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Last week brought some of the weirdest news in a long time from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Palm. Read on to get Adam's take on these and other stories, along his look at the utility of keeping old Mac hardware around. Product releases are coming fast and furious as well, with speed-bumped Power Macs, the wireless Palm i705, Opera 5.0, Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.1.1, iView MediaPro 1.4, QuarkXPress 5.0, and drivers for Griffin's PowerMate controller.
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Power Mac G4 Gets Gigahertz Speed Bump -- Apple today introduced faster versions of the Power Mac G4, putting some distance between the company's professional line of machines and the surprisingly powerful iMac (Flat Panel). The top of the line model, at $3,000, features dual 1 GHz PowerPC G4 processors, each assisted by dedicated 2 MB L3 cache chips running at up to 500 MHz. It also comes with a 256K L2 cache, 512 MB of RAM, and an 80 GB hard disk. The mid-range configuration, at $2,300, features a 933 MHz processor with the same L3 and L2 caches, 256 MB of RAM, and a 60 GB hard disk. Both setups also include a SuperDrive and an Nvidia GeForce4 MX graphics processor with 64 MB of memory. The new low end of the lineup is actually $100 lower than Apple's previous entry-level Power Mac: the $1,600 model runs on an 800 MHz processor, 256K L2 cache, 256 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard disk, a CD-RW drive, and an ATI Radeon 7500 graphics chip. A DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive is also available as a build-to-order option.
In addition to the standard suite of Apple software - including iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie - the new Power Macs feature an intriguing compilation of third party Mac OS X software, including Lemke Software's GraphicConverter, Ambrosia Software's Snapz Pro X, Caffeine Software's PixelNhance, Omni Group's OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, PCalc 2 from James Thompson, and Art Director's Toolkit (ADT) from Code Line Communications. It's obvious that Apple is targeting the new Power Macs at the professional graphics market, but it's also great to see some useful utilities like GraphicConverter being shown to environments where big programs like Photoshop are in abundance. The new Power Macs are expected to become available in February. [JLC]
Opera 5.0 Offers Classic Mac OS Browser Alternative -- Opera Software earlier this month released the final version of Opera 5.0, their Web browser for System 7.5.3 through Mac OS 9.2 (the Mac OS X version remains in beta testing). Opera boasts fast page rendering, easy keyboard navigation, flexible searching from within the browser interface, page zooming, and a host of tweaky configuration options. It's not perfect - history list entries are easily lost if the Mac crashes, and there's no ideal way to deal with the too-small text on many Web sites (see "Why Windows Web Pages Have Tiny Text" in TidBITS-467). In our testing so far, though, Opera appears to provide highly credible competition for Internet Explorer 5.1 and Netscape 6, so if you're unhappy with either of those browsers, Opera deserves a close look. It's free to use in banner mode (I haven't seen this yet, since you get a 30-day grace period, but I presume it displays an advertising banner in the interface, much like Eudora does in Sponsored mode); if you wish to support Opera directly, it costs $40 new, or $20 for students and senior citizens, and bulk discounts are available if you want to buy more than nine copies. Opera 5.0 requires a PowerPC-based Mac running System 7.5.3 or later, and it's a mere 2 MB download. [ACE]
Wireless Palm i705 Released -- Palm has released the Palm i705, the next generation of the company's wireless-ready handheld organizers. The i705 is much smaller and sleeker than its predecessor, the Palm VIIx, weighing 5.9 ounces and measuring a little more than half an inch thick. The i705 features a built-in antenna (unlike the VIIx's flip-up model), which can be set to remain activated to check email or AOL instant messaging over the company's Palm.Net service even while the organizer is powered off; you can choose audible, vibrating, or flashing alerts for incoming email. The device includes 8 MB of RAM, an expansion card slot, a grayscale screen, and a rechargeable lithium polymer battery. On the software front, the i705 runs Palm OS 4.1, and comes with DataViz's Documents to Go, MGI PhotoSuite Mobile Edition, and Palm's PalmReader electronic book software. Available now, the Palm i705 costs $450; subscription to the Palm.Net service costs extra, ranging from $20 