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The Duo debate continues and we present the first 7.1 tip for early birds. Printer mavens will like HP’s new dual cartridge color DeskWriter, NEC has a new driver for the CDR-74 that solves some problematic conflicts, we figure out just how Performa users will re-install system software since they don’t get bundled system disks, and finally, a review of a rare book on tech support.

Adam Engst No comments


I said last week that I might do Macintosh price chart this week after the suggested retail price drop had a chance to sink in. Well, either it hasn’t had a chance, or it won’t sink in, since street prices didn’t change from the chart in TidBITS-143. Stay tuned.

Adam Engst No comments


LISTSERV 101 — I like helping people with subscription problems to the TIDBITS LISTSERV, but it isn’t a good use of my time since you can easily do everything yourself. Here are the instructions for subscribing to and leaving the list. If you switch accounts, signoff from your old account and subscribe from your new one. There is no command to change an address.

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Adam Engst No comments

8*24 GC Refund Program Extended

8*24 GC Refund Program Extended — Mark H. Anbinder writes, "According to this week’s dealer bulletin, the 8/24 GC Video Card Refund Program is being extended through 30-Oct-92." [For more information on this, check out TidBITS-143. -Adam]

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor

Adam Engst No comments

WriteMoving Ribbon

WriteMoving Ribbon — Mark H. Anbinder writes:

One nifty feature of the new GCC printer is its "ribbon saving" feature. GCC’s dealer material describes it like this:

"In order to print more quickly, the WriteMove II’s ribbon cartridge continues to spool even as it passes over white spaces in your document. GCC has engineered a means by which you can choose to spool ribbon over white spaces, and therefore maximize the speed of the printer, or choose to stop ribbon spooling and conserve the ribbon. If speed is important, choose High Speed Printing. If it is less important, you can conserve ribbon by adjusting the speed downwards.

"Note that you should always use High Speed Printing when using the Multi Strike Ribbon."

I applaud GCC for leaving the choice of whether to optimize printing time or consumables usage in the user’s hands. They have revealed a failing of most devices that use ribbons, and have taken it upon themselves to resolve the problem.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor

Adam Engst No comments

Duo Doubters

Perhaps I was a tad over-enthusiastic about the PowerBook Duos last week. Two readers pointed out problems that I had conveniently ignored in my article. "Conveniently ignoring" (often known as "poetic license") isn’t commonly acknowledged by journalistic circles. For example, read most anything about the Macintosh that appears in a PC or consumer oriented publication. Heck, even the New York Times writes the word incorrectly as "MacIntosh."

About that floppy drive… — Ralph Lombreglia writes:

I share your enthusiasm – in theory – for a PowerBook Duo and a Duo Dock, as the machine that would do what most of us want (though not really me, alas, because I leave my SE/30 on all the time for faxing and voice mail). Truly, any real PowerBook, combined with a real Mac at home, will create enormous file-version headaches for most users (although I hear there’s a utility out for this; still, two full-fledged computers with all your stuff loaded is a pain) [There are several utilities for synchronizing files between machines -Adam]. This almost makes the PowerBook 100, with minimal software loaded, and functioning as a notebook, the best PowerBook for people with a real Mac at home.

So I share your Duo excitement. But I have one basic problem with the design which you blithely skip over as though it doesn’t matter to you for some reason: there’s no floppy in the Duo, so when you’re out with it, working like mad, how do you back up your files? Personally, there’s no way that I’m pouring the best gestures of my brain into a computer for hours on end, and having the results on only one storage device. Buying an external floppy is not the answer because that’s a royal pain, and not what one should have to do after spending three grand for a small light notebook.

[I agree with Ralph about the PowerBook 100 being the best for those of us who have fully-loaded Macs that run at all times. Of course, I’m putting my mouth where my money is, since we recently acquired a cute PowerBook 100 and popped in a 6 MB memory upgrade. It’s a treat of a writing machine, especially when running from RAM disk, in part because there’s less available to distract me than on my 20 MB SE/30 with 15 applications open.

My answer to Ralph’s valid point about the lack of the internal floppy is that many people won’t need it. True, you can’t backup your work as easily, but we never bother with the external floppy for our 100. Filesharing or emailing files to yourself (assuming you have an internal modem) serve as quick backup mechanisms that don’t waste space or weight on a floppy drive. Remember, you can easily have two volumes on a PowerBook by creating a RAM disk, and if the Duos work like the PowerBook 100, that RAM disk should be safe, although certainly not as safe as a separate floppy disk. It’s a trade-off, and one I’m willing to live with. -Adam]

Oh yeah, and the screen… — Hisham A. Abboud writes:

One comment on the "Duo Date" article in TidBITS-144. The lack of active matrix display was not mentioned at all. I think the active matrix display played a major, major role in the success of the PowerBook 170, and I am disappointed none of the Duos has it. Currently, I am looking into the PowerBook 180. If I didn’t need the active matrix display, I would save the money and go with a PowerBook 160 or a Duo, but an active matrix display is a must have, as far as my needs are concerned.

[Frankly, Hisham, you’re right. I can waffle around and make an argument based on the fact that the active matrix screens cost more and might draw more power, but as Rich Wolfson says in his excellent book "The PowerBook Companion" when comparing the PowerBook 140 and 170, "The screen is the deciding factor, and you’ll have to evaluate your screen needs and preferences before you can make your choice." If you need or want an active matrix screen, the fact that other people don’t mind the passive matrix screens makes no difference. You want active matrix and will pay for it, and you won’t buy a Duo until the next generation of them includes an active matrix screen. -Adam]

Information from:
Ralph Lombreglia — [email protected]
Hisham A. Abboud — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

CDR-74 Problem

On October 19th, that oh-so-magical date, Apple will announce a new machine, the IIvx, that includes an internal double-speed CD-ROM drive, reportedly from Sony. An external CD-ROM drive based on the same mechanism can’t lag far behind, so you might wait before jumping to purchase a CD-ROM drive, or you could be tempted to jump up and down on it. (Of course, reports claim those external drives will be in short supply until January, but that’s beside the point.)

NEC has the only double-speed drives available on the market, the CDR-73M and the CDR-74. Their double-speed technology allows the drive to spin twice as fast when reading data as opposed to when it reads audio information, which must (by decree of the standards committee on high) come off the disc at 150 KB per second. So, a double-speed drive can read data at 300 KB per second, providing significantly better response with QuickTime movies and the like as long as the head doesn’t have to fly from sector to sector seeking widely separated information. If that happens, the double-speed technology makes no difference since double-speed drives suffer the same access time limitations (about 300 millisecond access time) as normal single-speed drives. Nonetheless, the increased throughput when reading sequential data sounds good and probably works well. Most of the time, anyway.

Alert and temporarily disgruntled reader Bill Leue wrote to tell us about a problem after he purchased a NEC CDR-74 at Macworld Expo in August. He purchased the drive from a major CD vendor, Educorp, and after the show called them to order the popular CD-ROM game from Reactor, Spaceship Warlock. When the order person heard he had a CDR-74, she informed him that Educorp’s had discovered a conflict between the CDR-74 (and the CDR-73M) drive and some CD-ROM discs, including Spaceship Warlock. Bill then talked to a tech support person there who thought the problem lay in the driver software, and said that Educorp had reported the problem to NEC. Luckily, it turns out that NEC now has a new version of the driver software (2.25) that fixes this problem.

Further investigation on Bill’s part turned up additional incompatible CDs, including Virtual Valerie, also from Reactor, Warner New Media’s A View from Earth, and Educorp’s own Educorp Shareware CD. Some of the possible problems include blank dialog boxes with only an OK button, the bottom third of the display becoming corrupted with black bands, "Not enough memory to load saved game" messages, and flashing bomb boxes.

Since this story ended happily, I’m running it mainly to warn owners of these NEC drives who may have strange problems. Bill noted that although Educorp’s technical support people were prompt and friendly and sent him the new driver without being asked, he had trouble getting NEC to even answer the phone. That meshes with my experience with NEC and with things I’ve heard, so if you need a new driver, talk to your dealer first and NEC last. I hope version 2.25 of the driver software indeed solves all of the problem listed above.

I cannot say if this problem will appear on Apple’s new double-speed drives as well, although I hope Apple tests the drive with these discs. I recommend that you wait and let someone else act as a guinea pig unless you have to buy one of these drives immediately. Forewarned is forearmed, but you can always complain.

Information from:
Bill Leue – [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Now Utilities 4.0 Bugs Out

After much anticipation from users, Now Software recently shipped version 4.0 of the popular Now Utilities package. Aside from concerns regarding the exclusion of certain utilities from the package, the promised features left little wanting. Unfortunately, as clothes do not make the man, features alone do not make the program.

Shortly after the package shipped, reports of odd conflicts and bugs appeared on CompuServe and America Online, though, interestingly enough, not as evidently on the Internet. Now’s online technical support staff did an excellent job, answering every post that I saw, but it became apparent that a quick bug fix was necessary, and Now posted a public message stating that they intended to drop development on all other projects (including the maintenance release of the previous version of Now Utilities 3.0.3) to concentrate on fixing version 4.0.

No one would gain from a list of bugs and conflicts here since the free updater should be available online soon, perhaps within the week. If you have installed version 4.0, I suggest you remove it from your computer if you have an unusual number of crashes, as I did on my SE/30. Going back to 3.0.2 or living without the utilities will cause less stress and frustration than having your Mac crash frequently and unexpectedly. I assure you that version 4.0.1 of the Now Utilities will fix numerous bugs and even a few design flaws (such as the one that forced everything to load after Now Toolbox, a requirement that caused problems for some low-level extensions like Connectix’s Maxima). Many people (and our PowerBook 100) have had no trouble with Now Utilities 4.0, so if you haven’t noticed any problems, don’t worry about going back to the previous version.

I need a ROM upgrade for my crystal ball, so I can’t say precisely what went wrong. In an ideal world and aided by hindsight, perhaps Now should have waited longer before releasing and should have had a larger beta program, but real life circumstances may have prevented more delay or the addition of more beta sites. Perhaps the most important issue is the sheer complexity of ensuring compatibility and testing a set of extensions with most every other application and extension in the Macintosh world. The size of that task is mind-boggling, and it’s no surprise that bugs and conflicts slipped through. A single application program will have far fewer potential interactions than a set of extensions that modify system behavior, and conflicts show up even with relatively simple applications.

I’m sure that Now regrets the problems as much as you do if you’ve had them, and there’s no use complaining over spilt software, to mangle another cliche. Once version 4.0 is as stable as version 3.0.2, I think most people will find the added features attractive and worth the upgrade price.

Information from:
Now Software — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

System 7.1 Tip O’ The Week

To get you into the mood for System 7.1, Robert Hess passed on this tip from Leonard Rosenthol, chief technical wizard at Aladdin Systems. Apparently you can put FKEYs and other resources in System 7.1’s special Fonts folder and the system will open them automatically. When the system opens a file and leaves it open, as it will do for font suitcases, the resources in that file become part of the standard operating system. So, if you put a file containing resources of any type, FKEYs, sounds, etc., and change the TYPE of the file to a font file’s type, either FFIL or ffil, the system will open that file.

When I asked about this, Leonard said "I tried to convince Apple to actually allow other file types to be opened by that piece of code, but they wouldn’t do it (though it is REALLY easy to add)." I guess that would have been too easy and made too much sense, although then the folder would have needed a new name since it makes little sense to put FKEYs in a folder called Fonts.

Information from:
Robert Hess — [email protected]
Leonard Rosenthol — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Performa Systems

It seems that the Performas, although they run a slightly modified version of System 7.0.1, will not ship with a full set of system disks. This is a problem for a third-party tech support person when she wants the user to test a problem by booting from a floppy disk or to correct a problem by re-installing the system. Obviously, some companies like Shiva and Wolfram Research won’t worry about this since Performa users won’t use routers or Mathematica, but lots of companies will have problems with this, not the least of them Symantec, Claris, and Intuit.

I checked this with John Cook, Apple’s consumer product manager, who luckily answered his email while in Germany helping with the roll-out of the Performa line. John confirmed that Apple will not ship system disks in the box with the Performa, but Apple Backup, a simple backup utility does come pre-installed on the hard disk and in the Launcher. Let’s hope that users read the manual first, because it immediately instructs users to backup of their hard disks with the Apple Backup utility (if you advise anyone about buying a Performa, make sure they buy a box of blank disks at the same time!). Apple Backup provides two choices, according to John, just the operating system (I presume he means the System Folder) or everything on the disk.

So that’s where the user will get his set of system disks to use when a tech support person wants him to re-install the system. If the user overlooks making a backup, he can call Apple’s toll-free customer assistance center for answers about the operating system and if necessary Apple will send a set of system software disks.

This will no doubt slow down technical support for Performa users of third-party applications, but at least the user will eventually get full support.

John said, "We’ve learned a lot from our consumer pilot and from our PowerBook support programs and feel this system works. Our data tells us that many users, especially first time buyers, don’t understand install routines for the Mac OS or know what to do with the disks."

John is right about users not knowing what to do with the installer, but I’d like to see Apple go even further yet. Consider this. If master disks had a few special non-printing characters at the start of the disk name, a simple extension could offer the choice of treating the disk as a normal one or running an install script (one allowing the user to place files wherever she wants rather than on the boot volume). Power users wanting to avoid the automatic installer could simply remove the initial special characters, and novice users would find it much less daunting. The installer extension could even automatically add items to the Launcher on the Performas. A clever person might be able to duplicate this functionality with Frontier Runtime and a sophisticated script.

Information from:
John Cook, Apple Consumer Product Manager

Adam Engst No comments

Double DeskWriters

I enjoy seeing Hewlett-Packard enhance its popular DeskWriter printers, and last year’s introduction of the DeskWriter C color printer did not disappoint me. This year, HP managed to put two cartridges – one color and one true black – in the same printer so you can print in color and black in the same document without switching cartridges or putting up with brownish blacks that depleted the more-expensive color cartridge.

The new printer, the HP DeskWriter 550C, will list for $1,099, should be available by 01-Nov-92, and will include a three-year warranty. Needless to say, with the new printer priced like that, HP dropped the list price of the DeskWriter C to $779. If HP wanted to make a killing, they could also offer a deal on the plain DeskWriter since Apple’s comparable StyleWriter is reportedly in short supply right now.

The DeskWriter 550C includes the same fonts that Apple includes with the current LaserWriters. HP’s driver uses Intellifont technology to achieve font scaling for the included fonts, and unless I’m mistaken TrueType should work with the DeskWriter 550C as well.

The new printer offers better paper handling that deals with letter-, legal-, A4-, and executive-size pages, along with envelopes. For those of you who, like me, had never heard of "executive-size" paper, it’s a tad smaller at 7.25" x 10.5". I suppose a comment about executive-size brains might be in order here. The standard paper tray automatically feeds any of these page sizes and holds up to 100 sheets of paper or 20 envelopes.

The main reason to buy a DeskWriter 550C remains the improved document quality because you can print true black and color on the same page. The dual-cartridge implementation provides faster output for pages with both black and color on them, up to four times faster than the DeskWriter C according to HP. Straight text speed is about three pages per minute, and a full color page could take up to seven minutes. I presume that HP uses two print heads, one for each cartridge, or has come up with a shuttling system for the cartridges controlled by the driver. I wonder if the driver will let you print true black and a color on the same line?

Finally, I don’t know how HP does this, but the DeskWriter 550C offers a color matching system implemented in the driver. This allows you to more closely match colors on the screen to the colors that appear on the page, a noticeable problem in the past.

For those of you working in mixed environments, HP will offer a DeskJet 550C at the same time and for the same price. The only difference is that you get drivers for DOS and Windows, and I assume the ports are different, probably serial and parallel for the DeskJet 550C and LocalTalk for the DeskWriter 550C. One way or another, it appears that HP has upped the ante in the inkjet market yet again.

I’ve started to hear faint whispers of rumors of Apple coming out with a color (or at least upgraded) StyleWriter, but I can’t imagine such a printer appearing until at least the spring or more likely summer. Of course, considering the decibel level of these rumors, you can never tell.

Hewlett Packard — 800/752-0900

Information from:
Hewlett-Packard propaganda

Tonya Engst No comments

Help! The Art of Computer Technical Support

I’ve earned a living through supporting or selling computer software and hardware in one capacity or another for almost five years now, and I’ve always been bothered by the paucity of materials about the field. Some professions have large libraries devoted to them, but I’ve never run across a So-And-So Memorial Library of Technical Support. This may be because support folks are so overworked that we never have time to write about what we do. At any rate, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Peachpit Press’s "Help! The Art of Computer Technical Support" and read it from cover to cover in short stints over a period of two days. One of the problem with being a tech support person is that you may end up with your productive time broken up into about fifty two-minute blocks over the course of a day, which does weird things to your personality after a while.

Written by Ralph Wilson, "Help! The Art of Computer Technical Support" could have been yet another pop-business book about using cute psychological tricks on your customers (Don’t sit across from them at a table; sit next to them or sideways from them to make you seem friendlier.) or it could have offered tired, simpering maxims such as "The customer is always right" and "Never make excuses." I learned these at a support seminar, but I promptly discounted them because I know darn well that the customer often doesn’t have a clue. ("I don’t need a PostScript printer; I only print from PageMaker.") As for not making excuses, just try working for an educational reseller of Macintoshes and not make excuses when Daddy calls from Long Island to find out why his daughter cannot purchase a computer until she actually registers for college. This book assumes that the reader has a brain and has mastered the basics of spitting out the chewing gum before answering the phone.

"Help! The Art of Computer Technical Support" will help everyone involved in computer support from high-level managers to the most overworked techs in the cubicle trenches. It’s for people involved with consulting firms and internal help desks, as well as software and hardware companies that support what they sell. Wilson offers ideas and examples about improving support on all levels, with plenty of real life examples and quotes from leaders in the support profession.

For suit-types, the book discusses what personality traits make for a good support person, how to train support personnel, how to keep techs from burning out, and how to cost-justify your existence. For those managing phone support centers, it discusses various ways of charging (or not charging) customers for support. You’ll find out WordPerfect’s rationale for providing toll free support, why Ashton-Tate provided some support for the cost of a phone call, and the argument for and against 900 numbers as the emerging phone support method. Help Desk managers may be interested in the discussion of the pros and cons of "outsourcing," or making someone outside the company do some of the work. One chapter analyzes and explains the main features of several commercial databases used to store technical information and track customer information.

People who actually talk to customers and provide support will find useful suggestions for most aspects of their jobs, from assisting difficult customers to graciously accepting feedback. Wilson has done his homework here, with suggestions for dealing with all sorts of customer situations including skeptics, four-letter abuse, and "Novice Users and the Terminally Confused." He discusses important issues for any support person to be aware of, such as taking charge of the support situations and active listening to customers. A particularly valuable chapter is the one on developing trouble-shooting skills, which provides many ideas for becoming better at trouble-shooting, a skill which is rarely mentioned but plays a key role in providing support. Wilson discusses the difference between internal and external support and even looks at alternative methods of support such as fax and email. I had the most fun with the last chapter, though, which discussed how to behave as the recipient of technical support. Now if only my callers would read this chapter before calling me!

Ralph helpfully included a bibliography of related materials, which I hope to look up in the future. After reading the book, I had some new ideas for working with users and a better understanding of the different aspects of providing support. Peachpit’s books tend to be fun and informative, and "Help! The Art of Computer Technical Support" lived up to my expectations. Unlike some other Peachpit books that feature extreme brevity, this book is a solid 200-plus pages, and is worth the $19.95 sticker price. If nothing else, your employer should buy it or you can write it off as a business expense. Highly recommended.

Peachpit Press — 800/283-9444 — 510/548-4393
510/548-5991 (fax)