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Last week we heard the first bit of a rumor that Apple was going to buy Outbound Systems, makers of the Outbound Laptop, a small, light Mac-compatible portable. At the time it seemed to be a reasonable move, but a NewsBytes article on America Online said that both Apple and Outbound denied any deals. Waiting a week proved to be vital for the story though, as Apple and Outbound recently announced that Apple will buy the technology used in the Outbound portable. The deal works two ways. Apple buys the technology from Outbound and doesn't sue Outbound for intellectual property infringement (how pleasant of Apple Legal). In return, Outbound gets money, the right to sell its laptop, and licenses the technology back from Apple. It's a strange world out there in Lawyerland.
Everyone who heard about the deal felt that it was a move by Apple to replace the heavy Mac Portable without having to spend more on research and development. The next Apple portable is probably a year or two off, now, since there is less reason for Apple to push it out quickly. The deal gives Outbound more credibility, but the Outbound laptop may still need to have a multi-colored Apple logo on it to sell well. Outbound doesn't have the market penetration (gads, now I'm talking like an MBA) and dealer network that Apple has.
Perhaps the most interesting possibility that could come out of this deal is that Outbound would be allowed to license the Apple ROMs. If so, the Outbound laptop would be the first Mac-compatible machine and might lead the way to other, carefully-chosen licensees. Allowing Outbound to use the ROMs would make the laptop more attractive, because you wouldn't have to cannibalize the ROM chips from an SE or Plus. My only concern with the Outbound is that its IsoPoint controller is not as easy to use as the well-designed trackball in Apple's Portable.
The Outbound laptop will be better than ever in August, when Outbound Systems will release an upgrade to the operating system, an external floppy drive for $349, an external SCSI adapter that connects to SCSI devices and can even treat the laptop's hard disk and RAM disk as a SCSI storage device for another Mac.
Apple Computer -- 408/974-2202
Outbound Systems -- 303/786-9200
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS editor
Christopher Escher -- Apple Computer
Matthew T. Russotto -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Aaker -- aaker@Apple.COM
Richard Fozzard -- fozzard@boulder.Colorado.EDU
John Starta -- starta@tosh.UUCP
MacWEEK -- 31-Jul-90, Vol. 4, #26, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 30-Jul-90, Vol. 12 #31, pg. 8
PC WEEK -- 30-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #30, pg. 1
Macintosh computers have never been error free, much like any other set of mechanical devices. The most recent problems have had to do with the SuperDrives and with IIcx/ci power supplies. Conscientious people have helped pin down the causes of these problems and posted the fixes on Usenet.
The SuperDrives have had problems from the very beginning, although the furor has died down a bit recently. Part of the problem was that people were formatting disks inappropriately. However, the problems still persist. Arthur Hills of the University of Waterloo took a disciplined approach to the problem and found that different disks often had the same bad blocks (checking with SUM TuneUp), and if more than one bad block was found, the separation of the bad blocks was a multiple of 36 (don't know the units). Needless to say, this sort of regularity with errors is odd. After long communications with the Apple Technical Response Group in Toronto and Kao Didak, the disk manufacturer, the following became clear.
Apple has shipped two different types of floppy drives, an early version with a green controller board and later version with a blue controller board. The green controller board lacks a phase-lock-loop circuit to regulate the speed of the drive. This circuit is important because it guarantees a specific rotational speed within 1%. Without the phase-lock-loop circuit the rotational speed can vary greatly. If bits are written at different speeds than they are read at later, it appears to the computer that the bit has shifted, which can causes cyclic redundancy check (CRC) errors. A similar problem can occur if you take a disk written in one Mac to another whose drive is faster or slower. The fix is of course to replace the drives with new drives with the blue controller board. So if you have problems, try checking your disks with SUM TuneUp and if you can document the problem, you may be able to get your drive replaced. Of course, buying SUM will cost at least $100, so it may be easier to just get a new drive.
The second problem is a bit stranger. Robin Goldstone reports that some IIcx and IIci machines will sometimes fail to turn on with either of the switches. The probability of experiencing startup problems is higher if the system has been turned off overnight, strangely enough. The simple fix is to unplug the power cord from the Mac for more than 10 seconds and then plug it back in. Apple says that if the Mac doesn't start up properly after the unplugging trick, the power supply should be replaced. If you are having these problems and you have a power supply in one of the following ranges, you should give your friendly local Apple dealer a call and sound pitiful. According to the posting, the serial number ranges are "GE924xxxxxxx through GE953xxxxxxx AND/OR GE001xxxxxxx through GE023xxxxxxx" [sic]. Of course, there may be others as well.
Apple has fixed the problem ("Oh, yeah, we should've put a resistor across capacitor C9 and jumper wire on the control board. Details details.") and all the good power supplies now have a white dot adjacent to the Molex output connector, should you happen to know what a Molex output connector looks like. I wouldn't if it hit me in the nose. Apple is working on a Customer Satisfaction Program, so if you have this problem but don't have one of the above serial numbers please call your dealer and ask for satisfaction. This is the sort of thing that Apple should replace because it is mind-numbingly frustrating and an opportunity to win some customer loyalty with good service.
