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Infojunkies rejoice! As a controversial first, Sterling Software is putting all of Usenet on CD-ROM every month. Less controversial was our discussion with members of the HyperCard team, providing insights into HyperCard’s present and future. Also, a review of the excellent "The PC is not a typewriter," your last chance to turn in that System 7 coupon, a more detailed explanation of video memory, and a better way to rebuild the desktop.

Adam Engst No comments

Desktop Construction

Desktop Construction — Dale Southard writes:

As a longtime TidBITS reader: THANKS! To the point, you mentioned rebuilding the desktop as a fix for the "lost folder bug." I don’t know about the bug, but there is an easier way to rebuild the desktop:

  • Quit all apps but the Finder.
  • Hit command-option-esc to force quit the Finder.
  • Click on the "Force Quit" button and then immediately depress and hold command-option.

When the Finder restarts, it will give you the option of rebuilding all mounted disks. I think it’s much more convenient than restarting as we used to have to do.

[Adam: We’ve received information indicating that rebuilding the desktop and using some of the fixes we mentioned last issue may not work in some cases. As we mentioned, it still looks like the only fix guaranteed to work is to reformat the hard drive and restore from your up-to-date backup. More on this when we know.]

Information from:
Dale Southard — [email protected]
Henning Pape-Santos — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

SoftAT Mistake

SoftAT Mistake — Mark H. Anbinder corrects our mistake in our recent article about SoftPC. "SoftAT is not an add-on product that’s to be added to Universal SoftPC, the way the EGA/AT Option Module needed to be added to an existing copy of SoftPC. SoftAT is a stand-alone product."

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

System 7 Coupon

Mark H. Anbinder writes, "The System 7 coupon program, which allowed Mac purchasers to send in a special coupon to receive a free System 7 kit, expired on 31-Dec-91, but Apple has extended it to cover Macs purchased through 02-Feb-92 (presumably because that’s when the Right Now Rebate promotion ended). If you have one of those coupons sitting around and haven’t yet sent it in, now is the time! Your coupon must be postmarked by Friday, 14-Feb-92, so better get it in the mail right away."

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

HyperCard Confabulation

I appear to have opened an intellectual can of worms in TidBITS-102 with my comparison of HyperCard and QuickTime and my statement that HyperCard was, in some respects, a commercial failure. That article provoked an extremely interesting and enlightening discussion with Kevin Calhoun, who was Apple’s lead engineer for HyperCard 2.0 and 2.1, and with Mike Holm, who has been the HyperCard Product Manager since 1987.

I have received several other lengthy editorials on the subject of HyperCard and its success, and I’m pleased to announce that we will be putting together a special HyperCard retrospective issue to be released this summer when HyperCard celebrates its fifth birthday. That issue will explore what HyperCard truly is, where it has come from, where it is going, how it has succeeded and how it has failed, and in the same way that HyperCard itself has appealed to numerous different types of people, the issue will feature opinions from the famous and the not-yet-famous alike. However, you’ll have to wait until this summer for that issue, and Kevin asked that I publish his reply to my controversial statements right away since he feels HyperCard is just starting to come into its own now.

Kevin Calhoun writes…

In TidBITS #102, you write that Voyager’s Expanded Books are "one of the few commercial programs to use HyperCard." In my view, this is the kind of observation that can only be made by a person who’s not paying attention! Let me point out some products that you’ve so far failed to notice.

ABC News Interactive offers more than half a dozen interactive videodiscs titles with HyperCard-based software. Warner New Media now has four titles in their series of Audio Notes, with the latest, "The Orchestra," released just last week. There are thirteen titles in Voyager’s Video Companion series, four in their CD Companion Series, and three in their brand new series of Expanded Books. Stackware offerings are the cream of the crop among the CD-ROM products for Macintosh, with titles such as "Exotic Japan," "Baseball’s Greatest Hits," "Anatomist," "Cosmic Osmo," and "The Manhole", in addition to the various series of CD-ROM offerings I’ve already mentioned.

Momentum behind these products appears to be building. Over the last six months, Voyager has released 14 new products; 11 of them are based on HyperCard. At the Macworld Exposition recently held in San Francisco, they sold out of their complete stock of two of their Expanded Books, 1000 copies of each in less than four days. They already have plans for dozens of additional titles for the series.

The biggest names in the industry – Microsoft, Claris, Lotus, and Apple – all provide online help in the form of HyperCard stacks. Yes, that’s right: Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 Macintosh, ClarisWorks, and Apple System Software 7, among others, are all products that use HyperCard.

