Great reviews this week, including Now Utilities 4.0.1 and Rich Wolfson’s excellent book, The PowerBook Companion. Other articles include news of an updater for Word 5.1, WordPerfect buying BeagleWorks, a great way to roll your own Portable DeskWriter, and a tip that could avoid serious hair-pulling for tech support people. Read on, or forever be woefully uninformed!
We’d like to welcome our new sponsor, Nisus Software, publishers of Nisus, Nisus Compact, and the programmer’s editor QUED/M. You can get an index of their information files (and find out how to request files) by sending email to <[email protected]>, or to automatically receive a 38K file containing all six information files, send email to <[email protected]>. This file will not pass through the AppleLink or America Online gateways, so users of those services must request files individually.
Among other useful information, Nisus Software’s files include news about the just-updated QUED/M, Nisus hints and tips, using Nisus foreign-language versions (the only foreign language word processor available in the US, according to MacWEEK), descriptions of Nisus Software’s other products, and instructions on how to get free demo versions of Nisus and Nisus Compact.
Many thanks to Nisus Software for supporting TidBITS!
Mail.Test Mistake — Last week Yoshiki Shibata accidentally sent a message to our mailing list that slipped through the LISTSERV’s setting that allows only me to post to the group. The LISTSERV promptly distributed it to everyone on the list. Yoshiki apologized immediately, and certainly meant no harm. If you haven’t replied to the message already, please don’t – all replies come to me, and I’ve received some 300 responses.
Interestingly, the text of Yoshiki’s message was essentially, "How are you?" and the vast majority of the responses were an optimistic, "I’m fine," although a few people qualified that statement. The winner was Phil Ryan of Melbourne, Australia, who wrote, "And I am quite well, were it not for the problem of trying to rewrite a Ph.D. in Physics, do a Law degree part-time, and work full-time, as well as be a father to two under-fives." Glad to see so many people doing so well. 🙂
On a related note, there’s a chance that Internet users will see two copies of this issue. I know some of my mailfiles are being duplicated, and my mail host and I hope to solve the problem soon, so please don’t inundate me with notices if you receive the issue in stereo. Thanks!
Word 5.1a patcher available — On Friday the 13th, Tony Huang posted to the Info-Mac digest, saying "Believe or not, there’s already a updater for the newly-released Word 5.1. Word 5.1a fixes a bug in Word 5.1 during fast-saving when headers or footers are involved."
Order the free updater from Microsoft Customer Service by calling the number below, or download it from sumex. The 10K file is archived on <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:
To address the prevalent net question about spending $15 on the upgrade from Word 5.0 to 5.1, we at TidBITS feel the upgrade is worth it for the serious Word user. Although the tone of the program has not changed, Microsoft reportedly fixed a number of bugs and added a few features, perhaps most important of which is the ability to print even or odd pages. Welcome to the 1990’s!
Microsoft Customer Service — 800/426-9400
Tony Huang — [email protected]
Steve Kalkwarf writes "We received about a dozen Macintosh Classics earlier this year. I discovered that if I had them on an AppleTalk network with machines of any other type, they would crash when I connected to them with Apple’s Likewise network distribution software (the best $150 I ever spent). If they were the only machines powered up, everything worked fine. Last night I found the problem. Apparently Apple took a bunch of their System 6 Macs and installed System 7 WITHOUT UPDATING THE HARD DISK DRIVER. When I unboxed the machines, I noticed the boxes had been opened and retaped, and one box had a serial number label (from the outside of the box) on the inside of the box that listed System 6 as the installed system. Running the 7.0.1 HD Setup program and updating the driver cleared everything up. If any TidBITS readers are having bizarre problems with Classics that came with System 7 installed, I’d check the driver."
Steve Kalkwarf — [email protected]
No, it’s not another integrated package. Several weeks ago, Beagle Bros. closed its doors and is no more. WordPerfect Corporation has acquired BeagleWorks, the flagship product of Beagle Bros, along with the list of registered users, the program, and the code. WordPerfect plans to support existing BeagleWorks users, but the program’s name will change to WordPerfect Works (we preferred WorksPerfect, though that might be pushing it, given some quirks we’ve heard of). Beagle Bros. President Mark Simonsen will continue as director of development.
Although we mourn the passing of Beagle Bros., a long-standing company from Apple ][ days, the acquisition is probably for the best for BeagleWorks. The program had trouble competing with ClarisWorks and GreatWorks, whose developers have more marketing clout. It was plagued by delays and early bugs, and despite its undeniable power, BeagleWorks is harder to use than ClarisWorks. From what we’ve seen of BeagleWorks and its full-support of Publish & Subscribe for data transfer between modules, it’s best thought of as an integrated package for a power user, someone who doesn’t need full power but wishes to move data among numerous programs. We wish BeagleWorks well in its new home.
We said in TidBITS-146 that Hewlett-Packard had come up with a Portable DeskJet, but no corresponding Portable DeskWriter, a seemingly-obvious move given the popularity of the PowerBooks. We don’t have news about a Portable DeskWriter, but it turns out that you can achieve the same functionality using the PowerPrint 2.0 collection of printer drivers from GDT Softworks.
Generally available for about $95, PowerPrint supports over 1,000 printers, and according to Steve Gully of GDT, the HP DeskJet 500 driver works fine with the Portable DeskJet. PowerPrint includes a spooler and a parallel-to-serial converter cable for hooking to printers that only have a parallel port. If you travel regularly with a PowerBook and want to use printers wherever you end up, PowerPrint would be a good addition to your travelling kit.
GDT Softworks — 800/663-6222
So you bought a Power Book, perhaps one of those cute 100s? It’s different from your desktop Mac, isn’t it? I recommend that you read its manual – it was the first Apple manual I’ve read in years, but I was curious. It helped, a little, but I still had questions.
Then I came across Richard Wolfson’s "The PowerBook Companion," (Addison-Wesley, $24.95, ISBN 0-201-6088407) and, to set the tenor of this review, I think Apple should license Rich’s book and ditch the manual. Sure, Apple has that snazzy 80% Garamond font and slick paper, but Apple’s manual doesn’t answer enough real world questions. Rich’s book answers all my questions, and periodically I go back to it when I think of a new question. The answer is usually there.
In addition, if you regularly travel with a Mac, any Mac, buy this book. It gives excellent advice on what to bring, why to bring it, how to power it in electrically-challenged situations, and most importantly, how to take your Mac through airport security. Hint: it’s OK to run the Mac through the X-ray machine – put it on the belt close to the flaps and far from the end where the magnetic field from the motor could possibly do damage. That will save you having to demo the Mac for the airport security people, who by definition cannot have a sense of humor. Rich even printed X-rays, taken at a medical friend’s office, of his two PowerBooks, which work perfectly even now. (Yes, I asked him.)
The book begins with specs and comparisons of the various PowerBooks (this edition covers the 100, 140, and 170 – Rich is working on a new edition for the new PowerBooks). Rich then touches on upgrades you might want, from more RAM (YES) to a larger hard drive (maybe) to a carrying case (yes).
Then he discusses basic usage and system software. Configuring a PowerBook is a task of a different color, and as long as I’m trampling equine allusions, you’d do well to check the System Folder’s teeth. Rich offers specific suggestions about what to remove, including a chart that lists everything and the sizes involved, and then repeats the process for RAM usage, providing a useful chart of memory uses and the trade-offs involved. Since you may wish to jam a System Folder into a RAM disk and boot from that, memory usage takes on new meaning with a PowerBook.
Although Rich covers third party PowerBook hardware and software, he doesn’t look deeply into those subjects, which makes sense given the speed at which the industry moves. He spends time on using and caring for PowerBook batteries, both in and out of the machine. For many of us desktop Mac folks, this will be the most valuable section of the book, because our years of Mac use don’t help in knowing how to conserve power. The basics? Turn down backlighting as far as possible, turn AppleTalk off (use Jon Pugh’s free ToggleAT FKEY), and avoid hard disk usage by running entirely in RAM if possible. We put the System Folder on a RAM disk, boot from the RAM disk, run Nisus Compact, which loads entirely into RAM, and save documents to the RAM disk. Other helpful hints in this section include the actual voltages for good batteries (5.7 to 7 volts) and the warning NOT to use ANY other power adapter to charge the PowerBook.
In his section on connections, Rich offers ideas on how to make a SCSI chain work. Although he skips my favorite (ritual tofu sacrifice), the rest helps with the more complex PowerBook SCSI configurations. Other real world advice shows up in the section on upgrading, where Rich walks you through taking a PowerBook apart. Although I haven’t done so, the instructions seem clear and complete. I appreciate an author not treating me, the reader, as a complete idiot and assuming there’s no way I could open a PowerBook and do good.
The worst nits I can pick are that Rich capitalized the "W" in Macworld incorrectly (which he promised to fix in the next edition); when talking about modem compression he doesn’t mention that it does no good when the file is already compressed; and he occasionally uses the term "AppleTalk" when the Apple Nitpicking Police (who once pulled me over for this offense) would prefer he used "LocalTalk."
In the end, I view this book as an extremely knowledgeable friend telling me all I want to know about the PowerBook. Outside of the book, Rich spends time on CompuServe answering questions (and not with an obnoxious "Read my book." answer, either), and his online writing strongly resembles the clear, uncomplicated writing style in this book (which is due in part to longtime Macintosh author Sharon Zardetto Aker’s editing). If you feel that you don’t know enough about your PowerBook (and I’m still learning), ask Rich by reading this book. And no, he didn’t pay me to say so. Highly recommended.
Addison-Wesley — 800/447-2226 — 617-942-1117 (fax)
Now Utilities (hereinafter, NU) is a collection of system extensions, most of which started as shareware or freeware on the nets, where faithful fans could not imagine life without them. By giving these programs a home, Now Software ensured the functionality would remain even when other utilities might fall by the wayside of system software upgrades.
The neat part was that Now didn’t steal the shareware ideas, but co-opted the original authors. It was a win-win situation. Our hacker heroes could make some well-deserved money. Non-netters could obtain these great utilities, and netters who owned one of the utilities in shareware form got a great discount on the commercial package.
Then the story took an odd twist, when Now Software announced NU 4.0.
First, it seemed a bit soon for a major upgrade (and major new fee); we know that buying software is really buying a subscription, but the pricier issues should appear at decently well-spaced intervals. Second, 4.0 was to be System 7-dependent; System 6 users felt abandoned.
Third, 4.0 consisted, in a way, of less than 3.0.2. NU 3.0.2 comprised ten elements; in 4.0, three are missing. MultiMaster is missing too as a separate item, but its functions remain in NowMenus, and Now added a new item, Now Scrapbook. (At one point an employee at Now’s duplicating house wrongly told a netter that the three missing utilities would break once 4.0 was installed; nets being what they are, flames ran rampant.)
Finally, 4.0 was buggy in ways that Now Software had clearly not anticipated, and it implemented some questionable changes. When I started writing this review I was full of criticism for these.
But Now has largely taken the wind out of my sails with NU 4.0.1, which corrects the bugs and the most controversial of the design changes, and adds important clarifications to the manual. However this has happened (smart rethinking? serious attention to feedback from netters?), the result is an admirable product.
Zooming In — Here I’ll consider just Super Boomerang (SB) and NowMenus (NM), because I take these to be the heart of NU; they both do something indispensable, as in their old net-ware manifestations.
Hiroaki Yamamoto’s Boomerang memorized names and locations of files and folders you had recently opened, and modified the Standard File dialog (SFDialog) to list these so you could bypass shuttling around the hierarchy. Also, the dialog came up in the most recently used folder, and in any folder the most recently used file would be pre-selected.
Jorg ("jbx") Brown’s hierMenus let the menubar appear under the mouse; it also let you choose a Control Panel as a submenu to the Apple menu, bypassing the tedious CP scrolling in System 6.
For these achievements, Yamamoto and jbx achieved canonization, and perhaps hacker nirvana.
Boomerang: the Commercial Version — In NU 3.0.2, SB works its magic in three different places.
- It installs a SB item in the Apple menu (the "Apple SB" menu), with the list of recent folders and files as a submenu.
- It attaches a submenu to the Open menu item of every program (the "DirectOpen" menu), listing the recently opened files available to that program.
- It modifies the SFDialog with a menubar of its own. The first three menus are Folder, File, and Drive, so you can go right to any recent file or folder.
(For brevity I’ll skip the fourth menu in the SFDialog, which does neat stuff, but doesn’t bear heavily on the comparison between 3.0.2 and 4.0.1.)
