, here it is, in the form of a Hollywood script.

I have just a couple of notes.

  1. The rounded corners of the Brushed Metal take up a lot of space. This new theme rounds in fewer pixels, giving more room for content.
  2. The Mail.app theme Gruber contrasts it with turns into an Aqua-like window when focus isn’t on it–I just noticed this tonight. The new theme on iTunes behaves like Brushed metal, in that interface elements dim and there’s a drop shadow from the foreground window on unfocused windows, but other than that there’s no distinction between the focused and unfocused states.
  3. It’s prettier than Brushed Metal. But Brushed Metal is supposed to be used for applications that mimic real-world interfaces. So here was an area where Brushed Metal was used appropriately according to the Human Interface Guidelines, but it’s no longer used! Here’s hoping it replaces Brushed Metal, and that Safari gets the Mail.app treatment. And that developers either stick with Aqua or the Mail.app theme unless there’s a REALLY good reason for it.

The Steve, He Listens to Me

So I noted Apple’s introductions yesterday long enough to determine that the “iTunes Phone” sucks donkey balls (100 songs? no matter how much memory you have? cell companies suck) but noticed that they’d released iTunes 5.0, and it has a feature I’ve been dreaming of since it came out (and bugging Apple for): you can shuffle your library by entire albums.

This makes it function like a shuffling CD jukebox that can hold hundreds of CDs, and it’s really good for those of us who listen to album-oriented music. Progressive rock was not really meant to be listened to single-by-single. Classical for damn sure isn’t.

They can also vary the algorithm they use to correct for the statistical likelihood that two songs in a row will be by the same artist.

The iPod nano also looks sweet, but sadly too small for my needs, were I to break down and acquire an iPod. But if you added phone capabilities to an iPod nano, I could get interested…

End Times Ever Closer

I love it when my crack dealer moves closer to me. Apple is opening a Pentagon City mall location this week. Usually the grand openings feature giveaways of swag, so I may stop by and check out the Mighty Mouse in person. So now I’ll have a choice of three stores in Northern Virginia, as well as having to choose between the twenty minute drive door to door (Clarendon) or the 12 minute drive door to door.