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TidBITS#03/30-Apr-90

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Copyright 1990 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


Lasers in the Jungle...

Apple's low-end printers have never been much to write home about, but that may change soon. MacWEEK quotes sources at Apple saying that the company plans to introduce two new laser printers, the Personal LaserWriter SC and the Personal LaserWriter NT by mid-summer. Officially, though, Apple isn't admitting anything. The new lasers are expected to provide an attractive alternative to the Hewlett Packard LaserJet IIP, which retails for $1495 but can be found for under $1000. The Personal LaserWriter SC should retail for around $2100 while the Personal LaserWriter NT will cost about $3300.

It would seem that the LaserJet IIP is significantly cheaper than the Personal LaserWriter NT, but adding PostScript and its required extra memory as well as an AppleTalk port to the IIP raises its price significantly. In addition, HP has yet to ship its recently-announced PostScript cartridge. Not to be outdone by HP, Apple will include LaserJet emulation in the Personal LaserWriter NT.

The Personal LaserWriter SC will replace the current LaserWriter II SC, but will suffer from the same problems in printing. To obtain non-jaggy text from the LaserWriter II SC (and the new Personal LaserWriter SC), users must either use a font scaling utility like Adobe's ATM or QMS's Font Freedom or put up with storing fonts four times larger than those printed out. Of course, System 7.0's TrueType should also help, but the realistic release date has slipped to late 1990.

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-May-90, Vol. 4, #17, pg. 1
MacWEEK -- 26-Jun-90, Vol. 4, #24, pg. 1
MacWEEK -- 10-Jul-90, Vol. 4, #25, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 02-Jul-90, Vol. 12 #27, pg. 5
MacWEEK -- 31-Jul-90, Vol. 4, #26, pg. 4

Flipper Color Monitor

Not content to let Radius pivot on its laurels, Personal Computer Peripherals Corp. announced the Flipper, a 17" color monitor that can change from portrait to landscape orientation. Unlike the Radius monitor, though, the Mac must be restarted when the monitor is flipped. With a list price of $2495 the Flipper is significantly more expensive than the Radius Pivot, which retails for $1690 ($995 for the monitor, $695 for the card). However, the Flipper may be the only color full-page display available. It boasts a 72 dpi resolution and a fast refresh rate of 75 Hz. Neither the Pivot nor the Flipper come with video cards for the SE or the Plus, but both support the SE/30 along with Mac II class machines.

As much as the ability to change orientation is useful, the simple fact that the Flipper is a full page display (or very close, anyway) that includes color should make it popular with desktop publishers who require color and prefer a full page display.

PCPC -- 800/622-2888 -- 813/884-3092
Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-May-90, Vol. 4, #17, pg. 4

Double Your Pleasure

Raymond Lau's StuffIt rules supreme, but the new version of DiskDoubler from Salient may advance into StuffIt's domain. DiskDoubler 2.0 costs $79 (up $20 from the price of the previous version), but registered users will be rewarded with free upgrades. In return for the price hike DiskDoubler compresses files up to 250% faster and up to 200% smaller than StuffIt. The feature list continues, however. DiskDoubler works transparently in the standard open file dialog box. When a user selects a Nisus file, say, that has been compressed with DiskDoubler, it will be automatically decompressed and opened with no extra steps. Lest StuffIt users (and PackIt users, if they aren't extinct) feel left out, DiskDoubler can open both StuffIt and PackIt archives at a speed up to 250% faster than those programs. For maximum convenience, DiskDoubler can install another menu in the Finder so groups of files can be easily compressed or decompressed at any time. A free utility, DDExpand, allows anyone to decompress DiskDoubler files.

DiskDoubler's capabilities make it a convenient way to work with compressed files that has not been possible previously. Even with StuffIt's advances past PackIt, compressing and decompressing files is a multi-step process that is necessary but not particularly pleasant. If DiskDoubler lives up to its claims, everyone can store significantly more files on their hard disks. (Our hard disk is ready for this!) A feature not mentioned in the MacWEEK article that would make DiskDoubler more popular is transparent file compression on saving. PageMaker users would be especially pleased with this feature, given the size to which PageMaker files grow with seemingly little provocation. One caveat to all thisif files are compressed, the data contained in them will be harder to recover, if recovery is even possible, in the event of a disk crash.

