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Adam Engst No comments

Macworld Impressions

First, a small disclaimer. We both grew up in the country and usually get sick when we visit large cities for more than three days. Boston is no exception to this rule. That put a damper on things, and the 95% humidity and occasional downpours didn’t help in the damp category either. But we still enjoyed ourselves.

It was a good show, although only a few products were introduced, which cut down on the surprise value a bit. Some who had been to the San Francisco Macworld said there was no reason to have gone to both this year. Most major Macintosh companies were there, though there were some notable absences, such as Quark, Letraset, and Symantec, and several other firms such as Pinnacle Micro and PCPC canceled at the last minute. We were especially distraught about the last two, since we had wanted to see Pinnacle Micro’s 130 megabyte erasable optical drive and PCPC’s Flipper monitor

The companies having the most fun were clearly Delta Tao Software and Baseline Publishing. Delta Tao showed off its inexpensive 32-bit paint program, Color MacCheese, and a utility called Polly MacBeep, which allows you to assign weights to different beep sounds so the Mac will pick a semi-random (biased by the weightings) sound for each beep. Polly MacBeep was $10 and we bought it, partly to support the company, which has a refreshing view on the software market (make software fun and cheap and give the workers titles like "Foundling" and "Girl Friday.") Delta Tao was also giving away demo disks and t-shirts to anyone who could make a basket with Nerf basketballs, an endeavour which a surprising number of people were good at. Baseline Publishing (which also sells Color MacCheese) was staffed by people who were having trouble taking things seriously because its main product is the latest incarnation of the Talking Moose, that Bullwinkle-clone who pops up and tells you things you may or may not wish to hear during periods of inactivity. Baseline had Moose t-shirts as well but weren’t giving them away for feats of athletic prowess.

WordPerfect won the prize for best demo, as they managed to garner the enthusiasm of a high school pep rally without resorting to peer pressure. They appealed to a much baser instinct, greed, by giving watchers M&Ms and passing out freebies like WordPerfect mugs, pens, and shoulder bags during the demo. We recommend the M&M trick for giving a demos since it keeps audience members happy, raises their blood sugar to keep them awake, and lets them do something with their hands while watching. Extremely effective. Worst try goes to Microsoft with its Network News-style demos that had two announcers and lots of glitz on multiple monitors. It probably didn’t help that Microsoft didn’t have any new Mac products and couldn’t get away with showing Windows.

The most satisfying companies to talk to were Paragon Concepts, Software Ventures, and Delta Tao. The satisfaction level increases with the importance of the person you talk to, which made the hour-long discussion we had with the president of Paragon, Jerzy Lewak, about the features of Nisus 3.0 and the things which he hadn’t gotten to fixing yet, a good way to solidify product loyalty. We enjoyed talking to Leonard Rosenthol, the programmer of MicroPhone II, about the new interface to CompuServe that will be included with the next version of MicroPhone II (from what we saw, it will be better than the dedicated interface that CompuServe is pushing to compete with America Online). Delta Tao was fun too, since the only staff they had there were people who worked on Color MacCheese and Polly MacBeep. Nothing like talking to a programmer in a t-shirt as opposed to a suited-up salesthing.

LaCie won the award for best prize with the bright red Mazda Miata it was giving away, but the more realistic prizes were better at the LaserMax booth, where we each received a copy of Guy Kawasaki’s "The Macintosh Way" after listening to a demo. Unfortunately, the salesthing there didn’t know the first thing about printer controllers and engines, so we felt a bad about getting free hardcover books for two minutes of asking unanswerable questions. GCC was giving away lots of sun glasses and frisbees and beach balls if you scratched off the three circles on its game card, but we won a Polaroid One-Step Flash camera that way. The person at the booth was surprised, but gladly gave it to us.

Perhaps the most coveted freebie of the show was Apple Developer Technical Support’s Moof! buttons, which are small green buttons with a dogcow and the word Moof! underneath. We received buttons for doing TidBITS (thanks to Mark Johnson!) and while we were there another Apple employee came to get another button because someone had ripped hers off of her blouse the day before. Some people will stop at nothing for a dogcow :-).

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Adam Engst No comments

No More Peanuts

The computer industry is by its nature wasteful of natural resources. A computer may last for a number of years, but have you ever heard of recycling a dead computer? Some companies are trying to reduce waste, most notably Hewlett-Packard, which isn’t too surprising considering that David Packard’s daughter, Julie, is a prominent environmentalist. HP announced a toner cartridge recycling program a few months ago that recycles cartridges from people who would otherwise throw their cartridges away. PC WEEK has run articles on what Apple does to recycle paper and other goods used in general office life, and cited amazing figures – Apple recycled over 365 tons of paper, 600 pounds of aluminum, and 4.6 tons of glass from last October to this April.

More recently, though, MacConnection has started to do its part and in a way many of us will see. The company has stopped using styrofoam peanuts as packaging material, moving instead to better sized boxes and newsprint, which can be recycled. (Ever wonder what the half-life of a styrofoam peanut is? I figure the cockroaches will be living in them after the human race has gone by the wayside.)

The only use we found for peanuts was to stuff them into a large beanbag we got from an old housemate. With use, the peanuts gradually crunch down and make room for new ones as new packages arrive. It works well, although the Poof was a bit full after we ordered a keyboard from MacWarehouse that came in box the size of a 19" television, chock full of pink peanuts. In any event, hats off to MacConnection for taking a stand on the issue. They even included the book "50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth" in the bag of software we bought at Macworld. Admittedly, it was a big bag and we bought small software so there was lots of room, but we were surprised and pleased to find the book.

Another way to preserve natural resources is to avoid using them. That was one of the motivations behind the distribution methods we use for TidBITS. Short of a small amount of electricity that would probably be used anyway and the occasional disk, the only resource TidBITS uses is time, and we don’t think of the time as wasted. The other advantage is that costs are low, something which Delta Tao Software found with its Polly MacBeep. Like shareware programs, you only get a disk. No fancy packaging, no shrink-wrap, no printed manual. Delta Tao was able to sell Polly MacBeep for $10 (even numbered prices are pleasantly refreshing), which is less than many shareware fees, although Delta Tao does get its money up front and thus probably makes more.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 16-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #28, pg. 117
PC WEEK — 30-Jul-90, Vol. 7 #30, pg. 117

Adam Engst No comments

Coming Soon, Version 2.0

As we’ve said, Macworld wasn’t a show full of innovation this year. We did see some neat things, and we saw some stuff so expensive we didn’t even bother to look at it, but mainly it was the show of the upgrade. Unfortunately, many of the upgrades weren’t to be had for mere mortals.

The most notable absentee upgrade was HyperCard 2.0, though developers were able to show their stuff running under beta versions. Kevin Calhoun, the project leader, gave a nice demo of HyperCard 2.0 to the brave souls assembled at the User Group Breakfast at 7:00 AM, including a stack listing the top ten tongue-in-cheek reasons why HyperCard is not shipping. I stopped taking notes when I graduated from Cornell, so you’ll have to guess at what they are.

CE Software demoed QuicKeys 2.0 (shipping soon for a $49 upgrade fee, $39 if you picked up a form at Macworld), and it looks like it has added nice features, like a recorder that records your movements and plays them back with the same timing as the original. The Quick Reference Card is "hot" now, in that you can click on a macro listing to run the macro, rather than having to quit the card and remember the keystrokes.

Later this fall, WordPerfect 2.0 will become a true Macintosh word processor (while still retaining the code system for people who find it an aid in analyzing document weirdness), with a better interface that allows easy manipulation of column, tables, rulers, and the like. WordPerfect 2.0 includes a hefty graphics editor that can put graphics under text, on top of text, or within the text. The macros are editable and are probably pretty similar to the macro language in WordPerfect 5.1 for the PC. Good, but my money’s still on Nisus.

Adobe hasn’t been sitting around either. It announced version 3.0 of Illustrator, its high-end graphics package. New features include improved text handling – ATM 2.0 will be bundled with it – graphing abilities, and an improved interface.

CE Software — 515/224-1995
WordPerfect — 800/336-3614 — 801/226-5522
Adobe Systems — 415/961-4400

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 07-Aug-90, Vol. 4 #27, pg. 3
MacWEEK — 31-Jul-90, Vol. 4 #26, pg. 1

Adam Engst No comments

Here And Now, The Sequels

The amount of upgrades that you can actually buy now is impressive. Nisus 3.0, which sports a full programming language for fancy text manipulation, is shipping. Paragon included most of the features I asked for, so if you have any suggestions, by all means, call them, they do listen. Ashton-Tate upgraded Full Impact to 2.0 and the program might have gotten its act together enough to seriously compete with Excel. About time.

The only impressive hardware upgrade I remember well was the new Bernoulli drives from Iomega. They are a bit more expensive than the Syquest mechanisms and are as reliable and crash-free as ever, but now they sport access times and transfer rates as fast as the Syquests. They look like a good backup medium if you can compress your hard disk into 44 megabytes.

Utility-wise, a number of popular programs hit the 2.0 and 3.0 mark. Salient Software’s DiskDoubler is now at version 3.0, which marks its third upgrade since this spring. We’re using it and like it a lot so far (in other words, it provided another 5 megabytes of space). After Dark 2.0 from Berkeley Systems is a significant upgrade and includes more modules (with Fish! from Tom and Ed’s Bogus Software), sound capabilities, and the ability to show more than one module at once, either overlapping or in separate tiles. StuffIt Deluxe looks interesting, and although we didn’t get a chance to look at it closely, it can do things like move files from archive to archive in a manner just like copying files in the Finder. Finally, Adobe’s ATM 2.0 doesn’t include any new features, unless you count doubled speed and better screen display quality.

Paragon Concepts — 800/922-2993 — 619/481-1477
Ashton-Tate — 213/329-9989
Iomega — 800/456-5522
Salient Software — 800/326-0092 — 415/852-9567
Berkeley Systems — 415/540-5536
Aladdin Systems — 408/685-9175
Adobe Systems — 415/961-4400

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 07-Aug-90, Vol. 4 #27, pg. 22
MacWEEK — 14-Aug-90, Vol. 4 #28, pg. 5
MacWEEK — 31-Jul-90, Vol. 4 #26, pg. 5

Adam Engst No comments

Do It By Hand

Perhaps the largest growing market in hardware is for hand scanners. Just a short while ago, there were only one or two brands which used the same hardware and were unimpressive unless you regularly scanned images less than four inches wide. They required a steady hand and even spawned small plastic guides to help you scan straight. And if you wanted to scan a full page, have fun stitching the images together in your paint program.

The early scanners were at the show in newer forms, each with better features than before, but still lacking in utility in my eyes. However, several companies were showing hand scanners that broke through the old limitations. My personal favorite was Mouse Systems PageBrush, which does work as advertised. You put a picture under a piece of plexiglass and scan it. It really is like wiping the fog off of a bathroom mirror or the condensation from a windshield. You can re-scan small parts if you make errors in the image manipulation, which is a wonderful way to provide Undo capabilities. Also, because the plexiglass panel is flexible and movable, you can scan uneven surfaces or vertical surfaces (like wallpaper). The software it came with was decent, although we were so amazed at the PageBrush itself that we didn’t look to closely at the software. It’s fast and only requires 2 megabytes of RAM and can save as TIFF files, which OCR programs can import and process. Oh, and the whole thing doubles as an optical mouse when you don’t want to scan. All for a list price of $699. What more could you want?

Color, for one. Asuka has a hand scanner which beats the PageBrush’s 64 shades of grey cold with the ability to scan 4096 colors. Supposedly the software will have some way of automatically stitching images when it ships, but they couldn’t show us then. Otherwise the Asuka scanner is nothing different from the other, older ones. Same method of use, same shortcomings, same price range.

Easy OCR, for two. Caere, the people who do OmniPage, were showing a new hand scanner called Typist, which does on-the-fly OCR into word processors. It also scans graphics, but that was downplayed. The Typist sends its output into the keyboard buffer, which is why you can use it with any word processor, although we didn’t actually see it working with Word, so don’t hold us to that "any." Caere uses the same type of mechanism as the standard hand scanner, but it increased the width to five inches, which is too small for my tastes, but which can get a letter-sized page in one pass if you have really wide margins. It can theoretically knit together two halves of a page, though, so with two passes, you could scan a regular letter-sized page. It’s better for magazine work because the columns are thin and the software knows to automatically cull out graphics and the halves of columns on either side of the one you are scanning. Pretty snazzy.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor
Asuka propaganda
Caere propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 07-Aug-90, Vol. 4 #27, pg. 1