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TidBITS#144/28-Sep-92

It seems that PowerBooks are all the rage these days, and we have news on the upcoming PowerBook Duos, along with a report on how Apple handles the PowerBook 100 Rework program and an article about GCC's new WriteMove II portable printer. In other news, Apple prices drop even further, sumex holds a bake sale (not really), and you should stay on the lookout for a new 13" color monitor from Apple that tastes great and is less filling.

Topics:

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


MailBITS/28-Sep-92

Bill Leue writes, "Your article on the StyleWriter backlog problem mentions the HP DeskWriter as a suitable substitute. You should also note that HP has recently extended the warranty on the DeskWriter to three years, making it even more attractive. The latest HP drivers seem to completely eliminate problems with System 7.0, TrueType, etc., and offer print spooling to boot." [Alternately, read on for news about a new printer from GCC. - Adam]

Information from:
Bill Leue -- leue@crd.ge.com

Apple Support -- A friend writes in response to Tonya's query about how Apple would restrict toll-free support to people who buy through the new Apple Catalog: "I used to work on the System 7 upgrade answer line so I may be able to answer your question. Users who purchase items mail-order will have to provide their serial number, which will be their ticket into the support line. If you don't have the magic number, you will be referred to the usual avenues of support, dealers, user groups, and so on."

About those mailing lists... -- In response to our comment of last week about Apple never having used the mailing list they keep from returned registration cards, Edward Reid writes:

They use it now - to make money by selling it to third-party vendors. When I sent in the registration for my IIci, I listed my P.O. Box as 378-CI. I also checked the box on the card requesting no outside use. (I believe that box was on the IIci card. Some of the registration cards had it and some didn't. The ones that didn't, I wrote a note to the same effect.) A few months later I got advertising mail from some unrelated vendor (I no longer remember who - I think it was only one). Because of the variation in the P.O. Box, I knew the address came from Apple. I called Apple and complained. They said, "If you checked the box we wouldn't do that." I said, "Caught you red-handed." They must have fixed it; I haven't received any more mail sent to that P.O. Box.

Information from:
Edward Reid -- ed@titipu.resun.com


Navigator Buglet

We incorrectly reported a problem in replying to Internet email from CompuServe in TidBITS-142. The problem is that Internet mail coming in has the initial ">" character stripped from the address. That in itself is not necessarily a problem, as it turns out, since CompuServe has changed the way the gateway works so you no longer need that character. Sort of. CompuServe Information Manager 2.0.1 responded to a test mailfile correctly, however, Navigator 3.1.1 failed in the same test. The simple workaround for Navigator is inserting the ">" character in front of the word INTERNET in the sender's address in the message window. Then you can click Reply and Navigator will use your edited address instead of the incorrect one.

The fact that CIM worked correctly but Navigator didn't implies, and this was confirmed by Dave Elliott of CompuServe, that the problem lies in the protocols that CompuServe uses to communicate with Navigator in the Mail area. Thus, there's no telling who has to fix what, but for the time being Navigator users have to fix outgoing replies to Internet mail.

Information from:
Dave Elliott -- 70006.461@compuserve.com


Prices, Prices, Prices

I'm not going to publish a chart of Macintosh prices this week, but I might do one next week when the retail channel gets a look at the new suggested retail prices that Apple USA just announced. Apple dropped the suggested retail prices by 11% to 36%, with most of the cuts coming on machines from the IIci on down. The Quadra prices only changed by between 11% and 22%. Do note that these cuts are only effective in the US.

We have no way of knowing how much these price cuts will affect real world prices since Apple lowered prices to dealers several weeks ago and the lowest discount prices in our chart of last week might reflect those cuts. It's possible that dealers unable to match the volume of the larger metropolitan dealers will now be able to reduce their prices significantly, but pricing remains up to the individual dealer. Still, it's hard to complain about price cuts of any sort, especially after the news that Apple will not distribute System 7.1 for free.

The price cuts will decrease the initial sticker shock for shoppers, especially those frequenting superstores before Christmas. In a twist that may not surprise some, IBM just informed department stores that it won't deliver the lowest-priced machines that it announced a few weeks ago (various PC-clone configurations, not in the slightest bit interesting in and of themselves). So instead of the promised $1,100 machines, IBM will send these unhappy dealers machines starting at $1,700, although the more expensive computers supposedly have "more advanced technology." Compaq's ProLinea line has reportedly been in short supply since its June introduction, and with these two major players bungling the consumer market as they have done so often in the past (bringing up the PCjr in this context is a hallowed tradition), Apple's lower prices might bring a significant number of new users into the fold. With a perfectly useful (if not technologically-whizzy) Classic II 4/40 listing for $1,079 and a color-capable LC II 4/40 listing at $1,239 (gee, I just described the Performa 200 and 400 - what a surprise), and a ramped up production line, Apple stands an excellent chance of stealing the show this Christmas.

