Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Recent Macs not only look different, they connect different too: FireWire and USB have supplanted SCSI and ADB, orphaning millions of peripherals. However, TidBITS readers are using a variety of adapters to enliven older hardware, including GeeThree.com's Stealth Serial Port. On the software side, Matt Neuburg looks at Font Reserve 2.5, and we note updates to Netscape Communicator, USB Overdrive, and FaceSpan, plus a new Amazon.com patent.
Copyright 2000 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
READERS LIKE YOU! You can help support TidBITS via our voluntary
contribution program. Special thanks this week to Chris Sansom,
William M. Wilson, and Richard J. Barton for their support!
APS CD-RW: SO HOT IT'S COOL! For blazing fast CD burns, check
out the hot APS Tech CD-RW 12x4x32x, which can toast a complete
CD in 6 minutes. Only $369.95 today! <http://www.apstech.com/>
WinStar Northwest Nexus. Visit us at <http://www.nwnexus.com/>.
Internet business solutions throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Small Dog Electronics -- Asante 4-Port USB Hub: $39!
Buy Mac OS 9 for $89 get a FREE Pint of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream!
LaCie 4x/8x CD-R External with Toast (refurbished): $149!
For Details: <http://www.smalldog.com/> -- 802/496-7171
OUTPOST.COM delivers the power to your hands - OVERNIGHT.
Outpost.com has Connectix Virtual Game Station and hundreds of
gaming titles available today. You'll have them TOMORROW with
FREE SHIPPING. OVERNIGHT. <http://www.tidbits.com/tbp/vgs.html>
GRAPHICS TRAINING AVAILABLE! Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign,
PageMaker, QuarkXPress. All available on video and CD-ROM.
See product descriptions at:
<http://www.macacademy.com/tidbits.html> or call 800/527-1914
Aladdin Systems: NEW STUFFIT DELUXE 5.5 NOW SHIPPING!!
Faster compression & expansion, more file formats! Send self-
extracting archives and Zip archives to PCs! SPECIAL DISCOUNT
OFFER AT: <http://www.aladdinsys.com/deluxe/tidbitsoffer.html>
USB Overdrive 1.3 Released -- Alessandro Levi Montalcini has released version 1.3 of USB Overdrive, a universal driver for USB mice, joystick, and game pads. (See "Pointing the Way with USB Mice, Part 2" in TidBITS-507 and "Maximizing the Mouse" in TidBITS-483 for more information.) New features include an accelerated scrolling option for scroll wheels, an absolute cursor movement mode for joysticks and game pads, and support for Apple's standard USB drivers, which increases compatibility with Mac OS 9 and the new Game Sprockets. With accelerated scrolling, the faster you roll the scroll wheel on a third party mouse, the faster the document scrolls. USB Overdrive is $20 shareware and a 300K download. [ACE]
FaceSpan 3.5 Available -- Digital Technology International has released FaceSpan 3.5, the latest version of its interface builder for AppleScript and other OSA languages. FaceSpan enables scripters to create stand-alone applications and scripts with modern Mac OS interfaces, including multiple windows, dialogs, styled text, scroll boxes, tabbed panels, pictures, movies, and a myriad of other elements. FaceSpan 3.5 offers pre-built window templates (making it easier to reuse standard or custom window types), support for round windows and resizable modal dialogs, the capability to save preference files directly from FaceSpan rather than relying on internal Storage items, and a host of other interface and functionality enhancements. FaceSpan 3.5 also includes a selection of scripting additions and FaceSpan-based utilities that can be used on their own or to enhance FaceSpan projects, plus improved documentation and source code for Forms, which enable FaceSpan projects to integrate code resources such as scripting additions, keystroke filters, control definitions, and more. FaceSpan 3.5 requires System 7.0.1 and AppleScript 1.1 running on a Mac with at least a 68020 processor, although a PowerPC-based system running Mac OS 8.5 or later would be a better choice. FaceSpan 3.5 is $200; upgrades from version 3 are $50, while upgrades from version 2 are $100. (TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan reviewed FaceSpan 3.0 for MacWEEK in mid-1998; problems with Storage items in version 3.0 were corrected in 3.0.1.) [GD]
Amazon.com Awarded Affiliate Program Patent -- On 22-Feb-00, the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Amazon.com a patent (applied for in Jun-97) covering the concept of affiliate programs for merchant Web sites. (Affiliate programs pay the owners of other Web sites for referring business to the merchant site.) The company's "Amazon.com Associates" program allows Web site owners to register for the program, then provide either an Amazon.com search feature, or links to specific books or other products sold by Amazon.com, on their site. Amazon.com then pays a commission on any sales that result from users following those links, such as happens with the TidBITS BookBITS page. The patent (number 6,029,141) theoretically gives the company the right to stop other merchant Web sites from using affiliate programs unless they pay Amazon.com a licensing fee.
Amazon.com has previously been awarded patents on its "One-Click" ordering system and its approach to refining user searches by suggesting possibly related products. Other online merchants and Web sites have expressed dismay at the awarding of these patents on seemingly obvious Internet techniques that many sites have already implemented. [MHA]
Poll Preview: Long in the Tooth -- While talking to Sue Nail of CE Software at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Matt Neuburg and I were surprised to learn that the Prairie Group's DiskTop, a Finder alternative originally written by CE Software and last updated in the early 1990s, was still being sold and supported with bug fixes, if not actively developed. Tune in next week for Matt's article about DiskTop and a shareware alternative, DiskTracker.
For now, we're curious just how long TidBITS readers hold on to those favorite programs of yesteryear. As we see it, old software falls into several different categories:
Specific versions of programs like Word 5.1, Canvas 3.5, or QuarkXPress 3.3 that serve users' needs (and work well on older hardware) even though the companies have continued to update the programs with new features.
Still-useful utilities like DiskTop 4.5 or Semicolon Software's Signature Quote, which haven't been updated in years and probably never will be, in part because significant updates aren't necessary.
Orphaned software like Apple's Cyberdog, Claris's Emailer and ClarisDraw, and CE Software's WebArranger, which, barring an unexpected renewal of development, have no future at all.
The question then, is how many years old is the oldest piece of software (whether it's an application, control panel, desk accessory, game, or whatnot) that you regularly use? The best ways of finding the date will be to look in an About box or in the Get Info window for a copyright date (use the latest date if there's a range). Failing that, check the creation date or modification date in the Get Info window, but realize that those aren't always accurate. One approach might be to search for files of type APPL (or whatever) and sort by date, then look for ones you use regularly. Once you've found your oldest piece of software, come and vote on our home page! [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Last week's poll on which old-style hardware capabilities people have added to their new Macs provided interesting results. About 1,000 people weighed in with approximately 2,100 votes, which says that, roughly speaking, if someone added any adapters for old-style capabilities to a new Mac, they added two such capabilities on average.
SCSI was by far the most commonly added, with 69 percent of the respondents saying that they'd added SCSI, usually to support external storage devices or scanners, although comments on TidBITS Talk also indicated that scanners have become sufficiently cheap that buying a new scanner was often an equally good option.
Access to serial devices, such as modems and Palm cradles was the second most popular capability added, with 42 percent of respondents. People generally added serial capability through USB-to-serial adapters, although we've also had good luck so far with GeeThree.com's Stealth Serial Port. Support for a floppy was close behind, with 40 percent of the respondents saying that they needed access to a floppy. I wonder about the rate of that need, however, since although I've used a floppy once since moving to a Power Mac G4, I doubt it will happen again for several months.
Despite the fuss over the hockey puck mouse and the small keyboard that Apple ships with every Mac these days, only 24 percent of respondents said they'd added a USB-to-ADB adapter. Of course, ADB was in many ways the last of these technologies to die, since it was available on all the blue and white Power Mac G3s. Plus, USB devices like keyboards and mice are generally inexpensive, so buying a new keyboard is about the same price as buying an adapter to be able to use an old keyboard. Twenty percent of respondents added support for LocalTalk in some fashion.
Discussion on TidBITS Talk hovered around the various solutions people had used and then quickly turned to the quality of the adapters used for legacy peripherals. I strongly recommend reading this thread before buying an adapter for that old hard disk, printer, or keyboard.
Only 10 percent of respondents said that they hadn't needed to add any old-style capabilities, which is lower than I would have expected, but it's likely that the self-selective nature of this poll meant that people who had added adapters or come up with other solutions were more likely to vote.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Beginning with the first iMacs and progressing through blue and white G3s, PowerBooks, and the Power Macintosh G4, Apple has been quickly dropping floppy drives and legacy technologies like SCSI, ADB, and serial ports from the Macintosh line. Although in general I believe that Apple made the right decision, there's no doubt that the process causes pain for people with older peripherals. A variety of adapters and converters have appeared to provide legacy support for the new Macs, and the reverse has been true as well, with PCI-based USB and FireWire cards allowing new peripherals to work with older Macs.
Reading the Back of the Box -- I've come across an unusual little device from GeeThree.com, a small startup founded by former Apple employees responsible in part for the original PowerBook and PowerPC-based Macs. The $50 Stealth Serial Port provides a serial port to blue & white Power Mac G3s, the Power Mac G4s (both PCI Graphics and AGP Graphics), and the 233 MHz to 333 MHz iMacs (but not the latest slot-loading iMacs and iMac DVs). The Stealth Serial Port uses the internal modem slot in these Macs, replacing the modem if one is present, and substitutes a standard RS-422 8-pin mini-DIN port for the phone jack of the built-in modem. It stands out from the crowd of USB-to-serial adapters because it supports LocalTalk, so you can continue to use older LocalTalk-based LaserWriters, for instance, as well as Apple's free (but somewhat problematic) LocalTalk Bridge.
The Stealth Serial Port works at up to 230.4 Kbps data rates and supports the Comm Toolbox and existing drivers for serial devices, so you don't need new drivers. It also works with externally clocked serial peripherals such as serial printers and MIDI devices, with the exception of devices that require a 9-pin mini-DIN connector which draws power from the ninth pin, such as an old GeoPort modem. Other exceptions include the Apple LaserWriter 310 (which Apple abruptly stopped supporting with Mac OS 8.5, although a fix is available at the page below) and Apple's QuickTake 150 digital camera.
The primary limitation of GeeThree.com's Stealth Serial Port is that it must replace Apple's internal modem, if present, so it's not a great solution if you use that modem (although many people prefer third-party external modems to Apple's internal modems). The Stealth Serial Port works with serial port switches, so you could theoretically attach a multi-port switch to the Stealth Serial Port, then switch between an external modem and other devices such as a PalmPilot cradle or a MIDI device. Installation is also tricky in iMacs, and GeeThree.com recommends having an Apple dealer do the work. Luckily, installation is much easier on Power Macs, which provide convenient flop-open access to the modem slot and other internal components.
Insert Tab A in Slot B -- Installation in my new Power Mac G4 was still slightly picky, since I had to remove a metal box that holds the modem's RJ-11 phone connector, install the Stealth Serial Port in the internal modem slot, screw it down, run a cable underneath the video card, and screw the 8-pin mini-DIN connector to the case. It wasn't hard, but care is warranted, and removing the tiny screws from the little metal box that contained the phone jack required that I hunt down an eyeglass screwdriver. On the software side, I just dropped a Stealth Serial Port Extension into the Extensions folder and rebooted.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with the Stealth Serial Port, since it enabled me to save $100 by not including the internal modem in my build-to-order G4 order, and use an external modem I have lying around for the few occasions I need modem connectivity. I've also used it to connect a Palm V cradle to the Mac to save more money, since Palm sells the Macintosh Serial Adapter for about $12 and the PalmConnect USB Kit for about $48. The few times I've had a chance to use the Stealth Serial Port so far, it's worked flawlessly.
(If you're wondering where GeeThree.com got it's name, the founder was Bruce Gee, who had left Apple and initially formed the company as a "hobby-business." Since the Power Mac G3 had just come out, he couldn't resist the play on words. Then he decided to continue the joke by adding ".com" to the name just so he could say that he'd started a "dot com" company. Along with that puckishness, Bruce found himself on the receiving end of a naming slip-up shortly thereafter. He wanted to register the domain stealthserial.com, but since he was doing it over the phone, he was surprised when he ended up with stealthcereal.com. Amusingly, that domain is still active.)
The GeeThree Stealth Serial Port may have to sneak up on you, but it's an elegant solution to the problem of using legacy serial devices with many newer Macs. And you don't have to worry about buying one that matches the color theme of your Mac's case.
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
It's now more than three years since I first glimpsed Font Reserve in action. In the two years since I started using it (in version 1.0.1), I haven't been without it for a moment, and I still feel as I did then: "Now this is how font management on the Mac should work!" Font Reserve accepts fonts and, storing the originals, copies, or aliases, makes them selectively available to the system. It lets you turn fonts on and off individually or in sets that you define, view particular subsets of your fonts, study the appearance and layout of any font, find corruptions and conflicts, and generally manage your fonts through a superb database interface complete with sorting and filters.
The latest incarnation, Font Reserve 2.5.2, is (as it has always been) a breeze to install and a delight to use. Since those early days, there have been many improvements; some I noted in my MailBIT about version 2.0, others I omitted or were more recent, so in what follows I'll try to cover most of the bases.
Lost & Foundry -- Font activation has become faster with each new version, though you can elect to sacrifice some speed for the greater safety of activating through a copy, making corruption impossible (this was the only activation mode in version 1.0.1). The vault, where Font Reserve stores fonts, was once invisible and hard to manage; it is now an ordinary folder, and you can easily switch among multiple vaults. Font conflicts are more seamlessly and flexibly handled: you can maintain two conflicting fonts, but if you activate one, Font Reserve deactivates the other. You can print font samples ("type books"). Fonts can be listed and activated by suitcase (in addition to individually, by family, and in user-defined sets). In addition to owner and class (sans serif, script, etc.), you can label fonts by foundry. Scripting support has been improved, and clarified through better examples.
Besides 40 Bitstream fonts, this version of Font Reserve includes a special bonus: a copy of Power On Software's Action WYSIWYG extension. I'm told that this is provided in order to forestall complaints that "Such-and-such font menu utility doesn't work with Font Reserve;" whatever the reason, it's great to have. It lets the Font menu in your applications display font names in that font, clumped hierarchically into families, and in several columns so you don't have to scroll down to see all your fonts. It's configurable to a fare-thee-well: for individual fonts, you can turn the WYSIWYG display on or off, and change the size and color; globally or for particular applications, you can change the listing order, and even hide a font's name. (But alas, you can't create pseudo-families, thus making all dingbat fonts, for example, cascade from a menu item "Dingbats"; that was one of my favorite features of TypeTamer, which no longer works on my machine.)
There do remain, I admit, aspects of Font Reserve that I regret. If Font Reserve encounters a problem (for example, you add a font that it finds to be corrupt), it doesn't alert you; you must think to look in the log file. The manual, though generally good, is sometimes misleading about what constitutes a problem: for example, it claims that orphan bitmaps are "virtually unusable," whereas I use them all the time. Similarly, the Log window wrongly claims, when you check your System fonts, that they are duplicates. The preview window still does not remember its settings; it forgets its size and position when you close it, and if you set a particular font's character map preview size to 24, then the next time you view that font's character map the size has reverted to the default. Font Reserve still doesn't manage FKEYs, even when disguised as font suitcases: it refuses to import them, and chokes on them in the Fonts folder, even though this is a common technique.
Also, DiamondSoft and I disagree over the ideal scope of Font Reserve's powers. For one thing, I wish Font Reserve would let you define families; DiamondSoft feels that this is not Font Reserve's bailiwick. For example, it would be wonderful to be able to tell Font Reserve that Mishawaka Bold is the bold version of Mishawaka, so as to turn two font listings into one, both in the font browser and in Action WYSIWYG's Font menu; but you can't. Similarly, let's say you hand Font Reserve the Helvetica TrueType font, and then later you hand it the 9-point Helvetica bitmap font, the idea being that, for screen legibility, you'd like to use the bitmap for 9-point and the TrueType for other sizes. The Mac normally lets you do this - but only if the bitmap and the TrueType are in the same suitcase (because this unites them into a family). But Font Reserve won't put them in the same suitcase for you, nor will it activate both the bitmap and the TrueType simultaneously; it's up to you to combine them into a suitcase first, and hand Font Reserve that suitcase. To me, that's backwards; I feel FontReserve should manage my suitcases for me, not force me to manage them myself.
Also, Font Reserve has no provision for combing my hard disks, searching for fonts and showing me where they are and what they look like without actually importing them. I still use Font Gander for that.
Thus, I'd like Font Reserve to be a more complete font management tool, so that ideally I'd never have to touch a font file in the Finder again. On the other hand, I'm not aware of any other font-loading utility that behaves this way.
Like a Version -- Thus far, I have not mentioned the problem that Font Reserve 2.5 is really trying to solve - a pair of problems, actually, that have been with us since the Mac's debut.
Fonts are based in the individual user's system; hence, I can copy a document to another computer and not be able to read it properly.
Fonts are insufficiently identified by name (and even FOND number), because they can still exist in variant versions; hence, I can copy a document to another computer and think I'm reading it properly, but I'm not.
Even the earliest versions of Font Reserve helped with the first problem: a Font Reserve database can contain aliases, so fonts can come from a central server. Still, this requires a local network situation, and besides, two users cannot share the same database, so they must each have copies of one database - copies that must be individually maintained. To get around this, DiamondSoft is developing Font Reserve Server, which works across the Internet to let multiple users share one centrally maintained Font Reserve database.
The auto-activation feature, introduced in version 2.0, enlists an extension to detect, as a document is opened, what fonts it expects, and to activate them temporarily if they aren't already active. It is thus not necessary to open the document and then manually discover and solve its font problems, nor (forestalling this) to load every font in the universe beforehand. There are applications where this doesn't work, but DiamondSoft has sometimes been able to fix this on an individual basis - for example, for QuarkXPress through an XTension, and now for Adobe Illustrator through a plug-in. Combine this with the Font Reserve Server, and you start to envision a team of workers sharing fonts seamlessly and transparently.
But even this doesn't definitively solve the second problem. If you have the wrong version of a font that a document uses, you may not be aware of any problem, but the document may be altered in unfortunate ways. The trouble is that the only information a document saves about the fonts it uses is their names, which don't sufficiently identify them. To tackle this, DiamondSoft has proposed a new technology, Font Sense, whereby complete identification of fonts, including foundry and version number, is saved with the document. Auto-activation can detect this identification and load the truly correct font.
At this stage, however, Font Sense is little more than a proposal - because applications must all be rewritten to conform to it. The only exceptions are precisely those applications in whose font management DiamondSoft has already been able to interfere: the QuarkXPress XTension and the Illustrator plug-in don't just perform auto-activation, they capture Font Sense information when saving.
Font Sense may sound like an arcane proposition if your only experience with fonts is home use, where you create and view and perhaps print just your own documents. But take a document down to a Kinko's for printing and you soon discover the nightmare of fonts and versions. Get a job in the publishing industry and you'll soon see the sense of Font Sense. When I was editing a programming magazine, we regularly ruined the issue when someone accidentally edited and saved a story from a computer whose Garamond version was wrong. We would have killed for Font Reserve Server and the Font Sense-savvy Quark XTension. So, even though I haven't been able to try them myself, these technologies sound great to me.
Pica at the Future -- To quote my favorite movie: "We are all interested in the future, for that is where we shall spend the rest of our lives." What does the future hold for fonts? Well, on your machine, whether at home or in a networked team environment, your future can be instantly bright: just use Font Reserve now.
But as I said in my review of version 1.0.1, fonts have been a major bane of computing, though also one of its attractions since the dawn of the Mac, and Apple has done precious little to modernize font management. A Fonts folder instead of Font/DA Mover: oh, such progress! Meanwhile computers have become the major tool not simply for desktop publishing but for publishing, period. And even in the home, the Internet has brought the problem into high relief, through the familiar inability to guarantee well-designed Web pages because you don't control the reader's fonts; I myself have scores of documents involving Greek, Devanagari, and phonetic symbols that I'd love to place on the Web and can't.
Apple, currently preparing a revolutionary system overhaul, can play a leading role here. To be sure, the font system has been evolving to deal with double-byte writing systems and cross-platform font layout issues; and FontSync technology (comparable to Font Sense) was introduced with Mac OS 9, testifying to Apple's late-dawning awareness that rigorous identification of fonts is crucial to its customers.
But none of this guarantees that the correct font will be available and activated as a document is opened, nor does it advance towards what must surely be the ultimate solution: moving the responsibility for fonts off the individual user's desktop and onto a public repository. DiamondSoft, on the other hand, is already taking the lead with Font Reserve, Font Sense, and Font Reserve Server. Apple could do worse than to partner with them as it brings fonts into the 21st century.
Font Reserve is $90 for the downloadable version ($120 with CD and printed manuals; $30 to upgrade from a previous version ($40 with CD and printed manuals). Font Reserve requires System 7.5 or later, uses about 6 MB of RAM, and requires about 10 MB of hard disk space for a standard installation. A slightly crippled non-time-limited demo is available for download.
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.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue