Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
A varied catch this issue, starting with quick notes about Morph, Excel 4.0, and European Macintosh distribution, and continuing with an interesting article on gray market mail order vendors. We have a few more notes from Macworld about neat new products from Voyager and new items from Casady & Greene, and an article on how IBM may be close on the heels of QuickTime. Finally, the VRAM conundrum!
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Rob Managan writes, "Another use for Morph occurred to me as I read the article. Often in scientific work you have images from a simulation that are not spaced close enough in time for an animation. Morph might provide a way to easily get the interpolated frames you need to make a movie!"
Rob Managan -- email@example.com
Excel 4 Upgrade -- Mark H. Anbinder writes, "Microsoft Excel customers who are stunned by the zippy release of Excel 4.0 and are interested in upgrading will be pleased to learn that they can upgrade for pseudo-free (there is a $7.50 shipping charge) if they purchased Excel 3.0 after 15-Feb-92. Customers should call 800/426-9400 and should have their registration information handy. (Please call after 25-Aug-92, as Microsoft's entire sales division has been partying hard at an annual sales meeting (we're talking Mr. Bill running around with a squirt gun, to judge from a second-hand eyewitness account) and will be swamped when they return to the normal routine on 24-Aug-92!)."
Microsoft -- 800/426-9400
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
European Distribution -- Povl H. Pedersen writes:
Apple has not dropped the PowerBook 100 from the price list here in Denmark, but they have lowered the price. I am not sure about the consumer or business markets, but we still have it in the educational market.
We also still have the Classic here, but educational resellers sell the Classic II for about $1.50 (yes, a dollar and a half) more than the Classic. This is because Apple has no special price on the Classic, which we have at same price as the consumer market, but we do have a great back-to-school discount on both the Classic II and the LC/monitor bundle. Somehow the LC with 12" color monitor ends up about $15 cheaper than the LC with 12" monochrome monitor.
Here in Scandinavia Apple now has three competing divisions, each of which individually sets prices and must compete against the others. That's why we see such large price differences between the consumer, educational, and business markets.
Povl H. Pedersen -- ECO861771@ecostat.aau.dk
by Gene Borio -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The impetus for this article came from an online question, "Where do all these mail-order Macs come from anyway?" A loaded question, and not one I've ever seen covered. Being in the channel myself ("the channel" is the business term for the organizations and methods used by computer companies to route products to the end user. It encompasses distributors, resellers, VARs [value-added resellers], and even direct mail), I find all the undercover slipping and sliding and back-stabbing fascinating - and highly influential. The traditional magazines tend not to view such things as interesting to their readers, so I will try to give a brief, "received knowledge" overview. Keep in mind that I work at a dealership, so my bias should be obvious.
Apple's Authorized Dealership system indirectly provides the impetus for mail order Macintoshes. Apple created its network of Authorized Dealers as a method of efficiently distributing Macintoshes and off-loading support. Ideally, these Apple Dealers would be Mac experts, qualified to turn a PC sale into a Mac sale, and trained not only to assist customers with their first fumbling attempts to work mice and menus, but also to fix a machine should it break down. That was the deal, and Apple implemented any number of plans to try to convince salespeople, most of whom had been selling Apple ][s or Klones or shoes, to learn a little something about the Mac. These attempts at training and Mac-oriented rewards were dismal failures. Most salespeople sold what they knew, and - as has been bemoaned on CompuServe and in the world at large from time immemorial - most Apple-authorized dealers know next to nothing about the Mac.
Well, in lieu of knowledge, how about bucks? A highly effective sales-incentive method rewarded dealers for selling lots of Macs, in the form of "cheaper by the dozen" discounts. The more you bought, the deeper your discount. In such a viciously competitive market, this meant that in order to stay in business, many dealers had to buy far more than they could possibly legitimately sell.
Some resellers then got the bright idea to open their own little side-business at another location and sell Macs to a national audience at cut-rate mail-order prices. The mail-order house's overhead would be low - no retail location, service department, or salesperson training necessary - so they could dramatically increase volume with only the expenses of telephone bills, personnel, advertising, shipping, and accounting. If the mail order outlet needed even more stock or certain hard-to-find items, it could work out a deal with other resellers looking to reduce inventory and build up their own discounts. Some mail order houses are totally independent of a reseller and simply provide the service for - and get the products from - a number of resellers.
