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Is Apple "betting the farm" by shaking up the familiar six-colored tree? Although the long-range implications of Steve Jobs's decisions are anyone's guess, Adam looks at why replanting Apple's orchard might save the farm. Also in this issue, we look at a new crop of HTML utilities, note the Newton MessagePad 2100 and new versions of Quicken, Speed Doubler, and FileMaker, and see how the RSA Data Security Challenge was cracked.
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Apple Stock Rises as Tech Stocks Tank -- In today's stock market crash that resulted trading being halted on the New York Stock Exchange, it was interesting to note that Apple stock rose +3/16, whereas many other technology stocks fell sharply, including Intel's -5 1.4 drop, Motorola's -4 3/4 drop, and Microsoft's -6 1/2 drop. The only news that would seem to account for Apple's stock shrugging off the overall market fall was an AG Edwards report upgrading Apple stock to maintain from reduce, primarily due to psychological factors related to the expectation of more positive news emanating from Apple in the near term. [ACE]
Claris Reports Record Quarter -- Despite Apple's recently reported quarterly loss, other financial news relating to Apple is cheerful. Claris, a wholly owned software subsidiary of Apple, last week reported record gains for its fourth quarter and its fiscal year. Revenue for the quarter was $91.1 million and revenue for the year was $281.7 million. Claris has a policy of not revealing specific profits but noted that it has been profitable for the last 20 quarters and that the last quarter and year represented "record profits." Claris's sales have been boosted by the terrific popularity of Mac OS 8, which took second place (to the Windows 95 upgrade) on PC Data's best-sellers chart for August. The Mac OS 8 upgrade took 11th place. [TJE]
Apple Announces New MessagePad -- Apple has announced the Newton MessagePad 2100, due to ship in November. The 2100 resembles its predecessor, the MessagePad 2000 (reviewed in TidBITS-379), but comes with an additional 3 MB of DRAM for a total of 4 MB, helping users keep multiple programs launched. Although the Newton 2100 represents an incrementally nicer Newton, it breaks no new ground. A comparison of the data sheets available on Apple's Newton Web site shows that only subtle changes further differentiate the 2100 from the 2000. Through 30-Apr-98 or while supplies last, Message Pad 2000 owners can upgrade by sending their MessagePads to Apple for a memory upgrade, new software, and other goodies (such as a 2 MB flash RAM card while supplies last). If you purchased a MessagePad 2000 before 07-Nov-97, the upgrade costs $99; otherwise it is $199. Apple anticipates completing an upgrade two to five days after receiving a unit. [TJE]
New Version of Quicken Released -- Last week, Intuit announced the availability of Quicken Deluxe '98 and Quicken Basic '98 for Macintosh and Windows. New features include easier account reconciliation and QuickEntry, a separate component of Quicken Deluxe, that streamlines entering routine daily expenses. The Deluxe version costs $59.98 and comes with a $20 rebate coupon for those who upgrade. The Basic version costs $39.95 and comes with a $10 rebate coupon for people who are upgrading. If you bought Quicken 7 after 16-Aug-97 directly from Intuit, you should automatically receive a free update; if you bought it elsewhere, contact Intuit to learn how to upgrade for $9.95.
