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With our 222nd issue, TidBITS is officially four years old. Read on for a rambling history of the last four years, and for more up-to-date news, check out Tonya’s article about the new Blackbird PowerBooks, the 520 and 540, and the new 68040 Duos. The software industry continues to implode, with Symantec and Central Point merging, and last but not least, Chris Holmes of Dantz sets the record straight on running Retrospect under Power Mac emulation.

Adam Engst No comments


Now that Tonya is writing more articles for TidBITS, we need a way to differentiate who has written what, particularly with MailBITS. From now on, appropriate initials will appear in brackets at the end of the MailBITS, and I’ll include myself in bylines. In the past to do so was redundant, but now we have to be more careful to identify the "I" in an article. [ACE]

Adam Engst No comments

Our book signings

Our book signings will be this Thursday, April 21st, at Stacey’s in San Francisco (581 Market Street) from 12:30 to 2:00 PM, and at Borders Books in San Rafael (588 Francisco Blvd. West) from 7:30 to 8:30 PM. Come and say hello! [ACE]

Mark H. Anbinder No comments


Whoops! Thanks to readers and CE Software staff members for pointing out that we published an incorrect telephone number for CE in TidBITS #221. The correct toll-free number for U.S. callers is 800/523-7638. [MHA]

Adam Engst No comments

Chris Holmes

Chris Holmes <[email protected]> of Dantz Development writes in response to the note concerning Retrospect on the Power Macintosh in TidBITS #218:

DantzLab has tested Retrospect extensively on the Power Macintosh and found that Retrospect 2.0B can fail when running in a stressful Virtual Memory environment. By stressful, I mean a situation in which Virtual Memory is set much higher than built-in RAM and a large block is allocated to Retrospect. Although Retrospect runs fine with Virtual Memory in a less stressful configuration on Power Macintoshes (Virtual Memory set to only a few megabytes over real RAM), the safest approach to running Retrospect 2.0 or 2.0B on a Power Macintosh is to run with Virtual Memory disabled. Remember, there are no problems with Virtual Memory and Retrospect on 68K Macintoshes.

This problem has already been fixed in our upcoming PowerPC-native release, Retrospect 2.1, which will be available in May. In all other respects Retrospect 2.0B is behaving just as well as it has on the 68K Macintosh.

Tonya Engst No comments

PowerBook upgrades

PowerBook upgrades from most companies require you to send the PowerBook in for servicing (TidBITS #216). If you like little projects and want to upgrade without the hassle of mailing your PowerBook, you’ll probably be attracted to Digital Eclipse’s F/25X accelerator for the PowerBooks 140 and 145 and F/33X accelerator for the PowerBooks 160, 165, and 170. The F/33X, Digital Eclipse’s newest upgrade, increases CPU speed from 25 to 33 MHz and (depending on your PowerBook) adds an FPU. With respect to the 160 and 165 upgrade, Digital Eclipse claims a speed increase of about 55 percent. The F/25X accelerates the CPU from 16 to 25 MHz and adds an FPU.

Digital Eclipse is selling the F/33X for the PowerBooks 160 and 165 at a special introductory price of $309 through 22-Apr-94, but when I called to check details, Andrew Ayre at Digital Eclipse said that anyone who mentions TidBITS while placing an order can have the $309 price even after the 22nd. In addition, if you mention TidBITS, the F/33X for the 170 costs $229 and the F/25X costs $299. All of the upgrades list for about $100 more than this offer. [TJE]

Digital Eclipse — 800/289-3374 — 510/547-6101 — 510/547-6104 (fax) — [email protected]

Tonya Engst No comments

Macintosh Rip-offs

Usually, selling a Macintosh through a electronic or paper want ad listing doesn’t present serious problems, but recent reports suggest that you should watch out for "buyers" who have no interest in paying for your Macintosh. For your safety, use common sense. Advertise in computer-specific publications or campus newspapers instead of broadcasting the fact that you have a Mac for sale to the entire readership of a big city newspaper. Perhaps invite a few friends to hang out at your house during the time that possible purchasers comes to look at your system. When selling a PowerBook, consider bringing it to a public spot to meet prospective buyers.

Recent rip-offs haven’t targeted just individuals. Phone order fraud – where a mail order company delivers equipment that the customer never pays for – has had a serious financial impact on at least one mail order business, MacAttack. Mark Nimocks <[email protected]> of MacAttack has compiled additional information about the problem and tips that mail order firms can use to avoid fraud. Send email to Mark to receive the information and tips.

