Is it the end of the Internet? Glenn Fleishman brings us up to date on the replacement of NSFNet by commercial organizations. We also examine the Justice Department’s suit challenging the Microsoft/Intuit merger, and review two useful new Macintosh utilities: Natural Intelligence’s DragStrip and Aladdin Desktop Tools.
Netscape 1.1N Released — In case you missed the hype, Netscape Communications Corp. released version 1.1N of its Netscape Navigator Web browser last week. This version doesn’t offer much functionality that wasn’t available in earlier betas (see TidBITS-267 for some details), although it does represent a major improvement from version 1.0N, the last official release. Although Netscape 1.1N can’t be described as bug-free (for instance, the image display problems on monochrome machines are more annoying than ever), it does fix several crashing bugs present in the earlier betas.
Netscape’s FTP site can still be difficult to get into, so check their list of approved mirrors if you have trouble. Be sure to read the licence agreement before using or mirroring this version of Netscape; also, check their site for pricing, support availability, and upgrade information. [GD]
Nisus Writer Gets Nicer — Nisus Software recently made the Nisus Writer 4.0.7 updater available to the general public, and anyone who uses Nisus Writer 4.0x should update to take advantage of the improved find and replace speed, Ignore All option in the Spelling dialog box, and general improved graphics handling. Nisus Writer 4.0.7 also fixes a number of minor bugs and annoyances. The update comes in different versions for different countries, so make sure you get the right one.
For the price of a shipping and handling fee, you can also get the update on disk. To find out more, call Nisus Software or send email to <[email protected]>. [TJE]
Nisus Software — 800/890-3030 — 619/481-1477 — 619/481-6154 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Late last week, the U.S. Justice Department filed suit to block the proposed merger between software giant Microsoft Corporation and Intuit, Inc., makers of finance and tax software (see TidBITS-248). The proposed merger is the largest ever in the software industry, with Microsoft’s offer to buy all Intuit stock currently valued at about U.S. $2 billion. Microsoft and Intuit have both indicated they will defend the proposed merger and press for a quick resolution of the suit.
Microsoft and the Justice Department are actually working together on a separate case involving U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin’s rejection of an anti-trust case settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department (see TidBITS-264). Nonetheless, the Justice Department moved to block the Microsoft-Intuit merger on the grounds that it would stifle innovation in personal finance software and lead to higher software prices. Microsoft and Intuit maintain the merger is in the best interests of the market.
However, more is at stake here than the immediate future of Quicken: this merger is about electronic funds transfer and banking, a rapidly-growing industry set to explode in the next few years. At present, Intuit’s Quicken dominates more than two-thirds of the personal finance software market, and it’s no secret that Microsoft wants a hefty slice of the online-transaction pie. If the merger is approved, Microsoft could be reasonably expected to roll electronic funds transfer technologies into its operating system and desktop applications and, further, to leverage off the upcoming Microsoft Network to provide a single-click solution to electronic banking, shopping, and commerce. By providing the only widely-accepted development tools and packages, Microsoft would be in a unique position to license those technologies to anyone wanting to develop for its platforms. And it’s not just Windows: by controlling Intuit, Microsoft also gains a significant advantage in developing commerce technologies for future broadband applications such as interactive television. No matter which of these (or other) scenarios play out, Microsoft will likely position itself to receive royalty checks as often as possible, perhaps even on a per-transaction basis.
Industry analysts have split opinions on the Justice Department suit. Some say it only indicates an agreement couldn’t be reached immediately. Others believe the Justice Department case is legally sound, and note that the suit was filed in San Francisco rather than the more conservative environment in Washington D.C. Personally, I think it’d be a shame if the merger was approved. I’d hate to see the relatively svelte Macintosh version of Quicken turn into a 4 MB application that required a Power Mac, OLE, a dozen or more installation disks, and that featured a responsiveness and interface that reminded me of going to the bank.
Most people believe that the Internet is still a project funded by the U.S. government. This includes a handful of journalists I had lunch with recently who write about PCs, online services, and the Internet. After twenty minutes of discussion, I managed to persuade them otherwise.