The new version requires at least a 68030-based Macintosh running System 7.1 with 12 MB installed RAM (16 MB with Mac OS 8), 45 MB disk space, color monitor, and a CD-ROM drive. It seems that Mac Quicken users won't have access to some Internet communications capabilities of the Windows versions; an Intuit sales rep provided contradictory information when queried, and at press time we hadn't heard back from Intuit's PR department. Although we're pleased that Intuit continues to release Macintosh versions, we hope that in future years the company will also release Mac versions of products such as QuickBooks and Quicken Home & Business. [TJE]
FileMaker Pro 4.0 -- Claris has released FileMaker Pro 4.0, an update to their popular database that adds a Web server and technology acquired from Blue World Communications's Lasso to an established mix of easy-to-use relational database capabilities. FileMaker Pro 4.0 can directly serve databases over the Internet without an intervening CGI program (using Java to build an interface in the remote user's Web browser). Web authors can also use special tags in their HTML documents (Claris calls these CDML, for "Claris Dynamic Markup Language") to include dynamic information from FileMaker databases in static Web pages. FileMaker Pro 4.0 can convert graphics to GIF or JPEG format, plus open some common URL formats and send SMTP mail. Claris is also touting a new ability to import Excel spreadsheets via drag & drop. FileMaker Pro 4.0 costs $199 from Claris; upgrades from FileMaker 3.0 or competing products are $99 in the U.S. [GD]
Speed Doubler 8 -- Connectix has shipped Speed Doubler 8, which adds Mac OS 8 compatibility and a few new features. Speed Doubler's goal is to enhance performance (see the full review of Speed Doubler 1.0 in TidBITS-292), and Speed Doubler 8 speeds up local and network file copies, disk caching, and (on PowerPC systems only) includes a dynamic recompilation 68K emulator that can be almost twice as fast as Apple's - handy when using 68K programs and system components, like AppleScript and the still widely used Microsoft Word 5.1. Speed Doubler 8 can now schedule file copies and folder synchronizations, plus navigate menus of many applications without a mouse, and assign hot keys to common tasks, such as opening a file or typing a block of text. Speed Doubler 8 requires System 7.5.5 or later (some features require Mac OS 8), and a 68030 processor or better. Speed Doubler 8 costs about $50 ($25 rebate coupons are included for current owners). [GD]
Dutch Mailing List Available -- For those of you who like to read TidBITS in Dutch, you can now either read the issues on the Web or subscribe to a mailing list to receive issues automatically. To subscribe, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. We'd like to thank the energetic Dutch translation team for adding email distribution to the great work that they're already doing - and thank them for the electronic congratulations card they sent us for our 400th issue with pictures of the entire team! [ACE]
Sour Greps -- With reference to my Text Machine review in TidBITS-401, several readers asked why I thought "grep" didn't stand for "global regular expression parser". I did, until I looked it up on the Acronym and Abbreviation Server. Perhaps the truth is lost in the mists of time?
Tom Ritch <email@example.com> pointed out that Nisus Writer now does put the whole power of its grep into its menu-and-dialog interface, so the user needn't memorize geeky grep expressions; I pooh-poohed this, but he was perfectly right - he was talking about the latest version, 5.1, which I didn't even know existed. My apologies. [MAN]
I Sought the Serif -- In my Font Reserve review in TidBITS-400, I lamented its lack of a printing feature. A splendid shareware utility supplies it: even if your fonts aren't loaded into the system, Font Gander Pro can show you what they look like and can print a highly customizable "font book." The $20 shareware Font Gander Pro is available as a 386K download. [MAN]
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
If you use a recent Web browser and like to try new features, you've probably "subscribed" to a few Web pages. By subscribing, you receive a notification when the page changes, and in some browsers (such as the preview release of Microsoft Internet Explorer 4), the updated page can be downloaded for later offline reading. If you've tried to subscribe in this manner to TidBITS so you're notified when a new issue is available, you probably had trouble figuring out what page to subscribe to. For the record, the page you want is at the URL below - we update that URL each week with the latest issue. Note that this sort of subscription is simply a connection between your browser and one Web page; it's not a "channel" subscription, which we're still investigating.
If you haven't yet tried subscriptions, in Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 or 4, you can subscribe to a "favorite" page by opening the Favorites window and clicking in the margin left of the page's entry. A newspaper icon appears indicating that the subscription is active. You can then customize subscription options by double-clicking the newspaper icon.
In Netscape Navigator 3, if you have the Bookmarks window open, you can learn which bookmarked pages have changed since you last visited them by choosing What's New from the File menu. The command operates either on all bookmarks or only on selected bookmarks. In Netscape Communicator and Navigator 4, the What's New command has moved to the View menu.
