Want to listen to tunes and surf the net at the same time on a Mac without a CD player? Check out Progressive Networks’ RealAudio! Also, we bring you news of a RAM Doubler update, the latest on the Microsoft-Intuit non-deal, the winners of the Usenet Mac Programming Awards, and the fourth and final installment of Tonya’s trilogy about desktop launchers.
RAM Doubler Update — RAM Doubler users may recall our mention in TidBITS-271 of a problem where some RAM Doubler users had trouble using CD-ROMs. Connectix has just released a RAM Doubler 1.5.2 updater, which corrects the problem and enables you to update the installed copy of RAM Doubler and your master disk (unless your master disk is part of Microsoft Office). Brian Grove <[email protected]>, RAM Doubler Product Manager, sent this partial list of problems fixed in RAM Doubler 1.5.2:
- Fixes CD-ROM and File Sharing problem where CD-ROM files would not appear.
- Certain CD-ROM sound files now play with RAM Doubler installed.
- Compatible with PowerPC 603.
- Fully compatible with PowerPC upgrade cards.
The ReadMe file for RAM Doubler recommends several times that RAM Doubler and System 7.5 users should upgrade to System 7.5.1 using the System 7.5 Update 1.0 (see TidBITS-268). The ReadMe also has a suggestion that DeskWriter users should note: if you print to a DeskWriter and the printing goes slowly or doesn’t happen at all, the problem might be that you have too much free memory (our sympathies). The ReadMe file suggests launching a sufficient number of applications (or perhaps a special copy of SimpleText, set to consume a fair amount of RAM), such that the available free memory (as shown in the About This Macintosh window), falls to below 1500K. [TJE]
Connectix — 800/950-5880 — 415/571-5100 — 415/571-5195 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Windows 95 Internet Tools — I implied in the Cyberdog article in TidBITS-277 that Windows 95 wouldn’t come with Internet tools. That’s sort of true – the latest word is that the Microsoft Plus Pack will contain the Web browser, the SMTP/POP extensions for Microsoft Exchange, extensions that map Windows 95 Shortcuts (they’re like hard-coded aliases) to URLs, and a setup wizard. These tools will also be available for downloading, apparently. However, the TCP stack, the PPP dialer, and FTP and Telnet clients will ship with the base Windows 95 configuration. Or at least that’s the plan now – it may change yet again. [ACE]
Usenet Macintosh Programming Award Winners — Congratulations to the nominees and winners of the Usenet Macintosh Programming Awards! Organized by Matthew Mora <[email protected]>, the awards not only highlight cool Mac programming feats, but also emphasize support of the net and those who have earned the respect of the Mac programming community.
Nominations and categories were submitted from the comp.sys.mac.programmer.* hierarchy on Usenet, then votes were validated (you had to answer some geek questions!) and tabulated. This year’s winners are:
- Commercial Product: CodeWarrior from Metrowerks
- Shareware Product: Anarchie from Peter N Lewis
- Freeware Product: WASTE from Marco Piovanelli
- Support of Mac Programming Community: Greg Galanos (Metrowerks)
- Official SmartFriend (most helpful net citizen): Jon Watte
Winners will receive a plaque and t-shirt, plus a surprising array of prizes donated by vendors, including versions of CodeWarrior, Symantec C++, MPW Pro, BBEdit, and other programming tools and resources. For the time being, you can check out a list of winners and prizes at:
Again, congratulations to all the winners and nominees! Your hard work, dedication, and innovation are greatly appreciated! [GD]
George Bray <[email protected]> writes:
Another good reason Apple should get Cyberdog out quickly, simply, and inexpensively is to lure other platforms to OpenDoc. Apple has a one-shot chance at proving all the theories behind OpenDoc. If the ingredients to make Cyberdog are freely available, you’ll see it ported to OS/2 and NetWare. Now that would be a real world example of cross-platform, object-oriented development, and one where a large proportion of Internet users would benefit.
Microsoft and Intuit announced on 20-May-95 they are terminating their planned $2 billion merger rather pursuing additional months of legal negotiation and investigation by the U.S. Justice Department (see TidBITS-275). The merger, originally announced in October of 1994, would have been the largest in the history of the software industry.
Speculation about the future of the deal began only the week before, when Microsoft failed to meet a filing deadline for a court brief, causing a temporary drop in Intuit’s stock price. Until that point, it was widely anticipated that both companies would vigorously purse the deal, especially in light of recent announcements by BankAmerica and NationsBank that they plan to enter the electronic banking market.
Asked about reasons for withdrawing the offer to buy Intuit, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been quoted as saying the industry is moving too fast for Microsoft to wait for the sale to go through. Some industry sources estimate it might have been as late as mid-1996 before the deal could be finalized – assuming it was approved under U.S. antitrust laws.
Does this mean Microsoft is dropping its designs on electronic banking and commerce? Don’t count on it. Microsoft continues to aggressively recruit vendors and businesses for its upcoming Microsoft Network online service and you can bet online transactions are part of the package. Also look for Microsoft to offer finance services in upcoming wireless devices and personal information managers, in addition to direct integration in desktop applications and versions of Windows.
I’m increasingly unimpressed by the so-called Internet breakthroughs that continually appear. Most trumpet their presence then fade away because they need too much bandwidth, are badly done, or don’t solve any existing problems. But, as I write this in an older version of Nisus (a noted CPU hog), I have Anarchie downloading and uploading at the same time, Eudora sending some mail, and most notably, Progressive Networks’ new RealAudio program playing some John Lee Hooker in real time over the Internet. If I was wearing socks, they would have been knocked off some time ago. Although I do have a 56K direct Internet connection, I’m in the middle of testing providers for the third edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (due out in late June), so I’m currently connected via a 14,400 bps PPP connection to Northwest Nexus. In other words, I’m jamming real-time audio through a standard modem.
The Macintosh version of the RealAudio player is now in public beta, so check out the Web page below (which also has links to the known sites serving RealAudio files) to sign up for the beta program (which requires filling out a detailed online form via a Web browser). Nothing I’ve seen on the RealAudio Web site indicates whether or not the RealAudio Player will eventually be commercial software, although I wouldn’t be surprised either way.
Anyway, back to the testing. Let’s be fair about this. Anarchie’s having trouble getting much over 400 bytes per second, and Eudora’s transfers were decidedly sluggish. But, the blues playing from Adam Curry’s Metaverse site didn’t cut out on me the entire time. And especially with Nisus 3.4 in the foreground, that’s impressive.
So what is RealAudio? It’s a new way of delivering audio data over the Internet. You’ve been able to download sounds (often in the Sun .au format) of such highlights as President Clinton’s cat meowing, and the Internet Underground Music Archive has done some interesting stuff. But it’s a drag waiting around for a large audio file (and they’re all large) to download just so you can play it. What RealAudio brings to the mix is real time playback. So although it’s transferring heavily-compressed audio data over your MacTCP-based Internet connection, it plays what it transfers right away, rather than downloading an entire file and playing it later.
RealAudio operates primarily as a helper application for Web browsers – you click on a link to a RealAudio file, and the Web browser passes it off to the RealAudio Player application. Also involved (I’m not quite sure what its purpose is yet) is a faceless background application called RealAudio Daemon that’s installed in your Extensions folder. My suspicion is that the RealAudio Daemon is responsible for maintaining the performance even when the RealAudio Player is in the background.
This morning I listened to about 20 minutes of Garrison Keillor’s hilarious address to the National Press Club (they’ve got a number of other speeches you can hear), and although it was coming through in real time, I could still control my location in the segment with a graphical slider that indicated how far along I was. It tells you the exact timestamp of your location too, so it’s easy to stop the program and start it up in the same spot later. You can pause and restart the audio stream, and if you click on additional links on one of these Web pages, RealAudio creates a playlist of what’s coming up. You can remove and re-order items in the playlist, and when the current file stops playing, RealAudio starts the next one.
One of the reasons I’m tremendously excited about the potential of RealAudio on the Internet is that it could easily enable you to preview a low-quality (RealAudio has nothing on a CD player) version of an artist’s work. If you decided you liked the music, it’s trivial even now to order the CD over the Web from places like CDnow. And if the artist in question hasn’t yet hit the big time, the Internet Underground Music Archive could perform a similar service.
