With this issue we wrap up our look at interesting products from the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Mark Anbinder passes on news of price reductions and rebates from Apple, Pythaeus provides the latest Duo market share news, and we look in depth at the concepts behind Apple’s eWorld and other online services. Finally, the real way Apple could change the world with the Macintosh.
As the calendar pages slowly flip toward April 15th, the dreaded U.S. income tax return date, we’d like to welcome our latest sponsor, Advanced Mobile, a tiny company that makes TaxPro tax planning software for the Newton, not to be confused with tax preparation software that prints forms. Ideally, by using TaxPro throughout the upcoming year (with the update to the 1994 tax rates), you can avoid nasty surprises come tax time next year. For more information on TaxPro and where you can order it, send email to <[email protected]>.
Mark Anbinder <[email protected]> writes:
Bravo to CEI Systems, whose new promotion is a flyer promising "Two Tax Time Tips from CEI." When opened, the flyer reveals a photo of the company’s CEI 420 printer on one side – and a packet of Extra-Strength Tylenol pain reliever stapled to the other. The CEI 420 printer is a quiet 420 character-per-second dot-matrix impact printer suitable for multi-part forms, including invoices, W-2 and other tax forms, and checks. It is appropriate for uses where inexpensive, fast, high-quantity printing is desired. A Mac-compatible driver is available, and seems to work quite well; the printer is a real speed-demon compared to the elderly ImageWriter II.
CEI Systems — 800/333-5234 — 612/425-1167 — 612/425-5196 (fax)
MacFair — Those in New York City who haven’t been frozen to the quick should mark their calendars for the New York MacFair, which runs from 9 AM to 4 PM on 26-Feb-94 at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel. Sponsored by Apple and the New York Macintosh Users’ Group, the fair features PowerPC demonstrations, numerous hardware and software vendor booths, a juried exhibition of computer designed art, and a day long series of seminars and panels with Macworld Magazine personalities such as David Pogue, Steven Levy, and science fiction writer William Gibson. Admission is $10, or $6 for NYMUG members.
Michael Ginsburg — [email protected]
Some recent data from Dataquest confirms what many people have believed all along – that the PowerBook Duo is the best selling subnotebook computer in the U.S. and Europe. The definition of a subnotebook is a matter of some argument; some people consider it a computer under 4.4 pounds (which eliminates the Duo at 4.7 pounds), but others consider any portable without a floppy to be a subnotebook. That’s the criteria Apple appears to use, and since the weight of the 68040 Duos won’t change from the existing Duos, it will have to do.
Based on Dataquest’s analysis of subnotebook market shares through the first three quarters of 1993 (the most current data available), the PowerBook Duo held a 38 percent market share in the U.S. and a 29 percent market share in Europe against other subnotebooks. Since Apple’s shipments doubled in the fourth quarter with the introduction of the PowerBook Duo 250 and 270c, it’s likely that the company not only maintained but improved its market share for all of 1993.
Dataquest does not break down Pacific area subnotebook sales by vendor, but it’s likely that the Duo lead holds on a worldwide basis. This data is important not only as an acknowledgment of Apple’s current strength, but also when taken in context of the market projections for subnotebooks over the next few years. Dataquest projects the notebook market as a whole to grow at an average annual rate of 21 percent from 1993 to 1996, but during this same period the subnotebook market will explode at an average annual rate of 94 percent.
— Information from:
Technical Support Coordinator, BAKA Computers
Various media reports tell us that Apple’s upcoming PowerPC Macs will arrive in mid-March. This will no doubt mean a shuffling of Apple’s product line, and the existing Quadra systems will likely move out of the high end, or out of the lineup entirely in some cases. (In fact, this is likely to be a more dramatic shuffling than any since the Quadras first arrived on the scene.)
One clue that the Quadras will be making way is Apple USA’s dual announcement today of new pricing for many Quadra systems, and special rebate offers for some systems. The new prices take effect today, and the rebate offers run from today through 31-Mar-94.
Apple’s price reductions cover the high-end portion of the Quadra line, including most configurations of the Quadra 650, 800, 840AV, and 950 (including the Quadra 950 Publishing Configuration). The Quadra 605 and 610 are not affected; Apple reduced pricing on the Quadra 660AV last week.
Meanwhile, those purchasing certain Quadra systems and a qualifying printer will be eligible to receive a $150 rebate by mail. (This is not an instant, or point-of-sale, rebate, as some recent Apple promotions have been.) Quadra 605 purchasers will receive a $150 rebate if they purchase any current LaserWriter printer or a StyleWriter II, and Quadra 650 purchasers will receive a $150 rebate if they purchase any current LaserWriter model. The computer and printer need not be purchased at the same time, but each must be purchased between 07-Feb-94 and 31-Mar-94.
For those who see no need to wait for a PowerPC Mac, but who have been waiting for prices to drop, now’s your chance! If any of these Quadra models are being discontinued, Apple may already have stopped making more, and some machines could be in short supply in the days preceding the PowerPC introduction.
If you’re just waiting to be able to plunk down your cash for a PowerPC Mac, the news is good for you, too. Pythaeus tells us that Apple’s stock of the new models is approaching the levels of most machines at their introduction dates, and growing quickly. If that’s true, the wait may be almost over.
— Information from:
I have a short attention span, and I almost forgot to finish my look at some of the more interesting programs that I saw at Macworld San Francisco. Again in no particular order…
Arrange your life with Common Knowledge’s new personal information manager. Arrange sports an intriguing interface that links different types of information, including names and addresses, appointments, to do lists, text and graphic notes, and even external files. I was impressed by Arrange’s flexibility and by clever features such as the Grabber, an extension that grabs whatever you have selected and pastes it into your Arrange Home File, whether or not Arrange is running. Unfortunately, Arrange won’t fit into my life for the moment since it’s limited to 16K of text in a field, and both the Import function and the Grabber accept only 4K. Sorry folks, but my personal information is often quite a bit larger than 4K. I’d like to see at least the standard 32K limit, and preferably no limit at all. The introductory price is $199, retail is $349, and there’s a demo at the URL below.
Kudos to Common Knowledge for acknowledging a nasty bug in Arrange 1.1. In a letter sent to registered owners, Common Knowledge warns of several actions that can result in a message saying, "Sorry, Arrange has unexpectedly run out of memory. Any unsaved work will be lost." after which Arrange quits. To work around this error (and save or auto-save frequently in case you forget) avoid using the left arrow in the calendar title bar to move to an earlier week for calendar views after 01-Feb-94. Also avoid changing from a "By month" view to a "By week" view using the pop-up menu at the top of the calendar title bar for months beginning with Feb-94. Bugs happen, but only conscientious companies go out of their way to report them to their users to prevent lost work and frustration. And of course, the upgrade to 1.1.1 will be sent free to all registered users once it’s done. More companies should be so thoughtful.
Common Knowledge — 415/325-9900 — 415/325-9600 (fax) — [email protected]
Cal, from Thought I Could, is an interesting combination of calculator and calendar. Although Cal reportedly offers a full set of the sort of functions we all like in calculators (such as two-level clearing, memory, and a negate button that flips the sign of the current number), its most interesting feature is that it can both speak and listen, although listening requires an AV Mac. No idea how powerful the calendar functions will be, but I hear that you will be able to completely customize Cal’s look with Wallpaper patterns. Cal lists for $79.95, but costs $49.95 on pre-release pricing and comes with a $5 discount for members of user groups, CompuServe, AppleLink, and Prodigy.
Thought I Could — 212/673-9724 — 212/260-1194 — [email protected]
ProFiles from Dayna may ease the lives of those of us who regularly work with large numbers of files scattered across multiple hard drives or fileservers. ProFiles is nominally a Finder replacement, and you can do much of what you can do in the Finder in ProFiles, but instead of creating a rigid folder structure, you create multiple documents, each of which provides a different view of files on your hard disk. For instance, if you wanted to see all of your applications, it’s a simple search, after which you can save that document to provide instant access to that virtual structure. Similarly, it’s easy to create more complex sets of files, and ProFiles supports Macintosh Drag and Drop, so you can even drag files and folders into its window from the Finder to add them. You have all the tools you’d expect, such as sorting, copying, moving, and deleting, and ProFiles includes a few nice additions, such as the capability to find orphaned aliases. I don’t think ProFiles is for everyone, since it’s best when you don’t quite know where a set of files is stored, or when you don’t control the structure of files on a Mac. However, consultants and tech support folks who must work on unknown Macs should definitely take a look at ProFiles. I can’t think of better tool for exploring and reorganizing (for yourself) someone else’s hard drive such that they don’t come after you and demand that you put it back the way it was. ProFiles costs $129, and Dayna promises a PowerPC version when the Power Macs ship.
Dayna — 801/269-7394 — [email protected]
More Doublers — Symantec, which last year purchased Fifth Generation Systems, which had in turn previously purchased Salient Software, announced DiskDoubler 4.0 and SuperDoubler 1.0, a $109 bundle of DiskDoubler 4.0, AutoDoubler 2.0, and CopyDoubler 2.0. SuperDoubler offers no new functionality but the three utilities have always worked well together. Upgrades from any of the three individual utilities are $39.99, and AutoDoubler and CopyDoubler will no longer be sold separately. The $79.95 DiskDoubler 4.0, however is a significant upgrade to Salient’s original Finder-level compression program. Enhancements include ever better compression and speed, a compression queue, the capability to make archives, and an archive browser window. Background compression, SEA creation, and integration with AutoDoubler remain from previous versions.
Symantec — 800/441-7234 — 503/334-7474 (fax)
WriteNow 4.0 from WordStar (but still developed by the same people who worked on it at T/Maker) reportedly offers the same fast speed, small size, and penurious RAM requirements, but adds a slick table maker, imports EPS, PICT, and TIFF graphics directly, can optimize itself for PowerBook usage by loading more of itself into RAM, supports 88 colors and greys for text, adds an Insert Document feature that essentially pastes one document into another, and includes a Merge Helper for simplifying persnickety mail merges. Upgrades for registered users are $29.95 for a limited time; list price is $119.
WordStar Upgrades – 800/843-2204 — 800/582-8000 (fax)
Popup Folder from Inline Software reduces the amount of time you spend navigating through a myriad of Finder folders. It turns every folder, either on your desktop or in SF Dialogs, into a hierarchical menu. Want to store a file several levels down? Just drag it onto the highest level folder you can see, navigate down the hierarchical menu until you reach your destination, and then drop the file. Popup Folder can display small icons on the desktop to make it a more conducive place for storing folders. Popup Folder also makes your Apple menu hierarchical, not that that’s particularly new. My main potential concern with Popup Folder (and it hasn’t been released yet) is that hierarchical menus are efficient, but a mega-pain to use. I recommend that you use something like a trackball click-lock feature or the sticky menus feature of Now Menus to avoid the long drag to navigate a number of hierarchical menus. Those with hand and wrist problems will have major troubles otherwise, since dragging is one of the hardest operations to perform due to the added pressure on the button while moving.
Inline Software — 800/453-7671 — 203/435-4995
Yet another utility package called ALLright Enhancements comes from MSA. ALLright includes modules for toggling and instantly displaying Balloon Help, a version of COPYright, MSA’s original background copying utility, what appears to be a clone of Super Boomerang, an extension manager, a limited macro utility, a hierarchical Apple menu utility, a sticky note utility, a desktop printer utility that lets you quickly switch between printers from a Finder menu, and a sound utility for playing asynchronous event-driven sounds. I haven’t seen the program yet, but each module is independent, so you can install just the ones you want. Although ALLright doesn’t excite me since none of the included utilities break new ground, it sounds like a solid package that some people should like.
MSA — 900/366-4622 — 412/471-7170 — 412/471-7173 (fax) — [email protected]
Apple’s eWorld was one of the most loudly trumpeted announcements at Macworld, but it will take a few months before we’ll know how the electronic gold will pan out for Apple. The demos at the show were courtesy of HyperCard, and the actors could merely point at Apple employees who knew little more. Sigh. From what I’ve been able to gather, eWorld is based on the same technology as America Online, albeit with some changes Apple specifically required. One of the claims to fame is a vaunted interface that models a real city (sounds like a graphical Free-Net so far), so if you want to read TidBITS, you’d click on the Newsstand. Sounds fine, but my experience with such systems is that they map badly to the tremendous quantity of information available.
Although all the commercial online services differ in small ways, they all essentially offer email, discussion forums, file libraries, and real-time chatting. Prodigy attempted to change this model and was soon forced back toward the mold by its customers. So as much as eWorld’s interface may set it apart slightly, in the end, it must struggle to offer anything other than the standard features (not that there’s anything wrong with those features – they’re what most people want). eWorld has its connection with Apple going for it and is slated to supplant AppleLink (a change that I have yet to hear anyone mourn). In fact, AppleLink userids are already pre-reserved on eWorld. Given AppleLink’s exorbitant 9,600 bps price of $37 per hour, eWorld’s prices are fairly reasonable at $8.95 for two hours per month and then either $7.90 or $4.95 per hour after that, depending on the time of day you connect.
I must admit to some concern over eWorld’s potential interface. First, it’s based on America Online, which is great for novices, but stinks for experienced users. I’d like to be able to select more than one message in AOL’s FlashMail window at a time (multiple selection, can you imagine!) so I could delete them more quickly. Alternately, if AOL would pay attention to almost every other email package available, not to mention the Finder, they might set something up whereby you could trash a message and have it deleted later. Either way, I’m sick of confirming every stupid action like sending or deleting a message. I’m surprised they let me click the mouse button without asking if I really wanted to click the mouse button, or even better, popping up a system-stopping modal dialog that tells me that I’ve clicked the mouse button in case I hadn’t realized. I won’t get into my other interface or speed gripes with AOL (it takes something like three seconds to open a new mail window on my 660AV when I’m off-line!), other than to mention the fact that there’s no way to use a shortcut to navigate past a high level. When I post the announcement for TidBITS each week, it involves navigating manually through something like seven windows. AOL doesn’t use proper buttons, so QuicKeys can’t automate it well, and I don’t trust the windows to stay in the same place enough to bet on a QuicKeys Click macro.
Second, eWorld’s proposed city metaphor is all fine and nice but must include shortcuts for avoiding the metaphor. In real life you must get in your car and drive to the newsstand to buy a paper, but wouldn’t everyone prefer it if you could just teleport there? Shortcuts, shortcuts, shortcuts! Part of the reason I’m haranguing about this is that an online service like America Online or eWorld is a community, and as such, can only thrive with a variety of users. By over-simplifying the interface, these services alienate the experienced user. I have accounts on every major online service other than Prodigy and GEnie, and frankly, the only ones I participate in are the Internet, CompuServe-ZiffNet/Mac, and occasionally the local user group’s FirstClass BBS. Cost is immaterial – the reason I avoid Delphi and BIX and AOL and AppleLink as a participant in discussions is that it’s too much trouble to use their cryptic and poorly-designed interfaces. FirstClass has a few problems but is quite usable, CompuServe and ZiffNet/Mac become easily accessible via Navigator’s admittedly odd interface, and on the Internet I can use any one of three excellent Usenet newsreaders, NewsWatcher, Nuntius, or InterNews, although in practice I stick with NewsWatcher.
My point is simple. Experienced users like helping beginners; it makes them feel needed. But if the interface is so stupid that it alienates the more experienced users, they won’t bother to stick around to help, and the online community suffers. It’s not that hard to design a good system for experienced users as well; it’s a matter of providing as many shortcuts as possible and the capability to get on, grab stuff, and get off again quickly and automatically. Scripting is nice too. None of these features need interfere with the novice interface in any way – they can be layered on top quite easily if some thought is made from the beginning.
Criticisms aside, I think eWorld will do fine, in part because the number of people coming online does not appear to be slowing down, and in part because eWorld will be the official access point to Apple for most people. eWorld will compete with America Online and the like, but its true attraction will be the niche market of Macintosh and Newton users who want to hang out where Apple hangs out. I see no need for another general service along the lines of CompuServe or Prodigy; instead I think we’re more likely to see smaller services targeted at a specific demographic group. It’s not surprising; as the number of users grows, it’s easier to gather a group that all share something in common.
That’s the rationale behind WIRE, the Women’s Information Resource and Exchange, a service based on FirstClass that costs $15 per month for two hours and additional hours at $2.50 per hour (with additional charges for those not in San Francisco and who use SprintNet). WIRE focuses on issues and information oriented toward women – men are welcome to add to the discussions, but the environment is specifically designed for women. WIRE supports Internet email and news now and plans to add more full-fledged Internet access soon. I don’t know if WIRE has opened to the public just yet, but you can get more information from them at <[email protected]> or call 415/615-8989.
One possible complaint in regard to these niche services is that the same topics are available on the larger services, so why not get a CompuServe account and have the entire thing available as well as the single forum in which you’re interested? That’s a valid argument, but I suspect that the niche services, if run well, will do fine even still. Being smaller, they can react more quickly to customer demands and may provide higher-quality services than the less-focused services. Time will tell, as it always does, being incapable of keeping a secret.
eWorld should open for business in the next few months, undoubtedly accompanied by major fanfare from the Apple propaganda teams. Then we can all see whether or not the fanfare is warranted and if Apple has paid attention to how a program’s interface can significantly affect these concepts of community.
I mentioned WIRE’s Internet access above, and eWorld’s people have said that they too plan to provide Internet gateways. That’s good, if not surprising or exciting. Steven Levy of Macworld wrote a column in the March issue about how difficult it was for him to get Internet access and how awful it was to use once he got it. He then suggested that Apple should write the ultimate Internet application, whatever that might be, and basically give it away so as to link Apple’s name irrevocably with the Internet.
Levy’s complaints about how he couldn’t get a SLIP connection working after 10 hours with a master hacker are a bit of hyperbole – it’s not necessarily possible to quickly set up a SLIP connection to all providers, but in general I can do it for a Northwest Nexus SLIP or PPP account in about 10 minutes. However, Levy hits on the basic problem of Internet access, which is that it’s still related to where you live. Anyone can use Northwest Nexus via SLIP for $22.50 per month flat rate, but if you don’t live near Seattle you must currently pay long distance charges which can range from $4.80 per hour to $15 per hour (the lower rate is possible if you call during off-peak hours and use one of the Sprint or MCI discount plans).
So what Apple could do is to create a program that could dial an 800 number to set up an account and at the same time retrieve all the nasty settings for MacTCP and PPP (no need to use SLIP if you’re writing from scratch and controlling the server), along with settings for Eudora and NewsWatcher. Then make the Internet access available everywhere via one of the existing networks like SprintNet or Tymnet so people don’t have to pay long distance charges. I’m not talking anything conceptually difficult here, and all without wasting any effort on creating a new service complete with discussion groups and chatting and email, since that all exists already on the Internet in profusion.
One potential argument against my suggestion is that there’s no way to control the content of Internet as a commercial service could. But in fact, does that matter? Commercial services essentially all sell time, and as long as people are calling specific numbers, it’s easy to charge for the time. Creating new information resources on the Internet would be fine; they’d simply be available to far more people if desired, or limited to paying customers who connecting using the special telephone numbers. No worry there.
However, and here’s where Levy’s article lapses, we do not need an ultimate Internet application from Apple. The connection is the only tricky part; after that there is a surplus of great software available on the nets, much of it for free. A smart company would make it more readily available, perhaps through a custom front end that nicely organized it and enabled single-click downloading, but there’s little need for an ultimate Internet application. By the time the company was done, the Internet would have come up with some fabulous new service and the best tool to use it would once again be a clever little freeware application from John Norstad or Peter Lewis or Steve Dorner. That’s good – why step on the individual programmers who can program circles around a ponderous commercial outfit?
We don’t need an integrated application, period. This is the age of modules, of component applications, not of feature-laden Godzilla programs that can do anything under the sun (except the one strange thing you want) but take two years to upgrade since they’re so complex and integrated. The individual little applications that we have now are better, since they are increasingly able to work together to become more than the sum of the parts.
So that’s my advice for you, Apple. Make the connection to the Internet a no-brainer and then let people pick and choose among the tools that are already accessible. Steven Levy is right – by linking the words Macintosh and Internet, you would ensure your continued success. It’s not as though there aren’t a number of very bright people within Apple who participate in the Internet regularly and also have the right idea – listen to them. There’s nothing wrong with eWorld, but it’s inherently a little dull since we’ve seen it all before. If you want to change the world, Apple, look to the Internet. If you don’t, someone else will, since as much as I’d like to think of myself as an extremely clever person, the basic idea is simple. And of course, I’ve just shared it with as many as 100,000 people, most of them already on the Internet.