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Conferences tend to blur into one another, but after a timeless few days, Adam concludes that MacHack takes the prize for the ultimate Macintosh geek event. Also this week, Geoff Duncan reports on how to upgrade to Quicken 98 for free, and Jeff Carlson follows up on our Internet faxing coverage. In the news, we cover Eudora Pro 4.2.1, WeatherTracker 3.0, Mac OS ROM Update 1.0, WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0, and the withdrawal of FileMaker Pro 4.1v2.
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Eudora Pro 4.2.1 Update Released -- Qualcomm has released a free update to its widely used Eudora Pro email application for the Macintosh; the 3.8 MB update converts any release version of Eudora Pro 4.x to Eudora Pro 4.2.1 (see "The Postman Rings Again" in TidBITS-424for a review of Eudora Pro 4.0). Version 4.2.1 is a significant upgrade, sporting major new enhancements such as inline spell checking, support for IMAP, speech capabilities, message preview panes, and a vastly improved search feature. In addition, Eudora Pro 4.2.1 has a myriad of smaller enhancements, including the capability to speak Reply-To addresses (so you're less likely to send a private message to a mailing list), improved handling of background sending and delivery, optional support for animated GIFs in HTML email, and a new <x-eudora-setting> URL type that enables technical support personnel and power users to help others easily modify Eudora's plethora of settings.
A short-lived Eudora Pro 4.2 updater was replaced quickly to address a bug relating to display of graphics in preview panes; the 4.2.1 updater works on version 4.2 as well. Eudora Pro 4.2.1 is native for either 68K or PowerPC systems, and requires a 68020 processor or better, System 7.1.2 or higher, and a POP or IMAP email account. We'll examine Eudora Pro 4.2.1's new features in depth in the near future. [GD]
FileMaker Pro 4.1v2 Update Withdrawn -- FileMaker, Inc., has withdrawn its recently released FileMaker Pro 4.1v2 update, which largely addressed ambiguities in the program's treatment of dates using two-digit years. FileMaker claims to have identified additional date-related issues that weren't covered by the previous 4.1v2 update and plans to release a 4.1v3 fix. In the meantime, FileMaker recommends anyone using FileMaker Pro 4.1v2 downgrade to FileMaker 4.1v1. [GD]
Mac OS ROM Update 1.0 Targets USB Problems -- Apple has released Mac OS ROM Update 1.0, which corrects USB device troubles on iMac, blue and white Power Macintosh G3, and bronze keyboard PowerBook G3 Series computers. The numerically confusing Update 1.0 changes the Mac OS ROM version 1.4 in these machines to version 1.6. On USB-equipped Macintoshes, the update addresses problems with unresponsive devices when the mouse is plugged into the top or left USB port and the keyboard into the bottom or right port. Updated USB-equipped PowerBooks avoid a potential crash when removing a USB keyboard while putting the computer to sleep, more consistently recognize hot-swapped media bay devices, and require that the Target Disk Mode SCSI ID is set to 2. Bronze keyboard PowerBook G3 owners should check the current Mac OS ROM version (found on the System Profile tab in the Apple System Profiler application), since many of the machines are already running version 1.6. NetBoot clients running under Mac OS X Server should also install the new version. Mac OS ROM Update 1.0 is a free 2 MB download. [JLC]
WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 Adds Email, Performance, and More -- StarNine Technologies has shipped WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0, the latest version of its widely used Internet server software, positioning it as an integrated, easy-to-use solution for common Internet services. WebSTAR 3.0 added several features to WebSTAR's traditional Web-serving toolkit (including a proxy server and a built-in FTP server). WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 expands that range by rolling in feature-rich SMTP, POP, and IMAP mail servers (with, naturally, Web-based email access) and new tools based on Blue World's Lasso middleware technology for serving information from FileMaker or ODBC databases. WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 also integrates SSL encryption and advanced security options directly into the main application and includes numerous under-the-hood performance enhancements that can double WebSTAR's serving capability and significantly reduce connection latency.
WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 is available from StarNine for $599; owners of WebSTAR 3.x can upgrade for $199, and discounts are also available for owners of WebSTAR 2.x, educational use, and volume purchases. StarNine provides fully operational 30-day evaluation versions of WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0, ranging from 8.7 MB to 37.9 MB in size. WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 requires at least a PowerPC-based system running Mac OS 8.1 or higher. [GD]
WeatherTracker 3.0 Adds 7,000 New Cities -- Trexar Technologies has released WeatherTracker 3.0, an update to their dedicated weather client for the Macintosh. WeatherTracker 3.0 provides a full Macintosh interface to Internet weather servers, displaying temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, current conditions, local forecasts, climatic data, and marine forecasts (for cities near coasts). WeatherTracker 3.0 adds full support for over 7,000 new cities around the world, although cities outside North America may experience periods of limited data due to problems with local collection sites. WeatherTracker 3.0 also now uses HTTP proxies instead of SOCKS proxies. WeatherTracker is $25 shareware; it's a 1 MB download. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In response to Year 2000 issues with online banking features, Intuit has begun offering free upgrades to the Macintosh version of Quicken Deluxe 98 on CD-ROM to owners of any previous Macintosh version of Quicken, ranging from version 7 all the way back to version 1. (Intuit is making a similar offer to owners of Quicken for Windows or DOS.) See "Quicken 98: Evolution at Work" in TidBITS-426 for a review of Quicken 98; "Parsing Like It's 1999" in TidBITS-475 discusses Y2K problems and the Mac.
Intuit's move is surprising, particularly for a company with a history of offering minimalist annual product upgrades, releasing and withdrawing maintenance releases, and abandoning Macintosh products (including, briefly, Quicken for the Macintosh). The only known Y2K issues with Quicken for the Macintosh involve its online banking features, which have been available in the Macintosh version only since Quicken 6. Moreover, few Macintosh Quicken users rely on the online banking features, since less than 10 percent of the financial institutions supporting online banking with Quicken offer such support for Mac versions of Quicken.
Although there are currently no known Y2K issues with any version of Quicken aside from online banking features, Intuit is not testing older versions of Quicken for Y2K problems, except for the online banking features in Quicken 6 and 7. Therefore, Intuit's offer of Quicken 98 Deluxe to all legitimate owners of previous versions of Quicken may be an effort to stave off customer complaints, as well as to offset any legal impact of heretofore unknown Y2K problems. It's also possible that the move was prompted by Intuit's online banking partners, no doubt looking to limit their own Y2K exposure.
Should you take advantage of Intuit's new policy if you already own Quicken? First, if you own Quicken 98 and use online banking, make sure you're using Release 5 or higher, which enables online banking functionality beyond 05-Sep-99. (You can determine what release you're running by selecting About Quicken from the Apple menu, then pressing R.) If you use a previous version of Quicken but don't use online banking features, I'd look carefully at reviews of Quicken 98 and see if the product is worthwhile. Many Quicken customers have been underwhelmed by the number of compelling new features in recent updates, and some have experienced trouble converting their data to newer versions. Finally, be sure your Macintosh can run Quicken 98 Deluxe: it requires Macintosh with a 68030 processor or better, a CD-ROM drive, 45 MB of hard disk space, a 640 by 480 display capable of displaying 256 colors, and at least System 7.1. If you think Quicken Deluxe 98 is for you, go to Intuit's Y2K pages for the Mac version of Quicken, select your version, and follow the link outlining your options.
by Jeff Carlson <email@example.com>
As reluctant fax users, we were surprised at the reader response to two articles about faxing from a Macintosh, "FAXstf Pro Echoes Sad State of Fax Software" in TidBITS-476 and "Facts about Internet Faxing" in TidBITS-484. In addition to pointing out a couple of editing errors, readers presented a few additional fax solutions.
