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News of the first Macintosh clones and Apple's set-top CD-ROM player appears in this issue, as does an article about Connectix's cute QuickCam video camera. Geoff Duncan looks at the GIF fiasco spawned by Unisys and CompuServe in more depth, and we review SimTower from Maxis. Finally for you addicts out there, Bungie now has an official Marathon Web site.
Copyright 1995 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Today is a national holiday in the U.S. - Martin Luther King Day. For those in other countries who don't know, Martin Luther King, Jr. was among the most well-known of the civil rights leaders in the 1960s and winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
Why do I bring up this holiday? Because, in a moment of reflection, I think King would have approved of the Internet as a medium of communication, one in which race has no impact. In his famous 1963 "I have a dream" speech, King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That dream can see the daylight of reality in the most virtual of places, the Internet. We would do well to remember King's dream and work to bring it to fruition outside the Internet as well. [ACE]
500-series PowerBook owners with Apple's PCMCIA expansion module have been reporting problems with type III PCMCIA devices sticking in the slot, modem driver problems, and grounding trouble with the upper slot when certain cards are inserted. A revised module, M2995LL/B, will replace the original (M2995LL/A) by the end of January. Affected owners (such as those with an Apple Mobile Message System paging card) will be able to request a replacement. (Further details will be available later this month.) New modem drivers will be available separately in a version 1.0.1 update for the module's flash ROM for users who are not experiencing hardware difficulties. [MHA]
Peter Lewis <firstname.lastname@example.org> comments regarding the heat-sensitive paper we mentioned in TidBITS-258:
Now what we really need is paper that changes colour when you run it through a laser printer, and then changes back after a few days. That way you could print out stuff, read it, and then reuse the paper the next week after the print had faded. Think of all the saved trees. Not to mention the fun you'd have using it for contracts.
Mike Cohen <email@example.com> writes in regard to the Newton Web browser and the Windows 95 presence at Macworld in TidBITS-258:
I saw AllPen's Newton Web browser at the Newton VAR show in Cupertino on Thursday and at Digital Ocean's booth at Macworld. It requires a Mac-based server, since current Newtons don't support TCP/IP or even SLIP or PPP. Even on a small Newton, it's pretty neat. Unfortunately, the older sample version (local only with a few built-in pages) doesn't properly recognize my 110's screen size.
Also, in regard to Dell's presence at Macworld, Dell was showing a $4,000 development system "especially for Mac developers doing Windows 95 development." It was part of the push to lure Mac developers to the Windows world. They also advertise it in Microsoft's four-page ad in the new issue of MacTech.
We don't plan to do any Windows development (other than providing connectivity for our Newton data collection software) since it just doesn't pay. Several developers posted similar concerns on <comp.sys.mac.advocacy> noting that, even though there are ten times as many Windows systems, the amount of software sold is only about twice the amount sold for the Mac. Since more tech support is needed for Windows, developing for Windows can actually be less profitable.
J. J. Lodder <firstname.lastname@example.org> comments that in addition to Open Door Networks (see TidBITS-258), knoware, a Dutch non-profit foundation, has been providing dial-up Internet access via ARA for almost a year. The price is Dfl 5/hour = US$3/hour, or Dfl 700/year for unlimited access up to 28,800 bps, exclusive of local phone rates.
This method of providing Internet access is still uncommon, although it does make one wonder how many Internet providers would spring up using this method if Apple gave the ARA client software away for free and sold the server. [ACE]
Jake Peters <email@example.com> writes:
One of my fellow employees recently purchased the Visioneer PaperPort scanner. There are two amazing things about it - the size and the interface software. When you insert a piece of paper in the scanner, it automatically scans the page and opens the PaperPort software. Once the page has been scanned in, you can drag multiple pages together to make a stack. Then, let's say you want to fax the set of five pages to someone else. All you do is drag the stack to the image of a fax machine, and it will fax the document. The PaperPort software also works with PowerTalk and enables you to print the documents or save them in a variety of graphical file formats.