The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNet) used to serve as the backbone of the Internet, and, yes, it was built by the U.S. government. NSFNet originally existed to encourage "scholarly" communication and research; its purpose was to connect mid-level, non-commercial networks with research institutions, supercomputer centers, and (with joint funding from other nations) other computing resources around the world. In fact, over the last four years the Internet has been increasingly made up of commercial networks that interface with each other and NSFNet. About two years ago, the "Internet Powers That Be" decided that the experiment was over – that is, they had proven and established the viability of private sector TCP/IP (Internet Protocol) networks, and government money no longer needed to be invested in that infrastructure. Rather, the money should be directed toward future gigabit bandwidth projects and their role in building the so-called information superhighway.
In November 1994, the NSFNet took the first in a series of steps that would essentially remove the backbone of the beast (the Internet) without killing it. Colleges and other institutions that have been using the NSFNet were advised to find alternate feeds (which have turned out to be primarily MCI, Sprintlink, and ANS, which actually ran the NSFNet backbone as a joint effort between MCI and IBM and then had most of its operations sold to AOL a few months ago).
The final stages are now occurring – some of you may have noted some instability in the Internet in the last week. On 21-Apr-95, the routing tables for NSFNet – essentially, the subway maps for packets on the Internet – were removed. Some problems occurred and part of the routing was re-established. Also, all the major backbone operators (Sprintlink, MCI, PSI, UUnet, Network99, etc.) have been upgrading and moving their equipment at the major Network Access Point (NAP) in Washington, D.C., causing more instability.
On 30-Apr-95 – the end of last week – NSFNet was turned off for good unless something unexpected happened that required some additional perpetuation for a few more days.
This marks a major leap: the Internet is now an all-commercial network. Even if you decide to count the government and education as non-commercial, their traffic is carried on backbones operated by commercial enterprises.
The National Science Foundation will be pumping about $4 million into the commercial networks this year to support the transition, but that funding will decrease and vanish in four years. The bite is that the networks must agree to develop and "peer" (exchange packets) at NAPs. Currently, the major points are MAE-EAST (Metropolitan Area Ethernet East) in Washington, D.C., and the ATM/SMDS/Pac Bell hub in San Jose. Motion is underway by several major networks to start a non-ATM-flavored hub in the Bay Area; Network99 has spearheaded a Chicago NAP; and apparently NAPs in Denver, Seattle, Dallas, and other major cities are also underway. This week, my Internet provider, Interconnected Associates, begins a peering arrangement in their Network Operation Center between Sprintlink and Network99.
These developments have been under-reported because of their highly technical nature – Peter Lewis wrote a piece for the New York Times in November covering some of the details. But regardless of the deep details of the transition, it’s a major step in the commercialization of the Net. In fact – it’s the last step.
Want more info on the transition of the Internet? Check out
[Glenn Fleishman is the president of the Point of Presence Company (an Internet presence provider), and also a contributing editor for Adobe Magazine, a free-lance featurist for InfoWorld, and the moderator of the Internet Marketing mailing list. For information, check out:]
[Despite the trouble they sometimes cause, I like add-on programs that change the way my Mac works. I like setting up my Macintosh just the way I want it, and I like knowing lots of people and lots of programmers use add-on programs to try different interface ideas.
Once you get past the four-or-five stage (that is, four or five folders and four or five applications on your hard disk) you may notice clutter and deeply-nested folders getting in your way. Lots of programs help cut through the clutter, but this three part mini-series focuses on desktop launching programs that modify the way you use the Finder by adding tiles that represent files and folders.
The series begins with William Murphy’s review of DragStrip, a product that I first spotted at last January’s San Francisco Macworld Expo. I liked the demo of the product so much I stood through it almost twice. I still like the product, and Adam has been happily using it for several months. Next week, I’ll talk about a competitor of DragStrip’s called Square One, and on the third and final week, I’ll wrap things up with a look at Control Strip, Applicon/Tilery, Malph, and other related programs. -Tonya]
Have you ever used Launcher? It’s that dumbed-down application launcher that Apple shipped on the Performas for a while and now ships with System 7.5. Have you ever hated it? Have you ever wished Apple’s new Control Strip would work on your desktop Mac? Those issues and a bevy of other interface needs have been addressed and answered with some grace by Natural Intelligence in the creation of DragStrip.
