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The online porn industry is often portrayed as the Internet's "back room." However, as guest writer David Strom notes, the technicians in that back room are largely responsible for advancing many Web technologies. Also in this issue, we report on Apple's profitable quarter, the loss of Quicken for the Mac, the release of a new backup program, and more responses about multiple monitors. Finally, we announce the creation of the TidBITS Talk mailing list.
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Intuit Drops Quicken for Macintosh -- Citing declining sales, Intuit has stopped development of Quicken for Macintosh, the popular personal finance package. Intuit plans to continue selling and supporting Quicken 98 for the Macintosh, but Quicken's Macintosh engineers have been re-assigned to Intuit's Internet-based personal finance services. This move comes less than a year and a half after Intuit ceased developing Mac versions of QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro, its professional accounting and tax software. It also leaves the Mac without personal financial management software, since Quicken dominated the Mac market. Intuit says it will continue to develop MacInTax, its Macintosh-based tax preparation software.
It's difficult to see how a product with near-total market supremacy can't be worth continued development, although the bundling of Quicken Lite with Performas may have reduced the number of new buyers, and many long-time Quicken users never upgraded to newer versions. Based on email TidBITS has received and comments on other Macintosh news sites, Mac users are extremely concerned about Intuit's move. For more on the topic, check out MacCentral's interview with Intuit's Adam Samuels; further, the Mac Requests Petition Center has begun a Quicken petition. (We reviewed Quicken 98 in "Quicken 98: Evolution at Work" in TidBITS-413.) [GD]
Apple Posts $55 Million Quarterly Profit -- Apple significantly surpassed analysts' expectations last week by posting a $55 million profit on revenues of $1.4 billion for its second fiscal quarter of 1998. This marks Apple's second consecutive profitable quarter, having earned $45 million in the first quarter of this fiscal year. In contrast, Apple lost $708 million dollars in this quarter last year, due in part to the acquisition of NeXT Software. According to Apple, just over half of the 650,000 Macs sold were G3 systems, and international sales accounted for 50 percent of total revenues in the quarter. [GD]
Drop More Stuff with DropStuff 4.5 -- Aladdin Systems has released DropStuff with Expander Enhancer 4.5, the second half of Aladdin's dynamic duo of desktop compression and expansion utilities (the first half being the freeware StuffIt Expander 4.5). DropStuff offers drag & drop creation of StuffIt archives and enables users to create password-protected, self-extracting, and BinHex archives. DropStuff's StuffIt Engine extends StuffIt Expander's capabilities to include virtually all online encoding formats; version 4.5 of the StuffIt Engine enables StuffIt Expander to mount ShrinkWrap disk images and access files protected by Aladdin's Private File encryption product. DropStuff 4.5 runs under System 7.5 or later and is $30 shareware; if you registered a previous version of DropStuff, you can upgrade for $15. [GD]
How Recent Is Your Last Backup? Dantz Development has released a new backup program, Retrospect Express. Designed for individual users, Retrospect Express essentially replaces Dantz's DiskFit with a subset of the features available in the full version of Retrospect. Although DiskFit Pro and DiskFit Direct continue to work under Mac OS 8.1, they can't back up volumes with more than 32,000 files, and DiskFit Pro Reminder is not compatible with Mac OS 8 or 8.1. Retrospect Express includes the major features of Retrospect, such as compression, scripting, and unattended operation, and it is optimized for use with removable media, including CD-R drives. However, Retrospect Express lacks support for tape drives - for that you need Retrospect. TidBITS sponsor Dantz Development is offering Retrospect Express via the Internet for $49.95 via the URL below. [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In honor of our recent eighth anniversary of publication, we're trying something new, and you're invited to participate. Though TidBITS is often described as a mailing list, we consider it a publication that chooses electronic methods of distribution. Though that's not unusual now, it was eight years ago, when discussion-based mailing lists ruled.
So, we've set up a small auxiliary mailing list, called TidBITS Talk, for discussing TidBITS-related topics. The goal of TidBITS Talk is to open a public channel of communication so TidBITS readers can more easily communicate with each other and with the TidBITS staff.
This list should prove beneficial for readers and staff members. Sometimes we want to ask a question or float ideas past readers without cluttering a TidBITS issue or soliciting responses from thousands of people. And, we know from experience that many of you have questions, comments, or suggestions surrounding TidBITS articles that are valuable, but which we lack the space to publish or time to answer fully. Now we'll have a place to forward the best of those that we can't address personally.
