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TidBITS#389/21-Jul-97

Apple can shine with pride this week as it releases Mac OS 8, and in this issue, Geoff covers its many new features. We also have news about juiced-up PowerBook 1400s, an Internet-based encryption challenge in which Macintosh users can participate, and Apple's lower-than-expected quarterly loss. Tonya rounds out the issue by exploring a new Frontier in Web publishing and site management.

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Copyright 1997 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:


MailBITS/21-Jul-97

Apple Posts Lower-than-Expected Q3 Loss -- After the drama surrounding the departures of Gil Amelio and Ellen Hancock (see TidBITS-388), Apple's third fiscal quarter report came and went quietly. Apple reported a net loss of $56 million (44 cents per share), compared to last year's third quarter loss of $32 million (26 cents per share). $56 million is still a hefty chunk of money, but it fell conservatively amid speculations of a loss ranging from $70 million and $130 million. [JLC]

<http://product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q4/970716.pr.rel.q397.html>

Bovine RC5 Challenge -- A group of Macintosh users is participating in the 56-bit key RC5 version of the RSA Data Security Secret-Key Contests, an effort to break 56-bit RC5 encryption. Among other cracking efforts is the Bovine RC5 Project, a volunteer effort that uses spare CPU cycles to test all possible keys. To participate, Mac users can download the free client program and leave it running on Internet-connected Power Macs (it's way too slow on 68K Macs); to join as part of Guy Kawasaki's EvangeList team, enter <evangelist@apple.com> as the required email address. The EvangeList team has hit the top spot for number of keys checked in the last few 24-hour periods, but with only six percent of the possible keys checked, there could be much more work to do.

<http://rc5.distributed.net/>
<ftp://ftp.distributed.net//pub/rc5/v2/rc5v2-macos.sit.hqx>

The $10,000 prize money will be split between the Bovine organizers ($1,000), the team ($1,000), and Project Gutenberg ($8,000), the long-standing project to make literature freely available on the Internet. Without addressing the complexity surrounding the encryption issue, if a Mac ends up being the machine to find the secret key, and if Macs check more keys than any other type of computer, it can only result in positive press for Apple and the Macintosh. It's an easy and positive way to participate in the Macintosh community. [ACE]

<http://www.gutenberg.net/>


Apple Powers Up the PowerBook 1400

by Tonya Engst <tonya@tidbits.com>

Last week, Apple announced imminent updates to the PowerBook 1400 series, which should interest anyone planning to buy a 1400 this month.

<http://product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q4/970714.pr.rel.pb1400.html>

Out with the Old -- For those who don't memorize PowerBook specs, PowerBook 1400s have the BookCover feature for customizing their cases and the pop-out keyboard for easy access to the innards (see TidBITS-350 and TidBITS-371). They are based on the PowerPC 603e chip, come with built-in 6x CD-ROM drives and hard disks sized from 750 MB to 1 GB. The old line included four models, ranging from the 1400cs/117 with a dual-scan screen to the 1400c/133 which offered an active-matrix screen and 128K of level 2 cache. Estimated retail pricing ranged from $2,500 to $4,000.

In with the New -- The new series has three models with faster CPUs but similar screens: the 1400cs/133, 1400c/133, and 1400c/166, and estimated pricing from $2,500 to $3,500. Each machine has an 8x CD-ROM drive, a 128K level 2 cache, and comes with either a 1.3 GB or a 2 GB hard disk. These PowerBooks will begin shipping with either Mac OS 7.6 or 7.6.1, not Mac OS 8. In related news, Apple has delayed shipment of the sub-compact PowerBook 2400c until August, ostensibly so that it can ship with Mac OS 8 installed.

<http://product.info.apple.com/pr/media.alerts/1997/q4/970714.pr.alrt.pb2400.html>


Apple Double-Clicks Mac OS 8

by Geoff Duncan <geoff@tidbits.com>

This week, Apple will officially release Mac OS 8, a new version of the Macintosh operating system, billed as the most significant update since 1984 (expect ads with a flying saucer motif). Mac OS 8 offers new features and interface changes, plus a surfeit of Internet software - all surrounding Mac OS 8's centerpiece: a PowerPC-native, multithreaded Finder.

