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With last week's release of the Power Mac G4 and the Apple Cinema Display, Apple generated serious techno-lust in the Macintosh community. This week we look at the specs and the few annoying aspects of the Power Mac G4. Matt Neuburg also weighs in with a Tools We Use column on Menuette, which replaces menu names with icons, and we cover releases of GraphicConverter 3.7, MacTuner 2.1, SoundJam 1.1, Adobe InDesign, and LetterRip Pro 3.0.6.
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999software.com Sponsoring TidBITS -- We're pleased to welcome our latest sponsor, 999software.com, a young Internet company calling itself "The Internet's Discount Software Superstore." 999software.com's concept is simple: sell shrinkwrapped programs, sometimes older programs languishing in warehouses, for a mere $9.99. This approach works well for all parties. The original publishers get a chance to sell off stock and gain customers for future upgrades, and consumers can buy highly rated commercial software at prices below even those of many shareware programs. Due to limited budgets for educational software, 999software.com's products have proven popular with schools as well. Since many of 999software.com's current products are games and educational programs, the $9.99 price is also attractive to parents or kids who know a given game or learning program may hold interest for only a month or so.
999software.com was inundated with orders after our brief mention of them in the most recent Macworld Superlatives article and responded by creating a 999mac.com entry point into their product database, so it's easier to see just Macintosh products. But they do carry Windows software as well, which could be a useful way to find presents for friends or relatives using PCs. 999software.com's latest foray is 999movies.com, which applies the same sales concept to videotapes of popular movies. In this day and age of disposable content, it's great to see a company giving us deeply discounted prices on products that may just happen to have been released a year earlier. After all, if you've never seen a game like Riven, You Don't Know Jack, or Imperialism, what difference does it make to your enjoyment of the game that it's been out for a year? Be sure to check out 999software.com in the sponsorship area at the top of each issue for special offers, such as this week's free shipping (for which you must use the URL listed in the sponsorship area). [ACE]
GraphicConverter 3.7 Adds Features and Fixes -- Mac users looking for a Swiss Army Knife of graphics programs can download GraphicConverter 3.7, an update to Lemke Software's tool for viewing nearly 120 graphic file formats. (One use for GraphicConverter recently mentioned in TidBITS is reading faxes sent over the Internet; see "Facts about Internet Faxing" in TidBITS-484.) The new version adds numerous features and bug fixes, including the capability to drag & drop images onto the application's icon, a command for slicing images into rectangular sections, plus numerous file format tweaks and export improvements. GraphicConverter 3.7 is available in English and German versions as either a 3.1 MB download for the full program, or a 900K updater from version 3.6.2. Registering the program is $30 for European residents; otherwise, GraphicConverter is $35. Owners of previous versions of can upgrade for free. [JLC]
MacTuner Update Simplifies Worldwide Listening -- Trexar Technologies has released MacTuner 2.1, adding performance and interface improvements to its utility for connecting to radio and television stations over the Internet. If you're wondering what music is playing in London, or want to hear Moscow news in Russian, MacTuner makes it easy to connect to online radio and television broadcasts from around the world. MacTuner 2.1 features improved continent maps, which can be zoomed to a larger size to better locate countries and enhanced support for proxy servers using Internet Config or Internet control panel settings. A demo of MacTuner is available as a 2.2 MB download; you can purchase a license (which removes the demo's 20-day limitation) for $23. [JLC]
SoundJam 1.1 Adds G4 Support -- Casady & Greene has released SoundJam 1.1, a free update to their $40 MP3 player and encoder. The primary improvement to SoundJam 1.1 is support for the new Power Mac G4's Velocity Engine (previously known as AltiVec). Support for the Velocity Engine increases file conversion speed by two to four times on 450 MHz and 500 MHz Power Mac G4s. You can now enter your own genre information, specify the ID3 tag version SoundJam uses to store meta-information within MP3 files, and see ID3 information in the file information windows. Low-level improvements include better MP3 conversion sound quality, enhanced AppleScript support, better overall stability, better support for playing songs from an AppleShare server, and various minor bug fixes. SoundJam 1.1 is a 1.5 MB download. [ACE]
Adobe Ships InDesign -- Adobe is shipping InDesign, its next-generation design software that replaces the aging PageMaker as the company's flagship page layout program. Developed from the ground up as a modern competitor to QuarkXPress, InDesign's modular architecture allows third-party developers to add functionality to the core application. For design and prepress users, InDesign includes several advanced layout and typographical features, such as optical kerning, a multi-line text composer, optical margin alignment, unlimited undo, and zooming from 5 to 4,000 percent. (For a great overview on many of these features, check out Olav Martin Kvern's article "We've Come a Long Way" in Adobe Magazine, available as a 407K PDF file.) InDesign also includes built-in support for PDF files and can open PageMaker and QuarkXPress documents directly. InDesign's street price should be $700 (Adobe's list price is $739); owners of Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker, or QuarkXPress can take advantage of a special upgrade price of $300 until 31-Dec-99. InDesign requires a Mac with a PowerPC 604 or better processor, Mac OS 8.5 or later, 48 MB RAM (128 MB recommended), and 120 MB of hard disk space. [JLC]
Fog City Releases LetterRip Pro 3.0.6 -- Fog City Software has released LetterRip Pro 3.0.6, a free update to the company's simple yet powerful mailing list management software (see "Going Pro with LetterRip Pro" in TidBITS-473). The changes in LetterRip Pro primarily improve the handling of non-ASCII characters such as accented or international characters in both MIME and non-MIME digests. Fog City recommends that all owners of LetterRip Pro upgrade; the changes affect only the server, which is a 550K download. [ACE]
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
Applications these days seem to sport more and more menus, and the menubar is becoming increasingly crowded thanks to the new wider Application menu title, the keyboard menu icon, and the clock, not to mention third-party icons such as OneClick, OSA Menu, StuffIt's Magic Menu, Conflict Catcher, and Timbuktu Pro. Certainly large monitors are more common today than they were five years ago, but I'm still using some narrow ones. For years I've relied on Menuette, a clever shareware control panel that solves the problem once and for all.
Menuette substitutes small icons of your choosing (or even of your creation) for menu names in your menubar, a seemingly obvious, and to me, essential interface enhancement. Mostly, the purpose is to save space, which is a major achievement because space needs saving. But I find Menuette important in other ways as well.
Many years of dancing with Menuette have wrought a curious change in my gestalt: I no longer want to see menu names. Doubtless many won't share this opinion, but for me, menubar icons are better! They're easier to see, and easier for my mind to encompass. I know at a glance, from its row of menu icons, what program is frontmost. And I know more viscerally what each menu does. Most programs, after all, have certain menus in common (File, Edit, Help), and certain menus recur frequently (Tools, Options, Insert, Format); so I've become used to icons representing those concepts. Moreover, it isn't the name of a menu that's important, but what it signifies, so that if the Options menu in one program and the Preferences menu in another end up represented by the same icon, so much the better. I'm far more word-oriented than picture-oriented, so my strong feelings for Menuette speak volumes for its power. Besides, which icons appear is completely up to the user: you can toggle instantly between icons and names, and any menu can be designated always to show a name instead of an icon. So even if you think you're anti-icon, you might want to give Menuette a try, since you can make it work however best suits you.
