This week’s issue begins with news about Apple’s strong second quarter, future Macs at Disney’s EPCOT Center, new Microsoft-related anti-trust news, and more. We continue with an report from the Third International World-Wide Web Conference, thoughts about the appropriate use of computers in the form of a book review of Cliff Stoll’s "Silicon Snake Oil," and a look at how to access the Internet via CompuServe’s PPP services.
Relax, It’s Still A Hoax — Rumors are circulating once again about a virus called "Good Times" being sent as an email message that will erase your hard disk if you read it. So, we repeat: these warnings are a hoax; further, there are no known viruses that can be spread simply by reading an email message, since actual code must be executed for a virus to spread. Please see TidBITS-256 for a discussion of the original rumors. [GD]
Apple Announces Strong Second Quarter — Apple last week announced a strong second quarter, with revenues of $2.65 billion (a 28 percent increase over the same period a year ago) with a net income of $73 million. These figures were aided by the success of the Power Macintosh and strong growth in sales outside the United States, despite fluctuations in the value of the dollar and some money Apple lost in foreign currency hedging. This is also the third consecutive quarter in which Apple shipped more than one million units. [GD]
Web ZIP Codes — William Murphy <[email protected]> writes:
When I read the article on ProPhone, I chased the link to TidBITS-267 to see what had been said about ZIP code programs, and I thought it might be worth pointing out that the U.S. Postal Service now has its own Web server.
One of the services that they offer is a ZIP+4 lookup. If all you need is the ZIP code for an address, this page is for you. Get it right from the source, and best of all, it’s free.
[Even better, as far as my pet peeves go, this Web site appears to have full U.S. postal rate information, something that has been driving me nuts ever since the rates changed in January 1995. -Adam]
ProCalc is Now CalcWorks — If you’ve been looking for new versions of the popular Calculator replacement ProCalc, you’ve been looking in all the wrong places. Beginning with version 1.4.0, author John Brochu <[email protected]> has changed the name of his handy shareware program to CalcWorks to avoid a naming conflict with another product. But make no mistake: this award-winning desktop calculator is still around and better than ever. CalcWorks features full scientific and binary function sets, a printable paper tape window, optional RPN support (100 percent HP-compatible with pop-up stack display), customizable constants and conversions, a built-in help system (including a well-done Balloon Help), plus an easy-to-customize interface (put any calculator button anywhere you want). You can paste in equations for quick evaluation, enter figures directly in appropriate units (minutes, feet, degrees, etc.) and – thanks to a new floating point library – CalcWorks has floating point precision significantly better than most Mac applications (just try entering (1 – 0.9 – 0.1) in the standard Calculator and see what you get!). CalcWorks 1.4.2 can be located on most online services and at the following URL: [GD]
Welcome to the Web! We’ve teased CE Software mercilessly over the last few years about their unfortunate tendency to lag behind on Internet connectivity, a somewhat alarming trait for an electronic communications software developer. Well, those days are over. CE Software, publishers of QuickMail and QuicKeys, this week joined the World-Wide Web. CE’s "HTML wizard," Chuck Johnson, has assembled a good collection of product information, support, and useful files. Though it’s not the most stunning Web site we’ve seen (nor the lamest), it marks a strong step forward for CE. [MHA]
It’s All About Trust — Microsoft is in court again today, this time in Washington D.C., for an appellate hearing regarding U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin’s rejection of an anti-trust settlement reached by Microsoft and the U.S. Justice Department. (See TidBITS-264 for details.) In an interesting development, Anthony L. Martin, Executive Director of an organization rather blatantly called "The Committee To Fight Microsoft Corporation," held a news conference this morning on the steps of the U.S Court of Appeals. The subject? An initial draft of a bill which would require the break-up of Microsoft under U.S. anti-trust laws to put a stop to its "uncompetitive activity." Martin claims his organization has been promised the bill will be sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as it’s assembled in proper form. [GD]
By leaps and bounds, SoftArc Inc. has gobbled up market share in the growing electronic messaging industry. SoftArc reports that, according to both Electronic Mail & Messaging Systems (EMMS) and Electronic Messaging News, the Ontario company is the number four provider of LAN-based email, with its FirstClass email and conferencing software. There are officially over three million FirstClass users now, compared to 1.4 million just six months ago. CE Software’s QuickMail and Lotus Notes, two products considered leading contenders for the email market, are in sixth and seventh place, respectively, according to EMMS. SoftArc is also credited with a 500 percent growth in installed users over the fifteen months ending in March. [MHA]
