Numerous comments, tips, and announcements (After Dark, anyone?) fill the first part of this issue. Akif Eyler’s Easy View wins the 1993 MacUser Shareware Award for Text Tools. Apple announces the Apple Workgroup Server 95 Tune-Up and combines the Newton Connection Kit and Connection Pro Kit into a single package. Finally, I look at Conflict Catcher II, the essential extension manager that actually catches conflicts.
APS Price Lists — Thanks to the efforts of Frank Knapp at APS, we added a new feature to the APS price lists available from [email protected]. The price list is available for request as part of APS’s TidBITS sponsorship, and in the past we marked new prices so you could easily scan the list and see them. Now we also include the price drop in dollars. In addition, we changed the way we indicate a new price list. In the past, we added a simple "<– New" to APS’s contact information at the top of the issue. To give a rough idea of how many prices have changed, the "New" now roughly indicates the number or importance of the changes. A few changes get "new," a few more get "New," more yet get "New!", and major changes get "NEW!" It’s fuzzy, but it should help. Finally, just so you know, APS tracks orders via the 800 number listed in the online price list. So, if you call using a different 800 number because you have it handy, make sure to mention TidBITS as the source of the prices, or else Macworld or someone else undeserving will get credit.
Stalking the wild Tyvek[tm] — A reader writes:
A totally useless upgrade to your comment in TidBITS #192 – in the article about dust covers, you mentioned that the covers are made "from Tyvek, a strange, durable material that definitely never came from anything living."
Just to set the record slightly less crosswise, Tyvek[tm] is a sort of synthetic fur that has been melted into a sheet. The raw material is a garden variety plastic, made from petroleum, which, as you know, derives from the countless remains of little critters unlucky enough to be buried deep beneath the swamps of Texas or the sands of Arabia.
Last I heard Tyvek[tm] was a registered trademark of the DuPont Company, whose computers unfortunately can’t make that little registered trademark symbol. [My Mac can, and the setext format cleverly accounts for that, changing it into [tm]. In an ideal world, a setext browser would convert it back, but even the estimable Easy View doesn’t yet do that. -Adam]
InterNews Caveats — A number of people wrote in response to my InterNews review to note that it isn’t as fast as Nuntius and cannot display (though it can save) text after the first 32K, which causes problems with long messages such as the Info-Mac Digest posted in comp.sys.mac.digest (but TidBITS sneaks in, since it’s almost always less than 32K). A few bugs were flushed out by the release, and Roger Brown said that he’s working on fixing them, so keep an eye out for an update this fall.
Toner Tuner News — Anthony Pun <[email protected]> reports that Working Software says that Toner Tuner, the utility that helps reduce the amount of toner or ink used in draft printouts, works beautifully with the 600 dpi HP LaserJet 4M. There are apparently still problems with the DeskWriter 3.x drivers, but Toner Tuner does work with the older 2.2 version of the DeskWriter drivers. Other bugs due to be fixed in the next upgrade, which will be free, include tweaks for PageMaker 5.0, FreeHand, and Illustrator, all of which use custom PostScript code. And finally, Working Software reduced the price from $49.95 to $24.95 per machine and has made the program available in Egghead and through some mail order companies.
Working Software — 408/423-5696 — [email protected]
Palette Police — Edward Reid <[email protected]> writes in support of Matt Neuburg’s complaint about programs messing with the "colors" on his 4-bit monitor. "Yeah! Keep on them. I don’t use IN CONTROL, but I have the same complaint about Quicken and Retrospect. I can understand a graphics program playing with the palette, but for the others it’s just plain rude. I think it’s a problem specific to 2-bit and 4-bit mode, although I tried some program a few months ago that had an option to "Use system color palette" to fix this problem. I don’t know enough about color palette management to understand exactly what’s going on, but my guess is that programs are tested on 8-bit color monitors and black and white monitors, but seldom on anything in between. Also, the problem might be more or less severe depending on how the user has customized the display (though I’m only conjecturing at this point). For example, I’ve changed my desktop to be a uniform gray instead of the standard dither. The programs we are discussing turn the desktop black, which is immediately obvious. It might not be as obvious with the standard desktop."
After Dark List — Lloyd Wood <[email protected]> writes:
Since the release of DarkSide of the Mac, and the arrival of many other products that support After Dark modules, interest in writing the modules has grown – helped in part by the competitions that promise big rewards for your work.
To address this interest, a mailing list for people wanting to write After Dark modules has been set up, along with an FTP site that will hold code, announcements and the like (join the list to find out the address). This way, starting code can be easily shared and you can get feedback on modules from expert module programmers. To join the list, send a message to:
At Macworld Boston this past month, Akif Eyler’s text-file browser Easy View won the 1993 MacUser Shareware Award for Text Tools, beating out Rich Siegel’s excellent editor BBEdit and Mark Wall’s DOCMaker. Since Akif wasn’t able to put in an appearance from Turkey, I accepted the award (a snazzy clear glass or plexiglass disk, appropriately inscribed) for him. I hope the ZiffNet/Mac folks were able to mail it to Turkey without trouble.
Distributing documents among users who may or may not have the creating application is a continuing frustration for many Mac users. New technology such as Adobe’s Acrobat or No Hands Software’s Common Ground offers one kind of solution, but there’s another one that’s often overlooked: text files enhanced by a special text-only format called setext [and created by Ian Feldman]. Setext files include unobtrusive formatting tags that let the reader software easily navigate a text-only file with a click of the mouse. M. Akif Eyler’s Easy View is an excellent setext reader for the Mac that has evolved over the past year. (Mac setext booster Adam Engst distributes his popular TidBITS on-line magazine in setext format.) It’s a clever, ground-breaking concept that deserves recognition.
Akif’s award especially pleases me for two non-obvious reasons. First, the Easy View/setext combination shows up in comparison to Acrobat and Common Ground, the glorified fax machines of the software world. Many of us who actually do electronic publishing in real life are concerned about the use of Acrobat and Common Ground, since like DOCMaker, they hamstring the content in exchange for the dubious ability to mimic paper. Second, although Akif programmed Easy View entirely on his own, a team of us from the U.S., Sweden, France, and Turkey helped design and test Easy View over the Internet. Easy View is truly an international Internet effort.
So I’d like to extend public congratulations to Akif and to those who helped make Easy View into a winner. If you’re not already using Easy View to browse through TidBITS issues on your Mac, you can FTP it (and a patch to take you from 2.32 to 2.33) from <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:
Technical Support Coordinator, BAKA Computers
Adding to the string of recent software updates, Apple has released the Apple Workgroup Server 95 Tune-Up disk set, providing enhancements to the A/UX operating system software and AppleShare Pro, and some bug fixes for the AWS 95. The package also includes System 7 Tuner, which upgrades the System 7.0.1 that runs on top of A/UX on the AWS 95.
The update addresses a cornucopia of problems, including:
- file management, resulting in fewer problems with time stamping
- name changes to files and folders
- file locking
- error handling and recovery
- security effectiveness
- hardware support for such devices such as the AppleCD 300 and Apple’s 230 MB hard drive
- onboard video
- file sharing speed
Apple recommends that all AWS 95 owners obtain and install the Tune-Up, which is available on AppleLink under "Apple Products -> Apple SW Updates," on the Internet via anonymous FTP from <aux.support.apple.com> (184.108.40.206), on the October ARPL CD, from most A/UX authorized dealers (and some others), or by calling 800/892-4651 ext. 400.
[Time for a brief rant here. I approve highly of Apple fixing problems and releasing the fixes to the public for free in this manner. However, it’s fast becoming impossible to keep track of which little "Tune Up" or "Hardware Update" or "Software Update" does what, and which machines need them anyway. If someone would like to investigate this and write an article for TidBITS (and update it when necessary), the world would forever be in your debt. I recommend using InstallerSpy, a really neat tool that lets you investigate what an installer script really does. You can probably find InstallerSpy on your favorite FTP site like <sumex-aim.stanford.edu>, but since that site is so busy I snagged a version from another site – <mcgnext.cc.columbia.edu> as:
So, if you’re interested in making Macs easier to understand, drop me a line and we can figure out what information should go in the article. -Adam]
Citing confusion among dealers and early product testers, Apple consolidated the Newton Connection Kit and Connection Pro Kit for both Macintosh and Windows platforms. The new Newton Connection Kits will be less expensive than, but offer all the functionality of, the originally-announced Connection Pro Kits.
Users of the 0.9 beta version of the Newton Connection Kit apparently recommended a more complete solution to Apple, suggesting that the capability for importing and exporting information was critical. Also, some dealers and other Newton outlets expressed confusion regarding the different functionality of the different products. In Apple’s original plans, only the Connection Pro Kits for Macintosh or Windows supported data import and export; the Connection Kits simply provided for backup of data on the MessagePad, and installation of software packages and updates from the Mac or Windows side.
In a move that should eliminate most of the confusion, Apple removed the Newton Connection Kits from its product lists, renamed the Connection Pro Kits as Connection Kits, and lowered the price somewhat. This results in a single kit for Macintosh and a single kit for Windows.
They come in all shapes and sizes, big ones, little ones, quiet ones, and loud ones. They come when you least expect them, and when you most expect them. They can ruin your next two minutes, your day, or, if you’re unlucky and stupid, your professional life. I speak, of course, of the crash, the conflict, the bomb, or the bug. My Macintosh takes a long time to start up due to the way I have it configured, so even though I test a lot of software, I still detest crashing needlessly. I almost never lose data because I save frequently, back up frequently, and generally take precautions.
But, as much as I hate the single crash because there’s nothing I can do about it, I really hate multiple, reproducible crashes. Crash on me once, no big deal, crash on me twice and it’s time to waste some more of my valuable time figuring out why. In the past, I would usually attribute the crash to an extension, stare at my list for a long time while analyzing what the crash might have been related to, and then shut one off. Usually I was right; sometimes I was way off. Those missed guesses were the pits because then I had to turn off half the extensions, test, change the set of active extensions based on the test, and repeat ad nauseam, which is Latin for "until you head butt the screen."
Enter Jeff Robbin’s Conflict Catcher, released last year by Casady & Greene. It did a bang up job of taking over the mindless tedium of turning extensions on and off and testing for conflicts. Unfortunately, it was a thoroughly mediocre extension manager. It didn’t have the fancy features we now expect in an extension manager, in part because adding links and the like would increase the complexity of the conflict testing algorithm immensely.
Never one to shrink from increased complexity, Jeff set out next to place Conflict Catcher at the top of the extension manager heap, and from what I’ve seen, the latest release, Conflict Catcher II, meets that goal. I’ll try to cover all the major features.
Conflict Catcher allows you to create sets of extensions, Control Panels, System Extensions (the ones loose in the System Folder, including items like MacsBug and other extensions that have to load before Conflict Catcher itself), startup items, and even, if you run System 7.1, fonts. (From now on, I will refer to the lot of them as "extensions" unless I have to address one type specifically.) You wouldn’t necessarily want to replace Suitcase with Conflict Catcher, but it can load and unload fonts at startup, which can be useful when tracking printing problems (see TidBITS #172). Incidentally, enabled extensions are highlighted; disabled extensions aren’t – I far prefer this to the method of double-clicking on one to check it. And for those of you who care, Conflict Catcher moves extensions into disabled folders rather than change their file types.
Usage — You can view extensions by Name, Type, Order, or Info – the first two of which are self-explanatory. In Order mode you can reorder extensions simply by dragging them around in the list, and in Info view, clicking on an extension displays its version, location, creator and type, System Memory, and High Memory. When in Info mode, you can delete extensions or open them from within Conflict Catcher. This is a handy method of figuring out what disabled extensions you have lying around that should be thrown out. You can often avoid switching view modes by using click shortcuts. If you shift-click on an extension, Conflict Catcher locks it on for conflict testing (I also lock things like MODE32 and Memory on permanently, since I never want them turned off), but if you option-click, Conflict Catcher displays the information about the extension, just as though you were in Info view. If you command-click, Conflict Catcher opens the extension as though you had done so in the Finder.
Various buttons to the left of the scrolling list provide useful utility functions. In Order view, a Sort button restores the default loading order, and in Info view, that button changes to Open to enable you to open the selected extension. Next are Enable All and Disable All buttons, which are handy to have at times, but more commonly you want to enable or disable all the startup items, or all the fonts, for instance. Jeff added a clever feature that allows you to click on the title of a section in the scrolling list, Fonts for instance, to enable or disable just the fonts. Below those buttons live the Conflict Test and Links buttons, which I’ll explain further below. Finally we have the Report button, which creates a detailed system report for you, which can aid developers in tracking down conflicts when you report bugs, the online help button (Conflict Catcher also sports extremely good balloon help), and the Prefs button, for customizing functions like whether or not you want to recognize the Fonts folder and for turning off some options to ensure that Conflict Catcher doesn’t patch any traps or cause any conflicts itself.
At the top of the scrolling list of extensions (which can be increased in size by resizing the entire Control Panel window), Conflict Catcher can show estimated memory use for the currently selected set of extensions. No more going through loop of checking About This Macintosh, turning an extension on, and rebooting to determine how much RAM a specific set of extensions uses. You can turn balloon help on with a button up there too, and to the left is a pop-up menu that lets you create, switch between, and assign startup keys to sets of extensions. So for instance, I have a set of extensions that loads MODE32 and the CD-ROM extensions but nothing else so I can play The Journeyman Project, Presto Studios’ amazing but sluggish CD-ROM based game that prefers 16 MB of RAM in its fastest configuration. I can restart my machine and hold down the J key to use that set without fussing with any dialogs or anything else. I’m sure you see the utility of sets, but Conflict Catcher does have one neat idea here. It has a default set called Original Settings, which reflects the current state of your extensions when you open Conflict Catcher. If you accidentally Enable All, for instance, selecting the Original Settings set reverts to the original settings. The only slight problem I’ve found with this is that sometimes I wish to change a set when Original Settings comes up, which requires that I select the set, then make my changes – merely a quibble.
Links — The Link feature is a major step up from the previous version of Conflict Catcher. You can now create Grouped, Incompatible, and Force Order links using any of the extensions you have on your Mac or any that you can specify through the use of an Add Custom File button. Conflict Catcher ships with six standard links for handling things like various different screen savers, font utilities, and the like, where you don’t want more than one on at a time. Four buttons allow you to Create, Remove, Import, and Export links, and a pop-up menu lets you select existing links and edit them. Be careful with links, though, because although logical, they can work in unexpected ways. For instance, if you Group link (so if one is on, the other is also on) a Control Panel and a startup item such as MacTCP and InterSLIP Setup, if you then turn off all the startup items by clicking on the title in the list, the MacTCP will also be turned off, which may not be what you wanted.
Conflict testing — The Conflict Test feature of Conflict Catcher is in many ways devilishly simple. If you are experiencing a reproducible phenomenon (it doesn’t have to be a bug – it might just be strange hard drive accesses, but it must be reproducible or you’ll be chasing ghosts), you can click on the Conflict Test button to start the test. Conflict Catcher first asks you to lock any extensions that must remain on, an essential step. For instance, if I was testing a problem with a program compressed by AutoDoubler, I would want to lock AutoDoubler on to make sure I could always access the program (without first expanding the program with DDExpand, which might change the test). I also sometimes use the lock feature to give Conflict Catcher an environment which must exist – the set of extensions without which I can’t work in normal life, since I know those extensions work, and if there’s a conflict with a new one, the new one must go.
Once you lock on necessary extensions, you restart the Mac and the conflict test begins. I won’t bore you with details of the algorithm, not that I know many, but suffice it to say that Conflict Catcher does what a smart, but ignorant, person would do, in that it turns sets of extensions on and off at different times to create different testing environments. The only exception to this is that the first time it turns everything off to ensure that an extension is causing the problem. This technique proved useful recently, when PageMaker 4.2 crashed every time I opened the Define Colors dialog. When I ran a conflict test, Conflict Catcher informed me after one restart that the problem wasn’t with any of my extensions, but might be related to 32-bit addressing or virtual memory. That immediately pointed at the 32-bit Enabler, and switching to MODE32 instantly solved the problem.
In normal use, though, you have to go through a series of restarts. First you test the problem to see if it occurs using that set of extensions, then you restart. Conflict Catcher asks you if the problem existed that time or not, and you repeat the process after answering. The number of restarts varies by the number of extensions you have, but it’s never excessive. The important part of this process is that you verify the situation each time, since there’s no way an automated program could do that (so why try?) and you have to answer the question accurately each restart. If you forget the answer, you can have Conflict Catcher redo the last set.
One of the important facts about the conflict testing is that it works on your system, with what you run, no matter whether it’s commercial, shareware, or a freeware extension you just picked up. Unlike Help and some similar programs, Conflict Catcher doesn’t worry about a database or anything like that which would be inherently flawed. It simply does what you could do if you had unlimited time and patience.
Other touches — There’s a lot to like in Conflict Catcher II. For instance, even though Now Startup Manager moves extensions into disabled folders, it keeps a list of them separately, which means that you can’t manually move extensions in and out of those folders behind its back. Conflict Catcher doesn’t care about that at all, so you can manually turn things off by moving them into the appropriate disabled folder. The trade-off is that Conflict Catcher is a bit slower to load, particularly if you have a ton of extensions for it to track each time you open it. I’m willing to take that small speed hit in exchange for being able to move extensions in the Finder though. In addition, if you use Startup Manager already, or another extension manager that uses the "Extensions (disabled)" method of storing disabled extensions, Conflict Catcher can step right in and use your current setup.
One of Conflict Catcher’s best features is hidden deep in the preferences. A checkbox labeled Recognize Aliases, when checked, allows Conflict Catcher to load extensions from aliases, rather than requiring the original extension. This has two main uses. First, you can load extensions over a network, so a network manager can keep one updated version available at all times rather than hassle with a bunch of different versions of popular extensions. Also, if you have a small boot disk (like a floppy), you can load more extensions than fit on your floppy. But the coolest use for loading extensions via alias will delight some PowerBook users. If, like me, you boot from a RAM disk, you can keep copies of your extensions only on the hard disk, which allows you to effectively shrink the size of your RAM disk, making more RAM available for programs without losing any functionality. That’s way cool. The only caveat to this method is that your hard disk will spin up seemingly randomly a bit more often, since every time an extension wants to look at its file, it must look on the hard drive rather than on the RAM disk. This technique allowed me to save something like 800K of RAM disk size and is a major plus in Conflict Catcher’s favor. Note that not all extensions will allow themselves to be loaded via alias, although Super Boomerang is the only exception I’ve found so far.
Conflict Catcher costs about $50 from the usual suspects and pays for itself the first time it catches a conflict that wouldn’t have been immediately obvious (and there’s no reason you have to use a conflict test if you think you know what the problem is, although a conflict test can help identify two or three way conflicts a person would be hard pressed to find). Jeff has posted a demo version to <sumex-aim.stanford.edu>, but given their backlog on posting new files, it may take a while to show up. Highly recommended.
Casady & Greene — 408/484-9228 — 408/484-9218 (fax)