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What do you think we'd write about? Macworld Boston, of course, and we have so much to say that the Macworld articles will keep coming for another few issues. This first issue brings you Mark Anbinder's superlatives of the show and the first half of his discussion of Apple's new system software technologies. We also managed to sneak in a brief bit about the conclusion of the Apple/Microsoft suit and a review of Connectix PowerBook Utilities.
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Macworld has ended, starting out full of sound and fury (mostly sound) and draining off into the waters of Boston Harbor as everyone tried their hardest to be perky and polite when in fact they too were having trouble standing up. The weather turned out good this year, and I found the company of so many kindred spirits equally as pleasant. I enjoyed meeting many of you with whom I've spoken in the past, and I was gratified for the first time to have people stop me in the crowded aisles and thank me for TidBITS. It is I who should do the thanking since I couldn't and wouldn't do it without the many TidBITS readers. Incidentally, if you're wondering, we estimate that between 40,000 and 50,000 people read TidBITS each week. That estimate comes from readership numbers for the Usenet group comp.sys.mac.digest, our Internet mailing list, and the various commercial services. The great unknown comes from the difficult-to-track private BBSs, many of which carry TidBITS.
Fileserver files -- For those of you who experienced difficulty in receiving files while I attended the show, please try again. We had some modem difficulties which I can now handle. In addition, keep in mind that the information files from Salient and Infogrip will not remain on the server indefinitely, so I recommend sending email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> for the index if you want information about Infogrip's chord keyboard or Salient's compression products (including an incredibly useful list of known conflicts with other programs).
Judge Walker of the US District Court of Northern California upheld his earlier ruling in favor of Microsoft in the long-standing suit with Apple over various visual displays in Windows. Judge Walker ruled that all the visual displays in question fell into one of three categories, licensed, unprotectible, or simply different. Interestingly, last week Lotus won its look and feel suit against Borland for Borland's use of the 1-2-3 menu structure in Quattro Pro. It's a strange and slimy land out there, and perhaps we'll look at this in more depth in a future article.
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
At a trade show with thousands of products, it's impossible to see everything, or even all the important things. If you missed some of these products, or if you missed the Expo entirely, please contact the companies mentioned below and tell them you read about their products in TidBITS. Some of these products will receive more in-depth coverage later on, but we wanted to get some of the juicy details to you right away.
Best CD-ROM -- In an age where CD-ROM drives are becoming less and less expensive, and may even become standard equipment on future Macs, it's not easy to produce a CD-ROM that stands out. Macworld had many impressive CD-ROMs, but in my opinion the Macintosh Product Registry, by Redgate Communications, rates as the most impressive. Redgate publishes a useful periodical catalog containing categorized lists of Mac products and vendors, and they've outdone themselves by putting this information on CD. Volume 2 is up to date through mid-July. The combination of a well-designed stack to access the information and an invaluable compendium of data make for a great product that should be on every Mac manager's or reseller's desk.
Redgate -- 800/333-8760 -- 407/231-6904
Snazzy, if Simple -- Okay, so having a computer phone another computer and pass along a short text message is nothing new. Combine that with the latest in 1990's pager technology, though, and you've got Notify! from Ex Machina. Notify! allows users to send messages to personal pagers by calling a central computer offering paging services, such as SkyTel and MobileComm. In addition to the basic software, Ex Machina showed pre-release versions of a network package that allows users to send pages through a single modem, a QuickMail gateway for sending pages from a QuickMail window, and a Microsoft Mail add-on that can forward email to a pager based on urgency or even key words within the message.
Ex Machina -- 718/965-0309
Biggest Disappointment -- I don't like to say negative things when I can avoid it, but I've been looking forward to seeing a revamped Microsoft Works 3.0, and it just ain't there. Rumors that Microsoft scrapped an early version of 3.0 and reworked it from the ground up in response to other integrated offerings are clearly untrue, as Works 3.0, which Microsoft exhibited in "late beta" form, is merely an incremental upgrade to their existing product. Don't get me wrong; Works 3.0 includes a vast number of good improvements in feature set and interface, but it just doesn't take the quantum leap in concept that's required of any serious player in the current integrated software market. ClarisWorks and BeagleWorks, unless Claris and Beagle Bros. do something foolish, will undoubtedly walk away with the ever-growing market.