The changes in Mac OS 8 are difficult to sum up in a brief article, so we'll give Mac OS 8 additional "under the hood" coverage in upcoming issues.

System Requirements & Ordering -- Mac OS 8 has higher system requirements than any previous system, mandating a 68040 or PowerPC processor, at least 12 MB of physical RAM (with Virtual Memory to allow for 20 MB total), and a minimum of about 65 MB of disk space (a complete install takes about 130 MB). Just as Mac OS 7.6 left 24-bit Macs and 68000- and 68020-based machines behind, Mac OS 8 does not support 68030-based Macs, including multitudes of Mac II series machines and numerous LC, Performa, and PowerBook models. In addition, Mac OS 8 does not support 68030 machines upgraded to 68040 or PowerPC processors via upgrade cards (although logic board upgrades are okay). For those machines, Mac OS 7.6.1 remains the last supported operating system.

Mac OS 8 costs about $99 on CD-ROM; floppy disk versions cost about $25 more and lack some extras. Owners of Mac OS 7.6 can use a $30 rebate certificate that should be in the Mac OS 8 package, and if you purchased Mac OS 7.6 from 01-Jun-97 through 31-Jul-97, you can get Mac OS 8 for the cost of shipping; details should be in the 7.6 package.

The update should be available by the end of this week from Claris, major mail order houses, and retailers. Many resellers (including Claris) have limited time offers and discounts on other products with Mac OS 8, so it might pay to look for a deal.

<http://www.claris.com/macos8/>

Apple plans to release internationalized versions of Mac OS 8 throughout the rest of 1997.

A Whole New Finder -- The most significant enhancement in Mac OS 8 is a new, multithreaded, PowerPC-native Finder. Multithreading means the Finder can now simultaneously perform many tasks - like copying files and emptying the Trash - that were previously done one at a time. Though third-party products have offered such features, multithreading provides plenty of other, subtler improvements. For instance, Finder windows now open while other things are happening (a handy feature when you work with large folders, CD-ROMs, or slow servers), and Finder windows now update more quickly. These changes make the Mac OS 8 Finder feel snappy, although it takes time to learn to take advantage of the multithreading. We've been taught for years that the Finder doesn't do these things; now we don't expect it to.

You might not notice the multithreading right away, but you'll certainly notice the Finder's new "platinum appearance." Everything uses greyscale coloring and a new 3D look. You control the appearance via the Appearance control panel, where you set if the platinum appearance should be used everywhere instead of the old System 7 look, and if the system font should be the traditional Chicago or the new Charcoal. Using the platinum appearance for all applications generally works well (I found a few cosmetic glitches in some programs); the most common annoyances involve window placement, since the dimensions of some windows are now several pixels larger. Apple has posted screenshots showing off the new look:

<http://www.macos.apple.com/>

The new Appearance Manager (controlled via the Appearance control panel) does not enable you to switch your system's appearance to new, often outlandish themes publicized of late. However, Mac OS 8 includes the groundwork for multiple appearances, and developers can write programs that use appearance themes: expect to see more along these lines. If you're desperate to play with your Mac's appearance, check out Kaleidoscope; version 1.7 is supposed to work with Mac OS 8.

<http://www.kaleidoscope.net/>

The new Finder features spring-loaded folders - you double-click a folder without releasing the mouse after the second click (a "click and a half") - to drill down into your folder hierarchy and then put a document in a particular location or open a particular folder. When you release the mouse, all the intervening windows close, leaving an uncluttered desktop with just the items you want.

Finder windows can be converted to pop-up windows (or "drawers") that live as tabs at the bottom of your screen. Drawers slide open when you drag items into them or click their tabs, but close as soon as you're done with them. Other new commands include keyboard shortcuts for revealing the original item an alias points to (Command-R) and moving an item to the Trash (Command-Delete). You can also set which columns appear in the Finder's list view on a window-by-window basis (but you can't change the columns' order or width).

New System Features -- Mac OS 8 sports several new productivity features. If you Control-click almost any item in the Finder (including the desktop), a contextual menu appears and offers commonly used commands. The menubar and pop-up menus feature sticky menus that stay down once you click them. I thought this feature would be most useful for RSI sufferers, but now I use it constantly, particularly to navigate large pop-up menus. Other new goodies include the built-in capability to use pictures as a desktop backdrop and an About box that better represents how much memory programs are using.