Adam Engst No comments

Industry Consolidation Continues

Will this never stop? Symantec and Central Point, perhaps the two largest utility manufacturers, have announced that they plan to merge in a stock swap valued at $60 million. That’s turnips compared to the Aldus/Adobe merger, or Novell’s purchase of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, but it remains indicative of the industry trend toward fewer and larger companies that can squash competition through sheer marketing force. The merged company will have annual revenues of about $265 million and control about 60 percent of the utility market.

In fact, the merger isn’t surprising given Symantec’s strategy of competition through acquisition. At this point, I couldn’t even tell you which programs originated with Symantec and which were purchased along the way. Central Point marketed various programs that competed with those from Symantec’s Peter Norton Group, and swallowing them, as Symantec earlier swallowed competing programs from Fifth Generation Systems, serves primarily to confuse the user. With the exception of 911 Utilities (is it even still around?), Symantec now owns all of the major disk recovery utility software for the Macintosh, and you have to wonder how many packages it will keep on the market.

Far more alarming was Robert X. Cringely’s speculation in this week’s InfoWorld that Lotus has its eye on buying Novell. It seems that Novell stock dipped 40 percent after the WordPerfect acquisition, and according to Cringely, Lotus just sent out a proxy statement to shareholders asking to issue more shares of stock. That could mean that Lotus wants to raise some cash to go shopping for Novell. Even if Lotus did manage to purchase Novell, the company’s combined revenues would only be around $3 billion, still well below Microsoft’s $3.75 billion. However, with Lotus in charge, we Mac folks would have to think seriously about rooting for such a company on even a gut level – Lotus has continually screwed up Macintosh products and recently announced that it would not develop programs for the Power Macs, other than client software for cc:Mail and Notes. No matter whether you love or hate Microsoft, at least Microsoft has shipped Macintosh software since the early days.

At this point, I have only one piece of advice for computer companies: Watch out for Beatrice – eventually, everything is owned by Beatrice.

Tonya Engst No comments

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

The 68LC040 PowerBooks, code-named Blackbirds, are expected to swoop down onto dealers’ shelves sometime in the second quarter of this year, and the latest word suggests Apple plans to officially announce them on May 16th. In addition to the Blackbirds, look for the Duo line to discard its 68030 models in favor of two new 68040 models.

In essence, the upcoming PowerBook lineup will consist of six PowerBooks, with three main types, and each type coming with either a color or a grayscale screen. It appears that four of the PowerBooks (the Blackbirds) will be based on the 140/170 line and have a 16-bit bus. The 520 and 520c will use a 25 MHz chip and passive matrix screens; the 540 and 540c will sport 33 MHz chips and active matrix screens. The new Duos 280 and 280c have 33 MHz chips, active matrix screens, a 32-bit bus, and carry on the Duo tradition with a light weight, docking paraphernalia, and no floppy drive.

New Features — The Blackbirds offer several new innovations, whereas the Duos merely add a faster chip. The Blackbird PowerBooks replace the trackball with a Trackpad, which you operate by moving your finger on a pad located where you’d expect a trackball. I haven’t tried a Trackpad, but of four people I know who have used one briefly, three found the Trackpad easy to learn and seemed quite enthusiastic. The fourth person didn’t like the Trackpad but also dislikes trackballs.

Other changes in the Blackbird PowerBooks include onboard Ethernet, larger screens, room for two batteries, slots for two PCMCIA cards, and optional stereo speakers. Battery life on the new machines should range from two to six hours, though adding a second battery increases run time along with weight. Rumor has it that some or all of the new machines will have a row of function keys across the top of the keyboard.

Power Mac PowerBooks — It looks as though there will be various methods of upgrading the new PowerBooks to the PowerPC 603 chip, which promises to lighten your wallet and supercharge your PowerBook. Given that the 603 chip won’t be available for several months and that the upgrade won’t come cheap, I tend to question the validity of worrying too much about the upgrade if you are an individual buyer. For example, say you buy a 520 now and then a year later decide to buy the update. You get a new PDS card or a maybe a new logic board, but your original screen, keyboard, power system, and so on are still the aging original equipment. I’d be inclined to hang on to that 520 for a little longer and then sell it when the second round of PowerPC 603-based PowerBooks arrives. In the features checklist war, the capability to upgrade to a faster chip gives the new PowerBooks an edge since vendors are not yet commonly promising Pentium upgrades for 486-based notebooks. Now that would be a lap-warmer!

