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Do you need the speed offered by today's G3-powered Macs, but aren't sure what your options are? Managing editor Jeff Carlson examines G3 systems, third-party upgrades, and forthcoming models just as Apple cuts prices. Also, Matt Neuburg looks at the new Everything Scripting CD-ROM, and we have details on Apple ceasing Newton development; La Cie's planned purchase of APS; plus new releases of FreePPP, LetterRip, DeBabelizer, and Apple Data Detectors.
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Newton Falls from Apple's Tree -- In an effort to focus all of Apple's resources on the Mac OS, interim CEO Steve Jobs announced that the company is discontinuing development of the Newton operating system and Newton products, including the MessagePad 2100 and eMate 300. Apple's announcement and Newton Technology FAQ state that the company will continue to sell and market the devices until inventory runs out, and will provide support to current users. Apple emphasizes that it's still committed to affordable mobile computing, and said it plans to offer similar Mac OS-based products in 1999, perhaps in the form of a "business eMate" reportedly in development, or as a long-rumored network computer (NC) implementation. This decision comes less than six months after Apple reabsorbed the short-lived Newton, Inc. spin-off, and about two weeks after TidBITS reported the division had been stripped of its engineering staff. (Some Newton engineers have turned up at 3Com, working on the next generation of PalmPilot PDAs.) [MHA]
Apple Data Detectors 1.0.2 -- With Mac OS 8's contextual menu technology and the combination of Apple Data Detectors and Internet Address Detectors (ADD/IAD), you can highlight a block of text in almost any application, then choose actions for any URLs, email addresses, newsgroup names, or other particular items the text contains. The release of ADD/IAD 1.0.2 optimizes performance and adds actions for interacting with FileMaker Pro and QuarkXPress. Additionally, users can disable contextual menus in selected applications by choosing an item from the Help menu when the application is active. Although Apple steered developers away from Control-click combinations for years, Mac OS 8's contextual menus can still interfere with some programs. Some applications that implement their own contextual menus (such as BBEdit) may not offer the exclusion option, and some applications don't know how to handle a change to the Help menu. ADD/IAD 1.0.2 requires a PowerPC-based Mac and Mac OS 7.6 or higher, and is a 1.9 MB download. (You'll need DiskCopy 6.1 or Aladdin's ShrinkWrap 3.0 to access the disk image.) Information is available from Apple if you want to build your own actions using AppleScript. [JLC]
La Cie to Purchase APS -- La Cie Ltd. has signed a deal to purchase storage vendor and long-time TidBITS sponsor APS Technologies. Last January, APS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following Apple's decision to stop licensing the Mac OS and the dissolution of hard drive manufacturer Micropolis (see "APS Files Chapter 11, Expects to Emerge Soon" in TidBITS-415). According to APS Vice President Paul McGraw - who will be staying with the new company - APS will remain a distinct brand with its own sales channels, and APS will continue to offer the same support and service they always have. Although neither company discussed the purchase price, estimates place sales for the combined company over $100 million this year, which would make it a giant among vendors of after-market storage and peripherals. Pending the approval of bankruptcy court, the purchase is expected to be finalized within a month. [GD]
Fog City Releases LetterRip Pro -- Fog City Software has released LetterRip Pro 3.0, a major revision of their easy-to-configure, high performance mailing list software. In addition to user interface enhancements and performance improvements, LetterRip Pro can now remove duplicate addresses (and recognize similar email addresses), support multihoming under Open Transport 1.3, handle separate administrators for each mailing list, compile daily statistics, and - importantly - add or modify message headers to protect private addresses or add custom information. Until 31-Mar-98, LetterRip Pro is available from Fog City for $295, and current LetterRip owners can upgrade for $95 (the upgrade is free if you purchased LetterRip during 1998). After 31-Mar-98, LetterRip Pro will be $395 and upgrades will be $145. Fog City recently posted LetterRip Pro 3.0.1 which fixes a couple of bugs; there's also an updater you can install over an existing copy of LetterRip Pro 3.0. LetterRip Pro is available from Fog City's Web site and can be used for 30 days without a registration number. [GD]