SoftArc Inc. — 800/SOFTARC — 905/415-7000 — 905/415-7151 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Microsoft Licenses Lycos Catalog — Carnegie Mellon University announced last week that it has granted Microsoft Corporation a non-exclusive, renewable licence to use its Lycos Internet Catalog with Microsoft’s forthcoming online service, Microsoft Network (MSN). Carnegie Mellon will deliver regular updates of the Lycos catalog to Microsoft, who then will presumably make it available to MSN customers. The Lycos catalog operates via a robot that automatically navigates the World-Wide Web and catalogs the documents it finds, including titles and headings, significant keywords, size, and the first 20 lines of the document. To date Lycos has cataloged about three million Web documents and serves more than 175,000 search requests every week. One wonders why Microsoft – supposedly providing comprehensive Internet access via MSN – felt the need to licence a catalog freely accessible via the Internet. Maybe they want to charge for its use. [GD]
Apple EPCOT Showpieces — David Goad <[email protected]> writes:
I was visiting the Disney EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida, the other day and saw a new exhibit called "Innovations!" Two displays really caught my eye. The first was a kitchen display, and connected to the underside of a cabinet was a 14-inch color matrix display labeled "Power Assist." This little beauty sported an Apple logo and was displaying the morning’s weather forecast feed from the Weather Channel. It was also billed as having a comprehensive menu database that could calculate food requirements for however many people the meal was for, and could also print out a shopping list based on your menu selections. The second Apple prototype display was of a home office, featuring another 14-inch color matrix display mounted on a pedestal (with rosewood accents). On the bottom of the display panel was an on/off button flanked by standard printer indicator lights, and an infrared mouse sitting next to a desktop version of a Newton (also with wood accents. The Newton was running a Web browser that seemed to be "hooked" at the OS level. Obviously, some folks at Apple have been busy looking at consumer applications of its technology; one would think Apple would be trumpeting its own advantages and not letting Mr. Bill get all the good press.
[I hope kitchen unit has voice recognition: It’d have to respond to "Tea, Earl Grey, hot!" before I’d buy it. -Geoff]
With over 1,400 people at the third World-Wide Web conference held in Darmstadt, Germany April 10-14, 1995, delegates and organisers alike were left in no doubt as to the popularity and impact the Web has made in the year since the first conference.
Proceedings and Hot Topics — The event had a real "buzz" about it. As usual, the most interesting part was in the personal contacts made, the corridor discussions and the more informal aspects of the program.
Keynotes from Silicon Graphics and Alan Kay of Apple were especially thrilling. Alan Kay delivered a humorous and thought-provoking view of the development of media in general, and how the Web fits into context. He issued a warning that the technology base of HTML needs to improve dramatically – specifically through the adoption of a more sophisticated object-based architecture. He expressed fear that the WWW world is in danger of foisting an obsolete technology on the world just as IBM set back personal computers and operating systems ten years with the adoption of MS-DOS. His comments seem to be taken seriously, which in my opinion is a good sign.
The event was well-organised, although plagued with technical problems owing to limited bandwidth (we think the entire German Internet ground to a halt last week!). Apple re-announced its Apple Internet Servers; claiming to be the first non-Unix platform to offer all features normally found on Unix-based HTTP servers. The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics had a nifty WYSIWYG HTML editor for the Mac called Webtor, and SoftQuad’s HoTMetaL PRO [a much-touted HTML editor that has gotten mediocre early comments from Mac users -Adam] was available, with the Mac version just released.
Conference proceedings (and information about other Web conferences) are available online.
Several issues were hot topics for the conference, including Web security, standards and future standards (and violations thereof), HTML authoring and tools, marketing and commercialisation, localisation and foreign language materials, and semantic objects and general "objectising" of the Web. A couple specific technologies got a lot of attention, especially VRML, Silicon Graphics’ WebForce and Open Inventor, Sun Microsystems’ Hot Java, and Microsoft Network.
VRML is Real — A big revelation for me was that VRML – Virtual Reality Modeling Language – is available and working today. VRML is essentially HTML expanded to three-dimensional space. The developer’s objective is "to eliminate the user interface" by creating a virtual world that users are comfortable with navigating. You want to buy some jeans? Enter the mall, walk down the corridor and enter the Levi’s factory outlet shop.
As the speaker, Mark Pesce, jokingly alluded, "it’s a bit like Doom meets home shopping." You can do nifty things like render a 3-D scene, rotate it, and find hot spots within (links to HTML are displayed in a neighboring Web browser) Best of all, you can do it all with a simple 486 and no additional hardware, and good content already exists to try it out. VRML 1.0 is to be finalised 02-May-95, with a version 1.1 in the near future. Developers hope to get a draft specification for the WWW4 conference in Boston this December.
SGI’s Open Inventor was used as the standard for the ASCII file format; however VRML does not require a Silicon Graphics machine or software for use or authoring. A Macintosh browser will allegedly be available "this summer."
