TV-PGMarch 23, 2000: Mac OS 9.04 is so close we can taste it-- and some lucky devils already have it, thanks to continued slip-ups on Apple's part. Meanwhile, the Apple Store expands its software selection to include a bevy of third-party titles, and the U.S. Army heaves a sigh of relief, as its Mac web server holds strong against attacks by Brazilian hackers...
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Once More, With Feeling (3/23/00)

Is it just us, or has the rumor mill been saying Mac OS 9.01 (or 9.02, or 9.03, or 9.04) is "just around the corner" for almost as long as we've been hearing about the Apple-branded Palm device? In fact, some of us have been waiting for a bug-fix update to Mac OS 9 from the very minute that operating system first shipped. But constant delays keep all of us Mac OS 9 users chugging along on a "dot zero" release-- at least, all of us who aren't lucky enough to be using one of Apple's newest Macs. Apparently the speed-bumped iBooks and G4 systems shipped with various updated versions of Mac OS 9; some have 9.02, some have 9.03. But given the fact that Apple's preparing Mac OS 9.04 for release, apparently those lesser updates missed a few bugs. Like, say, the disk-eating "Preserve memory contents" bug, perhaps?

But don't worry, because all sources are currently saying, "this time, for sure!" (Okay, yeah, we heard that about Pismo six or eight times, but we've got a good feeling about this one.) Mac OS Rumors currently reports that Mac OS 9.04 has officially hit "Golden Master" status, and should be available as a free download by Monday. Why should you believe the rumors this time? We'll tell you why: because some people have already downloaded the long-awaited update. Yes, someone at Apple evidently jumped the gun somewhere, because some readers are reporting to MacInTouch that Mac OS 9's Software Update control panel automatically downloaded and installed 9.04 on their systems. Christmas comes early this year to a lucky few...

If you're experiencing acute déjà vu right about now, we can't say we're surprised. Apple is just continuing a long-standing precedent of accidentally making software updates available before the "official" ship date. Last May, Mac OS 8.6 showed up unannounced on one of Apple's FTP servers days before the official release, and then disappeared just as quietly once word got out. And there was also that incident when QuickTime 4.1 arrived three weeks too early on one of Apple Europe's servers. The uncharitable among you might chalk these incidents up to incompetence, but we prefer to think of it as an unannounced "early access" program, intended to reward the vigilant. Keep watching the skies, and maybe someday you'll get Mac OS 9.1 a week before the rest of us.

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What, No Office 98®? (3/23/00)

Let's face it-- while the Apple Store is certainly no slouch, it's also not what we'd call a screaming sales success, either. There's one big reason to buy from the Apple Store-- build-to-order-- and a bunch of reasons why online shoppers might rather e-shop at MacMall or instead. For one thing, there's the issue of price. The Apple Store's prices are typically quite a bit higher than those of the other resellers, especially when you consider special deals and bundles. On top of that, the Apple Store charges sales tax for all orders, not just in-state ones, and then there are shipping charges on top of that. Finally, let's not forget about selection; while you'd have to be a dunce to expect lots of non-Apple merchandise from a site called the "Apple Store," the reality is that when people order a Mac, they may want to order lots of third-party peripherals and software at the same time-- and when it comes to such add-ons at the Apple Store, the pickings can be pretty slim.

At least, they used to be pretty slim. Things are improving pretty rapidly in the selection department these days; Apple's latest eNews mailing touts the Apple Store's newly-expanded software selection, so we figured we'd poke around and see what we could find. And we've got to admit, Apple's accumulated a fairly impressive array of software for shoppers to toss in their virtual carts. For instance, there are fourteen titles listed under the "Utilities" category, including the classic Norton Utilities, IBM's hit ViaVoice, and even Retrospect Express, so you can back up your new iMac to the built-in... uh... well, you can buy a USB Zip drive or SuperDisk in the "Accessories" section.

The "Creative" category lists ten titles, all of which come from Corel, Macromedia, or Apple itself. Notice a big name missing there? Here's a hint: it rhymes with "Schmadobe." So while you can buy DreamWeaver and FreeHand at the Apple Store, you'll have to get Photoshop somewhere else. Weird, huh? And strangely enough, no Microsoft titles grace the "Productivity" section, either. But at least the list of available games is fairly hefty-- fifteen titles, including the predictable heavy-hitters like Tomb Raider III, Quake 3: Arena, and Unreal Tournament. Overall, we give this expanded software selection a thumbs-up; it's not what we'd describe as a "veritable cornucopia of Mac software bliss," but it's a solid step forward, and one fewer reason not to buy a new Mac from the Apple Store.

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Barbarians At The Gate (3/23/00)

A week ago, we closed with a St. Patrick's Day cliffhanger, as the U.S. Army prepared itself for an announced hack attack by a Brazilian faction of cyber-vandals calling themselves the "Crime-Boy's." For those of you who need to catch up, here's the Soap Opera Digest version: last year, the Army's web site was hacked, so the folks in charge replaced their notoriously leaky Windows NT web server with a much more secure Mac running WebSTAR. All seemed well, until early last week, when the "Crime-Boy's" managed to alter a couple Army web sites-- however, the sites they vandalized were lesser pages still running on other NT servers; the home page hosted on the Mac held strong. And that's when the threat came in: the "Crime-Boy's" vowed to hack the main Army site on St. Patrick's Day.

So the Army took some precautions. They called for Eric Zelenka, a member of StarNine's WebSTAR team, who flew in to make sure that the Army's Mac was configured properly. The only change he made to the system involved "increasing the Data Cache allocations"; otherwise, everything was ship-shape. So Friday came, and the world held its breath. The AtAT staff periodically checked the Army home page during the "window of attack," and it continued to function normally throughout the day. In fact, the news articles on the main page were even updated a couple of times, proving that the Army webmasters carried on with their normal daily tasks, as the "Crime-Boy's" failed to penetrate the Mac's defenses.

So hooray for the Mac, and three cheers for WebSTAR! Needless to say, StarNine (and its new parent company, ACI) are trumpeting this victory for all it's worth. On Thursday they issued a press release, "WebSTAR Secure Where Others Fail," which details the repelled attack and links to a few news stories that covered the (non-)event. But the price of security is eternal vigilance, and ACI knows that; "It is gratifying to know that WebSTAR has been able to withstand this attack on the U.S. Army site, but we also know there are hackers out there who will see WebSTAR as a challenge. That is why we are committed to maintaining the most secure server product possible to protect against future attacks." Amen.

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