Apple’s eWorld arrives! But since it’s the first day, we mainly report on a new PC emulator, discuss tips on improving SoftWindows performance, and review GIFConverter and El-Fish, an aquarium simulator. Check out the rumors from InterOp about Apple’s Internet software, as well as news about upcoming Mac expositions. Finally, we have a URL for a stock quote service on the Internet and some comments on last week’s article about small developers.
According to MacWEEK, Apple’s eWorld online service is here, opening its doors today to thousands of people. TidBITS should appear on eWorld officially at some point, but despite some external efforts, Apple Online Services still has yet to send us a contract. In the meantime, you can access TidBITS through the eWorld Internet gateway, but beware that the gateway splits incoming Internet messages into 7K chunks (for compatibility with NewtonMail). The basic subscription rate for eWorld is $8.95 per month, which includes two free hours of evening or weekend use. Additional hours during evenings and weekends cost $4.95 and day time access (6 AM to 6 PM local time) costs $1.90 per hour. You can call eWorld at 9,600 bps, but you need the eWorld software, which is available free from Apple at 800/775-4556. I suppose it’s too much to ask for an email address for requesting the software. [ACE]
PowerPC Native — We received two corrections to the list of PowerPC native applications in TidBITS-230. First, Hard Disk Toolkit 1.5.1 runs only in emulation mode on Power Macs, but FWB is working on a native version. Second, although it wasn’t in that list, TCP/Connect II 1.2.1 from InterCon Systems runs in native mode on the Power Macs. [TJE]
FWB — <[email protected]>
InterCon Systems — <[email protected]>
Randy Gresham <[email protected]> passed on a URL for a Web server that provides stock quotes. You must know the ticker symbol (AAPL for Apple), and quotes are delayed somewhere between 15 and 60 minutes. Various graphical representations of the Dow Jones Industrial Average are available, although none of this information is guaranteed or meant to be used in a commercial situation (and the service will be shut down if it’s abused). Kudos to Security APL and Data Transmission Network for providing this free service to Internet users. The basic idea is to use the quote service as a form of advertising for the fee-based services that these companies also offer. Frankly, I think it’s a good idea and wish them the best of luck with it. The quote server is forms-based, so Mac users must use either MacWeb or NCSA Mosaic 2.0a. [ACE]
A new PC emulator
A new PC emulator from a small Arizona company called Utilities Unlimited International can supposedly run PC software on a Power Mac at Pentium speeds. The company claims that the still-unnamed emulator requires only 1 MB of RAM to run and will provide full 486 emulation, which is slated to appear in Insignia’s SoftWindows later this year. If that’s not enough, the emulator will supposedly run DOS, Windows, Unix, OS/2, and Windows NT. This may sound like something we’d include in an April Fools issue, but apparently Utilities Unlimited is best known for their Amiga-based Emplant emulators, and Amiga users on the nets, while skeptical, have said that if anyone can do it, Utilities Unlimited can. The emulator is written entirely in assembly for speed, and is slated to ship for about $150 in late summer (Northern Hemisphere). There’s not much point in arguing about whether or not what they claim is possible, since they’ve set themselves a difficult task, and it will be relatively easy to tell when the program ships, if it ships, whether or not it lives up to its promises. [ACE]
MacUser arrives on the Internet
MacUser arrives on the Internet in the form of an email address for sending letters to the editor. The address <[email protected]> now accepts comments about MacUser or the state of the Mac for consideration for publication. However, the MacUser folks ask that you don’t send requests for specific buying advice, requests for information in back issues, or requests for subscription information. The MacUser editors don’t have time to handle requests of the first two types, and the subscription department isn’t currently reachable via email.
If you submit a letter, please include your name and a daytime phone number. Also indicate if it’s acceptable for MacUser to include your email address if your letter is printed. All letters become the property of MacUser, and MacUser reserves the right to edit any letters they print.
Although responses aren’t guaranteed, the person who will read all the messages and may reply to some is Jason Snell, an assistant editor at MacUser and editor of the Internet fiction magazine InterText. In other words, Jason isn’t an Internet neophyte, and I’m glad MacUser gave the job to someone who understands the Internet. [ACE]
InterOp Apple Rumors
Pythaeus passed on various rumors regarding Apple from the InterOp conference a while back, and I thought those of you on the Internet might find them intriguing.