DragStrip 1.0.1 requires at least System 7.0 running on a 68020 or better, and to use some of the nifty drag and drop features you will also want Finder 7.1.3 (System 7.1.1) or better. It is Power Mac-accelerated, and comes with an easy-to-use installer that has options for installing a 68K, PowerPC, or fat binary version. DragStrip lists for $59.95, but is available from Natural Intelligence for $39.95.
DragStrip’s basic premise is simple. Make a strip by choosing New from the File menu. A new strip looks like a palette with two rows of blank tiles, a trash tile at the lower right, a small status row near the top, and a title bar. Once you’ve created a strip, you can drop an application, document, or folder onto the strip and a representation of that item appears on one of the tiles. Single clicking a tile launches the item.
DragStrip also offers an optional Processes strip, which shows the processes running on your Mac, with a preference for all processes or just applications. If you drag an icon off the Process strip into the Finder’s Trash can or into the strip’s trash icon, DragStrip sends a Quit event to that process. You can quit a bunch of applications at once by selecting and moving multiple icons.
Features — DragStrip goes quite a bit beyond this basic strip and the extra features in the Process strip. Consider the following features:
- Launching items: Dragging a document from the Finder or from a strip onto an application’s tile makes that application try to open the document.
- Recent items: DragStrip remembers a configurable number of documents that you have dropped on a given application. Click and hold on an application tile, and DragStrip pops up a menu of those recent documents.
- Moving items: If you drag any item from the Finder or from a strip to a folder on a strip, the item moves to that folder.
- Hierarchical folders: Place your hard disk (or any other folder) into a strip. When you click and hold you get a pop-up hierarchical menu up to five levels deep.
- Multiple windows: DragStrip allow you to create as many different strips as you desire. As you add strips, you may need to increase DragStrip’s standard 512K RAM allocation.
- Status bar: The status bar on each strip can show the date, time, and limited information about the selected tile. Folders do not show their names in tiles, so the only way to see a folder name is to look on the status bar. You can also set a preference to not show the status bar.
- Lots of configuration options: When it comes to making your strips look the way you want, DragStrip offers many choices including icon location, strip orientation, whether the title bar shows, color, size, and lots more.
Expandability — You can increase DragStrip’s functionality by pairing it with Control Strip modules (although some may not work well if they use a non-standard icon size for their display) or by using DragStrip’s own module system called DragStrip additions. Additions expand DragStrip’s capabilities, and you use them by dragging their icons to strip tiles just as you would drag any other icon. DragStrip comes with six additions: Volume, Monitor Depth, Compact Disc Player, Calendar, Memory, and Moon Phase. DragStrip also comes with directions for creating your own modules – assuming you’re a programmer, of course.
Problems — I encountered a few behavior problems, but when I called Natural Intelligence to speak about them, the people there were responsive and helpful.
If you drag an item off of a strip into the Finder’s trash, the item is no longer represented in DragStrip. But if you drag an item into the Finder, the item is moved. This can cause some problems if you, for instance, use DragStrip to provide shortcuts for public machines. There is a set of hidden debugging preferences that lets you turn off drags between applications: while in the Preferences dialog box, press Control-D-S and click on the empty bullet in the "NI" logo icon.
I also was disappointed there is no way to change the name displayed in the status bar when you move the pointer over a tile, but this feature will be added in the next version.
RTFM — Coming from me this is odd advice, but I strongly recommend you read the manual. DragStrip has many features that use modifier keys. Control-clicking a DragStrip tile, for instance, opens that item’s parent folder. I used DragStrip for a month without reading the manual and I found most of its features, but not all. The manual is an easy read and will allow you to get the most out of the product in the shortest time.
