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TidBITS#72/15-Jul-91

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MailBITS/15-Jul-91

In late breaking news (I just heard this morning from Mark H. Anbinder and others) it appears that Borland, one of the main PC developers, has purchased Ashton-Tate, makers of dBASE IV, FullWrite, and Full Impact. I don't know the details yet, but I gather some incredible amount of money was involved - along the lines of $500 million. My guess is that Borland wanted to use some of the dBASE technology in its Paradox database, especially since I seem to remember something about a dBASE-compatible database language Borland was working on. I doubt Borland's purchase will significantly affect the Macintosh market for the moment, but it does point toward fewer, larger companies and lots of strategic mergers. Interesting, if you consider that almost no great products have come from a strategic agreement between two well-known companies. More next week.

Mark also writes, "Did you get a mailing from Beagle Bros recently? I just got a great one:"

Sure. We could tell you. But then we would have to kill you.

Everyone knows Beagle Bros wouldn't hurt a fly. So, even if you're dying to know, we can't tell you. Not yet, anyway. When you do find out, we think you'll agree. It was worth the wait. This August, we'll introduce a Macintosh product with unprecedented functionality. A technology breakthrough that will change how you create and process information on your Mac. In addition to the power, you'll like its flexibility and ease of use. Be one of the first to witness the unveiling of this exciting new product. Be sure to bring this flier to Booth #1844 at Macworld Boston to receive a special gift. Then discover this revolutionary new program for yourself. The fact is, we wish we could tell you more. But we can't. Although, we can say one thing for sure. The way you use your Macintosh is about to change.

[Revolutionary, eh? I don't think I've seen anything revolutionary in a long time. Maybe they've come up with MacGuillotine. Nah, Beagle Bros is a good company and has been producing good stuff since the early days of the Apple II. But I do want to know what it is, so Mark had better let us know in a future issue of TidBITS.]

As I just said above, Mark will write and edit TidBITS for approximately a month during our move to Seattle. His first issue will be 29-Jul-91 and we hope to pick it up again for 26-Aug-91. If you can help out with an article or two during this time, Mark will appreciate it greatly. Like the rest of the human race, Mark is very busy and TidBITS can take some time to do, especially if you haven't done it a lot, which he hasn't. So try to pitch in if you can (we already have a couple of people helping out with Macworld Expo coverage), and please be understanding if there are a few more glitches than usual. Creating an issue is fairly complex and I don't know if I've remembered to tell Mark how to do everything.

Poor John Norstad. Just after he finds some bugs in Disinfectant 2.5 and fixes them in 2.5.1, it turns out to be incompatible with Speed Beep 2.0 (and 2.0.5). He writes, "I have verified that my Disinfectant 2.5.1 INIT and Speed Beep 2.0 are incompatible. You can use one or the other, but not both together. There is no workaround. According to the Speed Beep documentation, Speed Beep 2.0 refuses to work if some later INIT also patches the SysBeep trap. The Disinfectant 2.5.1 INIT patches this trap. Do not try to fix this by making Speed Beep load after the Disinfectant INIT - if you try to do this, the Disinfectant INIT will no longer detect some viruses properly! There is nothing I can do in Disinfectant to fix this problem. My patch is very small, perfectly legal, and necessary to properly detect one of the viruses. The only possible solution to the problem would be a change to Speed Beep."

Beagle Bros, Inc. -- 619/452-5500

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder -- mha@baka.uucp
Beagle Bros propaganda -- D0086@applelink.apple.com
John Norstad -- j-norstad@nwu.edu


SevenBITS/15-Jul-91

I just heard from Roy McDonald (president of Connectix) that they have a newer and snazzier version of MAXIMA. I haven't received the copy that he said they sent me, but I'll write more about it later. MAXIMA 2.0 is essentially a RAM disk and memory enhancement utility, but one with power coming out of its ears. It works under both System 6 and System 7 under either 24-bit or 32-bit addressing and no longer is limited to systems with more than 8 MB of physical RAM. In 24-bit mode, MAXIMA allows you to use up to 14 MB of physical RAM for application memory. Connectix is aiming MAXIMA at users who have lots of memory but for various reasons (most notably incompatible software) must stay in 24-bit mode, which limits the amount of available RAM. When you use the RAM disk capabilities of MAXIMA, the RAM disk (created in whatever size you desire) appears on the desktop like any other hard disk. Any other hard disk, that is, with an access time in the nanoseconds. If the RAM disk contains a System and Finder, MAXIMA automatically uses it as the boot volume, which speeds up standard usage significantly. Lest you be concerned about losing information, MAXIMA's RAM Disk can survive system crashes and restarts as long as the power isn't interrupted. I assume that Connectix has figured out a method of preventing memory from being cleared at restart, which I find quite impressive. If you do need to shut off the Mac, MAXIMA can save its contents to a folder on the hard disk and then reload them on the next startup. This I have to try! MAXIMA 2.0 will list for $129, and upgrades will be free to currently registered users of the previous version.