Apple was somewhat clandestinely demonstrating a DDP-to-IP gateway for the Apple Internet Router software. This would enable a Macintosh running the Apple Internet Router to duplicate most of the functions of a GatorBox or FastPath router for much less money (assuming of course that you have a Mac that can serve as the router).
It appears that MacTCP will indeed be bundled with System 7.5, but will gradually be phased out in favor of the new OpenTransport software that should ship later this year. The phase-out will cause a certain amount of consternation among Macintosh Internet developers, since the current plan is to drop the MacTCP driver interface, in large part because it won’t ever be PowerPC native. In other words, all MacTCP-based programs will have to be rewritten to support OpenTransport. Hope everyone used modular code.
Apple’s AppleSearch (based on WAIS technology) is useful on its own (although piggy, considering that it requires at least a 68040-based Mac and costs a pretty penny), but in the future it will become far more useful for those wishing to put information on the Internet with a Macintosh. AppleSearch can already be used in conjunction with the University of Minnesota’s GopherSurfer server program, and support for MacHTTP probably isn’t far behind. With the capability to add these interfaces, it should become possible for non-Macintosh clients to search AppleSearch databases in a number of ways, including over the Internet.
Finally, to take advantage of the power of the PowerPC chip, a version of Unix from Apple for the Power Macs should be available by the end of the year in some form or another. Tenon Intersystems plans to have their MachTen version of Unix for the Power Macs by then too, so we’ll finally be able to see how the Power Macs stack up against Unix workstations.
Boston in August, Detroit in July
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Macworld Expo, put on by Mitch Hall Associates on one U.S. coast on January and the other in August, often seems to be the event in the Macintosh industry. There are also Macworld Expos in Canada and elsewhere in the world, and wherever Macworld goes, it seems to overshadow other Mac conventions and events.
Until this year, it seemed that Mac users and managers in between the east and west coasts had to settle for an occasional major event in Chicago. Now, though, the Midwest Mac Expo comes to Detroit to serve the many Macintosh users in Michigan and the surrounding areas (including Canada). The event is scheduled for the 16th and 17th of July.
The Midwest Mac Expo is the brainchild of MacGroup-Detroit, which bills itself as the metropolitan Detroit area’s largest Macintosh user’s group. Founded in August 1986 by Terry White, MacGroup prides itself on bringing Macintosh technology to the public.
Vendors from around the world will show the latest in Macintosh computing technology, including RISC technology (such as PowerPC), mobile computing, multimedia, and other technologies. The show is at the Southfield Civic Center, convenient to Southeastern Michigan’s freeway system, and only 20 minutes from Canada.
The admission price is reminiscent of early computer fairs; general exhibit admission tickets are just $5 per day. A business price of $50 includes exhibit tickets for both days, seminar and presentation admission, and a CD-ROM full of Expo materials, demos, and free or shareware programs. By comparison, the Macworld Expos charge $25 for exhibits only and $120 for the exhibits and seminar tickets (and that’s with the pre-registration discount).
This isn’t to say the Macworld Expo doesn’t have its place. The Boston show is one of the central events of the Macintosh industry each year, and as usual, there will be a TidBITS contingent in Boston this August 2nd through 5th. In addition to the show itself, Boston is great for some Italian food, a cup of chowder, or a few of the traditional Boston beers. (There’s nothing quite like Boston in August!) The pre-registration discount for Macworld Boston lasts until 24-Jun-94, so you may still have a little time to take advantage of the lower price.
MacGroup-Detroit — 810/557-0750 — 810/557-0758 (fax)
Macworld Expo Hotline — 617/361-3941
— Information from:
Mitch Hall Associates propaganda
Diminutive Developer Comments
Our articles about the situation for small Macintosh developers in TidBITS-230 provoked a flurry of additional comments and ideas, ranging from the viability of OpenDoc to why innovative software developers require innovation from Apple to the belief that Apple’s becoming ‘big business" (complete with dress codes and an unseemly emphasis on greed) is an inevitable result of doing business in a capitalist system. Most comments centered around what you need to develop on the Mac and what those necessities cost. Naturally, hobbyists have different concerns than do commercial developers, though several people pointed out that today’s hobbyists are tomorrow’s developers.