More support for the move against DOS-based clones comes from a new deal Apple will unveil on October 19th. Called "The Easy Way," the deal will allow a purchaser of any Mac other than a Performa to purchase a bundle of software for a suggested retail of $399. Apple designed the bundle to highlight the Mac's superiority over and compatibility with DOS machines, and it will include Lotus 1-2-3 for Macintosh, WordPerfect/Mac, Universal SoftPC, and AccessPC. That gives you the Mac versions of the two best-selling packages in the DOS world, the ability to run most DOS applications slowly, and the ability to easily use DOS disks. Considering that those products cost over $850 mail order, go for that $399 price if you want the software. You can only get this deal if you purchase a Mac through a dealer or VAR (value-added reseller) and it expires on 03-Jan-93.

Information from:
Apple propaganda
Pythaeus


Sumex Fund Drive

It's one step above a bake sale, but a grass-roots movement is underway among Internet users to raise money toward a few gigabytes of disk space for the popular FTP site at sumex-aim.stanford.edu. The site has been overwhelmed with submissions and Bill Lipa, the administrator, has had to implement a policy of deleting less commonly used files. Unfortunately, those files always show up in a net question or answer shortly thereafter, and someone has to resubmit them. Part of the problem no doubt stems from the number of cool, but huge, QuickTime movies that have appeared in the last few months.

The solution is simple. Buy more disk space. It's not that simple, however, when you realize that the archive is entirely run by volunteers, primarily Bill, and that sumex is unrelated to Stanford University other than the fact that Stanford owns the computer itself. The archive has no money and no status as a legal entity. From that quandary sprang the idea of a fund drive. If several hundred people (which isn't many, considering how many people use sumex daily) send in $10, Bill could buy a larger drive to add to the relatively small one currently online.

If you use sumex (or one of the mirror sites that depends on sumex for its files) and wish to contribute $10 or so (I'm sure Bill wouldn't turn down a few million if you have that lying around, and then we'd have a full-time moderator for life.), you can send a check made out to "William Lipa" to:

William Lipa
P.O. Box 7313
Menlo Park, CA 94026-7313 U.S.A.

A number of issues about logistics and using the money appropriately came up on Info-Mac Digest, which Bill also moderates, but the only real option is to send checks to Bill. As Bill said at some point, if you don't trust him, you're unlikely to contribute in the first place. He will maintain a file on sumex listing check numbers and amounts so people can keep track of what comes in and the total available. If you include your email or snail mail address with your check and ask, Bill will send you a note acknowledging receipt of the check.

Of course, one way around all of this would be for a company to donate a large SCSI hard drive in return for mention as the drive's donor. I believe sumex runs on a Sun workstation of some sort, so if you know of a company interested in gaining some net exposure, drop Bill a note and ask him about the specifics. There's no such thing as too much disk space, especially for a public archive that serves thousands of people.

And as Bill said, he'll donate $20,000 worth of his time, so in comparison to all that work what's a measly $10 or so if you're a heavy user? My check is in the mail.

Information from:
Bill Lipa -- info-mac-request@sumex-aim.stanford.edu


PowerBook 100 Rework Experience

by Don Norman -- dnorman@ucsd.edu

On September 19th, I signed on to AppleLink and discovered that my PowerBook 100 was being recalled [to prevent the problem that could melt a small hole in the case - see TidBITS-143]. That didn't sound good. I immediately called the 800 number, five minutes after closing time. "No problem," the person said, "we are here to help."

The next day, September 20th, Airborne Express delivered a big box to my doorstep, with complete and easy to follow instructions. I packed the PowerBook and the next morning called Airborne to come and pick it up, which they did the same day, September 21st.

On September 23rd, Airborne Express delivered the PowerBook back to me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to run off of the battery, just off of wall current. How did the battery get discharged? I left it charging overnight. The next morning (September 24th) it still wouldn't work off battery, and it wouldn't work off my spare battery. I called the Apple trouble line. John, who answered the phone, couldn't help, so he turned me over to Ben. Ben said, "you know that switch at the back of the PowerBook that disconnects the battery? Check its setting". "Oh," I said, flipped the switch and guess what, the dead battery came back to life.