Marathon, the popular Doom-like game for the Macintosh, now has an "official" World-Wide Web site. So those of you who can't get enough of the game can get a little more while you're on the Web. [ACE]
Kids World demo -- In TidBITS-255, I reviewed Kids World, a kid's program for creating animated screen savers. Those wanting to give Kids World a trial run can check out the demo, which offers a good idea of what using Kids World is like, but only gives access to Backyard World and the painting tools. If you try the demo, you can see a special animation by positioning the cat and dog close together. [TJE]
Philip Enslow <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
The First and Second WWW Conferences are now history and planning is underway for the Third to be held in Darmstadt in April. The official Proceedings of the First Conference have now been published as a Special Issue of Computer Networks and ISDN Systems which contains eighteen of the best papers. For further information on the journal, see:
The Proceedings of the Second Conference are being prepared for publication as a Special Issue also. The Third Conference, which will be much smaller than the Second (which turned out to be enormous), will also use the Journal to publish its proceedings. The Fourth Conference is tentatively scheduled for Boston in November or December of 1995.
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
If you read much in the way of computer-related media, you almost certainly know that Apple has licensed its MacOS to a few sundry companies, making it possible for these companies to sell Macintosh clones. As Macintosh users struggle to wrap our minds around the fact that in the future only a few super-savvy souls will be able to track all the currently available Macintosh computers, two companies - Radius and Power Computing - have risen out of the morass of possible licensees and announced concrete plans to ship clones in the first half (if not sooner) of 1995.
Radius -- Radius has long made accelerator boards, video cards, and the like for the Macintosh, so it comes as no big surprise that they will be early clone makers. Apparently, Radius plans to offer several clones to help people push the speed envelope with desktop publishing and video. One such clone, dubbed the VideoVision Workstation, is intended as dream machine for people doing video on the Mac, and will ship with Radius/VideoFusion's Radius Edit program, a program that video producers should find analogous to the higher-end systems they've been using for editing video. Radius Edit will also support QuickDraw GX fonts. Radius Edit will also ship separately in the first quarter of 1995 for around $1,000.
Power Computing -- While Radius readies clones for the high end, Power Computing is putting together clones for the average user. Power Computing hopes to offer a highly affordable PowerPC-based clone, and (according to MacWEEK) to sell their clones through popular mail order houses, a procedure that makes sense to many involved, but not for Apple dealers or educational resellers who might like to share this piece of the clone pie. Power Computing may also sell Macintosh components to other vendors who would then create their own systems.
Don't expect PowerBook clones any time this year, and my crystal ball fogs up completely when I ask when anyone outside of North America will be able to conveniently purchase clones.
Radius -- 408/541-6100 -- 800/227-2795 -- 408/541-5094 (fax)
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
On January 3rd, 1995, an announcement appeared in CompuServe's GRAPHSUPPORT forum that sent a shock wave through the online community. Apparently, the popular GIF graphics file format was now proprietary and users must have secured a license from CompuServe by January 10th in order to keep using GIF files. As it turned out, this interpretation wasn't entirely congruent with the truth, but that didn't stop the firestorm of debate that ensued.
GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is a graphics file format introduced by CompuServe in 1987. Its purpose was to enable users on multiple platforms - Macs, PCs, Amigas, or whatever - to download and view pictures. Back in the days of 1200 baud modems, GIFs were pretty much just time-consuming curiosities. But as bandwidth increased, more tools became available, and as the Internet and BBS communities expanded, GIF became the de facto standard for distributing graphics online. Not surprisingly, it's also the graphic format of choice for the World-Wide Web, and is the only graphics format supported internally by the three major Macintosh Web browsers. (Netscape also supports JPEG; see below.)
So why the controversy, especially over a file format that's been around for years? The problem lies in the GIF format's use of LZW (Lempel-Zev-Welch) compression and decompression. Graphic files can be very large: a full-screen (640 x 480), 256-color image requires 2,457,600 bits of memory to be represented internally by your computer. (That translates to about 300K.) In those days of 1200 baud modems, no one in their right mind downloaded a 300K file just to see a picture. By making use of LZW compression, however, that same file could be considerably smaller in GIF format, although the exact amount of savings varied depending on the picture. Suddenly downloading graphics became more practical.