Ron Davis <[email protected]> wrote that the basic hobbyist only needs a few hundred dollars on top of the cost of a Macintosh. "To start developing all you need is a compiler, the Think Reference, and a Macintosh. You can get C/C++ and Pascal compilers, a class library, etc. from Metrowerks for under $200. The Think Reference can be purchased for $100, and if you get it on the MacTech CD-ROM you get tons of sample code and instructional documents as well. $300 is not too much for any serious computer hobbyist to invest."
Charles DeLauder <[email protected]> was disappointed at how hard it was for a teenager to get involved in Mac programming, after having figured out BASIC on an IBM and an Apple II. "I wanted to program in BASIC, just to start, on the Macintosh. But I couldn’t because Apple was too cheap to include any programming freebies like they did with the Apple II series and IBM did with their computers. I had at the time (and still do) HyperCard 2.1. And they tried to cripple it! I thought it was broken until I was installing a special stack that opened the doors for me. Anyhow, HyperCard wasn’t good enough at the time because I wanted to make my own double-clickable programs. There was SuperCard, but it was too expensive. Finally, I found a good freeware language called Yerk."
Scott Storkel <[email protected]> pointed out, "Apple has several programs which are billed as ‘everything you need for developing Mac software:’ the Apple Developer Mailing ($250/year) and their Essentials-Tools-Objects (ETO) CD-ROM ($1,295/year). Yet, if I purchase one of these products I still must to pay extra for information about new technology: AOCE – $195, Drag & Drop – $75, Easy Open – $150, QuickTime – $195, AppleSearch – $199, and AppleScript – $199."
David Dunham <[email protected]> felt that the cost of acquiring development tools and information isn’t the most important problem for the small developer. He wrote, "I suspect the real problem small developers face is not the technology, but the market. I have some ideas for a spreadsheet that have never been implemented, and I could write one. The problem isn’t how much it costs me to write, but whether I could hope to sell it. Who would back a spreadsheet that had to compete with Microsoft?"
Never content to merely carp, a number of readers offered solutions, ranging from alternative development environments to alternative distribution channels and alternative information sources. Sounds like an alternative development life-style might be the way to go for some small developers.
Jim Bailey <[email protected]> wrote, "The solution is higher level languages, languages that provide more functionality than the traditional C/C++ of today. A great example is the Newton development environment. NewtonScript and the NTK are serious productivity enhancers for software developers. If the NTK level of functionality was provided to Mac developers, application development time would be cut to a fraction of what it is in the C/C++ world. Application frameworks like MacApp can help, but you are still stuck with relatively low-level C++ coding.
Alex Metcalf <[email protected]> suggested a few ways that Apple could help, including better Apple support and documentation on the Internet and setting up a sponsorship program for student developers.
Scott Dickson <[email protected]> suggested: "Alternate distribution channels, such as demo CD-ROMs with encrypted software, and alternate information sources such as the Internet with newsletters such as TidBITS have a great potential to upset the status quo and give the nimble small developer with a good product and good service a chance."
One of the problems that Apple has faced with the Power Macs is that SoftWindows doesn’t always behave as you might expect a real PC-clone to behave. That’s not surprising, given that SoftWindows does in software what a PC does in hardware. Insignia has used various tricks to improve performance, but if you don’t take advantage of those in testing SoftWindows, it will seem slower than it actually is.
Paul Kerr, SoftWindows Product Marketing Manager at Insignia Solutions, provided these suggestions on the nets for not only maximizing SoftWindows performance in normal usage, but also for giving SoftWindows a fighting chance in a demo situation. The difference in performance between the worst settings and optimum settings in any specific situation can reportedly be more than 100 percent.
First, you must compare apples with the appropriately configured oranges, so to speak. If the real PC has a lot more memory available for Windows applications than SoftWindows does, performance will suffer. So, if you’re comparing SoftWindows with a 4 MB PC:
- Use a 16 MB Power Mac.
- Set the Monitors control panel to 256 colors.
- In the Memory control panel, turn Modern Memory manager on, Virtual Memory off, and reduce the disk cache to the minimum.
- Set the memory partition for SoftWindows to 12,000K.
- In SoftWindows, in PC Memory, set Expanded Memory (EMS) to zero, and set Extended Memory (XMS) to 3 MB or 4 MB (this will leave between 1 MB and 2 MB of RAM unused, but will improve performance significantly).
- In Windows Desktop, set the size to 640 x 480, with 256 colors.
However, if you’re comparing SoftWindows with a PC that has 8 MB or more memory available:
- Use a Power Mac with 24 MB of RAM.
- Set the Monitors control panel to 256 colors.
- In the Memory control panel, turn Modern Memory manager on, Virtual Memory off, and reduce the disk cache to the minimum.
- Set the memory partition for SoftWindows to 18,000K.
- In SoftWindows, in PC Memory, set Expanded Memory (EMS) to zero, and set Extended Memory (XMS) to 10 MB (this will leave about 2 MB of RAM unused, but will improve performance significantly).
- In Windows Desktop, set the size to 640 x 480, with 256 colors.
In addition, here are a few other tips that can significantly improve speed in SoftWindows:
- If you use Microsoft Access, use the larger RAM test setup.
- Use the HPV video in the Power Mac 7100 or 8100.
- Add a cache card to a Power Mac 6100 or 7100 for a boost of about 20 percent.
- Install a fast hard disk (such as a 1 GB drive) to significantly boost Windows performance in general, and database access in particular.
GIFConverter, a shareware program written by Kevin Mitchell <[email protected]>, focuses on conversion of various graphic file formats to and from GIF compressed format. GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is a popular compressed graphics format for images with up to 256 colors or greyscales (8 bits of color info per pixel). Version 2.3.7 includes support for 24-bit images and JPEG compression, though many features still only work with 8-bit images.
GIFConverter allows conversion between PICT, JPEG-compressed PICT, JFIF, GIF, TIFF, Postscript, StartupScreen, and other, more obscure, image types. GIF format support includes the latest 87a standard, interlacing, and Global Maps. GIFConverter excels at conversion, but it also provides other helpful features. You can add or crop borders, and you can scale or rotate the image (in 90 degree increments). Finally, you can alter the color table to one more suitable, such as the Apple standard 256-color palette for an image that you want to use as a desktop picture.
For 8-bit images, GIFConverter offers comprehensive color twiddling tools. You can resurrect a washed-out looking scan using Brightness and Contrast settings. Alternately, you can get serious with a histogram-oriented palette editor, although using the palette editor interface is non-trivial compared to adjusting the Brightness slider bar. Experimentation brings fun, if not immediately useful, results. Note that GIFConverter is not a paint program and has none of the usual set of paint tools other than rectangular cropping.
Though peripheral to GIFConverter’s primary mission, the program supports image viewing in several ways. You can view or print a single image by opening it and applying one of several dithering techniques for increasing the on-screen quality. For viewing many images, you can use GIFConverter’s slide show feature. GIFConverter slide shows appear as a list of images which you can save. The images can be ordered arbitrarily, with images repeated if you so desire. Although GIFConverter handles these duties decently, JPEGView, reviewed in TidBITS-228, is a superior image viewing program in almost all respects.
GIFConverter costs US$45, (US$50 outside of North America), a price I gladly paid because I like to convert downloaded GIF images to smaller JPEG images in order to save disk space. Upon registration, Kevin sends you a fairly well written manual, which is particularly useful for figuring out the histogram feature. I recommend GIFConverter to anyone with simple image conversion needs who doesn’t want to drop a half-grand for Photoshop.
El-Fish, The Electronic Aquarium
Tetra Press’s The Aquarium Atlas claims that ten to twenty percent of aquarists leave the hobby each year. Obviously, the chore of keeping a healthy aquarium – daily feedings, monthly cleanings, and regular monitoring of water quality – is beyond a large percentage of those who would like to keep tropical fish. For these people, El-Fish from Maxis may be worth a look. El-Fish is an aquarium simulation with stunningly beautiful animation and a robust set of tools for the design and building of fish and tanks. El-Fish combines ease-of-use with an advanced, specialized, 3-D modeler and renderer.
Electronic Fish — El-Fish has three methods for generating new fish varieties: catching, evolving, and breeding. To catch fish, you drop a graphic representation of a hook onto a map. To evolve fish, you select a fish to evolve, and adjust the degree of variation of shape and color for succeeding generations. You do the same for the breeding of fish, except that you then select two ancestors, rather than one. The operations are fairly straightforward, if somewhat time-consuming: a catch takes about five seconds on my Quadra 700 to over five minutes on a Color Classic. All the options are made available through a single, consistent interface, with adequate, if terse, on-line help.
After generating the "genetics" of your fish, it’s necessary to render the fish in up to 256 frames, for the realistic-looking animation. This is where the magic occurs, but it’s also the time when you want a fast machine – the animation process is highly processor intensive. On my Quadra 700, generating the animation frames for a medium-size fish is a bearable 14 minutes; a Color Classic can take more than six hours.