Conclusion — DragStrip is a powerful program that I leave open at all times. I like the way the tiles can be configured to blend with my desktop picture – it’s the little things that make a program rise above the muck. I’m also fond of the ease with which tiles can be added and removed.
I have used DragStrip extensively for three months on a Power Mac 8100 with System 7.5, a IIci/Daystar040 with System 7.1.1, and a Quadra 950 with System 7.5. I’ve never had DragStrip crash on any of these machines.
Natural Intelligence has created a demo version of DragStrip. The demo is fully functional, but does not let you save your strips; they’ll all disappear when you shutdown or restart your Macintosh.
Natural Intelligence — 800/999-4649 — 617/876-4876
617/492-7425 — <[email protected]>
After an extremely long commute, Aladdin Desktop Tools (ADT) has finally arrived for work, and some users – especially those who have bought other Aladdin products – will appreciate this set of seven utilities.
I do wonder how well ADT will do in the marketplace, since a number of utility packages have come and gone since this project started at Aladdin. In that time, only Now Utilities has retained its high profile. Part of the problem might be the increased functionality in the System software, especially System 7.5, and part of the problem might be the compatibility issues raised by ungainly sets of extensions and control panels. Whatever the reason, ADT brings some welcome features to the Mac; let’s hope it can break free of the quicksand surrounding similar utility sets.
ADT is comprised of seven independent utilities: Desktop SpeedBoost, which speeds up certain Finder operations; Desktop Shortcut, a Super Boomerang competitor; Desktop Viewer, for quick viewing of files; Desktop Printer, for working with multiple printers; Desktop Makeover, which adds some neat tweaks to the Finder; Desktop Magic Tools, which adds a menu of tools; and Desktop Secure Delete, which securely erases sensitive files.
Desktop SpeedBoost is probably the headliner of the ADT package, and is based on the popular shareware utility SpeedyFinder7 from Victor Tan.
Desktop SpeedBoost accelerates two common Finder actions, copying files and trashing files, and you can configure how it notifies you of success or failure. It can either take over from the Finder with its SpeedBoost Monitor application in the background, or Desktop SpeedBoost can simply give the Finder more memory (up to 75 percent of the largest available block or 8 MB) to perform the copies, significantly speeding up the process. Perhaps the major benefit comes from being able to copy in the background, since you can continue working or start more copies. Finally, if you use StuffIt SpaceSaver, AutoDoubler, or Now Compress, Desktop SpeedBoost can optionally not expand those files while copying.
Although trashing files may not seem in need of a speed increase, if you do much testing of programs or download a lot of files from the Internet, you know how slow the Finder can be with several hundred files in the Trash. Desktop SpeedBoost not only speeds up the process or empties the trash in the background, but it can also securely erase the files (if you’re the paranoid sort), delete locked files, keep the trash empty by immediately erasing files (beware that feature could significantly increase your stress level!), and empty the trash at shutdown. The main feature I miss is the main function of TrashMan, a neat utility that erases files in the trash after they’ve been in there for a certain amount of time – think of it as composting.
Desktop Shortcut was originally a stand-alone utility from Aladdin called Shortcut, and it provides the same basic functionality as Now’s Super Boomerang. It can track a user-configurable set of recently used files and folders, and you can permanently attach files and folders to that list. Within the SFDialog box, Desktop Shortcut can search for files and folders, create new folders, get info on selected items, delete selected items, and even view items quickly to see if they’re really what you want.
Unlike Super Boomerang, Desktop Shortcut does not make the an application’s Open menu hierarchical, which is a shame: although Super Boomerang’s hierarchical Open menu is huge and unwieldy, it’s often useful. And, although one could argue that a hierarchical menu is a poor interface, Desktop Shortcut relies on them as well. When you click on the Shortcut icon to the left of the disk name in the SFDialog, Desktop Shortcut brings up a single menu with hierarchical menus for recently accessed files, folders, and disks. Desktop Shortcut also has some unique features, such as displaying the free space on a disk and the capability to go into StuffIt archives as though they were folders.
Although Desktop Shortcut is a useful utility, I won’t be switching from Super Boomerang any time soon.