Price Problems -- One of the key points in Hudson Barton's Internet faxing article was the potential cost savings of email and Web-based fax services over dedicated fax hardware. Unfortunately, two pricing problems snuck into the article during editing. The correct registration fee for the image utility GraphicConverter is $30 for users within Europe, and $35 elsewhere. Blue Globe Software's TIFF-Sight, a program for reading received faxes, costs $10. However, although TIFF-Sight has received two minor updates since the article was published, a note on Blue Globe's Web site says that TIFF-Sight is currently unavailable.
Eyes on Anti-Aliasing -- One of TIFF-Sight's notable features elicited comment on TidBITS Talk. TIFF-Sight anti-aliases fax images to improve readability; stark black pixels are surrounded by transitional gray pixels to "smooth" the characters on a white background. As with many issues of readability, the effectiveness of anti-aliasing is in the eye of the beholder. (See "Better Typography Coming to a Screen Near You" in TidBITS-403, and the followup "Web Reading Requires More than Just Character(s)" in TidBITS-405.) We echo Edward Reid's <firstname.lastname@example.org> comment when he wrote, "Anti-aliasing seems to elicit very personal responses, and its effectiveness depends on the document. It should always be optional."
Jfax Reevaluating Mac Support -- Despite Hudson Barton's recommendation of Jfax's fax viewer for Macintosh, it turns out that the company is reconsidering its place in their product lineup. After briefly withdrawing the software, Jfax has again made it available. Hudson wrote:
They state that the withdrawal of their viewer was to improve the experience of Mac customers, not to drive them away. Though the decision seems to be a bad one from the user's point of view, the Jfax viewer was apparently a difficult piece of software to support, and that doesn't totally surprise me (installation and configuration were a bit tricky for some people). It is quite clear that they are "reevaluating" their software and may yet discontinue it. In the meantime it is reasonable to expect alternatives to arise.
Other Fax Services and Software -- A few fax alternatives were mentioned in the TidBITS Talk thread. Stevan Cloudtree <email@example.com> recommends Fax4Free, which delivers faxes with advertisements in the left and right margins. He writes, "Some of my clients in places like India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia say it is much more reliable and a lot less expensive than using the local phone services."
Kerim Friedman points out a Mac document management program called WorkingPapers, from Dominion Software, which he uses with an inexpensive UMAX scanner.
WorkingPapers is Mac native, supports its own (Pro version) or third party OCR software, and removable media as well. With the new affordable scanners it is now possible to run your own paperless office for under $200! ($140 for the scanner and $49 for the software, although you will also need some good storage and backup).
A Fax-Filled Future? Although we haven't been swayed to abandon email in favor of transmitting images of messages as our regular mode of correspondence, it's interesting to see how the faxing field is broadening, and remains useful for many Mac users.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Every so often, I feel like a total idiot. I've been reporting on the Macintosh industry for over nine years, and for the first few years, I vaguely knew there was a developer event called MacHack. At some point, MacHack was explained to me, and as I made more contacts in the industry, an ever-increasing number of people invited me to attend. I always demurred, begging off on the grounds that I wasn't a programmer, or that I couldn't justify travelling to yet another conference, especially one in Detroit, which holds no external attractions like relatives in the area. Last year, I even helped in a small way to find loaner machines for the conference's public machine room; this increased the pressure to attend this year's conference, and I finally gave in.
What a mistake I've been making! MacHack is, quite simply, the most fun a serious Macintosh geek can have legally.
Identification -- Describing MacHack is like summarizing a zany movie - no retelling can capture the essence of the event. Still, let me attempt it.
A defining characteristic of a geek is the confluence of personal and professional interests. The Mac geek lives and breathes the Macintosh, checking email first thing in the morning, using a Macintosh at work all day, debating recent industry events with friends at dinner, playing games, making Web pages, or even writing programs at night. The details vary by individual, of course, but many people fall squarely into this category. For those folks, it's tremendously enjoyable to be surrounded by peers, Macintosh geeks of roughly equivalent experience and knowledge. Conversations amongst Mac geeks range widely and hop nimbly between Macintosh topics, unhindered by any need to differentiate between RAM and hard disk space or explain every Internet reference.
