News and updates this week, as we bring you news on Intuit’s MacInTax fix and Microsoft’s efforts to escape Apple’s QuickTime lawsuit. We also have follow-up information on ShrinkWrap and the U.S. Congress’s latest attempt to legislate cyberspace, along with news of a nifty utility disk from Apple and World-Wide Web security problems. We round out the issue with reviews of the Epson Color Stylus printer and Human Computing’s ComicBase Encyclopedia.
Nisus Software Returns — We’d like to welcome back Nisus Software as a TidBITS sponsor. For those of you who have been hiding under a rock recently, we just finished a three-part review (starting in TidBITS-263) of Nisus Writer, the latest version of the company’s powerful word processor. Their less well-known products include Nisus Compact (sadly lacking the capability to run Nisus Writer macros, in my opinion, since it’s otherwise a nicely honed version of Nisus Writer), QUED/M (a powerful programmer’s editor), Easy Alarms, and LaserTech Fonts.
The big news at Nisus is that they now have a Web site. Current highlights include company contact information, feedback and guest book forms, links to Nisus Writer-related information on the Web, a page of Nisus Software demos and extra files (including a new filter for QuarkXPress that retains formatting, graphics, and even defined styles if you’ve attached a named ruler to the style), and a graphical map interface straight from the screen of the Macintosh. Information to look for soon includes technical support questions and answers, online ordering, and hopefully more tongue-in-cheek touches like the one you get when clicking the Trash icon or the Apple menu icon.
It makes sense for a company as international as Nisus Software to make heavy use of the Internet and the Web, and their Web site, and an accompanying FTP site, are at:
Note that the character before the last "nisus" in the http URL above is a tilde. Some mail gateways swap it with other characters, and the resulting URLs don’t work, causing no end of frustration. [ACE]
System 7.5 Network Startup Disk — Apple’s finally done what Macintosh network managers have been doing for years: created a DiskCopy image of a minimal startup disk that boots almost any Macintosh and puts it on a network. This disk will boot System 7.5 on any Mac introduced before Nov-94 that has a high density drive; it includes a Chooser and Network Control Panel and lets the machine connect to a LocalTalk or EtherTalk network. This disk may not do everything under the sun, but in a networked environment it’s a good tool to have handy.
This URL is long, thanks to the naming scheme used on Apple’s official support site. Be sure to remove line breaks when you use it! [GD]
ShrinkWrap Update — Some TidBITS readers were confused when the URL given for the disk-image utility ShrinkWrap 1.2 in TidBITS-260 seemed invalid. Turns out Chad Magendanz, ShrinkWrap’s developer, has been especially ambitious lately, releasing new versions to add capabilities and fix a few problems. As of 06-Mar-95, the current version of ShrinkWrap is 1.3.1 and a correct URL is:
If this URL seems broken, you might check Info-Mac’s /disk directory to see if a newer version has been uploaded in the last few minutes. These newer releases of ShrinkWrap have fixed the problem reported with MODE32, added a new Apple event suite for scripting ShrinkWrap (plus a gluefile for use with Frontier), included some new disk format and processing options, and feature "cool" new About box. [GD]
Communications Decency Act Follow-Up — Several civil liberties, privacy, and electronic advocacy organizations are coordinating a campaign with the Voters Telecommunications Watch to oppose the Communications Decency Act, Senate bill 314, outlined in TidBITS-263. For information and background, check out: [GD]
John T. Chapman <[email protected]> writes:
A number of postings have shown up recently regarding an Edupage article on 21-Feb-95. This article suggests that there is a security hole in "Mosaic," which could lead to destruction of a number of Web sites.
Unfortunately, this article is somewhat inaccurate: the security weakness lies in the NCSA HTTPd server software (version 1.3) for Unix Web servers. The client software (Mosaic or otherwise) is not responsible for any security problems; in addition, this problem does not affect Macintosh Web servers like MacHTTP.
