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Matt Neuburg returns with a review and history of the latest release of the indispensable Now Utilities, Adam passes on some comments about the use of graphics in our Web site redesign, Tonya looks briefly at new releases of four HTML authoring programs (and muses about why many of them fall flat), and Mark writes about the beefed-up servers Apple announced at Seybold last week. Finally, we announce that DealBITS is going on hiatus for some rethinking.
Copyright 1996 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
We've decided to put DealBITS, our sister publication, on hiatus while we rethink its goals and mechanisms. Thus, today's issue will be the last for a short, or possibly long while. In recognition of this event, this issue has a great collection of deals, and it's well worth checking out. We'll write more about our decision in a future issue of TidBITS. [ACE]
System 7.5.5 Update -- It's clear now that Apple has not yet released System 7.5.4, and in fact, according to sources, is fixing problems relating to the IR capabilities of some Macs. The update, when it comes out, will be renumbered to 7.5.5. The next mention of it in TidBITS will be when it's actually available. [ACE]
by Mark H. Anbinder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last week, Apple took advantage of its continued prominence in the desktop publishing and design markets to push its latest network server technology at the Seybold Conference in San Francisco. The company introduced its latest server model and several enhancements to the Network Server and Workgroup Server lines, focusing on the Network Server 700/200, which now supports up to 65 GB of internal disk storage.
This latest Network Server model sports a 200 MHz PowerPC 604e processor and 48 MB of parity memory. Key to its data-handling and throughput capabilities are its two internal fast/wide SCSI-2 buses and an additional external SCSI channel. The system can handle up to seven 9 GB disks and one 2 GB disk internally using hot-swappable drives on removable trays, and can support up to a terabyte of total disk capacity using external disk arrays. The Network Server 700/200 has an Apple Price of $16,129 and should be available in early October of 1996.
New options for the Network Server line include 9 GB fast/wide SCSI-2 hard drives and 8mm tape drives (which can back up as much as 22 GB per hour) preconfigured with removable trays, and an unlimited user license upgrade for AIX to replace the two-concurrent-login license that comes with the AIX accessory kit for the Network Servers. AIX 4.1 for Apple Network Servers, developed in conjunction with IBM, offers AppleTalk, Apple Events, and AppleScript capabilities familiar to Macintosh system administrators.
At the same time, Apple has enhanced its Workgroup Server line by giving the 7250 and 8550 models larger hard disks, faster (8X) CD-ROM drives, more memory, and/or a processor speed bump. The company continues to offer configurations without software, with AppleShare printing and file server software, or with an Internet server software bundle including WebSTAR. Prices range from $2,689 to $7,399, depending on the model and configuration, and availability is expected to start in October.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
My article on the process we took in redesigning our Web site in TidBITS-344 prompted many comments, almost all of them favorable, luckily (and thanks to those of you who pointed out problems with my HTML as well). Daniel Schwabe noted that some of the ideas I put forth correspond to his research into hypermedia design. If you're interested in an academic expression of these concepts, Daniel's home page has links to some of his articles and papers.
A few interesting themes arose, most related to the use of graphics. A number of respondents were pleased that our site isn't graphically intensive. It works fine with graphics turned off and with text-only browsers like Lynx. We had several reasons for avoiding heavy graphics, and although some of those reasons are specific to our situation, others are potentially more broadly instructive. These are my opinions - I'm sure there are many out there who disagree vehemently on this topic. They're welcome to their opinions as well.
Historically, TidBITS has been straight text. We've been publishing since April of 1990, and at the time, graphics and the Internet mixed badly. To be fair, at the time we used HyperCard, so we could have included some graphics, but we felt that graphics would take too long to prepare, would probably be poorly done (we're writers, not graphics people), and would significantly increase the download time. 2400 bps modems were common back then, and we felt that TidBITS issues had to be as small as possible to attract readers.