Apple Drops Prices on Power Mac G3 Systems -- The Power Macintosh G3 desktop computers, described in "Three New Macs and a PowerBook" in TidBITS-404, have proven to be one of Apple's best-selling product lines; last week, Apple reduced their prices, which historically indicates that new, faster units will be introduced in the next several weeks. The low-end G3 desktop - with a 233 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 512K of Level 2 backside cache, 32 MB RAM, 4 GB hard disk, and 24x CD-ROM drive - is now $1,699 (a $300 reduction), and some higher-end models have been reduced by as much as $500. Apple also announced price cuts from $150 to $200 on AppleVision displays, although prices for PowerBook G3 models were not changed. The price reduction not mentioned in Apple's announcement involves the 20th Anniversary Macintosh, which debuted last summer with a $7,500 price tag (see "The 20th Anniversary Mac Comes for Tea" in TidBITS-387). The sleek, limited edition units with outstanding Bose audio systems are now available from Apple for a scant $2,000 (and possibly for even less from other sources), although the new price presumably doesn't include delivery and concierge services. At the new price, the 20th Anniversary Macs are almost designer computers for the rest of us. [JLC]
VST Drives Zip Extension to 1.1 -- VST Technologies made its Zip100 Driver version 1.1 available, which adds Mac OS 8.1 compatibility and fixes annoying performance delays for users of VST's internal PowerBook Zip drives. Kudos goes out to VST's tech support group, who sent the updated extension via email to users that had contacted VST about the problems. The driver is a 35K download from VST's revamped Web site. [JLC]
New Look for DeBabelizer 3 -- If you think interfaces aren't important, consider Equilibrium's graphics utility DeBabelizer. Unquestionably one of the most powerful programs for opening, converting, and manipulating image files, older versions have been hampered by a confusing and intimidating user interface. The release of DeBabelizer 3, however, brings a more understandable interface and new features, including full support for CMYK images (using Apple's ColorSync technology), drag & drop batch processing, and sensible scripting that doesn't require sophisticated programming skills. The suggested retail price for DeBabelizer 3 is $599.95; owners of DeBabelizer Toolbox can upgrade for $149.95; owners who purchased DeBabelizer Toolbox 1.6.5 after 06-Jan-98 can upgrade for free by calling 800/524-8651. [JLC]
FreePPP 2.6 Released -- Following a long period of public beta testing, Rockstar Studios, in conjunction with the FreePPP Group, has released a complete version of FreePPP 2.6, the popular free dialup software that lets Macs connect to the Internet. FreePPP 2.6 offers performance improvements over previous versions; it also recognizes more modems, features a revamped setup interface (including 24 lines for login scripts), offers better compatibility with Performa modems, and incorporates numerous bug fixes. FreePPP co-exists happily with Apple's Open Transport/PPP (switching between them just requires changing Open Transport's TCP/IP settings), so users can pick the PPP implementation that works best for them. Rockstar also offers GearBox, a commercial dialup tool built on FreePPP that includes diagnostic tools and the ability to manage multiple configurations. FreePPP 2.6 is a 785K download, works with MacTCP or Open Transport, and requires System 7.1 or higher and a 68020 or better processor (including PowerPCs). [GD]
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
With prices of full-featured Power Macintosh G3s dropping below $2,000 (see the MailBIT in this issue), people have been asking me whether it's time to buy a new Mac. I hadn't thought much about new machines until I was recently hit by hardware troubles, which naturally renewed my interest in the current Macintosh hardware market.
Variety, Needs, and Desires -- When Apple squelched the just-blossoming Macintosh clone market last year, Mac customers worried that the price of a Macintosh would skyrocket while the number of available models declined. In part, these fears have been realized in the last six months: Apple has reduced its Macintosh product line (eliminating Performas and all but a few Power Mac models) and Macintosh clone vendors have largely evaporated, with remaining vendors like UMAX facing an uncertain future.
In the same time frame, however, Apple has introduced powerful new machines at competitive prices (although there's still no entry in the much-touted sub-$1,000 domain), along with the ability to order custom configurations via the Apple Store. Furthermore, recent price drops, third-party products, and forthcoming Macintosh models make it an interesting time for anyone looking for a new machine, or wishing to upgrade an existing unit.
When you get past advertisements and hype, the decision to purchase or wait should still be based on what you need in a computer. I don't fault early adopters, or those who can afford the latest hardware just to use email. But for most of us, it's important to determine our needs before we start giving in to our desires.
One of those needs is time. It's always the wrong time to buy a computer. You can buy a machine today and be guaranteed its value will drop precipitously within months; but if you always wait for a better model, you'll never buy a computer at all. In short, if you need a machine now, buy one based on what you need it to do.
For example, if you know you're going to be engaged in high-end, processor-intensive operations such as video editing, image manipulation, or 3D rendering, get as much power as you can afford. At Apple's online store, a current top-of-the-line Power Mac G3 with frills (128 MB SDRAM, 4 GB Ultra/Wide SCSI with PCI card, internal Zip drive, 6 MB video memory, and a 128-bit 2D/3D graphics accelerator card) was $3,819 (monitor and keyboard not included). This may be only an average setup for video editing (I haven't done much of it, but more RAM and another monitor would be good), but the price isn't bad compared to a roughly equivalent video editing rig for Unix or NT. On the other hand, if you know you don't need bells and whistles but still value speed, the low-end G3 configuration is only $1,699 with 32 MB SDRAM, a 4 GB IDE hard drive, 2 MB of video memory, and 10Base-T Ethernet (again, not counting a monitor or keyboard).
These figures reflect Apple's recent price drops, which usually signal that new machines will appear soon. Apple is expected to announce 300 MHz G3 systems at this month's Seybold Seminars conference, so expect to see the 266 MHz chip become the "slowest" G3 processor you can buy new.
PowerBooks Coming Down the Street -- Notably absent from Apple's price reductions was the PowerBook G3, currently trumpeted as the fastest laptop in the world. At $5,699, Apple is no doubt picking up a nice profit from each sale. Although the PowerBook 1400cs/166 (a PowerPC 603e processor) is now $1,749, the performance difference between the two machines is vast.
This summer, however, Apple should ship two new PowerBook models, code-named Wall Street and Main Street. The 233 MHz Main Street model may use a PowerPC 740 chip (which lacks backside cache) instead of a PowerPC 750 (G3) processor, while the high-end Wall Street model will sport a 292 MHz G3 processor. Prices are expected to be between $2,000 and $6,300, depending on the configuration. The new laptops will feature a new form factor, with two side-loading expansion bays at the front of the unit that can hold lithium-ion batteries and floppy, Zip, CD-ROM, and DVD-ROM drives.
Upgrades Come Forward -- In years past, upgrading a Mac's processor meant replacing the entire motherboard, a laborious proposition that was rarely worth the expense (except perhaps in the case of our precious SE/30s). However, when Apple introduced PCI-based Power Macs with removable processor daughtercards, processor upgrades suddenly became a viable reality. I was able to upgrade my Power Mac 7500/100 from a PowerPC 601 at 100 MHz to a PowerPC 604 at 120 MHz early last year. Now, even that jump is a pittance.
Newer Technology offers a variety of processor daughter cards with a PowerPC 604e or G3 processor running anywhere between 200 MHz and 275 MHz. The clever folks at Newer will also be shipping processor upgrades for NuBus Power Macs - the 6100, 7100, and 8100 - with a 210 MHz G3 processor upgrade available for as little as $499. The most expensive option will get you a 275 MHz G3 with 1 MB of backside cache for $2,295.
Also up Newer's sleeves are a pair of G3 upgrades for the PowerBook 1400, which are expected to ship in April. They will appear in 216 MHz and 250 MHz cards that will cost $699 and $999, respectively. This means you can buy a low-end PowerBook 1400 plus an upgrade board, and end up with a G3-series PowerBook for about $2,500 - less than half the price of the current PowerBook G3.
Mactell is also offering a lineup of G3 and 604e processor cards. The G3 PowerJolt is available in configurations up to 300 MHz, with 1 MB of backside cache ($2,895). The entry-level PowerJolt holds a 250 MHz processor with 512K backside cache ($999).
Conclusion -- Even with the decline of the clone market, all these options make me feel confident telling people it's a pretty good time to buy a Macintosh, whether that means a brand new G3 or a used older Power Mac outfitted with an upgrade card. Although I was able to fix my hardware troubles with minimum expense, I'll admit those new PowerBooks have certainly caught my eye. With luck - and a little penny-pinching - I'll have a new machine to review this summer!
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
Compilation CD-ROMs face a difficult dilemma: given that resources are available for free over the Internet, what benefits can a compilation of some of those resources offer that are of sufficient value to justify the price?
There are, I think, four such benefits. First is the archival value. The Internet is an ever-changing library; things move, mutate, or cease to exist. Pacific Hi-Tech's old Info-Mac collections and its HyperStacks CD-ROM (all, alas, now out of print) are my favorite treasures in this regard. The former enable me to produce on demand copies of displaced versions and vanished freeware; the latter performed an invaluable service by preserving the best online collection of HyperCard stacks and XCMDs just before that collection disappeared into the ether.
Second is the matter of space. It's more than a mere convenience to store large amounts of rarely used but occasionally invaluable material somewhere besides one's hard drive. Personally, I'm always short of space, no matter how large my hard disk; also, while hard disks need to be backed up, a CD-ROM (according to popular mythology, anyway) is a backup. The argument is less compelling now that it is theoretically within one's power to forge a CD-ROM in the comfort of one's home; but so far few people are equipped for this. (I'm not.)
Third is speed. Unless your Internet connection is better than mine, it's useful not to have to use the World Wide Wait as your library every time you need something.
And finally, there's expertise. If a true expert in a field has collected the contents of a CD-ROM (and made them accessible through an interface more powerful than the Finder, perhaps with searchable keywords and explanations), the collector's expertise is a tremendous boon, especially if you're not an expert yourself. As I see it, this benefit adds enough value to a CD-ROM compilation to raise its fair asking price.
So, what's the going rate for a compilation CD-ROM? The Pacific Hi-Tech CDs - and others comparable to theirs - sell for $40 or less, often much less if you buy a multi-pack.
ISO Productions' "Everything CD for Macintosh Scripting" retails for $50. By the way, ISO stands for "Interactive Support Online" and ISO Productions publishes "Everything" CD-ROMs for FileMaker Pro and the 3Com PalmPilot, in addition to the well-regarded ISO FileMaker Magazine for FileMaker Pro developers.
A fifty-dollar price tag might seem a bit steep, but it could be quite fair if the CD-ROM justifies ISO's claims that if you "would like to become proficient at scripting, this is a resource that will save you many hours of time... If you're just beginning, [it] will help you with the languages and syntax; if you're intermediate, [it] will help you rise to the next level; and if you're advanced you'll find hundreds of valuable resources that will save [you] time and money."
Fontier and User Script -- Having just written a book about UserLand Frontier, I first examined the Frontier-related resources on the Everything Scripting CD-ROM. My confidence in ISO Productions as an expert collector of Macintosh scripting materials was, however, somewhat shaken when not only their Web site but the printed matter in the CD's jewel case speak of Frontier's "User Script" (the language is called UserTalk). The mistake is repeated on the CD-ROM, where the program is also once called "Fontier".
Indeed, to anyone familiar with Frontier's online resources, it seems that the folks at ISO might be in a bit over their heads. Frontier 4.2.3 is on the CD-ROM, but online documentation and various tutorials (even mine) are missing. Archives of Frontier mailing lists aren't included either. What a boon it would have been if ISO had indexed and described all the third-party scripts from the Low Tech Object Distribution Server! Instead, the CD-ROM is unaware of most of this material. With time and patience, even someone who knows nothing of Frontier could comb the Web better than this, just by pursuing links at UserLand's own Web site.
The result, it is safe to say, is that no one is going to be "helped with the languages and syntax" or "rise to the next level" of Frontier via this CD-ROM - a beginner won't even understand what Frontier is or how to get started.
