By popular request, this week brings you even more on neat Internet services, and the final word from Howard Hansen on Excel 4.0, along with an important warning about saving from Excel. For those of you with monstrous TIFF files, you might consider the new Pinnacle Micro 650 MB magneto-optical drive, but you also might read about what’s wrong with Pinnacle’s ads. Check out next week’s issue for exciting new stuff!
Nigel Stanger writes:
Here’s Apple’s original slogan. In fact, here’s the relevant paragraph from West of Eden.
They sold their product for the odd sum of $666.66 and identified themselves with a curiously romantic logo that showed Isaac Newton under an apple tree and sported a legend lifted from Wordsworth: "Newton… ‘A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought… Alone.’"
The book itself is:
Rose, Frank, "West of Eden: The End of Innocence at Apple Computer," Hutchinson 1989. ISBN 0-09-174118-1.
Nigel Stanger — [email protected]
Nisus/Word Comment — Mel Martinez writes:
Matt Neuburg (in TidBITS-131) ignores a feature of Nisus that I consider one of the strongest reasons to switch to Nisus after using Word for so long: scrolling speed.
While not quite as fast as a plain text editor, for a WYSIWYG editor, Nisus blazes through a document while Word crawls. This is especially true when the document includes graphics. I would put this under Matt’s category "Moving around the document" and give a big nod to Nisus. Scrolling speed also affects the "Editing" category since a click-and-drag that results in a scroll is nearly twice as fast in Nisus as in Word.
Matt also glosses over Nisus’s better options for placing a graphic (behind, in front of, or embedded in the text) than Word due to Nisus’s separate graphics layer.
Mel Martinez — [email protected]
It appears that I have hit a chord with my first article on the Internet. I don’t wish to delve into the details, but several people have offered useful suggestions to that first article that I thought you would find interesting.
Zen — Prentice-Hall will soon release the second edition of a $22 book called "Zen and the Art of the Internet." The first edition of this book exists all over the place on the Internet in Unix-compressed PostScript form. You may not want to check out this file since getting it will be complicated for a number of reasons, including the fact that you will be dealing with a 450K file. However, to get instructions on how to receive the first edition, send email to <[email protected]> with the command "send zen hints" in the body of your message. You’re on your own.
FAQ — You may see this abbreviation strewn around the Internet in various places, and unless someone has explained it to you, it may not make much sense. FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions, and since the Internet grows at a rate of about 20% each month, people come into a discussion group late and miss a long thread about a particular question. The late-comer promptly asks the question again, and the process repeats itself. Enter FAQ lists. They take the most common questions and provide answers so that late-comers don’t interrupt the ongoing conversations to ask about subjects that have been covered already.
A recently created Usenet group includes a FAQ posting about the Mac, and it has been made available via FTP at <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as…
(and remember what I said in Gateways 1 in TidBITS-130 about the mirror sites and mailservers). The file is 55K, unfortunately, so it won’t fit through the AppleLink gateway and America Online will truncate it to 27K.
FAQ Table of Contents I. Introduction 1. What other information is available? 2. Posting Etiquette II. The Question of the Year: Why is my system using so much memory? III. FTP 1. Where can I FTP Macintosh software? 2. Can I get shareware by E-mail? 3. Where can I find Application X? 4. Can someone mail me Application X? 5. What is .bin? .hqx? .cpt? .image? .etc? IV. Viruses 1. Help! I have a virus! 2. Reporting new viruses V. Printing 1. How do I make a PostScript file? 2. How do I print a PostScript file? 3. Why won't my PostScript file print on my mainframe's printer? 4. Why are my PostScript files so big? 5. How can I print PostScript on a non-PostScript printer? 6. How do I make my ImageWriter II print in color? 7. Why doesn't PrintMonitor work with the ImageWriter? 8. Why did my document change when I printed it? VI. System Software 1. What is System 7 Tuneup? Do I need it? 2. Do I need System 7.01? 3. How can I get System 7.01 on 800K disks? 4. Why do my DA's disappear when I turn on MultiFinder? VII. DOS and the Mac 1. How can I move files between a Mac and a PC? 2. How can I translate files to a DOS format? 3. Should I buy SoftPC or a real PC? VIII. Security 1. How can I prevent users from changing the contents of a folder? 2. How can I password protect my Mac? IX. Hard Disks 1. Help! My folder disappeared! 2. Why can't I throw this folder away? X. Floppy Disks 1. Why can't my new Mac read my old Mac's floppy disks? 2. Can I turn a double-density disk into a high density disk by punching an extra hole in it? XI. Miscellaneous 1. How can I preview a PostScript file? 2. How do I edit a PostScript file? 3. What does System Error xxx mean? 4. How do I use a picture for my desktop? 5. How do I make a startup screen? 6. Can I replace the "Welcome to Macintosh" box with a picture? 7. What is AutoDoubler? Is it safe? 8. How does AutoDoubler compare to other compression products? 9. What's a good text editor for the Mac? 10. Where did my icons go?