For more information, check out NCSA’s Web page; there is also a link to a patch for the code and a patched pre-compiled binary version. The URL is:
The Demands of Video — Microsoft announced that it will shortly release to developers version 1.1e of its Video For Windows (VFW) software, just a day before a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order halting the distribution of VFW 1.1d. According to Microsoft, version 1.1e will not contain any of the code Apple alleges was originally developed for its QuickTime for Windows software and subsequently distributed by Intel and Microsoft. (See TidBITS-263.) Despite Microsoft’s earlier claim that none of the performance improvements seen in recent versions of VFW were related to Apple code, word on the street is that version 1.1e can be significantly slower than 1.1d in certain situations. [GD]
As noted in TidBITS-261 and TidBITS-264, MacInTax has exhibited problems importing data from other software programs. Several TidBITS readers have reported other problems they’ve encountered with this year’s version of MacInTax, and these folks certainly aren’t alone. In recent weeks, Intuit’s forums on AOL and CompuServe have virtually overflowed with reports and complaints from customers. Some people are having problems with the software, but others are reporting problems with delivery, failing to get through to Intuit’s technical support, or with inappropriate billing. Some comments have been considered and civil, but – as you might expect – a good deal of consternation has been displayed. The problems have even made it into the mainstream media, appearing in computing and financial forums as well as general news.
On 01-Mar-95, Intuit announced that it is making available at no charge revised versions of MacInTax and TurboTax to correct tax calculation errors in those programs. The revised version of MacInTax is available in Intuit’s AOL and CompuServe forums. (The update is supposedly available on Intuit’s own BBS, but just try to find a phone number for it!) But be warned: the update is a complete version of the program rather than a small patcher application. Weighing in at around 5 MB, the update consists of four disk images and copy of Apple’s DiskCopy (although we recommend you use ShrinkWrap to mount the four images instead). At 9600 bps, the update takes more than two hours to download. As of this writing, there’s no official word on whether the update will be distributed to the Internet.
Intuit has also set up a special support number at 800/224-0948 to handle requests for the updated versions. They also claim they’re contacting registered users to inform them of the revision.
Intuit says the problems in MacInTax only impact about one percent of its customers. If you fall into one of the following categories, be sure to obtain the new version:
- If you’re importing financial data from another program
- If the tax return only has disability income
- If the tax return takes a section 179 deduction for an automobile
- If you use the Estimated Tax Worksheet to estimate payments for the 1995 tax year
- If the tax return depreciates an asset in the final year of its depreciable life
In an unusual move, Intuit Chairman Scott Cook issued a statement apologizing to Intuit customers for the handling of the situation. "We have known about most of these errors for three to four weeks," he wrote, "and could have notified our customers earlier." In addition, Mr. Cook acknowledged that Intuit was aware of the MacInTax import bug reported in TidBITS-261 as early as December, 1994, but "internal procedures broke down, and the problem was not formally communicated within the company until much later." Intuit also indicated plans to increase support staffing, and emphasized their guarantee to pay any penalties or interest due to the IRS resulting from errors in its tax software.
Though it’s rare for a software company to air a product’s dirty laundry in public, Intuit is apparently taking a lesson from recent incidents in the computer industry where companies have been dealt huge public-relations blows via online services and the media. This incident points out that as the population of computer users grows and online access increases, the proportion of "impacted users" required for a small problem to turn into a major incident is constantly shrinking. Here we’ve seen a problem that Intuit claims impacts about one percent of the customer base for a single software product propel the company into front page news. Admittedly, with an estimated 1.6 million copies of its tax software in the market this season, that’s about sixteen thousand people. But how many of those users called or tried to contact Intuit? How many even knew about the problems? Clearly, the actions of a relatively small group had a strong impact on Intuit’s operations.
Intuit, Inc. — 602/295-3080 — <[email protected]>
800/224-0948 (tax updates only)
One of my current pet theories – to be tested this summer when I go to my ten year high school reunion – is that in many ways, our teenage years form the basis for the people we become. Perhaps I don’t yet have sufficient perspective to truly judge in this matter, but another small data point appeared on the graph as I played with Human Computing’s ComicBase Encyclopedia of Comics CD-ROM. Human Computing bills the $69 CD-ROM as "the ultimate reference source for comic book collectors," and although far from ultimate, it does an overall good job.
As a teenager, I collected comics. I didn’t do it for the investment value (my best friend in high school had a tremendous collection along those lines), but because I was intrigued by the characters and the storylines and, to a lesser extent, the artwork. At some point, I outgrew my fascination with these fantastic worlds, abetted perhaps by the price increases that made 35 cent comics cost a dollar or more. I was also bothered by the increasingly dark subject matter that shattered much of the fantasy and humor I had grown to appreciate. But, a few years ago when I moved from Ithaca to Seattle, I brought my two large boxes of comics with me, most of them nicely bagged and organized.
Checking out the ComicBase Encyclopedia then, was a trip back in time as I browsed through the descriptions of comics from before, during, and after my years of collecting. I read about the characters whose stories I’d devoured and looked at a number of the representative cover images from over 2,000 titles. Many of the titles come from companies I’d never dreamt of beyond my limited universe of Marvel and DC comics. The range is impressive, and for those who perhaps do have an interesting collection, the ComicBase Encyclopedia includes pricing information for over 45,000 near-mint condition issues. You can even see a graph of how the price of any given issue has varied over the last four years. Also included in the list of the issues within a title are milestones that helped me remember what issues I have – things like first appearances of specific heroes or villains, deaths, crossovers with other titles, and origin myths.
Within the descriptions, hypertext links take you (somewhat sluggishly since the browser is written in HyperCard) to other appropriate title descriptions. Or at least they usually do – clicking on any of the characters in the X-Men description moves you to a description of another title in which that character stars, with the exception of the Beast, whose link jumps to "666: The Mark of the Beast," a completely different title from a completely different company. It’s often a bit unclear where the links will end up, since multiple links tend to use the same name, but can point to different titles. After a while, though, I stopped worrying about where I was going and enjoyed the ride. The descriptions are well-written, and as much as I can remember, accurate. I only found one typo, and if I’d remembered where it was, I could have fixed it, since an Edit Title Descriptions command unlocks the text fields for editing.
You can browse forward and backward alphabetically (but oddly, there’s no Back command to return to a card after following a link from it), and you’re given a good interface for finding specific titles and any of the milestones, as well as any piece of text in any description. However, the window for Titles (for finding a title), although modeless, won’t stay on screen after you select an entry and click the OK button. If the window remained on screen, it would be much faster to use as an ad hoc index to the encyclopedic information.
Although the ComicBase Encyclopedia of Comics is essentially a massive 9 MB database of text descriptions and pricing information (the 175 MB of cover pictures are stored separately on the CD-ROM), it let me down as a database. I would have liked to use typical database querying and categorizing functions, which would help me with exploring genres and companies I know nothing about or, for example, to query for all comic titles published between 1978 and 1983 by Marvel (such a search and reporting feature is slated for the next release). And, speaking of dates, I think the data field I missed the most was the date of publication, although this is apparently the most common request Human Computing gets, so they’ll be working on satisfying it in the future as well. Without knowing when a comic was published, it’s difficult to figure out where it fits into a genre or comments on a current society (and believe me, comics often contain rather biting commentary). Sometimes you can tell this from the cover image, but it’s not always easy.
The ComicBase Encyclopedia does a fine job, but it ultimately left me wanting more. I’d like to see more in-depth information on specific characters and situations – the one-screen descriptions often tantalize more than satisfy. I did run across entries for titles like the "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition," and information from a book like that would be tremendously welcome in expanding the textual and graphical content of the CD. Of course, that involves getting the Marvel media empire to help, but hey, I never said my suggestions were easy.
For truly serious collectors, Human Computing also offers a $149 ComicBase CD-ROM that melds the encyclopedic information with a collector’s system for managing a comic collection. (This CD is available as an $89 upgrade from the ComicBase Encyclopedia, and there’s also a six-disk Personal Edition for those without CD-ROM drives.) It lets you track a collection’s value over the last four years, print price labels and reports, and generate checklists of missing issues, among other features.