So: dealers over-buy to increase their discounts, and sell the excess to a mail-order house. It's not exactly kosher, but not strictly illegal either. It's not the black-market, but the gray-market. Naturally, Apple tries to protect its legitimate dealers and will yank a dealer's authorization if it finds evidence of this practice. Apple has done this on occasion, but not often as far as I know. Policing costs are high. But dealers do want to be careful, so some dealers will alter or completely deface the serial numbers on the Macs they sell gray-market so they can't be traced back to that dealer. Be sure to check for a damaged serial number if you buy a grey-market Macintosh because dealers can refuse to provide warranty service for a Mac with a missing or defaced serial number. In the unhappy event that a legitimate Mac has lost its serial number sticker (possible if it was a demo model, for instance), make sure to get that serial number on the invoice so you have a record of it for potential warranty problems.
When I worked with Mac Emporium in New York City I wondered what could be so wrong with having a whole network of small stores stuffed with Mac Fanatics who in aggregate would be incredibly influential in selling the Mac? We all loved it so, you would hardly even have had to feed us; we'd work for peanuts and proselytize our little hearts out. But no. Apple demands an impossible amount of sales (thus further aggravating the need of stores to "move boxes") and has requirements that work against a small neighborhood store becoming authorized.
Thus mail order houses get their Macintosh equipment from Apple. Apple's dealer and discount policies created this Frankenstein monster of the "reseller channel" and the whole raison d'etre for the gray-market. It fascinates me that Apple has done nothing but slap their monster in the face over the last year. Apple demanded that education resellers stop selling competing (DOS) systems into the lucrative education market. Then they announced that they were taking away "infrastructure" funds, extra money Apple had paid for years for various services the resellers could provide for Apple - and for many resellers the only reason they could stay competitive at such low selling margins. Just recently Apple sold PowerBook 100 4/40s to Price Club at an obscenely low price. Although Price Club sold the PowerBooks at close to half the price the resellers had originally paid for their inventory, Apple kept mum, as if the reseller channel was so unimportant that it didn't even deserve notice. [It now appears that the dealers will get similarly good deals on other models of the PowerBook 100, so look for prices in the mid $700 range from your local dealer. -Adam] The monster, the reseller channel, that Apple created is clearly about to be kicked out into the world to fend for its feeble, lumbering self, while The Wiz and Circuit City and other consumer electronics outlets - and who knows, maybe even Apple, through its own mail order division - pour Macs to the world at large.
[MacWEEK recently reported that Claris had investigated the possibility of building cheap Macintosh clones overseas and selling them under the Claris label, and apparently Apple is considering either selling Macs directly itself through the mail or authorizing certain existing mail order vendors to sell Macs as well. Apple recently authorized mail order vendors like MacWarehouse and MacConnection to sell Apple software, and some wonder if hardware can be far behind. Interestingly, these places can all sell Macs, but few of them can adequately service or support Macs, which may lead to some changes in dealer programs. -Adam]
Why Apple originally didn't want to go mail order, why they built the reseller channel, why they did all these things in the way they did is a complete mystery to me. As David Ramsey, in about the harshest criticism of Apple I've heard him give publicly, said, "Apple's marketing folks are a bunch of inept yahoos. Isn't this obvious after all the years of Apple's bizarre and self-destructive marketing practices?"
If I were Apple, I'd have gone to any distribution that would take me. Mail order, small dealers, electronics stores - ah! Maybe they didn't take these venues because they wanted to play with the big boys; they had to combat all that "toy computer" propaganda from priesthood-protecting DOSsers. The marketing concept of "authorized resellers" for computers had been in practice for a long time, and selling the Mac next to a Coleco Adam or a MyFirstComputer display in Sears would have enforced the toy misconception. I'm sure they had some sort of rationale (which would be interesting to hear from an insider).
As I said, this is mostly received knowledge. Not many history books cover this stuff. I expect to be corrected in some aspects, and hope those more knowledgeable will elaborate upon others.