International Business Software's DataClub virtual server has been out for a while now, and I've done a little testing on the copy they sent me. Unfortunately, that version isn't completely compatible with System 7, which cut my testing short. The disk space on the System 7 Mac seems to be available to System 6 Macs, but the System 7 Mac can't connect to the server and you can't reconfigure the DataClub Control Panel under System 7 if it is active. I think that if I didn't want to use the disk space on the System 7 Mac, I could have used it as a client machine without difficulty. I was extremely impressed with the ease of installation and setup, though. Installing on our Macs here took a whopping two minutes and didn't require looking at the manual at all. For a powerful networking package, such ease of installation impresses me, but you have to realize that I've had lots of knock-down, drag-out fights with TOPS on different networks. IBS isn't letting us down, though, and in August, DataClub 2.0 should be out, boasting full System 7 compatibility (aliasing, Balloon Help, 32-bit addressing and TrueType). In addition, IBS has figured out some new methods of dealing with things that increase DataClub's performance by up to five times (and it was already faster than TOPS and AppleShare in many cases). I look forward to receiving the new version so I can report on it in more depth. Upgrades will be free if you bought DataClub after 01-Jun-91. For one and three user packs registered before that date, the price is $59; for 10 user packs, it's $99, and 50 user packs are $399.

In one respect, DataClub 2.0 won't be as accomplished as 1.1. IBS decided to spin off the dedicated server feature of DataClub 1.1 into a separate product, DataClub Dedicated. As far as I can tell, DataClub Dedicated works just like DataClub 2.0 except that it completely takes over its assigned Mac (other than mail and other background tasks). Using one or more servers running DataClub Dedicated results in even more storage space and better performance, because nothing else is happening on that Mac. Needless to say, DataClub Dedicated is designed for very large networks and supports up to 200 users, half of which could be DataClub Dedicated servers (though that would be a little strange - 100 users and 100 servers). The beauty of DataClub is that even with multiple DataClub Dedicated servers and other copies of DataClub 2.0, each user sees only one server with huge amounts of disk space, which is much easier to work with than a desktop cluttered with multiple servers.

Murph Sewall writes, "A couple of other really cute System 7 freeware extensions are "Optional Help" (which works fine with HelpMeister) and "Switch." Optional Help lets you define a "hotkey" for balloons (if HelpMeister is used to turn on Balloon Help, then the "hotkey" is the control key). Switch lets those of us who have keyboards with startup keys use that key to cycle applications (even niftier than "Just click" and doesn't require foregoing System 7's standard application menu). Since I leave my IIci on all the time, the startup key has been vestigial up to this point. It's nice to have something for it to do :-). I also use Applicon which is an even nicer way of gaining nearly instant access to background applications. MacWrite II's "WordFinder" thesaurus DA also requires MacWrite II as the foreground application (maybe that's one thing version 1.1v2, which was supposed to be mailed in June but hasn't arrived yet, is supposed to fix?). I installed the WordFinder in MacWrite II version 1.1v1 with Font/DA Mover 4.1 which I got with the TrueType disks for System 6 (hold down the option key while clicking OPEN)."

Connectix -- 800/950-5880
International Business Software -- 800/733-2822

Information from:
Roy McDonald -- connectix@applelink.apple.com
IBS -- IBSUS@applelink.apple.com
Murph Sewall -- sewall@uconnvm.bitnet

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 25-Jun-91, Vol. 5, #24, pg. 16
InfoWorld -- 01-Jul-91, Vol. 13, #26, pg. 36

Apple Recalls

No company is perfect, so good companies are known by their willingness to admit defeat and recall and replace poor products. Apple has a rather checkered past in this regard in the past (remember the sticky hard drives fiasco?) but has issued a couple of product recalls recently that indicate honesty may be on the upswing.

