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TidBITS#126/01-Jun-92

This is a must-read issue! First, check out what was way cool at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Second, find out about a serious bug in Word 5.0 that could affect you, accompanied by important workaround and prevention information. Finally, delve into Apple's high speed QuickRing and explore why it is neat despite being ahead of its time. No room for Newton news this issue; for that tune in next week, same bat channel...

Topics:

Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


MailBITS/01-Jun-92

Of course, the hot news for the week is Apple's announcement of Newton, which is both a technology and the first Personal Digital Assistant. We have received a ton of information from lots of helpful people, but we had neither the time nor the space to report on Newton this week. Next week, we promise. Also, next week, a special upgrade offer for QuicKeys owners on electronic services only!

AppleShare Upgrades -- It seems that Apple really wants everyone to upgrade to AppleShare 3.0 and has extended the upgrade program to 31-Jul-92. Apple claims they mean it this time, so this may well be your last chance to upgrade at a discount. It appears that you'll need an upgrade coupon, which is available on AppleLink in the AppleLink -> Apple Sales & Mktg -> Apple Programs -> AppleShare Server 3.0 Upgrade folder. I suspect your dealer will have coupons or be able to get one for you.

If you bought AppleShare File Server 2.0 between 15-Oct-91 and 31-Dec-91, your original, dated, itemized sales invoice and original Server Installer disk will get you a free upgrade. If you purchased only the AppleShare File Server 2.0 before 15-Oct-91, your original Server Installer disk and $299 will get you an upgrade. For those who purchased both the AppleShare File Server 2.0 and the AppleShare Print Server 2.0 before 15-Oct-91, you can send in your original File Server Installer disk and your original Print Server Installer disk and $199, and Apple will give you an upgrade. If you're still confused, talk to your dealer. Each of the upgrades carries with it a $7 shipping and handling fee, making even the free upgrade not so free. Send all those upgrade coupons to:

AppleShare Server 3.0 Upgrade
Apple Computer, Inc.
P.O. Box 59337
Minneapolis, MN 55459-0037

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder -- TidBITS Contributing Editor


WWDC Cool Stuff

Apple recently held its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which is where they show the latest and greatest to all the developers who work on Macintosh products. Needless to say, this is where the truly cool stuff comes out of the woodwork at Apple, and from what we've heard, this year was no exception.

Pens & Milo -- Of course, the big news has to do with handwriting recognition, and it sounds like Apple is taking their time to do it right. As Larry Zulch, president of Dantz Development said, "Pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land." Apple aims to be a settler, and GO will have work to avoid being too much of a pioneer. Apple has managed to provided gestures, handwriting recognition, and basic mouse functions without rewriting the entire operating system, a generally smart move and a testament to the modularity of System 7. Handwriting recognition and mouse functions won't even require application support, but the more impressive gesturing abilities will require applications to be modified. In addition, Apple's handwriting recognition will require more hardware in the form of a graphics tablet, but those that want it will afford one, and the demand may drive the price down on those tablets.

Perhaps the most impressive demo that people saw was something called Milo. Milo is a math program that uses the new Pen Manager and the handwriting recognition code in what a truly useful applications of pen technology. Perhaps a blow-by-blow description of the demo from our estimable Pythaeus will illustrate Milo's amazing possibilities best.

After everyone had seen the pen stuff and was truly impressed, a very unassuming young man came out and began READING off of a prepared speech to the audience. He never looked up! He just went ahead with what was actually a very good speech. Once he had explained himself and Milo, he started the demo. He first wrote

2 + 3 =

and the machine responded with

5

He then wrote something like

345 x 435 =

and the machine gave the correct answer! OK, sure that's neat, but not all that difficult once you have handwriting recognition.

He then wrote a complex algebraic routine with divisors and powers and all that stuff. The machine understood how to reformat the characters as things were added. (The divisor shifted the text up, etc.) It looked very much like MathType. But, the machine also understood what things in the equation stood for and knew how to work with them. When he dragged a value to the other side of the equation, the program subtracted it! When he moved a number to the bottom of the divisor, it made the power negative! This went on for a few minutes with interspersed clapping and cheering. (He still never looked up.)

