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Psst! Wanna a free gateway from FirstClass or Microsoft Mail to QuickMail? Read on for the details and the catch. We also have the promised full review of UserLand's Frontier scripting package, a look at some of Apple's multifarious directions, and two good support stories - one about APS and one from Global Village that promises online support.
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Matt Neuburg writes:
Readers interested in hypertext and/or SuperPaint may wish to check out my SuperPaint 3.0 HyperHelp, now lodged for FTP at <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:info-mac/app/super-paint-30-help.hqx
This is a stand-alone hypertext document produced with Storyspace from Eastgate Systems, which we reviewed in TidBITS-095. Basically, you click on a part of a picture or on a word to bring up the linked material. It gives an excellent illustration of Storyspace's more elementary capacities; Storyspace can do many things not illustrated here!
Matt Neuburg -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Kudos to APS -- Jeff Wasilko writes:
I've had three of the new Quantum 42 MB drives on order from APS for nearly two months. After calling the sales department a number of times and getting no solid answer on when the drives would be in from Quantum, I called Paul McGraw, APS's vice-president.
I got his voice mail and left a message - imagining the worst. To my surprise, I got a message back from him on my voice mail in a few hours. He was traveling, so he said I'd have to call him on his cellular phone. When I spoke to him later that day, he said he had already spoken with the sales manager and told him to ship me two out of my three drives from a shipment of 12 they had just received.
He apologized for the problems, and explained about the delay. Apparently Quantum decided to make 80% of their drives with the IDE interface, leaving quite a few vendors vying for the other 20% (including OEMs like Apple). Additionally, Quantum has shifted their production to larger drives, making the mundane 40 MB and 80 MB drives very hard to get. As it turns out, Paul was traveling in California to meet with Quantum to try to straighten out these problems.
I had two drives on my desk the next morning. I've heard some people say some bad things about APS service, but I still feel their hearts are in the right place.
[Also see TidBITS-148 for more on this hard drive shortage. -Adam]
Jeff Wasilko -- Jeff@digtype.airage.com
According to the pop-media-business industry, this is the age of customer service. Whether this is true because the media said so or because it just happened, many companies have been placing an emphasis on happy customers. Lori Chavez of Global Village recently posted a message to the Internet encouraging customers to contact Global Village using a wide variety of communication mechanisms. We are especially pleased with their interest in providing support via many electronic services and hope more companies follow Global Village's example in making support widely available and encouraging deserved praise and complaints. Here's the post:
Global Village encourages any Global Village customer who has any problems whatsoever with our products to contact us immediately via any communications mechanism available:GLOBALVILLAG@applelink.apple.com
FMJM51A at Prodigy
GO GLOBAL for the Global Village CompuServe forum
415/390-8282 (fax)Global Village Communications
685B East MiddleField Road
Mountain View, CA 94043Message in a bottle: Pacific Ocean
We are here to serve our customers and if we don't do that job well, complaints on the networks are deserved. We don't mind positive comments when we do things right either!
by Dale Rodgie -- email@example.com
[Dale submitted this a while back, and with our overload of articles, I've only just gotten to it. Nevertheless, his information is still timely, and I've added comments where I couldn't resist. -Adam]
This past August, Apple Computer held its fourth Australian Apple User Group Convention. Ian Cooper from Apple Computer (Australia) described, in general terms, Apple's future plans. Here are some of the highlights:
Apple is working on cutting down product development to six months. [And they seem to be achieving this. The only problem is that it makes technical and sales support more complex, and can confuse the consumer. Where is the happy medium?]
There will be a major push with notebook computers. Apple currently holds second place after Toshiba in the notebook market. That's pretty good considering that Apple has only been in the market for nine months. [I believe that since Dale wrote this, Apple has taken first place in the notebook market - a testament to the tremendous job Apple did in designing the PowerBook line after the much-maligned Mac Portable.]