Conclusion: A very smooth and well run operation. Nothing on the disk was lost. But I did lose all the Control Panel parameters - date, time, AppleLink setting - even the city setting in the Map. (Bad design, if you ask me: on battery-operated portables, this stuff ought to be saved on the hard disk, not in a power-sensitive location.)

[The trio of lithium batteries inside the PowerBook 100's "back door" provide current to store this kind of information, and even the computer's whole memory image briefly, when the main battery is dead or has been removed so another can be inserted. Under most circumstances, you'll never have ALL battery and AC power removed at once. This will only happen when the machine is being serviced, and all power MUST be removed so as to avoid damaging the PowerBook's components. Having to reset a few things such as time, location, and mouse tracking is, IMHO, a small price to pay in return for not frying the logic board. - Mark]

Disclaimer: Between the time I sent in the PowerBook and the time it came back, I accepted a job at Apple as an Apple Fellow to start 01-Jan-93 (where, among other things, I hope to improve designs such as the volatile Control Panel). My experience with the PowerBook modification was superb, but if it had been bad, I would have told you.


Lighter Color on the Horizon

Along with the new monitors Apple introduced with the Performas, look for a new 13" color monitor to replace the aging Apple 13" color monitor on October 19th. The new monitor will cost $200 less than the old one, weigh much less, and include a tilt & swivel base and front-mounted controls. Picture quality should remain high with a newer Sony Trinitron.

The only question is whether or not the new monitor will cause more interference problems in double-monitor setups without the heavy, metal shielding used by the older 13" color monitor. As it is, I can't put my SE/30 closer than about four inches from my Apple 13" color monitor or the color monitor flickers badly. I'll be curious to see if Apple discontinues the much-maligned 12" color monitor or merely lowers its price.

Information from:
Pythaeus


The WriteMove, Baby

As the popularity of the Macintosh PowerBooks increases (Apple claims to have sold more than 300,000 PowerBooks in less than a year), more and more PowerBook-specific products arrive at the industry doorstep (if not ours :-)). Some seem to fade into obscurity, such as the SCSI-based Radius PowerView, whose lack of popularity may have helped slow the release of SuperMac's SuperView as well. Others seem destined to fare better, and from the initial sounds of it, GCC's new WriteMove II printer should find a nice niche for itself.

GCC specifically designed the WriteMove II to complement the PowerBook line. The printer weighs in at a mere 2.5 pounds, measures 11.7" x 3.5" x 2.0" (which puts it at about half the size of a closed PowerBook), features 360 x 360 dpi resolution, and can run on battery power (it recharges when it's plugged in). In the past, portable printers have traded quality for portability, but it appears that the WriteMove has solved that problem with its 360 x 360 dpi resolution and ATM and TrueType compatibility. Unfortunately, the WriteMove does not come completely without trade-offs.

The print engine differs from the common low-end printers these days since it uses thermal fusion to imprint characters with a wax-based ink from the ribbon. GCC has two types of ribbons, a multi-strike cloth ribbon that you can flip five or more times and a single-strike ribbon for absolutely final copies. The single-strike ribbon costs significantly more per page, not surprisingly, but the multi-strike ribbon's quality will suffice for most common printing jobs, although the quality decreases as you use up the ribbon. Interestingly for those who do presentations on the road, the WriteMove II prints on normal transparencies.

Needless to say, the WriteMove II uses QuickDraw, which means that you must use either ATM and PostScript fonts or TrueType to print at a full 360 dpi resolution. To help you along, GCC bundles ATM and Adobe Type 1 versions of Times, Courier, Helvetica, Helvetica Narrow, Symbol, and Palatino (six font families for a total of 21 fonts). Of course, you have a bunch of those as TrueType fonts included with System 7, but it's still useful.

The driver software offers most of the features commonly available such as background printing, but GCC has built in a couple of less common features as well. If you want to queue up a bunch of files to print later (say you're working on a plane and don't have the printer set up), you can use Print Later, and if you want to check your document before printing, GCC included a Preview mode. The driver has a Color/Grayscale mode like Apple's LaserWriter driver, and for those five people who still use bitmap fonts, the GCC driver does font smoothing.

