Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue

TidBITS Logo

TidBITS#208/10-Jan-94

Macworld news abounds this issue, with brief looks at some of the more interesting new products from the show, along with a full review of the runaway hit, Connectix's fabulous RAM Doubler. Mark Anbinder looks at Second Sight 3.0, and just to make sure you're feeling sufficiently poor, we report just what Sculley received in his severance package from Apple. Ick.

Topics:

Copyright 1994 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:


MailBITS/10-Jan-94

A number of people wrote to whack on me for claiming the Tab key was related to the metal tabs on a mechanical typewriter, saying instead that it is short for "tabulator," a device for making tables. In that sense the key name still makes sense on the computer keyboard, although I wonder if people would have thought that before Word came up with its table feature. On systems with monospaced fonts (and even on Macs with proportional fonts), many people still use the space bar to make tables.

Almost-free Internet access is available from the Washington DC-based non-profit International Internet Association. The group, funded primarily by private donations with some commercial input, hopes to give away up to 25,000 free Internet accounts and has given away over 9,000 as of several weeks ago at the rate of about 150 per day. The underlying rationale is to provide an easy alternative to commercial service providers. The account is free, although you must pay long distance charges. They support modem speeds up to v.32bis, and once you're on, you're in a custom menu shell - no SLIP or PPP access. There is currently a three week turnaround on account creation, and for some reason, they require a credit card for access.

International Internet Association -- info@iia.org -- 202/387-5445 -- 202/387-5446 (fax)

Do I Get This If I Resign?

Just in case you were concerned about how John Sculley was forced out of Apple in a takeover by Michael Spindler, I thought I'd pass on the description of Sculley's severance package. A number of Apple employees have asked wistfully if they can get the same deal if they resign.

The basic severance payment was a cool million, or about the equivalent of a year's salary for Sculley. Sculley won't entirely disappear either, since Apple retained him as a consultant for a year, during which he earns $100,000 per month for the first three months and $50,000 per month for the remaining nine months. One presumes that he's using the time to impart his wisdom to Michael Spindler, who no doubt realizes that Sculley's wisdom got Apple into this mess in the first place. I doubt much work will happen for that $750,000. Wasn't that about the amount Apple received in the Williamson County tax rebate? Hmm....

Don't worry, that's not all. Sculley didn't much like California, one gathers from his biography and other reports, and Apple agreed to buy Sculley's properties in Woodside, California, at fair market value. Some companies pay moving expenses only for incoming employes, but Apple picked up the tab for Sculley to move back to Greenwich, Connecticut, and since he won't need to commute back and forth any more, Apple also bought back his personal Lear 55 jet plane. Finally, since moving always involves a few months of higher expenses, Apple graciously made exercisable Sculley's outstanding stock options. I doubt selling them will bring him into the same class as Bill Gates, but a couple of million extra dollars can come in handy on occasion.

I suspect that some, if not all of these perks were specified in an employment contract so that Apple was legally required to fork over all that money, but I must admit that I'm a bit disgusted with it all.

-- Information from:
Pythaeus

Macworld Comments

I may be jaded, but Macworld doesn't sport the same attraction as it used to. Some of the lost luster is due no doubt to my increased knowledge of the industry, but that's not the entire story. In the process of figuring out why I was less than entranced, I realized something about TidBITS and the way I look at the Macintosh world. The show had too many me-too products, too many minor upgrades, and too many specialized high-end products that undoubtedly wowed the crowds as much with their price tags as with their features.

The Macintosh was once called the computer for the rest of us. Have we become the elite for whom that early Mac was not? I think not, and therein lies my dissatisfaction with the industry as reflected in the booths of Macworld. Frankly, the entire field is becoming niched out, if you'll excuse my verbification. Live Picture is extremely cool (or so I'm told - I have yet to have the patience to get close enough to a demo). But is any product that edits pictures and costs some number of thousands of dollars intended for the rest of us? Is a QMS color laser printer that costs more than my car made for the rest of us? The answer in both cases is no; the rest of us can get by just fine with an $8.37 copy of Color It and a several hundred dollar DeskWriter C.

I don't deny the validity or utility of these high-end, expensive, niche products, but at the same time I think the ever-increasing emphasis on them serves to divide the Macintosh world. Sure, that color laser printer produced nice pages, but when placed against a Honda Civic, I think most people would take the Civic. Drop the price on that color laser to the range of a DeskWriter C and we'll all have one. So that's the first dividing line - price. The prices of Macs may have dropped but that doesn't mean you can get away with spending less money on a complete system.