No AppleScript for this Teacher -- With regard to the AppleScript material, we are in a different world. It's clear this is an area ISO knows something about, and to which some time has been devoted. The CD-ROM has plenty of third-party scripts and OSAXen (extensions to the AppleScript language that can be dropped into your Scripting Additions folder). After noting the CD-ROM's treatment of Frontier, I spent quite a bit of time following links in Bill Cheeseman's AppleScript pages, trying to find material the CD had failed to include, and was impressed by how difficult this turned out to be.
However, the CD-ROM is once again weak on documentation. It includes the AppleScript language guide in Acrobat PDF format, but not in HTML; it doesn't include Apple's Finder scripting guide or Scripting Extensions guide in either format, nor relevant Microsoft Knowledge Base articles, nor any of several other useful Web documents.
The Mac Scripting mailing list archives are included - all 120 MB - accessible (or perhaps I should say, inaccessible) through a clunky, slightly buggy FileMaker interface that makes finding what you want difficult and following a thread nearly impossible.
Another FileMaker database, the MacScripter's Encyclopedia, provides three categories of AppleScript-related information: a collection of actual scripts; a list of OSAXen and common scriptable applications; and a page listing error messages. This is a clever idea, and powerfully demonstrates ISO's FileMaker Pro interface. However, it suffers from three serious shortcomings:
The scripts are searchable by fields such as name, author, and text, but no useful categorization by keyword or subject has been performed.
A relational portal lists the commands implemented by each OSAX and application (which is good), but although each command has fields for describing its syntax and usage, those fields are mostly empty. (Of course, you can fill them in; but the notion of an encyclopedia which you must partly write yourself is curious.) There also isn't a list view of commands - which is serious since installing two OSAXen implementing identically named commands is a major worry in AppleScript development.
The encyclopedia database is not an index to the CD-ROM; it's a separate entity. To find out if you've got a certain script, you have to look in the Finder and the encyclopedia. Similarly, the encyclopedia may describe a certain OSAX, say "Copy File," but it doesn't tell you that it's part of the GTQ Scripting Library, included on the CD-ROM. Indeed, I had no difficulty discovering OSAXen on the CD-ROM that aren't in the encyclopedia at all.
Although the AppleScript material on the CD-ROM is copious (even comprehensive) it is navigable only with difficulty. To all practical purposes, it's a fine collection and no more.
Thin Icing on the Cake -- The CD-ROM contains a sizeable collection of buttons, palettes, and other material for WestCode Software's automation program OneClick, which should prove very welcome to OneClick users. [See "OneClick - A Super Utility" in TidBITS-350. -Geoff]
The CD-ROM also contains MacPerl (with a limited collection of standard resources and none of the wonderful online documentation) and the basic Tcl/Tk installer for Macintosh. Though these do save the user the trouble of some large downloads, they are neither hard to find nor, of themselves, educational. Finally, there is a demo version of FaceSpan, a miscellaneous collection of freeware and shareware (clip2gif, Tex-Edit, Decor), and some massive demos (Timbuktu Pro, FileMaker Pro, RagTime) that bring the size of the CD-ROM up to 438 MB. There is also a FileMaker database listing everything on the CD-ROM; although it does link to the Finder, since it lists the name of each item with no additional information, you might as well be in the Finder.
Conclusion -- In my view, the value of this CD-ROM is just like an Info-Mac compilation: there's nothing here you couldn't find and download yourself, but you're happy you didn't have to. But the latest Info-Mac collection costs $40 for more than 1 GB of material on three CD-ROMs. So the question is: with the Everything CD for Macintosh Scripting, are you $50 happier? You'll have to gauge that for yourself, based upon your needs and your equipment.
The claim that the Everything CD is "reducing your learning curve" seems rather extravagant to me. If anything, the beginner is going to be bewildered, and the claim that the CD contains "Everything Scripting" is also hyperbole. The AppleScript collection is good; the others are spotty, even superficial.
ISO Productions have assured me that they intend to create a "volume 2" (apparently a second edition) containing more extensive material and with more helpful indexing. That edition will be available at half price to purchasers of this one. That sounds splendid, and I look forward to that CD as being what this one ought to have been.
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