Menuette's recent 3.0 and 3.0.1 updates, the first since 1994, add menu font control, WYSIWYG font menus, menu icons with varying widths, and the capability to turn off icons entirely to focus on Menuette's menu font controls. Most remarkable, Menuette can now animate menu icons, either when you're selecting from the menu or (don't try this at home) all the time. This makes choosing from the menu bar downright fun; with the icons waggling at you, it's a little like playing Snood all the time (don't get me started about that, unless you'd like to rename this column "Games We Play Constantly")! The interface has been brilliantly rewritten, including an icon editor and superbly intuitive use of drag & drop; Menuette can import animations from Christopher Suley's earlier menu animation program Zipple, animated GIFs, and application icons, and it includes a large base of icons. Menuette comes from Tiger Technologies, workshop of legendary Mac programmer Robert L. Mathews (and home of perennial favorite Holiday Lights). It's $20 shareware, with a free ten-day trial.
by Adam C. Engst and Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple's announcement of the Power Mac G4 at last week's Seybold San Francisco 99 took many by surprise - after all, the blue and white Power Mac G3 had been out for only nine months and rumors put more faith in the possibility of an enhanced iMac. But that ignores the massive influence of Apple's interim CEO Steve Jobs, who loves to pull rabbit after PowerPC-based rabbit out of his hat at keynote addresses. Instead of sticking with the expected, Jobs wowed the audience with the snazzy silver and graphite Power Mac G4 and the stunning 22-inch LCD Apple Cinema Display. His timing was brilliant, given that he was largely talking to the design industry (the traditional Seybold audience), who especially appreciate Apple's industrial design and who are known to buy the fastest Macs Apple releases immediately, since speed increases in applications like Photoshop translate directly to improved productivity.
The PowerPC G4 -- The first Power Macintosh G4 systems start at speeds of 400 MHz, with upcoming models set to run at 450 MHz and 500 MHz. Overall, the G4 systems claim some performance specs nearly three times faster than 600 MHz Pentium III CPUs. The new systems are driven by the PowerPC G4 processor, which Apple is billing as the first supercomputer on a chip because it can theoretically offer sustained performance of more than a billion floating point operations per second - a spec called a "gigaflop." The PowerPC G4's spectacular performance stems in part from its 128-bit "Velocity Engine" - formerly known as AltiVec. The G4's Velocity Engine can perform multiple operations during a single clock cycle in parallel with traditional processor operations and has special capabilities for handling streaming media and transforming data. As with previous innovations in the PowerPC line, programs do not need to be recompiled to run on PowerPC G4 processors; however, programs will need to be recompiled to take specific advantage of the G4's Velocity Engine. So, a typical application might see a 15 to 20 percent performance improvement running on a G4 system compared to a comparatively clocked G3-based Macintosh, but some applications recompiled for the Velocity Engine could perform some functions 2 to 8 times faster. A number of developers have announced support for G4 systems, including Macromedia, Adobe, Terran Interactive, Casady & Greene, and Bungie Software.
PCI versus AGP -- The specifications for the Power Mac G4 systems aren't anything to sneeze at either, offering a 100 MHz system bus, 1 MB of Level 2 backside cache, 64 to 256 MB of RAM, three 64-bit PCI slots, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, 10 to 27 GB hard disks, 32x CD-ROM or DVD drive options, an ATI RAGE 128 video card with 16 MB of VRAM, FireWire, and two USB ports. Like Apple's blue and white Power Mac G3s, the Power Mac G4 systems come in minitower cases with easy internal access and do not include a floppy disk drive; however, the G4 systems lack the blue and white's ADB port and come in a more muted translucent white and graphite color scheme, perhaps responding to many Macintosh users' concerns over the comparative gaudiness of the iMac color palette.
Unfortunately, once you digest those specifications, the confusion begins. Apple has developed two versions of the Power Macintosh G4, dubbed "PCI Graphics" and "AGP Graphics" - AGP stands for Advanced Graphics Port. The PCI Graphics G4 is essentially a souped-up version of the existing blue and white Power Macintosh G3 architecture, minus the ADB port but adding a 100 MHz system bus and the PowerPC G4 processor. The PCI Graphics G4s will ship in 400 and 450 MHz configurations; the 400 MHz versions are available immediately, with the 450 MHz versions to follow in October. Using the existing motherboard design enabled Apple to ship PowerPC G4-based systems at low prices - right now, 400 MHz PCI Graphics G4s currently start at $1,600, the same price as the 400 MHz G3 systems they replace.
The AGP Graphics G4's, codenamed Sawtooth, are built on a redesigned motherboard which offers a host of improvements over the "Yosemite" motherboard architecture introduced with the blue and white Power Macintosh G3s. Key enhancements include:
AGP is a graphics standard from the PC world: Intel developed it from PCI, and PCs with AGP slots began to appear in 1997. AGP caters to the high-throughput demands of 3D graphics, and enables 3D textures to be stored in the computer's main memory rather than in video memory. AGP Graphics G4s include an AGP 2x slot, which can theoretically deliver 533 megabytes per second (MBps) throughput to the screen. AGP 4x is faster still, pushing just over 1 gigabyte per second (GBps) to the screen. AGP is particularly interesting to developers bringing graphics-intensive applications to the Macintosh using OpenGL.
Still with us? Hold on tight: the differences between PCI Graphics G4s and AGP Graphics G4s don't stop there. AGP Graphics systems can optionally include a unique 56 Kbps modem with the DSP card on the system's motherboard, but with the Digital to Analog (D to A) converter connected to the rear case. If a system doesn't ship with a modem, it won't have the DSP card on the motherboard, but will still have a D to A converter on the rear case, mounted so the phone jack doesn't show.
In addition, AGP Graphics G4s sport a PowerBook-style sleep mode which turns off the PCI cards and the computer's fan - a welcome addition to a desktop Mac. When asleep, the AGP Graphics G4s consume just 6 watts of electricity - less than a typical night-light. Considering that computers typically consume 3 to 5 watts of power even when they're turned off (trickle-feeding their batteries, etc.), there's almost no need to shut down an AGP Graphics G4 except to add or remove internal hardware - especially since USB and FireWire external devices are hot-swappable. To support this feature, PCI boards must support Apple's Power Manager 2.0 (software built into the Mac OS). If a board doesn't support Power Manager 2.0, the system will still go to sleep but will have to leave the fan on to cool the PCI board, thus consuming more power.
Just one more thing: a special version of Power Mac G4 will be available from the online Apple Store that ships with a digital video connector specifically for use with the just-announced (and pricey) Apple Cinema Display (see below). If you were thinking about using the Apple Cinema Display with a different computer, think again, since you can't.
If you're excited about these new AGP Graphics G4 systems, don't work yourself into a lather yet: while the systems are set to ship with 450 and 500 MHz G4 processors, they aren't expected to be available from Apple until November at prices ranging from a bare-bones $2,400 all the way to $6,500 for a 450 MHz system with the new Apple Cinema Display.
Riddle Me This -- One dark spot in the otherwise glowing details about the Power Mac G4 is the name - Apple is shipping two radically different computers and calling them the same thing. Adding to the trouble, the machines will have nearly identical appearances: if you want to tell the difference between a PCI Graphics G4 and an AGP Graphics G4, you may have to get down on your hands an knees and crawl under your desk. The only visible difference is on the back panel: PCI Graphics G4s orient sound and video input jacks horizontally; AGP Graphics G4s orient them vertically.
This naming insanity reportedly comes directly from Steve Jobs, and although it's a good marketing move, it is causing problems for tech support staffs and for consumers trying to purchase appropriate upgrades and peripherals. Our suggestion of a coherent version numbering scheme outside of the marketing name would address the naming confusion without diluting the marketing force of a single name, and we continue to encourage Apple to adopt this or a similar naming scheme (see "Macintosh Model Implosion: What's in a Name?" in TidBITS-485).
Blue & White G4s? If you're thinking about upgrading a recently purchased blue and white Power Macintosh G3 to a G4 processor, you might have to wait a while. Although vendors such as XLR8, Sonnet, and Newer Technology have already announced G4 upgrades for a variety of PCI-based systems and "beige" G3s, Apple's G3 Firmware Update 1.1 for blue and white Power Mac G3s (announced as improving PCI performance) also included a change which prevents the machines from starting up if a G4 processor is installed. Apple has never advertised any G3 system as being CPU upgradable, but Apple's unannounced decision to disable G4 processors in blue and white G3s has angered a number of customers. Apple may have made the firmware change for quality-control purposes or to avoid having its thunder being stolen by third-party upgrade vendors, but it's also important to remember that Apple's recent financial recovery has been fueled by new hardware sales, not by CPU upgrades to older machines. Enterprising CPU upgrade vendors may well work around Apple's firmware restriction, however.
Power Mac G4 Colors -- In "A Case for Color" in TidBITS-492, we wrote, "If Apple wants to gain the good graces of the business market, they'll have to figure out a Macintosh design compromise that fits in while standing out, much as wearing an expensive Italian suit might do for an individual." The Power Mac G4, with its polished silver and graphite colors applied to the curvy case introduced by the blue and white Power Mac G3, would seem to meet the needs of the business world while maintaining its individuality.
Whether or not the community actually uses the canonical color name of "graphite" remains to be seen. Although it's certainly easier to say "gray," graphite connotes drawing pencils, and thus a nod to traditional art and design. Of course, before the blue and white Power Mac G3, Apple officially referred to its desktop machines as "platinum," whereas everyone knew them as "beige."
Apple has updated the plastics on the Apple Studio Display monitors to match the Power Mac G4's graphite color scheme, and the Apple Cinema Display sports a clear enclosure that goes with the new Power Mac G4 look. Users upgrade monitors much less frequently than computers, so it would make sense for Apple to move towards a more neutral look that would match both the current blue and white Power Mac G3 and the new Power Mac G4.
AirPort Support -- When we wrote about the iBook and Apple's AirPort wireless networking (which has yet to ship) back in "iBook: An iMac to Go" in TidBITS-490, we commented "that within a year, we'll see AirPort antennas available across Apple's entire line." The announcement of the optional AirPort wireless networking support in the Power Mac AGP Graphics G4 models points to Apple's commitment to including AirPort across the line. In Apple's four-cell product matrix, the remaining cells whose machines lack AirPort support are the consumer desktop iMac and the professional portable PowerBook G3, so look for the next releases of those machines to include the necessary circuitry to add AirPort networking.
Apple Cinema Display Packs in the Pixels -- Last, but certainly not least, Apple also announced the Apple Cinema Display, a ground-breaking 22-inch thin film transistor (TFT) active-matrix LCD display. The all-digital monitor, which Apple claims is the largest LCD display to reach market, has an active viewing area equivalent to a 24-inch CRT monitor, with a native resolution of 1,600 by 1,024 pixels at 16.7 million colors, enough to display two full pages of text or full-screen DVD movies without letterboxing. Not surprisingly, Apple expects supplies of the hard-to-manufacture display to be extremely limited when it ships in October or November (depending on which Apple Store page you believe), so at least initially it will be available only through the Apple Store and only with a 450 MHz Power Macintosh G4 (and its ATI RAGE 128 Pro graphics card) for $6,500. Considering its price tag of $4,000 if sold separately ($2,500 more than Apple's 21-inch CRT-based Apple Studio Display), the Apple Cinema Display is not yet a display for the rest of us, though it has a tremendously high lust factor.
The prices on the Power Mac G4, though, make it difficult for those of us who often wait until the end of a product's lifespan to buy so as to pick up the most performance at the lowest price. Although we haven't seen an official statement, it seems the entire Power Mac G3 line has been replaced by the Power Mac G4. However, Apple's dramatically improved inventory control means that there probably aren't many Power Mac G3s available after the current bunch in the channel sell out. And the low pricing on the Power Mac G4 means that it may be more worthwhile to buy into new technology rather than looking for a deal on yesterday's Macs.
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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