And, of course, there are the dozens and dozens of high-quality non-commercial stacks that have been developed by university professors, corporate training departments, hobbyists, etc., and that cover a remarkably broad range of topics, from vegetarian recipes to Renault auto parts.

Most of the earliest software that includes QuickTime-based content has been developed in HyperCard, including "Baseball’s Greatest Hits" and Apple’s own "Apple Intro News." And by the way, this is a phenomenon that has occurred over and over again: whenever new multimedia capabilities become available to Macintosh, such as sound input, control of external video sources, and now QuickTime, they are often applied effectively for the first time within HyperCard stackware.

Elsewhere in TidBITS #102, you write, "Because there’s no market around HyperCard, it’s languishing at Claris and everyone is sitting around trying to figure out what to do with it." I think you should look again. Ask Nikki Yokokura, author of "Exotic Japan," if she is just "sitting around." Or ask Steve Riggins, chief propeller-head at Voyager, if he’s still "trying to figure out what to do" with HyperCard. In my view, HyperCard is already one of the most useful and most widely used electronic publishing tools yet devised, and it has spawned a healthy number of impressive commercial products.

In your comparison of QuickTime and HyperCard, you write, "QuickTime is like HyperCard." This is not the case. QuickTime is a technology that will be incorporated into applications by software developers; HyperCard is a development tool that allows people like you and me to become software developers, so that we can apply technologies like QuickTime in ways of our own.

Mike Holm adds…

Kevin, good volley on the TidBITS article. There is a market around HyperCard, not only of products like those from Voyager or other interactive media publishers, but development tools as well. Just ask Ray Heizer or some others. We added a ten page supplement of new and updated products to the HyperCard Resource Guide handed out at Macworld. The thing to understand is that the overall market for development tools on the Mac is small to begin with, and HyperCard is perhaps the biggest fish in that small pond. The other thing to keep in mind is that HyperCard increased by a factor of four or five the number of people creating software on Macs over the last four years. This is a non-trivial number (low six figures), and one that IBM, Sun, and Microsoft all envy.

Kevin adds…

I restricted my comments about commercial stackware to just the one category of content-based software because that happens to be the category that interests me most and because it has recently begun to grow at a remarkable rate. I left out such things as Danny Goodman’s new product, Connections, which had a very good review locally in the San Jose Mercury News. Perhaps it would be valuable to gather a list of all currently available commercial HyperCard-based products from TidBITS readers.

By the way, I object very strongly to the bias that software content is inherently less valuable than software functionality. This bias is reflected by the present lack of balance in the software market, which is full of whiz-bang file compression utilities but still short on engaging software content.

I like to think of things this way: a laserdisc or a videotape is software that contains a movie. An audio CD is software that contains music. The Oxford English Dictionary is now contained in software, after all these years, as is the full collection of the Louvre. When a large software library that contains such things becomes cheaply and conveniently available for Macintosh in a compelling interactive form, together with additional digital amenities, will today’s critics of HyperCard tell us that they won’t be happy until the library also includes a sufficient number of best-selling tools for toggling their bundle bits?

As for me, I think that content is the future of software. I’m looking forward to the day when there are software houses as large and high-rolling as yesterday’s movie studios, with pomp and prestige and high production values, that turn out the equivalents of "Citizen Kane" and Tristram Shandy and "The Civil War" for software.

And Adam replies… — You both make some good points here, especially about a field that I have been unable to watch due to lack of a CD-ROM drive. I think in part what I was getting at is that HyperCard is an incredible and flexible tool, but the primary stacks that have succeeded in the market are those that provide information, as do most of the examples. Of all people, I certainly cannot denigrate software content – after all, what is TidBITS but content? – but at the same time, we must recognize that both content and functionality have their place. I suspect that some of the tension here arises from the price differential – Microsoft can charge $495 for Word 5.0, but Voyager only charges $19.95 for their Expanded Book version of Douglas Adams’s entire four book Hitchhikers Trilogy, a literary feat which took him a heck of a lot longer to put together.

Please also note that I have never implied that HyperCard as a product is a failure; merely that the type of commercial market that was anticipated by some after the initial release has not materialized. My fear is more that without the support of a commercial market (which perhaps Voyager and the others are providing in this respect) and with the confusing marketing policies surrounding it, HyperCard may cease to be a development platform of choice for the individual or may even disappear entirely, which I feel would be a tragic loss to Macintosh users, and even more broadly, to the entire computer community.