Salient -- 415/852-9567
Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-May-90, Vol. 4, #17, pg. 5

Radio Free Macintosh

You've heard of MicroTV, which provides a small TV screen in the corner of a Mac II display. Well, not to be left behind again, radio is coming to the Mac too. Mosaic Development Co. announced a product called SpectrumFM, a $295 NuBus radio board. The board comes with a TunerDA desk accessory which will provide the necessary interface to the radio, much as Apple's CD Remote interface allows users to listen to audio CDs on the Apple CD-ROM player. TunerDA will also allow unattended recording of radio programs much like a VCR, with the user setting the time, date, station, and length. The recordings will go to any standard tape recorder attached to the card. The MacWEEK article does not mention if it will be possible to capture sound from SpectrumFM into a Macintosh file for use with HyperCard or other programs. Such a capability would undoubtedly enhance the popularity of the board.

Perhaps more interesting than a simple radio in a Mac is what Mosaic calls "data broadcasting." Essentially, each radio station has a portion of its bandwidth that is not commonly used, called the subsidiary communications authorization (SCA). Using SCA, Mosaic hopes to offer services such as automatic information updating, directories of local-service providers, and paging services. Not mentioned in the article are more ambitious uses such as email and file sharing between users in the same area (CANscity-area networks could become popular). Radio-based networks have been set up, but they usually do not have the transmission power of a radio station behind their broadcasts.

Mosaic Development Co. -- 714/496-0881
Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-May-90, Vol. 4, #17, pg. 6
PC WEEK -- 20-Aug-90, Vol. 7 #33, pg. 49

PageBrush Hand Scanner

Scanners have recently become less expensive, but a good one will still set you back $1500 or so. Smaller hand-held scanners may be an affordable alternative, but they have suffered from a number of problems, most notably the difficulty of scanning straight (otherwise the straight lines in an image come out crooked). Users have also had trouble patching together two or more scans when one pass is not enough for an entire image.

Mouse Systems may have solved all these problems with its new PageBrush hand scanner, which is scheduled to ship in September. PageBrush provides on-the-fly image stitching, so multiple passes do not cause headaches for the user. The effect is much like wiping the steam off a bathroom mirror so the reflection gradually comes into view a piece at a time. PageBrush accomplishes this feat by incorporating two mice (PageBrush can actually double as a mouse, though it's unclear how useful it would be in that mode) and sophisticated software that keeps track of what parts of the image have been scanned.

The $795 scanner is driven by a NuBus card and requires at least 2 meg of RAM. It scans at resolutions from 75 dpi to 300 dpi and reads 64 grey levels. Of course the higher the resolution and the more grey scales you try to digitize, the slower the scan, ranging from two to four inches per second. The software saves images in MacPaint, PICT, TIFF, and EPS formats, and provides variable settings for resolution, grey scale, dithering patterns, and image type. Some image editing and painting tools are also included.

Mouse Systems -- 415/656-1117
Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 01-May-90, Vol. 4, #17, pg. 10

A Hardware Triple

File compression programs are fine (see Double Your Pleasure in this issue), but they suffer from slow speed and non-transparent (opaque?) operation. A new board for PC-clones will solve that problem by providing hardware data compression that can reduce file size an average of three times. InfoChip, a startup company in Santa Clara, California, hopes to have the first version of its board ready this spring. The $199 Expanz card intercepts all reads and writes and performs real-time compression and decompression. Since the board is faster than the storage devices, no slowdown will be noticed. Instead, disk accesses will be an average of three times as fast because an average of three times less data will be moving back and forth.

Expanz works with all forms of storage devices, but defaults to leaving files on removable media (such as floppy disks and removable cartridges) uncompressed because many people use them for file transfer to other machines that might not be equipped with an Expanz board. A final plus is that the compression routines are totally reliable, which allows the board to compress binary application files that cannot tolerate the loss of even one bit.

A total of 65 companies, including IBM, are considering using Expanz technology on the motherboards of future computers. No mention of Apple or a third-party Macintosh manufacturer was made, although it seems unlikely that the technology is limited to the PC. Such technology will not stop the lust for larger hard disks, but it should temporarily slow down the race for yet larger hard disks.