Arthur Hills -- email@example.com
Robin Goldstone -- firstname.lastname@example.org
As the high end of the Macintosh line rises, it has begun to bump into the low end of the so-called workstations from companies like Sun, HP, IBM, and NeXT. Sun just introduced a new model of their popular SPARCstation, the IPC (for InterPersonal Computer - sounds vaguely kinky to us, a computer go-between :-)) that is moving down into the personal computer range. A bit on terminology first. There is a big difference between a personal computer like an Apple II and a Sun SPARCstation. However, there is little difference between a SPARCstation and Macintosh IIfx running A/UX these days, making the terms personal computer and workstation rather ambiguous. The difference seems to be related to the type of use these things are put to. Macs and PC-clones, even the high end ones, are general purpose computers. There are thousands of programs to do many things and they are marketed to general users. On the other hand, SPARCstations and NeXTs and IBM's RISC 6000 computers are limited purpose computers. They do several things very well, better than general purpose computers in most cases, but many other actions require significant effort. They are not marketed to the general public even when their prices place them in that price range, partly because they usually run Unix, which is not a simple operating system even when buffered by a graphical interface. Put it this way. There isn't a SunConnection or NeXTConnection yet.
Nonetheless, Sun is slumming a bit with the IPC. It comes with a 207 megabyte hard disk, eight megabytes of RAM, a 16" color monitor, built-in EtherNet, two slots, two serial ports, and a 3.5" drive. Sounds like a nice Mac IIfx system, no? All that has a list price of a mere $9995, but educational prices drop significantly to $5997. The price is one thing, but the IPC really crosses to the other side of the tracks with its DOS emulator, which can run programs such as Lotus 1-2-3, Wingz, and WordPerfect if you don't want to reap the benefits of buying the SPARC-specific versions.
We're not running out to get one though, at least not until we see what NeXT comes out in September. The new machines from NeXT will both use the Motorola 68040, include 2.88 megabyte floppy disks, 100 megabyte hard disks, and will have the optical drive as an option. The main difference between them will be size and color, with the low end machine ($5000) (which is still a medium-end price in our book) forsaking the cube look for a pizza box style and the high end machine ($10,000) including 32-bit color graphics and Renderman technology.
Joel Conklin, Sun Microsystems -- 315/445-0390
Joel Conklin -- email@example.com
Adam C. Engst & Tonya Byard -- TidBITS editors
InfoWorld -- 30-Jul-90, Vol. 12 #31, pg. 1
PC WEEK -- 30-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #30, pg. 1
Some time ago a letter to the editor of MacWEEK complained about the amount of attention that was being paid to screen savers. The author of the letter felt that screen savers were a patent waste of time and MacWEEK should put its energies into more productive pursuits. "All work and no play..." seems to apply here, Jack. Screen savers are the perfect example of a necessary utility that can be interesting and fun as well. Computer screens that are left on the same picture (such as the Finder) for long periods of time will burn that image into the phosphor leaving a ghost image behind. It takes some time for this to happen, but it is disconcerting to work with once the phosphor has burned. I experience it mostly in my work with PC-clones that have lived through too much Lotus 1-2-3, so no matter what you do, the spirit of 1-2-3 lurks in the background reminding you of the machine's ethereal past. (Gives me the creeps!)
John Lim's Moire was the first screen saver to put interesting patterns on the screen, although Mac screen savers from the very beginning had been able to display pictures at random spots on the screen. Moire was the first addictive screen saver, though. We knew people in college who would become entranced by the Moire patterns and stare blankly at the screen for up to half an hour before realizing a problem set was due. A professor friend even had to remove it from his machine because he would watch it instead of paying attention to a phone conversation, much to the consternation of his colleagues.
Since then Berkeley Systems has come out with After Dark and Fifth Generation responded with Pyro!, and Advanced Software should be releasing an as-yet-unnamed utility package from Andrew Welch (of FlashWrite and Black Box fame) soon, which includes a similar screen saver. All three are relatively similar in that they are screen saver shells and can thus accept any appropriate module. As of last count, After Dark sported 24 modules with Pyro! and Andrew Welch's package outfitted similarly.
Berkeley Systems is escalating the screen saver wars with version 2.0 of After Dark, due out at Macworld Expo. Version 2.0 will include sound, so thunder can accompany the lightning bolts, increased password protection, support for the Notification Manager, on-line help for each module, and SystemIQ, which monitors the system activity, slowing down or speeding up After Dark to match the system load. The new modules will be the main difference though. From Tom & Ed's Bogus Software comes Fish!, and it will be accompanied by Flying Toasters (we suspect it's something in the drinking water that inspires these), MultiModule for displaying more than one module at a time (I like the worms eating Starry Skyline personally), a PICS Player for playing animations made with multimedia packages, and Satori, from Ben Haller of Solarian II fame. The upgrade will be $5 for recent purchasers (after June 1) and $14.95 for others and people upgrading from another package. The list price is still $39.95.
We have heard nothing from the Pyro! folks, but we recently saw a beta version of Andrew Welch's new utility package. It includes a screen saver with at least as many modules as After Dark along with 7 other mostly cdev-based utilities. Included are a cdev to provide command key equivalents to the buttons in dialog boxes, much like CE Software's DialogKeys and a NeXT-like icon dock along with the others.
Berkeley Systems -- 415/540-5536
Advanced Software -- 800/346-5392 (Jeff or Larry)
Fifth Generation -- 800/873-4384 -- 504/291-7221
Bruce Burkhalter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Hodas -- email@example.com
Frank Malczewski -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob S. -- email@example.com.COM
Dennis Cohen -- firstname.lastname@example.org.GOV
Leonard Rosenthol -- email@example.com.COM
MacWEEK -- 31-Jul-90, Vol. 4, #26, pg. 35
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