Apple will reduce the price of the Quadra and introduce the PowerPC. The PowerPC will run Macintosh, MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2 software. [They keep saying that, but frankly, I'm not holding my breath until I see the PowerPC doing just that as well as current Macs and PCs do.]
Apple's entry level Macintosh will be a Classic/LC style machine with a 68030 microprocessor and internal 256 color video. [Shades of the rumored LC III that will provide IIci-class power at the price of the current LC II. But will Apple ship it with a "III" in the name?]
Other products or features on the drawing board include more flexible expansion, faster 68030s by improving software and hardware, further support for Apple II emulation, improved SCSI and NuBus, complementing 68040 computers with a DSP chip, integrated RGB and NTSC video & stereo sound. [Rumors I've heard place the Quadra 800, due along with the LC III this February, as the first machine that might ship with onboard DSP (Digital Signal Processing) support, which is essential for voice recognition and synthesis technology. Speaking of that, a friend reported hearing a machine running the new Macintalk and said he had to hack the code to assure himself that it wasn't digitized sound.]
The customers want a Quadra in a notebook. Apple is working on continued miniaturization, grey-scale displays, RGB displays, new battery technologies, and a desktop alternative design for the PowerBooks. [If Apple puts a 68040 in a Duo, is it all that different from our 1991 April Fools Macintosh TX, a 68040 tower unit with a snap-off notebook? Of course the TX also operated as an AppleShare server using technology from Outbound when the notebook wasn't docked, but on the other hand, our imaginary notebook weighed 7.2 pounds, a then-unheard-of lightness. Reality is often stranger than fiction.]
The System Software will be improved to make it easier to use. Other features planned for System Software include enriched applications software, application integration, enhanced navigation, improved help, MS-DOS and Windows file exchange, PlainTalk speech extension (planned for 1994) and world ready software. [Here's a simple ease-of-use improvement. When you expand an folder outline in the Finder, the Macintosh does not scroll the window to display the expanded outline, so you have to do the scrolling yourself. Basics!]
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
When gateway vendor Information Electronics announced earlier this year that it was dropping QuickMail add-ons from its product line, the company said it might have one more QuickMail product up its sleeve. In a surprise move just over a week ago, IE unveiled a gateway from CE Software's QuickMail to SoftArc's popular FirstClass BBS and another gateway from QuickMail to Microsoft Mail, both of which will be given away free of charge.
The FirstClass-to-QuickMail gateway, called PostalUnion/QM, is intended primarily as a transition product for companies shifting from QuickMail to FirstClass, which also provides electronic mail and conferencing features. PostalUnion/QM is, however, a fully-functional bidirectional gateway which runs on the QuickMail server end and allows two-way exchange of mail and file enclosures. No separate software is required on the FirstClass side, as PostalUnion/QM takes advantage of the powerful gateway architecture of the FirstClass server. (The FirstClass server must have the gateway option installed.)
Similarly, the soon-to-be-released QuickMail to MS Mail gateway will provide a transition capability for those who plan to shift from QuickMail to Microsoft's LAN-based email product. Again, this gateway will be a fully-functional bidirectional gateway.
Both are free transition products, with no technical support available, from their release this quarter until 01-Feb-93 for the FirstClass gateway, and 01-Mar-93 for the MS Mail gateway. On those dates they will become commercial products for the benefit of those who don't want to switch from QuickMail to FirstClass or Microsoft Mail, but want to be able to communicate among the platforms on a permanent basis. The $495 annual licensing fee will include use of either gateway for an unlimited number of users, as well as access to IE's full suite of technical support services, which in our experience have proved thorough and helpful.
Asked about the unusual licensing arrangement, Information Electronics president Megan Clodfelter said that they want to provide the product free of charge to companies who are switching to FirstClass, as IE has, or to Microsoft Mail, but she explained the high long-term price of the gateway by saying that they "have to charge quite a bit for the gateway simply because the burden of QuickMail support is so extraordinarily high." The company's experience has always been that their QuickMail products generate a tremendous amount of technical support time because of the difficulties users have with QuickMail. As a result, IE has stressed that they cannot promise to keep up with any changes CE Software might make to QuickMail that do not follow its gateway guidelines.