Fast-forwarding to today's Web and 28.8 Kbps modems, you might think everything has changed. I'd argue that as much as things have changed, they've also stayed the same. We still only publish text because we haven't become great artists, and download time is still a huge issue. Also important is server load, and a page full of graphics will hammer a server harder than a page primarily composed of text. I'd rather serve more people than have an over-designed page that bogs down my server, and I'd rather run on a relatively small Mac (an Apple Workgroup Server 6150/66) than buy more hardware to support a graphics habit.
Over-reliance on graphics isn't just an issue of less work and keeping a site sprightly, though. Some people complained about sites that rely heavily on image maps - graphics that contain hot spots linking to other pages. If a normal graphic includes a descriptive ALT tag, you can generally get by if you can't see the graphic. With an image map, though, it can be almost impossible to use the site at all unless the designers do a good job in creating an alternate text navigation bar, which typically further clutters the layout. It's a bit like forcing people to climb a ladder to reach a storefront - it may seem neat, but it eliminates or discourages a proportion of the customers who can't or prefer not to climb.
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Adobe PageMill 1.0 shipped almost a year ago, it attempted to draw a curtain over the complexities of HTML, the markup language used to create Web pages. However, behind the tantalizing smoke and mirrors, the hard truth bespoke the fact that PageMill didn't create the sort of HTML that most people wanted, and it couldn't begin to support all the new tags and techniques that people were employing on the Web. Much has changed since PageMill 1.0 shipped, and it now has a host of direct competitors, including AOLpress 1.2.2j and Netscape's Navigator Gold 3.0, both of which shipped about ten days ago. Adobe is struggling remain competitive with PageMill 2.0, which should ship real soon now.
Press On, Press Off -- AOLpress is the updated version of GNNpress 1.1, and the grandchild of NaviPress. Anyone can download and use AOLpress free; technical support is only available to AOL or PrimeHost members. GNNpress will continue as its own product, and a new version should ship soon, based on AOLpress 1.2.2j. AOLpress works reasonably well and mainly suffers from being a Windows port that ignores many Macintosh interface standards.
All that Glitters -- Navigator Gold is Netscape's Navigator Web browser plus a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Netscape claims to intend the editor portion primarily for intranet users who don't wish to make elaborate Web pages, and the feature set certainly supports this claim. The only feature that stands out is the ability to save files directly to a server via FTP, a feature that the shipping version executes admirably for me.
Complications and Complaints -- All these WYSIWYG programs suffer from the fact that they cannot keep up with the flood of innovation hitting the Web. In the last year, the Web has seen the advent of client-side image maps, animated GIFs, ubiquitous tables, increasingly sophisticated background images, plug-ins, frames, and more. High-end Web designers will tweak their tags until the cows come home, trying to make their pages look right, despite HTML's intent as a structural language.
These WYSIWYG programs face an enormous challenge in keeping visually-oriented designers happy, and I am far from convinced that these programs do the job well, nor am I convinced that the Web is ready for the visually-oriented sites that these programs foster.
Part of why these programs foster sites made of eye candy is that these programs fail to address the needs of writers who wish to compose text in a WYSIWYG HTML editor. Web authoring tools must take advantage of lessons we've already learned in the word processing world: Styles and outlines used while composing a written work should translate directly to appropriate HTML tags. HTML editors should have glossaries, autotype, and multiple undos, as well as Find/Replace features that massage text with sophistication and speed. I know every writer has a personal list of must-have features, but so far, none of these WYSIWYG HTML editors have attempted to accommodate any writer's wish list, much less a mix of commonly requested features.
Out for a Trot -- Not everyone is following the WYSIWYG path forged by Adobe. In particular, Akimbo just shipped Globetrotter, an intriguing program. Say you write and publish a school's monthly newsletter. The school has a Web site, and you want to print and send home the newsletter with the kids, as well as post it on the Web. Globetrotter can address both needs through one document. Working in Globetrotter has a strong resemblance to working in Akimbo's FullWrite word processing program. You get writing features, plus page layout capabilities typical of a reasonably savvy word processor. Using these tools, you can ably create a school newsletter and print it out.