to $40 per month depending on the plan you choose. [JLC]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.1.1 Squashes Bugs -- Mac OS X users running Power On Software's Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.1 should definitely upgrade to the just-released version 4.1.1. Fixed are bugs related to printing, the periodic full save on quit, HTML exporting from Public Event and Public Contact servers, dragging events from the calendar to the To-Do list, disabling QuickDay in the menubar, and more. The update is a free 15 MB download, and again, it's only necessary for those running Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.1 in Mac OS X - the current version of the program for Mac OS 9 remains 4.0.3. [ACE]
iView MediaPro 1.4 Adds Framed Galleries -- iView Multimedia has released iView MediaPro 1.4, the latest version of their surprisingly deep media cataloging program. Version 1.4 adds a number of welcome features, including a built-in backup feature that can copy files to CD-R or other removable disks, lossless JPEG rotation, mouse wheel support, support for Mac OS X's thumbnail icons, an option to create frame-based HTML galleries, performance improvements when running under Mac OS X, and a variety of bug fixes. The upgrade is free to registered users; you can use a trial version (2.3 MB download) for three weeks, after which it costs $50 ($30 to upgrade from the earlier iView Multimedia or the rebranded PhotoRelay).
Although iView MediaPro and Apple's recently released iPhoto (see "iPhoto Joins the iFold" in TidBITS-611) would seem to address the same needs, the two are actually quite complementary. Drag-and-drop works perfectly between the two, with iPhoto happily importing images dragged in from iView MediaPro and iView MediaPro happily linking to images dragged in from iPhoto. Plus, iView MediaPro provides simple brightness, contrast, and sharpness adjustments along with basic color correction tools (from the Window menu, choose Display Calibrator) but lacks iPhoto's red-eye reduction and black and white conversion tools. [ACE]
QuarkXPress 5.0 Now Shipping -- Quark has begun shipping QuarkXPress 5.0, a long-simmering upgrade to the company's industry-leading page layout software. The new version includes a tables feature for working with tabular information, layers for managing separate design elements, plus improved AppleScript support and color enhancements. QuarkXPress 5.0 also features Web publishing and XML export tools for designers using the program to create files not traditionally associated with page layout. Although Quark has stated that a Mac OS X version is under development, QuarkXPress 5.0 runs only under Mac OS 9 or the Classic environment of Mac OS X. The program is priced at $900, with upgrades available at $300 for registered owners of QuarkXPress 4. [JLC]
Griffin PowerMate Receives Software Update -- If you were one of the many people who went home from Macworld Expo with one of Griffin Technology's cool PowerMate USB controllers (the brushed aluminum "knob and button"), head over to Griffin's Web site for updated drivers for both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. Both include a variety of bug fixes, and the Mac OS X version now enables users to control the glowing base (brightness control, pulsing, and pulse rate) via AppleScript. [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
In any given week, I'll read fifty to a hundred news stories, and my general reaction usually elicits either a yawn or a few moments of cogitation about how the event in question is likely to reverberate through the industry. This last week, though, my reaction kept ranging from "Yeah, right!" to "There must be something in the drinking water." The convergence of such odd news clearly indicated the need for a combined look. It all started out with...
Netscape Sues Microsoft -- Whoa, who could have seen this coming? AOL/Time Warner, which owns Netscape Communications, has filed suit against Microsoft based on antitrust violations. If your long-term memory is still working, the answer to the question of whether or not Microsoft had violated antitrust laws seemed pretty clear after the 1999 "findings of fact" from Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. Judge Jackson then concluded in April of 2000 that Microsoft was a monopoly that used anti-competitive measures to maintain its operating system dominance. (Read our "Playing Monopoly!" series of articles on the whole sordid case for details). The only question is what could possibly have taken Netscape's lawyers this long to fill out the paperwork. Netscape wants a jury trial and treble unspecified damages, and that's only if they can't get Microsoft executives' heads on a platter.
Microsoft Makes More Money, Says "Trust Us" -- Microsoft in turn will use some of its record $7.74 billion quarterly revenues ($2.84 billion in profits) either to make the entire Netscape lawsuit go away or to drag it out in the most annoying way possible. That wasn't the only big Microsoft news, with Bill Gates telling Microsoft employees that they now need to concentrate on making software more secure in favor of adding features. Columnist Robert X. Cringely has suggested that this is actually a new strategy to sell more software, since most people don't need more features, they just need software to work better (and security experts Bruce Schneier and Adam Shostack have offered some suggestions about how Microsoft can actually improve the security of their products). That's an interesting explanation, because surely Microsoft can't have just realized that their Windows software has major security problems. What's really going on is that Microsoft wants everyone to trust their .NET Web services, but with the Microsoft network continually being cracked and their Windows Outlook email client and IIS Web server being literal cans of worms, it's clear that Microsoft's reputation for secure Windows software is on par with the company's reputation for humility. It's probably too late, but humility might have been the best defense, since their software wouldn't have attracted such attention if the company hadn't managed to tweak off so many people, something that Microsoft excels at. (Sorry.)
Amazon Records Profit, Hell Freezes Over -- Microsoft wasn't the only Pacific Northwest company recording a profit. Amazon.com, the dot-com poster child for losing money, has at last done what founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in June the company would do, turn a profit by the end of 2001. For the last quarter, Amazon reported a $5 million profit on $1.12 billion in sales, and, more impressive, it's what's called a GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) profit. GAAP is more stringent than the pro forma accounting method Amazon has previously used in that it includes costs generally excluded from pro forma numbers, such as interest on Amazon's $2 billion in debt, charges for stock compensation, restructuring, goodwill, and time stuck in Seattle traffic. (Amazon's pro forma profits last quarter were $35 million.) Amazon attributed the profit to gains in its international units (yes, Virginia, there is a global economy) and to cutting of costs in a variety of ways, including switching its servers over to Linux. (That move prompted a wonderful quote from a Microsoft spokesperson in a News.com article: "With Linux, customers end up being in the operating systems business, managing software updates and security patches while making sure the multitude of software packages don't conflict with each other." And just how would that be different from Windows?) Nonetheless, kudos to Amazon for turning a quarterly profit; a few billion dollar more and the company could break even overall.
Aimster Gets Mad -- AOL/Time Warner's lawyers haven't just been sitting around while waiting to sue Microsoft. They've been going after peer-to-peer file sharing service Aimster over the company's name, which came from the fact that Aimster piggybacks on top of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in a way AOL can't stop. A three-member, independent panel of the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) ruled that the name (and a couple of variants) violate the AOL Instant Messenger trademark. Aimster's CEO has always claimed the name actually came from his daughter's nickname, Aimee, and the company responded to the defeat by renaming itself Madster, since it turns out Aimee's real name is Madeline. Or they're just mad. Their Web site now says "formerly called A__ster" and "This page is not affiliated with America Online, Inc. in any way."
Kazaa Bought, Reopened -- The legal woes of peer-to-peer file sharing networks have been increasing. In late November of 2001, a Dutch court ordered the Netherlands-based Kazaa service to stop carrying copyrighted music files, but unlike Napster, Kazaa doesn't run any sort of centralized server, so there's nothing to shut down. Kazaa's response was essentially, "And how would we do that?" The company did stop allowing downloads of its software, but last week a private Australian company called Sharman Networks bought the assets of Kazaa (presumably avoiding the Dutch lawsuit and another one brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)). I'm sure the RIAA, not one to let legal moss grow under its feet, will have refiled the case against Sharman Networks, but there's no way the RIAA can possibly win at this modern-day game of Whack-A-Mole. All the developers of file sharing software have to do is start releasing updates anonymously via the peer-to-peer networks themselves. Authorities can't even find authors of truly unpleasant viruses and worms that cause tremendous amounts of damage around the world; how are they going to track down people who write and distribute file sharing software that has arguably legitimate uses?
Palm Goes Where Apple Feared to Tread -- When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple, one of his first moves was to slash the Macintosh clone market off at the knees. The move was widely reviled, but it probably helped Apple stay afloat until the release of the iMac, given that the clone manufacturers were cannibalizing Apple's hardware sales and paying relatively little for the privilege. (Do the math - if Apple's hardware margins were 20 percent on a $2,000 system, that's $400, whereas Apple was making at most half of that licensing both the Mac OS and motherboard designs.)
Now Palm has decided to repeat the experiment in the interests of science, forming a corporate subsidiary - the Platform Solutions Group - that will license the Palm OS to companies like Handspring, HandEra, Kyocera, Samsung, and Sony. (Interestingly, the press release claims future Palm OS products from AlphaSmart, makers of the simple AlphaSmart keyboard, and Garmin, makers of GPS devices.) Palm's gross margins are about 20 percent on an average selling price of about $165, so the company makes about $33 per Palm sold; Palm OS licenses would have to cost close to that to avoid cannibalizing hardware sales. Licensing is currently a drop in the bucket for Palm, making up only $5.5 million of last quarter's $290.6 million in revenues ($274.1 million came from hardware and accessory sales), although the fact that Palm's new software subsidiary will be charging the hardware arm of the company for the Palm OS should improve licensing revenues at the expense of hardware revenues. Palm gets points for guts; let's hope they've done their history homework.
The Palm Platforms Solutions Group will have someone in charge who was at least in the general vicinity of Apple's abortive cloning effort. David Nagel, who was a senior vice president at Apple and the head of the R&D group, led the ill-fated Copland next-generation operating system project before leaving Apple for AT&T in April of 1996. Just months before that, though, Apple under Gil Amelio licensed System 7.5.x and Copland to Motorola to jump-start the clone licensing program.
Taking Bets -- My money's on the Netscape/Microsoft case being long and annoying, Microsoft making lots more money every quarter, security holes continuing to be found, Amazon slipping back into unprofitability without a holiday sales spike, peer-to-peer file sharing networks continuing to grow in defiance of clueless court orders, and Palm taking it on the chin with licensing. But, hey, I could be wrong.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although Macintosh hardware holds its utility far better than PC hardware, it's still difficult to justify keeping older Macs and accessories around through major architecture changes. Sure, a 68K Mac was still generically useful for a while after PowerPC Macs arrived on the scene, but when you added in the additional evolutionary change of switching away from ADB, SCSI, and serial ports to USB and FireWire, the argument for keeping that 68K Mac and all its add-ons became even trickier to make. That's especially true with any form of outside pressure, such as we experienced last year in having to decide to move all this elderly hardware across the country at a cost of roughly 75 cents per pound.
But I'm here today to recommend that you do keep old hardware around if you have the space and don't have anything better to do it with it. (That last bit is important - if you can sell or donate old hardware to keep it in frequent use, I believe that's better than storing it away for some unknown future application.) Here's my story of the utility of keeping old hardware around.
Our son Tristan turned three a few weeks ago, and we decided he was old enough to start using a computer on his own. This isn't something you do lightly if it involves the child using a new Mac unattended, because the likelihood of accident is just too high. But with an old computer, there's far less worry if a cup of milk accidentally destroys the keyboard. Plus, the software I wanted to start him out with were Broderbund's Living Books, which are basically just books with the addition of interactivity in the form of objects that do things when clicked, shape matching activities, options for free-form building, and so on. They've been around for quite a while, and although most haven't been actively marketed or updated in years, they work perfectly with old Macs. As is the case with a fair amount of educational software, you can still find them, a few from LivingBooks.com, from ClassSource.com (which had a number of titles not in their catalog for sale at a Macworld Expo booth; call them for availability), and on eBay (which turns out to be the motherlode of toys and clothes which either aren't currently fashionable or lack a tie-in with the latest heavily marked character).
So I pulled my old Centris 660AV down from the attic along with an NEC 3FGx 15-inch color monitor. I had to fuss with it briefly to get one of the VGA adapters from my drawer of such items (it also held the necessary ADB cables, old mice, power cables, and so on) to work with the Mac, but eventually I got it working at a resolution of 832 by 624. After a few hours, I shut the 660AV off while trying to change to 640 by 480, since the Living Books use that resolution and couldn't resize the screen with the setup I'd created. Then I couldn't get the Mac to boot at all, and after a few moments, I remembered that the date had been some day in 1956, and that problems with monitors staying black when an old Mac booted were often related to a dead clock battery (if you're worried about this happening to an old Mac that's in use, try Polar Orbit Software's PRAM Battery Tester, which watches for signs the battery is going and alerts you). I called a local Radio Shack, which claimed to have the battery, but when I arrived, it turned out they'd lied. I was depressed by this, since it was going to be difficult to explain to Tristan why he couldn't use the computer for the next week while I ordered a battery from anyone other than Radio Shack.
But then I remembered that another computer in the attic was an Apple Workgroup Server 6150, essentially a Power Mac 6100 in the same case as the Centris 660AV. It had a dead CD-ROM drive (which was why I hadn't thought of it for running the CD-ROM-based Living Books) and a slightly dodgy 700 MB hard disk, but I figured I could steal its clock battery. When I'd brought it downstairs, though, I realized I had it backwards. Instead of putting the good clock battery in the old Mac, I could move the good CD-ROM drive from the old Mac to the newer model. I did that, and it worked fine.
The only problem was that the 700 MB hard disk was loud, and although it hadn't been a problem when the 6150 was our primary mailing list server in a noisy machine room at digital.forest, I didn't want to subject Tristan to the sonic barrage. Another trip to the attic produced an external 1 GB hard disk, but when I disassembled the case, I found that it was a full-height drive that wouldn't fit, so back I went for the drive from a 2 GB external hard disk. Less than an hour later, the Mac was happily installing Mac OS 8.1 (did I mention that it's always good to keep old system software too?).
I won't bore you with stories of figuring out how to disassemble all of these devices, move the bits around, and put them back together, but I will recommend that if you embark on such a project, keep careful notes, since it's easy to forget how it all reassembles, particularly when you're dealing with tiny plugs and jumpers on hard disks. If you're not familiar with how to take any particular bit of hardware apart (or simply can't remember) there are many Internet sources of the necessary information that a Google search will reveal.
When all was done, I had spent no money for a fully functional Apple Workgroup Server 6150 with a 2 GB hard disk and working CD-ROM drive that plays Living Books (and a fair amount of other educational software for the future) just fine. The 660AV is even less functional than before, thanks to the dead CD-ROM drive it inherited from the 6150, and I wouldn't bet on the 6150's old 700 MB hard disk working well in the external case (especially since I couldn't hook up the SCSI ID selector), but the overall utility of that combination of hardware has increased. We went from two computers, a monitor, and an external hard disk taking up space in the attic to a great system that Tristan can use without constant adult supervision (and a few more boxes of spare parts). Although all that hardware was expensive when we bought it, it's had many years of constant use, so anything it can do now is pure gravy on top of completely depreciated hardware.
Hmm, I'd better watch what I say - with a three-year-old, gravy on top of the computer isn't impossible. But the moral of the story is that keeping old Mac hardware around (packed neatly in original boxes for protection) can prove to be an efficient way of extracting the most use - even initially unintended use - from seemingly useless hardware.
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