Read on for news of Apple’s troubles and John Sculley’s partial resignation, followed by Bill Dickson’s look at Xtras for System 7, an interesting attempt at avoiding standard software distribution methods. Jeff Needleman illuminates a subject we’ve never understood up to now, sharing SCSI devices between Macs and PCs, and finally, a look at why those PowerBook 170 screens break when you swear you weren’t playing Postal Worker Volleyball with it in the back room.
Claris bugged by Internet? — Ever-vigilant Craig O’Donnell uncovered an obscure bug in several Claris applications that will most likely only bite users of the nets. It seems that ClarisWorks 1.0 and 2.0 and MacWrite Pro 1.0 both fail to correctly print space-delimited tables (like all the ones we put in TidBITS) in monospaced fonts (like Courier and Monaco, which should print aligned) to (at least) the StyleWriter II and to the LaserWriter Select 300. Claris confirmed the problem with the unaligned tables and recommended printing to a LaserWriter, presumably one with PostScript. What a helpful suggestion! (We heard later the unfortunate tech support therapist who made that suggestion was put on a bread and water diet and forced to answer calls about MacPaint 1.0 from users with 128K Macs.)
Claris — 800/3CLARIS — 408/727-8227 — [email protected]
Symantec recently shipped Symantec C++ 6.0, supposedly the first native C++ compiler on the Macintosh, along with THINK C 6.0 and Symantec C++ 6.0 for MPW. THINK C 5.0 users can upgrade to either just THINK C 6.0 for $89.95 or to Symantec C++ 6.0, which includes THINK C 6.0, for $149.95.
Symantec — 800/441-7234 — 408/252-357
After 10 years of running Apple, John Sculley has announced that Michael Spindler, currently the company’s president and COO (Chief Operating Officer), will replace him as CEO (Chief Executive Officer). Sculley will remain chairman of Apple, a role which will allow him to satisfy his need to bomb around the world hobnobbing with other truly rich people in charge of companies, instead of doing the daily grind as CEO. Rough life, eh? Do you think he’ll get a pay raise?
Sculley denied that Apple’s recent misfortunes are related to his resignation, but you have to wonder, especially coming from the man who proposed that IBM purchase Apple when talking to an IBM search committee looking for a new CEO for the big blue behemoth. Apple recently lost the suit against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, and although an appeal is almost certainly in the works (hey, lawyers have to eat too, even if only caviar and quail eggs), it looks bad for the home team, so to speak. In addition, Apple just announced that its second-half earnings will fall short of expectations (whose expectations isn’t quite clear), and as a result Apple stock took a major nosedive (if I had any money, I’d buy now, but then again, if I were a whiz at stocks, I could afford lawyer food on a more regular basis). And like a fairy tale, trouble comes in threes, with the rumors of Apple laying off about 1,000 employees.
Of course, this dire news stems from the very issues that Apple’s loyal users have clamored about for years. We want more Macs (well, maybe not any more – it’s too confusing) and we want cheap Macs, but that results in Apple’s margins, once thoroughly plump, slimming down to normal industry levels. The basic problem is that you can’t have your cheap Mac and lust after an innovative Mac at the same time. Other industry companies aren’t pushing the envelope nearly as hard, and that allows them to subsist on lower margins.
I almost wonder if it wouldn’t make sense for Apple to create another spin-off company that would be lean and mean (and do no R&D on its own) to compete with the PC-clone vendors. Perhaps such a split would give Apple the two faces necessary to fight it out on the low end while pumping out the expensive technological innovations on the high end. The Performas seemed aimed at filling that niche originally, but until recently few real Macintosh users have paid much attention to the relabeled machines (the Performa 450, in particular, has competed strongly against the LC III recently, in part because of stocking problems for the LC III). Besides, it’s so sad to go into Sears and when the Performa salesthing comes over and says, "Can I help you?" be forced to look at them pityingly and say, "No, I really don’t think so."
Of course, Apple is undoubtedly aware of these problems. Rumors abound of meetings with Dell (the third largest PC clone vendor), and Apple is talking more about Companion, the set of cross platform technologies jocularly referred to as "Macintosh on Everything." You’ll be able to run the Finder on top of Novell’s DR DOS, and you’ll be able to run Macintosh applications on top of various common flavors of Unix, just as you can run Macintosh applications on top of A/UX. Don’t worry, it will be thoroughly confusing when it all arrives.
In the meantime, Apple employees will feel the axe along with Apple prices, so watch those price lists carefully. With the slow sales of the PowerBooks, the Duos in particular, you may be able to pick up a four pound bundle of Macintosh joy for a song. If you’re an Apple employee, you already know this, but just to make the rest of the world jealous, Apple employees can buy up to four Duo 210s for $999 (notice the three nines? Remember the fairy tale?). If you happen to know an Apple employee, you might want to be nice that person since apparently resales are not being discouraged, and $999 for a 4/80 Duo 210 is the sweetest deal since the PowerBook 100s hit Price Club.
— Information from:
[Editor’s note: This is the first in an informal series of articles exploring different methods of software distribution. It’s clear, I think, that the current commercial channels prevent much good software from coming to market, and even when a program does make it, often the programmer(s) reap few rewards in comparison to the distributors and resellers in the middle, each with a markup and a profit margin. I don’t know that we’ll solve the problems with these articles, but we hope to start some people thinking about the issues. -Adam]
Xtras for System 7 is a curious package. A collection of thirteen extensions, Control Panels, and applications by various programmers, it resembles a set of shareware utilities in many ways, but it is sold in a commercial fashion with a manual by longtime Macintosh author Sharon Zardetto Aker.
As with most everything, there are parts of Xtras that I like a lot, parts I don’t like much, parts I am indifferent to, and parts that intrigue me. We can get most of that out of the way with a simple rundown of the software, so why don’t we? In the same order as it’s listed on the back:
- Xtras Menu: An extension that slaps an Xtras menu into your Finder. The menu provides access to Accordion, below, as well as configuration settings for most of the other features. Personally, I’m not fond of things that put menus in my Finder. Sometimes it makes sense, but I’m not sure it does in this case. Yes, it allows access to all the Xtras features, but, apart from the fact that they all came from the Xtras disk, only a few have anything in common with the others. Does it make more sense to access Publishist, a scrapbook-like utility, from the Xtras menu because it came with the Xtras disk, or to access it from the same place you would access your normal scrapbook, because they’re both scrapbooks? And it’s not as though all the Xtras menu items work on selections in the Finder, as do the menus in things like DiskDoubler and StuffIt’s Magic Menu.
- Accordion: A set of menu commands in the Xtras menu for collapsing and expanding some or all levels of folders in text views. If this is the sort of thing you do a lot (I don’t), you might find it handy.
- The Big Apple: The coolest item. You’ve seen something like it before, probably; it gives you a hierarchical Apple menu and allows you to re-order the items in the menu in any way you like, even adding little lines to separate sections as they make the most sense to you. It’s been done before, and I can’t think of any reason why this implementation is any better or worse than any other. I happen to like it a lot.
- Publishist: Essentially a scrapbook that allows you to publish its contents for subscription by other documents.
- Icon Editor: What it says. A good one.
- IntoApple: A drag & drop utility to create an alias in your Apple menu. You can also configure IntoApple to allow you to select a location if you’d rather do things that way.
- EmptyTrash: When installed, it automatically empties your trash when you start your machine. If only it worked on my kitchen.
- Incinerate: For those with great faith in themselves, this antisocial little critter instantly deletes anything dragged onto it. Definitely of the "shoot first, ask questions later" school of thought.
- ShredIt: For the paranoid, er, security-conscious, this program totally annihilates files so that you can’t get them back, ever, no matter what. There will be no questions later if you use ShredIt.
- Compost: The ecologically-conscious version of Incinerate. Leave stuff in the trash can and forget about it. After a set amount of time, it’ll decay and disappear, returning useful disk space instead of rich soil.
- LabelMaker: Allows you to apply a label to a file right from Save dialogs.
- PopApp: Hold down a modifier key or four (you choose) and click anywhere on your screen, and your application menu – you know, the one in the upper right hand corner – pops up right under your mouse, wherever it may be. I never felt that my 14" monitor was dinky, but the thought that somebody needs this extension gave me a brief case of screen envy.
- SpeedName: If you get bored waiting for the Finder to allow you to rename your files, this Control Panel will allow you to adjust the delay.
That covers it. Overall, these utilities are great, if you like that sort of thing. They all seem to do what they’re supposed to, and they do it reasonably well. The question is whether you need (or want, for you hedonists out there) to do what they do. Do you want to clutter your desktop with icons to modify the way your trash works? I don’t, but then I have a dinky little 14" monitor. Do you use Finder labels frequently enough to justify LabelMaker? I don’t at home, but I’ve found myself wanting it at work sometimes.
Pretty much everybody can probably find at least one, and quite possibly several utilities in this package that they will use, if they haven’t already found a freeware or shareware solution for the same problem. And at a shareware-like price of $25, if you find two items you use, or one you love, you’re doing well. If you find three, consider yourself ahead of the game.
There is one exceptional thing about this package – the distribution method. It is distributed as a paperback book with a disk inside, and in response to my inquiry, Sharon told me that it was being sold through book outlets, not software outlets.
There are some advantages to this distribution method. The manual is… well, there’s a manual, something that can’t be said about most shareware. And it’s a good one, written by a veteran of the Macintosh documentation business. It’s unlikely you’ll need to read more than 25 percent of the book, but if you ever do have a question about one of the items, the answer is almost certainly there.
I also like the lack of the dreaded Shareware Guilt Factor. I’m sure you’ve done it. You stare at a utility, and suddenly find yourself wondering, "did I ever pay for that?" Maybe you keep records about such things, but if you’re like me, they probably are hiding somewhere in the kitchen or were washed in the laundry. (The records, not the shareware.) Eventually you relegate the program to a corner of your hard disk, unwilling to delete it because maybe you paid for it, but afraid to use it in case the author will crawl under your bed at night and whisper horrible stories about starving programmers slaving over their keyboards in unheated garrets. Guilt city.
The optimal solution to this dilemma, of course, is to pay for your shareware and then remember that you did so. But if you’re a total dunderhead, like me, you might feel more comfortable shelling out your $25 in advance and hoping that what you wind up with is worth it. In the case of Xtras for System 7, I think it’s a safe investment for most people. The Big Apple alone is worth the price for me.
This distribution method has problems as well. The book can be almost impossible to find. It’s not large, and it’s crammed in with a huge pile of other brightly-colored books. Maybe it will help if I tell you the spine is purple with white lettering. I hope so, because I’d be willing to bet that if you walked up to a B. Dalton clerk and asked for something called Xtras for System 7, he or she would stare blankly at you. This also means few people will find it while browsing. If you find it, it’s because you were looking, and that doesn’t bode well for sales. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xtras for System 7 (IBN# (not ISBN#, oddly): 0-201-60853-7) takes a different marketing tack soon. It will have to in order to survive.
Sharon Aker calls it "bookware." You won’t get any phone support or fancy one-button installer, but it’s a decent piece of work. It should be easy enough to figure out whether anything in the package is useful to you or not, and if it is, the price is right at $24.95.
(Disclaimer: The author does not mean to disparage B. Dalton clerks, dinky 14" monitors, or dunderheads, or to indicate that the three might in any way be related. He does, however, mean to disparage, in the strongest possible terms, people who don’t pay for the shareware they use regularly. He’s not going to tell you what he calls them, because he gets spitting mad just thinking about it. In fact, he’s going to go lie down now.)
Addison-Wesley Publishing — 617/944-3700
If you use both Macs and IBM clones, you’ve probably wondered if you could buy a tape drive or CD-ROM drive or a removable cartridge drive or WORM drive or whatever that could be used both for your Macs and for your IBMs. I’m not talking about elaborate networking with servers and high-speed network communications. I’m talking sneaker-net, down and dirty: plug in the tape drive to your Mac and update one backup tape, then plug it into your IBM and update another backup tape. That’s a simple, economical approach for many of us and, if possible, would let us justify the purchase of nice new toys on the grounds that a single device could do double duty for a number of machines on both platforms.
Macs from the Plus up have SCSI ports, so when this possibility occurred to me two years ago I started looking at SCSI cards and devices for the IBM. I found some real problems. The old SCSI-1 standard (there is a faster, smarter, family-size SCSI-2 standard now) wasn’t much of a standard – there were a whole bunch of supposed "SCSI compatible devices" that weren’t compatible with much of anything other than the manufacturer’s own supplied SCSI adapter. But, you should be able to put up to six other devices on one SCSI card (the SCSI card itself takes one of the SCSI ID numbers from the usual seven, leaving six available for devices). If the cards and devices were not interchangeable, what could be done in a practical way?
Well, one approach was to buy the cards and devices from the same manufacturer. But that wasn’t easy. Dealers packaged everything for one platform or the other. If you wanted to use a NEC CD-ROM drive on a Mac, you bought the drive with a Mac interface. If you wanted it on an IBM clone, you bought the version with the IBM interface (including the card). If you wanted to buy the Mac version and then add the IBM card and software without the actual drive, good luck! No one sold it that way – nor would you want to fill your slots and empty your pocketbook buying different cards for each peripheral you added. But you had no assurance of anything working right if you mixed cards and devices from different manufacturers. What to do?
What I did was wait for some standards to be established, since it’s best to use a common language that all devices can understand. Now that enough time has passed we have some standards in this area. I know about three such languages: Microsoft’s Layered Device Driver Architecture (LADDR, which stretches the acronym), the Common Access Method (CAM), and the Advanced SCSI Programming Interface (ASPI). The arguments among these proponents are now settling, and my own bet is on ASPI, mostly because many vendors support it (it was created by Adaptec, which makes popular SCSI controllers) and because one software product on the market, CorelSCSI, is widely distributed and works only with ASPI drivers.
So here are my recommendations on how to buy Mac peripherals that will work with an IBM too. First, don’t buy anything old or used; stick to devices marketed since at least 1989. Second, check to see that your device is supported by the CorelSCSI drivers. Corel maintains a forum on CompuServe (GO COREL) and has a list of supported devices and controller cards available for downloading. You are concerned only with the internal mechanism. Many manufacturers sell Quantum hard drives, for example, packaged under hundreds of different names, but all recent Quantum drives are supported, regardless of the name on the external case.
Third, buy a SCSI Host Adapter card with ASPI drivers (usually priced between $125 and $200 for the latest SCSI-2 16-bit models); again, tested ones are on the Corel list. Many of these adapters will come with drivers for most of the devices you come across, and you will not need the drivers in CorelSCSI itself. In that case, you need not purchase CorelSCSI. But if you try to hook up a device and have problems, you might opt for CorelSCSI (which is sold with and without the controller card itself) for around $80 from the usual mail-order places.
Finally, buy the Mac version of the product so that you’ll be sure to get the software needed to run it on your Mac. I recently bought a Teac backup tape drive from Club Mac, although I could have gotten the basic external drive more cheaply from an IBM-only supplier. By buying from Club Mac, I received Retrospect as well, which would normally cost about $150 and without which I would have no way to back up from my Mac.
If all goes well, you should be able to just plug in your devices and use them. I’ve done that with a tape drive, CD-ROM drive, and an old SyQuest 44 MB cartridge drive. I’ve had two minor problems. The installation software for the card I use recognized the SyQuest drive easily but apparently regarded it as the newer 90 MB drive and reported that it couldn’t read the media after formatting. I had to format cartridges using SyQuest’s own software before the SCSI card could recognize them correctly (download DRIVER.ZIP from the SyQuest BBS at 510/656-0473). It turns out that CorelSCSI can install this drive through a custom installation in which you first identify the card as a Ricoh 50 removable and then make some changes in your CONFIG.SYS file. The details are in a file on the Corel section on CompuServe. The other problem? I couldn’t reinitialize a 1985 SuperMac DataFrame XP20 for DOS – the ROM in the DataFrame responded to a standard SCSI query about its capacity with a "0" and, recognizing that as an error and not knowing the true capacity of the device, CorelSCSI wouldn’t mount it. On the Mac, SCSI Probe had similar problems getting info from the device, by the way. (Hence my first rule above about sticking to new equipment.)
[Actually, it’s not in the least bit surprising that a DataFrame XP20 caused problems – those drives are notorious for causing problems even with third party formatting software when used on the Macintosh. -Adam]
— Information from:
Windows User — Feb-93, "Taming the SCSI Monster," pp. 158-162
Always Technology Upgrade Installation Guide for the
IN-2000 Adapter — 818/597-9595
CorelSCSI installation manual. Corel — 800/873-4374
A month or so back, I suddenly noticed on the nets all sorts of reports from PowerBook 170 owners whose screens had just broken. In every case, the person was complaining on the nets because the screen replacement is expensive, and Apple claimed that the user had abused the screen. In every case, the users swore up and down (right and left too) that they hadn’t damaged their screens in any way or treated their PowerBooks badly.
I was struck by the number of postings (not that many, but clumped together and from people who are generally respected on the nets as having more upstairs than six inches of that pink insulation), so I asked around a bit. I found out some information that is certainly not official and I doubt anyone at Apple would ever admit it was true. And, unfortunately, those of you with broken screens are probably still out of luck and pocket.
It seems that the manufacturer of the 170’s active matrix screens allegedly may have (notice the clever journalistic tactic of not actually accusing anyone of anything) etched a serial number into the corner of the glass of certain 170 screens. Needless to say, from a manufacturing standpoint, this is a major mistake, since once the surface of the glass is compromised, the screen is no longer perfect and is far more susceptible to mechanical stress. Rumor has it that that company will no longer supply screens to Apple, in part because they could never supply enough and possibly in part because of this alleged idiocy that affects some small number of PowerBook 170s. I haven’t heard of any problems with 180s, and the passive matrix screens don’t appear to be as fragile.
Based on information from several sources, I see numerous ways to look at this issue, the engineer, the Apple PR robot, and the consumer. Sounds like a bad joke already, doesn’t it?
The engineer would have to examine the hardware carefully and look at the failure rate to determine if there was in fact a design flaw, and perhaps there is one. However, remember that most "design flaws" come from marketing decisions (Rule 1) and remember too that all the world’s a marketing scheme (Rule 2). When push comes to shove and the screen breaks, we don’t know why, but it doesn’t happen to many people, so a design review will probably take more time than it’s worth. So once again, this is a case of an alleged design flaw that may or may not have been caused by an alleged marketing decision.
The Apple PR robot would have to make the situation look good, or at least not bad, for Apple, no matter what he or she might really think (Rule 3). That person would say that the failure rate is too minor to warrant any kind of recall or repair program, especially since Apple doesn’t make enough margin on machine to look into every complaint shared by X number of people where X is greater than one and less than some unspecified large number of angry consumers, all frothing at the mouth. Actually, the PR robot wouldn’t say anything like that, since PR robots can only respond to problems with "We can neither confirm nor deny such and such." (Rule 4). Can you imagine asking a nice simple question, like "Oh, did you take out the garbage this morning?" Sheesh.
The consumer would of course be mad as hell (Rule 5), having purchased an expensive computer system that is obviously a piece of junk and what kind of nerve does Apple have selling such garbage anyway when they know full well (you can tell because of that "neither confirm or deny" trash) that those screens would break if you so much as looked at them wrong and I will damn well tell all of my friends and the entire network about it and I’m never going to buy anything from Apple again. Humph! What? I have to use Windows then? (Rule 6) You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Mephistopheles – damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I suppose that’s the price to pay for being on the cutting edge – as long as I’m bleeding, where do I sign for my new PowerBook 180c?
So that about sums it up. I see no path for complaint since so few people have been affected, and Apple won’t even admit that there’s a problem with the Malaysian mice after Liam Breck collected hundreds of reports. That would be a relatively cheap fix, unlike the active matrix screens, so I think we can rest assured that nothing will happen.
In general, it’s a good idea to minimize stresses on the screen when opening and closing PowerBooks. That means primarily that you should open and close the screen using two hands (or however many you have) on the lower half of the screen. Opening or closing the screen from one top corner is the worst from the stress level (and we don’t need our computers getting repetitive stress injuries either!).
Oh, and there is a quiz. What was Rule 2? Discuss.
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