Acceptable Topics -- It's important that TidBITS Talk not degenerate into a high volume discussion list, so we'll start by moderating with a heavy hand. Since moderation is extra work, I hope that the list will stay sufficiently focused that we can turn off moderation on a sporadic basis. Discussions are restricted to topics related to TidBITS, including:
The following types of messages are not okay:
We plan to keep the volume of postings low to avoid overwhelming subscribers. We may even hold messages to avoid sending out too many in a single day. Also, we're more likely to post messages that are well-reasoned, well-written, and avoid unnecessary vitriol. Don't take message rejection personally; it will be done in the interests of making the list a useful resource for us all.
Technical Setup -- For the moment, TidBITS Talk runs in FogCity's LetterRip Pro 3.0.1 on our SE/30, which has a 56K frame relay Internet connection. We want to see how LetterRip Pro stands up to the traffic on the SE/30; if necessary, we'll move the list to a faster machine.
The trade-off with using LetterRip Pro is that the list is divorced from the subscription database we use for the main TidBITS list. Our main system is currently designed for a weekly distribution schedule, not a discussion list. So, if you want to unsubscribe from both TidBITS and TidBITS Talk, you must do so separately. We also can't do sophisticated bounce processing as easily.
Usage Instructions -- Subscribing and unsubscribing to TidBITS Talk is easy. No commands are necessary - just send email to the appropriate addresses, which also appear in the headers of every message.
Unless you note otherwise in a message, we reserve the right to edit and publish materials posted to the TidBITS Talk list in TidBITS itself (with full credit, of course).
So hey, if you're one of those people who sends us comments after every few issues of TidBITS, subscribe to TidBITS Talk and share your comments with other interested readers. If we're all careful, we can turn TidBITS Talk into a great resource for everyone.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
The letters surrounding "Double the Fun with Multiple Monitors" and "More on Multiple Monitors" in TidBITS-421 and TidBITS-422 continue to stream in. Several have offered explanations of why two monitors might interfere with one another, plus solutions for interference problems.
First off, a few quick notes. Don Kleinschnitz <firstname.lastname@example.org> wondered how you would recover windows on a second monitor if that monitor were to go bad. The Mac should recognize if the second monitor is disconnected and move windows and icons to the remaining monitor. If it doesn't, zapping the PRAM by holding down Command-Option-P-R at startup should help. Ill-behaved applications may still refuse to show their windows, and for that the best solution may be to record necessary settings, then move that application's settings files to the desktop, forcing the application to build fresh ones.
Marc Schmitt <email@example.com> noted that Village Tronic markets the MacPicasso 523 video card, a 2 MB PCI-based video card with a VGA connector for about $100 in the U.S. [A predecessor to this card was a user favorite in last year's TidBITS Holiday Gifts issue; the U.S. distributor is Software Hut (see "Rare MacPicasso Unearthed" in TidBITS-409). -Tonya]
Steven Kan <firstname.lastname@example.org> passed on the URL to his experiences with multiple monitors, which show graphically some of the concepts I've written about in the previous articles.
Finally, Joe Mithiran <email@example.com> mentioned another virtual desktop utility for the Mac, called Virtual Desktop, that's part of Ross Brown's AWOL Utilities. It's been updated recently for Mac OS 8 and is worth a look if you want to simulate a large screen.
Victor Guess <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who worked for a number of years as an electrical design engineer in the television industry, explained the problem with monitor interference:
The interference between monitors is caused by low frequency magnetic fields generated by the yoke coils that surround the neck of the tube. These scan the electron beam horizontally and vertically across the phosphor-coated screen. These fields are best shielded by iron or steel and the more of it the better. Try putting a thick piece of steel between the monitors. Certain steels are specially designed for magnetic shielding, and they require considerably less steel than other alloys. (Stainless steel is about the worst!) Most monitors have some built-in shielding and some newer ones have a lot more. Internal shielding is far more effective than external. Obviously external shielding isn't too practical and it's best to purchase well-shielded monitors.
Magnetic shielding affects both the radiated magnetic fields (a feature often mentioned in the monitor specifications) and also the susceptibility of the monitor to magnetic fields (a problem which is rarely, if ever, mentioned by monitor manufacturers). For instance, the image on my Apple 1705 wiggles a bit whenever the ceiling cable heat is active in the room downstairs.