Microsoft -- 206/882-8080
Silliest Costume -- Without a doubt the silliest costume award goes to SuperMac Technology for its yellow-clad superhero, who stood outside the booth the entire duration of the Expo, handing out literature and drawing in customers. Another company had people dressed all in black wearing face paint, but these folks looked so uninterested in being there that I wasn't even curious enough to go see which company they represented.
SuperMac -- 408/245-2202
Most Musical -- Macworld Expos have often been graced with an assortment of would-be musicians, electronic instruments, and sound compilation products, but it took Prosonus to do it right. They offer collections of great sounds that work with SoundMaster and other sound utilities, but most importantly, they now have a CD-ROM called MusicBytes that gives the budding multimedia mogul a collection of "clip music" and sound effects for use in presentations, QuickTime movies, etc. The material on the disc is license-free, and features music performed by artists such as Pink Floyd's Scott Page and Steely Dan's Jeff Baxter, who were both on hand to perform live for attendees. The disc includes Media Librarian, a HyperCard stack that makes selecting and using the clips a breeze.
Prosonus -- 800/999-6191 -- 818/766-5221
Handiest Handout -- Giveaways were fewer and farther between each year, it seems, but vendors were still creative when it came to deciding what to give attendees. The best by far was an Expo guide from Portfolio Systems, publisher of the Dynodex contact management software. The guide, sized just right for the average pocket, contained a complete list of exhibiting companies and their booth numbers, along with a map of Boston and a brief list of local service businesses, restaurants, and hotels. If Portfolio doesn't elect to provide this service again, Mitch Hall and Associates (Macworld Expo's organizers) would do well to provide something similar as a companion to the standard bulky program guide.
Portfolio Systems -- 800/729-3966 -- 408/252-0420
Best PowerBook Product -- Considering the number of PowerBook notebook computers Apple has sold since the product's introduction last October, it's little wonder that just about every other booth had something for PowerBook owners. These ranged from external display solutions to alternative battery chargers (and other power options), but among the specialized software offerings we found one clear winner. Connectix PowerBook Utilities, or CPU, is a compact collection of utilities and controls that no PowerBook user should miss. As they did with Virtual and MODE32, Connectix has created a product that should have come from Apple's engineers but didn't. Among the features are improved power management, security mode, larger cursor, screen saver, and keyboard shortcuts.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100
Most Evident -- If you stopped by the World Trade Center half of the Expo you couldn't help but notice Focus, a new company that ensured exposure by hiring a battalion of local kids to hand out plastic bags, catalogs, and brochures at the doors to the exhibit hall. My first guess was that this company wasn't actually exhibiting, but a closer look proved that they in fact had a large booth over at the Bayside Expo Center. Focus formed last fall as a direct-sales vendor that promises quality, service, support, and value to customers. Focus avoids going through dealers that president Thomas Massie feels are overloaded and can't support today's vast range of products. While I know some dealers who do just fine supporting their product lines, I can certainly see the value of direct vendor support and a strong line of products. Focus offers a growing line of networking and storage hardware products, including network connectors and hubs acquired from NuvoTech late last year. If their products and support are as good as Massie suggests, then not just dealers, but run-of-the-mill mail order suppliers will need to watch out.
Focus -- 617/938-8088
For the Wealthy -- Speaking of products for PowerBooks, a couple of vendors had users drooling over color LCD flat-panel displays for the user on the move. Unfortunately, this technology isn't ready for the mainstream - Envisio's display, for example, retails for $5495. Apple is rumored to be working on color versions of the PowerBook line as well, and it's likely that someone offer a color product closer to most users' pocketbooks within the next couple of Macworld Expos. In the meantime, the technology is available to those who really need it and have lots of money to spare.