The $99 Globetrotter also has options for publishing Web sites, and it bases the starts and ends of pages in the site on section or page breaks in a document, depending on how you set it up. It can also create a table of contents and navigation bar to the site. You can take that same document that you printed, tweak the Web publishing options as much or as little as you know how, and then create a Web site simply by choosing a command from the File menu.
Although my impression is that Globetrotter will work best for sites that don't require deeply nested levels of linked pages, Globetrotter does support high-end Web-related options, such as extensive image map options and Java support. Globetrotter's form-creation feature even comes with a few Perl-based CGIs, designed to work on a wide variety of Web servers (you'll need to run MacPerl on a Macintosh server). Globetrotter can spit out HTML and related supporting files like GIFs and map files, but it cannot read in HTML. As an HTML-savvy person, I've found Globetrotter hard to adapt to, since the program truly means for me to make my document without worrying about the tags, unlike, say, Home Page, where, while you create a document, you create formats that have a distinct one-to-one relationship to HTML tags. We'll run a proper Globetrotter review in a future TidBITS issue; in the meantime, it will be interesting to see how people use the program.
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by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Certain components of Now Software's collection of utilities in Now Utilities are absolutely integral to my Mac experience. I am quite incapable of productive work without Super Boomerang, which compensates for the clumsiness of the Standard File dialog by causing it to come up at the most recently used item and by giving it menus that let you navigate to other recently used items. I depend, too, on Now Menus, which modifies the structure of my Apple menu and makes it hierarchical, and adds to my menubar hierarchical menus (onto which Finder items can be dropped) showing recently used folders (with their contents) and applications (with their recently used files).
There's much more to even these two components than I can enumerate here. If you've never used Now Utilities (NU), by all means, if you're running System 7.0 or later, download the free demo; for far fuller descriptions of NU, refer to my earlier discussions of NU 4.0.1 (TidBITS-152), NU 5.0 (TidBITS-248), and the NU 5.0.1 maintenance release (TidBITS-272).
I should add that I also use Startup Manager to manage the choice and ordering of extensions and control panels to load at startup. I run but rarely use FolderMenus; on my PowerBook I use QuickFiler for transparent file compression. (I no longer use WYSIWYG Menus to organize Font menus, currently preferring Impossible Software's commercial TypeTamer.)
Upgrading to Apple's System 7.5.x has not diluted my NU addiction and advocacy. The Apple Menu Options control panel imitates Now Menus' hierarchical Apple menu and Super Boomerang's tracking of recently used files and applications in such a sluggish, unstable, kludgy way as to pose no threat to NU's indispensability; and, without NU, the Standard File dialog remains a roadblock rather than a tool. Startup Manager, too, is clearly far better than Apple's Extensions Manager. (Apple's improved Find File did permit me to dispense with QuickFiler's Now Find, though.)
Ring Out the Old, Ring In the NU -- Last March, NU 6.0 became available, having been first released on Now Software's Web site as a series of public betas. I was still knee-deep in submitting bug reports and suggestions when they went final, and when I purchased the upgrade my sense was that the release was premature and ill-advised.
The installer did not come on floppies, as previously, but on a CD-ROM - even though it was only 1.4 MB (the CD contained only 63 MB, of which 50 MB was a demo of Now Contact and Now Update). It forcibly installed all components of Now Utilities (earlier versions let you pick which components to install), and, on restarting, disabled any rival software and subjected you to various pre-selected preferences - for instance, QuickFiler's compression feature was on, and so was its replacement of Apple's Find File with its own Now Find. A less experienced user would scarcely have known which features were governed by which component, much less how to disable them if desired.
