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TidBITS#41/11-Feb-91

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The New Portable, Finally

This item snuck in just a few minutes before our deadline. Apple announced today that a new, backlit version of the Macintosh Portable is available to order. Unfortunately, the new backlighting reduces the battery life to between three and six hours. For those of you with Portables already, an upgrade consisting of a new screen and a ROM card will be available in early March. A few other changes have also been made, but the weight should remain about the same. The new model only comes with a 40MB hard drive and either two or four MB of RAM, expandable to eight meg. The new RAM is pseudo-static, which the original Portable can't use it, and the new Portable can't use the static RAM from the original model. Oh yeah, prices. The Feb-40 model will list for $4199 and the Apr-40 model will list for $4699. The screen upgrade will be pricey at $1095, but those active matrix screens are expensive. No idea what the real street or discount prices will be yet, sorry.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder -- mha@memory.uucp


FCCTalk

Back in October, we mentioned that Apple was talking to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) about opening up part of the radio spectrum and creating a new class of data communications,. Data Personal Communications Services, as Apple calls it. Apple recently filed the petition and called for computer communications to have about 40 MHz of bandwidth between 1850-1990 MHz. Apple wants that space for transmitting data at high speeds over short distances (the petition mentioned 10 megabits per second and 150 feet).

Apple understands that the radio spectrum doesn't have that much free space (the frequency requested by the petition requires current users to relocate), which is why the petition comes now, before Apple or any other company has announced a product that might use this frequency. Motorola's WIN (Wireless Inbuilding Network) is scheduled to ship February 11 at NetWorld in Boston, but it will use much higher frequencies, offer much greater speeds, and require an FCC license. In comparison, if the FCC approves Apple's petition, anyone will be able to manufacture and use wireless networking products in the proposed frequency without a license.

Apple's scheme could make wireless networking attractive for office buildings, and huge amounts of money previously spent on wiring could be saved. Individuals and entire offices will be able to move with a minimum of disruption in network services. This is not to say that no potential problems exist. People on Usenet are already debating security issues, since you can't control where radio network waves go, and they would probably make it outside of your building at times (putting lead shielding on all the outside walls is not a good solution!). Some have suggested that automatic encryption would be easy to implement and difficult to break. In addition, others mentioned that it is trivial for technologically-inclined no-goods to tap an Ethernet line and snag packets. Decoding them would be difficult, but definitely within the realm of possibility. It even may be possible to decode the electromagnetic field given off by the cabling, though that would require a sophisticated effort. The moral of the story is that nothing is completely secure without seriously expensive real-time encryptors and decryptors on either end of the network transmissions. It's like locking a bicycle. Anyone with the right tools and enough time can steal any bicycle, no matter how well locked up. Your task as the owner is to choose a comfortable level of protection, that is, the type of lock that deters the majority of thieves and does not unreasonably slow you down when unlock it.

I see the transmission distance of Apple's scheme as a potentially serious disadvantage. While 150 feet is a decent distance for a network within a building, it doesn't do much for multiple buildings in the same city. What I'd like implemented (and my knowledge of radio technology is too limited to completely understand the requirements and ramifications of this idea) is a wide range transmitter that could serve as a bridge between all the little radio networks that will spring up like mushrooms after a rain. For instance, I have a number of friends in the area with whom I exchange email by having my QuickMail server automatically call their servers in the middle of the night. It certainly works, but has proved to be a tad too slow at times. While having my own radio network would be nice (I'd have to get another Mac since a network with a single Mac and a laser printer isn't exciting), I'd far rather be able to have a community-wide network that would link all the computers users who I know, including a link to Cornell's Internet site. Since none of my friends are more than five miles away, I wouldn't need much in the way of distance, though distances of up to 25 miles would be ideal for larger cities.

Apple has said that it would like it if people favoring its petition would share their feelings with the FCC, but I haven't found any appropriate addresses or phone numbers to use. In lieu of specific contact information, should you be a U.S.. citizen, I suggest contacting an appropriate elected representative and sharing your opinion. After all, it's your representative's job to listen to you and to act as your voice in government. Hey, it's worth a try anyway.

Information from:
Apple propaganda
Chris Silverberg -- macman@wpi.WPI.EDU
Jack Brindle -- jackb@MDI.COM
Cinderella Man -- derek@coco2.albany.edu
Michael Kerner -- mike@pyrite.SOM.CWRU.Edu
Don Gillies -- gillies@cs.uiuc.edu
Bernie Bernstein -- bernard@boulder.colorado.edu

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 05-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #5, pg. 17
InfoWorld -- 04-Feb-91, Vol. 13, #5, pg. 1
Communications Week -- 04-Feb-91, pg 6

Let's Do MacLunch.