Envisio -- 612/339-1008
Most Daring -- Electronic pornography has come a long way since the days not so long ago when bored college students would print out dirty pictures made up of line after line of text characters on mainframe printers across campus. MacPaint and inexpensive digitizers popularized the distribution of scanned pictures, both R- and X-rated, and the last few years have seen an explosion of adult GIF collections, thanks to the popular universal graphics file format invented by CompuServe. Well, electroporn has entered the '90s, with a series of CD-ROM products from Romulus Entertainment and other vendors. Their latest products are full-length QuickTime feature films, digitized from video tape for your computing pleasure. "House of Dreams" is one of the most popular; it's a 76-minute X-rated film from Caballero Home Video that's simply been digitized in 16-bit color and stereo sound. The included Digital Ecstasy QuickTime viewer seems well designed, if no more functional than Apple's Simple Player, and prospective purchasers should note that, like all high-resolution high-depth QuickTime movies, this one works best in 16-bit or 24-bit color modes, on as fast a machine as possible. On an '020 machine like the LC or Mac II, or a slow '030 machine, QuickTime is unlikely to keep up all of the time.
Romulus Entertainment -- 310/453-5068
You Were Saying? -- For a while now, industry journalists have seen automatic compression software as a bad idea and have said that we should wait until compression is implemented in the hardware or the device drivers. I disagree that automatic compression software is a bad idea (utilities like AutoDoubler and StuffIt SpaceSaver seem to do just fine), but Golden Triangle is about to enter the compression market with Times Two, a driver that can be installed on almost any storage device and does the compression and decompression work at a level where conflicts theoretically can't occur. The driver replaces the standard driver from Apple or your third-party drive's manufacturer, much the way Silverlining and HDToolkit do. Golden Triangle has been in the storage market for a while, and undoubtedly has the expertise required to create such a universal driver. Some storage experts remain skeptics, but if Golden Triangle's shipping product is stable, it would be a boon to storage-poor computer users.
Golden Triangle -- 619/279-2100
The Final Frontier -- Last in our gathering of notables from the Expo is the Star Trek Collection of After Dark screen-saver modules from Berkeley Systems, Inc. Berkeley, who last summer introduced the More After Dark add-on for their popular screen-saver software, has now teamed up with Paramount to offer a group of fun modules that range from animated scenes (complete with stereotypical Trek dialog) to USS Enterprise schematics that match the ones seen on viewscreens in the episodes and movies. As a Mac user, I can't help but think that's silly -- but as a Star Trek fan, I can't wait to see the final product! :-)
Berkeley Systems -- 510/540-5535
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
Sometimes half the trick in dealing with Macworld Expo is knowing where to look for the real news. That was certainly the case this time, as some of the most stunning new technology shown at Macworld appeared at the nearby Boston Computer Museum as the System Software Revolution Showcase.
Several Apple teams, and representatives from a variety of third-party developers, displayed uses of system software features that are as yet unavailable to the end user. System 7.1 (scheduled to ship in a matter of weeks) was the least exciting technology shown, and that's not intended to suggest it wasn't nifty in and of itself! It's just that QuickDraw GX, WorldScript, OCE, and AppleScript are all niftier.
Actually, according to Apple system software engineers, System 7.1's primary purposes are to gather together the fixes and enhancements from the Tune-Up releases; to provide hooks for other upcoming technologies; and to add a couple of minor enhancements, such as a Fonts folder within the System Folder. Anyone who plans to use the various new technologies (which should ship over the next several months) will need to upgrade to System 7.1, but there won't be much direct enhancement in functionality for users who already have 7.0 or 7.0.1 and Tune-Up 1.1.1.
Most of these technologies are expected to be distributed in a manner similar to QuickTime. None of them are likely to be a built-in part of the system software, for the simple reason that they'd take up a ridiculous amount of disk storage space and memory. Instead, third-party developers will probably license these technologies for distribution along with their applications that require them. Apple will likely offer parts of the technologies free of charge, but may reserve useful utilities for saleable packages such as the QuickTime Starter Kit, released this spring. Nothing definite so far.