There are, however, glaringly unimproved areas of Mac OS 8. Opening the Chooser is still like having a flashback to 1988 (although it now works on a locked volume), and the standard Open and Save dialogs recall 1985: Many enhancements - pop-up windows, hierarchical Apple menus, and keyboard shortcuts - seem geared to work around these and other shortcomings, rather than fixing them.

Installation -- Mac OS 8 has the same sort of catch-all installer that Apple introduced with Mac OS 7.6, which drives a plethora of secondary installers. Although the installation process is a bit clunky, it's much better than manually running through the installers. Mac OS 8 includes two setup assistants - Mac OS Setup Assistant and Internet Setup Assistant - which step you through naming the machine, selecting a printer, and connecting to the Internet. The Internet Setup Assistant seems most useful if you know what you're doing; for instance, most people who connect to the Internet through a LAN won't know what subnet mask they should use. These Assistants pick up some information from previous systems, but a clean install of Mac OS 8 gives the Internet Setup Assistant virtually no data to work with, and naive users may think they must sign up with an ISP (offers are built in).

Internet Integration -- Apple says Mac OS 8 offers a higher level of Internet integration than any other operating system - if that's true, it's a reflection of the sad state of Internet access today. With three exceptions, Mac OS 8's Internet integration is a cumbersome bundle of existing software (three Web browsers, three email clients, PointCast, Castanet, and more). I recently set up both my sister and my parents with Internet access, and I can't imagine pointing them to this cacophony of software and calling it superior Internet integration.

So what are the three exceptions? The first is an AppleScript (really!) called Connect To... that lives in the Apple menu. From any application, choose "Connect To...", type or paste a URL, and you're on your way. It's minimal, but effective. The second is Apple's Personal Web Sharing, a tiny, hardy Web server that can be configured much like File Sharing. You need a stable IP address to use Web Sharing effectively with the Internet (which excludes most dial-up users), but it's great for testing CGI programs and sharing data on a local TCP network (aided by Personal NetFinder, which can give Finder-like list views to Web users). Don't be confused by Web Sharing's old ReadMe file: it implies that you must revert to Mac OS 7.6 to use Web Sharing with PCI-based machines, but in fact you need Mac OS 7.6 or later.

The third exception is more subtle: Internet Config. Apple slyly puts Internet Config 1.3 in an Internet Utilities folder, but Internet Config in fact serves as the backbone behind the Internet Setup Assistant, the Connect To... script, and more. Apple doesn't appear to discuss Internet Config anywhere in the Mac OS 8 documentation, but it's good to see a freeware solution developed by the Mac Internet community being distributed with Mac OS 8 (see TidBITS-255).

Speed & Compatibility -- I've used various versions of Mac OS 8 for the last several weeks, and I've found it stable and responsive. A bad cable forced me to revert to 7.6.1 for a few days, and I was startled by how much the older OS got in my way. The new system lets applications share the CPU more efficiently, so background tasks run faster, and some programs see performance improvements of as much as 25 percent. However, though Mac OS 8 lets me do more of what I want when I want, it's not necessarily faster: for instance, copying files can be slower than in Mac OS 7.6.1, since the Finder allows more time for other things to happen. I don't mind, especially since the Finder is dramatically faster in the background under Mac OS 8.

Almost without exception, my conservative set of third-party control panels, extensions, and utilities have worked on my Power Mac 7600. I've seen reports to the contrary, but on my machines (a Quadra 650, a Duo 2300c, and a Power Mac 7600) the Finder crashes immediately if I load any component of Now Utilities from versions 5.0.3 or 6.7. Now Software is looking into reported problems with OS 8. Connectix says RAM Doubler works with Mac OS 8, although Speed Doubler is incompatible and should be avoided. Symantec has released updates to Norton Utilities and Suitcase. If you use MacsBug, you need version 6.5.4a3 with Mac OS 8.

