I'm finally processing my stack of information from Macworld Boston, and I wanted to write about some of the products that I liked the most when there, not because they improve your bottom line or productivity, but because they improve your mood. The Mac is fun, or at least it should be, and these products help keep it that way. Anyone who doesn't think the Mac should be fun should go futz with A/UX on an Apple Workstation Server 95. That should be a load of laughs.
Screenies -- I kept dragging friends over to see Screenies, since they are small, simple, and use no RAM. They can't crash your Mac, and depending on your configuration, might even be useful.
Screenies are cardboard screen frames that attach to the edge of a monitor with velcro. That may be the worst part - I don't know if you can easily remove the velcro if you don't want the Screenie any more. They come in two sizes, one for 14" monitors (those fit 13" and 15" monitors as well) and one for 9" monitors (although in fewer designs), and 51 different designs, many created by well-known artists. I can't do the range of designs justice, but you can probably find at least one you like. I especially liked the Etch-a-Sketch and the Retro TV Screenies.
Two Screenies are more than decorative - a corkboard and a dry erase whiteboard. Given the number of people who stick notes to their monitors, I suspect the whiteboard in particular will be popular.
Screenies cost about $12 for big ones and $10 for little ones (prices may vary), and should be available from many stores, including CompUSA, Egghead, and many non-computer vendors. You can also call and ask for the location of a local reseller, and if even order one over the phone (although short of the corkboard or the whiteboard, you would want to pick one out in person). Recommended.
Screenies -- 800/959-6190 -- 707/939-6060 -- 707/939-6065 (fax)
The Disney Collection -- Berkeley Systems continues to fight off the advent of power-saving monitors with collections of modules for their After Dark screen saver, and the latest one is certainly worth a look if you're a module collector.
The Star Trek collection didn't excite me because animating the Star Trek characters resulted in stiff, odd-looking renditions of real people and special effects. In contrast, The Disney Collection works well since the characters are animated to begin with, so converting them to onscreen animations fits perfectly. The modules I saw at the show looked slick and well-done. There's a Goofy module in which he messes around with items on your desktop, a Fantasia module with Mickey Mouse and the animated broom, a module in which Donald Duck paints the screen while being lowered from a swing, and a cute one with 101 Dalmations reversing out of a white screen and leaving black silhouettes and... you'll have to see it. Also included among the 15 modules are modules from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, both of which are too recent for my Disney cultural knowledge.
Like the Star Trek Collection, the Disney Collection comes with After Dark, so you don't need to buy it separately, but if you have After Dark already, the modules will work fine. The list price (not that many people pay it) is $49.95, and the Disney Collection is slated to ship at the end of September.
Berkeley Systems -- 510/540-5535
UnderWare -- Continuing on to the latest take on screen savers, we hit UnderWare, which, in its less-interesting modes, can act as a screen saver (compatible with most After Dark modules) or as a Wallpaper-like desktop pattern utility. Where UnderWare shines though, is in the time between when you stop working and when the screen saver kicks in. UnderWare provides over 30 modules that run in "dynamic desktop" mode, interacting with the icons and windows on your desktop.
Like the Goofy module I mentioned above, the UnderWare modules interact in an often-hilarious manner with desktop objects. The modules include icons that sprout legs and run off the screen, a burglar who tunnels into your Mac and steals chips, butterflies that fly around and land on icons, a fire-breathing dragon that melts your trash can, a wizard that zaps icons, and a garbage truck that drives onto the screen and empties your trash (although I don't think it deletes anything).
The slightly confusing part of UnderWare is that the propaganda says that it runs while you work. That's not exactly true. It kicks in quickly after the Mac goes idle (and I think you can set that delay) so that you can enjoy its displays, but it's not slowing things down as you type.
Like any good screen saver-type utility, UnderWare provides a configurable system activity monitor that checks for network access or modem usage. UnderWare is a Control Panel and requires less than 100K of the system heap, although it does require at least a 68020 Macintosh with Color QuickDraw and System 7. UnderWare will ship in September at a list price of $59.95. Definitely worth a look.
Bit Jugglers -- 415/968-3908 -- 415/968-5358 (fax)
Crazy Covers -- If you work in a dusty environment, you've probably thought about covering your Mac. If you have ever cracked the case of an elderly SE and been assaulted by dust bunnies with the size and personality of warthogs, you've definitely thought about covering your Mac. Crazy Covers makes a variety of covers from Tyvek, a strange, durable material that definitely never came from anything living. Crazy Covers has a ton of designs, and although they aren't as neat as the designs on the Screenies, they're better than plain white. You can choose from one of their pre-existing designs, such as a jungle, an ocean, a globe, a polar bear, a Woody Jackson-ish cow motif, and various Apple logos, or you can have them custom print any design you send them. A custom cover could be a neat advertising gimmick, although they're a bit pricey to be a Macworld giveaway, ranging in price from about $10 to about $30. Crazy Covers donates a portion of the proceeds from the jungle, ocean, and globe designs to environmental organizations.
Crazy Covers -- 800/624-1404 -- 802/463-1404
SimCity 2000 -- The game that has held my interest the longest (and which Tonya plays on the PowerBook 100 when she's sick) is SimCity from Maxis. For us at least, it has the elements necessary to hold attention beyond even the other Sim games like SimEarth, SimAnt, and SimLife (which I actually haven't seem). The next major release in the Sim line should be SimCity 2000, which is an impressive upgrade to SimCity Classic (as it will now be called).
SimCity 2000 takes the city simulation concepts in SimCity Classic and expands on them in almost every way. Instead of a single overhead view, you can display your city in three dimensions and at three magnification levels. Moving up from the 16-color graphics in SimCity Classic, SimCity 2000 supports 256-color graphics, a noticeable difference. Instead of creating only roads and railroads, you can create roads, highways, tunnels, on-ramps, and bus depots, and of course the mass transit equivalents - underground subways and rail depots. Energy simulation has expanded as well, so instead being limited to coal or nuclear power plants, SimCity 2000 lets you experiment with coal, nuclear, solar, cold fusion, hydroelectric, wind, gas, oil, microwave beam, and solar power plants. Outdoor recreation for the Sims should prove more interesting in SimCity 2000 with its parks, zoos, stadiums, and marinas. Other features include (reading from the propaganda - the program was barely in stable alpha or beta at the show) 64 levels of altitude (and you can raise or lower the ground level), an underground level for waterworks and subways, variable sized zones, more city services, built-in terrain editor, a local newspaper for event updates and citizen feedback, angled roads, musical soundtrack, and brand new disasters.
Put it this way. I want this program. Maxis claims they will ship it with some real-life cities built-in, and I hope they do Seattle, with its massive debates raging over mass transit issues. If not, I may create a Seattle simulation, just to satisfy my own curiosity about how some of the transit plans might work out.
SimCity 2000 will list for $69.95 when it ships late this year. They had no firm date when I asked, but I'm sure it will be in the stores for Christmas. Watch for SimCity 2000 - it will be a winner. You might also look for SimFarm sometime soon, and having grown up on a farm, I'll definitely have some opinions on that one.
Maxis -- 800/336-2947 -- 510/254-9700 -- 510/253-3736 (fax)