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Adam Engst No comments


The Mac has always been considered a relatively good multimedia machine, although it couldn’t quite stand up to the Atari ST’s built-in MIDI and the Amiga’s excellent video interface. The music software and capabilities of the Mac are now quite good and the video interfacing is getting better all the time. One caveat to this article. We don’t use our Mac for video work and thus are not experts or even novices on the subject so take everything with a grain of salt.

Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame attracted a crowd last summer with his MicroTV at the Boston Macworld Expo. MicroTV displayed a small, grainy, grey-scale TV picture in a window on a Mac II. Since then Aapps (Bushnell’s company) has introduced DigiVideo ($595) and DigiVideo Color ($995), both of which allow you to view live video and copy video frames to the Clipboard for use in other applications. Apparently, the image quality provided by the DigiVideo boards in 8-bit mode is not as crisp as people are used to from regular televisions, and the picture slows down significantly under 24-bit mode.

Aapps now has competition from several other companies. RasterOps recently introduced its ColorBoard 364, which is identical to its ColorBoard 264 graphics card with the addition of video capabilities. The ColorBoard 364 uses the standard Apple 13" monitor and displays 24-bit color, so it has excellent image quality, although it too can be a bit slow at times. In addition to bringing in live video (although a separate tuner is necessary currently, unlike with Aapps’s products), the ColorBoard 364 can interface easily with VCRs, laserdiscs, and S-VHS camcorders and through HyperCard XCMDs can control these external peripherals as well. The price is a bit higher than the DigiVideo boards in keeping with the added quality, but at $1995, the ColorBoard 364 is still reasonable.

Radius’s entry in the market is a bit pricier than the RasterOps board and will not work with the Apple 13" color monitor without an additional video card, the $1095 DirectColor GX. Otherwise, the RadiusTV system only works with Radius’s $4295 19" Color Display. When you add that to the price of the RadiusTV system at $2795, you get a hefty price in comparison to the RasterOps ColorBoard 364. RadiusTV digitizes video in 16-bit color, so it will presumably be between the DigiVideo boards and the ColorBoard 364. RadiusTV does sport several advantages for the price, though. It digitizes sound and can access information in TV side bands, such as closed captions. In contrast, the DigiVideo boards have an on-board speaker, and it’s unclear how the ColorBoard 364 handles sound.

The final two recent entries in the video market are Mass Microsystems’s ColorSpace Plus/SE which gives the Plus and SE some of these capabilities for $1995 (no other information, sorry) and VENT Inc.’s $499 Hyper Switcher and $199 Screen Play Software. VENT Inc. is another Bushnell company and its products work with Aapps’s. Hyper Switcher can control four video-in channels and two video-out channels . Screen Play Software grabs frames, manipulates them, and outputs them to produce a finished videotape.

Aapps Inc. — 408/735-8550
RasterOps Corp. — 408/562-4200
Radius Inc. — 408/434-1010
Mass Microsystems — 800/522-7979 — 408/522-1200
VENT Inc. — 415/961-3671

Information from:
Adam Engst — TidBITS editor
News Notebook

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 02-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #26, pg. 15
MacWEEK — 26-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #24, pg. 1
MacWEEK — 26-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #24, pg. 52
MacWEEK — 24-Apr-90, Vol. 4 #16, pg. 15
MacWEEK — 27-Mar-90, Vol. 4 #12, pg. 4
MacWEEK — 27-Mar-90, Vol. 4 #12, pg. 18

Adam Engst No comments

SUM Competition

Symantec’s SUM disk utilities for the Mac has become pre-eminent, and Symantec recently solidified its hold on the Mac utility market by purchasing Peter Norton Computing. Other major disk utility packages include 1st Aid Software’s Deluxe 1st Aid Kit and Central Point Software’s MacTools Deluxe. Central Point recently advertised MacTools Deluxe for $25 if you could produce a photocopy the first page of the manual of another Macintosh disk utility. For $25, how can you go wrong?

Well, it seems that you really can go wrong. A number of people (including us) took Central Point up on its offer, and after several delays (during which Central Point did not deposit any checks) we received the program. We haven’t had a chance to test this for ourselves, but several people on Usenet report that there is a potentially dangerous bug in MacTools Deluxe’s backup program. It seems that MacTools Deluxe allows you to save sets of folders to backup, but if MacTools finds a folder and files with the same name as the ones you want to backup before it finds the ones you want, it will backup the ones it found rather than the ones you selected. This isn’t an entirely unusual possibility, because you could easily have a number of files and folders with the same names in different main folders.