Of course, we haven't done away with email subscriptions to TidBITS; to subscribe, send email to <email@example.com>. There's also more detailed subscription information on our Web site.
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In 250 days and with the combined efforts of some 4,000 teams of computers, distributed.net has completed the RSA Data Security Challenge to break a 56-bit RC5 encryption algorithm, demonstrating that groups of networked computers can break such encryption. Team members participated by installing client software on their computers. The client software communicated with centralized servers over the Internet to perform the math necessary to break an encrypted message. Before locating the key needed to decrypt the message, the teams analyzed 47 percent of the possible keys, some 34 quadrillion sequences. The encrypted message read, "It's time to move to a longer key length." Although many Mac users participated, including the Apple Evangelistas team led by Guy Kawasaki, the key was broken by Peter Stuer's Intel-based PC. Peter was part of the STARLab Bovine Team, primarily located in Brussels, Belgium.
Distributed.net has begun a 64-bit challenge and a Macintosh client is available via FTP as a 303K download; look for it also on the distributed.net Web site shortly.
Future plans for distributed.net include updating the client software to version 3, which will be smart enough to query client hardware to determine which computational tasks suit it best. Future tasks besides breaking encryption codes may include doing computational work for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and participating in the Mersenne prime number search. According to David McNett at distributed.net, although 68040-based Macs provide little CPU power to breaking RSA's encryption challenges, they should prove more useful in locating new prime numbers. David noted the Macintosh in general and particularly PowerPC-based Macs made a "very stunning" contribution to meeting the 56-bit challenge.
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
The Web has become a fad that just won't stop. And, as the Web recedes into the assumed background of how capable computer users manage and locate information, the tools for creating Web pages continue to diversify. We've reached the point where it would be almost impossible to mention every program in one article. This article makes no attempt to do so; instead it builds on my earlier multi-part article series about Web publishing software and looks at a clump of recent releases (not betas, but actual shipping software). I'm hoping to alert you to new trends in what software is available and to new releases that might be relevant to the Web publishing that you do.
Let the Good Times Roll -- First up is Myrmidon 2.0.1, by Terry Morse Software. Version 2.0 came out a few weeks ago; the 2.0.1 update appeared today and provides important bug fixes. Myrmidon, a Chooser extension, "prints" HTML files from most applications, and is a great choice for quickly turning regular documents into useful Web pages. When queried, Terry Morse noted many new features in 2.0, including optional use of tables and spacer tags for improved fidelity between the original document and the resulting Web page; more graphics conversion options (previously Myrmidon only converted bitmaps to GIFs); selectable color palettes and dithering; and the capability to render numerous Web pages from one "printed" document, complete with navigation buttons. The new version is also PowerPC native. The demo, a 450K download, offers 25 tries with which to tweak the extensive settings to see if Myrmidon is right for your project. The suggested retail price is $99; purchasing direct from the Web costs $69. Upgrades from version 1.x are free.
Baby You Can Drive My Car -- The next new kid on the block, the $299 Freeway 1.0 from SoftPress, takes a different approach to Web publishing, and I recommend checking it out if you need a great deal of layout flexibility and control and want to leverage desktop publishing skills learned in programs like Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress. (On the other hand, if you like to putter in your HTML, you'll shy away from Freeway's table-based HTML.) Freeway uses a page and pasteboard metaphor to create Web sites. Items on pages come from master pages or are inserted into special boxes, such as GIF boxes or HTML boxes. Freeway competes primarily with NetObjects Fusion, which also renders layouts in HTML via extensive table tagging. I spent hours working with Fusion for a review in TidBITS-391; having spent only a preliminary half-hour with Freeway, I already feel more comfortable with it than with Fusion. Freeway requires at least a 68040-based Mac and 5 to 9 MB RAM, depending on your processor. A 30-day demo is available as a 5 MB download.
Shake It Up -- Finally, those who wish to create cascading style sheets but don't want to type them in might check out Cascade Light from Media Design in-Progress. Cascade Light is a free, feature-reduced version of the $69 Cascade. Using a dialog box, you can match HTML tags (known as "selectors") with formats such as font size, background color, and border width. You can then save these matches as a style sheet or apply them to an existing HTML document. Cascade won't turn a novice into a style sheet wizard, but if you have already made a few style sheets by hand and have a feeling for which style sheet tricks work in which browsers, Cascade will speed up future efforts. The software still has a raw feel; interface improvements, a fancier preview, and a sprinkling of balloon help would be most welcome. (A growing number of Web publishing applications support style sheets; PageSpinner and Astrobyte's BeyondPress come to mind as examples).
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple has released little strategy information to the public after its widely derided efforts to eliminate the Macintosh clone market. That doesn't mean that we've ceased to talk with a variety of friends within Apple and the Macintosh industry in an attempt to piece together a coherent view of what Steve Jobs is attempting to do with Apple. Of course, with the rumors of Jobs becoming the official CEO and mergers with Oracle flying fast and furious, read TidBITS Updates this week for our take on what happens.
It has become clear that Jobs is "betting the farm," which may be a peculiarly American expression. Having grown up on a farm, I believe the saying involves planting completely different crops or using radical new ways of growing the old ones in an attempt to escape problems with previous crops, whether related to poor soil, bad weather, pests, or market conditions. Farming, particularly on a small scale, is often barely a break-even proposition despite long hours of back-breaking work, so even stick-in-the-mud farmers can be convinced to bet the farm on some new crop or technique. If the bet fails, though, you stand to lose the farm, which is generally everything you have.
The question is, on what is Jobs betting the farm? And, before we get to that answer, is such a radical move necessary?
Why Bet the Farm? The general consensus from within Apple, from at least those people who remain, is that something drastic needed to be done. Apple lost $816 million in 1996 and $1 billion in 1997, and you don't need an MBA to realize that those numbers are problematic. Had Apple been a normal company without the often fanatical loyalty of Macintosh users, it might have been gone long ago.
The revamped history that I've heard is that Jobs considered Apple a goner until he assumed control a few months ago. He took major flak for selling all but a single share of the Apple stock he received for the sale of NeXT, but it seems clear that at that point, Jobs essentially wanted to take the money and concentrate on Pixar. I'm not certain about what changed his mind, but since that time, despite his coyness about the CEO position, Apple employees have considered him the leader of the company, going so far as to refer to him in casual conversation as "SteveEO."
As he learned more about Apple's condition and plans for the future, Jobs seems to have decided that the company was, for the most part, milling around aimlessly. If true, it's no great surprise to many of us; for example, I've been less than impressed with Apple's Internet strategy since I believe that Apple had (and subsequently squandered) a several-year lead in Internet technologies. Thus, Jobs decided to take a slash-and-burn approach to focusing the company on several core markets, notably education and publishing. The moves have been nothing short of draconian at times, and many good people and good projects have been lost in the process, but as a friend at Apple said, "What have we got to lose?" (The glib answer is, of course, "Less money.") My friend also noted that although many of the decisions haven't been popular, especially with people directly affected by them, much of the company has been revitalized by the sense of having purpose and direction once again.
Ante Up with Network Computers -- So what is Jobs planting, now that he's ripped up the still-young orchard of Mac OS clones and thrown away so much seed? As noted, the two focus markets are education and publishing, which have always been Apple's strongholds. In essence, any project that can show how it is specifically important to either of those markets has full approval, whereas a project, however worthwhile, that cannot show its utility to one of those markets are doomed.