Maybe some of my worry about HyperCard relates to the trouble Apple had defining it early on; the term "software erector set" comes to mind. I imagined using that erector set to build castles, forts, bridges, and Rube Goldberg machines, but all that I see surviving on the commercial market are plain houses, albeit extremely nicely designed ones with interesting furnishings, if I’m not stretching my allusion too far. However, in the course of this discussion, I’ve come to realize that HyperCard’s developers have always seen HyperCard as a tool for the individual (not as competition for MPW C) and as a launchpad for electronic publishing, one that I certainly took advantage of with the first 99 issues of TidBITS. My feelings that HyperCard had failed stem in this case from inappropriate expectations, supported as they may have been by mediocre marketing, and in fact from mistakes I made with that original TidBITS stack considering my means of distribution.

HyperCard and QuickTime — I think my perhaps-too-subtle comparison of QuickTime and HyperCard wasn’t sufficiently explained. I see them both as technologies that Apple created, developed, and marketed, albeit in different ways. Obviously HyperCard is a tool while QuickTime is an extension to the system, but my point was that if run-time read-and-link-only HyperCard had been created and marketed as a system extension, then the same sort of market that has sprung up around QuickTime would have sprung up around HyperCard, perhaps encouraging some of the more varied uses of HyperCard that haven’t appeared or survived in the commercial market while not restricting the information publishers in any way.

HyperCard and Claris — Finally, my statement, "Because there’s no market around HyperCard, it’s languishing at Claris and everyone is sitting around trying to figure out what to do with it," was poorly written, which accounts for the answer Kevin gave above. Users and developers have absolutely no trouble figuring out what do with HyperCard; just look at the gigabytes of stacks available as freeware or shareware. I should have said "and everyone there [at Claris] is sitting around trying to figure out what to do with it." I’ve heard rumors that the HyperCard team was facing some internal difficulties that were slowing development on 3.0, and it’s obvious from the confusing upgrades and developers’ kits and hardware bundles that the marketing folks are having trouble positioning HyperCard effectively. Something must be done, either internally between Apple and Claris, or through the creation of a free HyperCard Engine, to ensure that everyone can always use these stacks.

My sincere thanks to Kevin and Mike for participating and for providing such fascinating material for TidBITS. I’m sure that many of you will have immediate reactions to the opinions here, and if you wish to write a coherently-argued article supporting your opinions, send it to me and I’ll consider it for inclusion in our HyperCard retrospective issue (but I can’t guarantee I’ll publish everything).

Information from:
Kevin Calhoun — [email protected]
Mike Holm — [email protected]
Adam C. Engst, TidBITS Editor — [email protected]

Ian Feldman No comments

Usenet on a CD-ROM, no longer a fable

The latest tempest-in-a-teacup of hurricane proportions on Usenet is raging quite nicely in the news.misc group. This time the subject matter should be of interest to many, so here comes the nitty-gritty.

A company in the USA recently began offering Usenet-on-CD-ROM monthly disks for a fee (approximately US$35 per disk, if memory serves me right; $25 per issue if one subscribes to it). As a product goes it is not expensive; in fact it is downright cheap all things considered. Getting a full news feed each day from somewhere – even if from a nearby friendly service – is bound to cost many times that in telephone charges alone. On the other hand…. having the full monthly Usenet (ALL OF IT, from all countries of the world, not solely from the USA) arrive in your mailbox, even 2 to 4 weeks after the posting date, must be considered an incredible and amazing opportunity.

Ah, to be able to peruse all 500+ MB of it at will, at one’s convenience, even without formal access to Usenet. Therefore all kudos to the initiator, Sterling Software, and may they live long and prosper. Thanks for that alternative news feed, even if it is a bit slooow. But then, as someone recently said on the net, "there are few other media that can beat the bandwidth of a truck full of CD-ROMs." 😉

Of course, that… feeling of elation, for want of a better phrase, was not what the storm was about. Rather than accept the service that Sterling Software offers for what it effectively is, a different form of the distribution of the net news, the rage was all about (1) them charging you for the CD-ROMs (the horror! the horror!) and (2) them infringing upon real or imagined intellectual property rights of the posters to Usenet.