He then wrote a trigonometry equation, and the Mac immediately graphed it. He then wrote a simple line equation, and it added that to the graph. He then showed us how you could study the intersection by zooming in on the points in question. At this point he thanked the crowd, quit his demo, and began to walk off the stage. The crowd erupted into cheering and clapping and the whole hall gave him a standing ovation. Remember, these are developers! His manager had to bring him back onto stage where he took a slight bow, but was obviously overwhelmed by the crowd. It was the most amazing and utterly useful thing that I have ever seen on the Mac. And realize, it was running on a Quadra, but there was no time lag. Updates were instantaneous. In a couple of years we won't know what to do without this. As an engineer I only know that I want and need this technology now, and in the Personal Digital Assistants.

OCE -- Apple's Open Collaboration Environment (OCE) is high on my personal list of must-have technologies. It will probably show up within the next year, ahead of most of the rest of the technologies at the WWDC, which is fine by me. Voice recognition and pen recognition are all fine and nice, but what I really need is a single mailbox on my desktop that will hold all of my mail from theoretically any email service, including voice mail, faxes (faxen?), Internet mail, and QuickMail. I hope to see most of the commercial services tap into this as well, since it's an obvious advantage for users to have a single Apple-created interface to all electronic communications.

OCE is more than just a pretty face on email though, and may have the most long-term impact on the Mac as far as how groups of people work together, since it allows documents to stay in electronic form as long as possible, sometimes perhaps through the entire life of the document. It will be very interesting to see how all of this will be implemented.

Translation Manager -- Leonard Rosenthol of Aladdin Systems said that the technology that impressed him the most was the new Translation Manager, which essentially combines the application substitution capabilities present in Finder 7 with the file translation capabilities of XTND. The Translation Manager will support transparent translations for files, the clipboard, and editions, and perhaps the best part is that it won't require any modifications to existing applications. In my mind, this is incredibly important because as the number of file formats increase, it's getting harder and harder to just double-click on a document or copy something and paste it into another application. The Mac's file types and creators were an excellent first step after the idiocies of DOS, but the Translation Manager will still be very welcome.

Other stuff -- People mentioned a few other things, such as AppleScript, which should provide a simple method of scripting the Mac via AppleEvents. Frontier provides that right now, but is perhaps somewhat more suited to the programmer than the end user. Also some lists of cool stuff at the WWDC included the new QuickTime and QuickDraw GX, which will provide most everything to the Mac that Display PostScript provides to the NeXT. The one capability that will not show up in QuickDraw GX, but which will have to wait for later, is 3D capabilities. It's too bad, because 3D can add a lot to an interface, although it does work best with color monitors and faster Macs, which may account for the wait.

The new QuickTime will support asymmetrical codecs (compressors / decompressors), which means that compression takes a long time so decompression is very quick, even on a slower Mac like an LC. Salient's AutoDoubler works like this. QuickTime will also support the new PhotoCD format from Kodak, so you'll be able to get all your 35 mm pictures on a CD for $20 at your local drugstore, and then play the CD on your Mac with future CD-ROM players (the current ones can only handle a single PhotoCD session, whereas later drives will be able to read pictures that are added to the CD in later session too).

Information from:
Pythaeus
Larry Zulch, Dantz Development -- 72477.1322@compuserve.com
Leonard Rosenthol, Aladdin -- leonardr@ccs.itd.umich.edu


Word Style Flaws

A few weeks ago I received a call from Prudence Holliger of Seattle's Mac Downtown Business Users' Group. Prudence was not happy and it was definitely Word 5.0's fault. Prudence has been working on a 300 page manual, and this manual has been in existence for several years, back as far as the late Word 3.0 days. Like any good Word user, Prudence used custom styles heavily, and other people have added their own styles on occasion, sometimes duplicating existing ones, sometimes not. The result is a seriously complex document, in part due to sheer size, and in part due to numerous styles, some of which may not even go with any text any more.

So why was Prudence unhappy? Well, there's this bug, you see... (Don't you hate sentences like that?). This bug under certain conditions sets the font information in user-defined styles back to the font of the Normal style. You are left with all of your text and your text still has your styles attached, but those styles do not contain the proper font information. With a small document with only one or two styles, this isn't a serious problem, since all you have to do is edit your style and add the font information again. But when you are working on a 300 page manual with a ton of styles, you probably have better things to do than spend a day fixing up the document one last time.