FTP Tips — Andy Shepard writes:
Your interesting article on gateways in TidBITS-130 prompted me to write a short note with a couple of further useful tidbits:
- When you FTP to an archive site, you must enter a username and a password. Almost exclusively, the username is "anonymous" and the password is your email address, usually in the form [email protected] (using my address as an example).
- For the large base of UK Mac Users (and indeed other European countries), a better all-round site than the Swedish one you mentioned is at host <src.doc.ic.ac.uk>, which can be FTP’ed for simple file transfer, or you can logon for limited interactive use using "telnet src.doc.ic.ac.uk" (login="sources", no password) – the directory /tmp is writable. This site has archives of Mac, PC, UNIX, X, and Vax software and news. The Mac archive mirrors the umich archive as well as the sumex archive (in directories /mac/umich and /mac/sumex respectively). In addition there is even a mail-server facility, though I’ve never had to try this. The best UK/Euro archie site is nearby at <archie.doc.ic.ac.uk> (login="archie").
- For people retrieving files from FTP-sites: you can save yourself a great deal of frustration if you remember that Unix (the operating system on most servers these days) is CaSe SeNsItIve!
- Be respectful when using FTP – confine your time to out-of-hours periods – bear in mind the time differences across the Atlantic and Pacific!
Andy Sheppard — [email protected]
List o’ Lists — Jon Pugh writes to tell us about the List of Lists file:
This file lists all the mailing lists you can subscribe to. Info-Mac is listed, and TidBITS should be. The file includes instructions on adding or updating your entry. The file is available via FTP from <ftp.nisc.sri.com> in the file
It is a compressed Unix text file. Use any Unix "uncompress" compatible command to expand it into a normal text file. For those of you not on Unix machines, make sure to download as binary and use MacCompress or Stuffit Deluxe to expand the file.
Definitely a must-read file for anyone interested in electronic communications. It’s 360K compressed and 879K uncompressed. Heavy, but worth it.
Jon Pugh — [email protected]
Magneto-optical disks can be attractive storage devices for many applications. If you have massive amounts of data that you want to store, and if you tend to access large blocks of data sequentially (if you’re reading or writing large files), they can be extremely cost-effective. However, due to its slower seek time, today’s magneto-optical drive usually isn’t seen as a suitable replacement for a Winchester-style (i.e. normal) magnetic disk.
Most magneto-optical drives use a fairly massive read/write head, which contains both magnetic and optical components. The head assembly weighs more than the arm-and-head assembly on a Winchester drive, and it can’t move across the disk as quickly. As a result, seek times for a typical magneto-optical drive are often several times slower than seeks on a Winchester drive of a similar capacity.
In addition, most magneto-optical drives write data more slowly than they read it, because the laser must make two or more passes over the medium – one pass to erase the old bits, one pass to write the new ones, and (in some cases) one pass to verify the data. Once again, these drives are slower than Winchesters of similar capacity.
Something new? — The Pinnacle Micro PMO-650 has a two-page ad in the 25-May-92 issue of MacWEEK which claims that this mechanism is a bird of a different color because its speed compares to that of a reasonably fast hard disk. However, further reading of the ad suggested that there is a bit of fast talking and clever verbiage taking place, and that the ad is at best misleading in its claims.
The ad cites a "19 millisecond effective access time." There’s a footnote bullet which states:
Test Results performed with a 1/3 stroke plus latency over a 50 MB band width. A 1/3 stroke plus latency is the standard of measurement in the optical storage industry.
Well, this may be true, but if you try to compare this "19 millisecond" figure to the equivalent figure for a similarly-sized Winchester hard disk, you will be comparing apples and oranges and may be disappointed.
The catch is the "50 MB band width" clause. This means that Pinnacle has benchmarked their drive by performing seeks over a 50 MB band on the medium, which is only 50 MB out of the 325 MB on one side of the platter! In other words, Pinnacle Micro has based their "1/3 stroke" on the assumption that a "full stroke" covers less than a sixth of the data area on the platter!
This is particularly significant, because this drive uses a split optic design. Drives of this sort can perform short seeks quite quickly (they usually move a tracking mirror using a light voice-coil mechanism) but slow down on long seeks (the entire laser assembly must be moved). By restricting their seek-time tests to a 50 MB band, Pinnacle may have skewed the results of the test in their favor since a larger percentage of the seeks can be performed using the fast-seek mechanism than would be possible in a full-disk-surface seek test.
Checking out the facts — I called Pinnacle’s 800 number, asked for information about the drive, and spoke with a representative for about five minutes. I asked a number of questions and got the following responses (summarized, not quoted exactly):
- Am I correct in assuming that the seek tests are being performed across only one 50 MB band out of the 325 MB on the platter surface? [Yes]
- Most Winchester disks have their "effective access time" based on a typical mix of seeks over the full disk capacity, do they not? [Yes, I believe so.]
- Then I can’t really make an apples-and-apples comparison between a Winchester disk and the PMO-650 based on your quoted access time, can I? [Well, you can’t really compare the two technologies, because hard disks have multiple heads and optical drives have only one.]
- But that’s the kind of comparison your ad tries to make, isn’t it? [Yes]
- The ad notes that "A 1/3 stroke plus latency is the standard of measurement in the optical storage industry," and I understand that this sort of measurement is fairly typical in the Winchester disk industry as well. [Yes, I believe that’s correct]
- Do you know of any other vendors of optical disks who quote an average seek time based on a test which limits the full stroke to only a small fraction of the platter capacity? [Offhand, no, I can’t think of any.]
Another opinion — A couple of weeks after this, I spoke with a representative of a company which makes high-performance caching controllers for magneto-optical disks. I described the Pinnacle benchmark as it had been advertised, and asked him what he thought of it. His response was to the effect of "That’s nonsense." (he used a much stronger word than "nonsense") He told me that he considered Pinnacle’s claim to be harmful to the magneto-optical disk industry, because it created false expectations about the performance of that sort of drive. He hadn’t heard of any other vendor which printed benchmarks based on a 50 MB band of the disk and was skeptical about the whole concept of trying to compare Winchester and magneto-optical disks through any sort of standardized benchmark.
It’s actually a pretty hot drive — It may sound from all of this as if I’m entirely negative about the PMO-650 drive. Actually, I’m not. There are some other facts about the drive which may – and probably do – allow it to outperform similar mechanisms by a substantial margin.
The drive controller has a large cache – 4 MB. According to Pinnacle representatives, the cache management firmware is quite sophisticated – it supports read-ahead, write-behind, and a number of different media-access algorithms. As a result, the drive can frequently "service" one request from the host computer while writing out the data from previous requests to the media in an orderly fashion. In addition, the drive has a respectable sustained transfer rate – 1.3 MB/second on a Mac IIfx, 1.5 MB/second on a Quadra 900. That’s quite a bit faster than either of the two Winchester disks I own.
My conclusions? — On the positive side: for an optical mechanism, this drive is probably faster than most. If you’re doing the sorts of jobs for which magneto-optical disks are often suggested – for example, working with big 24-bit TIFF files – you’d probably be quite happy with this drive.
On the negative side: if you’re expecting this drive to behave as well as a good Winchester, under a broad set of conditions, you may be disappointed. Test it yourself, if you’re considering it for a performance-intensive application and don’t trust Pinnacle’s quoted performance figures unless you’re satisfied that their test conditions match up with your intended usage of the disk.
Caveat emptor, folks. There are lies, damned lies, and benchmarks. There is also advertising. In my opinion, Pinnacle did a bad thing. They chose to print an ad which makes a misleading comparison, and they made statements in the ad which are unsupported by the facts. Somebody in their organization, their advertising firm, or both, deserves to get sacked for trying to pull a scam like this.
It’s a shame, really. It looks as if Pinnacle Micro has developed a nice product, and has good reason to be proud of the PMO-650. I’m not sure I’d be willing to buy anything from Pinnacle Micro, though, as I’m not confident that I can trust them.
Pinnacle Micro — 800/553-7070 — 714/727-3300
[Here we have the final part of Howard’s review, folks. This time we’ll look at some of the interface and output enhancements in Excel 4.0 and hear about Howard’s few gripes and overall impressions. -Adam]
Custom Worksheet — Geneva. Blecch! While I imagine I would enjoy the city, I don’t like the font. Nor does my LaserWriter. So why does Excel still use Geneva as its default font? I don’t know, but finally Microsoft has provided us with a semi-appropriate work around.
In Excel 3.0, Microsoft introduced the Excel Startup Folder. Excel does something with everything you put in this folder. You put an add-in macro in, Excel loads that add-in. With worksheets or macro sheets, Excel opens them automatically. If you save a file as a template, that template will appear in the File New dialog box as an option. If you create a template and call it "Worksheet", Excel will replace the standard, stupid Geneva-font worksheet it creates by default with a copy of the template you specify. I have saved myself untold formatting hours simply by doing this.
Split & Freeze Panes — Since spreadsheet users often want to look at tons of data, Excel has always had a way to split a worksheet window into multiple "panes," and then freeze those panes into place. This way, you can still see your column labels at the top of your screen as you scroll down a long list. In the old days, you had to carefully grab the "split box" next to each scroll bar, drag the split where you want it, then choose freeze panes. Frankly, most users found the whole procedure pretty confusing and easy to screw up. Excel 4.0 comes to the rescue by changing the way the pane controls work.
The pane controls have migrated from the Options menu to the Window menu – a more intuitive place, I think. To split and freeze the panes, you scroll the window so the column and row headings you want to stay put show at the top and left of the screen, then select the cell in the upper left corner of the range you want to scroll. Choose Freeze Panes and bang, Excel does everything for you.
Views — Many of us have worksheets with more than one reporting area. If you do, you know the difficulty of jumping from place to place on the worksheet. With the Views add-in, you can name different reports and jump to them quickly. Unfortunately, this add-in works so slowly, I can’t stand to use it!
Zooming — Although the Zoom command does not come from an add-in, it works too much like they just bolted it on. How about adding the Claris-standard zoom buttons to the scroll bars? Aesthetics aside, I do find it wonderful to zoom out and see the "map" of a worksheet, or zoom in to comfortably work with columns of seven point numbers.
Printing Changes — When he showed Excel 4.0 to dBUG (Seattle’s Mac user group), Excel’s product manager admitted "Excel 3.0 had the Yugo of headers and footers." Well, Excel 4.0 has the Hyundai of headers and footers.
With the new version, you don’t have to remember the formatting codes (&p for page number, &f for file name, etc.) – you can choose them from pop-up menus in a sub-dialog within the Page Setup dialog box. When you select "Date" from the list, Excel inserts a WYSI_N_WYG code – &D! Although you can now have multi-line headers or footers, you still can’t move the header or footer from a half an inch from the top or bottom of the page, nor can you have different headers and footers for the first page of a document.
Other printing changes include an add-in macro called "Print Report" which allows you to set up different ranges to print on a worksheet (for instance your financial worksheet might have an income statement, a balance sheet, and a transaction report). With the Print Report command, you can print all or some of those reports at once.
Microsoft has also added two new features to the Page Setup dialog box. The first allows you to change the order in which the pages print – either top to bottom or left to right. The second lets you tell Excel to reduce or enlarge the worksheet to fit onto any number of pages wide and tall. For instance, you can make a large report print on one page, or tell Excel to print it three pages wide by one tall.
Microsoft has simplified specifying print titles (rows and/or columns which appear at the top and left of all pages when you print the worksheet). Rather than forcing you to select the entire rows and/or the entire columns you want for titles, the dialog now lets you simply click on the rows or columns you want for titles, which is much simpler.
Finally, the macro language will now control all page setup options, including page orientation!
Suggestions for Using Excel 4.0 — The standard toolbar has many which you may not use. Take them off and replace them with tools you need. Many tools do double duty; for instance, shift-clicking on the increase font size tool will decrease the font size. Other changes I’ve made to the standard toolbar include replacing the print tool with Print Preview, adding the zoom out tool (shift-click on it to zoom in), removing the left justification tool (Excel left-justifies by default), and adding outlining tools.
Documentation and Support — I have mixed feelings about the documentation. The Mac and Windows versions work so similarly that Microsoft has merged the two sets of documentation. This works well for those who use both platforms, so they get a side-by-side explanation of the few differences. While Microsoft has included many figures, and the explanations stick much more to practical how and why topics than in the past, you will find few screen shots in the text. Not only do they not show you the dialog boxes, but they also don’t list all of the options and what they mean. I find it comforting to see the dialog box next to the text – it allows me to orient myself better.
That said, I have to admit that the new on-line help system makes up for and explains the choices they made with the documentation. You will find almost all of the detail you expect from the manual in the online help system. If get confused about just about any feature, Excel’s help system will give you the information you need. First, almost every dialog box now has a help button. When you click it, Excel brings up help for that particular topic. If you want to know what each of the choices in the Display Options dialog do, you won’t find the detail in the manual, but the help system patiently explains all.
You can copy text from the help system onto the clipboard as well as printing it. You can add your own notes to all help topics, and set bookmarks for places you go on a regular basis.
Under System 7, Microsoft supports balloon help, but only for windows, menus, and toolbars. I’d really like to see it work in individual dialog boxes so I could easily find out what this or that checkbox means.
Wish List — Although I wholeheartedly endorse what Microsoft has done with Excel 4.0, they still need to fix some annoying, persistent problems with the program. I’d especially like to see:
- Better headers and footers. Let’s move the headers and footers, make them WYSIWYG, and turn them off selectively.
- Embedded Macros. Let’s create buttons and tools with macros embedded, so they don’t have to rely on a separate macro sheet.
- Cooler Wizards. How about a wizard which allows you to create financial reports – income statements, balance sheets, etc.?
Conclusions — In this three-part review, I still haven’t discussed all of the new features in Excel 4.0, but I think I’ve hit most of the important ones. If you own Excel, should you upgrade? If you have enough free space on your hard disk as well as at least 4 MB of RAM, I think you should. If you don’t own Excel, should you buy it? I hate to foster monopolism, but I think any Mac user who doesn’t have a significant reason to use some other spreadsheet should choose Excel.
As I said in the first part, I feel like I work significantly more efficiently with Excel 4.0 than I did with Excel 3.0. As the feature lists get longer, I find myself wondering, "what more can they possibly put into a spreadsheet?" That question reminds me of a common sentiment from a few years back: "Why on earth would anyone need more than 64K of RAM?"
Microsoft Customer Service — 800/426-9400
Howard Hansen, The Oasis Group — [email protected]
You would think that with three parts spread out over a month, we would have covered Excel 4.0 sufficiently. However, as a testament to the product’s added complexity and flexibility, we’ve received two comments about it in the past few weeks, one good, one bad.
Object model — First, the good news. Jon Pugh wrote to tell us to be sure to mention the fact that Excel 4.0 is perhaps the first major program to be fully Apple event and AppleScript aware. Excel 4.0 supports the object model, and for those of you using UserLand Frontier or pre-release versions of AppleScript, you can do essentially everything in the program via Apple events. This is, of course, wonderful news that also fits in the "so what?" category until enough other programs are similarly full-featured and AppleScript eventually ships. In the meantime, Frontier can do some pretty amazing things, and along with a hack from Steve Zellers of Berkeley Systems, you can even have a Scripts menu in your Finder that contains Frontier scripts. Frontier must be running as well, but with sufficient RAM to hold both apps at the same time you could control Excel (or any of the other Apple event-aware applications like PageMaker) from a Finder menu, which would be pretty neat.
Workbook bugs — Now, the bad news. Andy J. Williams writes to tell us about a serious bug with workbooks in Excel 4.0:
I just had a disaster that taught me a valuable lesson about Excel 4.0’s Workbook feature. File this under "Don’t let this happen to you."
The scenario: I have five spreadsheets and one macro sheet bound together in a workbook. At the bottom of the screen for each page of the workbook is a "control panel" of five buttons each leading to the other sheets (referencing macros on the macro sheet).
I went to save the workbook. Just after saving the first of the six documents my machine crashed.
After restarting the workbook was trashed. Only the first sheet was visible or usable. Using the standard forward/backward page buttons I can go between the index page and that one sheet. No others are visible. Clicking on my control panel of buttons produces a system crash.
I spoke with someone at Microsoft Tech Support, and I surmise that Excel is completely rebuilding the workbook up from scratch rather than changing the existing workbook. Thus, any crash while saving will ensure that there is NO copy anywhere around except the one that was in memory, in the process of being written. This is a wonderfully unsafe way to do things.
So, my advice is: always backup workbooks BEFORE starting work.
[A clever macro programmer could probably whip something up to do this automatically, and it would be a piece of cake to do in Frontier. -Adam]