So if you want to travel back into the alternate reality of the comic book universe without removing your books from their bags, check out the ComicBase Encyclopedia. It’s specialized, sure, but it’s neat for anyone who’s ever enjoyed comics. Hardware-wise, you need a color-capable Mac (though a color monitor isn’t necessary – there are black and white versions of the cover images), 2.5 MB of free memory, 10 MB free on your hard disk, and System 6.0.7 or later.
And, for the obligatory Internet link, I searched for information on comic books and found a lot of relatively detailed, but random, material, as is common on the net. Check it out in Yahoo’s Comic Book page:
Human Computing — 408/774-9016 — <[email protected]>
This Christmas, my wife sent me on a scavenger hunt. As I followed the clues, I finally ended up in her closet and found a big, beautiful box hidden beneath some clothes. Inside was the color printer I’d been telling her about for the last six months, the Epson Color Stylus. I hurried to open the box and start playing with my new toy.
What You Get — Inside the box I found the printer, two ink cartridges, manuals, and samples of Epson’s special coated papers. I also found a disk with a Windows 3.1 printer driver. I found no cables, and no Macintosh printer drivers. (The Macintosh drivers should be shipping in the box by now, but it wouldn’t hurt to double-check before purchasing. You can also download the drivers from CompuServe.)
The printer has both a parallel port for use with IBM-compatible machines and a serial port for use with Macintoshes. The serial port uses the mini-DIN 8 connector common on the Macintosh instead of the 9-pin or 25-pin serial ports standard on most PC-based printers. I took this as a good sign; I figured it meant the machine was designed with the Mac in mind. It also has an expansion slot designed for alternative interface cards. The main one that might interest Macintosh users is the LocalTalk board that lets you use the printer on an AppleTalk network. Unfortunately, the board costs $240, nearly half the printer’s price.
Setup — Setting up the printer was straightforward. Following the instructions, I assembled the parts for the sheet feeder and installed the ink cartridges. This printer, like the HP DeskWriter 560c and Apple StyleWriter 2400, uses two separate cartridges: one for black and one for cyan, yellow, and magenta. This make simplifies setup but increases the cost of consumables; if a non-black color runs out, you have to throw away whatever is left of the other two. The Color Stylus uses the same serial cable as the ImageWriter II or the StyleWriter. I’ve been using the cable that came with my StyleWriter II and have had no problems; however a number of users on CompuServe have reported printing errors unless they used a certain serial cable from Belkin Components (see below for contact information). The next step involved installing the software. The installer gives you the option to install the drivers for a direct-connect printer, a network printer, or both. The final step is to run the calibration software, which aligns the color and black print heads.
Test Systems — I tested the Epson Color Stylus with a variety of software and hardware. According to the documentation, the Stylus works with any Mac from the Plus on up with System 6.0.7 or later. When used with System 6.0.7 it requires a minimum of 4 MB of RAM; when used with System 7 and up it requires a minimum of 5 MB. I used a Mac LC with 10 MB of RAM and an Applied Engineering 40 MHz Transwarp accelerator (IIfx-class machine) and a PowerBook 160 with 10 MB of RAM and RAM Doubler installed. The software I tried printing from includes Word 5.1, ClarisWorks 2.1, Photoshop 2.5.1, PageMaker 5.0.1, Print Shop Deluxe 1.0, and a variety of smaller packages.
Printing Options — Epson usually leaves writing Macintosh driver software up to third parties, but for the Color Stylus they wrote a driver. I’ve been using driver version 1.10e, which offers control over a variety of features: resolution (180, 360, or 720 dpi), ink saturation (from light to dark), paper type (plain, 360 coated, or 720 coated), paper size (letter, legal, envelope, or custom), print method (monochrome or color), print mode (microweave or high speed), and dither pattern (B&W, Pattern 1, Pattern 2, or Diffused). The defaults – 360 dpi, plain paper, letter, color, high speed, diffused. – work great for most general printing, although microweave mode delivers much better graphics quality.
Not Quite Ready for Prime Time — The printer works well with most of the software I tested, but I did run into a few problems. First, the driver software is slow. It felt like working with the first driver for the original StyleWriter. The speed problem was especially pronounced when printing at 720 dpi. A single-page Photoshop graphic taking nearly an hour to print. General text, or mixed text and graphics documents printed faster, but the printer still sat for long periods waiting while the computer prepared the information. Having a Power Mac will not speed up printing because most print routines run in emulation.