The free gateway software will be available for downloading only from the company's own FirstClass system, which can be reached by modem at 607/868-3393. The FirstClass gateway is available now, and the MS Mail gateway should be there by 15-Dec-92. After the cutoff dates mentioned above, the free gateways will no longer work, though customers can arrange an annual license if they wish to continue using the software.
Information Electronics -- 607/868-3331 -- 607/868-3333 (fax)
SoftArc Inc. -- 416/299-4723 -- 416/754-1856 (fax)
CE Software -- 515/224-1995
Megan M. Clodfelter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The main ability that DOS chauvinists have held over Mac users is the ability to create batch files, or as my mother calls them, bat files (for storing in your C:\BELFRY directory). You use batch files for minor file manipulation and the like, and they're relatively easy to write and use, considering you're dealing with a brain-damaged command line interface. Perhaps the most common batch files that I've seen are those that change directories before running programs, thus ensuring that documents saved from that application end up in a specific place, something which doesn't initially seem applicable to the Mac, but which actually could help neophytes who randomly strew saved files around the hard disk.
Still, many people find batch files useful for automating repetitive tasks, and the Mac has long lacked this ability. Since UserLand Software released Frontier ($190 mail order, $199 direct, $249 list) earlier this year, however, we can all start writing batch files like crazy. After all they're so incredibly useful, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Setting out -- I was pleased as Hawaiian punch when I received Frontier, and I immediately dug into the package to see what I could see. Frontier comes with two manuals - first a Users' Guide that ostensibly explains what Frontier is and why you want to use it. It also explains bits of how to use Frontier, but much more in the "work through this entire book and then you can probably do something useful" mode than the "experiment out of the box" mode that I and many others prefer. The second manual is a reference to all of the statements, verbs in Frontier's lingo, with which you write your scripts. You'll find this manual indispensable, although a pain when you simply want to find a certain verb. Luckily, UserLand provided an Apple event-driven program, DocServer, for referencing this information - that's probably what you'll use much of the time.
I started reading to learn enough for basic experimenting, and the manual immediately provided a few minor examples including a terribly useful script to find all the Microsoft Word documents on your hard disk (Whee! Search and destroy!). Then it branched out to more useful examples such as a script that could backup files modified after a certain date. All this was impressive, certainly, and within the scope of what DOS batch files can do, but frankly, I don't care to find all the documents of a certain sort on my hard disk and when I want to backup modified files I use DiskFit Pro.
I don't mean to slam on Frontier here, but rather to point out that like DOS batch files, Frontier is only as useful as you make it. Frontier will make life easier if you have tasks that you can automate, even if that automation must be of a certain complexity. In fact, the more complex your task the better, since that will make the development time in Frontier more worthwhile.
Here is another example that may improve your quality of computing. You can create what UserLand calls "droplets," or iconified Frontier scripts that can accept drag & drop in the Finder. Someone could create a droplet that takes a floppy and creates an alias of the disk and its contents in a folder on the hard disk, and then ejects the disk. That way you wouldn't have to drag the disk to the trash to eject it (an interface monstrosity of the first degree), and you would have a searchable record of your floppies' contents. That's neat and fairly universally useful.
Travel travails -- So that's perhaps the greatest problem with Frontier - you have to figure out quite clearly what you want to do with it before you start. The average user is unlikely to start playing with it like HyperCard, if only because of HyperCard's graphics and button linking features. In addition, even though HyperTalk bears only a passing resemblance to English, Frontier's UserTalk makes HyperTalk look colloquial. UserTalk is not difficult in comparison to a full programming language (traditional programming languages give me hives) but Frontier uses by no means a trivial dialect. It does a lot, tapping into much of the generalized power behind the Mac's pretty face, and you pay for that power. Although I don't pretend to be a programming aficionado, I gather that UserTalk is a modern language, designed from the ground up without the historical quirks of more traditional languages initially designed on, ahem, older computers and operating systems. Just as the MacOS avoided many of the idiocies inherent in DOS (and as DOS improved on CP/M), so UserTalk improves on other traditional languages.