Why is this cool? I will put my usual commercial slant on the picture: for businesses (like mine) which pull together virtual communities typified by members who may not even own a computer, anything that simplifies the interaction with the utterly foreign concept of "information space" is of tremendous practical benefit. I am able to create a metaphor for our user community which – if properly done – should be easier to navigate than an online menu.
Ease of use and growth are directly correlated – Mark Pesce presented compelling statistics supporting this – thus a "VR-enabled" virtual community could have a profound market advantage over one using conventional Internet tools. This is a case of gee whiz technology which could fit real business needs like a glove. A data glove, that is.
[Just to play devil’s advocate, there are many who have doubts about VRML enhancing ease of use. Some argue that the skills to navigate an onscreen 3-D environment are no more intuitive for non-computer users than a keyboard is for someone who can write but who has never typed. -Geoff]
Just because you read and liked Clifford Stoll’s book "The Cuckoo’s Egg," don’t assume you’ll automatically like his latest, "Silicon Snake Oil" (ISBN: 0-385-41993-7). This is not because the new book is not worth reading, but because it’s a very different sort of book. "Cuckoo’s Egg" was an interesting story (and a well-told one at that) about the author’s real-life experiences tracking down a group of German crackers. "Silicon Snake Oil" is a set of opinion pieces, written around a common set of themes – almost all cautionary – about the Internet and computers in general.
Elementary, Dear Data — Stoll’s first major theme is that using computers can put too much distance between us and what we are trying to do. It is possible to get so enmeshed in the illusion that a computer is right tool to do any job simply because it is a computer. Similarly, it’s easy to let the computer become your only conduit to information. When, for example, you use the shiny new on-line card catalog your university is so proud of – instead of the old-fashioned paper and ink catalog that’s been forcibly retired – you miss the chance to discover something by accident, just riffling through the cards. You take the results as complete and authoritative instead of wondering if there might not be another drawer you should open, much the same way many readers accept anything they see in print as a fact – after all, if it’s in print it must be true. Stoll argues using the computer can make you too focused, too fixed on a specific goal.
Throughout the book, Stoll draws heavily on his background and experiences as an astronomer (going back to his grad school years), relating anecdotes about how it is far easier to simply use a computer to crunch numbers than it is to actually think about and look at the data. Assuming you understand your data, a computer is a fantastic tool for manipulating and looking at their many aspects from different vantages. But that’s a big assumption: too often computers are used as a substitute for thinking or as a solution in their own right. Stoll argues that the process of using a computer can interfere with the process of understanding what you’re doing.
Get Smart, Get A Life! And aren’t there things you could be doing that are better ways to spend your time? This is another of Stoll’s favorite arguments. He constantly insists that we, his readers, should have lives, hobbies, and personal interaction with those around us, rather than letting our time slip away at 9600 baud. He suggests exploring a cave in person rather than on CD-ROM or via some sort of fantasy game like a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). I’m sure he realizes this isn’t the most realistic option for many people: the computer can provide exposure to things we couldn’t ordinarily see or can enable us to interact with people we couldn’t possibly meet in person. But there’s a balance to maintain: we should take advantage of what vast quantities of data – easily stored, and easily accessed – can offer without letting it define our experience. The trick may be to accept it without losing our sense of depth.
How many hours do you spend in front of your computer a day? How much of that time is spent online? How much do you accomplish doing this? Stoll argues that we should take a serious look at what we get from computers, what we think we are getting, and what we believe we should get. For the most part, we don’t know what we want, let alone how we’re going to get it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: will we remember time-tested solutions that are naturally suited for the task at hand? Or do we want to rely on computers for everything we do? Most CD-ROMs on the market today won’t be accessible by modern computers in as little as ten years; on the other hand, the technology of a book is likely to remain viable well into the future.
Perhaps we should use computers in the schools for education? School boards use grand-sounding terms like "computer literacy" without defining them. "Computer literacy" used to refer specifically to the ability to program – should all children be expected to learn how to program? Probably not. Perhaps "computer literacy" just means not being scared by the machines, and maybe knowing how to use them to accomplish simple tasks. But whatever the definition, schools are spending a tremendous amount of their often tight budgets on technology that is essentially worthless without decent educational software and teachers who know how to integrate computers into their teaching. Is this the best way to educate kids? Why have so many educators been dazzled by this lure? Sometimes it seems we like technology just because it is technology and don’t question its actual value. This can, on occasion, make us a nation (or even a world) of suckers.
Swallow Hard — Stoll raises several other points throughout the book. Unfortunately, he raises many of the same issues repeatedly. The scenarios differ slightly, but at the center the warnings haven’t changed a bit. I found this a bit bludgeoning, but I suspect this is due to my having read the book in just a couple of days. Perhaps stretching the reading over a week or so would help, reading a chapter now and a section later. Stoll gives the reader a lot to think about: allowing some time for digestion might make this book more palatable.