New Docks — Existing docking equipment should work with the new Duos, but Apple will release a Duo Dock II that will work with old and new Duos, offering Ethernet and fancier video. The new dock reportedly includes an onboard cache and a floating point unit (only the 68030 Duos can use the FPU, and even then it helps only some applications) to speed applications when the Duo is docked. Apple may offer an upgrade so that older docks can become Duo Dock IIs. I wonder if Apple has something in mind for the MiniDock market as well? The Duo Dock may provide a more organized looking desktop, but it is expensive and bulky; a MiniDock provides a docking station that you can easily pop in the PowerBook bag for travel, and it enables you to use the Duo’s screen and an external monitor at the same time, a fabulous productivity boost for people addicted to multiple monitors.

Wrap-Up — No matter how you slice the Blackbird pie, it looks like the new models will be a pleasure to use. Preliminary price estimates suggest that the cost will range from $2,000 up to about $5,000 for a loaded 540c. If you find yourself in a low-budget situation, watch for prices on the various 68030 models to drop as the new machines roll out. Rumor has it that almost all of the old models will disappear, with the possible exception of the budget-friendly 145B and 165B.

Information from:

Adam Engst No comments

TidBITS History

The first issue of TidBITS is dated 16-Apr-90. I sit here, four years later, working on our 222nd issue, and think about all that has changed and all that has remained the same. Permit me a rambling and decidedly non-sequential recollection.

Tonya deserves credit for the concept for TidBITS. We were living in Ithaca, NY, after having graduated from Cornell University the year before. I was working as an independent consultant, and Tonya had the impressive title of "New Technologies Consultant" in the part of Cornell that sold computers. Unfortunately, Tonya’s title translated to "Seller of Macs and DeskWriters," a task which she did along with several others. She thought a weekly newsletter of sorts might help her co-workers keep up on the industry. We figured that we could easily create such a summary, given that we read MacWEEK, PC WEEK, and InfoWorld weekly, and I regularly scanned the nets.

Tonya had an ulterior motive. Her degree from Cornell is in Communications (more appropriate than my double major in Hypertextual Fiction and Classics), and while we were students, she edited the newsletter for the local users group, MUGWUMP. But after passing that on, Tonya felt her skills in PageMaker were rusting away, and thought this newsletter might provide some lubrication, though she was concerned with potential waste of paper.

At the time, I was heavily involved with HyperCard, so my immediate reaction was that we should use the same text to create an electronic HyperCard version to distribute freely on the Internet. And so it was decided, although after only two weeks it became clear that electronic distribution was the way to go; trees would be safe from TidBITS.

You can go back and look at the early issues – I cringe every time I do. We started out summarizing the top stories in the trade rags, but quickly became uncomfortable with the legalities involved. We weren’t concerned about copyright, since everything we wrote was in our own words, but there’s another legal concept called misappropriation that might or might not have applied. That concern pushed us in the direction of writing our own articles, using the magazines only as sources (which we cited carefully, being good little academics).

The first few weeks of distribution were… interesting. I posted a note on the nets announcing TidBITS and a mailing list for it. I knew how to set up a mailing list on one of Cornell’s IBM mainframes, so we stuck with that list for three weeks until it hit about 300 people. It was after the third issue that Tonya got the phone call saying that something with her name on it was crashing Navy computers in California. The Robert Morris Internet worm was still recent history, but a few panicked calls and email messages later, the truth came out. Certain old versions of the BSD mailer used by Unix boxes had a bug that prevented them from dealing properly with headers containing more than several hundred recipients, so when one of these machines received the issue of TidBITS (remember, it was a HyperCard stack, stuffed and BinHexed), that machine bounced the issue back to Cornell’s main email computer, which looked at it, saw that there was nothing wrong, and sent it back again, repeating the entire cycle. You can imagine what this did to the Internet, but it all ended well.

We then went looking for alternate methods of distribution. The first people to come through were the net heavies who run major Internet sites to this day. After talking over the issues with them, they allowed us to post TidBITS to the moderated Usenet group comp.sys.mac.digest, which had around 30,000 readers or so back then. Not bad, from 300 to 30,000 in a week, although not all of those people downloaded and defunked each issue to read it in HyperCard.

