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TidBITS#193/13-Sep-93

This issue comes chock full of news about Adam's new book, InterNews 1.0 (a slick MacTCP newsreader from Dartmouth), new system software for the Newton, information on developing for the Newton, and Rupert Murdoch buying Delphi. Finally, you'll find additional details about various energy saving utilities, more problems with the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, and thoughts about what kind of service you can expect from a solvent Apple dealer.

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Copyright 1993 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


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MailBITS/13-Sep-93

The release date on my book, The Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, draws ever closer. The 650-some pages of text and the disk are out of my hands and should ship by the 24th of September. The book should be available to bookstores several days after that, although it may not make it on the shelves quite that quickly, so you may have to request it.

I'm pleased about the contents of the disk, and I'd like to thank Hayden, my publisher, for going to bat for me on this one. Along with InterCon's free InterSLIP, QUALCOMM's free Eudora, Dartmouth's freeware/shareware Fetch, and the free TurboGopher from the University of Minnesota, the disk includes version 2.0.2 of MacTCP from Apple. You can retrieve everything else for free via the Internet, but the only legal way to acquire MacTCP 2.0.2 is to buy it or a product that includes it. I think I can safely say that my book will be the cheapest way to get MacTCP, given that the book will cost around $25 and MacTCP itself costs $52 with shipping if you order from MacWarehouse.

I'm especially happy about licensing MacTCP for the book, since many people seem to be seeking for it these days. Apple hasn't exactly made MacTCP readily available, and frankly, the documentation that comes with the package clearly wasn't designed for the end user. I figure you can look at it two ways. Either you get a neat book free when you buy MacTCP for half-price, or you get a $52 program free when you buy a $25 book. Either way, the net community wins, which remains one of my major goals in life.

Murdoch Buys Delphi -- Speaking of the net community, it gained a new mogul recently. The News Corp., a company owned by publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch, has purchased Delphi, which now claims to be the fifth largest commercial online information provider behind CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie, and America Online. Delphi is the only major information service fully on the Internet, and it seems likely that many of the newspapers and magazines under Murdoch's control will eventually appear on the Internet. Of course, such a possibility raises questions about the survival of current free electronic publications, although we have some ideas percolating.

DarkStar In hiding -- We received word shortly after publication of TidBITS #191 that the Info-Mac moderators removed the Monitor Energy Saver Control Panel from the FTP archives at <sumex-aim.stanford.edu>. Apparently licensing issues caused some difficulties. The software is available on AppleLink and from many dealers and user groups.

LaserWriter Pro Energy Star Caveat -- Matthew Cravit <mbc@fractal.cl.msu.edu> writes: "I recently installed the LaserWriter Pro Energy Star software on a LaserWriter Pro 630, which puts the printer into a power saver mode after a certain amount of idle time, reducing power usage by 70 percent according to Apple. After calling Apple about an unrelated matter, I asked about this software, and the representative said that they do not specifically recommend installing it because some users have reported problems with bands of toner forming on the first few pages after the printer wakes up, apparently since the toner is not being rotated during the power saving cycle. This software, by the way, only works with the LaserWriter Pro 610 and 630." [When I called Apple to confirm this, the tech support guy could not find any specific problems in the database, but he had heard of some unresolved issues. If you experience streaking after your LaserWriter Pro has been asleep, stop using the Energy Star software. Otherwise, use it to save energy and money. -Adam]

SimCity 2000 Bummer -- Joe Holmes <72241.731@compuserve.com> writes, "I checked out the SimCity 2000 prototype they had on display at Expo - until I asked if it could run in 16 colors. Nope. Black and white? Nope. I guess Tonya won't be able to play on the PowerBook 100. I won't be able to play on my Duo, even attached via MiniDock to my Apple Portrait Display. The same goes for PowerBook owners unless you have a 165c or 180c." [And then your battery won't last long enough to play much on the plane anyway. SimCity 2000 is destined to remain on the desktop. Perhaps the game needs all the colors to display all the neat new aspects of a city. Still, since we mainly play SimCity in airports and when we feel sick and want to be in bed, this seems a major trade-off -Adam & Tonya]


User Expectations

by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor -- mha@baka.ithaca.ny.us

Technical Support Coordinator, BAKA Computers

In TidBITS #191, I casually commented that readers asking local dealers to download DarkStar from AppleLink might consider making a purchase at the same time, to help defray the dealer's cost of accessing Apple's expensive online service. The resulting controversy amazes me.

One reader sent a message expressing his fear that to defray the dealer's cost was tantamount to supporting and approving of Apple's "ridiculous charges for their own dealer support." He feels that retail Apple customers ("as opposed to drop-ins who buy mail-order") should expect support from any Apple dealer, regardless of where they bought their Apple products. This, he says, is an "elementary part of what 'dealer network' means."

In fact, such an expectation could be considered a key difference between what a "dealer network" means, and what a "chain" of company-owned outlets means. When you're dealing with an authorized Apple dealer, you're dealing with an independent business, not with Apple. That business has salaries, rent, and other expenses to pay. In the current climate in which hardware sales carry much less profit than in the past, and in which software and peripheral sales often go to mail-order businesses whose volumes permit lower prices, many dealers have become more service and support oriented. Such a company cannot and should not be expected to devote time and other resources to non-paying customers.

That I work for an authorized Apple dealer undoubtedly colors my opinion on the matter somewhat. It also gives me a clear perspective of how a dealer operates and stays in business. I can state that, when we have a piece of free software or shareware readily available, we give it happily to anyone who asks. When an Apple update is likely to be of wide interest and use, we download it, keep a copy at the store, and give it happily to anyone who asks. On the rare occasion when a customer requests something unusual that we don't have, we do our best to help the customer. It's hard to justify doing so without recouping some of the spent resources, though.

Luckily, users have an alternative when it comes to obtaining Apple software updates. AppleLink accounts are available to everyone now, rather than just to dealers and developers. In fact, PowerBook owners may take advantage of a special offer for lower AppleLink costs by calling 800/877-8221. Apple also generally places updates and utilities on America Online and other commercial online services [and sometimes on <ftp.apple.com> -Adam], so users aren't stuck if they don't use AppleLink.

In an ideal world, Apple would send all such updates, free of charge, to all dealers, or even to all customers. However, this is an industry whose market pressures have driven down margins, so Apple must share its distribution expenses with others. Given the choice, would I have preferred to pay more for my new computer, but expect more support free of charge down the road? I don't know, but it's not a decision I'll have to make. The market has made it for us all.

My suggestion was intended not to bring Apple's software distribution policy, or AppleLink's astronomical charges, into question. It was intended to make our readers aware of the fact that dealers shoulder certain costs. If you can help with those costs by patronizing these establishments, you'll be justifying the dealers' willingness to help.


MessagePad System Update

by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor -- mha@baka.ithaca.ny.us

Showing that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks, Apple last week began using several new distribution methods to help new MessagePad owners obtain system software updates for the newly-released version 1.04 of the Newton OS.

If you have the Newton Connection Kit 0.9 you will receive an update disk when you receive version 1.0 of the Connection Kit. Or, you can obtain the update from dealers (some do and some do not have the resources to install it), from online services such as AppleLink, CompuServe, and America Online, or from local BBSs or user groups.

Owners of a Newton Fax Modem will soon be able to instruct their MessagePads to dial a toll-free number and download the update directly into the MessagePad (users outside the U.S. will be able to use a separate number that will incur usual toll charges). We'll provide the phone numbers when this service is activated.

Anyone in the U.S. without the above options may call 800/242-3374, and Apple will send a PCMCIA card containing the update, along with a postage-paid envelope to return the card.

According to Apple, version 1.04 addresses certain issues regarding memory and power management. Apple recommends that all MessagePad users take advantage of this free system update. Most MessagePads shipped to dealers earlier this month contain version 1.03, and many first-round purchasers have 1.02 or earlier. To check your version, tap the Extras button then Prefs, and look at the bottom of the screen. Users with questions about the update or the processes for obtaining it can call 800/SOS-APPL or contact <newton.qa@applelink.apple.com>.


Developing for the MessagePad

by Tom Thompson, BYTE Senior Tech Editor -- tomt@bytepb.byte.com

If you want to develop Newton applications, you need the Newton Toolkit (NTK), which runs on a Mac. Minimally speaking, the Mac should be 68020-based Mac running System 7.0.1 with 3 MB RAM. You tether the MessagePad to the Mac via a null modem cable, and - after using the NTK to design the interface, write the code, and build the application - you download the resulting binary image into the MessagePad, where you can test it.

The Toolkit provides tools for project management, application building, editing, object-template browsing, and View layout design. (Views are visible objects.) For Views layout, the NTK provides a set of customizable prototype templates for buttons, icons, sliders, and other user interface objects. The layout tools also let you preview results in a Mac window the same size as the MessagePad screen.

The programming language for the MessagePad is the object-oriented NewtonScript. The NTK compiles a compressed bytecode representation of the source code, similar to p-code. This bytecode image is executed by a run-time interpreter in the MessagePad ROM. This design makes the code fully portable. Currently, there are two run-time interpreter implementations: an ARM610 version for the MessagePad, and a 680x0 version for debugging in the NTK environment.

NewtonScript is a high-level language that lets you manipulate objects. Such objects could be a soup of contact numbers, or a View object that changes in response to a user action. NewtonScript's syntax is an amalgam of Pascal and C, and it supports messages and exception handling. The language is powerful enough to serve as real code, and in fact, the MessagePad's user interface was implemented with about 47,000 lines of NewtonScript.

NewtonScript requires little memory, and importantly, does automatic memory management and garbage collection. There's no memory allocation calls and all references are to objects, not to handles or pointers. This makes the programmer's nightmare of memory leaks and dangling pointers a thing of the past. Also, objects have latent typing, and NewtonScript performs type checking on operations before they are performed. This nails argument errors as they occur, and not after the trashed stack causes problems dozens of instructions later. This simplifies debugging and makes the operating system more robust.


Adjustable Keyboard Problem

by Christian Smith -- csmith@blackplague.gmu.edu

I've seen a bit of grumbling lately on comp.sys.mac.games and on various Mac BBSes about the way the new Adjustable Keyboard works with many games. The problem is caused by the fact that the system treats the two parts of the keyboard (referred to as Key Board and Key Pad for clarity) as independent parts (which they are), and the fix involves tricking the system into thinking they are a single device.

For example, imagine you're playing Spectre, using the arrow keys on the Key Pad for movement and the spacebar to fire, a common key layout for games. Pressing the spacebar while moving causes the tank to stop moving. The arrows must be released and repressed in order to move the tank further. In short, any key pressed on the Key Board interrupts key repeats from the Key Pad, and vice versa.

One solution, albeit a risky one, is to boot the Mac with only the Key Board attached, and - after the Mac boots - attach the Key Pad. Of course, this means attaching an ADB device with the Mac turned on, which can fry the ADB chip on the motherboard, possibly resulting in an expensive motherboard replacement. If you succeed with this ruse, the Mac will not recognize that the Key Pad is attached; yet it will respond to key presses on the Key Pad, presumably thinking these key presses come from the Key Board. In this case, key repeats will not be interrupted and you can play along happily.

Another solution is to configure the game to use only keys from one device, but this is often inconvenient.

I have talked to people at Apple, and they can "Neither confirm nor deny"[tm] that this is a bug, but they are looking into it.

[This problem - it's actually a feature to make it harder for people suffering from RSI to play games - makes sense, since ADB devices send signals separately. For instance, I use a Curtis MVP Mouse trackball with foot switch (the foot switch attaches via a custom cable to the trackball) but I leave my mouse hooked up for others to use. I can move the mouse and click with the footswitch, since those are separate events, but I can't drag with the mouse and click with the footswitch. When the mouse signals that it is moving, those signals override the mouseDown signal from the footswitch. All in all, this is yet another reason to avoid the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, which gets good grades for basic design and marketing audacity, but fails miserably in essential execution., both for healthy folks who wish to play games and those of us who suffer from repetitive stress injuries. -Adam]


InterNews 1.0

The following article comes from the text I wrote about InterNews in The Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. I made a few minor changes to take out mentions of screen shots and to avoid the transition from the NewsWatcher discussion and to Nuntius discussion. InterNews is an excellent MacTCP-based newsreader released a week or so ago from Dartmouth College, the same folks who gave us the popular FTP client Fetch. Needless to say, I can't provide all the background a reader of the book would have by the time she hit this section, but suffice it to say that you need MacTCP, and either a network connection or a modem and an implementation of SLIP or PPP. If you currently use Eudora and Fetch, you can probably use InterNews with little trouble.

InterNews -- Continuing with the excellent newsreaders, I come to a new program from Dartmouth College, InterNews. Programmed by Steve Maker and Roger Brown, InterNews is yet another take on an interface for reading news, presenting you with a three-paned window that displays a list of newsgroups at the top, a list of subjects in the selected group in the middle, and the articles in a selected thread at the bottom. In addition, InterNews works on the concept of the subscription, which is a personalized set of newsgroups. You can create any number of subscriptions, so I have, for instance, a subscription for the Mac groups, a subscription for the ClariNet groups I read, and so on. Subscriptions work well for organizing your reading, and can make starting up news less daunting than staring at a long list of all the groups you read.

Installation and Setup -- Double-click on InterNews to launch it for the first time. A Site Configuration dialog box immediately opens. You must fill it in before you can read any news, since some of the settings are necessary to connect.

The Authentication pop-up menu is the most confusing part of this configuration process because you must ask your system administrator what sort of authentication your host provides. You also must find out the name of your news server, of course, so you may as well ask the system administrator that question at the same time, along with the name of the mail server. If you don't use authentication, InterNews doesn't let you send replies via email, which is a bit of a pain. Forging email as a joke was once, and briefly, considered a neat trick. Now it's just considered stupid (although I hear that feature was added to combat what amounted to "electronic stalking" - anonymous harassing messages).

After you finish setting up this dialog with the news server and mail server information (and you can always change it later by closing all windows and choosing Configure for Your Site from the Edit menu), InterNews connects to your news server and downloads the full list of groups and then sorts it before presenting you with the Subscriptions window. As you might expect, retrieving the full list of groups takes a long time, and sorting them is also slow (although faster machines probably sort faster than my SE/30). The first time that I connected my SLIP host got disgusted with the length of time it took to sort the newsgroups and timed out, hanging up the modem. Because I use Manual addressing in MacTCP, I was able to connect again without quitting the program; if you use Server addressing you must quit the MacTCP program before reconnecting! This could pose a major problem for InterNews if your connection times out before InterNews finishes sorting the groups, forcing you to quit InterNews without letting it finish its job.

Once InterNews presents you with the Subscriptions window, the only remaining configuration work comes with your preferences. From the Edit menu, choose Preferences. InterNews displays a large preferences dialog with a pop-up menu to configure different aspects of the program.

Although you want to go through each of these screens and fill them in with your preferences and personal information, the most interesting are the Subscriptions preferences that control automatic display and sorting of articles when you open windows. By clicking on any of the yes/no markers in the matrix, you can modify the behavior of any subscription. It's a clever interface and a good idea.

After you set your preferences, the time has come to subscribe to newsgroups. First, you must create your own subscription, so from the Subscriptions menu, choose New Subscription and then name the icon that InterNews creates. Double-click on it to open its window. Then double-click on the subscription labeled All Newsgroups. You must somehow figure out how to show both windows on the screen at once. You can click on and drag down the double lines under the top pane that lists the newsgroup names to make it larger, and I highly recommend doing so, because scrolling through that list is hard enough as is.