The second dividing line is related to the realization people had about seven years ago. The Macintosh made desktop publishing a reality, and we've all seen our share of newsletters that use every font available on the designer's Mac with an emphasis on Venice and San Francisco. Time has finally installed in us the concept that the availability and simplification of the tools does not make a novice into an expert. As the market matures in different areas, this lesson comes home time and time again. I could spend thousands of dollars on video equipment and software for my 660AV, but the ability to create full-screen full-motion video doesn't mean that I or any other novice can create good full-screen, full-motion video.

Community -- These two lines serve to break up the Macintosh community into the haves and the have nots, the novices and the experts, and that bothers me. Although a community must preserve a range of knowledge and expertise, there must also be some common ground, some subjects in which most any Macintosh user will evince interest. That's where I see my role, and the role of TidBITS. I'm not an expert in any field, and the field in which I'm the most interested, the Internet, attracts me because of the wonderful people with whom I can interact, from whom I can learn, and who I can count among my friends. I want to create a common ground, a virtual meeting space in which we can all learn from one another and benefit from the process. TidBITS does this in its small way, and that's good. We can't solve the world's problems, and I doubt we even understand the world's problems, but if we can at least get to know one another and continue to exchange thoughts and ideas, the world cannot but improve.

One of the causes of this pontificating was the annual netters' dinner at Macworld. Some 80-odd netters from all over showed up to share Chinese food and listen to our ever-enthusiastic organizer Jon "Will hack for food" Pugh. Once again, I was struck by how utterly comfortable I felt with the assembled net denizens. We may not be pretty and we may not be rich, but I think I can say that we're one hell of a nice group of people. Thanks to you all for a wonderful evening, and here's hoping that the net never loses its spirit.


Product Comments

Even though I may not have been thoroughly impressed by the products at the show, there were plenty of products worth mentioning. These in no way relate to each other - I just found them interesting at the show or in press materials. I'll have more of these notes next week as well - there isn't room for everything.

TaxPro -- Although I don't own a Newton, I kept an eye out for interesting Newton applications at the show. Many of those present (and there weren't all that many) were distributed by Apple's StarCore publishing group, and among that set was TaxPro (about $50, I think, and I'd check Apple dealers first for availability) from Advanced Mobile, a truly Newton-esque application. As you might expect from the name, TaxPro helps you do U.S. income taxes, but unlike the multi-megabyte behemoth MacInTax, it doesn't attempt to include every possible form or calculation, and isn't designed to print IRS-acceptable forms. Instead, TaxPro is a tax planner that removes much of the confusion from attempting to fill out the IRS's, shall we say, comprehensive forms. And since TaxPro resides on your Newton in a 120K file, it's perfect for quickly checking the tax implications of a financial move on the spot. Of course, as a Newton application, TaxPro makes it easy to email or fax the tax projections to someone else. Although I haven't used TaxPro for my taxes, I did play with it at the show, and especially liked the way it allowed you to work in simple worksheets rather than complex forms. TaxPro contains tax rates for both 1992 and 1993, and I'm sure Advanced Mobile will have a free or cheap upgrade to the 1994 rates when possible. Although anyone who has to mess with their tax planning will appreciate TaxPro, I suspect that financial professionals will especially like the ability to quickly project tax returns and electronically bounce the information to clients with a minimum of fuss.

Advanced Mobile -- meiercpa@aol.com -- TaxPro via NewtonMail -- 414/271-7711 -- 414/224-1525 (fax)

FlipBook -- S.H. Pierce & Co. showed FlipBook, a clever little application that turns QuickTime movies, PICS animations, and frames from the Scrapbook into a paper flipbook, in which you flip the pages quickly to simulate the frames of a movie. FlipBook ships with special paper for making flipbooks and works with both QuickDraw and PostScript printers. It does require a 68020 or greater Mac. As is unfortunately common, they didn't put the price on their glossy propaganda.

S.H. Pierce & Co. -- 617/338-2222 -- 617/338-2223 (fax)

Sumo -- MacSoft, a division of WizardWorks, showed Sumo, a new game based on the sport of sumo wrestling. The basic idea is to bounce the opponent's ball out of the ring, and you can either play against the computer, which learns your moves and adjusts, or against another person, although then one person must use the keyboard, which looked as though it might be more difficult than using a mouse. If you play with the mouse, you don't have to click. A dragging motion is all you need, making Sumo potentially more attractive to people flirting with RSI problems.

