TV-PGJanuary 17, 2000: Security concerns about Apple's new iTools plug-in has certain types a wee bit spooked. Meanwhile, rumors of faster iMac DVs surface in Knifeland, and is Apple getting ready to refresh all four product lines at once-- while adding a fifth, to boot?...
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Unlabeled Black iTools (1/17/00)

So we're just getting back into the swing of things, and we're pretty amazed by the sort of Rip Van Winkle effect one can invoke by being near-comatose and off the grid for a few days. (Bill Gates to step down? Get out of here, it'll never happen. Oh, it happened last Thursday? Never mind.) It's like the Y2K bug hit the collective AtAT consciousness and we're shocked not to see people with handlebar moustaches or something. We've got this odd sense of discontinuity in the flow of time, and it'll take time for us to fill in the gaps and start to feel less anachronistic again.

So a hearty thanks to faithful viewer Grant Gallagher, who's doing his part to drag us back into the present by filling us in on this whole iTools security brouhaha. Well, to be fair, we don't know whether it qualified as an actual brouhaha or not, because we weren't around to witness the Mac community's reaction when the news first broke, but we'll label it a "virtual brouhaha" for the time being and leave it at that. If you haven't heard about all this either, there's a smattering of info on MacInTouch's "Recent News" page. Basically, now that Apple's iTools suite has been out for a couple of weeks and people have had more time to dissect it, a few potentially troubling bits of info have shaken out of the mix. For one thing, iTools works its magic via an undocumented browser plug-in-- and info sent from Apple's servers to that plug-in (including your iTools password) is sent in cleartext: no encryption whatsoever. Said data intercepted en route by black-clad wrongdoers would give them access to your email, your iDisk contents, etc.

Perhaps more worrisome, though, is the fact that the iTools plug-in works by sending Apple Events to the Mac OS when instructed to by a web page. Apple Events, those system-level calls which make Applescript so powerful, are capable of doing all kinds of neat things: emptying the Trash, deleting whole folders of data, changing the names of any files labeled "Important" to the names of randomly chosen Disney characters, etc. While we haven't dug too deeply into this yet, it sounds to us like someone might be able to create a web page that executes arbitrary and potentially destructive commands on the remote systems of any browsers that have the misfortune to load it. That's ringing a bell, and the bell sounds like this: "ActiveX... ActiveX..."

Now, we're fully aware that we're paranoid types, so it's possible that none of this really amounts to anything. But if it does, don't assume that running your backup browser disables the iTools plug-in-- the iTools installer sticks a copy in place for every browser on your system without telling you. In fact, the latest version of the installer reportedly installs the plug-in on every browser on every mounted disk it can find-- and even modifies Netscape and IE installers, virus-like, so that they will install iTools along with their browsers each time they're run. Very, very suspicious behavior, if you ask us-- perfect for a crucial stealth component of a massive covert campaign for world domination. And Apple's not making us any less suspicious by deleting messages about this stuff that get posted to the iTools Apple Discussion Forum. The last time they did that was when people were posting about the alleged "Blue Blocker" scandal-- and most people took the "censorship" as an admission of guilt. How long before this is the subject of a new Oliver Stone blockbuster? Suppose Noah Wyle will be tapped to reprise his role as Uncle Steve?

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A Hit of Speed (1/17/00)

Time for another iMac refresh? More than one rumormonger seems to think so. Not so long ago we had all kinds of buzz coming in that Apple would surely unveil a new iMac DV Special Edition with a monster 17-inch display once Steve took the stage at the Expo. Of course, the Expo came and went without that 17-inch iMac, or anything else for that matter-- there was no new hardware at all, not even the new "Pismo" PowerBook we all expected. While we personally feel that Pismo must have been pulled at the last minute, we were never too confident when it came to those 17-inch iMac rumors. We'd love for it to be real, but it still smells like wishful thinking. Or deliberate "disinformation."

Now, if we had to accept that Apple was planning a refresh of the iMac DV, we find ourselves much more prone to believe Mac the Knife's more reasonable prediction. The Knife, reasonable? This is us reaching for the thermometer again... But really, instead of claiming that Apple's going to ship a giant iMac necessitating a whole new case, the Knife says that Apple's iMac refresh will consist of nothing more than the traditional speed bump. Remember when the fruit-flavored models went from 266 MHz to 333 MHz? Well, now the Knife says the current DV 400 models will soon be bumped to 466 MHz. We can swallow that a lot easier than a new bigger enclosure, no matter how candy-colored the plastic may be.

So yes, Mac the Knife's latest rumor is actually more conservative than the others floating around. Sweet Gladys Kravitz in a cauldron full of caviar and absinthe! Could the Knife be slowing down in his old age? Is it a button-down Knife for 2000 and beyond? We figure it could just be a one-time fluke-- it depends on who turns out to be right about what Apple does next to the iMac. If the 17-inch model wins out over the 466 MHz rumor, than we can chalk it all up to some bad cough syrup. But if the Knife's 466 MHz shows up instead of the 17-inch display, we're thinking "kinder, gentler Knife" for the coming millennium. And if both rumors come true, well, all bets are off...

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In The Center Ring (1/17/00)

Here's something we've been chewing on for the better part of a week, now. There's been lots and lots of speculation about what exactly happened to Steve's Expo keynote a couple of weeks ago. Some optimistic folks were expecting a 17-inch iMac and the new "Pismo" PowerBook. Other more-optimistic folks were looking for a Graphite iBook DV and Pismo. Slightly less-optimistic watchers figured on faster G4 systems (maybe even a multiprocessor model) and Pismo. The most conservative observers expected Pismo and nothing at all. As it turns out, the pessimists were at least half right-- we got nothing at all.

Now, there's been plenty of speculation about why literally zero hardware was introduced. We've heard that G4 chip production is still too far behind to announce new, faster G4 systems-- Apple learned its lesson from that last too-early announcement. We've heard that Pismo was running so hot it was literally melting its own case. We've heard that poor LCD availability scotched the possibility of producing enough Pismos or iBook DVs to justify a Macworld Expo announcement. Most intriguing, though, is the rumor that Apple pretty much has all of this hardware ready to go-- except that Mac OS 9.0.1, which all of them need to run properly, wasn't working well enough to allow the hardware to be demonstrated.

Why is this so interesting? Because faithful viewer Gary Blackburn had a nifty thought: Apple may soon be able to revamp the entire Macintosh computer line at once. Now that would be a show. All four categories could be refreshed at one big "media event" once Mac OS 9.0.1 was ready for public consumption. Think of it: a four-ring media circus starring new Graphite iBooks, bigger and/or faster iMacs, faster and/or multiprocessor G4s, and the new Pismo PowerBooks, with Steve Jobs as the eternal ringmaster. And you could even throw in that Apple-Palm device rumored to be so near completion. Will it happen? We dunno, but it's fun to consider. We certainly don't expect any hardware announcements during Apple's end-of-quarter party this Wednesday, but a few weeks from now, who knows?

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