How Did We Get Here From There? The LZW compression method was originally published in a journal by a Unisys engineer and was used by a number of developers (not just CompuServe) for a variety of purposes. Unbeknownst to these developers, Unisys later applied for a patent on the LZW compression technology. The patent was granted in 1993.
Now here's where the debacle begins. Unisys, apparently, didn't bother to make any public statement as to its licensing policy or intentions: it merely called up major GIF-related developers - like CompuServe - and started talking about infringement suits. These developers, caught by Unisys's "submarine patent," began licensing negotiations. When CompuServe negotiators reached an agreement with Unisys in mid-1994, they apparently didn't bother to tell anybody either. They merely "initiated a process" to secure a similar license that would benefit their community of GIF-related developers.
When CompuServe managed to make an arrangement with Unisys whereby developers could obtain a GIF license from CompuServe rather than Unisys directly, all manner of chaos broke loose. First, "official" announcements appearing in CompuServe's forums were often incomplete or misleading (one even misspelled Unisys consistently). Second, it was unclear whether the restrictions on the GIF format applied only to developers or also to anyone using the GIF format. GIFs are used almost everywhere, especially on the World-Wide Web. If the GIF file format was no longer free to use, literally tens of thousands of WWW sites, software programs, and images would have to be licensed, recalled, or go offline until the images could be licensed or replaced.
Several interpretations of the badly-phrased CompuServe announcements began to circulate on the Internet. Unisys probably got off a little easier because many people thought it was all CompuServe's fault, but newsgroup threads and email flew thick and furious. Some felt the agreement was irrelevant, since Unisys could never prosecute everyone using the GIF format. Some heralded the death of the GIF, and still others thought the whole thing was a joke, especially in the wake of the recent "Good Times" virus hoax. Wags even updated the popular line to "Death of the Net Predicted - JPEG at 11."
What's the Deal? Eventually, Unisys and CompuServe issued press releases and clarifications:
Unisys is requiring all software developers using the GIF format in "commercial, for-profit" software to obtain licenses. This means that users viewing and distributing GIF files are in the clear, as are freeware and non-profit applications.
CompuServe has provided an optional licensing agreement that can be used by developers of software "primarily for use with the CompuServe Information Service" rather than dealing with Unisys directly.
One upshot of #1, above, is that graphics programs and commercial WWW browsers which read or write the GIF format (like Photoshop and Netscape) will have to obtain licenses in order to continue using GIF. Some people think this will be a big problem, others see it as a side issue since some of these developers (like Adobe) already license the TIFF format from Unisys. The debate has also sparked interest in replacements for the GIF format. A commonly suggested alternative has been JPEG, which typically achieves far better compression than GIF and can use 24-bit color (GIF is limited to 256-color images). The difficulty with JPEG is that it's a "lossy" compression format: it throws out some data in order to achieve better compression. Other formats receiving attention include PBF, GEF, and FGF (variants or deliberate replacements for GIF).
Lessons Learned? Unisys's filing for a patent of the LZW technology after the GIF format had been widely adopted by the computer industry is, to say the least, questionable. Threatening to file infringement suits after seven years of encouraged use of the GIF format is, to say the least, highly questionable. Many companies and developers have found themselves in a position of having been unwitting partners to Unisys. This has damaged these companies' reputations and relationships with their developers; even without that, I'm sure Unisys's actions wouldn't make them happy.
Further, you'd think that after watching Intel get nailed by the commercial and Internet communities during the Pentium fiasco, Unisys and CompuServe - companies specializing in information technology - would have gone to some effort to make their policies and intentions clear online. Although Unisys did eventually release a decent clarification and CompuServe seems to have finally gotten its message across, engendering that amount of rhetoric, rage, and misinformation can at the very least be viewed as irresponsible, possibly inexcusable. Eventually, companies and vendors will learn not to turn a blind side to the Internet community; however, until that day they will have to be content to take their bruises.