Of course, it’s only a problem if your hard disk dies or if you accidentally erase the files, but that’s what backups are for. For true archiving of files, though, Retrospect is ideal, since it actually keeps different versions of the same file through revisions, allowing you to recover the file at any revision level. On the whole, we are also happy with the SUM Backup program, which isn’t at all fancy, but does the job.

Evidently this bug survived beta-testing, but Central Point has reproduced it and will be discussing it with the third-party developer of MacTools Deluxe. However Central Point did not promise that it would be definitely fixed or that owners of MacTools Deluxe would be informed. One useful thing is that Central Point does have a limited warranty that says that they will replace the software or refund your money if it does not perform substantially as advertised. In our opinion, this bug violates their warranty and they should provide a free upgrade to all registered users. We suggest that everyone who owns MacTools Deluxe call Central Point and ask them about the bug and the necessary upgrade.

Other comments about MacTools Deluxe hint that its optimization feature is not as good as SUM TuneUp and the backup program is slower than Apple’s HD Backup (which is not included in at least System 6.0.5 and will not be a part of System 7.0).

Symantec — 800/441-7234 — 800/626-8847 (CA) — 408/253-2167
Central Point Software — 503/690-8080

Information from:
Jonathan Pool — [email protected]
George D. Nincehelser — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

New Portabilities

Although the Macintosh portable market has only begun to offer a few costly alternatives, the IBM portable market offers many choices with features rapidly increasing as prices rapidly decrease. Friends who attended PC- Expo in New York City were particularly impressed by an upcoming notebook computer by Airis called the VH-286.

Due to ship in September, the 80286 computer comes standard with a 2400 baud internal modem, 2.5" 20 megabyte hard disk, 256K disk cache, 2 megs RAM, and a backlit LCD screen supporting VGA graphics and 16 shades of gray. All this in a 6.5 pound computer (that includes battery weight) for $1899. (It’s sold directly by Airis, so there is no dealer mark down.)

The computer has two battery options. The first is a bit unusual-10 C cell batteries that should last for about 12 hours. The second is an optional (extra cost) rechargeable Nicad battery pack that should last 6 to 8 hours. The only possible fly in this computer’s ointment is a lack of an internal floppy drive. An external drive can be purchased for it, but if you don’t want to purchase one, you can use the bundled LapLink software to transfer your files to another PC. Whether or not this will be a problem will depend on individual situations and work styles.

The VH-286 should be a highly competitive product. In Toshiba’s popular line of portables, we find the cheapest 80286 machine listing for $3,999 and weighing in at 7.9 pounds. It comes standard with a 20 meg hard disk, a floppy drive, 1 meg of RAM, and an LCD backlit screen supporting CGA graphics. An internal modem costs another $349 list. Compaq’s similarly priced 286 machine, the LTE 286/20, comes with a 20 meg hard disk, a floppy drive, 640K RAM, and an LCD sidelit screen supporting CGA. Looking though a PC laptops comparison chart in the July 1990 issue of PC Today, the cheapest listed 286 was the Kandu KL-3774. It comes standard with a 40 meg hard disk, 1 meg of RAM, and an EGA screen. It can be purchased, street price, for around $1500.

This comparison does not take into account all factors (mainly expansion capabilities, since we don’t have their complete specs), but we can all look forward to faster, cheaper, lighter, portables in the future. Its’s likely that MacOS portables will be forced to follow suit to become competitive. DOS may be a headache for many Mac users, but many would take a modicum of computer confusion over difficulties associated with a large assault on their financial assets or with dragging around a heavy Mac luggable (I’m a fairly standard female-person-type, and the Mac portable is just barely luggable for me).