There appear to be several actions that may activate the bug. If you create a document in Word 5.0 with styles in it, and then copy that document to another Mac, you might lose the font information. Lest you feel too much relief since you seldom copy files to other Macs, the other condition that can sometimes destroy the styles is adding or removing fonts from your System file. It's not clear if using Suitcase, Master Juggler, or the useful but stripped-down Carpetbag 1.2 ($5 shareware, and I highly recommend it for those who don't need the power of the commercial applications), will also cause the bug to show its ugly face.

Luckily, there is a workaround and a method that will probably prevent the bug from occurring, although you're unlikely to think of either on your own. To work around the problem once it has occurred, do NOT save the document when you see it with the incorrect font information. Return to the original machine and open the document (or simply work with the original if it is still available). It should have the correct fonts. Save in Interchange format, perhaps better known as RTF (Rich Text Format), and then transfer the file again. Everything will work fine because RTF is a straight text format that is terribly hard to read because it describes every layout or typographic change with a textual marker. However, as straight text, there's little that can go wrong with RTF documents, and in fact, saving in RTF and reinterpreting is a good way to clear up other strange problems that may occur with Word files.

If you are want to prevent this from happening, Microsoft recommends that you make sure that your machines have the same fonts available, so it sounds like there is some quirk with that old bugaboo, font IDs and font names. I ran into this several years ago with some older programs when I had Suitcase II renumber my fonts so there weren't any ID conflicts. Suddenly a bunch of my documents appeared in the wrong font, because the program stored the font by ID, which had just changed, rather than name, which is unlikely to change.

Microsoft Tech Support told Prudence that it was a known, though rare, bug, and the Microsoft PR people offered this statement. "Microsoft is committed to quality products. We are aware of this problem and have suggested methods for working around it. We understand the severity of this problem and are planning to fix it and make it available free of charge to customers experiencing the problem." From the horse's carefully-worded mouth...

I'm pleased that Microsoft realizes that the severity of this bug outweighs its rarity and will be fixing it for free. Sure, you can argue that there is a workaround and a method of prevention, but if someone doesn't know about the workaround, or a less sophisticated user encounters the bug, that person will have to recreate work, probably assuming that the computer is just acting up again. This is not to mention that saving in RTF all the time is a pain - in this day and age we shouldn't have to muck with such arcane tricks. And if you want to argue that because the bug is rare, it's not a big deal, you can tell the same thing to the very few people who lost a lot of work to the recent viruses. The fact of being in a small minority doesn't make reconstructing work any more fun.

To tell the truth, this bug concerns me more than most. I'm less concerned about bugs that can cause the Mac to crash. You can always protect yourself from crashes by saving more frequently. This bug can secretly modify your work, which I feel is more serious than a simple crash. Consider this situation. If you are a student who works on your Mac at home in Word 5.0 but prints on the public LaserWriters on campus, you will have to copy the file to a disk and take it to the printer. If you're anything like most students at Cornell University, where I watched this behavior for several years, you'll work on any given paper until the last possible minute, at which point you'll print it out and hand it in, just on time. Being bitten by this bug as you trudge to the computer center, disk in hand, could make for some serious frustration. On the other side of the coin, if you work in a public computer room at a college, tell your coworkers about the workaround. If nothing else you're guaranteed to impress someone if you miraculously save some poor student's work.

Perhaps far more dangerous is the instance of the graphic design firm that swaps files around a network with System 7 FileSharing. Design firms are more likely than students to rely heavily on styles because page layout programs can import and use those styles. In addition, such businesses are more likely to be mucking about with loading and unloading fonts frequently, thus increasing the possibility of the bug surfacing. Obviously, this bug does not affect the original file if copying the file is the cause, but the font trigger would indeed affect the original, and while a student can hand in a completely unformatted paper, a design firm will lose its collective shirt on such a practice, and it will be nice to see Microsoft release the fix. In any event, I encourage everyone to pass this article on to anyone you know who uses styles in Word - you could save them gobs of unnecessary effort.