Greg Staten <email@example.com> passes on advice for shielding monitors:
The best product for magnetic shielding is known as Mumetal. It's what we recommend at Avid for those having interference problems between their computer monitors (shielded) and their NTSC monitors (generally unshielded). Call Magnetic Shield Corporation at 708/766-7800 and ask for their magnetic shielding catalog. They also sell a lab kit with Mumetal and steel sheets/foils for $129 that includes a magnetic field probe (only $79 without the probe).
[Though Greg had never heard of them, I found two other companies that also appear to sell magnetic shielding products: AD-Vance Magnetics and MuShield. Victor Guess also commented that bending Mumetal can hurt its effectiveness unless it's re-annealed (heat treated) afterwards. -Adam]
Jay Nelson <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers a pricier solution:
I've been using NoRad's JitterBox ($395 to $595) for several years, at first because my monitor was backed up against a wall at the same place where, outside, all the power for the building came in. The monitor swam constantly. When I installed NoRad's JitterBox (which fits around the outside of the monitor), the swimming stopped.
Jon Pugh <email@example.com> passes on the historical story of multiple monitor support:
The Mac II and System 5 first supported multiple monitors (as documented in Inside Macintosh IV). Multiple monitor support was originally done with the Mac Plus, but only with special hardware and software from Radius (QuickDraw hacks written by Andy Hertzfeld). That monitor was the first full-page display - the portrait unit that was roughly the same size as the Plus itself. Apple later rolled multiple monitor support into Color QuickDraw, so only machines with Color QuickDraw support multiple monitors via the system software now, which includes the Mac II and up, but no 68000-based Macs.
Eric Baumgartner <firstname.lastname@example.org> comments that he hasn't seen any research about the productivity boost from multiple monitors:
While I agree with your argument, it's interesting to note that, as far as I can tell, there isn't a lot of research that links increased screen real estate with productivity. A few weeks ago, a friend asked for pointers to this kind of research because a large medical center where he works is proposing a massive upgrade of its computer infrastructure. The proposal is to purchase about 3,000 new machines, which may be Dells with 14-inch monitors.
Upgrading these machines to 15-inch to 17-inch monitors will incur a significant cost. But what's the cost of thousands of folks chugging around a smaller screen every day? A cursory search of human factors research didn't turn up anything that addressed this issue. As someone pointed out on <comp.human-factors>, you would think that if such research existed, monitor manufacturers would be all over it.
One way to get those bigger monitors without increasing overall cost is to buy slower, low-end machines. This raises an interesting question: for your typical user (i.e. the bulk of those 3,000 users), what makes a bigger difference - 50 percent more screen space, or a 50 percent faster processor? And if it's the former, how do we convince CFOs?
Ralph Lord <email@example.com> offers some thoughts on why multiple monitors increase productivity:
I found your recent article on using two monitors interesting and thought you might be interested in some information that explains in a more basic way why using more monitors increases productivity. It's a simple case of information density. If you haven't yet seen the books by Edward R. Tufte on displaying information, you must rush out and get them. In "Envisioning Information," on page 49, he writes:
"Nearly all micro/macro designs of this chapter have portrayed large quantities of data at high densities, up to thousands of bits per square centimeter and 20 million bits per page, pushing the limits of printing technology. Such quantities are thoroughly familiar, although hardly noticed: the human eye registers 150 million bits, the 35 mm slide some 25 million bits, conventional large-scale topographic maps up to 150 million bits, the color screen of a small personal computer 8 million bits."
No wonder then that you feel that more pixels is better, it is! We can obviously register more information than our screens are capable of showing and according to Tufte, a computer screen is one of the least dense information displays we deal with. One might reason that what we need is not faster processors, but screens with much higher resolution and greater size.
Ian Blanton <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers consolation for those who fear Windows NT catching up too quickly:
Windows NT does support multiple monitors. The head of our PC support group and the Mail Admin (both sharp guys), tried to set up a Pentium with multiple monitors after seeing my triple monitor setup. I won't bore you with the labours that they went through, but four hours after they started, they got it running. Unfortunately, NT treated the larger desktop as one giant monitor, with the result that status messages, etc., all popped up in the "center" of the screen, between the two monitors. They took out the video cards and gave up.
by David Strom <email@example.com>
It is time to stop whining about Web porn sites and admit they make a valuable contribution to the Web. I'm not talking about the articles on playboy.com, but Internet payment schemes, streaming video, and authentication. By and large, these technologies are primitive outside cyber-porn and probably wouldn't exist at all without the mass-market appeal of sex.