MacSoft -- 800/229-2714

White Knight 11 does not support the Communications Toolbox, according to the FreeSoft rep at their booth, but they plan CTB support for version 12. Once White Knight supports the CTB, those of us who work with MacTCP and the Internet will be able to use it with telnet tools and other Internet applications.

The FreeSoft Company -- 412/846-2700

Open Sesame ($99 list) from Charles River Analytics should be a fascinating utility to test. The first learning agent for the Mac (or any other mass market platform), Open Sesame watches your actions and when it thinks it detects a pattern, it asks if you would like it to automate that task. It even keeps track of day and time, so if you always run a backup on Friday afternoon, or always switch into WordTris at 4:55 PM, Open Sesame will note that. I'm looking forward to it more than most utilities, because even though I already automate many tasks with QuicKeys and a few with AppleScript and Frontier, I always wonder what I'm missing.

Charles River Analytics -- 800/913-35335 -- 617/491-3474 -- 617/868-0780 (fax) -- sesame@cra.com -- 72056.3606@compuserve.com

Street Atlas USA 2.0 from DeLorme Mapping should prove to be a useful application of CD-ROM technology, since it's a complete road map of the entire United States, theoretically down to the tiniest back roads. I grew up on a dirt road that barely showed up on local maps, so I'd be curious if Street Atlas includes that road, but it claims to show more than 12 million street segments and over 1 million lakes, ponds, rivers, parks, railroads, and monuments. Since version 1.0 appeared first on Windows (think of Windows users as guinea pigs), this version is the same as the just-released version 2.0 for Windows. You can search on zip code, place name, or phone number, and view and print maps at a variety of scales.

DeLorme Mapping -- 207/865-1234

MacHandwriter appeared in the U.S. market after being available in Japan for some time. From Communication Intelligence Corporation (CIC), MacHandwriter is a complete pen input system for the Macintosh, and includes the necessary software, a pen (you can get a pressure-sensitive pen from CIC if you use FreeHand or other pressure-sensitive program), and a thin graphics tablet. Although the press release claims MacHandwriter "is compatible with standard off-the-shelf applications including graphics and desktop publishing, word processing, spreadsheet, and databases" it doesn't anywhere claim complete compatibility, which is either honesty (is anything completely compatible?) or a way of saying that it works with a lot of software but doesn't work with plenty as well. Either way, it sounds neat, and is affordable at $399. Until 28-Feb-94, the price is even lower at $199.

CIC -- 800/888-9242 -- 415/802-7888 -- 415/802-7777 (fax)

El-Fish from Maxis should satisfy aquarists who can't keep up with a large tank of cichlids or who don't get The Aquarium Channel on cable. El-Fish is an electronic aquarium in which you can breed or mutate exotic fish. The propaganda claims that El-Fish creates an "unlimited number of realistic, seemingly three-dimensional fish that look and swim like real fish." I certainly hope El-Fish isn't so realistic as to simulate the occasional tank leaks or nasty fungal epidemics my fish have experienced.

Maxis -- 510/254-9700 -- 510/253-3736 (fax) -- maxis@aol.com

Port Juggler from Momentum may solve serial port headaches for those of you with more serial devices than ports. With it, you can connect a peripheral to up to four Macs, or you can connect up to four serial devices to one Mac. Either way, the interesting part is that Port Juggler switches between the devices automatically, so you don't have to do any of the switching work. It's a great idea, considering that once you enable AppleTalk on the printer port, you're down to a single serial port that's usually awkward to reach.

Momentum -- 808/263-0088 -- 808/263-0099 (fax)

Second Sight, Take Three

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

The FreeSoft Company recently shipped the long-awaited 3.0 release of their popular Second Sight bulletin board software. Second Sight 3.0 is the successor to Red Ryder Host and Second Sight version 2.1; the company also publishes White Knight, the popular terminal software formerly known as Red Ryder.

Although graphical interface BBS software and mail packages such as FirstClass, TeleFinder, and NovaLink Pro have taken over much of the Mac-based BBS, service bureau, and email market, text-based BBS software such as Second Sight is still popular. The universal VT100-compatible interface that's presented to all users regardless of client platform carries a strong advantage; the graphical packages require specialized client software that is typically available for a limited range of platforms.

Second Sight 3.0 incorporates into the main host application all of the administration features previously handled in a suite of separate utility applications. The authors clearly based many of the improvements in each module on features from the many free and shareware utilities that have been developed by Second Sight users over the years. The modeless multi-window host environment allows the sysop to perform most maintenance and administration tasks while the host system is active and in use.