[Do note that this is not a black and white issue. You will find good dealers along with the thoroughly inept ones, and I'm sure we have reputable mail order firms (Maya Computer had a good customer support reputation, for instance) along with those that will take your money and run. We're not trying to make a judgement call here, but are rather trying explain the situation so you can decide for yourself. -Adam]
MacWEEK -- 17-Aug-92, Vol. 6, #30, pg. 1
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
Apple pushers who have enjoyed a few months of uninterrupted multimedia advantage thanks to QuickTime are now a bit more concerned about what the other side has been up to. IBM reps are now showing stunning full-screen, full-motion video and sound on the PS/2 Ultimedia Model M57 SLC... and they are understandably enthusiastic about what they're showing.
The multimedia-oriented workstation is designed around a custom 386 SLC processor, essentially an enhanced 20 MHz 386 SX. It includes a color touch-sensitive display, CD-ROM drive, and high-quality audio, as well as IBM's XGA graphics standard. An upcoming enhancement will be a 40 MHz 486 CPU upgrade for the existing machine.
What impressed me at a recent computer show at which both IBM and Apple were showing multimedia solutions was that, while Apple's QuickTime technology is capable of showing full-motion video on a fast machine in a small window, IBM's technology can actually fill the screen with VCR-quality 30-frame-per-second video for several minutes at a stretch, reading the video and sound from the hard disk and decompressing on the fly.
This isn't to say that QuickTime is not a stunning technology; it is. It has a tremendous potential for providing multimedia at all levels, from the casual user on an LC II to the power user on a Quadra 950. My point is simply that Apple can't rest on its QuickTime laurels. The technology must move forward, because IBM's Ultimedia technology is at QuickTime's heels.
IBM -- 800/426-9402
Like most computer manufacturers, Apple uses different sources for its chips, and this policy, though normally unnoticed, has caused some difficulties in upgrading the video RAM (VRAM) in Macintosh LCs, Quadras, and 4*8 video cards. Apple differentiates between its VRAM SIMMs, so you can make sure you buy the right parts when upgrading. However, if already have an upgrade, you may experience strange problems.
For instance, if you have the wrong VRAM on a 4*8 card, the monitor may come up after a cold boot (turning the power switch on) in black & white mode without the "millions of colors" option available in the Monitors Control Panel. Restarting (a warm boot) will cause that option to appear, but the problem will recur every cold boot.
If you use inappropriate SIMMs in a Macintosh LC, a few pixels along the left edge of the screen may intermittently change color. Similarly, inappropriate SIMMs in a Quadra may cause pixels to drop out on large monitors.
To solve the problem, buy the right VRAM expansion kit from Apple or make sure your dealer replaces a defective VRAM SIMM with a correct one. If you bought your VRAM from a third party vendor, complain to them to get a correct SIMM.
Here are the Apple part numbers for the original VRAM SIMMs:
Part Number Description M0517LL/A Mac LC 512K VRAM SIMM Use with Macintosh LC only M5953LL/A Macintosh VRAM Expansion Kit Use with Macintosh Quadra only 661-0609 VRAM SIMM, 256K Use two SIMMs to upgrade Macintosh Display Card 4*8 only
Defective VRAM should be replaced with the following service part numbers:
Part Number Description 661-0609 VRAM SIMM, 256K - use with Macintosh Display Card 4*8 only 661-0649 VRAM SIMM, 512K - use with the Macintosh LC only 661-0722 VRAM SIMM, 256K - use with CPUs (Quadras and LC) only
Mark H. Anbinder -- email@example.com
by Ilene Hoffman -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Initially I felt Macworld 1992 was less busy than in past years, but on the second day I revised my opinion when I could not even see the booths through the people at the World Trade Center. Upon arriving at the Bayside Exposition Hall on the next day, an audio-visual assault confronted me. It was loud, hot, and many booths had their own flavor of music (isn't multimedia wonderful), none of which complemented each other. No rest for the weary in this building! Overall, I felt that the show, although lacking in hoopla such as the WingZ exhibit in 1990, was a crowded success.