Around this time we started uploading to the commercial services as well, although I only had an account on America Online, so other people handled redistribution for us. I no longer remember the chronology of when certain people came on, but Dennis Cohen (then, and perhaps still, of Claris) uploaded to CompuServe, Masato Ogawa moved issues to NIFTY-Serve in Japan, Jean-Philippe Nicaise redistributed issues to Calvacom in France, Riza Nur Pacalioglu (who lives in Turkey, making for a roundabout path) and later Eric Apgar of Apple uploaded to AppleLink, and Jay Vollmer and later Randy Simon took care of GEnie. Denise Petersen puts issues on Delphi, and before I was given an account, Larry Loeb and then Paul Raulerson uploaded to BIX for us. These are merely the people whose names rise to the surface of my memory – I cannot count all the folks who have helped spread TidBITS around the networked world of the Internet, commercial services, and BBSes. We owe every one of them a massive debt. Since those early days we’ve traded accounts for uploading TidBITS each week, and working with Chris Ferino on America Online, Ben Templin and Ric Ford on ZiffNet/Mac, Charlie McCabe and Arwyn Bryant on AppleLink, and Paul Raulerson on BIX, has enabled us to spread TidBITS far and wide.

Right after we started (he’s first mentioned in TidBITS #06 and wrote about Macworld Expo in TidBITS #36), Mark Anbinder began writing articles for TidBITS. Mark graduated from Cornell with a degree in Linguistics the same year Tonya and I did, 1989, but went to work for Baka Industries, the main Macintosh dealer in Ithaca. Mark later became the president of MUGWUMP, the local users group, a post he holds to this day. He continues to write for TidBITS frequently and is the only person to whom we’ve ever given an editorial title. Other regular, though less frequent, contributors have chipped in as well. Matt Neuburg has written extensively on various programs, including a massive 90K review of Nisus, a special issue on the hypertext editor Storyspace, and reviews of several outliners. To close the loop, Matt was my Classics professor at Cornell before ending up in New Zealand, and his Greek Composition class taught me more than any other class in those four years. We’ve also published a number of articles from Ian Feldman, who created the setext format. The first year of TidBITS I wrote 90 percent of the articles, but that percentage has thankfully been declining, because I never pretend to be an expert on everything, and would far prefer to have someone who is an expert write about what she knows. Oh, if you’re wondering, all those who are Pythaeus prefer to remain unnamed – "Pythaeus" is one of the names of Apollo at his oracle at Delphi.

In May of 1991, the world changed. Tonya accepted a job with Microsoft supporting Macintosh Word. We married in June and moved to the Seattle area in July. I had no consulting contacts in Seattle, so I devoted my time to TidBITS and frankly, my Internet contacts kept me sane during those first few difficult months. We realized that although we could live on Tonya’s salary, just barely, it would help if TidBITS could bring in some money as well. That’s when we came up with the corporate sponsorship program that has resulted in various select companies such as Nisus, Dantz, and APS providing information to interested readers.

Back to the HyperCard stack. One reason I originally used HyperCard was that my stack could merge its contents into another copy of itself, creating a single archive. Information is useless if you cannot find it, and the single stack archive helped solve this problem. Unfortunately, my stack proved equally problematic. Programming quirks caused the archive size to grow too rapidly, but I fixed that after 25 issues. The stack also devoted too much room to background decoration and navigation controls, reducing the text space. After the first few issues, Ian took me to task for the stack, and we started discussing issues surrounding the dissemination of electronic periodicals, and those discussions resulted in Ian creating setext, or structure-enhanced text.

This all took time, and in fact, we published the first 99 issues of TidBITS in HyperCard format. My master archive of all the issues had increased to well over 10 MB, and merging an issue took a long time. It didn’t look as though we would have a HyperCard browser for our setext files any time soon as 1991 drew to a close, but I couldn’t live with HyperCard any more. TidBITS #100 was our first issue in setext format, and in one of the chronological conjunctions we like so much, it was also the first issue of 1992.

Switching to setext format was terribly important. Every previous issue had to be stuffed and BinHexed before being sent out, forcing everyone to jump through hoops to read it. This limited readership to those who could download to a Mac. Once the issues were in setext format, everyone who subscribed to comp.sys.mac.digest could easily read the issues without additional processing. Currently estimates place comp.sys.mac.digest’s readership at about 75,000.

Setext format opened distribution doors in other ways. Alvin Khoo of Simon Fraser University set up a mailing list that garnered over 1,000 subscribers before his home-brewed mailing list software and the SFU machine had trouble with the volume. Luckily, Mark Williamson of Rice University saved the day with the Rice LISTSERV, so we transferred everyone over. The LISTSERV list has grown steadily since the spring of 1992 and now serves about 8,000 people. Also because of the setext format (which looks like plain text but is implicitly structured for decoding by special programs), TidBITS appeared on some Gopher servers and Ephraim Vishniac of Thinking Machines created a WAIS source for it, enabling anyone on the Internet to search the complete text of all issues. A World-Wide Web server is up as well, and I’ll announce that officially soon, probably next week.