People always complain about the various versions of the Apple mouse, but a certain version has a problem that may be more serious than a bad feel or wimpy ball. If you've got a mouse marked as "Made in USA" (hmm, wonder what that says about domestic manufacturing?) and has an 11-digit serial number ranging from AP038xxxxxx through AP103xxxxxx (inclusive), then you've got a mouse that is susceptible to static electricity. Speaking as someone who somehow gathers static electricity like... I won't display my physics ignorance by making an incorrect simile, so suffice it to say that I can provide fireworks in a darkened room when the humidity is low in the winter. I know how these poor mouses feel and sometimes I'd like to curl up and die, just like them. They don't have enough shielding to protect their little mouse control boards. If the mouse suffers a major shock, the shock may disable the ASIC controller, which will appear to the user as a complete loss of horizontal and/or vertical cursor movement. In other words, it will be dead.

You're likely to have one of these mouses if you bought a Mac that shipped between September of 1990 and January of 1991. Our more alert readers will note that any Mac purchased in that date range is still under warranty, but Apple realizes that a special product return program will eliminate the problem more quickly and with less hassle. Apple is generously covering all mouses until June 15th, 1993, whether or not the mouse in question has actually died. After June 15th, 1993, it's your problem. This return program will give you a chance to rate your dealer's level of customer service. Apple's note to dealers tells them to check the mouse when setting up a Macintosh and to notify customers who may have afflicted mouses to check on their mouses. I wonder how many dealers will really do this?

The second product being pulled back into Cupertino is the Macintosh Portable Power Adapter. Supposedly a small number of these buggers are failing, and all of them have the potential to fail (don't we all!). Apple makes it clear that the afflicted (it sounds better than "affected," which is the word Apple uses) power adapters pose no safety hazard. It would have been more exciting if they blew up under the right circumstances, much like the Mac Plus and some IBM PS/2 monitors could do, complete with thick clouds of black smoke.

You can identify a bad power adapter by a shifty look in its power adapter eyes, and a number of tatoos, including "Model No. M5136," "Made in Taiwan," "Mother," a heart with an arrow through it, and, in a private place, a 13-digit serial number ranging from 9048A2xxxxxxx through 9116A2xxxxxxx (inclusive). If the power adapter in question meets those identifying characteristics, you've got a bad dude power adapter on your hands, but at least we can't blame the American manufacturing system for this failure, since these guys are definitely imports. These adapters started shipping with the backlit version of the Portable in March and were eradicated from Apple stock in April, so if you've got a bad one, bring it back to your dealer for a new one before June 15th, 1993, whether or not it works (don't want any lazy, freeloading power adapters out in decent society). Once again, your dealer should notify those who might be harboring bad power adapters - or maybe Apple should just start distributing a "10 Most Wanted" poster.

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


For Little Macs

Not to be mean or anything, but the Plus, SE, and Classic have two main problems. First, they're slow, and depending on what you want to use (like PageMaker 4.0 over LocalTalk from another Plus) comparisons to molasses in January aren't even fair. Second, they have small screens, especially if you talk to a PC user who doesn't know much about screen resolutions. Of course, if you belong to the Apple Computer School of Upgrades, the obvious solution is to run right out and plunk down the bucks for a IIci with 19" color monitor. For those of us more wary of our wallets, there are a few more options.

Accelerators have been around for some time, but the latest one for the Plus comes from Brainstorm Products. Most of the simple accelerators replace the 8 MHz 68000 with a 16 MHz 68000, which can significantly increase the Mac's speed. Brainstorm's accelerator uses the 16 MHz 68000 and also includes a ASIC to replace an Apple timing chip. The custom ASIC acts as a bus accelerator, so data traveling over the internal bus will move at the same 16 MHz speed as the processor. In real life, Brainstorm claims this will triple the speed of screen redraws, double the speed of basic calculations, and increase SCSI transfer speed by up to five times. To match the accelerator's speed, you do need to use RAM rated at 120 nanoseconds or faster - the slower 150 nanosecond RAM won't cut it. My guess is that an accelerated Plus will run about the speed of a Portable, which uses the same CPU at 16 MHz. David Lau mentioned on Usenet that he had gotten one of these accelerators and was pleased with it. The only problem he could find was speed degradation using AppleTalk under System 7, which Brainstorm said they plan to fix in software soon. He also confirmed that Brainstorm made accurate speed claims.

