The industry continues to evolve with dramatic twists and turns. Microsoft spent $173 million to purchase Fox Software and its database products, and Apple announced products aimed directly at the Windows market while targeting new distribution channels. Rounding out the issue we have news of a difficulty with AutoDoubler, a review of Danny Goodman’s new Mac book, and a warning: get Disinfectant 2.7.1 – version 2.7 has a bug!
More RAM for IIf and IIg — In TidBITS-108/24-Feb-92 we reported a rumor that the LaserWriter IIf and IIg were likely to be upgraded with extra RAM, and indeed, that has happened. We hoped that Apple US would follow the lead of Apple UK and offer free upgrades for people who already bought one of the printers. This has not happened, and users who wish to add an additional 4 MB of RAM to the either of the printers will have to buy a 4 MB upgrade kit, which lists for $249. Oh well, if you heeded our advice and waited, you can now get a IIf with 4 MB for $3599 list or a IIg with 8 MB for $4599 list, instead of the previous 2 MB and 5 MB incarnations.
Mark H. Anbinder, TidBITS Contributing Editor
I once promised a friend that I would avoid allusions to baseball in TidBITS, but it’s going to be hard to resist the comparison to the free agent market in this one, and if you can’t grow ’em yourself, buy ’em. Microsoft just announced that it will be purchasing Fox Software for a reported sum of $173 million dollars. Fox Software has a well-earned reputation for solid database products including FoxBASE+/Mac and FoxPro for DOS, and it’s quite obvious that Microsoft wants an immediate database product since it has been unable to produce a decent one for a number of years now, either on the high end or the low end (ever used Microsoft File? I hope not.).
Microsoft claims that it will continue with its Cirrus database project, which has not been announced or discussed in any detail yet. It’s safe to assume that Cirrus will not compete with Fox’s products and that it won’t be available for some time. I’ve heard nothing about a replacement for File, partly because Microsoft Works, as old and decrepit as it is, (ooh, people aren’t going to like that statement :-)) can do much of what is needed from a simple flat file database with the Microsoft name on it.
So what’s this acquisition mean? Lots. There have been two main gaps in the Microsoft application suite for some time now, database and graphics. Microsoft still has no graphics package to speak of, but Fox will bring powerful relational databases on both the Mac and DOS platforms to Microsoft. Suddenly Claris has a big competitor because even though FileMaker Pro isn’t as complicated (or powerful) as FoxBASE, a lot of people will buy the Microsoft FoxBASE just because. After all, no one was ever fired for buying Microsoft. IBM is another story these days. ACIUS must not be terribly happy either, since 4th Dimension suddenly has a competitor with Mr. Bill’s money behind it, and although installed base is extremely important, marketing rules the world. Odesta, by the way, is no more, and Double Helix, a quirky but fun and powerful relational database has been taken over by another company. Many of the original employees were staying on last we heard, so we have high hopes for Double Helix’s continued success. Finally, there’s Blyth, with Omnis on both the Mac and Windows, perhaps the most direct cross-platform competition for FoxBASE.
Those rivalries aside, I think it’s clear that the Mac version of FoxBASE is merely a condiment, and the main course is FoxPro for DOS (and the future FoxPro for Windows). Perhaps the most notable acquisition prior to this one was when Borland bought up Ashton-Tate and added dBASE and its massive installed base to supplement Borland’s own technically impressive Paradox. With that move, Borland now owns 75% of the PC database market, and Microsoft hates to see Borland doing so well in that arena. What better way to suddenly become a force in the database market than buying Fox, since Fox has a good set of products currently, good people working on them, and good technology that can be used elsewhere in Microsoft products. And you too could have all that if you had $173 million lying around.
One nasty point which may just have become moot is the lawsuit filed by Ashton-Tate charging Fox with various violations of Ashton-Tate copyrights. If I remember correctly, there was a bit of look and feel in that suit as well, but I would hope that Borland and Microsoft will let the suit go away naturally, if such a thing is possible, and compete head to head in the marketplace.
I don’t have a definite opinion whether this acquisition is good or bad because it depends on your point of view. If you like Microsoft, you’ll probably like the deal because it patches a gaping hole in Microsoft’s suite of products. If you’re fan of other companies or, like me, are against the concept of large companies buying up smaller companies all the time, then you probably won’t be quite so pleased. I dislike the concept of market domination because, as happened with Microsoft Works, the level of technology stagnates without competition. Now that Claris and Beagle Bros. and Symantec all have integrated packages out on the market, Microsoft has to scramble to clean up Works. Even the promised new version won’t compete technologically with the newcomers, although current Works users will be happy for a real upgrade after so long.