We still had no browser for setext, though, and no way of creating an archive of all the issues, which was one of my original design goals. I’ve used a Nisus macro to encode issues since TidBITS #100, but my Nisus macros for decoding setext never worked right. In August of 1992, Akif Eyler released Easy View 2.1 with the capability to browse setext files. Easy View not only had all the features of my simple HyperCard stack, but it could do things like extract all articles that contained a search match. Since Easy View worked on the original setext files, we didn’t have to modify our distribution at all, although over the years we’ve tweaked the format of the issues to make them more attractive for reading in Easy View.

Software reviews were a major step for us. I remember the first time I was sent a commercial program to review, Now Utilities 2.0. Being in poor college-student mode still, I couldn’t believe my good fortune and wrote an in-depth review for TidBITS #45. Other products slowly followed suit, including the long-gone Kennect Drive 2.4, and MacInTax back when it still came from SoftView (then purchased by ChipSoft, which recently merged with Intuit). Needless to say, we’ve looked at many other programs over the years, but I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Now Software for that day when Now Utilities 2.0 arrived on my doorstep. It’s easiest to talk about products we use regularly, and of all the programs we’ve used over the years, the constants have been Nisus, uAccess (now UUCP/Connect from InterCon, a full-featured UUCP-based email program), and QuicKeys.

Hardware-wise, we’ve evolved slowly. The first TidBITS issues were produced on a 4 MB double-floppy SE with a 30 MB home-built hard drive. It eventually transmogrified into an SE/30 with an APS external 105 MB drive and 5 MB, jumping to 8 MB relatively quickly. My strategy was to keep that SE/30 viable, so I added an APS SyQuest drive for backup, a Micron Xceed video card and an Apple 13" color monitor (and since then have refused to use any single-monitor Mac other than a PowerBook). Our second Mac was a Classic with a 40 MB drive that we actually bought for the floppy drive – our SE/30 only had a single 800K internal drive and it was dying. A new SuperDrive was only slightly less than a Classic without a hard drive, although we weren’t able to resist the hard drive model. On the whole, the Classic was a mistake – we seldom use it and it’s painfully slow. In August of 1992 I jumped the SE/30’s memory to 20 MB and adopted my seemingly unusual technique of launching all my standard applications at startup, which makes scheduling easier and simplifies single-key program switching with QuicKeys.

Our third Mac was an extremely cute 8 MB PowerBook 100 with a 20 MB drive that we got during the PowerBook 100 fire sale. I use the PowerBook for most of my serious writing – I wrote some of Internet Starter Kit and all of Internet Explorer Kit on the PowerBook. The hardware purchases that made writing the first book possible were an APS 1.2 GB hard drive and an APS DAT drive for backup – books suck hard disk space and nightly scheduled backups with Retrospect have eased my backup paranoia significantly.

When she started writing her book on Microsoft Word, Tonya bought a Duo 230, which I’m basically forbidden to touch. Eventually, in November of 1993, I broke down and replaced the SE/30 with a Centris 660AV. Tonya snagged my Apple 13" color monitor for double-monitor use on her Duo with a MiniDock, and I switched to the combination of an NEC 3FGx 15" color monitor and an Apple 12" monochrome monitor that I bought used. The only major thing I regret about the 660AV (other than the fact that the speech recognition doesn’t really work) is that the Curtis MVP Mouse trackball and footswitch that I used stopped working. I’ve switched to a Kensington TurboMouse trackball but still miss the footswitch.

The pointing devices remind me of perhaps the worst problem we’ve faced and continue deal with daily. In early 1992, Tonya injured herself and ended up with tendinitis in her hands and arms. Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, which has similar symptoms. We were pretty pitiful for a few months, wearing wrist braces in bed and to go grocery shopping, but we’ve gradually recovered. The most important factor in our recovery was the realization that a repetitive stress injury is related to extreme amounts of stress that must be reduced. In addition, these silly lycra gloves called Handeze Gloves have made an incredible difference for both of us.

I could ramble for a lot longer, and if I went back and read through my outgoing mail I might remember even more of the stories that make up our history. But what’s important about TidBITS is people – the people who have redistributed issues, the people who have contributed articles, the people who have read the issues, and the people who believed in us for years before electronic publishing was conceivable to most publishers. I’ve always said that I write to the person behind the personal computer, and as my interests lean more and more toward the Internet, I believe all the more in the importance of the individual. This is why we avoid corporate-speak and distribute TidBITS for free. It’s worked for four years and 222 issues and although I never predict anything more than a year or so in the future, another four years seems no more inconceivable than the first four were.