Sterling Software, in the words of its spokesman, Kent Landfield, makes no claims as to the reuse of the public news that they supply. They view themselves entirely as an alternative transport and archival service (all those trucks full of CD-ROMs gathering dust ;-)) Thus anybody will be free to put the contents of the NetNews/CD’s up for use with FTP, mount them for access in local BBS, import them into the WAIS (Wide Area Information Service) and so on. The original posters’ rights and restrictions on reuse, if any, are still in force. The information on CD-ROMs continues to be as free as it was in the beginning.

Yet, listening to some of the arguments being passed in the heat of the discussion it becomes clear that in the mind of the flamers it apparently is acceptable that UUNET, PSI, and other commercial Usenet providers charge for the telephone-accessed feeds, not to mention the charges to the telephone services themselves, but it is definitely not acceptable to offer an alternative that’s cut in the plastic and aluminum that the CD-ROMs are made of.

No, sireee, the latter is "publishing," therefore constitutes criminal unauthorized infringing upon use of their words which may not be embossed in stone unless they get paid for it. Well, that’s roughly how the argumentative posters feel. At times it was outright funny, but chiefly left me with a feeling of very limited and narrow minds now trying to butter up the importance of their own egos, the written end products of which are usually submitted in a Without-A-Thought[tm] fashion to the net. Please observe that I claim full intellectual property rights for the above expression, "Without-A-Thought[tm]," which may not be used by anyone without written permission from the undersigned. I waive that right for use by TidBITS and Sterling Software however (yes, since TidBITS is distributed in the comp.sys.mac.digest group it too will end up on the CD-ROMs).

The above was, of course, a bit sarcastic. But it illustrates well where we’d soon be if the extreme arguments against the NetNews/CD product were taken at a face value and adhered to universally. Anybody[tm] could claim Sole Rights[tm] to Any Expression Whatsoever[tm]. Fortunately the company in question has had the guts to face up to the potential lawsuit-trigger-happy netters by, effectively, taking the legal grounds for a suit out of their hands. In a recent message on the net they offer every individual among those bent upon not allowing own contributions to be distributed in plastic and aluminum to register with them on an individual basis, asking them to remove any future posts of his or her from the data mass prior to each monthly pressing of it. Fortunately the CD-ROMs’ contents are prepared by a special software that filters such people’s posts automatically so the process need not be that complicated. One registered letter to the Sterling Software and they’re gone, gone, gone forever, and the rest of us are hardly worse off for it.

In the end the arrival of such a service may perhaps even lead some of the current "I Post Therefore I Exist" submitters (it sounds even better in Latin!) to consider twice whether or not to risk being an eternal (or at least the life of a CD-ROM) subject of ridicule for posting offensive or stupid stuff, an activity that up to now has largely been an unpunishable offense. Perhaps that in part accounted for the recent outburst on the net, that the NetNews/CD effectively changes the rules of the game; from now on self-censure becomes a necessity for all posts by all nominally responsible, and wishing to retain that label, people.

The whole issue of the NetNews/CD is too vast and too important to be presented here in depth; those interested with access to the Usenet may try to read the relevant articles by visiting the /usr/spool/news/misc at the earliest opportunity. Alternately, send email to the company (addresses below) to be added to an administrative (cdnews) or a directional (cddev) mailing list.

administrative list: [email protected]
directional group: [email protected]

Sterling Software — 402/291-8300

Information from:
Ian Feldman — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

The PC is not a typewriter

You may wonder why I’m reviewing a book for PC clones here in TidBITS. First, I’m not blind to happenings elsewhere in the computer world; I just prefer to focus on the Mac, and second, I think everyone who has a friend learning publishing on a PC should give them this book to cut down on the egregious errors that show up in desktop published documents.

"The PC is not a typewriter" is a direct descendent from Robin Williams’s (yes, she of "The Little Mac Book" fame) previous book, "The Mac is not a typewriter." The heredity shows – this latest anti-typewriter book checks in at under 100 pages and is written in the same concise, friendly style. I have to give Robin credit for retaining her ever-pleasant style even while discussing subjects like curly quotes that drive many otherwise peaceful typesetters to violence when desktop publishers blithely abuse hash marks. Despite not being much of a desktop publisher, I must admit to being something of a snob when it comes to printed matter. I like to see curly quotes and all those neat things that the computers allow us to do so easily if only we know. The setext format strips such goodies out of TidBITS because they cannot pass through most electronic mail gateways, but those of you who read the HyperCard editions of TidBITS may remember the curly quotes and em-dashes. Nonetheless, if you want your work to look good in hot toner…

"The PC is not a typewriter" may contain much of the same discussion of basic typographical and publishing terms as the previous Mac version of the book, but that’s immaterial; the advice applies all the more in the PC world. Robin covers topics such as single spaces between sentences, curly quotes, proper dashes, special characters and accents, underlining, tabs and indents, widows and orphans, justified text, the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, and numerous other little touches that convey an aura of professionalism. Someone we know (who should know better) periodically puts together a simple family newsletter in WordPerfect 5.0 under DOS, and to put it nicely, she needs to read this book badly.

