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Adam Engst No comments


One frustration with the new forms of optical storage is that they are mutually incompatible. At least up to now, if rumors on Usenet prove to be true. One rumor says that a European company is working on an erasable optical drive which can also read the CD-ROM disks that are becoming a popular method of distributing large amounts of information. This would be a boon to those of us who would like to read the occasional CD-ROM but don’t use them enough to justify a stand-along CD-ROM player. Of course you would still have to need the massive storage abilities of an erasable optical to justify the undoubtedly higher price of a hybrid unit, but that’s nitpicking.

A more exciting rumor claims that Yamaha is working on a WORM drive that can write to standard CD-ROM platters, which can then be read in normal CD-ROM players. The advantages of this method of creating CD-ROMs are that the CD-ROM format is standardized, unlike the WORM formats, and CD-ROM platters are far less prone to damage or data loss than tape or magnetic media, making the system ideal for large backup sets.

The ability to create a standard CD-ROM incrementally in a WORM drive is extremely interesting, because it’s a relatively complex and expensive procedure to master a CD-ROM, although the price per disk is low after the initial mastering costs. The standard method is to create a tape of the information and then transfer that tape to CD-ROM, a process which is typically clumsy. This ease of production might also increase the use of the sound and digitized graphics, both of which are usually space-hungry. So pay attention for these products and let us know if you hear anything more!

Information from:
Philip Machanick — [email protected]
Eric W. Mitchel — [email protected]
The Road To CD-ROM, Nimbus Information Systems — 800/782-0778

Adam Engst No comments

An Apple By Any Other…

Lapsing from our usual watch for news, we came upon a discussion on Usenet about the origin of Apple’s name. So no news in this article, just an anecdote.

The question first arose when someone wondered about the true story behind Apple’s name. He’d read that Steve Jobs had fond memories of working in an orchard one summer and thought that Apple would be a friendly name. Others chimed in with the theory that Apple was really something of an abbreviation for appliance, which is what Jobs thought the Mac should be. Unfortunately for that theory, the Mac came rather late in the company’s evolution and the appliance theory of microcomputers probably started in Jef Raskin’s Mac development team. The Apple II was certainly not as easy to use as a toaster.

Someone who knows Steve Wozniak contributed a more plausible story. Evidently, when Jobs and Wozniak were at the courthouse filing the incorporation papers, they still hadn’t come up with a name. Jobs was eating an apple because he was then (and may still be) a "fruitarian," meaning that much of his diet was composed of fruit. Having no better option, they wrote down Apple Computer as the company name, figuring that they could change it later. Upon consideration though, they realized that Apple was early in the phone book (and before Atari), sounded friendly, and contrasted nicely with the word computer, which was and is still something of a scary word.

A final comment was added that the Apple logo was supposed to represent the apple with which Alan Turing committed suicide. No one has confirmed or denied this rumor though.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled news.

Information from:
Chris Silverberg — [email protected]
A J Cunningham — [email protected]
Brian Matthews — [email protected]
Mark H. Nodine — [email protected]
Steve Hix — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments


We’ve been adding new references to articles that we wrote some time ago, but a new issue has just arisen. Some of our articles are relatively ambiguous because they are based more on rumor and conjecture than on fact. To fill in some of the facts, we will be including small Update articles every now and then. You can copy these updates into the original articles or leave them here-whatever is easier for you.

Adam Engst No comments

Lasers In the Jungle…

Apple has finally released the new Personal LaserWriters, the SC and the NT. Ours is on back order, so we can’t comment personally, but they are based on the same Canon engine as the HP LaserJet IIP, which means they print at 4 pages per minute (ppm) at top engine speed. In theory, the LaserWriter II’s print at a top speed of 8 ppm, but seldom reach that throughput in reality. The Personal LaserWriter SC will retail for $1999 while the NT will list at $3299, although the educational discount for the NT drops its price to about $2200. At that price point, a LaserJet IIP with extra memory, AppleTalk, and a PostScript cartridge is only minimally less expensive. The competition will also come from the QMS-PS 410, a PostScript printer based on the same Canon engine, but with a faster processor (68020 vs.. 68000), a later version of HP’s Printer Control Language, and a better method of switching between Macs and PC-clones. The QMS printer will list for $2795, $500 less than the Personal Laser NT.

QMS — 800/631-2692

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS editor
Apple spec sheets
QMS technical support

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 10-Jul-90, Vol. 4, #25, pg. 1
Macworld — Aug-90, pg. 128

Adam Engst No comments

Cheap IBM Home Computer

IBM has released the PS/1, as their new home computer is called, in several large cities around the country to be test-marketed. The new name has prompted numerous wags on Usenet to remark that at least this computer will be a whole Personal System, rather than the halved PS/2. The spec sheet reads modestly, starting with a 10 Mhz 80286 CPU, 512K RAM, and a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive, but picks up a bit with a mouse, an internal 2400 baud modem, and VGA graphics. Options include a 30 megabyte hard disk, a 512K RAM upgrade, an AT-style (ISA) expansion box, an audio card, and a joystick. Initially, the lack of a hard disk would seem to be deadly, but the ROMs include the BIOS, DOS, and the DOS shell (we assume DOS version 4.01). The list price for such a beast with a color monitor and the hard disk is $1999, but since IBM is selling through large retail channels, the street price could easily drop to around $1500, which is competitive, if not overwhelmingly inexpensive. We’re not holding our collective breath on this one, if only because even with a DOS shell and everything built into the machine, it still doesn’t make it as an easy home machine for people getting started in basic home computing. Not to be chauvinistic, the Mac doesn’t really fit that bill either, so there is still room for a killer appliance computer that will sell like VCRs, er, hotcakes.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS editor
IBM spec sheets

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 16-Jul-90, Vol. 7, #28, pg. 24

Adam Engst No comments

SUM Competition

Several weeks ago we wrote of a potentially dangerous bug in the Backup utility that comes with the new MacTools Deluxe package from Central Point Software. Since then we have had a chance to use the program and even found another bug, a conflict between Suitcase II and the Optimizer Help. Needless to say, we weren’t particularly enthusiastic about MacTools at that point. However, our faith in Central Point Software has been restored. We received, completely unsolicited, a disk in the mail yesterday that included new versions of Backup, Optimizer Help, and Rescue, which fix the bugs that we and others had noticed. We still have some minor gripes about the interfaces, but on the whole, the package is now worth recommending on its own merits. One additional comment: for those of you without either GOfer or On Location, the Locate DA that comes with MacTools does an excellent job of finding text within files and then displaying it for you.

Central Point Software — 503/690-8080

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS editor
Central Point Software

Adam Engst No comments

Forced Upgrades

An interesting problem recently arose on Usenet. It seems that an Excel 1.0 user in Holland wanted to upgrade to system 6.0.4, but when he did so, Excel stopped working. Microsoft said that it wasn’t their problem and that he should upgrade to Excel 2.2. The cost of an Excel upgrade in Holland equals out to about $370 so he had quite a bit of incentive not to upgrade, especially considering the added functionality was unnecessary. The question was then, who is to blame, and if Microsoft, is this a breach of contract? After all, someone must be at fault-that’s how the world works :-).

Few people were surprised that Excel 1.0 didn’t work under the new system because Microsoft products are notorious for disobeying Apple’s programming guidelines, and as such, tend to break when Apple updates the system software. Apple isn’t at fault for Microsoft’s flaunting of the rules-in fact, Apple even had code in early versions of MultiFinder to deal with Excel 1.5’s quirky memory requirements (it had to be loaded into the first megabyte of memory to work). The feeling in some of the postings (and one with which we agree wholeheartedly) is that Apple should let Microsoft products crash and burn when updating the system software. That way Microsoft might receive enough negative comments to start following the guidelines. Even Microsoft’s position as the largest Macintosh (and microcomputer) software company should not afford them such favoritism. In many ways, Apple’s guidelines have helped the Mac become what it is because users can be assured of the interfaces in different programs being similar.

Quite some time ago a similar problem arose with Microsoft Works on the PC. A group had created a number of macros to handle their tasks, but they ran into some major problems with those macros when they upgraded to the next version. Unfortunately, they had sent back their original disks and replaced the working copies so they couldn’t easily move back to the older version. At first Microsoft wanted to charge them for the older version, but complaining vociferously on the net and to the customer support people finally convinced Microsoft to just give them the old version back again. Such actions might work in this more recent instance as well.

We don’t have a copy of the Microsoft warranty/software contract and are certainly not lawyers, but if the warranty says anything about "working as advertised" then a case might be made for a breach of contract. In comparison, the MacTools Deluxe warranty does say "the SOFTWARE will perform substantially in accordance with the accompanying written materials," which implies that bugs would be covered under warranty. It may not be possible, but we would like to see companies being flexible enough honor odd circumstances like this, especially since it is more than worth it in customer loyalty.

Information from:
Norman Graham — [email protected]
D. Daniel Sternbergh — [email protected]
C. Irby — [email protected]
Steven A. Schrader — [email protected]
Hans Mulder — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Alternate Limb Controllers

A recent discussion on the net regarding alternate pointing devices inspired me to try running my mouse with my feet. It works well, though I need a longer mouse cord to maintain the necessary position for any length of time (the cord is not long enough for the mouse to rest on the floor). For some touch typists or those with limited desk space, the mouse has always been limiting. One’s hand must jump off the keyboard to move the mouse, and the mouse often competes with papers, electronic gizmos, food, and plants for space. I have read heated debates about the pros and cons of removing one’s hand from the keyboard. Some advocate track balls as the solution to the space problem, and I myself have passionately argued for a keyboard offering the j (or the f) key as a mini-trackball so I could type and keep my hands on the keyboard while clicking and dragging. (I had a number of possible schemes for typing a j (or f) when the actual letter was needed.)

The Outbound Portable features a pointing device called the Isobar. This bar, located just below the space bar, slides left and right and rolls up and down. When you push the bar, you perform the equivalent of a mouse click. I found this to be a tad awkward when I ran into the mouse pad equivalent of running out of room on the mouse pad, but on the whole I liked the Isobar, though it has received mixed reviews from others I know (like me! -Adam).

Mouses for a number of Unix-style workstations sport three buttons to allow users to give different commands depending on what combinations of keys are pushed. Proposals for a Mac mouse that does this were greeted by statements that the Control-click and Shift-click options accomplish the same tasks.

Recently one person proposed adding two dials to the keyboard for scrolling. This would be handy, though a number of programs define the arrow keys for that task. Another person mentioned a company that may be working on an organ pedal-like mechanism for foot input. Lest we forget that not everyone is so lucky to have the full use of all limbs and digits, it is important that companies pursue alternate devices for controlling computers. One possibility in that arena is a head-mounted input device, although as C Irby points out, that leads to the <option>-<shift>-<click>-<headbutt>.

Most people use a mouse and don’t question its prominence in the input device category. Some use trackballs, a few use styluses, and even fewer use devices where their fingers do the walking on special pads. I’m looking forward to the development of devices that use feet, thus freeing my fingers for typing and letting me exercise my weak arches in the process. All that would really be necessary would be the mouse unit built into the toe-end of a slipper, though some attention should be paid to proper foot orientation to avoid overuse injuries. Freeing the feet would also allow the use of multiple pointing devices and multiple cursors. If the opposable thumb made the difference in human evolution, just think what the opposable mouse could do for computer evolution.

Information from:
Tonya Byard & Adam C. Engst — TidBITS editors
James G. Smith — [email protected]
C. Irby — [email protected]
Robert Minich — [email protected]
James G. Smith — [email protected]
Dana E. Keil — [email protected]