Those of you with PowerBooks would do well to check out a new utility from Connectix, called Connectix PowerBook Utilities, or CPU. I had a chance to use CPU because Seattle's dBUG kindly lent me a PowerBook 140, and I must say that I liked both a lot. Anyway, CPU addresses the four main differences between a PowerBook and a desktop Mac: security, the LCD screen, the trackball, and the battery.
Security and Avoiding Screen Ghosts -- CPU offers minimal but appropriate security. You can either create a graphic screen with a hot spot for resuming work after sleep or a create a message with a password. It doesn't try to exclude hackers, just casual prying eyes, and you can defeat it with a boot floppy, avoiding the forgotten password problem. LCD screens cannot burn in as such, but Roy MacDonald of Connectix explained that leaving the same screen on an LCD can cause a "memory effect" that results in a ghost that only disappears after the proper exorcism of leaving the PowerBook turned off for a few hours. We're not talking serious here, but potentially annoying, so the CPU screensaver merely flips the pixels so white is black and black is white. No flying toasters here. I suggested that they allow the screen to stay inverted since some people prefer the switch and it might save a little power. Perhaps in the next version.
Trackball Assistance -- I haven't had much trouble with the trackball, but I can see how some people would. So Connectix added the ability to have menus auto-drop when you move over them or drop and stay down with a single click (the MacHack entry StickyClick does this too, and you can find it on ZiffNet/Mac). More importantly, CPU provides access to menus using the keyboard and a system unfortunately graphically reminiscent of Windows with the hot key underlined. I'd far prefer a slightly different font or bolding, because underlines can be ugly, especially under a letter with a descender. I guess it's the standard method since there are so many copies of Windows out there, but that doesn't excuse it aesthetically.
Power Conservation -- CPU's most important features are its power saving features, and these abound. First, you can easily configure the times to spin down the hard drive, rest the processor, dim the backlighting, and put the PowerBook to sleep. Second, you can activate any of these power-saving measures with a hot-key, so I often shut down the hard drive when it wasn't doing anything because I enjoy working on a silent PowerBook. Third, CPU provides sleep corners, and a click in a sleep corner acts as a powerful sedative. When you wake up a CPU-enabled PowerBook, you don't have to wait for five to fifteen seconds, because Connectix figured out how to delay the polling of the ADB and the network that PowerBooks generally do when waking up. One additional touch that I especially appreciated was the spin-up cursor that indicated when the drive was spinning up since you can't do anything during that time. Finally, Connectix recognized that you use the PowerBook in different places, so you can create sets of settings, with - for example - settings for travelling, where power may be hard to find; for home, where you can plug in easily; and for running on wall power, at which point you don't need to conserve power.
Apple's software doesn't tell much about power levels, something which Connectix tries to rectify. You can set CPU to display a graphical battery draining, the percent of battery power left, an estimated amount of time you can use the machine, the processor speed, and those old favorites, the time and date. I like seeing this information, since it tells me more clearly when I should head for the plug. For those of you without CPU, Nisus Compact also includes a percent of battery left indication, and it and CPU even more or less agree.
Conclusion -- Enough on CPU, especially since I hear that After Hours Software will soon offer Guy's Utilities for Macintosh - PowerBook Edition (GUM-P, and yup, that means other editions will come soon), and what I've heard is good. Now if only we could work out a better acronym for Guy... Guy's Utilities for Macintosh PowerBooks Taken In and Out of .... Nebraska? :-) I talked to Guy briefly about GUM-P, and as far as I could tell, it has basically the same feature set as CPU, but includes a utility that can synchronize files between a desktop Mac and a PowerBook. I suspect you could put together a suite of shareware utilities that would provide some of the functionality of these packages, but you would risk more conflicts, due to the number of different extensions from different sources.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100
CPU propaganda and manual -- CONNECTIX@applelink.apple.com