I also ran into a problem with borders when printing from Print Shop Deluxe, although to be fair, this may be Print Shop’s problem. Pages would print shifted to the bottom and to the left. In Epson’s defense, this is nothing like the print problems Print Shop Deluxe had with the DeskWriter 5.0 drivers, but it is still annoying.
The final problem I encountered was that my Macintosh occasionally locked up when printing in 720 dpi mode from Photoshop. This problem only occurred on the LC, and I think it was a memory problem since the PowerBook (RAM Doubled to 20 MB) never had trouble.
New Year’s Resolutions — These problems aside, the Epson Color Stylus is worth a look. The output, although slow, is as good as or better than Apple’s or HP’s inkjet printers. The Color Stylus also boasts a feature no other printer in its class can match: true 720 x 720 dpi resolution! To understand the significance of this, think what an increase in resolution does for printout quality. Resolution tends to be a geometric factor – the density afforded by an increase in dots-per-inch is greater than the raw numbers would lead you to believe. For instance, the original LaserWriters printed at 300 x 300 dpi, which amounts to 90,000 dots in every square inch. NeXT’s first laser printer printed at 400 x 400 dpi, which amounts to 160,000 dots in every square inch. That’s nearly double the resolution of Apple’s original LaserWriter, despite the apparent increase of only 100 dots-per-inch. Today’s LaserWriters print at 600 x 600 dpi. That’s 360,000 dots per square inch: four times the resolution of the original printers from Apple. In 720 dpi mode, the Color Stylus produces an image with 518,400 dots in every square inch, an amazing improvement in image quality. Text looks sharp, high-resolution bitmapped graphics look nearly photographic, and gradient blends (like those produced by Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand) are smoother.
What’s the Catch? The 720 dpi pages require a special coated paper from Epson, and the driver is QuickDraw-only, which limits the printer’s utility for people who working with PostScript graphics. However, if you want this printer, the limitations may be surmountable.
I found that the printer produced very acceptable 720 dpi images on coated paper from Hewlett-Packard designed for DeskWriters. In fact, the HP glossy paper produced images that looked almost like photographs. Epson does not yet have a glossy paper for the Color Stylus.
PostScript output is available if the printer is used in conjunction with a PostScript software interpreter such as TScript from TeleTypesetting. (I assume Freedom of the Press from ColorAge would also work although I didn’t test it.) The results are phenomenal. The Color Stylus, in conjunction with TScript, uses the driver’s diffusion dither instead of the traditional PostScript halftone, which smooths the graphics even further. Printing through TScript’s PostScript interpreter also seems to clear up the border problems with Print Shop Deluxe, providing a nice work-around. However, you do need to be patient when using a PostScript interpreter. Printing becomes a multi-step process because you must select the LaserWriter driver in the Chooser, save your document as a PostScript file, select the Color Stylus driver in the Chooser, launch TScript, and then print the PostScript file. The software can create a huge spool file while printing – one of my typical PageMaker files took an average of 25 MB of disk space per page when printing through TScript. The results were worth it, in my opinion.
The Last Word — The Color Stylus is a good general purpose color printer. At 360 dpi, its print quality equals and often surpasses that of its nearest competition: the Apple StyleWriter 2400 and HP DeskWriter 560c. The grayscale output is better than what the StyleWriter II can do, and has none of the banding problems. At 720 dpi, the Color Stylus’s print quality is unmatched by anything in its price class. An added bonus is the ability to use this printer with a Mac or Windows machine. The driver is slow and there are a few lingering problems, but hopefully Epson will correct them soon. If they do, the Color Stylus will move from being a good printer to a great one. The current street price is between $500 and $550. If you are currently in the market for a color inkjet, I recommend that you consider the Epson Color Stylus.
Epson — 800/873-7766
Belkin Components — 800/223-5546 — 310/898-1100
TeleTypesetting — 617/734-9700 — 617/734-3974 (fax)