<ftp://ftp.symantec.com/public/Updates/mac/>
<ftp://ftp.apple.com/devworld/Tool_Chest/Testing_-_Debugging/Debuggers_-_dcmds/MacsBug_6.5.4a3.sit.hqx>

Worth the Weight? Most people will find Mac OS 8 a worthwhile upgrade, providing they have the CPU horsepower and memory to let it thrive. Apple expects OS 8 to drive sales of new hardware and upgrades, as long-time Mac owners bite the bullet and step up to the new system. I think some will criticize OS 8 for being more Windows-like than previous releases, and there's some basis to those complaints. However, OS 8 is elegant and powerful, and your machine will never be mistaken for anything but a Macintosh.


Spinning the Web Part 5: New Frontiers

by Tonya Engst <tonya@tidbits.com>

In recent TidBITS issues, I've been sharing my world view about software that makes Web pages. I started with text editors in TidBITS-384 and continued with visual editors in TidBITS-386. In TidBITS-387, I looked at GoLive's CyberStudio from the page building angle, but CyberStudio also includes site management features, and I promised to cover them soon in tandem with other competitors. First, however, it's time to check out Frontier, which offers a unique environment for Web publishing.

<http://www.scripting.com/frontier/>

Understanding Frontier -- Frontier 4.2.3 is a free, smart database. The software is free because UserLand Software founder Dave Winer decided to release it that way (see TidBITS-279); it's smart because it uses Apple events and a built-in scripting language (UserTalk) to control most anything; and it's a database because it stores information. Frontier is widely used in the Macintosh scripting community, and its users are often passionate about its merits, which include the ability to store components of a Web site and convert them into a complex, automated Web site.

<http://www.scripting.com/frontier/snippets/features.html>

Exploring Frontier -- You begin exploring Frontier by opening its main table (called the "root"). The root contains entries, each having a kind and a value. For example, one such entry, named "readme," is of the kind "wp text" (word processing text), and if you double-click it, a window opens showing the text and a WP menu appears offering a few word processing commands. Web publishers using Frontier may create and store HTML in wp text entries elsewhere in the database.

Another category in the root, called "user", is of the kind "table" and double-clicking it opens another table filled with user-related items. For instance, one such entry, "organization," took on the value "TidBITS" when I personalized Frontier. Similar entries in other locations let you set how Frontier will publish Web pages. You can navigate Frontier by working through a large hierarchy of tables, or through an outline that reveals and hides different portions of the database.

The Key to the Treasure -- Table entries can also be "verbs," commands that are "called" in Frontier scripts. Using Frontier scripts, a capable scripter can automate most anything on a Macintosh, including other applications. Scripts can be run in different ways: from menus, by opening them in Frontier and clicking the Run button, or by typing their names into Frontier's Quick Script window. Or - to jump ahead of myself slightly - you can call them as you "render" a Web page.

Matt Neuburg, TidBITS Contributing Editor and experienced Frontier user, has commented that "Frontier is the command line to your Macintosh." The following four points are from his comments:

Frontier's ability to automate most everything, combined with the hierarchical nature of its database, makes it a unique tool for Web publishing. If you use Frontier as a site management tool, you can work from the inside or the outside.

Working from the Outside -- Working from the outside is easier, because you don't have learn to become a competent Frontier user. To work from the outside, you use BBEdit (from Bare Bones Software) to create pages, but you employ the Frontier-created Sites menu in BBEdit to "render" the final site from the raw HTML created in BBEdit.

<http://www.barebones.com/bbedit.html>

It won't take long to learn the basics of rendering. When Frontier renders a raw HTML page (or group of pages) into a site, it employs a complex series of processes and filters that make (optional) changes such as:

If you work in BBEdit, you need not ever explore Frontier, and these features are readily available. If you choose to work inside Frontier, after you get set up, you probably could mostly work from BBEdit as well.

Working from the Inside -- You can use any software you like to create the raw HTML pages stored in Frontier, and then switch to Frontier to take advantage of Frontier's hierarchical approach. Frontier stores each HTML page as a table entry. When you render a site, those entries become separate Web pages, organized in a folder structure that mirrors the structure used in Frontier.

(I've simplified a lot in the paragraph above- rendered pages can be constructed from scripts, or from "outlines." Scripts can assemble pages from most anything you've created or scripted, and outlines have many uses, but I'm not going to delve into them in this article.)