The computer industry is if anything incestuous. Apple can sue Microsoft with one hand while agreeing to further enhance TrueType with the other. And lest I confuse my imagery even more, a third hand of Apple Shiva (the many-handed Hindi god of reproduction and destruction, not the people who make the NetModem :-)) is reaching out to compete directly in the Windows market. I’d say something about not being able to tell the players without a scorecard, but that might risk a baseball reference and further muddy the issue at hand. 🙂
In any event, Apple has clearly entered the Windows market in several different ways in the past few weeks and months. Andrew Johnston of Seattle’s dBUG (Downtown Business Users’ Group) passed on this quote from an article by James Plamondon in a publication called MADA FrameWorks. In discussing comments by Steve Weyl, Apple’s Chief Honcho of Development Tools at Macworld San Francisco, James wrote:
"…Steve dropped the bombshell: MacApp would be taken cross-platform! And he didn’t mean Quadras, either! He gave no dates, no specs, no promises he could later fail to deliver, but he just darn near chanted ‘Windows, Windows, Windows.’ It was a sight to see. I got all choked up. So did some other guys near me. (Actually, I found out later, the thought of programming for Windows was making them gag. Oh, well.)"
Interesting stuff. If Apple ports its MacApp application development environment to Windows, I wonder how that will affect the suit with Microsoft. I also wonder if we won’t get some cleaner Macintosh-style interfaces out of the resulting programs, although Microsoft’s Visual Basic and Borland’s ObjectVision have a pretty good lock on the graphical application development market in Windows.
FileMaker Pro for Windows — Also in the software arena, we’ve heard that work continues on FileMaker Pro for Windows, a program that is likely to do well in the Windows market for lack of well-known, low-end database competition. I’m sure there are some decent products out there, but FileMaker Pro would come in with a recognized name from the Macintosh world and with Claris clout behind it. Although Claris has a ways to go before attaining the kind of recognition in the Windows market that WordPerfect and Lotus enjoy, the fact that Claris now markets Hollywood, late of IBM, can’t hurt. As much as I think FileMaker Pro is a good first port into the Windows market, I can’t help but think that MacDraw Pro should follow closely, and I’d be fascinated to see how well ClarisWorks could do in the Windows world. I’d love to see Apple port the Finder to Windows to replace the awful combination of the File Manager and Program Manager, but I’m not putting any money on that possibility.
Windows-compatible hardware — More immediate and far less ambiguous were Apple’s announcements last week of two products, one aimed directly at the Windows market and the other positioned to mix and match. Most interesting of the pair was the Apple OneScanner for Windows, which consists of the same hardware as the Macintosh OneScanner, a Windows version of Light Source’s Ofoto scanning software, and a SCSI adapter for ISA and EISA buses (but not for the MCA bus, the type used in most IBM PS/2s). Ofoto for Windows offers the same one-step scanning as the Mac version and supports the common file formats in the PC world, such as TIFF, PC Paintbrush, Windows bitmap, GEM Image, Microsoft Paint, and EPS. With one click, Ofoto can determine if the picture is gray scale or line art, scan the image, and automatically straighten it. The Apple OneScanner for Windows stands to do quite well when it comes out in May, given Ofoto’s sophistication and Apple’s generally solid engineering.
The new Personal LaserWriter NTR that Apple announced last week for release in April is not specifically a Windows product, but unlike previous printers, Apple went out of its way to ensure that the NTR would work well with PC compatibles. Apple gave the NTR LocalTalk, serial, and parallel interfaces along with intelligent interface switching so that the printer can determine what sort of print job is coming in and react appropriately. In the past, it has been possible to hook LaserWriters to PC compatibles, but we’ve received the impression that Apple would have you believe that the hookup was so hard to do that you might as well go buy a Macintosh or at least an AppleTalk card for your PC. (You generally have to locate a serial cable, add a few lines to your DOS AUTOEXEC.BAT file, and flip a DIP switch). This sort of capability combined with fast PostScript processing will undoubtedly make the NTR popular at the expense of the cheaper but non-PostScript LaserJet printers from Hewlett-Packard.