The WriteMove's major drawback (and the reason why you wouldn't use it as your main printer) is that you must feed each sheet to it personally. That's certainly not a problem for a new presentation transparency, or for printing out a quick memo, but it would pale as entertainment after the first 15 or 20 pages of a long document. In addition, the WriteMove II is no speed demon at about a half page per minute, but you can't expect blinding speed from something that weighs 2.5 pounds and can run on battery power. The batteries last for about 12 to 15 pages per charge, and you can recharge the batteries (it will take about six hours for a full charge, although the batteries charge whenever the printer is plugged in, even if it's printing) about 600 times before you need new ones. Like the PowerBooks, the WriteMove II has a power-conserving sleep mode that it enters after one minute of idle time. After three minutes it shuts itself off to save even more power.

Aside from the paper handling and slow speed, the only other problem I see is that you have to get ribbons directly from GCC or a GCC dealer, which may make them hard to find when you're on the road and the ribbon wears out (as it no doubt will). GCC will deliver a ribbon overnight for $9, which is expensive, but in an emergency.... Otherwise, the WriteMove II sounds perfect for those people who live and die by their PowerBooks in hotel rooms.

Particularly when combined with a 170 with an internal PowerPort/Gold modem (which sends and receives faxes), the WriteMove II offers some impressive features in a small and light package. If GCC could add an optional paper tray, they'd have a definite winner on their hands. As it stands now, the WriteMove II should be a popular printer for portable users, but purchasers might compare it to the Kodak Diconix 150 (the printer on which GCC based its now-discontinued WriteMove printer) in order to determine which feature set and trade-off set best meets their specific needs.

The WriteMove II has a one year warranty and will retail for $599, but dealers set their own prices, so I'd expect it to run around $500 at first, perhaps dropping a bit after the novelty has worn off.

GCC -- 800/422-7777

Information from:
Ken Hancock -- kenh@world.std.com
GCC propaganda


Duo Date Approaching

A few weeks back in TidBITS-138 I wrote briefly about the upcoming Macintosh PowerBook Duo 210 and 230, mostly focussing on basic specs. More information has come in since then, both good and bad, but in terms of overall design, I think that Apple has a winner with the Duos. As I said previously, the Duos weigh about 4 pounds, measure 8.5" X 11" X 1.4", support up to 24 MB of RAM, use 9", 4-bit grey-scale, backlit, supertwist LCD screens, include either 80 or 120 MB hard drives, and run with either a 25 MHz or 33 MHz 68030. They have only two ports, a serial port and an RJ-11 phone port for the internal modem's phone line connection.

Power management will supposedly improve, and the Duos will automatically dim the screen and/or go to sleep when closed. For those that despise the sliders that the 140, 145, and 170 use for controlling the screen, the Duos will have push button brightness and contrast controls. We reserve judgement until we've tried it, but the sliders are decidedly inferior to the PowerBook 100's dials. Finally, perhaps because Apple never took advantage of the motherboard/daughterboard design of the current PowerBooks (although we've heard rumors of some third parties working on interesting projects that involve that daughterboard), the Duos will have a single motherboard along with a light magnesium frame that provides stiffness and helps dissipate heat.

The list prices will range between $2,500 and $3,000 for the base units. The fact that Apple stuffed that much power into a four pound package is interesting in and of itself, but even better are the two docks that Apple will sell separately, the Duo Dock for about $1,200 and the Duo MiniDock for about $600.

Docks -- The Duo Dock looks like nothing so much as a IIsi with a really big floppy port along the entire front. It will be two-toned, PowerBook charcoal on the bottom and Macintosh platinum on top (since people will pretty much have to use it with a PowerBook inside and a monitor sitting on top). The oversized floppy port holds the PowerBook Duo itself, sucking it in as the Mac sucks in a floppy disk. Somewhere in that process, a door in the back of the Duo flips down to expose what is supposedly a 400-pin connector that will attach to the dock internally. The Duo Dock features two NuBus slots, a slot for a math coprocessor, a SuperDrive, room for another optional hard drive, and the full set of normal Macintosh ports, including internal video. As we reported before, you can lock the Duo into the dock with a key switch so you only have to secure the dock itself (if you needed to lock it down for security reasons). Removing the Duo requires pushing an eject button - there's no software-based SuperTrash that ejects the Duo when you drag the hard disk to the trash. The only drawback to the Duo Dock is the placement of the internal floppy drive. Apple ran out of space, so the drive sits low to the ground on the side, which means that papers and other junk on your desk will block it.

