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Copyright 1991 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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Well, I'm back, more or less. I won't completely take over until I get my network connections to the rest of the civilized (read: electronic) world up and running (note that the address below may not work, and I should have a better one soon), and it's taking a long time for even the snail mail to return to normal. Until then, I hope Mark can continue the wonderful job he's doing with TidBITS. I'll try to help out by writing about what I can, although until my network connections come back up I feel as though I'm treading water in an empty sea of information. Pathetic, isn't it, what happens to an info-junkie deprived of his daily fix? In the meantime, I'm handling mundane details, working on a new business card, whipping up a "We've Moved" postcard to send to the companies with whom I correspond, trying to get in shape for a run/bike biathlon, and generally goofing off. I hope to write a review issue or two for some of the programs I've been working with (such as Storyspace from Eastgate Systems, Timeslips III from Timeslips, uAccess from ICE Engineering, and ShortCut 1.5 from Aladdin [actually I'm waiting to see Super Boomerang 3.0, at which point I'll compare the two]).
Mark here, again. Adam has done the lion's share of the writing for this Labor Day issue, which gives me the chance to "sit back and relax," at least relatively speaking. :-) While I've still got this handy soapbox under my feet, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those of you who've helped me with TidBITS over the last several weeks. You writers, reporters, advisors, proofreaders, and commentators (a polite word for kibbitzers) know who you are!
Recent reports from various sources, while we're on the subject of kibbitzers, have said that despite the rumoured supply of 32-bit clean ROMs sitting unused in cardboard cases at Apple, the company has no plans to do a simple 32-bit clean ROM release. Any potential ROM upgrade, it's been decided, would have to include far more in the way of improved functionality or performance. What might that entail? Well, network startup functionality like that found in prototype form on the Classic's ROM would be a good bet, allowing Macs to start up from a network file server without a local floppy disk or hard disk. We could also expect to see more of the Macintosh Toolbox included, especially the new parts of the toolbox that arrived with System 7. This would mean vastly improved performance in these parts of the operating system that are otherwise doomed always to execute from disk rather than from firmware. In the meantime, Apple may release memory management software that, like MODE32 from Connectix, would patch the unclean parts of the existing ROMs.
Reader Andrew Lewis wasn't quite finished with his comments on the menu-bar clock issue. He adds, "Small clocks leave a sticky buildup. If you are going to take that route, you might as well try mounting a larger clock near that line of sight behind your computer. SuperClock is just too useful, more so than many menu bar menus!"
Adam C. Engst -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark H. Anbinder -- email@example.com
Andrew Lewis -- AOL: Andrew El
Recently, I went to the local Macintosh Users' Group meeting here in Seattle. dBUG (for downtown Business Users' Group) as it's called, is ever so slightly different from MUGWUMP (Macintosh Users' Group for Writers and Users of Macintosh Programs, or something similar), the users' group in Ithaca. I think MUGWUMP's membership has been on the rise recently, thanks in part to the efforts of president Mark Anbinder, who you all know, and another friend, Henning Pape-Santos. Still, Mark and Henning have only managed to increase the membership list up to about 75, whereas the single dBUG meeting I went to had a poor attendance of only about 200, and the hotel hosting the event provided baked potatoes and ice cream for all present. Now that's the sort of treatment I can handle! Hewlett Packard and Iomega (makers of the Bernoulli drives) presented their latest products and gave one of each away. I don't know about you, but I would have been very happy to win a Bernoulli 90 MB removable drive or a DeskWriter C.
Unfortunately, I didn't even win the dinner for two from the hotel or one of the various t-shirts that dBUG raffled off, but I did have a chance to see the DeskWriter C, a $1095 printer which I suspect will become wildly popular. It's basically a DeskWriter, which is already wildly popular, but as the "C" in its name indicates, it can also print in color. Unlike most color printers, though, the DeskWriter C uses both black and color ink cartridges, so if you're printing straight text, just pop in a black cartridge and print away. You can't switch between cartridges in the middle of a page, which means that if you are mixing color and black text that the color black (if black can be considered a color and not the absence of color) isn't quite as dark as the black from the black cartridge. It's so easy to switch cartridges on the DeskWriter C (just like switching them on the DeskWriter), so it shouldn't be a big deal to change them. The speed of printing in color is acceptable, though not impressive, at four minutes per page. Printing in black goes at the same speed as printing on a normal DeskWriter, approximately 1 - 2 pages per minute. From the samples I saw, the color output of the DeskWriter looks attractive, although not quite as bright as the output from HP's PaintWriter (which costs less at $995 list but only does 180 dpi and requires special paper).
The DeskWriter C's print quality at 300 dpi looks great, as you would expect from a DeskWriter. Considering that the DeskWriter (which will stick around) lists for $729 and sells for about $500, I expect the DeskWriter C to sell for between $700 and $800. As far as other details go, the black cartridge is the same as the DeskWriter's and gives you 500 pages for $20, whereas the color cartridge (which you can't use in the DeskWriter, by the way) is $35 for 300 pages. Also note that the color ink is water-soluble, so don't put printouts through the washing machine. If you're currently buying a new printer and are interested in color as well as high quality text, it doesn't look like you can do any better than a DeskWriter C. HP also offers $450 upgrade that you get directly from HP, but it almost might be worth selling your DeskWriter used and buying a new DeskWriter C.
Iomega had a slightly harder time of it even though they showed a snazzy electronically-generated videotape presenting the Bernoulli 90 MB series of removable hard drives. That's because removable hard drives don't produce anything, and good ones are measured primarily by their speeds, capacities, and reliability. If you are thinking about purchasing a removable cartridge drive, though, the Bernoullis appear to be contenders. They feature decent speed with 19 millisecond access time (in theory, it's 13 milliseconds if you use Iomega's caching software), a full 90 MB of space on each disk, which are a tad pricey at $229 each and can only be bought in packs of three, and the best reliability technology, in theory.
I say "in theory" because even though I appreciate the theory behind the Bernoulli system (a floppy rises up to meet the read/write head and falls down if anything such as a piece of dust interrupts the airflow), when I asked on Usenet about experiences with the Bernoullis, people said that they were not significantly more reliable in day to day use than the cheaper SyQuests. The 90 MB Bernoullis and the 88 MB SyQuests haven't been out long enough to make a comparison, but my impression is that both work well, and now that the Bernoulli price has dropped ($800 mail order), you won't go wrong with either. Both Bernoullis and SyQuests can read the 44 MB disks of their previous versions, which is fine for already archived files, but isn't of much use if you used those existing disks as a read/write medium frequently. One final note: Iomega has a trade-up deal on any previous product of theirs or any other company's removable hard drive that allows you to send in your old drive and get a new Bernoulli 90 for $725. Certainly worth doing if you've got some of those old 10 MB Bernoulli drives around and don't know what to do with them. Just call the number below for more information through October 31st, 1991.
Hewlett Packard -- 800/752-0900
Iomega -- 800/456-5522
HP & Iomega propaganda & reps
MacWEEK -- 06-Aug-91, Vol. 5, #27, pg. 5
During some of the information-free contemplation that I've been forced to perform recently, I've come to what might be an important conclusion. Alternately, it might be completely trivial, but I can't tell yet. I've realized that all this warring in the PC world primarily over operating systems is wholly bogus and might even be something of a ruse on the part of Microsoft and IBM to throw the FTC off the scent.
Look at it this way. An operating system provides certain capabilities to the application software running on top of it and arbitrates between the hardware and the applications. I'm sure that's a far too simple definition of an operating system, but I've never taken any Computer Science courses, so it's the best I can do. Now, DOS has numerous idiotic limitations, but it also has a number of good features. For one, it's small. Two, it's not very big. Three, it doesn't take up a lot of disk space. Four, it doesn't use a lot of memory. I could go on like this for a while because it's easy to slam on DOS. No challenge whatsoever. It's also fun to chortle loudly whenever you hear someone raving about how they managed to get another 3141 bytes of memory under the 640K barrier.
Now take Windows. It runs on top of DOS, so there are certain limitations it has to patch after the fact, most notably the memory problems. However, because Windows is only an environment shell and not a full operating system, it must by default be slower and clumsier than a true OS. Windows does provide multitasking, but in the cooperative form used by the Mac rather than the preemptive form used by Unix (a "real" operating system, if you talk to a Unix person). Curiously enough, although Apple had good reason to use cooperative multitasking to preserve old programs that wanted the entire machine, Microsoft didn't particularly, considering the fact that there was almost no software for Windows when 3.0 came out and most of that was heavily rewritten for 3.0 anyway. OS/2, in contrast, is a bit more real of an operating system in that it has its own, more efficient, file system, preemptive multitasking, no memory limitations, and RAM-hungry hardware requirements. Do note that although Microsoft has gone on an OS/2 diet, many programmers and power users at Microsoft still use OS/2 on their machines - they've got the memory and the processors to run it and prefer to avoid Windows.
The products waiting in the wings then, are OS/2 2.0 (primarily from IBM) and Windows NT from Microsoft. There's also been some talk about what Microsoft will put in DOS 6.0, and there's a 32-bit version Windows that will run on top of DOS 6.0 for the common person. OS/2 2.0 is in beta testing now, and provides all that previous versions of OS/2 did with the promise from IBM that it will run DOS apps better than DOS and Windows apps better than Windows. Windows NT, which is not quite based on the Mach kernel that NeXTstep uses, will run DOS and Windows apps too, as well as provide everything that OS/2 will. And, like OS/2, Windows NT will be power-hungry, requiring 8 MB of RAM and a fast 386 at minimum. DOS 6.0, similarly, is supposed to support preemptive multitasking, a flat memory model that removes the 640K barrier, a new, more efficient file system, and better networking support. Gee, does this sound familiar?
So here's my perhaps not so amazing revelation. All these operating systems are basically the same thing with several different names. Now I know that this isn't literally true since they have different kernels, but it makes it easy for Microsoft to take the hard line "There will be no OS/2 3.0 (unless we decide we like IBM again)!" Sure, there won't be an OS/2 3.0, but any of the code that was going to go into OS/2 3.0 that might be useful very well may make its way into Windows NT and perhaps DOS 6.0, and so on. Code transfers may not have specifically happened, but the concepts and high level utilities would certainly make the move. After all, Microsoft didn't dissolve the OS/2 group, they just transferred them to the Windows NT group (OS/2 programmers never die, they're just forced to work on Windows :-)).
Do keep in mind that IBM and Microsoft have heavy-duty cross-licensing agreements that basically give them free and constant access to each other's work. IBM has had Windows 3.1 betas for some time, and I'm sure Microsoft has picked through the source code to OS/2 2.0 to its heart's content. Neither company can surprise the other (and if it did happen, an immediate salvo of lawyers would be on the launch pad). The problem in all this OS confusion is that users may be hard put to decide which OS to use. They all do the same things and they all run the same software. Whichever operating system PC users pick, Microsoft doesn't much care at this point. Windows 3.0 and the soon-to-be-released 3.1 command the PC market so few developers will develop native OS/2 programs and for every sale of OS/2, Microsoft will probably sell a copy of Word or Excel and will pick up some royalties from IBM directly. Talk about getting 'em coming and going! My main point here is that given the similarities between these operating systems, there's not really all that much to worry about until they've all been out and the various pros and cons in specific situations become clear. Now I promise to shut up about PC operating systems for some time, or until something mildly interesting happens.
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