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
Apple is branching out from the Macintosh name to other apple words with the Pippin (which is, if you believe our mellifluous dictionary, "any of numerous roundish or oblate varieties of apple"). Depending on how you look at it (and what you read) Apple's new Pippin is either a new platform, or a fancy quadruple-speed CD-ROM player that connects to a television. Either way, the Pippin uses an operating system based on the MacOS and takes advantage of a PowerPC 603 chip.
The initial point of a Pippin is to do a great job running CD-ROM discs, especially CDs that use the PowerPC architecture to go all out with sound, graphics, and so on. Pippin CDs will be a natural match for QuickTime VR, which Apple officially announced on 13-Jan-94 . (The earlier inclusion of QuickTime VR on the Star Trek Interactive Technical Manual CD-ROM [see TidBITS-250] came before the announcement.)
A Pippin won't help you run a Fortune 500 company, but it may prove popular with the Nintendo or Sega crowd. Pippins apparently have gobs of ports, so you'll be able to attach various devices (keyboard, joysticks, hard disks, and so on), although I haven't seen any information giving the exact expected specifications.
Current CD-ROMs won't work in a Pippin, but Apple's press release claims that it will only take "slight modification" on the part of a developer to make current CDs work. At least part of that modification will be the inclusion of the Pippin operating system, since the entire Pippin OS will come on each commercial CD, not on a separate boot CD. None of the Pippin's operating system will ship in the ROMs, as is customary for a Macintosh. A CD that works in a Pippin will also work in a Macintosh.
Apple has licensed Pippin to Bandai, a Japanese company, and the Pippin should first appear as Bandai's Power Player, available for around $500.
The Pippin strikes me as an interesting direction for Apple, not because of its CD-ROM capabilities, but because I wonder when Apple will announce a Pippin that talks the TCP/IP protocols of the Internet. Then we could run into some interesting links between CD-ROM-based data and the more fluid information from the Internet, perhaps brought in over a cable modem running at Ethernet speeds.
by Richard C.S. Kinne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Do you ever wonder why Donald Trump built those big towers in Manhattan? What attraction drove him? Now, with SimTower, Maxis Software's newest simulation of our complex world, you can find out. SimTower simulates the building and the running of a large skyscraper. And, you don't even have to deal with Ivana or Marla.
Begin at the Lobby -- You begin by creating a ground floor lobby and then building up (and even down a bit) from there. You can place offices, hotel rooms, fast food and regular restaurants, movie theaters, and condominiums on the floors you build. The simulation does not neglect infrastructure - you can also build security rooms, service elevators, express elevators, medical centers, and metro stations. In fact, you must build infrastructure in order to advance in the game.
As the workday progresses, SimTenants move into the tower and you gain the revenue needed in order to expand. If you keep your tenants happy, you'll be able to build a bigger tower with more people and thereby progress from your initial 1-Star rating all the way through a 5-Star rating, and then, finally, the Tower rating.
Elevators and Other Considerations -- As with many Maxis simulations, one of the secrets to happy Sims is helping them quickly move from point A to point B. In SimTower, this obsession takes the form of elevators. Indeed, interest in elevators - according to SimTower's designer Yoot Saito - sparked the creation of SimTower.
Any Maxis game, however, is a layered product and mastery of one element never guarantees success. For example, hotel rooms and condominiums should be placed on different floors or tenants complain about noisy neighbors. Too much noise causes stress levels to rise and then the tenants leave your building. On the other hand, fast food restaurants should be convenient to offices or the proprietors complain that they don't get enough business.
Room for Improvement -- Although I found SimTower quite enjoyable, it's not perfect. For instance, a few commands show only on the tool and information pallets, but not on the menus. For example, to pause the game you click a VCR-like control on the Tools palette. Unfortunately, if the Tools palette is not up you must bring it up before you can pause the game.
You can track and name different people in your building. You can search for named people: the program indicates the person with an arrow and centers the person on the screen, thus changing the display of your whole building onscreen. A much better method would be to put the indicating arrow pointing to your person onscreen without moving the building unless absolutely necessary.
You can do a little "improving" on your own with a freeware cheat application from Dave Baum <email@example.com>. It enables you to increase your funds at will, should you be so dishonest.