The Duo MiniDock provides essentially the same ports used by the PowerBook 145 and 170 currently with a few additions, an RJ-11 jack, sound in and out, SCSI (a totally unconfirmed rumor says that you may see more of that HDI-30 SCSI port in the future, even in desktop Macs), printer and modem serial ports, video out, ADB, floppy, and a power jack. It won't have the floppy drive, room for an additional hard drive, or NuBus slots of the Duo Dock, hence the lower price. I suspect that users who primarily use the Duo when traveling will prefer the MiniDock so they can have a full selection of ports (they can use the ports in the hotel room since the MiniDock will be light and portable, but probably not on the plane, since the MiniDock and Duo will be less portable than just the Duo). The floppy port on the MiniDock will only work with the PowerBook 100's HDI-20-based SuperDrive. Interestingly, the MiniDock reportedly provides Super VGA output so you can hook into one of those monitors should you need to.

Apple will also offer a sub-$150 adapter that provides only ADB and floppy ports for the Duos, which makes sense for people who don't want all the options in the MiniDock. This adapter is more important than it sounds. Since the Duos cannot do the PowerBook 100 SCSI-disk trick, the only way to get data into them (other than by slow modem) is via LocalTalk or floppy, and the only way to get a floppy attached without one of the more expensive docks is this $150 adapter.

One detail that has gone unmentioned is the need for a keyboard and mouse. You'll obviously need one when docked to a Duo Dock, since it sucks the complete Duo inside. By the same token, you won't need them with the MiniDock or the adapter, since you'll have access to the Duo's monitor, and thus its keyboard and trackball.

More docks -- MacWEEK reported this week that several third parties are working on additional docks, including two from E-Machines. The $500 PowerLink Presentor will provide gobs of video output choices along with graphics acceleration, stereo output, serial ports, and ADB and floppy ports. The $700 PowerLink DeskNet, on the other hand, will add Ethernet support, stereo input, and a SCSI connector, along with hardware pan and zoom.

I'm unsure how well third party docks will sell. E-Machines and others may face some resistance from people who feel that the dock is not merely an accessory, but an integral part of a Duo, and thus the best docks must come from Apple (I'm not saying that it's logical reasoning, but I'll bet it will happen). I could also see some suspicion of added incompatibilities until the third party docks had proven themselves and been reviewed in the magazines. Nonetheless, users should eventually welcome the additional flexibility as long as it doesn't come at too high of a cost.

Modems -- Although Global Village has all but sewed up the market for PowerBook modems (OK, so that's probably a slight exaggeration and I haven't tested any of them), Apple will attempt to make up for the mediocre modem it shipped with earlier PowerBooks with the Apple Express Modem. Like the PowerPort/Gold, Apple's new modem will be what I call "v.everything" which means v.32bis and on down along with send and receive 9600 bps fax capabilities. Apple will sell bundles that include the modem, and no telling yet how Apple will set the pricing on those bundles.

Opinionated drooling -- OK, I'll admit it. I think the Duos and their docks are the neatest things since automatic breadmakers (I was born after sliced bread was neat). I see a dream system consisting of a 24 MB Duo 230 with an internal v.everything modem and a Duo Dock that has an extra large hard drive and a math coprocessor along with a 16" color monitor and a few NuBus cards, perhaps a VideoSpigot or something like that. You get tremendous performance when docked with the additional hard drive and the coprocessor, and the 16" monitor and NuBus slots provide everything you need when at your desk. Away from the office, however, you still have an impressive machine that only has a smaller grey-scale monitor, less disk space, no floppy, and no coprocessor, not to mention the smaller keyboard and recessed trackball. That's still nothing to sneeze at for portable use, especially in a four pound package. The price will stay steep for a while, especially since the Duo will use a new, smaller memory card, but a Duo and Duo Dock combination will really replace the combination of a desktop Mac, a IIci say, and a PowerBook 170. I'll bet in that light the Duo does well. The only people who won't be able to take advantage of the Duo scheme are those like me who have their Macs doing stuff all the time via modem. If I went to Macworld and took my hypothetical Duo, I wouldn't get any email the entire week, which would be a problem. Now if only Apple could throw in some Newton technology, I might just have to turn the SE/30 into an email server...

Information from:
Pythaeus

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 28-Sep-92, Vol. 6, #34, pg. 1
MacWEEK -- 21-Sep-92, Vol. 6, #33, pg. 1

Reviews/28-Sep-92


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