It is important to note that Stoll realizes that what he has written are just his opinions, not the truth with a capital "T." He is not advocating you throw away your computer, and every point in the book is open to argument. I promise that you will react strongly at least once and see holes in some arguments large enough to drive a truck through. But you’ll probably also find yourself agreeing with a good deal of what you read, and may even end up modifying some of your beliefs. If you become just a little more cynical about computers and the hype of the so-called "information superhighway," then Cliff Stoll has done his job.
CompuServe recently announced that it’s upping the ante on Internet access from commercial online services by providing Web access via its own software. Unfortunately, this promise of software doesn’t mean much of anything to Macintosh users because – you guessed it! – CompuServe’s Internet software is only available for Windows, a deficiency CompuServe inherited when it acquired Spry, Inc. as its "Internet Division."
However, of potential interest to Macintosh users – particularly those who travel frequently – is that CompuServe also provides PPP-based Internet access to its members. With local dial-up access available in most of North America and a good portion of western Europe, CompuServe could serve as an alternative method of dial-up Internet access for people on the road, or for people in areas that (for whatever reason) may not have reasonable service from local Internet access providers.
The information outlined below assumes some familiarity with configuring MacTCP and MacPPP for use on the Internet. That said, here’s a quick "how-to" on accessing the Internet via a CompuServe PPP account. You can also get CompuServe’s official instructions on CompuServe with GO PPP. They’re a little confused, so I don’t recommend them unless you have trouble.
MacTCP — CompuServe provides server-addressed accounts, so make sure that you have PPP selected in the MacTCP control panel and then click the More button to bring up the Configuration dialog. Make sure the Server button in the Obtain Address area in the upper left is selected. In the Domain Name Server Information area, enter compuserve.com. in the first left-hand field and 22.214.171.124 in the first right-hand field. Select the Default button next to the IP address you just entered. In the second left hand field, enter a period, and in the second right-hand field, enter the same IP number. In the third left-hand field, enter a period, and in the third right hand field, enter 126.96.36.199. (CompuServe also gives 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 as possible IP numbers for your domain name servers, but the first one should work fine.) When you’re done, the Domain Name Server Information section of MacTCP should look like this:
Domain IP Address Default
compuserve.com. 220.127.116.11 *
Then, click the OK button to save your changes. Close MacTCP, and reboot if your Mac asks you to do so.
Config PPP — In the Config PPP control panel, the only settings specific to CompuServe are the phone number for your local CompuServe modem bank, which you can get most easily (if you don’t already have it) from CompuServe’s automated voicemail system at 800/848-8199, and the Connect Script, which should look like the following, substituting your CompuServe ID number for "77777,777" and your password for "Your-Password"
<Wait> Host Name:
<Out> CIS <CR>
<Wait> User ID:
<Out> 77777,777/go:pppconnect <CR>
<Out> Your-Password <CR>
CompuServe also recommends setting the Wait Timeout value in the Connect Script to 60 seconds – I don’t know if this increase from the default is necessary or not. If you have trouble getting in, try replacing your password with \t (backslash t), which dumps you into MacPPP’s terminal window at that point in the script. Although you may not see anything in the terminal, type your password by hand, and then see what happens.
In my quick and non-conclusive tests, I noticed that the performance was lousy, at best about half what I get with the exact same settings for my local Internet provider. Hopefully, CIS will address these performance issues, if they are indeed more widespread than just in my tests.
Other Services — CompuServe does not currently plan to offer POP accounts for those who only use CompuServe as their Internet provider. Instead, you must stick with CompuServe for receiving mail, which is a shame since CompuServe Information Manager stinks in comparison with Eudora. Of course, if you’re only using CompuServe as a way of accessing the Internet, and you have an existing POP account on an Internet provider, you can use that account and Eudora with no trouble.
However, CompuServe does provide an NNTP server at <news.compuserve.com> for use with MacTCP-based Usenet newsreaders (use <mail.compuserve.com> for the mail server settings to send email). Considering CompuServe’s charges, I’d recommend the commercial NewsHopper, since it can work in an offline mode. There’s a demo of NewsHopper 1.0.1 available now; the demo of version 1.1 should appear any day now in the same directory, so I’m only going to point you to the directory.
Pricing — According to CompuServe’s information, three hours of Internet use will be rolled into CompuServe’s $9.95 monthly fee, with additional hours costing $2.50; CompuServe will also support an Internet Club pricing plan for Internet power-users, granting 20 hours access per month for a flat $15 fee, plus $1.95 for each additional hour. Though these rates are higher than those of many regional Internet service providers, they can still beat long-distance rates back to a local provider, especially for extended periods of time away from home.