Great Animation and Sound -- SimTower boasts some of the best animation and sound I've seen in any program. You can follow the weather and the progress of the days. You can watch your Sims work in their offices, prepare for work in their hotel rooms, and clean their condominiums. A rooster crows at dawn, a bell sounds the beginning of the business day, and elevators whoosh from floor to floor. The animation and sound can be turned off, of course, and the game runs faster without them, though I found SimTower ran reasonably fast on a Power Macintosh 6100 in emulated mode (the Power Mac version of SimTower is not yet available). Then again, I always end up playing Sim games in Slow mode, because they offer so much to track.
Conclusion -- In the final analysis, SimTower is not SimCity 2000 in terms of scope, complexity, and ease of use, but it compares favorably with the other Sim games such as SimEarth and SimLife. If you prefer shoot-em-up action games you might want to pass on SimTower, but if you enjoy the Sim series of games where you create a simulation, you should find this game a winner.
Maxis Software -- 800/336-2941-- 510/254-9700
510/253-3736 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
The FCC approved it just a tad too late for most stores to stock up for holiday gift sales, but the QuickCam video camera for Macintosh computers should prove a winner for Connectix. It's the successful software company's first venture into the peripheral market.
QuickCam has a retail price of $149, though it sells for about $99 through dealers and some mail-order outlets. In fact, just about the only users who received their cameras in time for holiday gift-giving are those who ordered from MacConnection at the Macworld Expo in August. The backlog should be clearing up as you read this, though a new run of orders at January's Macworld Expo may set them behind again.
Suddenly, desktop video is within reach of almost any Mac user's budget. A small grey sphere about the size of a billiards ball, with its own removable triangular stand, QuickCam connects to any QuickTime-compatible Macintosh (one with 68020 processor or better) through either built-in serial port. Since no specialized cards are required, it doesn't matter whether your Mac has NuBus slots, multimedia slots, or anything else - just a free modem port or printer port. Almost any PowerBook is a perfect candidate.
The first-generation QuickCam provides sixteen shades of grey, but Connectix plans to produce a color model later in 1995 if the initial unit sells well. It's perfect for videoconferencing, learning how to make QuickTime movies, or even taking still greyscale snapshots.
Two applications come with the camera, one for creating QuickTime movies and the other for capturing still pictures. The former can combine the camera's digital video signal with sound input, using your Mac's microphone (if it has one) or the microphone built into the QuickCam itself. Connectix recommends you use the Mac's microphone given the choice; QuickCam's isn't particularly high quality, and using it limits the bandwidth available in the serial cable for video signal. Also included with the QuickCam is a picture framing utility and an After Dark-compatible screen saver module. QuickCam owners who return their registration card will receive a CD-ROM containing sample video files and additional utilities.
Speaking of video signal, Connectix has bypassed the loss of picture quality inherent in the process of converting analog video to digital signals. QuickCam generates a pure digital signal and sends it straight through to the QuickTime software running on the Mac. Camcorders and most other video cameras send out an analog NTSC video signal that then must be converted into digital information before the Mac can use it. This conversion can (especially with cheaper equipment) result in jitters, snow, or other degradation in quality. QuickCam avoids all this.
Are there any practical uses for a QuickCam so far? Absolutely. Even if you don't consider four-bit greyscale sufficient for your next cinematic masterpiece, it's plenty for videoconferencing on even low-bandwidth networks like LocalTalk or medium-bandwidth connections to the Internet. Cornell University's freeware CU-SeeMe videoconferencing application (designed specifically to use TCP/IP protocols as found on the Internet) now supports QuickCam. Since CU-SeeMe is also limited to 16 shades of grey, it's a match made in heaven.
In addition, Connectix is working on QuickCard, a utility designed to let people easily make multimedia greeting cards, complete with audio and video from the QuickCam and other embellishments provided by QuickCard.
A QuickCam certainly won't make you the next Fellini, but for about a hundred bucks, it's an easy investment to justify even if you just want to play around. For additional information about the QuickCam on the Web, check out these sites:
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.
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