Designing Your Aquarium — After generating your fish, you place them in an electronic tank of your own creation. Here El-Fish gives you many of the plants, rocks, coral, and accessories you’d expect to find at your local pet shop. Objects can be placed along x, y, and z axes, so your fish can swim both behind and in front of objects, completing the illusion. Some objects are animated, such as the treasure chest toy, which opens and closes, and, of course, the cat’s paw which swoops down into the tank. You can also import PICT files.
The tank can be bounded by a standard Macintosh window, or an oval or rectangular frame; however, in all tank shapes, the fish can swim off the edges of the aquarium, which I find conceptually confusing, since, in my all-glass aquarium, the fish can’t do likewise. Each tank can also have a style of computer-generated music associated with it, although the music is on the cheesy side, which abruptly contrasts with the beauty of the animation. Unfortunately, El-Fish lacks a low burbling sound, or even the bubbling sound of After Dark’s Fish module, which might have added to the realism of the simulation.
The Maxis Ideology — Although a Maxis product (El-Fish was created by Animatek), El-Fish isn’t a member of Maxis’s Sim-series, and the software fails to conform to the ideological assumptions I’ve seen in other Sim-series products. Because of its limited scope (simulating an aquarium, rather than a city or planet), the narrative space for inserting the Maxis world-view within El-Fish is limited. The Maxis ideology, that societies are teleological in nature, and, as such, can be managed technocratically, whatever the ends to be achieved (whether that be, for example, the conquest of another society [insect or human], or the Arthur C. Clarkian vision of the abandonment of this planet for another) isn’t entirely absent. Barred from a software context which lends itself to such narrative ends, Maxis instead places its world-view within the pages of the El-Fish manual.
The El-Fish manual’s preface, "A Fish History of Life," says that after fish evolve from complex molecules, they chose to no longer face the mortality of earthly existence, and, as a result, set into process the evolution of subsequent life forms, until humans are created and eventually succeed in fashioning a virtual environment for fish, absent of death. This basic Maxis tenet – that all problems or desires can find a technological solution – is superfluous in the non-interactive modeling environment of El-Fish, and fits awkwardly with the contemplative simplicity of the rest of the package.
Simulating a Simulation — For many, real aquariums are themselves simulations of other environments. I have a freshwater community tank which only includes elements from a particular geographic location, while others may attempt to simulate a particular biotope. Unfortunately, although El-Fish contains a number of plant types, plants aren’t named, and there’s no provision for a naming system. And although El-Fish allows the writing of fish data to an ASCII-format "Roe" file, it’s disappointing there’s no documented Roe description language – that is, a method to design fish to better simulate actual species.
El-Fish rates low on playability, although a real aquarium would compare even less favorably. Since it’s likely you’ll quickly set up a tank that you’re happy with – in part because El-Fish makes it easy to do so – after a short time, you’ll probably only want to launch the program to view your creation. Unlike a screen saver, however, this isn’t an automatic process. Unfortunately, the 3.5 MB minimum memory partition and the 8 MB recommended partition makes this impractical on most systems. It’s easy to imagine El-Fish sitting unused on your hard drive after a while and eventually being deleted for the 10 MB or so of space.
Compared to a real aquarium, which can easily run over a $100 for a basic setup, it’s possible that El-Fish, at a $59.95 suggested retail (and selling for about half that), might be a bargain, but when you consider the memory requirements, and the always-on availability of a real aquarium (although I have my electronic aquarium in a window next to my word processing document, the animation for my electronic fish isn’t smooth running in the background), the price difference becomes more difficult to quantify. And although there’s a certain novelty in having an aquarium on your Macintosh, you might also want to consider Andy Ihnatko’s Macquarium, which converts a Macintosh with a Classic form factor into a two-gallon aquarium for under $30, not including the Mac shell (Andy’s instructions are a great read, if nothing else).
On the other hand, an electronic aquarium never needs to be cleaned, and electronic fish never go belly up. But along with the reduction of responsibility comes the loss of stewardship, which, in my mind, is a large part of being an aquarist. In addition, the tasks of stewardship take you away from the computer for at least a few minutes each day, which is never a bad thing and is part of what having a hobby is all about.
Maxis — 800/336-2947 — 510/254-8700 — 510/253-3736 (fax)