There were curious omissions; most glaringly, one of the more important features of Super Boomerang, its hierarchical list of recently used files and folders in the Apple menu, had disappeared! Various features of Startup Manager were strangely inoperable; this turned out to be due to a new Expert Mode toggle in its preferences panel - undocumented. Oh, yes, the documentation: no longer a booklet, but a 226-page Acrobat file.
The components that I use did have some improvements. The hierarchical menus of Super Boomerang and Now Menus now opened to a depth of ten levels, enabling more extensive folder navigation via menus (the limit had previously been five levels). And Super Boomerang's menus in the Standard File dialog were now themselves hierarchical; as these menus include both drives and recently used folders, I could now navigate to nearly any file or folder through a single menu selection within the dialog.
Another nice new feature is that in Now Menus' menus, a list of currently running applications can append hierarchically the titles of the windows of each application, allowing you to navigate easily to any open window of any application. Unfortunately, it doesn't modify the existing Applications menu, as does Hiro Yamamoto's wonderful ApplWindows; you must use a second Applications menu elsewhere. So I also use Jouko Pakkanen's TitlePop, which drops a similar menu from the title bar of any window.
There were three new components, AutoType, Now Tabs, and Now Shortcuts, though I wasn't inclined to use them. AutoType types preset phrases, like Riccardo Ettore's shareware Type-It-For-Me on steroids; it watches you type, so it can expand a typed abbreviation, and even builds a list of frequently used longer strings you might want to abbreviate. But the word processors I use have glossary features, QuicKeys types boilerplate for me elsewhere, and I'm not sure I want the overhead of having my typing intercepted by yet another extension.
Now Tabs covers the bottom of the screen with a strip, used for two unrelated purposes. First, it provides another point from which a menu can pop up, containing various Finder and NU functions. Second, it lets Finder windows be iconized by title in the strip (anticipating a Mac OS 8 Finder feature). But all the menu functions can be triggered in some other way; the iconization doesn't work outside the Finder, on my machine it breaks in the Finder, and I don't want a Word 6-like strip hogging screen real estate. I can fight window clutter with WindowShade, which works for all applications and comes with System 7.5.
Now Shortcuts is another Finder hack: modifier-clicking on a Finder item pops up a menu of actions you can take on it. But most are Finder functions for which there is a menu item and/or keystroke already; I see this as an unnecessary complication of the Finder interface.
The NU Deal -- Now Software tacitly acknowledged some of 6.0's mistakes by correcting them. They promulgated a series of "monthly updates" - though registered users were neither sent them nor alerted to their existence, which makes one question the value of registration. Rather, Now Software placed the updates on their Web site and left it to individual users to discover them.
The description of each update gave few details of internal changes to NU components, but instead concentrated upon listing new plug-ins extending the functionality of the Now Tabs and Now Shortcuts pop-up menus. Why was this? Hypnotized by the new features appearing as we revisited the Web site month by month, were we not to notice the Super Boomerang Apple menu item and the custom installer quietly restored, the Startup Manager Expert Mode checkbox quietly removed, and who knows what else?
It's a new twist on a story now becoming old: in the software business, early adopters are practiced upon in every sense, shelling out the money to fund the subsequent development of the software we ought to have received in the first place. Still, we users are a complaisant lot; the NU 6.0 update might not have been worth $30, but the money wasn't all that much really, and one feels a certain sentimental duty to inject occasional boosts of capital into the software machine to support favorite programs.
A g-Nother g-NU -- Then, hard upon the release of 6.0 in March, and the May, June, and July monthly updates to make it work properly, August brought the release of NU 6.5, a $15 upgrade from 6.0. Had I not been an early adopter of 6.0, but remained with 5.0.1, I could have gotten 6.5 for the same $30 that 6.0 already cost me! Now Software and I disagree on the implications of these numbers; I say such pricing discourages early adopters rather than rewarding them as they deserve, but they say the extra $15 covers the value I got from using 6.0 between March and August. I knew there was some reason I got that C in Economics! Now Software has plans to convert to a subscription format wherein you receive all updates for a set period of time; this will surely prevent such misunderstandings.