The accelerator (which doesn't appear to have a name - the rep I spoke with never mentioned it) costs $249, and Brainstorm has been shipping the version for the Plus for several months. An expansion card for the SE should ship later this summer, and Brainstorm hopes to provide a version for the Classic by the end of the year. Since the versions for the Plus and the Classic are just chips and the SE version requires cracking the case, the upgrades must be installed by a dealer. They also have a one year warranty. So if you're looking to put a little life back in your Plus, give Brainstorm a call. Given the price of a used Plus these days, it's probably worth putting a couple of hundred dollars into it to spruce it up for modern times.

A little extra speed is nice, but you may have noticed that you spend an awful amount of time scrolling around on screen. Why do you think so many people buy full page monitors? Technology Fusion may have the cheap answer, TotalVision. The TotalVision board gives a Plus, SE, or Classic a virtual screen up to 1024 by 1024 pixels in size. Stepping Out, a software utility, did the same thing, but because Stepping Out ran in software, it could slow the Mac down by up to 25%. TotalVision does all of the graphics processing necessary to simulate the large screen in hardware, which makes it extremely fast. You can modify the screen size with a Control Panel, and a persistent menu lets you perform some other useful actions. You can increase the screen resolution from 72 dpi to 90 dpi, which allows you to see the entire width of a normal page on screen; you can instantly move to the upper left (home) of the virtual screen; you can zoom in two times; you can inverse the video, which some people prefer, though I suspect those people would also prefer working on an amber PC monitor; you can freeze the virtual panning; and finally, you can do a screen dump of the entire virtual screen.

Like the Brainstorm accelerator, the SE version is a card, but the Plus and Classic versions plug onto the processor directly. Once again, it's a job for a dealer, but Technology Fusion includes a coupon for a free installation by an Apple dealer in the $349 list price. There's no telling if these products would work together, but if they did, they would provide a lot of life for the older Macs. Hmm, I may have to suggest that Brainstorm and Technology Fusion pool their resources to come up with a hybrid of the two products. Could be pretty popular.

Brainstorm -- 415/964-2131
Technology Fusion -- 303/278-1295

Information from:
David Lau -- lau@aero.org
Brainstorm rep

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 05-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #5, pg. 82
MacWEEK -- 16-Apr-91, Vol. 5, #14, pg. 9

Ambulatory Computing

Anything that allows the user to leave the desk interests me. I'm always frustrated by not having my complete electronic environment with me when I'm working away from my Mac. Innovations from Apple and others are slowly bringing the dream of completely ambulatory (and no, I don't mean using your portable on the way to the hospital) computing into focus.

In the realm of real products that you can actually go out and buy, Microcom has some deals on their remote computing software and hardware that might be worth checking out. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Carbon Copy allows you to control one Mac from another connected by a modem or network. You can also transfer files and run applications over the link, though you'll want a fast connection for applications. If you purchase a single user copy of Carbon Copy for the Mac or a MacModem (which includes Carbon Copy, a 9600 bips v.32 modem, QuickLink II, and a MacModem wake up cable for use with Mac II-class machines), you get another one free. If you want the Unlimited Users version of Carbon Copy you get it for half price. The single copy of Carbon Copy is $99, the MacModem is $1099, and the Unlimited Users version of Carbon Copy is (with the discount) $149, all of which are quite reasonable prices. In each case you get a 60 day money back guarantee, so if you're interested, give Microcom a call. If you're interested in comparing Carbon Copy 2.0 and Farallon's Timbuktu 4.0 (which also does color), remember that there is a functional demo version on America Online, AppleLink, and CompuServe, though keep in mind that it takes about an hour to download at 2400 bips. Still, Microcom's prices are hard to beat with this offer.

In the realm of "unannounced products," Apple has several cute items that will make remote computing much more interesting. Everyone has heard about Apple's portables that should show up sometime this fall, probably in the latter half of October. I've heard that users find the smallest one, which has a 16 MHz 68000, 20 MB hard disk, and a decent LCD screen for under $2000, extremely nice to work with. It's only about five and half pounds and mainly suffers from having no plug for an external monitor nor an internal floppy drive, although you can get an external floppy. If Apple was smart, they would come up with a little plastic adapter that would allow the external floppy to attach to the side of the portable, making it into a single unit. I wouldn't be surprised if sales of the Classic will suffer at the hands of this new portable anyway, and if the more powerful portables include floppy drives and video-out sockets, the high-end desktop Macs might dip in popularity in comparison. The final interesting feature of this portable is that somewhat like the Mac IItx, our April Fools machine, it can dock to another Mac via a SCSI cable and operate as a hard disk. I'd still like to see the ability to attach the portable to a desktop Mac via LocalTalk and use its processor for some distributed processing work, but that might be looking a bit too far into the hazy future.