Desktop Viewer, on the other hand, is pretty much unique on the Macintosh: it enables you to view the contents of files without opening them. This is especially handy if you don’t have the proper viewing program on hand. The Desktop Viewer application can view files in JPEG, PICT, Sound, and Text formats without help, and Desktop Viewer can utilize any XTND translators you may have installed. (The XTND system ships with a number of applications, most notably Claris products.) Not surprisingly, Desktop Viewer can also look inside StuffIt archives and unStuff files from within the viewer. Power users will appreciate the capability of Desktop Viewer to view either resource or data forks, and everyone will appreciate being able to copy or print information from the viewer, not to mention being able to search for text.
Desktop Printer is an application that enables you to easily switch between multiple printers and print from the desktop by merely dragging a file onto the Desktop Printer icon. I never saw the use for such a utility until we added a second printer to our network – now I can’t stand switching printers in the Chooser. Simply double-clicking on a configured copy of Desktop Printer switches printers, and those of you who use fax modems can create a printer icon for it as well. Unlike the Desktop Printer feature in System 7.5, ADT’s Desktop Printer does not require QuickDraw GX and all of its overhead.
Desktop Makeover brings together a number of relatively well-known Finder tricks. It can turn off the Finder’s zoom rectangles, modify the rename delay, and let you set how the Finder displays free disk space. One feature I rather like is its capability to show enhanced disk icons – it displays locked disks with a strap around them, indicates the type of disk (800K, high density, PC, CD-ROM, network volume, etc.), and puts a band-aid on disks that have had bad sectors mapped out and are thus somewhat suspect. People who can’t have enough keyboard shortcuts will like Desktop Makeover, since it enables you to set command key equivalents for the different Finder menu items. Holding down the Option or Control keys modifies some of the behavior of the Finder menus as well, so you can easily locate the original files of aliases, get info on original files of aliases, find the application that created a document, or get info on the application that created a specific document.
Desktop Makeover can also control balloon help and can optionally hide the Mac’s Help menu (not recommended, since that’s where the help for applications should live), or have the help balloons pop up when you hold down user-specified modifier keys. Finally, like Macintosh Easy Open (which disables this feature in Desktop Makeover), Desktop Makeover can link file types with applications, enabling you to open SimpleText files in Nisus Writer or whatever. "Application Not Found" dialogs are replaced with a dialog that lets you pick a different application.
Desktop Magic Tools puts a new menu in the Finder using Aladdin’s long-standing Magic Menu, although the menu items are different from other versions of Magic Menu. Desktop Magic Tools provides a Get More Info command which displays a dialog box with all the nice technical information about a file you must normally use ResEdit or DiskTop to see. Make Alias To enables you to quickly make aliases to selected items in a specific folder, and it even provides a quick way to put the aliases in the Apple Menu Items, Control Panels, or Startup Items folders. Copy/Move provides similar functionality for copying or moving selected files: just select it and then navigate to the desired location in the SFDialog box. Most interesting in Desktop Magic Tools is the Gather command, which collects selected items in a Gathered Items folder in the same location. It’s handy for bundling up a number of related files quickly, without worrying about having something to do with them before you accidentally click somewhere and lose your selection. Finally, a View command provides quick access to Desktop Viewer.
Desktop Secure Delete is, I’m sure, useful to some people with truly sensitive information, but for most users, I consider such functionality overkill. Most people would prefer to be able to recover information, not render it unrecoverable. If you need such a tool, great.
Overall, I rather like Aladdin Desktop Tools, although I suspect that many people already have utilities that perform some of these functions. I like Super Boomerang and CopyDoubler a bit better than Desktop Shortcut and Desktop SpeedBoost, so I’m unlikely to switch from those, but Desktop Printer and Desktop Viewer in particular will find permanent homes on my hard disk.
ADT costs $49.95 until 31-May-95, and is $39.88 during that same time for registered users of any Aladdin commercial or shareware product or Victor Tan’s SpeedyFinder7.
Aladdin Systems — 800/732-8881 — 408/761-6200
408/761-6206 (fax) — <[email protected]>