All these product introductions and directions come down to the financial bottom line. Microsoft claims to have sold something like nine million copies of Windows 3.0, and even considering the estimates that little more than a tenth of those are actually in use, that’s a lot of potential customers. Apple sees no reason to be pig-headed about its hardware and is just as willing to accept money from Windows users as from Macintosh users. Of course, I hope much of that money goes to improving the Macintosh line, and from some of the rumors I’ve heard recently, the Macintosh line will be around for a long time, initially in the form of faster Quadras and color Classics with more radical upgrades to come, as they always do.
Mark H. Anbinder — TidBITS Contributing Editor
Chuck Bartosch — [email protected]
There has been a flurry of discussion on CompuServe about a controversial implementation decision that Salient made when creating AutoDoubler. For those of you who haven’t paid much attention to compression software, AutoDoubler is a program that compresses files on your hard disk while you aren’t using the Mac and then expands them quickly when you open them. It is extremely transparent and quick, and promises to become even quicker and less obtrusive as time goes on.
Salient feels that any program that touches most of the files on your hard disk should be entirely reliable and safe. It is impossible for them to predict and test every possible setup that a user may have, so they opted for a couple of security techniques to cut down on conflicts and problems. So far, so good – no one minds a little extra data security. The problem comes when you backup the AutoDoubler Control Panel in your System Folder. It seems that AutoDoubler checks to make sure it has been properly installed from the original disk by its installer, and if you reformat your hard disk and then restore the AutoDoubler Control Panel from your backup, AutoDoubler will notice that the hard disk has changed and will require you to reinstall from an installation floppy. AutoDoubler won’t complain unless the hard disk has been reformatted, but that often accompanies the restoration process. Salient originally intended this feature to ensure that you always have a clean copy of AutoDoubler installed.
This is not inherently a problem as long as your original floppy or a backup of that disk is at hand. Unfortunately, in some ways the people who have the most use for AutoDoubler are PowerBook users with small hard drives, and PowerBook users seldom have all their floppies with them. Do note that when AutoDoubler stops working until it is reinstalled, you can still access all of your files, even if they are compressed. Another of Salient’s security features is the installation of the ADExpandUtil application, which can expand compressed files automatically. You still may have trouble if you had filled your hard disk up with compressed files, because ADExpandUtil will not recompress them, so your hard disk could fill up.
Salient has been taking a lot of heat for this feature, and Terry Morse, the president of Salient, told us that they will change the next version of AutoDoubler so that it merely warns you that the hard disk has changed and suggests that it would be best if you reinstalled, but continues to work after that. We’re pleased to see companies respond to user suggestions so pleasantly, even when the phrasing of the original comments, like a moth to a candle, inclined toward the flame.
For those of you who want to avoid this situation now, there is a simple workaround. Reinstall AutoDoubler from floppy, and before you restart, make a copy of the AutoDoubler Control Panel, lock it, and store it somewhere else on your hard disk, preferably out of the System Folder so it can be compressed. Then, if you need a fresh copy of AutoDoubler, option-drag (which copies the file) your locked copy of AutoDoubler to the Control Panels folder (System 7) or System folder (System 6), thus replacing the old one. Then unlock the new copy (keeping your locked backup elsewhere on the hard disk), and restart the Mac.
Terry Morse, President of Salient — [email protected]
You won’t be able to pick up a Classic at your local fruit stand, but given the recent changes in Apple’s distribution channels, that’s not far off.
The most recent, and in some ways most shocking, change is that Apple will be working with Sears to sell special Macintosh bundles. You won’t be able to find a Mac in just any Sears though, because the contract includes only Sears Office Centers, of which there are about 70 around the country, though primarily on the East coast. The bundles will include the Mac Classic, LC II, IIsi, and PowerBook 140, along with the StyleWriter and Personal LaserWriters. Other pieces of hardware and software may also be included, most notably ClarisWorks, although that decision is apparently up to Sears and not Apple.