Mitch Kapor's ON Technology gave up its grandiose idea of totally altering the look and feel of personal computing and instead came out with ON Location, a program that indexes hard disks for easy searching and retrieval of files. Although this is a useful ability, ON's new product is a programs that most everyone would have killed for at some point or another. Meeting Maker is a network application that simplifies the tedious and usually contentious process of scheduling a meeting. Meeting Maker keeps track of room schedules and everyone's personal schedule. You can have the program pick the first possible time for a list of required attendees, or you can send out invitations over the network (they show up as pop-up notices that can either be accepted or turned down). Once people start responding to your proposal, Meeting Maker will mark the meeting as fully confirmed, partially confirmed, or cancelled.

Since people might not use Meeting Maker if they had to keep the rest of their schedules separately, the program also includes a number of personal scheduling features, such as alarms, a To Do list, and the ability to print schedules in several appointment book formats. One of the most useful features for those busy executive types is the Proxy feature. Proxy allows someone else to manage your schedule (over the network, not at your computer). Just think of the havoc potentially caused by abuse of the Proxy feature - I'd schedule everyone for a midnight meeting on April 1st.

Meeting Maker isn't a complicated idea, but it is a tough programming job because of all of the variables in different schedules at different times in different rooms. I remember a long meeting in college to decide when I and my five co-workers could schedule a weekly meeting, a task complicated by trying to coordinate our college class schedules. We tried all the possibilities and finally settled on alternate weeks at different times. If I still went to meetings, I'd insist on Meeting Maker. It's pricey at $495 for five users and $895 for ten users (I presume you can add more than that, though nothing says what the limits are.), but it sounds like an excellent way to shorten meetings about when to meet (the ultimate in recursive uselessness). It works on AppleTalk networks and does not require a dedicated server, though check the requirements if you plan to run it with other programs on the same Mac.

ON Technology -- 617/876-0900

Information from:
ON Technology propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 08-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 5
InfoWorld -- 07-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 30
PC WEEK -- 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 41

ADB Oddities

I'm not a terrific typist, although my typing speed has probably increased by at least 15 words per minutes since I've been writing TidBITS. Still, every now and then a mistake appears that I'm sure I'm not responsible for. It's not all that common so I always chalked up the errors to daemons in the machine. However, a while ago the subject arose on Usenet and it became clear that some daemons actually exist.

Apparently the most common problems occur when typing "pro" or "out" rapidly. If you type "pro" too quickly (at least this worked for several people on Usenet - I could only reproduce it with the word "stop" and having it freeze on the "p") the keyboard freezes until you type something other than an "o", at which point subsequent keystrokes appear. Typing "out" rapidly will sometimes result in "ou;" and this one I was able to reproduce on my keyboard. Interestingly enough, while people thought that the problem lies with Apple's extended keyboard and someone was unable to reproduce these problems on Datadesk's Switchboard, I use Ehman Engineering's extended keyboard. So it's not restricted to Apple's keyboards, and I've heard reports of the problems on both the old and new extended keyboards. A developer reported the problem to Apple DTS, where they said it was a bug in the keyboard ROM that should be fixed in the next keyboard. Oh well.

Speaking of strange keyboards, many people have been unhappy with the key placements on the keyboard that ships with the Mac LC. There are now two solutions to Apple's uncomfortable choice of placement for the Escape key, which normally lives in the uppermost left of the keyboard - I won't use that cliche about "where God meant it to be." At least some dealers, if not all, can now provide a version of the LC, presumably at a slightly lower price, that does not include a keyboard. Then it's up to you to find your own keyboard, a simple task these days. The second solution, from Beagle Bros, is a small utility called Escape! that either swaps the Tilde key with the Escape key, putting the Escape key back in the upper left of the keyboard, or moves Escape to Tilde, Tilde to Backslash, and Backslash to Escape. It's a bit like the three-man weave play I learned in high school basketball, but since Beagle Bros. includes key stickers with Escape! it is bound to be less confusing than the three-man weave.