The host software supports serial DTE rates (between computer and modem) from 300 to 57,600 bps, and DCE rates (between modems) from 300 to 14,400 bps, plus 16,800 bps and the yet-to-be-released 28,800 bps speed. Hardware handshaking (RTS/CTS flow control) is fully supported on Macs equipped with a "Gpi" (general purpose input) pin in their serial ports; the Mac Plus, Classic, and LC family Macs are not so equipped. The software now offers "true multi-line support," including support for Creative Solutions's Hurdler and Applied Engineering's QuadraLink and QuadraLink DMA cards, all of which are multiple-serial-port NuBus cards.

Second Sight 3.0 includes numerous enhancements from the outside user's point of view, as well. The software provides full ANSI color and graphics terminal extensions, permitting colorful menu displays, text file graphics, and color ANSI animations. A new Group Mail feature allows individual messages to be sent to groups of users. All file transfer protocols have been refined, and all now support both MacBinary and non-MacBinary uploads and downloads, enabling both Mac and non-Mac users to work with files comfortably.

The fully customizable menus, displays, and command structure make Second Sight more attractive than most other text-based BBS software designed to run on a Macintosh host machine. (Most such packages are designed to operate just like corresponding text-based BBS software on DOS machines.) This factor puts Second Sight ahead of the less-expensive Hermes, and also gives it an advantage over the text-oriented command line interface in FirstClass. NovaLink Pro is also fully customizable, but Second Sight modification is easier on the administrator.

Upgrades from Second Sight 2.1 are available for $25 to users who purchased the software on or after 01-Nov-93, for $35 if 2.1 was purchased between 01-Oct-93 and 31-Oct-93, or $45 between 01-Sep-93 and 30-Sep-93. Other 2.0 or 2.1 owners may upgrade for $50, and owners of pre-2.0 versions may upgrade for $75. (Registered users should receive instructions on their various options in the mail.) The suggested retail price of the new version is $199.

New copies of Second Sight will be available from Macalot Software at 412/846-2177, and MacZone at 800/248-0800 or 206/883-3088. For instructions on upgrading from a previous version or for other authorized dealers, contact:

The FreeSoft Company -- 412/846-2700 -- 412/847-4436 (fax)
-- Information from:
The FreeSoft Company propaganda

RAM Doubler

The software hit of Macworld SF was definitely Connectix's RAM Doubler. Roy McDonald, Connectix's president, said that they sold about 3,000 copies at the show, and about another 3,000 through normal channels. Considering that RAM Doubler shipped the day of the show, that's not too shabby. But I digress.

You can never have enough hard drive space or RAM. Hard drives aren't all that expensive per megabyte though, whereas RAM is way up there, due in large part to the DRAM hoax of last year. You probably remember, the Sumitomo resin factory blew up, so prices on RAM reacted like commodity prices and skyrocketed. Like commodities, the prices were based almost purely on speculation, and as it turned out, a survey of existing stocks of the resin showed that the industry had almost twice as much of the stuff stockpiled as it was going to need by last December, when the plant came back on line. In essence, then, there was no reason for those RAM prices to rise, but rise they did. In fact, the dealers we users buy from probably made no more money on RAM than they normally do, but being almost at the top of the RAM food chain, they had no choice but to raise consumer prices. But I digress again - now that we're all irritated at the RAM manufacturers, let me explain what RAM Doubler is and why you're likely to want a copy.

RAM Doubler is a single small extension that literally doubles your RAM. It's not guessing at a 2:1 compression ratio, like Salient's AutoDoubler and DiskDoubler (now owned by Symantec) - you actually see your total memory being twice your built-in memory. Since RAM Doubler is an extension, there are no controls, no configuration. You just install it and it doubles the amount of application RAM you have available.

A number of people have expressed disbelief that such a feat is possible, saying that they'd avoid anything like RAM Doubler because it's obviously doing strange things to memory, which isn't safe. The answer to these naysayers is that a program like RAM Doubler either works or it doesn't - it's a binary decision. Since Connectix offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose if it doesn't work, and since there's almost nothing you can do to prevent RAM Doubler from working (remember, there's no configuration), it's an easy test. Tonya and I have both installed RAM Doubler to test it in low and high memory situations since her Duo 230 has only 4 MB of real RAM whereas my 660AV sports 20 MB.