I recently upgraded my venerable SE/30 to 20 MB of RAM (and I love it) which eliminated another objection to Frontier. I've had to force myself to realize that just because an application supports Apple events does not mean that you can access its power without it running. That makes no sense (that an inactive program could execute instructions), but I believed that for a while for some reason. This is an issue with Frontier because it must be running all or most of the time for you to get much utility from it. Dropping an item on a droplet will launch Frontier if necessary, and if you want Frontier to collaborate with StuffIt, you'd better have enough RAM for both to exist in memory at the same time. Frontier itself prefers 1 MB of RAM, so without at least 8 MB, you're pushing it pretty close. And, as Dave Winer, co-developer of Frontier, points out, desktop publishing and picture editing, especially with Photoshop, are tremendously RAM-hungry so larger RAM sizes are no longer rare. Serious Frontier developers will want plenty of RAM, but those who just want to run scripts written by others should stick with the svelte Frontier Runtime.
I've implied unfairly that you can only use Frontier for writing and executing scripts. In fact, Frontier boasts three other features that add considerably to its overall utility. First, Frontier has what it calls an Object Database, which stores various types of objects such as data, scripts, tables, and so on. Apart from its obvious use as permanent variable storage for script-writing, the Object Database can store pretty much anything you want, so you could use it, for instance to store items in a To Do list, or any other minor databasey thing. You wouldn't want to store huge amounts of data in your Object Database because it holds all of Frontier's data, and is thus quite large and not all that fast. Luckily FileMaker Pro 2.0 works with Frontier, as does a tiny flat-file database from UserLand called uBase. Second, Frontier includes a relatively high-powered outliner, which isn't surprising considering that Dave Winer's most well-known program is the outliner MORE, now marketed by Symantec. Dave's a serious outline fan, and although I see their utility, I have a few personal quibbles with this one, primarily the fact that you can't have an item and then have a paragraph of text under it since Frontier's outliner doesn't word wrap. I'll stick to Inspiration for my literary outlining, but Frontier's outliner is good, and you'll get to know it well since you use it to write your scripts, indenting logical constructions as an actual outline rather than as a readability exercise, another indication of UserTalk's modern design. Third, as I said above, Frontier includes an Apple event-aware application called DocServer, which documents all of Frontier's verbs.
In the real world -- I've lurked in the UserLand forum on CompuServe for some time to sample the flavor of what people do with Frontier, and the main thing I can say is that if you know you need Frontier, then you need it (a nice tight tautology) and if you don't know you need it, you probably won't use it. The corollary to that is that if you need automation beyond QuicKeys, Frontier is your main hope. Tom Petaccia has come up with one of the more intriguing uses for Frontier, using it in conjunction with PageMaker's scripting language to help automate publication layout. Derrick Schneider of BMUG used Tom's glue file (you need one for every Apple event-aware program you want to control with Frontier - UserLand makes them freely available) in conjunction with FileMaker Pro 2.0 and HyperCard to automate the creation of their annual software catalog with Frontier in the middle, linking everything.
How does Frontier compare to AppleScript? I don't know because I've only glimpsed AppleScript. When I asked Dave Winer about it, he didn't appear unduly concerned, which implies to me that AppleScript will fill a different, though partially overlapping, niche. Although AppleScript will let you record scripts, Dave assured me that Frontier will as well when necessary (only StuffIt Deluxe supports this right now). AppleScript looked a little easier, though perhaps less powerful, than Frontier. That does not necessarily imply that it will not have Frontier's depth, but if nothing else, Frontier has had a year head-start on AppleScript and is a mature program. In addition, since Frontier is by definition Apple-event driven; it should coexist happily with AppleScript, each doing what it does best.
However, Frontier is here today, whereas AppleScript lingers in the vaporous shadows. In fact, and I'm surprised I didn't realize this before, Apple is in many ways using a standard IBM technique of pre-announcing a product to kill off the competition. I'm not accusing Apple of trying to knock off UserLand, but in many ways the comparison is apt. It's especially deceptive because much of what Apple does in system software is independent of third parties, but now that Apple charges for System 7.1 and possibly the modules like AppleScript and OCE, the competitive aspect shows more clearly.
UserLand is by no means standing still while waiting for AppleScript. They just released Frontier 2.0, a significant (and free!) upgrade which includes a new method of writing object specifications, the Object Model, which allows people to write scripts to control applications like FileMaker Pro 2.0 and Excel 4.0 that support the Object Model. UserLand included support for HyperCard XCMDs (including many of those that use callbacks to HyperCard 1.x), a proprietary form of external command called a UCMD, and much faster menusharing. Menusharing allows programs to share menus between them, allowing the Finder to have a Scripts menu and StuffIt to have a Frontier menu, for instance. This is way cool, and more programs should support menusharing. All in all, it sounds like a good upgrade, and one definitely worth the 2.0 moniker (numeriker?). Frontier 2.0 has numerous useful enhancements, but since many of them only make sense to users of 1.0 (features like a command-click drop-down menu from each title bar, listing the hierarchy, and multiple selections in the outliner), and since UserLand mailed free 2.0 upgrades to all registered 1.0 users, I'm not going to delve further into the differences.
Keep in mind that Apple events and Frontier can work over a network. I quote from the description of the NightCleanup, a script that ships with Frontier 2.0.
Imagine you're the network manager for a classroom full of Macintoshes. Every day, dozens of students come into the lab to do their assignments and projects. In the course of a day, new files get created, essential files are accidentally deleted. So once a day, you shut the system down and visit all the computers and replace missing files and delete extraneous ones, by manually pointing, clicking and dragging.
NightCleanup - the first UserLand network utility, does this for you automatically and very carefully. It produces a detailed report of all the updating and cleaning up it did. And because NightCleanup is implemented using Frontier scripts, you can customize NightCleanup to exactly suit your needs.
Of course NightCleanup can also serve the needs of network managers in corporations, and even be used to update the files on your hard disk when you return from a road trip with your PowerBook.
Help in the Frontier -- Aside from UserLand's personal help in their CompuServe GO USERLAND forum, there is an Internet LISTSERV discussion list devoted to Frontier, and several file sites that store public scripts. To subscribe to the FRONTIER LISTSERV and receive additional instructions on its use, send email to:
with this line in the body of the message:
SUBSCRIBE FRONTIER your full name
Since this review is getting longer all the time, I'll wimp out on the details about the file sites and refer you to last week's (TidBITS-153) review of Frontier Runtime, where I gave the pertinent addresses.
End of the road -- I've flip-flopped in this review several times, making points about Frontier's limitations and then in the next electronic breath saying how wonderful it is. I think that reflects my ambivalent feelings about Frontier quite well. On the one hand, I do think it's the neatest thing since HyperCard, and on the other hand, I also think it's a complex wirehead program that will overwhelm many people accustomed to HyperTalk. Even Dave Winer admits that "script writing isn't for the faint of heart," and says that unlike the early HyperCard marketing folks, UserLand doesn't expect everyone to become a script writer. I have written a few scripts and although I eventually get them working, I find it a frustrating process for my little brain (especially considering the paucity of documentation for interaction between programs - take heed developers!). Such is the nature of the beast, and if you are considering writing Frontier scripts, think carefully about what you want first. Then dive in whole hog and enjoy yourself.
UserLand Software Inc.
400 Seaport Court
Redwood City, CA 94063
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