Style Manager -- In the process of commiserating with Prudence about the massive amount of work she had to do because of this bug, we talked about the concept of a plug-in module for Word 5.0 that would help manage all those styles. I won't say it's easy, since I talked to a programmer for Alki Software about it and he thought it might be tough to get that information from Word. Alki created the MasterWord floating palettes for Word that have limited GREP functionality, among other neat things like a cool table-making tool, so they should know. We'll have a review when MasterWord ships later this summer.

What I'm throwing out for any budding programmers to consider then, is a Style Manager for Word 5.0. It should to list all the styles in any given document (the frontmost one), show a detailed list of what the styles contain, and show a character count of how much text is in that style. It should be able to link to Word's Find command so that you can browse the text that is in any given style, and once you've determined which styles are useful, you should be able to have one style take over from another (in the case of the fictional "Body Text" and "normal stuff" which are actually identical styles), and be able to delete unused styles. I'm sure there's other useful stuff it could do as well, and I'll bet people would pay $30 to $50 for such a utility.

In many ways, Word is the best word processor for long, complex documents that are destined for a page layout program, but it also seems that Microsoft often aims it at the one page business memo crowd by not adding features that could turn it into a seriously useful document processing program. Such a Style Manager would help a great deal, and I'm sure there are plenty of other useful suggestions in this arena, such as cross-references and the ability to start page numbers at any arbitrary number. Apparently people also want the ability to combine landscape and portrait printing within the same document too. Better get your votes in for Word 6.0 soon, although it may already be too late.

Microsoft Tech Support -- 206/635-7200
Microsoft Customer Service -- 800/426-9400

Information from:
Prudence Holliger
Laurel Lammers, Microsoft Corporation


QuickRing Speed

Let's face it, we computer users are greedy. We always want more power, more speed, and more time. Luckily the more advanced people at Apple (not the geniuses who gave us the crippled Classic) think along the same lines and have come up with a new technology called QuickRing, which promises to significantly enhance the Mac's utility in some data transfer-intensive tasks.

Each successive generation of Macs runs faster than the last, but the Macintosh still some notable bottlenecks, including SCSI, the memory subsystem, and the processor itself. One bottleneck that you may not often notice is the NuBus. Currently, NuBus is limited to transfer rates of about 20 MB per second on the Quadras and 10 MB per second on the older machines. A friend calculated that only a 33 MHz 68040 will begin to outpace the this bottleneck.

Apple apparently feels that 20 MB per second is not up to snuff, since snuff-induced sneezes travel pretty quickly, some 200 miles per hour according to a book I read many years ago. Enter QuickRing. QuickRing is a high-speed architecture for data transfer between NuBus cards in the Mac so that they can move data faster than ten times the maximum speed of NuBus, or 200 MB per second. That's something to sneeze at. Keep in mind that although the cards will be NuBus cards, there will have to be a faster connection to the CPU than what the NuBus offers. I anticipate that Apple will either use some sort of direct connection to the CPU (unlikely) or the Processor Direct Slot (why do you think they call it that!).

What's it good for? -- What would you want to do that would require that sort of speed? If you only use one NuBus card, you probably don't need the speed. But, if you use several cards simultaneously, the speed could come in handy. Most of us don't use several NuBus cards at the same time, but that day may come sooner than we think. Here's some examples of what QuickRing will be good for.

Apple's pushing a lot of high-technology announcements out the door these days, which is a heck of a lot easier than actually pushing the high-tech out the door. Whenever you talk about voice recognition or accurate handwriting recognition, you have to think about extra hardware. It's possible to do it in software, but the more processing power you can throw at voice recognition, the better it can do and the more it can do with what it hears. Voice recognition is perfect job for a fast card with a digital signal processor (DSP) chip, though Apple may manage to get it working completely in software on today's high-end Macs.

QuickTime is nice idea and seriously snazzy, but let's face it, watching a five second clip of "Star Wars" on a postage stamp isn't exactly my idea of entertainment. To produce serious QuickTime movies you need hardware, and the more you have, the better. Today's hardware (like a VideoSpigot) lets you do real-time video in a 160 x 120 pixel window - increasing the window to size of an index card will limit the frames per second. However, if you can throw some faster hardware at the problem with one card to bring in video, another to compress it, and a third to display accelerated graphics, you could probably capture full-screen real-time video, assuming you had that sort of hard disk space. Alternately, a 13" color TV and cheap VCR will do the same thing. :-)

Another proposed use is in high-speed networking, although the current NuBus is more than sufficient for even a theoretically-fast Ethernet network, which runs at 10 megabits per second (Mbps), and even a super-fast 100 Mbps network could in theory work with NuBus, although there would certainly be speed-eating conflicts if anything else was using the NuBus at the same time. The main things I can imagine that would require such speeds would have to do with complex graphics or video. Videoconferencing might come into its own with QuickRing, especially since there's very little processing that would have to go on, so the processor and memory systems wouldn't be limiting factors.

Of course, once you've got a tremendously fast network, you will probably want to do some distributed processing of all those 3-D rendered QuickTime movies you'll be making. Sending some of the processing work off to other Macs on your network will work fine, but there's no need for new technology for that. You could also put multiple processors in one Mac and have them communicate very quickly to off-load processing from your primary CPU. Radius is already working on this sort of thing with its Rocket accelerators and RocketShare, and perhaps there are some multiple processing applications that could benefit from this, although the Mac would need much faster memory to really take advantage of it.

Why it's cool. -- I've perhaps sounded slightly dubious about some of these uses, but Paul Sweazey of Apple's Advanced Technology Group pointed out why QuickRing truly is a big step. Although the NuBus doesn't seem like a major bottleneck, you have to keep in mind that it has to carry numerous different tasks. So in a common setup, you might have an EtherTalk card, an accelerated video card, and maybe a Radius Rocket, all in the same Mac. None of those individual tasks will present any threat to the bandwidth of the NuBus, but together, they might come close. Add in a voice recognition board and something to capture real-time video, and you've seriously overloaded NuBus, which would have been more than enough for one of those tasks.

Even more important is the fact that NuBus is fairly inefficient, so the three tasks will bump into each other all the time. No one anticipates needing 200 MB per second of throughput with one task on QuickRing, at least not right away, but in the meantime, it will provide faster real-world speed to multiple slower tasks. Think of NuBus as a two lane highway that bogs down when there are 50 cars all trying to enter and exit at the same time. QuickRing, in contrast, would be the equivalent of a 20 lane highway for those same 50 cars. Plenty of room.

Interestingly, Apple decided to get help with QuickRing, and it was developed jointly by Apple's Advanced Technology Group, National Semiconductor, Molex, and Beta Phase. National Semiconductor designed the controller chip, and Molex and Beta Phase cooperated on designing and manufacturing the interconnect system to go between the cards. Apparently, the hard part was to create the chip and the interconnect system using conventional methods so that the finished products could be produced in high volume and at a reasonably low cost. The problem was that these controllers and interconnect systems have been done in the past, but only to work with Cray supercomputers and the like, and you just don't worry too much about producing anything for a Cray in volume cheaply. There just aren't enough Crays around and they're so expensive that no one worries about the price of a controller chip here or an interconnect system there.

It will be a while before QuickRing products appear, but I believe they will be compatible with current high-end machines, so that won't be a limiting factor. In fact, it seems that without faster processors and faster memory, we won't be able to do much at all with QuickRing. However, processors, memory systems, and disk storage systems have all significantly increased in either speed or capacity in the last few years, and the main area left dormant has been the bus systems. QuickRing may provide more than the rest of the Mac can handle, but so what? Aldus could never have created PageMaker 4.2 if all we had was double 800K floppies. QuickRing pushes the performance envelope, and the rest of the systems will play catch-up with what it makes possible for few years, just as software developers were suddenly able to create huge applications like PageMaker once most everyone had a hard disk.

Look for components to start being available to developers in early 1993, which means products might show up sometime in 1993/94, or a bit before the future fantasy time when Taligent is supposed to deliver Pink. Developers interested in QuickRing can send email to Apple at the AppleLink address QUICKRING or send snail mail to the following address:

QuickRing
Apple Computer, Inc.
Mail Stop: 76-4K
20450 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014 USA

Information from:
Apple propaganda
QUICKRING@applelink.apple.com
Paul Sweazey, Apple Computer


Reviews/01-Jun-92

References:


Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.

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