Now Software is releasing a separate version of Startup Manager 7.0, beefed up explicitly to challenge Conflict Catcher as a resolver of extension conflicts, supported by a database, to be updated online. (It will have to be quite a database if it is to encompass the multitudinous combinations of system, software, hardware, and various extensions old and new, freeware, shareware, and commercial, necessary to explain the weirdness that goes on in my computers. Also, previous commercial attempts to create databases of conflicts have proven too difficult to maintain.) Now Startup Manager 7.0, given away free through 15-Sep-96, is included in Now Utilities 6.5 (the numbering disparity is said to be due to marketing considerations: Conflict Catcher's supremacy was not to be challenged by something ending in "point five").
NU 6.5 began to ship in August. As of this writing, the first monthly update, for September, is already posted, so we're at NU 6.5.1 and Startup Manager 7.0.1. This happened so quickly that I haven't tried the demos yet; at this point my first-hand reportage comes to an end. According to Now Software, the big changes are in Startup Manager and in some components I don't use; as for those that I do, Now Menus is unaltered, Super Boomerang sports resizable Standard File dialogs (a nice idea, though I pray it won't bring Dialog View to its knees), and FolderMenus will at last use the settings from Now Menus' menu preferences. I am told that you can now, for an extra fee, purchase NU on floppies and with a printed manual.
So NU? The period described above - the introduction of NU 6.0 in public beta, its release on CD, the monthly updates, the release of NU 6.5 - has had, for me, a clunky, grinding feel, as if Now Software had been shifting gears and having trouble making them fit. But perhaps at last the various forces that determine a software company's internal workings and its public policy are regaining harmony. The Web site has been revised for greater clarity and helpfulness, and the company has clearly learned from the 6.0 experience. Also, we are promised a renewed dedication to responsive customer support.
My basic stance on NU itself remains unchanged: merely juggling the various documents needed to write this review has reminded me how integral it is to my work. As to the upgrade, though, users must individually judge its value as against its price - and, thanks to the downloadable demo, they can do so.
In that spirit, here are some small but significant tweaks I've been looking for in NU.
Make settings apply to, or be overridable for, particular applications. Right now, for instance, when you've used Now Menus to alter an application's keyboard shortcuts, you can't restore its defaults without throwing away your whole Now Menus preferences file. Also, the DirectOpen hierarchical menus don't work, say, with Netscape, because I have no way to tell Super Boomerang that in Netscape, "Open File..." opens files (short of using ResEdit to change the menu item to "Open...").
One of the best features of Super Boomerang's hierarchical folder menus, both in the Apple Menu and in the Standard File dialogs, is that they run both ways - what hangs off a given folder is a menu containing both its contents and its containers. Thus, from any folder you can navigate down or up the file hierarchy via menus. Why don't Now Menus' or FolderMenus' menus have this feature? And why isn't the same thing done for file menus as well, so that from a file I could navigate up to its folder, and so on from there?
To make the Standard File Open dialog really useful, find a way to make multiple simultaneous selections possible; it drives me mad, when I'm in the dialog, to realize that I want to open multiple files, and to be forced to back out and use the Finder instead.
QuickFiler's inspector windows should permit drag & drop, and, since they already show type and creator info (a splendid thing), they should also allow you to change this info. Presently, I use a combination of Apple's improved Find File and the shareware Get Info substitute, Snitch.
The control panel interface was greatly improved in 5.0, but it still needs some dispassionate alterations. Some utilities, such as Now Menus, pack so much functionality into one container that specific options are hard to locate. And I'll bet more people would use the Groups feature of Super Boomerang if it were easier to use; for instance, one should be able to get a conspectus of all one's groups simultaneously.
If you have suggestions, email them to Now Software; I'm told that user response is an important factor in determining the nature of future releases. As I've said in this space before, users must vote not only with their feet but with their voices.
Now Software -- 503-274-2810 -- <email@example.com>
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