Due the large size of the show, I decided to write about new products that were announced and shipping at the show. I skimmed the press packages to find those few gems, and, interestingly, found only one company who had their press information in disk format. So much for the paperless office. As it turns out, few new products were actually announced and shipping, and some of those we've already covered. Here are some notes on several more.
Voyaging Onward -- My vote for the most interesting and entertaining product goes to the Voyager Company for an entertainment CD ROM for adults, called Rodney's Wonder Window. Rodney's Wonder Window's creator, Rodney Alan Greenblat, calls his artistic work an interactive gallery exhibit. He created 23 interactive modules offering animation, whimsical stories, QuickTime vignettes and just plain mindless fun. Greenblat's humorous art draws from and reflects such varied sources as vaudeville, PeeWee Herman, Saturday Night Live, and Yellow Submarine. I found it thoroughly entertaining.
Too many CD-ROMs are a compendium of unrelated art with tinny electronic music and boring snippets of marketing material, such as the Macworld ExpoCD given out free at the show. In contrast, Rodney's Wonder Window, as one user said, is the first art-form on CD-ROM which is one man's talented vision. It has unity of purpose (fun), focus (art), and it worked correctly. The only bugs in this product are Greenblat's creations. The $39 CD-ROM officially requires 4 MB of RAM; System 6.0.7 or later; and a 13", 256-color monitor (or better). However, I ran into screen redraw problems on a 4 MB Mac and had to add 4 MB more RAM to run it without any problems - so make sure you have at least 4 MB free when using Rodney's Wonder Window.
Voyager had a few other announcements, including their $295 Expanded Book Toolkit, which allows Mac users to produce their own multimedia books. The Expanded Book Toolkit will ship this month, and we hope to bring you more detailed information about it in a later issue.
[Those of you on the Internet might want to try this with some of the electronic texts from Project Gutenberg. You can subscribe to the Gutenberg LISTSERV by sending email to LISTSERV@UIUCVMD.BITNET with this line in the body of the mailfile: "SUBSCRIBE GUTNBERG your full name" For those you wanting to try this on the cheap, there is a freeware stack called BookBuilder available via FTP on <ftp.apple.com> in the /ftp/alug/hypercard directory. No guarantees - I haven't even downloaded it. -Adam]
Voyager shipped four new Expanded Books, which are designed to be read on the PowerBooks, but can be read any large screen Mac. Voyager's most recent Expanded Books are Ken Kesey's "Sailor Song," and William Gibson's cyberpunk trilogy "Neuromancer," "Count Zero," and "Mona Lisa Overdrive."
Voyager has available two new music related CD-ROMs. "Richard Strauss: Three Tone Poems" and Volume 1 of So I've Heard. So I've Heard is music critic Alan Rich's five volume series of the history of music. Volume 1, "Bach and Before" covers musical history from ancient Greece to the mid-18th century in a nine-part essay with 48 music samplings. The Strauss CD is a nine-part HyperCard program, allowing users to explore Strauss's music in-depth.
The Voyager Company -- 310-451-1383 -- 310/394-2156 (fax)
A Varied Line from Casady & Greene -- Casady & Greene, makers of QuickDEX, announced six new products at the show, including font collections, games, and system enhancement utilities. Casady & Greene upgraded Fluent Laser Fonts, an exceptional font package, to Fluent Laser Fonts Library 2, adding 40 typefaces to the original 80-font library. Fluent Laser Fonts Library 2 now offers the fonts in PostScript or TrueType. Owners of Fluent Laser Fonts can upgrade to the new package for $30 for one type of font or $50 for both packages. Otherwise, the package retails for $179.
In September Casady & Greene will release two other font collections: The Glasnost Cyrillic Library 2 and the Eastern European Library. Apple and Microsoft have unfortunately standardized on slightly different character sets for these libraries. Consequently, the Mac version of these fonts will include the Windows standard for offices which use both platforms. Casady & Greene will also release a library of Hebrew fonts later this year.
Game enthusiasts will appreciate Casady & Greene's new Pararena 2.0, an upgraded version of a shareware offering. I can't quite describe the play action - it's something of a soccer/rollerball sports simulation. You play against the computer or another player on a network. Pararena 2.0 adds color graphics, six new players, and more skill levels to the smooth animation and challenging play of the original. I'm not partial to this type of game, but it impressed me nonetheless. With practice, the game should appeal to those who like (and are good at) arcade-style games.