When you see an interesting group, click on it and drag it over to your personal subscription window. Keep clicking and dragging until you've subscribed to all the groups you want to for that subscription, and repeat the process as necessary until you have all the subscriptions you want.

Double-clicking on any subscription opens the window for that subscription, and you can size the window and its three panes so that you feel comfortable working with them. If you don't wish to see the contents of a group before subscribing, you can open a Subscription and then choose Add Newsgroup from the Reading menu to pick from the full list in a scrolling dialog.

Basic Usage -- Double-clicking on any newsgroup in its top pane causes InterNews to retrieve the subjects for the articles in that newsgroup and place them in the middle pane. Then double-clicking on any subject retrieves all the articles in that thread and places them in the bottom pane. You scroll using either the scroll bars or the Spacebar shortcut, but unfortunately, you can't scroll while InterNews retrieves the articles, and particularly with a long thread, retrieving the articles can take a while.

If you're reading a thread, each article that scrolls by in the bottom pane is selectable with the mouse. You need to select an article specifically if you want reply to or save that article, obviously, but because InterNews scrolls a bunch of articles through that bottom pane, the concept of selecting one is a little odd. With an article selected, though you can do all the standard replying in mail or to the newsgroup, but you can also forward an article to someone else via mail, which I approve of, because I always seem to want to do that.

When replying, you can quote selected text and also insert a text file using commands in the Compose menu. On the whole, the message composition window is fairly standard looking, although it does have four radio buttons that enable you to change whether a message is a mail or news message, which might help take flames into email rather than clutter news with them.

Special Features -- Like NewsWatcher, InterNews can import and export .newsrc files so that you can easily synchronize your news reading between InterNews and a Unix newsreader. InterNews also sports a Windows menu that lists all your subscriptions along with the open windows (and a useful Send to Back command). Selecting any of your subscriptions from the Windows menu opens it immediately, saving you the trouble of closing all the other windows to get back to your subscriptions window. Finally, a Help menu sits alongside the Windows menu and provides online help and tips for using InterNews, including the keyboard shortcuts that aren't otherwise documented.

Overall Evaluation -- InterNews is a fine effort, and much of its interface looks slick and well-done. However, I personally always feel cramped by the three-pane approach to displaying the newsgroups because the top pane especially wastes a lot of space to the right of the rather short newsgroup names, and the separators take up space as well. If you have a monstrous 21-inch monitor, you won't even notice what I'm talking about, but on a 9-inch screen InterNews might drive you mad. I'd prefer to see the top pane instead live on the left or right of the others because it's inherently fairly thin.

I also continually have trouble with the concept of selecting an article from the bottom reading pane, although I suppose I would get used to it given enough time. Although InterNews has keyboard shortcuts for moving around so that the left- and right-arrow keys move you to the previous and next newsgroup and the up- and down-arrow keys move you to the previous and next subject, enough different keys are involved that I found the capability somewhat clumsy. Perhaps it would help if you didn't have to press Return or Enter to open each newsgroup or subject after you select using the arrow keys.

Finally, although InterNews is speedy enough, it doesn't feel quite as quick as NewsWatcher. I didn't have time to make real speed comparisons, so this objection may just be a feeling, but for most of us, perception is reality.

I feel a little bad talking about InterNews in this negative fashion because it is a great program, just not one that happens to match with my preferred method of reading news. It may fit better with your style, and it's definitely worth a look if you currently use NewsWatcher or Nuntius.

Administrative Details -- InterNews is distributed under the same system as Fetch, which means that educational and nonprofit users can use it for free, and for everyone else it's shareware. You can find it via anonymous FTP at <ftp.dartmouth.edu> as:

/pub/mac/InterNews_1.0.sit.hqx

Reviews/13-Sep-93


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