Apple is probably turning to Sears for a couple of reasons. First, the people who would buy hardware and software at Sears most likely wouldn’t buy it elsewhere, more through lack of knowledge of other sources than anything else. If this wasn’t true then dealers would be rather upset, although the dealers aren’t likely to be too happy about some of the other distribution changes anyway. Second, working with Sears is a great way for Apple to learn a bit more about selling in the consumer electronic market, a market Apple has an intense curiousity about at the moment. Based on our unrepresentative and extremely limited experience with Sears and Sears Office Centers, Apple could have picked a better partner, although we hope that our experiences truly were unrepresentative. Nonetheless, it will be extremely nice to have a Classic sitting next to one of those clumsy little IBM PS/1s that Sears already carries.
VAR Distributors — More likely to upset dealers are Apple’s other two new distribution directions, first to vertical market value-added resellers (VARs) through three of the big distributors, and also to the CompuAdd superstores. The three distributors include Ingram Micro, Merisel, and Tech Data Corporation, and these three will (starting this fall) recruit VARs to resell Apple products, although Apple will retain the right to final authorization.
Look at that, a whole paragraph of market-speak. Let me try to translate. The basic upshot is that these three massive distribution companies will be able to supply Apple hardware to consulting firms and suppliers who serve specific (that’s what vertical means in this instance) markets, like legal, engineering, real estate, architecture, and so on. Apple wants this to happen because these specific markets often get stuck in a rut of having to use a certain program or type of computer because everyone else does, not necessarily because it does the job well. For instance, a lot of lawyers only use WordPerfect for DOS because, the phrase goes, all lawyers use WordPerfect. Those lawyers tend to have specific consultants who can sell them DOS machines and WordPerfect and then provide support, so if Apple can get these consulting firms to also sell the Mac line via the large distributors, then Apple stands a chance of getting a foot into some of the specific markets.
The authorization of CompuAdd as an Apple dealer isn’t so much interesting for the fact that CompuAdd has a rapidly-growing chain of superstores around the country (though primarily in Texas, I gather), but because CompuAdd also runs a mail order business. Apple has not authorized CompuAdd to sell Macs through the mail, but I believe that CompuAdd is one of the first big companies with both a superstore and mail order presence to receive dealer authorization. If the distribution via CompuAdd’s superstores works out well, Apple just might authorize CompuAdd to sell Macs via the mail as well, causing trouble for all the grey-market mail order companies who sell Macs now.
Ever tried to get a gut feeling for the size of an acre? It’s about the size of an American football field without the end zones. That example is from a book by Richard Saul Wurman called "Information Anxiety," which explains how to convey information easily and painlessly. Its clear, lucid thinking has just come to the computer book world in the form of a new general Macintosh book from Danny Goodman, called "Danny Goodman’s Macintosh Handbook."
Goodman’s book is a real departure from the usual look and feel of other computer books because of the partnership with Wurman, who, in John Sculley’s own words, is "a world-class information architect." I’ve been a fan of Wurman’s work for quite some time now. He has done a large volume of books through his company, AccessPress, specializing in transmitting information to people about anything and everything.
Wurman started with travel guides to various cities, a guide to the summer Olympics in LA, a guide to football, a guide to medical procedures (intended to help people understand what the doctor is saying and to codify a wide variety of medical procedures for easy access), the Wall Street Journal’s book on money and investments, and Pacific West’s Yellow Pages. He specializes in rearranging information so that it becomes easy to learn and find. OK, I gush. I really admire the slant this guy has taken on how to disseminate information and make it pleasing to the eye at the same time.
Goodman’s book is very Mac-like, with a heavy emphasis on visual presentations (that’s adult-speak for "lots of pictures") that makes this book a solid training tool for beginners, but with enough high-end information to satisfy more advanced hobbyists and technoweenies.
There’s a great section on how to set up System 7 File Sharing, explaining in clear, concise, uh, pictures, what to do and why. There’s information on ergonomics, hooking up equipment, maximum RAM loads, and a large trouble-shooting section.
Each page is visually delimited with color blocks to offer beginner, intermediate, and advanced information. My one complaint is one that Wurman doesn’t seem to get clear of in any of his publications: the type size is just a bit too small, and when he reverses type it often runs the risk of being hard to read; at least tiring to the old eyes (ask any professional graphic designer; like ME for instance!). But all in all, it’s a gorgeous book and one that deserves a place on your bookshelf.
I picked up my copy of "Danny Goodman’s Macintosh Handbook" (1992 Bantam Books) at Crown Books for $29.95 retail, $26.96 discounted at Crown. If you’re a book freak like me, take a look.