However, using Frontier's hierarchy goes much deeper. For instance, you can have more than one Frontier glossary, and Frontier replaces quoted text based on the glossary located closest to the raw HTML file. (If the glossary isn't in the same table as the raw file, Frontier looks up one level, and keeps looking up one level until it finds a glossary.)

Hierarchies also play a big roll when you use "directives." A directive is a table entry that notes how you want to handle a general aspect of a group of Web pages, such as the background color. A directive can also be placed directly in a raw HTML file. When a raw HTML page renders, directives defined inside it always take precedence. But, if a directive is not defined, the page looks in and up the hierarchy for a definition. Using directives, it's easy to give one branch of a site an orange background and another a green one.

My brain starts to hurt at this point, so rest assured that I've but rippled the surface here. I haven't mentioned templates, the ability to include one file inside another, or the ability to create an HTML-ized site outline. Templates are an especially key feature, and I leave them as an exercise to interested readers.

Rendering -- When a page renders, several filters and processes take place, including running any macros that you've stuck inside it (or its template). This has millions of uses.

As an example, take the new TidBITS home page, which regenerates every hour. Each time the page regenerates, it gets a new, automatically assembled graphic. The new graphic has one of several slogans and a callout to an especially interesting article (or group of articles) that you might want to read. The graphic uses a client-side image map, so new HTML must be created for each new version of the page. Although Geoff Duncan did the work in AppleScript and HyperCard, Frontier could also do the job.

As another example, consider this note from Pam McAllister <pmcallister@pugetsound.org>:

I started using Frontier a few months ago. It took several days to learn the system and import my sites, but now I can handle updates and additions in a fraction of the time it took before. I've added many features, such as indexes of parts of the site, that I would never have time to do manually. I also wrote a Frontier script that puts all the pages into a FileMaker database, which is then searchable on the Web site (using Lasso). Even as a novice scripter, that project took only a few hours. [Check out the SoundWeb site for an example of what Pam has been working on.]

<http://www.pugetsound.org/>
<http://www.blueworld.com/lasso/>

Complexity -- Learning Frontier reminded me of the Far Side cartoon where a student asks to be excused from class, saying that his "brain is full." My ascent up the learning curve was facilitated by an online tutorial created by Matt Neuburg.

<http://www.scripting.com/matt/webtutorial/>

(Matt is currently under contract with O'Reilly Associates to write the first book about Frontier. The book should come out in tandem with the upcoming release of Frontier 5.)

Is It for You? To summarize, Frontier's structure makes it easy to organize HTML pages created in other programs (or in Frontier, though the tools are limited). Once your site lives in Frontier - if you set things up correctly - it's easy to move pages or other resources within the database and to change elements that appear on multiple pages. It's also possible to create Next and Previous links throughout a collection of pages that will be navigated serially. Sites can be rendered to a local folder or via FTP to a remote site. You can render by page, by table, or by what's changed since you last rendered. Frontier is a natural at page rendering that requires automation, especially if multiple applications must work together.

Frontier is pleasant enough to work in, but whether it's worth the time investment to learn depends on the nature of the site. About halfway through my research for this article, I thought Frontier's seemingly boggling array of tables needed an nice user interface badly. A day later, though, it seems accessible and useful. However, if I hadn't already had a good understanding of hierarchies, HTML, macros, and general scripting terms, I would have given up. Further, it's difficult to remember how to use Frontier for running a Web site because the commands aren't obvious on the menus and in the dialog boxes.

You can import a existing site into Frontier, but you must recreate a lot of work by hand to take advantage of Frontier features. Frontier also lacks a few features that you might require. There's no visual view that shows how pages and resources relate to one another, using a spider's web or organizational chart analogy. There's no tracking mechanism for noting which pages are done or who's working on them. Creating unbreakable relative links in Frontier requires working with macros, whereas in other programs, you just drag a picture representing the link destination to the link source. Frontier also lacks a site-wide Find-and-Replace command and spelling checker, as well as a link checker and an HTML checker/validator, though I'm confident that knowledgeable Frontier users can work around those limitations by integrating Frontier with other applications.

Next time, I'll return to the site management features in CyberStudio and also look at other site management software.


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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