The fifth menu added to the SB menubar is Groups. Here, you make each program a member of one of five groups (there is also an automatic catch-all group, Universal), so that the groups consist of programs that do roughly the same thing. The SFDialog then always appears preset to the present program’s group, and when you choose its Files or Folders menu, only those belonging to a program in that group are shown. But you can change groups via the Group menu, so you can quickly reach any recent file or folder. The Apple SB menu matches the program group you’re in, defaulting to Universal if the Finder is to the front; but the first item of the Apple SB menu is Open, giving the SFDialog, where again you can change groups and go right to your goal. The Groups feature thus lowers the number, and increases the relevance, of entries in the Files and (especially) Folders menus, and lets you use any program’s SFDialog to quickly launch another program’s recent document.
SB 4.0.1 is both better and worse. It is smarter than 3.0.2 about knowing that a file has been opened, and adding it (whether document, program, or DA) to the full list of recent files, even when it wasn’t opened through the SFDialog; 3.0.2 tries to do this, but isn’t always successful. Both 3.0.2 and 4.0.1 are also smart about knowing which recent files can be opened by the present program, but in 4.0.1 you now have three choices:
- to limit recent files to those actually opened by the present program, and folders to those containing them;
- to include some other recent files that the present program can open, and the folders containing them;
- or to use Groups, so that all openable recent documents belonging to programs in the present Group are shown, and folders containing them, plus any folders designated "permanent" for that Group – and a mere single keystroke at any time will so designate a folder.
In 3.0.2, with only five Groups, the Universal group menus easily become overloaded, dropping important but less recent items. In 4.0.1, you get seven Groups; a single keystroke at any time clears a SB menu item on the fly; SB remembers up to 500 total items; and menus can be limited to any number of items up to 99. So menus will stay more current. On the other hand you can’t switch Groups within the SFDialog – the Groups menu is gone. So if I have a Text program group and a Graphics program group, I can’t just launch a MacDraw document from TeachText’s SFDialog via SB, as I used to in 3.0.2; I have to hope it’s in the Apple SB menu, or launch MacDraw first. I see this as a bad design decision.
Other 4.0.1 improvements: Recent folders in the Apple SB and DirectOpen menus are accessed hierarchically (in 3.0.2, you scroll down a huge single menu of all files and folders in the Apple SB menu, and the DirectOpen menu has no folders). Hierarchical folder menus run in both directions, up and down, for more mobility (but limited to a depth of two sublevels, though that’s one more than 3.0.2). All SB menus can show the pathname of an item with a keystroke at any time! And Now shrunk 3.0.2’s confusing panorama of 18 "hot key" shortcuts to a basic set of four.
Alas, the greatest drawback of SB 3.0.2, that it increases the delay before the Standard File dialog appears, has not been cured in 4.0.1; perhaps it can’t be.
NowMenus: the Commercial Version — In System 6, NM 3.0.2 does what the shareware version did, plus you can have menus pop down and stay down, so you can choose an item without mouse-dragging (reducing repetitive stress injuries!). In System 7, it turns the Apple menu hierarchical. This means, among other things, that you can alias your whole hard drive in the Apple menu and go down the hierarchy of submenus (to a depth of four sublevels) to reach a file or folder, without opening windows in the Finder.
NM 4.0.1 improves this. Submenus representing contents of folders come up more quickly; the hierarchical Chooser submenu now operates correctly, so you can bring the Chooser up with a driver pre-selected; and the Monitors CP is hierarchical, so you can change color depth quickly.
This version is a major rewrite, with menus acting in entirely new ways. Menus can be any font and size. Folder and file items can have icons (color if desired). You can rearrange the Apple menu without renaming its items. You can press keys while the mouse is on a menu item to (among other things) change the keyboard shortcut for any menu item in a program, including the Finder!
Sadly, though, NM disables a tiny free extension on which I depend heavily: Dropple Menu. This allows you to drag an icon onto the Apple menu, down the hierarchy of submenus, and onto an item representing a folder; your original file is then moved/copied into that folder. I use this for all moving and copying of files; it’s much neater than first finding the folder I want to move into. Dropple Menu works under NM 3.0.2 but breaks under 4.0.1.
A major worry with NM 4.0.1 is compatibility. Such strong changes to the menu definition may conflict with some applications. Fortunately, NM has some intelligence about what programs it should avoid, and can be set for additional exclusions; the pop-up menubar and the hierarchical Apple menu still work everywhere, which is the important thing.