QuickDraw GX -- QuickDraw GX, while it incorporates many new features that are tough to visualize, had one of the most impressive single-feature demonstrations. This new version of Apple's graphical imaging engine includes routines that can quickly and cleanly rotate any bitmap image to any angle.
Long-time Mac users will remember the thrill of using the Rotate feature of ClickArt Effects to spin a MacPaint image. This produced mediocre results, and the image couldn't be rotated on the fly.
Using routines provided as part of QuickDraw GX, though, software developers will be able to provide rotation features that work quickly enough that you can grab the image and spin it, and it will update fluidly throughout your spin. The resulting bitmap is also attractive, and retains enough of the data that if you decide to rotate it back to the original orientation, it will still look quite good.
The immensity of this feat may be lost on those who don't know the complexity of matrix mathematics. While I don't pretend to be a mathematician (readers who saw me struggling through college math courses can stop laughing now!), I do know that these folks have done some fine work. The caveat, of course, is that the fluid performance being shown was accomplished on a Quadra 700... but the engineers feel that, with the debugging routines removed and the code tweaked for optimum performance, these functions will perform well even on lesser machines.
Less flashy but more important are the various features of QuickDraw GX that support the Line Layout Manager and WorldScript. The Line Layout Manager didn't quite make it into System 7. It includes support for other-than-left-to-right writing systems, so that users may change orientation in the middle of a line or paragraph simply by selecting a font that's designed for a different direction. This will be invaluable to educators working with foreign language translations, or anyone who needs to communicate in more than one writing system. In addition, the Line Layout Manager offers automatic ligatures, so that when a user is typing in a font that supports this, character pairs such as "fi" will immediately display in ligated form, for cleaner-looking display and nicer-looking printed output. Of course, these 65,536-symbol fonts (required for some non-roman alphabets) and automatic ligatures require the new TrueType GX.
Last but not least in the QuickDraw GX lineup comes a new Printing Manager, another feature that Apple originally planned to ship with System 7. For developers, the new Printing Manager provides a cleaner, simpler architecture that will make it easier to develop third-party printer drivers. As a result, we should see a wider variety of third-party printers available for the Macintosh market in the future. For users, the new manager offers optional access to the vaunted drag & drop interface that's so important to System 7. Once you have selected a printer in the Chooser, you can create an icon for that printer that may be left on the desktop or, in fact, just about anywhere. Each printer can have its own icon, so printing a document will be a simple matter of dragging it to the printer of your choice. When double-clicked, the printer icons reveal the printer's job queue, and thanks to the magic of File Sharing, these queues can show all jobs waiting for the printer, not just the individual user's jobs. All printers can support network sharing, even serially-connected ones. Naturally, print jobs can be dragged from queue to queue, and can be previewed with a simple double-click. The PrintMonitor [known as PrintMonster in some circles -Tonya], one of the last of Apple's MultiFinder kludges, has gone the way of the DA Handler, having been incorporated into the operating system. Finally, the new Printing Manager will allow applications to support mixed portrait and landscape printing within the same document, and even mixed page sizes within the same document, so you could print an envelope in the same file as the letter.
WorldScript -- WorldScript may be the most remarkable of the new technologies that Apple's elves have been working on, even though it's not the flashiest. This component of the operating system works with the Line Layout Manager and permits Apple to support languages and writing systems that can't easily be handled in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom, 255-symbol manner. They have managed so far with software like KanjiTalk, but WorldScript will make the Macintosh operating system a truly international one. It will allow 65,536 characters (or other symbols) in each font, which will comfortably support most known writing systems. At the same time, WorldScript allows users to combine left-to-right and right-to-left writing systems on the same line, something that required a real feat of applications programming in the past.
As mentioned above, WorldScript makes heavy use of new features offered in QuickDraw GX, so it will depend on its presence. The only unfortunate part of WorldScript is that it does not support the Unicode format that Apple, Microsoft, and numerous other developers hammered out recently. We don't know the details about this, but we anticipate that a future version of WorldScript will be compatible with Unicode.
[Stay tuned for OCE and AppleScript next week. -Adam]
Those of you with PowerBooks would do well to check out a new utility from Connectix, called Connectix PowerBook Utilities, or CPU. I had a chance to use CPU because Seattle's dBUG kindly lent me a PowerBook 140, and I must say that I liked both a lot. Anyway, CPU addresses the four main differences between a PowerBook and a desktop Mac: security, the LCD screen, the trackball, and the battery.
Security and Avoiding Screen Ghosts -- CPU offers minimal but appropriate security. You can either create a graphic screen with a hot spot for resuming work after sleep or a create a message with a password. It doesn't try to exclude hackers, just casual prying eyes, and you can defeat it with a boot floppy, avoiding the forgotten password problem. LCD screens cannot burn in as such, but Roy MacDonald of Connectix explained that leaving the same screen on an LCD can cause a "memory effect" that results in a ghost that only disappears after the proper exorcism of leaving the PowerBook turned off for a few hours. We're not talking serious here, but potentially annoying, so the CPU screensaver merely flips the pixels so white is black and black is white. No flying toasters here. I suggested that they allow the screen to stay inverted since some people prefer the switch and it might save a little power. Perhaps in the next version.
Trackball Assistance -- I haven't had much trouble with the trackball, but I can see how some people would. So Connectix added the ability to have menus auto-drop when you move over them or drop and stay down with a single click (the MacHack entry StickyClick does this too, and you can find it on ZiffNet/Mac). More importantly, CPU provides access to menus using the keyboard and a system unfortunately graphically reminiscent of Windows with the hot key underlined. I'd far prefer a slightly different font or bolding, because underlines can be ugly, especially under a letter with a descender. I guess it's the standard method since there are so many copies of Windows out there, but that doesn't excuse it aesthetically.
Power Conservation -- CPU's most important features are its power saving features, and these abound. First, you can easily configure the times to spin down the hard drive, rest the processor, dim the backlighting, and put the PowerBook to sleep. Second, you can activate any of these power-saving measures with a hot-key, so I often shut down the hard drive when it wasn't doing anything because I enjoy working on a silent PowerBook. Third, CPU provides sleep corners, and a click in a sleep corner acts as a powerful sedative. When you wake up a CPU-enabled PowerBook, you don't have to wait for five to fifteen seconds, because Connectix figured out how to delay the polling of the ADB and the network that PowerBooks generally do when waking up. One additional touch that I especially appreciated was the spin-up cursor that indicated when the drive was spinning up since you can't do anything during that time. Finally, Connectix recognized that you use the PowerBook in different places, so you can create sets of settings, with - for example - settings for travelling, where power may be hard to find; for home, where you can plug in easily; and for running on wall power, at which point you don't need to conserve power.
Apple's software doesn't tell much about power levels, something which Connectix tries to rectify. You can set CPU to display a graphical battery draining, the percent of battery power left, an estimated amount of time you can use the machine, the processor speed, and those old favorites, the time and date. I like seeing this information, since it tells me more clearly when I should head for the plug. For those of you without CPU, Nisus Compact also includes a percent of battery left indication, and it and CPU even more or less agree.
Conclusion -- Enough on CPU, especially since I hear that After Hours Software will soon offer Guy's Utilities for Macintosh - PowerBook Edition (GUM-P, and yup, that means other editions will come soon), and what I've heard is good. Now if only we could work out a better acronym for Guy... Guy's Utilities for Macintosh PowerBooks Taken In and Out of .... Nebraska? :-) I talked to Guy briefly about GUM-P, and as far as I could tell, it has basically the same feature set as CPU, but includes a utility that can synchronize files between a desktop Mac and a PowerBook. I suspect you could put together a suite of shareware utilities that would provide some of the functionality of these packages, but you would risk more conflicts, due to the number of different extensions from different sources.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100
CPU propaganda and manual -- CONNECTIX@applelink.apple.com
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