What sets "The PC is not a typewriter" apart from the standard books is that it isn’t a "how-to" book, it’s a "why" book. Robin doesn’t attempt to describe in excruciating detail how to perform all these beautifying procedures. Instead she clearly explains why you want to avoid widows, orphans, and all capital letters, and why you want to use curly quotes, accents, and bullets. Those of you who have tried to get special characters out of a PC will know that it can be about as difficult as it is for Bullwinkle to pull that rabbit out of his magic hat. To that end, the book includes tables and brief instructions for extracting those characters, when possible, from the most popular PC publishing programs.

Learning to do desktop publishing on a PC can be difficult, but using a Mac or a NeXT isn’t an option for most people. If you are in this situation or know someone in it, do everyone a favor and check out this book. If nothing else, it’s inexpensive ($9.95 list), won’t take long to read, and definitely won’t significantly clutter your bookshelf. Highly recommended.

Peachpit Press — 800/283-9444 — 510/548-5991

Adam Engst No comments

More on Video Memory

Even with the article we did on the IIsi and IIci video memory oddities, the issue remains murky to many people. Glenn Austin was kind enough to provide more detailed information which may further illuminate the matter, although for those of you who don’t speak hex, I recommend just ignoring the address information – I did and still got the basic idea.

Here’s the memory map under System 6 and 7 on the IIsi and IIci, assuming (for the sake of discussion) that there is 8 MB of RAM in the machine, 2 banks of 4 MB RAM each, and the machine is 256-color capable:

      Where   Description      Size      Logical address
     Bank A    Video RAM      $50000        $FBB00000
     Bank A    Main RAM       $3B0000       $00400000
     Bank B    Main RAM       $400000       $00000000

So the memory map looks something like this (in 24-bit mode, 32-bit is similar):

     |     Bank B    |  $00000000 (low)
     |      RAM      |
     |               |
     |               |
     |               |
     |     Bank A    |  $00400000 (high)
     |      RAM      |
     | (above video  |
     |  RAM in phys. |
     |  address)     |
     |      ROM      |  $00800000
     | Video "NuBus" |  $00B00000
     |  NuBus slots  |  $00C00000
     |    $C - $E    |  $00D00000
     |               |  $00E00000
     |      I/O      |  $00F00000

Whatever shares bank A with the video memory will run slowly because the video memory is accessed constantly. Therefore, you want to load items that the Macintosh uses relatively infrequently, such as the disk cache, into bank A. This was not as apparent with System 6, because applications load into low memory (bank B) under MultiFinder 6. (This was the main reason that MultiFinder was recommended for the IIsi and IIci under System 6.) Under System 7, applications load at the top of MultiFinder’s heap, (that is, in high memory or bank A). The System 7 Finder will load into that high memory in bank A – unless that memory is already occupied by something else, so if possible, you shouldn’t load the Finder (a frequently accessed item) in that part of RAM that has the most contention between two processes – CPU and video.

Apparently the disk cache uses high memory; MacsBug uses high memory; and some INITs use high memory. This helps explain why the machine runs slower under System 7 (because the Finder loads into bank A, which is also being used heavily by the video), and why increasing the disk cache size (or using MacsBug) can dramatically speed up the entire Mac. It also explains why System 7 can be proportionally slower on the IIsi and IIci than on other Macs and why a NuBus video card can dramatically improve performance. Of course, an accelerator doesn’t hurt either – an accelerated IIci (with the Magellan 040 board that Glenn works on) can show up to twice the video performance of a Quadra 700, which has built-in VRAM.

Obviously, it’s a lot easier to fill up bank A with the disk cache and MacsBug if you only have 1 MB in bank A, which isn’t a problem on the IIsi with its soldered-on 1 MB bank A. The IIci is more problematic, since you can easily put 4 MB or even 16 MB in bank A, thus making it virtually impossible to fill up bank A in order to increase the speed. Of course, if you can afford 16 MB in bank A, you can afford a cheap video card that will make this entire problem moot.

Information from:
Glenn Austin — gla-aux![email protected]