The most notable project in this regard is the network computer project. For those that haven't been paying attention to the hype (note that essentially no network computers have been sold so far), a network computer is a computer that accesses both programs and data over a high-speed network rather than storing them locally on a hard disk. The advantages are obvious. A network computer can be cheaper than a regular computer, thanks to the removal of the hard disk, the circuitry it requires, the beefier power supply it requires, and so on. Network computers are essentially interchangeable because (and this is also a negative) they probably can't be customized to the extent of a normal Mac. Network computers require less software maintenance since everyone uses the same applications on the server. Upgrading becomes less of a nightmare, as does version compatibility, because a network administrator can ensure that everyone uses exactly the same versions of programs. In essence, for those of you who have used dumb terminal attached to mainframes in the past, a network computer is similar, although with a sufficiently powerful CPU to perform all necessary processing locally, after the program and data have been retrieved from the server.
(For more details on the original network computer spec, see Geoff's article Visions of a Network Computer in TidBITS-330.)
If you think about it, you'll see that network computers are a silly idea for most individuals, for the simple reason that we don't have high-speed networks. However, schools are increasingly being wired, thanks to efforts like NetDay, and much of what might make a network computer repellant to individuals is attractive to schools. Since every network computer would offer the same capabilities, it wouldn't matter which student (or even which teacher) used which computer, if there was a network computer in every classroom. Thanks to the network, every teacher could have access to the latest student records, including grades, attendance, and so on. And without hard disks, there would be no worry of students messing up computers by moving or deleting files accidentally (a worry which is currently handled well by software like Peter Lewis's Assimilator).
Until now I've spoken of Apple's network computers generically. However, network computers from other companies are being based on Java, whereas Apple plans its network computers to run the Mac OS. In my view, that's a good move, since education has always liked the Mac OS's ease of use, and it means there is a huge amount of mature software ready to run. Such a network computer could run Java programs also, just as they can be run on Macs today.
Keep in mind this new-found network computer religion isn't entirely Apple's idea. Word has it that numerous school districts were coming to Apple and asking about Apple's network computer plans, saying that if Apple didn't provide a network computer solution, the schools would go elsewhere for one. So, even if network computers don't make as much money for Apple than a full-fledged Mac would (and they probably won't), the contest isn't between an Apple network computer and a Mac, it's between an Apple network computer and some other company's product.
When We'll See More -- Of course, even with the frenzy of Jobs-inspired activity at Apple, it takes time to come up with new products and new directions. The word from sources at Apple is that a technology plan will be available by the end of October, and that Jobs will be attempting to knock our socks off with demonstrations at the Macworld San Francisco keynote in January. He's done it before - a smoke-and-mirrors demo of the Macintosh Office (complete with LocalTalk and the first LaserWriter) in the early days of the Mac was what put the Macintosh on the map.
Even aside from technical issues, Apple faces a tremendous uphill battle until the release of these technologies (and perhaps afterwards, depending on how well all this stuff actually works). Here are some of the weak points as I see them now:
Public relations. Apple must do a better job of talking to the press and to users. Stunts like talking about how Apple's newly revamped tech support policies are wonderful because they're like Microsoft's support policies are nonsensical and feel like toadying.
Developer relations. In at least the Internet developer world, cynicism about Apple is at an all-time high, and I doubt other developers are more positive. Without developers, the Mac's evolution will slow even more in comparison with the Windows world, and it won't matter what Apple comes up with. I'm not sure Apple has much goodwill left in the "Trust us" bank.
Innovation and pricing. After the entire clone debacle, Apple must come up with fabulous Macs at great prices and continue to do so for at least a couple of years. Otherwise, the memory of the cheaper, more powerful clones will sour the taste of every new Mac.
Ecosystems -- I want to leave you with a final thought. Apple is essentially in survival mode right now and isn't looking outward. That's understandable, but it means that Apple may do things that are detrimental for the Macintosh community (and in fact, the community may do things that harm Apple). In an ideal world, what would be good for the goose would be good for the gander, but the real world doesn't necessarily work that way. As such, I believe that we Macintosh users and Apple must keep in mind that in the end, we all depend on one another. Apple must do more to support the community in real ways, and in turn, we should give Apple a little leeway to pull itself back up. Without cooperation in both directions, there won't be any more golden eggs for anyone.
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