I mention this portable partly because it sounds like a good machine and partly because of its role in another technology Apple has underway. Called 976, this technology allows a Mac to call another Mac via modem and operate as though the two were on the same AppleTalk network. Dial-up AppleTalk could seriously enhance the way many people work, especially when combined with a tiny portable like the one I just described. Imagine this situation. You are a consultant, or anyone who has to work away from your desk at times. You obviously can't lug your Mac around with you the entire time, but you can take a six pound portable and a modem (it can have an internal 2400 bips modem that can also send faxes, but that might not be fast enough for real work). All you have to do is make an alias of your hard drive (you are running System 7, aren't you?) and copy it onto your portable while at work. Then, from home or from your client's office or the field office or the trade show, you can just call your Mac at work (OK, so you have to leave it running - though I guess you could use Microcom's wake up cable if you had a Mac II-class machine at work) and double-click on your hard disk's alias. You enter your password (wouldn't want just anyone calling your Mac and asking it out on a date, now would you?), and poof, your hard disk is sitting there on your portable's desktop. All your files are there, all your applications are available, and you can even use printers and other network devices. Hey, I'd use it. Apparently it is usable at 2400 bips and quite nice at 9600 or 19200 bips. I don't know when it will be out, but my guess is either this fall or early next year - but that is a guess, there's nothing but assumption backing it up.

Speaking of assumption, the only thing that could snazz up this scenario further yet would be wireless networking. I haven't heard much more about that from Apple, but you have to figure that General Magic isn't sitting around playing SimEarth all day long. I have heard that Motorola has a new wireless networking scheme in the works, this time based on a paging network. It is one way since it can only receive messages (you have to use a normal modem to send stuff out), but it would be ideal for use with electronic mail. Motorola has only shown it working with HP's tiny 95LX palmtop, but it can work with any computer outfitted with a serial port. Eventually, Motorola hopes the system, called EMBARC (Electronic Mail Broadcast to A Roaming Computer) will support more sophisticated network activities like file updating such as that provided by Publish & Subscribe and Microsoft's Object Linking and Embedding (OLE).

In some cases, you might not need an entire computer with you when you're working. If you mainly need large quantities of static information at your fingertips, all you really need is something to pull the information from and something to display it. Two companies have come up with just such devices, Colby with their Pocket Info Pac and Reddy Information Systems with Red. Both systems use Reflection Technologies's Private Eye display device, but there the similarities end. The Pocket Info Pac is merely a RAM-based slide projector. You put a bunch of RAM in (1 MB is standard) and then you can fill up the RAM with numerous screens of data via a serial port. You can then flip through them using a number keypad much like a TV remote control. The standard version is available now for $899 and you can spend up to $2999, depending on how much memory you put in. 1 MB will hold about 150 images, depending, of course, on the type of data. The Pocket Info Pac runs about 6 hours on nicad batteries or 12 hours on AA alkaline batteries. In contrast, Red is more of a full-fledged computer, but one which is still designed to get information out rather than to put information in. It costs $2500, but includes a CD-ROM drive, a proprietary computer, a SmartCard drive (for updates and programs, perhaps?), a pointing device and the Private Eye. It will run about 3 hours on its nicad batteries. I don't have a sense of how popular these devices will become, but I suspect that they will suffer if the pen-based portables catch on, simply because people are happiest with a read/write computer. It also hurts that both Colby and Reddy are relatively small, unknown companies (no phone number for Reddy, sorry). If Apple or IBM came out with one of these beasts, they might catch on more quickly.

Microcom -- 800/688-1750
Motorola -- 407/364-2000
Colby -- 415/941-9090

Information from:
Microcom propaganda
Pythaeus

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 25-Jun-91, Vol. 5, #24, pg. 1
PC WEEK -- 03-Jun-91, Vol 8, #22, pg. 41
Macworld -- Apr-91, pg. 95
BYTE -- Jun-91, pg. 28

Reviews/15-Jul-91

References:


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