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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....




Using VersionMaster To Find Mac Programs
September 22nd, 1999

There are so many things going on at The Mac Observer right now. My column has a new name; The Idiots column has a new name (Wasting Time With The Idiots). The magazine has a whole new layout and features are being added all the time. It is really an exciting time to be part of the whole Mac world in general and with The Mac Observer in particular. One new feature that I have wanted to check out is The Mac Observer's VersionMaster. This is a service and a program combined that provides all the necessary information on all the latest Mac software releases. I've talked about other similar sites in the past but I have to say that The Mac Observer's VersionMaster is superior to the other ones in several ways.

Because of a special arrangement between The Mac Observer and VersionMaster, the system is automatically available to you as soon as you open the magazine. You don't have to go elsewhere on the internet to tap into it. That may not matter to folks with high speed cable internet access, but to the rest of us mere mortals it does make a difference when each site you visit takes more than 5 minutes to download. VersionMaster is available to you on two levels. The first level of service is as a way of finding new and existing Mac applications. The second level of service is as a downloadable program that will actually scan your hard drive and tell you if any of the programs you have can be updated. The first level does not require you to download anything and again, to some of us that is really important. So while you have the option of loading the program it is not something that you have to do. Another bonus of either service is that you only get information on Mac related products without having to wade through any Windows stuff.

Updates

The information available to you through The Mac Observer is updated every 20 minutes. I'm not kidding. I must admit that if someone had suggested to me that there was so much development going on that new programs emerge every 20 minutes I probably would have been fairly skeptical. However, when I think about it, that is not really the point. It is, rather, that you can know every 20 minutes IF there is something new out there. After all, those of us who were willing to wait a week or more for a letter to arrive now get impatient when something takes 5 minutes to download. The Mac Observer even lists the most current 10 items available so you don't have to do anything to see what is new except read.

Features

Aside from that, the system itself has a great deal to offer. When you open the site you see an expanded list of the 20 most recent additions with the date of creation and a brief summary of what the program does. You can click on the column on the far right and get more information or you can click on the column on the far left for what I think is absolutely the best feature of VersionMaster. The links on the far left take you straight to the producer of the program and you can download directly from them. This not only gives you instant information about the creator, it also gives you additional information about the program; and you don't have to go through several steps to download like you do on some of the other sites that offer a fruit basket of programs. I found a few listings that did not have a direct link to a manufacturer. When I checked with the VersionMaster staff I learned that occurs because one is not provided to them. If that happens you should be able to click on one of the other links included by VersionMaster to track down the program.

If you know for sure that you want a particular program because you have been chomping at the bit waiting for it to come out, then you can click on the second column and instantly download the program.

Searching

There are three ways to search for things. There is a pop-up menu that offers you the option of searching by specific name, description, or notes. Description works well when I put in general topics such as games, calendars, print, etc. Notes wasn't quite as clean. I had to massage my wording a bit to be directed where I really wanted to go.

Check Your Programs

The second level available to you from VersionMaster is more of a specialized service, but again, it is both unique and extremely helpful. This is particularly true if you don't have a lot of time to spare.

To take advantage of this second level of service you must actually download the program to your computer which you can do directly from The Mac Observer link. VersionMaster charges for this service, but it is only $19.95 a year. What it does is check all the programs and such that you have on your machine and then tells you, with whatever frequency you designate, whether or not you have the most current version. If you don't have the most current version then it will tell you how the newer version differs from the one you have and allows you to link directly to either a direct download site or the manufacturer of the product. There are easy to follow directions and icons that pop up as soon as you open the program. Everything on my computer was identified with the exception of a couple of games that I purchased in a store some time ago (3 years or so). I checked out the system, based on my machine, and everything worked like a champ. I have about 45 different items that are not the most current. I also found out that I had two complete versions of the same program, one a 2.0 and the other a 3.0. Both were taking up room on my hard drive that I can't afford to squander. I think this is a very helpful service and certainly reasonable at under $20 a year.

Helpful Links

The 10 Most Recently Released Mac Programs (in the left hand column).

The Mac Observer's VersionMaster

Download the VersionMaster Program

Final Thoughts and Information Related to Making Web Pages

If you utilized the web site I recommended for making counters for your web pages, (www.boingdragon.com), or if you plan to do so, be aware of a problem they are experiencing. It seems that someone hacked into the site and vandalized it. Existing counters will not show up on your page and you can't make any new ones until it gets fixed. The author of the site is working to fix the problems and the site will be back on line soon.

Apparently I committed something of a faux pas with one of my web page recommendations. Sort of violating the internet rule of good manners as it were. (Note: Vandalizing another persons site seems to me to be bad manners too, but what do I know.) Actually, amending this will probably make your web page work better because you won't be so dependent on other's sites. This pertains to adding graphics to your page. (NOTE: this does not apply for the counters. Leave them connected as a link so they will work.) If you looked at my page (www.angelfire.com/nc2/texas) you saw an animated graphic in which a little green snake spells out welcome. In my original directions I told you to link to the site to a add a graphic. For my example I told you to do it like this to use and center the graphic:

<div align="center"><IMG SRC=http://www.barrysclipart.com/tony/animated/image/snakwel.gif></div><br>

A better recommendation is to go to the site and click on whatever graphic you want, animated or not. For example when I went to Barry's Clip Art site I found the graphic I wanted on a page with several other choices. Click on the choice you want and when it comes up on a page by itself then hold the mouse button down on the graphic. A pop-up box will appear and you can choose save. When you do so, the graphic will be saved to your machine at the place you designate, such as your desktop. Then go into the Create/Edit option on your Angelfire site (see columns from September 2nd and September 8th) Go down to the box that allows you to browse and upload. Click on browse and then on desktop (or wherever you saved the graphic) and click on the name of the graphic. In my case the name of the graphic is labeled snakewel.gif. Click on save or open and the name of the graphic will appear in the box beside the word browse. Then click on upload. The graphic will show up in the box that lists your pages. It does not matter if it is a GIF or a JPEG file. Either one works fine. It will look something like this:

images/snakwel.gif.

Then go to the Create/Edit button and open the correct page. Determine where you want the graphic and enter it in this manner:

<div align="center"><IMG SRC="images/snakwel.gif"></div><br>

This does take more steps but it is politically correct and it has the tremendous advantage to you of not having to rely on another site being up, and to the program provider of not having his or her site tied up with sending your graphic every time someone opens your web page.

I recommended previously that you use <p> to start new lines or skip lines. I made a web page for my sister last week end and I discovered that it works much better to use <br> for those simple steps. There is less chance that you will create a problem for yourself elsewhere on the page. Think of <br> as being the same as a carriage return on a typewriter and use it at times when you would ordinarily use a carriage return.

I still want to see those web pages when you get them finished. The ones I have seen so far are great and I appreciate the authors sharing their addresses with me.

If you have any tips, suggestions, or other comments about this, or any other Mac topics, send them to me so that I can share them with other readers.


Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.


Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.


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