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Apple Bites January 16, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Technology.
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A few weeks before the holidays, I’d experienced a host of problems at the office with my trusty old Powerbook.

First there was the matter of being unable to change my network settings. While trying to select the appropriate network profile — because I maintain several, for good order — I was greeted by an error message indicating that my network settings had “been changed by another application” (see above). I thought it was just a minor glitch at first, only to discover that clicking “ok” wouldn’t dismiss the dialogue box. It would keep on popping back up, leaving me unable to select or alter my network preferences.

It goes without saying I grew very worried very quickly. Indeed, the unthinkable crossed my mind: could it be a virus? I did some research and found that it wasn’t. But it was something equally irritating: the culprit was a system update that I finally got around to installing, which for reasons I still cannot comprehend is actually known to cause just this problem. Naturally, my reaction was a mix of relief and annoyance, more so upon finding out that the known solution to the problem required a bit of tinkering around. Ordinarily I’d have taken the time to apply the fix, but given that I was working on several things at the time — not the least of which was my dissertation — and didn’t want to rock the boat only to risk regretting it later, I decided I’d rather live with the problem by working around it.

Sometime thereafter I began to receive complaints from people that they couldn’t open attachments I’d sent over. Offhand, I thought this was a real world case of “Hello I’m a Mac / And I’m a PC”, but it was actually a little more complicated than that. It so happened that the recipients of my emails had received attachments apparently renamed and without their file extensions.

This was an issue: Had my email account been hacked? Was someone messing around with my email? After some snooping around, I discovered that there was a deus ex machina at work. See, I use my Mac’s Mail application to download and send my email via Gmail, which for the most part has been quite reliable over the years. Yet it would appear that the Gmail team has altered the mail service code such that the filenames of attachments containing spaces get truncated at the first space, hence the “renamed” files with no extensions. What’s odd, however, is that the problem only seems to manifest itself if the recipient works on a Windows computer. It’s my understanding that viewed from a Mac, the filenames retain their extensions and can thus be opened by the appropriate program. On Windows PCs they don’t, making it a hassle to explain to the person on the other end exactly what s/he should use to access the file.

Fine: in the ordinary course of business, it’s inevitable that one will experience computer trouble, whether these be hardware- or software-related. No problem with that. But from my standpoint, the fundamental reason why I switched to a Mac in the first place is because it operates much more simply and (more importantly) plays nice with Windows, even if the opposite is not entirely true. Yet when it ceases to play nice, more so for reasons caused by their very developers (it was an Apple Software Update, dammit!) or due to changes that occur behind the scenes (Et tu, Gmail?) it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Yes, it’s quite sobering to realize that when my computer has a bad day at the office, I do as well.

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