Many of us have had a taste of such an event, though it's usually limited to an evening user group meeting or a brief dinner party. But if a user group meeting is a taste, then Macworld Expo ranks as a light supper - the thousands of attendees make significant interaction with other Macintosh users difficult. There's also a sense at Macworld that someone else is cooking, and we're all guests who must maintain a certain distance and formality. In comparison, MacHack is a ten-course feast prepared in front of the several hundred diners by talented volunteer chefs who then remove their chef's hats and join in the exuberant gastronomic celebration.
In short, MacHack is a conference of the geeks, by the geeks, and for the geeks. Started 14 years ago by Gavin Eadie and some colleagues at the University of Michigan, MacHack became independent in its second year and continues to be organized by a volunteer committee made up of members of the Macintosh community, ably aided by the staff of Expotech, who handle the logistical details. The committee finds a keynote speaker, organizes sessions, designs the t-shirts, and generally ensures that MacHack will happen yet again, while Expotech handles registration, conference materials, coordination with the hotel, and ordering hundreds of boxes of pizza.
MacHack is a developer conference, and there's little question that developers find it tremendously useful. Where else can you ask a question of the best Macintosh programmers in the industry and get an immediate answer or spark a debate between the hotshot programmers and wizards from Apple's Developer Technical Support division, some of whom also attend? That said, I'm not a programmer at all, and I enjoyed myself tremendously. Pondering why, I realized that for non-programmers, two things must be true. You must be a serious and outgoing Mac geek conversant with current technologies, issues, and events, and you must be willing to participate.
In my case, participation came in the form of giving a session entitled "Hacking the Press" (which I plan to convert to a TidBITS article). I also let myself be rooked into offering a technical journalist's perspective in a session on industry terminology, and spent time helping a 12-year-old girl find the necessary software to use an old Connectix QuickCam to create her hack for the Hack Contest.
Education -- My brief donation of time and expertise finding software on the Internet was nothing compared to what many others at MacHack did for the younger attendees. Collectively referred to as "yoots," the student attendees ranged from a seven-year-old girl to a college student interning at Apple. Everyone encourages and helps the students, 50 of whom attended this year and 19 of whom worked on hacks for the Hack Contest. For instance, AppleScript was a popular language for many of the yoot hacks, and AppleScript guru (and author of the AppleScript editor Scripter) Cal Simone lent his expertise to a number of the students.
This emphasis on education is one of the most attractive traits of MacHack, because it spreads expertise among the community and also to future generations of programmers. Perhaps even more important is the example set by the generosity of the older programmers - these kids are seeing people helping one another regardless of age or knowledge. All that's required is a desire to learn and participate.
Hacks -- I've referred to "hacks" several times already, and the hacks are an important aspect of MacHack. A hack, for the purposes of the conference, is a program that makes the Mac act in previously inconceivable ways. Hacks may modify standard Macintosh windows, replace the Mac's graphics with ASCII characters, or, in the case of one that didn't succeed this year, attempt to coerce the Mac OS to run on a 240 by 240 pixel monitor. Occasionally a hack may even become a commercial product, as with Leonard Rosenthol's Finder-based Web bookmark utility CyberFinder. Hacks are seldom polished, since they're usually created in the 72 hours before the Hack Contest, and they generally aren't useful. The goal with a hack is to perform a technical feat that will impress the other programmers, not to write finished code with a sophisticated interface. This year's entries in the Hack Contest were innovative and entertaining, and I'll cover them in detail in a separate article.
Thoughts -- Of all the conferences I've attended over the years, MacHack stands out as the most unusual. A few examples:
Time loses all meaning. Although some programmers stay up almost the entire conference, I wimped out every day between 3 AM and 5 AM, and got up sometime between noon and 3 PM. I found after a day or two that looking at my watch was pointless. Normally when you see that it's 1 PM, you think, "Hmm, maybe I should have lunch." At MacHack, you can glance at your watch, see that it's 6 PM, try to remember if you've eaten breakfast yet, and decide that it's less important than talking to someone about future Mac OS directions. To get a feel for how time passes, read Dave Johnson's chronology of MacHack 1996.