Airis Computer Corp. — 312/384-5608

Information from:
Stan Deutsch — Columbia Pictures, MIS
PC Today, PC Classifieds Database
Tonya Byard — TidBITS editor

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 02-Jul-90, Vol. 12 #27, pg. 21

Adam Engst No comments

The Lotus Look

Lotus won its three-year old suit against Paperback Software for copying the look and feel of 123. The decision said that Paperback Software had violated Lotus’s copyright, although another suit Lotus has brought against Mosaic Software for their 123 clone, Twin, was not mentioned. Paperback Software’s products VP-Planner and VP-Planner Plus copied the Lotus "slash" style interface exactly to provide complete compatibility with 123.

Richard Stallman, from the League of Programming Freedom, was quoted in an InfoWorld article as saying the ruling was "a disaster for all users of computers and especially for anyone who wants to program them." The League of Programming Freedom last year distributed a flyer at the Boston Macworld Expo condemning Apple’s suit against HP and Microsoft. The flyer made its point by illustrating what a keyboard might look like if a company had claimed the QWERTY layout as proprietary look and feel.

We feel that the decision is a blow to software developers because it prevents interface duplication for ease of use, unless a company like Apple or Microsoft with Windows decrees the look and feel. However, we also feel that software developers should concentrate on improving the software world rather than merely increasing the number of similar packages. The world does not need another 123-clone, but it could use some standard, but user-extensible (meaning you can easily modify your own interface as you like) interfaces. The Mac and to a lesser extent, Windows are helping, but these silly suits must be done away with. Read whatever definition into "suits" that you want. 🙂

Information from:
Eric Lund — [email protected]
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 02-Jul-90, Vol. 12 #27, pg. 1
PC WEEK — 02-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #26, pg. 6

Adam Engst No comments

Call 1-900-555-HELP?

Someone on Usenet recently asked what people thought about charging for technical support via a 900 number. The principle is that the call would not be free but the user would be guaranteed of getting through and getting an answer. The 900 numbers are generally quite expensive, on the order of $1 per minute after a set charge for the first few minutes. However, users only requiring occasional help would not have to pay a large fee for a year’s support that they wouldn’t use often.

Reaction on the whole has been negative. Most feel that it could be a good system if the cost was reasonable (i.e. lower), the answers were good and quick (i.e. you should never be on hold), the product was stable and well-designed so few calls would be needed, and the company would call back if they couldn’t answer the question right away. However, a large percentage of the postings complained about these very issues, which points towards the 900 number support not being particularly useful. One person mentioned that a tax preparation company liked the idea also, but on trying it found that customers hated it. People like toll-free numbers and sometimes feel that even a long-distance call is too much to pay for technical support. Other disadvantages mentioned include the association with the sex-call numbers and the fact that some companies prevent employees from calling the 900 numbers.

Our feeling is that Lotus has a fairly good system in that you get toll-free support for the first six months, after which you have to use the normal long-distance number. Another possibility would be to have a flat fee for technical support calls, say $10, as well as a flat fee for a period of technical support. That way, the occasional users would not pay for everyone else’s support, and frequent users would pay much less than the per call rate. A company should at best break even on support because otherwise there is temptation to put out a complicated, confusing, or badly-documented product. Even better, support should be handled by email, as is done informally by some companies on Usenet, and more on CompuServe, GEnie, America Online. Email forces the user to think more carefully about what happened in writing the mail and removes some of the sense of urgency from the problem, allowing the support folks to work more calmly, completely, and (we hope) rationally.

A company called PC Helpline recently started offering independent technical support at a rate of $2 per minute, billed to your credit card. They looked at the 900 number system but shied away from it because of its negative connotations, because many companies restrict 900 calls, and because it bills indiscriminately, whereas they can determine when to start billing themselves with an 800 number. The people who started PC Helpline felt that users needed a source of technical support other than the various hardware and software companies. We don’t yet know if they will answer Macintosh questions as well as PC questions, but if their service is popular enough they could probably be persuaded to set up a Macintosh division.

PC Helpline — 404/956-8125

Information from:
John Whitehead — [email protected]
Russell Donnan — [email protected]
William Kucharski — [email protected]
Cory Kempf — [email protected]
Michael Nolan — [email protected]
David A. Fedor — [email protected]
Andrei Herasimchuk — amherasimchu@amherst
Kevin Purcell — kpurcell @
Shirley Kehr — [email protected]
George D. Nincehelser — [email protected]
Mark Schumann, PC Helpline, 404/956-8125

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 14-May-90, Vol. 12 #20, pg. 42