NowMenus: the MultiMaster (MM) Component — MM 3.0.2 is a launcher. From an icon in the menubar or by a keyboard command, you get a list of programs, which you have created; attached to each program can be a list of documents. Now you can launch what you can see.
The big changes in 4.0.1 are increased flexibility and ease of configuration, and communication with SB via a new extension, Now Toolbox. You can configure many "launch menus," and into each put any folder, program, document, or control panel, rearranging the order in each launch menu. And, among the "items" you can add to a launch menu are lists of recent programs, documents, or folders. You can even modify these lists, to make an item permanent or to remove it, by pressing a key while viewing the menu.
Further, you can create "worksets," combinations of programs and documents, all of which will be launched together by selecting that workset from a launch menu, or by double-clicking an icon in the Finder. Also, NM replaces Understudy, letting you configure what programs will open documents whose creator you don’t own, and it replaces AppSizer, automatically resizing an program’s memory allotment temporarily if there isn’t enough memory otherwise, or letting you resize on the fly.
Unfortunately, you can’t separate all these features from the rest of NM. I’d rather they still resided in separate components so I could use them with NM 3.0.2 and Dropple Menus. Also, a thing I disliked about MM 3.0.2 has not changed: the lists are not hierarchical. Documents can be attached as submenus to programs; but programs themselves cannot be made submenus to anything. So if you want a really extensive list of your programs, you get a huge scrolling menu. I prefer Jeremy Roussak’s Apollo (currently freeware, soon to be shareware), which, though providing only one launch menu, lets it consist of meaningful categories that you create, into which the programs are grouped as submenus. It seems to me that NM provides power without a convenient interface to access it.
NM 4.0.1 supposedly gives you many launch menus, so in theory you could have one launch menu for graphics programs, another for text programs, etc. Not so, in reality. Here’s why. There are three ways to make a launch menu appear: as a pull-down from an icon in either corner of the menubar (that’s two menus); as a pop-up when you press the mouse on the desktop (that’s one more); and as a pop-up when you press the mouse with any combination of four modifier keys, except Shift, Command, or Option alone (that’s 12 more).
But in fact many combinations are out, because other programs use them. I can’t use the simple desktop pop-up, because it pops up when I’m dragging an icon on the desktop. I can’t use the option-click or command-option-click pop-ups because they pop up when I use those combinations in HyperCard. In fact, any combination of modifiers and mouse used in any of your programs means that that combination can’t be used for a launch menu, or it will interfere with other operations. If you have a lot of programs and extensions that rely on mouse-plus-modifiers you may be left with very few possible combinations.
Besides, who can remember a bunch of modifier-key combinations? A combination of modifiers with a letter-key to bring up a windoid, as in MM 3.0.2, would have been easier.
Dubious Conclusion — Now Software is trying to improve your control and convenience in innovative ways, and I am grateful. But it is perhaps because my expectations and hopes for this upgrade were so high that I remain dubious about NU 4.0.1.
No one should live without SB, that much is clear. In 3.0.2, the presence of SB alone justified the price of the whole package. Some of the new features of SB 4.0.1 are aesthetic, and I’m not convinced that the new Groups system is as good as the old; but on balance SB 4.0.1 remains a major must-have.
On the other hand, I regret NM 4.0.1 because it disables Dropple Menu, and I’m not happy with the interface to the launcher. NM 3.0.2. is stable and friendly, so I may stick with it and Apollo as a launcher and continue to fill in NM’s other new functions with extensions I already own, many of them freeware.
I realise this doesn’t tell you what to do (not that TidBITS readers would stand for such a thing anyway). If you own NU 3.0.2, perhaps you’ll consider the upgrade price worth the gamble regardless, especially since you can mix-and-match like me. Now has said that they will upgrade NU 3.0.2 to be compatible with future versions of the System, but don’t look for that to last indefinitely. And who knows what will be in NU 5.0?
While still scratching my head over some of Now Software’s decisions, I heartily acknowledge their dedication, ingenuity, and sheer programming skill. Now Utilities 4.0.1 is a productivity powerhouse, and has eradicated much of the bad taste that 4.0 left in my mouth. The bugs aren’t all gone: I still get crashes from SB and NM, sometimes with loss of various settings, particularly at crucial times like when the SFDialog is trying to appear. But this package still deserves full Penguins and a gasp of admiration.
Now Software — [email protected]