Casady & Greene has just contributed Innovative Utilities to the burgeoning field of bundled utilities. Innovative Utilities includes four System 6- and System 7-compatible utilities - Conflict Catcher, Color Coordinator, Whiz-Bang Window Accelerator, and HotDA. A fifth utility, Memory Maxer, only works under System 7.
Conflict Catcher, the flagship utility, is a diagnostic tool and system extension manager. As the name implies, it helps diagnose extension and control panel conflicts at startup. I particularly like the system extension manager because it creates a disabled folder, much like Extension Manager 1.6 does [as will Now Startup Manager 4.0, I believe -Adam]. Conflict Catcher also lets you change the loading order of all extensions and control panels, no matter where in the System Folder they reside, and will also make sure the startup icons wrap neatly into two or more rows as necessary. No telling how well it diagnoses conflicts just yet, but it seems to automate the process of loading startup documents one by one to identify conflicts, although it's also somehow tracing code after startup. Casady & Greene will also make a Conflict Catcher Key Lock version available as a stand-alone product for developers and software publishers to include with their products. This version will allow tech support people to give users a code to enable Conflict Catcher for three days, theoretically helping to track down odd extension conflicts.
Michael Greene of Casady & Greene posted on CompuServe recently, saying:
Conflict Catcher can catch crashes caused by INIT X and INIT Y running unless INIT Z is running. It even found a bug in my own QuickDEX that required Adobe Type Reunion 1.3 AND Suitcase 2.1.1 to be running. Any other versions of either INIT, there wasn't a problem. QuickDEX is a DA so the crash was coming well after INIT load time but was influenced by the presence of the two INITs. During beta testing, we found five way conflicts that literally required five specific INITs running to cause a problem. Drop any one of the INITs and the problem went away. Of course the user would think on adding the fifth INIT to his mix "Gee things were going just fine until I added this INIT, so it MUST be this INIT's fault." Depending on which hapless INIT was the fifth one in, it was the one blamed. You can image what a headache that would be to find by hand.
Color Coordinator allows you to link different monitor bit-depths to different applications, so you can have the Mac automatically switch to black and white for a certain application, and when you switch back out to another program, change back to 256 colors, something which freely-distributable utilities do manually, but not automatically. Whiz-Bang Window Accelerator supposedly speeds up drawing of the zoom rectangles, though frankly, if you're concerned about zoom rectangle speed, you can easily shut them off entirely with ResEdit. See TidBITS-099/Finder_Fun for the instructions.
Casady & Greene claim that HotDA allows you to open any DA with a hotkey, which may be useful to users who need limited automation, but is better accomplished with the more powerful QuicKeys from CE Software
The remaining System 7-specific utility, Memory Maxer, holds somewhat more interest for the power user. It allows an application to request all the available memory under System 7 no matter what you have set its memory partition to in the Get Info... box. Memory Maxer can also optionally quit the Finder, freeing up another 300K or so for applications. These features are useful, especially for users of RAM hogs like Photoshop, but the shareware AppSizer provides the same memory setting abilities, and other shareware or freeware applications allow you to quit and restart the Finder.
On first look, it appears that Innovative Utilities will appeal to users who dislike using multiple freely-distributable utilities or the similar and heavily entrenched Now Utilities, soon to be updated to version 4.0 (I own Now Utilities, but have never really liked it [unlike us :-) -Adam & Tonya].), or who deal with extension conflicts constantly, since only Conflict Catcher provides innovative features completely unavailable elsewhere. Of course, such commercially bundled utilities usually share similar interfaces and are far less likely to conflict with each other.
Casady & Greene is selling the software direct to users without the packaging for 50% off the list price of $79. I don't know if the offer will continue once the packaging is ready to ship, so don't delay if this product appeals to you.
Casady & Greene -- 408/484-9228 -- 408/484-9218 (fax)
Casady & Greene propaganda
Michael Greene -- email@example.com
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.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue