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Crazy Ideas from Apple

Over the years, Apple has talked about, released, and made popular all kinds of new products: personal computers with graphical user interfaces, PostScript printers, Newtons, personal file sharing, and more. On the software side, Apple popularized everything from drag & drop to QuickTime. Apple is bursting with crazy (and often excellent) new technologies, and – at least in part – that’s why the press scrutinizes Apple so closely. Last week, at its World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple gave the press more food for thought.

Project X — Though the name might be unimaginative, Project X is a information browser that presents list views and three-dimensional "information spaces" that can represent a Web site, a hard drive, or audio tracks, and can be extended to other information sources. Project X is built on top of Apple’s own MCF (Meta Content Format) file format, which is basically a hierarchical way of storing information about other information. Though the last thing anyone needs is another file format (especially one that’s not yet publicly documented), it’s still an interesting model of information navigation with advantages over the Finder and other schemes. Apple demonstrated a MCF view of Yahoo at WWDC, and a demo of Project X for Power Macs is available now, with a 68K version expected shortly (along with a white paper on the MCF format). Apple plans to make a Cyberdog-capable version of Project X, and possibly versions for other browsers. Though it’s too early to predict the future of Project X, it’s attracting attention and is notable for its small disk footprint and RAM requirements.


Apple e.g. — Apple e.g., a free searching CGI for WebSTAR or other Web servers, uses the V-Twin search engine (built into part of Cyberdog and Mac OS 8’s search agents) to provide speedy full-text searches along with relevance ranking of results. In a neat twist, search results appear with checkboxes beside them; if you don’t find what you wanted, you can check the closest matches and tell Apple e.g. to "find more things like this." Apple also announced a developer’s kit to let other parties roll Apple e.g. into other products, although the kit doesn’t include the full V-Twin engine. Apple e.g. should be available shortly from Apple’s CyberTech Web server. And though some feel its product name might be a little too imaginative, it beats "Apple Internet Full Text Searching Solution for the World Wide Web."


HyperCard and QuickTime — Almost overlooked in the Internet-hype of WWDC was a significant public statement on the future of HyperCard and QuickTime. Despite recent signs of life and a steadfast following, HyperCard has had a moribund reputation for several years as its multimedia capabilities were eclipsed by products like Director and SuperCard. (Though HyperCard remains one of the most useful prototyping tools around.)

At WWDC, Apple showed running demos of HyperCard 3.0, and the biggest surprise is that the new version is built around QuickTime 3.0. Essentially, every HyperCard stack becomes a QuickTime movie, and is playable in any application that can handle QuickTime, including MoviePlayer, Netscape plug-ins, Cyberdog, and word processors. Using QuickTime finally gives HyperCard completely integrated color capabilities as well as cross-platform support (QuickTime is already well established on Windows). According to the presentation, existing HyperCard externals will continue to be usable and there will be Internet-savvy media handlers giving HyperCard (and QuickTime) the ability to use remote content. Both QuickTime 3.0 and HyperCard 3.0 are scheduled for release in spring of 1997.

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