CD Unseen?

As most Macworld readers probably know, the same CD-ROM that’s available with newsstand copies of our magazine is also available online so that subscribers can access it as well. And if you don’t know about the virtual CD, you really should check it out. We provide you with shareware, software downloads, interviews and a lot of other cool stuff that will help you get more out of your Mac. There’s a new URL for the CD each month—our way of making sure it remains a perk for our subscribers—which you’ll find in the magazine table of contents printed in eye-catching red type.

Now, as with any human endeavor, occasionally problems arise, and a handful of readers report difficulties getting their hands on the virtual CD. Fair enough—we’re here to help. But occasionally, we get e-mails like the one below that prove to be quite the puzzlers:

I have NEVER been able to get your (MY?) CD that I’m paying for. Why? I’m using a 2.5 dual with Safari. Where is the disk? Why are you hiding it? Put it someplace else so I can download it like a normal file like hundreds and thousands of files I have downloaded. An FTP directory. A NORMAL web page with NORMAL html and links.

What’s puzzling here isn’t the solution to this reader’s problem—we think we have that figured out, which we’ll get into shortly. Rather, the puzzling thing is the e-mail was sent from an anonymous@anonymizer.com account.

Anonymizer.com is an online privacy service that, among other things, allows you to send e-mail that conceals your identity. Your name, e-mail address, anything that might identify who you are—it all gets stripped out. Which is great if your primary concern is privacy, but not-so hot-so if you’re expecting to receive any sort of reply to your troubleshooting request. So far as I can tell, any response sent to an anonymous e-mail address like the one above will simply disappear into the ether.

Anyhow, here’s what I’d tell our anonymous friend if I could reply to his e-mail (or, on the off chance that he’s a regular visitor to Macworld.com): when you type in the CD URL—say, http://cd.macworld.com/2004/12/duck-belt for the December 2004 virtual CD—the first thing our page does is use JavaScript to check what browser you’re using; once that’s checked, you’re forwarded to the right frameset. If you have JavaScript disabled, you won’t be able to view the CD or its contents, since you’ll never get forwarded to the right page. I suspect that disabled JavaScript is what’s bedeviling our anonymous friend. (In fact, I’m almost sure of it, since my cursory research on Anonymizer.com indicates that early versions of its Web-surfing service automatically shut down JavaScript to keep all online movement hidden.)

So what’s the takeaway message in all this? Three things that I can see:

  • The Macworld Virtual CD is a great resource that’s available to anyone with a subscription to the magazine.
  • If you’re having trouble accessing the CD, check to make sure that you didn’t disable JavaScript.
  • While keeping your online identity private and safe from unscrupulous characters is certainly a valid concern, there’s always the risk of keeping yourself too protected, particularly if you’re shutting yourself off from troubleshooting assistance.
  
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