Everything caters to the programmer lifestyle. The keynote starts the conference at midnight. Free soda is provided at all times, and it's tricky to find any that doesn't have caffeine; Jolt Cola (with all the sugar and twice the caffeine) is always available. Except for the final night, when most people go to a late movie and come back to an ice cream social, boxes of pizza arrive every night at midnight. The conference's contract with the hotel reportedly states that the housekeeping staff won't knock on any doors before noon. This year, that fact wasn't properly communicated, and the first morning the housekeeping staff walked in on groggy geeks who had forgotten to put out Do Not Disturb signs.
Although MacHack has a full program of useful sessions, MacHack's focus is the hotel lobby. Picture a standard hotel lobby with small tables and chairs clustered around them. Then imagine four or five PowerBook G3s on each table, plugged into that table's Ethernet hub and power strip. People drift in and out of the lobby constantly, and a free chair is all the invitation you need to sit down, plug in, and start chatting with whomever is at the table. No one bothers to use a modem to dial out to the Internet, since the conference always has a dedicated Internet connection (256 Kbps ISDN this year) and internal Ethernet network.
Everyone at MacHack is technical, and the standard marketing and PR fluff that goes on at other conferences has little place at MacHack. No one at MacHack will try to sell you anything, and the attendees appreciate the low-key corporate sponsorship that helps cover the costs of the conference. Discussions take place at many different levels, and if you find one that's over your head, you can listen in and try to learn something or move on to another conversation.
Most conferences plan their locations carefully; witness the way Macworld Expo has moved to New York from Boston to focus on the New York media market. Other professional conferences pick exotic locales where attendees can happily golf or play tourist instead of attending the conference. MacHack remains in a hotel outside of Detroit where the only places you can walk to are a pair of fast food joints and a CompUSA. The point of MacHack is to be at MacHack, not to venture outside. Housing almost everyone in the same hotel helps this focus; no time is wasted commuting from and to other hotels or coordinating places to meet.
This year's keynote was given by Andy Ihnatko, a long-time Macintosh columnist and the self-described "42nd Most Popular Personality in America." Andy's keynote turned out to be essentially two hours of unparalleled Macintosh stand-up comedy. The MacHack organizers videotaped the keynote and hope to be able to make it available for sale, since any Macintosh fan will appreciate the humor. Andy also garnered serious points from the attendees by being one of the few keynote speakers to stick around for the entire conference and only the second to submit a hack in the Hack Contest.
There's a certain joy in the air at MacHack that's difficult to describe. Everyone understands that they're at MacHack to have a good time. The conference might prove extremely useful in other ways - ranging from job hunting to general education to being able to talk with an Apple DTS engineer for an hour about a specific problem - but fun is paramount. As one programmer whose code many of you have used put it, "It's my vacation. And it's a business expense."
Emulation -- It would be easy to recommend that everyone should go to MacHack, but that would ruin MacHack because the conference can't get much larger without losing its charm. Recognizing this, the conference organizers put a cap on attendance and, although they didn't quite hit it, they came close with 289 attendees this year. So for next year, when MacHack will once again be held near Detroit, from 22-Jun-00 to 24-Jun-00, I would encourage developers and serious Mac geeks with technical bents and outgoing personalities to attend.
The people who have organized MacHack have created something truly special, but I don't think it's necessarily unique. Other niche groups, from desktop publishers to database developers to independent consultants, could all learn from MacHack's example and create their own conferences that focus on letting the attendees interact with one another, rather than trying to shuttle them around between sessions like high school students. The best way to understand the secrets of what makes MacHack special would be to experience it firsthand, especially as a volunteer helping behind the scenes.
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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