Needless to say, since RAM Doubler has only been out for a few days, we haven't been testing for long, but I can honestly say that neither of us have noticed anything out of the ordinary during this time. In addition, Roy said that he has been watching the nets for complaints and has seen essentially none. This isn't to imply that RAM Doubler must be entirely bug free; in fact, there's a known conflict with 4D that will be fixed in 1.0.1, due out in a week or so. ACIUS has apparently released a patch for some other problem that also solves the incompatibility with RAM Doubler, but if you use 4D, I'd recommend waiting for a short while.

On our machines, though, RAM Doubler has performed perfectly. Tonya runs a relatively slim system and only a few applications like Word 5.1a, the Random House Webster's dictionary, and Eudora, whereas I have over two rows of extensions on a 16" monitor and a slew of applications, fourteen of which start up at boot time. To stress the system a bit, I launched Retrospect (4 MB of RAM), FreeHand, PageMaker, and Elastic Reality (a high-end morphing program from ASDG that likes 12 MB of RAM), and I still had about 6 MB free, so I started up speech recognition and switched to a larger uncompressed voice. Everything worked fine, although as I started to push the boundaries of my 40 MB, the Mac slowed down a bit.

In normal usage, Connectix estimates a two to four percent slowdown, although most people don't notice such a small speed hit, in large part because other extensions can easily reduce your Mac's performance that much as well. The speed hit will change slightly as you use more of the RAM that RAM Doubler provides since it must switch to more complex methods of providing the RAM it has promised to you.

I'm no programmer, so I can't tell you exactly how RAM Doubler works its magic, but the basic idea is that it uses Connectix's virtual memory technology to divert memory not to a disk file, but to other locations in RAM. There are several techniques involved, depending on the current RAM situation. RAM Doubler starts out by using the "empty" space in the About this Macintosh memory bars, which is the memory that an application has reserved but not used. After that, it pokes around for holes in the "used" space in those memory bars, or memory that the application has used but won't again. Normally such memory is completely lost to other applications because applications generally require a contiguous block of RAM. If you keep launching programs, RAM Doubler will compress some of the contents of RAM using standard data compression techniques, and finally, if all else fails, it will swap some of the contents of memory out to disk, although I gather this primarily happens on Macs with less than 8 MB of real RAM.

Because of these techniques, you can't run other memory management tools, such as Apple's VM or Connectix's Virtual. In addition, you should not use RAM Doubler to run a single RAM hog like Photoshop - the speed hit will be hard and instantaneous since most of RAM Doubler's tricks fail when using only a single application. However, if you have 20 MB and wish to run Photoshop in 20 MB, you should be able to effectively use the additional 20 MB that RAM Doubler provides for other, smaller applications.

The more I think about RAM Doubler, the more I'm impressed by how simple and clever it is. The best analogy I can come up with is that of a hard disk. You don't need contiguous space on a hard disk to save a file - the Mac can track the different blocks that store various parts of a large file. Until RAM Doubler, RAM was the exact opposite, but with RAM Doubler, memory now works more like a hard disk so you can use every little bit that's free.

Of course, such a feat isn't easy, and the only way RAM Doubler achieves it is to use the MMU, or memory management unit, that's built into the 68030 and 68040 processors and keeps track of the entire contents of RAM. Thus, if your Mac has a 68000 or 68020 (with the exception of some 68030-accelerated Mac II's - ask Connectix for details), RAM Doubler won't work. Those of you on older Macs like the Plus and LC have another option, though, OptiMem from Jump Development Group. I'll talk more about it in a future issue.

The best testament to RAM Doubler's simplicity is its nine-page manual, with three pages that introduce RAM Doubler and talk about installing and removing it, four pages that answer common questions, and two pages that discuss Connectix's other products.

Overall then, RAM Doubler is a no-brainer. You buy it (it lists for $99, sold for $49 at the show, and I suspect that Connectix has lower than list prices for online users and for users of other Connectix products), install it, and poof, you have twice as much RAM available for applications.

If we're lucky, RAM Doubler will prompt a lowering of RAM prices as well, since only people who need tons of real RAM (like Photoshop users) should pay for real RAM. It's an easy decision, since if you have 8 MB of real RAM now, RAM Doubler costs somewhere around $50 and an 8 MB SIMM costs around $300. For people like me, it's even more worthwhile since RAM Doubler still costs $50 to up my RAM from 20 MB to 40 MB, but another 20 MB of SIMMs would probably run $750 or so. In other words, if you're starting to feel the RAM crunch, get RAM Doubler. It doesn't prevent you from getting more RAM later - it will double that just as happily - but for the moment it's the best deal going.

Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100 -- 415/571-5195 (fax)
connectix@aol.com

Reviews/10-Jan-94


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