As with the video rental business two decades ago, porn has greatly furthered a medium with inauspicious beginnings.
In the days before the Web, there were two principle sources of electronic porn: the alt.sex newsgroups and CompuServe. Because newsgroups were invented before people thought about transferring dirty pictures online, to send a picture, you first had to encode it as text so it could be transmitted like other newsgroup postings. Once you received such a message, you had to decode it, then view it in a graphics program. Even now, few newsreaders can display images.
CompuServe has always had forums (newsgroup-like free-ranging discussions associated with libraries of files) that contained porn. You just had to know the keyword to find them. A celebrated lawsuit in Germany brought additional technology to bear where anyone could restrict their own CompuServe accounts to keep kids away from porn.
Many would-be porn connoisseurs were frustrated by these technologies. Accessing the pictures took technical know-how, and even if you had the technical chops, it was a clumsy, error-prone process. The Web was invented just in time to solve the problem. Most Web browsers can display GIF and JPEG images without additional software. Not surprisingly, porn merchants wasted little time before putting up Web sites with such memorable domain names as clublove.com and naughty.com. Before one could say centerfold, we had thousands of porn sites.
Can I See Some ID? Partly in response to the profusion of Web-based porn sites, in 1996, the U.S. government passed the misguided Communications Decency Act (see "Communications Decency Act Ruled Unconstitutional" in TidBITS-386). While the legislation was on the books briefly, many porn Web site owners feared that allowing access to underage viewers could land them in jail and so had a strong incentive to require authentication on the Web. Rather than have would-be customers register using several hundred different schemes, a few enterprising merchants like AdultCheck created standards to authenticate visitors, then offered their services to other porn sites.
Of course, no authentication system is iron-clad. These sites ask you to pledge that you have reached the age of majority, and they require a credit card number for an "Adult Pass" subscription. An interested teenager could defeat these requirements. Even so, the porn sites brought order to something that had previously resisted any hint of standardization. Even more interesting is that these sites successfully sell content, something that has eluded the giants of the publishing world.
A second strategy is insecure but simple: you enumerate the passwords and user name combinations on a piece of paper or in a text file on your hard disk. Wouldn't it be nice to have standards here? Let's hope that normal Web sites aren't too embarrassed by porn to take advantage of the de facto standards in place among the porn sites.
Memorize those Lines -- However, showing still images isn't enough to stay competitive in today's world of net.porn. The public wants video. At the moment, there are over a dozen different ways you can view video images inside or alongside a Web browser. They all suck: even under the best of circumstances, the images are too small, the resolution akin to a 1950's TV set, and forget about synchronizing the audio with the video.
Matching the right set of plug-ins, Java applets, browser versions, and other bits of technology between your desktop and the video site is at best a complex undertaking and at worst nearly impossible. Worse, to download a file and play back the video off your disk instead of over the Internet, you'll find that it takes five to fifty times longer to download the file than to view it - not a satisfactory situation.
We haven't yet seen the total effect of porn here, in large part because of the amount of bandwidth that video requires, but my guess is that within another year we'll have solid standards in place for streaming video. And it will happen first on the porn sites; there's undoubtedly more demand for porn video than CNN news clips and video interviews.
Cash, Check, or Charge? Besides authentication and video, porn sites are also pushing the envelope on payment technologies. Right now, when paying for something over the Internet, you may be fearful (about having a credit card number stolen [We know of no instance of this happening during an online transaction. -Adam]) or frustrated (some electronic commerce sites don't work properly). You may also wish that site interfaces for online purchasing were more uniform or required less data entry. Porn merchants were the first to jump on the Internet payment bandwagon: one of First Virtual Holdings' biggest beneficiaries was a porn site that charged just a few dollars per picture, using their pioneering payment system.
With so many sites offering roughly the same products, porn customers won't wait around for confusing or inelegant payment schemes that require filling out multiple forms. If the payment system isn't dirt simple and quick, they'll try a less complex site. I look to these sites to help the more staid commercial Web sites learn how to design the right kinds of payment screens. Although there is much work to be done in terms of how credit card payments are posted to one's merchant account, once again porn has moved out in front on this issue.
So, let's recognize the pornographers for what they are: trail blazers of Internet technology. Meanwhile, I gotta catch that terrific interview on playboy.com.
[David Strom founded CMP's Network Computing magazine in 1990 and was its first editor-in-chief. He currently writes for InfoWorld, Windows Sources, and Forbes ASAP.]
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