InfoChip Systems -- 408/727-0514
Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 30-Apr-90, Vol. 12, #18, pg. 1, 23
PC WEEK -- 30-Apr-90, Vol. 7, #17, pg. 13

J-Key Mouse

At the Special Interest Group for Computers and Human Interaction (SIGCHI), Home Row Inc. demonstrated the technology for a replacement for the standard mouse or trackball. The pointing device mounts under the "J" key on the keyboard and provides mouse functions. Rocking the "J" key provides directional information, and other keys can act as mouse buttons.

Unfortunately, the device is modal, so the user must keep the current mode in mind at all times. Otherwise, the device is ideal, especially for laptops, which have little room to spare for a mouse or trackball and for people who dislike moving their hands from the keyboard.

Some thought would have to be put into the final design, but a truly useful and space-saving mouse replacement would not be hard. In addition, it could be customized to individual users, so left-handed people could use the "F" key instead. Keytronic, of Spokane, Washington, has licensed the technology and a keyboard employing it may appear soon. Keytronic makes a Macintosh keyboard and might be looking for a feature to compete with Datadesk's Switchboard, which accepts a number of different keyboard modules. However, Keytronic also makes a keyboard for PC-clones that includes a touch sensitive digitizing pad that has never been ported to the Macintosh.

Keytronic -- 800/262-6006 -- 509/927-5515
Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 30-Apr-90, Vol. 12, #18, pg. 13
InfoWorld -- 03-Sep-90, Vol. 12, #36, pg. 21

Moving Up in the World

Apple kindly provides an upgrade path from the Macintosh SE to the Mac SE/30, which uses the same case. However, as people on Usenet have recently discovered, the upgrade is not as straightforward as one might hope. We at TidBITS discovered this the hard way recently as well and were forced to give up one of our floppy drives.

The SE comes in two basic configurations, two floppy drives or one floppy and a hard drive. The SE/30, in contrast, only has one internal floppy connector and only one hole in the front bezel, which is also replaced in the upgrade. So even though there is internal space for a second floppy, the space can only be used for a 3.5" hard drive. So if you had two floppy drives in your SE, only one of them can be retained when you upgrade. Of course, this difficulty only comes up if you elect not to upgrade to a SuperDrive along with the new motherboard. Just ask your dealer to make sure to return your spare drive and look for someone with a single drive Mac II/IIx/IIfx who wants another floppy drive.

Memory poses another problem. Dealers have to return an SE motherboard with exactly one meg of RAM on it, so if you have upgraded your memory, make sure to give the dealer your old 256K SIMMs, or if you have 2.5 megabytes of memory, make sure they know to move your one meg SIMMs to the SE/30. One person had four megabytes in his machine and expected to end up with five after the upgrade (as per a salesperson's explanation), but found that the dealer had taken the four 256K SIMMs from the SE/30 motherboard to return to Apple. A call to the dealer and the return of the original four SE SIMMs alleviated the problem.

Information from:
Adam Engst -- TidBITS editor
Chuck Boeheim -- Boeheim@slacvm.slac.stanford.edu
Brian Blood -- blood@aludra.usc.edu


TidBITS Changes

In response to a number of suggestions, several small changes have been made in the TidBITS stack. They will not transfer to the previous stacks already in your TidBITS Archive, but they will be present from now on.

First, there is an invisible button at the top of the screen which shows the menu bar when you move into it and hides the menu bar when you move out of it. Some people mentioned that this was annoying on a large screen. We don't have one and didn't notice. The button now checks to see if you have a large or small screen and only shows or hides the menu bar if you have a small screen. The same check happens at startup for automatically hiding the menu bar as well.

Second, the Delete Card button now has OK as the default because clicking the OK button was a pain for everyone, especially large screen users again. Now just hit Return to delete the card.

Third, just for your information, the Index button only has an effect after you have changed a title, added a card, or deleted a card. Sorry if it's misleading, but it will be integrated in the next major upgrade.

We are working on a major upgrade to the TidBITS stack, but it will some time before we send it out because we want a really well designed interface and data handling stack. We weren't expecting such an enthusiastic response and had designed and tested the current stack in a day or so.

Thank you for your support and please feel free to send us any suggestions or comments.

-Adam C. Engst
-Tonya Byard

Reviews/30-Apr-90

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