The final piece of ADB weirdness is that a number of the new ADB mice have failed. A friend with a IIsi had his entire ADB bus go dead, and when he took it in for repair (he hadn't violated any warranty commandments - wait 'till next week), the repair people said that he had a bad mouse, a common problem, and they had run out of replacement mice, so he had to get one from another Apple dealer. The second dealer's repair people said that they had recently noticed a surprising number of dead mice. New Mac owners should use caution if ADB devices stop working. Try each one individually, rebooting between each swap, and then try different combinations of plugs, where possible. Since the new Macs only have one ADB port, there are fewer combinations to try, but I have found systems that wouldn't work connected in one way, but would when connected another way.

Beagle Bros. -- 619/452-5500

Information from:
Jeff Wasilko -- jjwcmp@isc.rit.edu
Lee M. Thompso -- lee@soda.Berkeley.EDU
Anthony C. Ar -- aard@sdcc13.ucsd.edu
John T. Nelso -- jtn@ADS.COM
Gavin Eadie -- Gavin_Eadie@UM.CC.UMich.EDU
Michael Hoffhines -- michaelh@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu
Brian Patten -- patten@uhunix.uhcc.hawaii.edu

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 20-Nov-90, Vol. 4, #40, pg. 10

GO's Green Light

I'm a week late (I've been gathering info) on writing about GO Corp.'s announcement that developers will soon have access to GO's new PenPoint operating system. PenPoint emphasizes handwriting recognition, and GO has designed PenPoint from the ground up to support 32-bit memory and preemptive multitasking. It sports a new user interface based on a notebook metaphor. The first page of the notebook holds a table of contents and every other page can hold multiple documents. One of the most interesting aspects of PenPoint is its Embedded Document Architecture, which subordinates applications to the role of tools that are available when appropriate in any document. As such, no distinction exists between text documents and spreadsheet documents. Every document has access to all of the installed applications.

Creating such a radically different operating system forced GO to lose application-level compatibility, but it did retain MS-DOS file compatibility. Additional connectivity will come from network links implemented in a deferred manner. A network link to a portable computer may not always be available, so you send email and faxes whenever you like, and PenPoint queues everything until you make the appropriate network connections. PenPoint connects and disconnects from networks without hassle, which may be in part due to GO's licensing of AppleTalk from Apple. One of AppleTalk's great features is that it automatically self-configures, unlike many other networking schemes. In addition, PenPoint will include TOPS client software from Sitka, which will help it integrate with Mac and DOS machines.

GO has a good deal of support from large companies like IBM, NCR, GRiD, Lotus, Borland, and WordPerfect. Such support will be helpful, since completely new applications must be written for PenPoint, and especially since GO decided not to build any machines on its own. Leaving the hardware end of things to the hardware companies is a smart move, because GO can't spread itself too thin. Of course, with allies must come competitors, and Microsoft and Apple have already joined that camp. Microsoft's Pen Windows (or Windows H, for Handwriting) is coming along, and rumor says that Apple might show handwriting recognition capabilities for System 7.0 next January. At least Bill Campbell is betting on GO, since he recently resigned as head of Claris to become the CEO of GO. Hmm. The computer executives are beginning to seem inbred - little new blood comes in and those currently in charge just move from corporate marriage to corporate marriage.

I'm still unsure about handwriting recognition. As I've said before, it is a poor method of text input, though it may be ideal for text editing. My handwriting has degenerated inversely with my typing speed, but it's still easier to edit on paper than in Nisus. Pen-based operating systems will require new ergonomic considerations and design constraints. If nothing else, you have to look down at the screen to write on it, whereas most screens are currently positioned at arm's length in front of us (or at least I hope so) to prevent undue exposure to electromagnetic radiation, which causes brain fever in industry executives. Or maybe they're just getting too inbred.

Nonetheless, I think GO has done much right with PenPoint. From the descriptions I've seen and heard from many sources, PenPoint is a state of the art operating system, representing a true step forward from the bug-a-boo of compatibility. Bob Woodhead's Reversi from 1984 still runs on my SE/30 under 6.0.5, but I'd prefer significant power and usability increases over the ability to run software from 1984. The DOS world is even worse, though Windows is beginning to banish the spectre of compatibility. Too bad it couldn't have done so more forcefully and ditched DOS completely. Talk about beating a dead horse. I hope that some of the advances in PenPoint can come to the desktop world as well. In the meantime, palmtop computers based on PenPoint will sell like hotcakes in specific niche markets until advances in portable technology shrink desktop machines to the point that we can wear computers as we wear wristwatches.

Information from:
Apple propaganda
GO propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 22-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #3, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 28-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #4, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 07-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 1
PC WEEK -- 28-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #4, pg. 1
MacUser -- Mar-91, pg. 202

Reviews/11-Feb-91

References:


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