In addition, unlike television, radio is for the most part extremely local and seldom has program listings, making it difficult to know which radio shows are on when. There are some radio shows that I’d love to hear, but which I can never remember to listen to or tape at the right time.
I’m unsure what effect this real-time audio will have on the Internet itself. It’s probably not a big deal for Metaverse to send me 43 minutes of American Blues, but what if 100 other people also want to listen at the same time? Connection speed shouldn’t make much difference, since it will take everyone 43 minutes to listen to American Blues, so both the server and the Internet have to support that data stream for the entire time.
The bad news for Mac users is that the (very expensive) RealAudio server runs only on Unix and Windows NT, and the RealAudio Studio program that you use to convert sound files into RealAudio format runs only under Windows. Still, the RealAudio player works fine on the Mac, and that’s the first step. It might remain free to support sales of the RealAudio Studio and Server, or it might cost $20 or $30 – no telling yet. Still, give RealAudio a try – it’s very cool.
It’s time for the final installment of our desktop launcher series, which began back in TidBITS-275. To review, the first two parts discussed two commercial desktop launchers, DragStrip and Square One. Both products cost only slightly more than some of the pricier shareware options, but they also offer more features than many of the non-commercial alternatives, and are worth a look if you have the money to spend and want a printed manual backed up by phone support.
Part III veered away from commercial software, attempted to give less experienced readers an idea of typical desktop launcher features, and reviewed non-commercial applications that exemplified typical feature sets. If you read part III, I hope it alerted you to the wonderful variety of available applications and whetted your appetite for learning more of them. Part IV covers several more applications, and I saved some of the best for last.
I want to include a correction to part III, where I failed to mention one of Launcher’s important features. (Launcher is Apple’s entry into the desktop launcher field.) Two readers wrote in to correct me on this point. Stephen Trujillo <[email protected]> explained that "by creating a new folder inside the Launcher Items Folder in the System Folder, and preceding the name of that folder with a bullet (the character created by typing Option-8 in most typefaces), you can create a "button" which then appears as a "category," for want of a better term, along the top of the Launcher." Suman Chakrabarti <[email protected]>, an enthusiastic Launcher user, added that "Launcher can handle up to seven such folders for a total of eight categories, with a capacity of 30 items per category."
As an additional note, several readers have pointed out that placing carefully selected and arranged aliases on the desktop also provides basic launcher functionality, and this is certainly a pragmatic and inexpensive option. Also, there are various products that provide launcher-type capabilities and limit users’ access to the contents of a disk. I’m not going to discuss those products in this series or my original trilogy would never end.
Another type of product that deserves a mention is the droplet launcher – an application that serves as a launcher by letting you drop documents on it. My fellow TidBITS editors tell me that this is another article topic in its own right, but I want to mention one such droplet, DropZone.
DropZone — J.S. Greenfield’s shareware DropZone 3.1 does only one task: it provides a quick way to open or print documents in any application, not just the documents’ default applications. For example, it could help you easily open a Word document in Word 5, not Word 6. To use DropZone, you set up two folders (or just one) with programs (or aliases to programs) that you want to open documents with. For example, I set up one folder with word processors and a second folder with compression utilities.
Drag a document on the DropZone icon and DropZone responds with a dialog box where you can quickly choose a program to open the document. You can most easily choose from the programs in the two folders you set up, but you can navigate to any folder. If you notice that you always open certain types of documents with certain applications, you can use the DropZone Valet to make DropZone automatically open these documents with a specified application, without asking you to choose the application. DropZone Valet lets you match creator codes (four character codes that indicate the program that created a file), file types (four character codes that indicate the type of file, such as TEXT), and extensions (such as .sea or .etx). DropZone can be rather simple or somewhat sophisticated, depending on the level to which you employ and configure DropZone Valet.
PowerBar — Some desktop launchers work best if you have monitor space to spare. In particular, the $25 shareware PowerBar 1.1.4 really shines if you’ve got the space for it to get comfortable. Written by Scott Johnson, PowerBar helps you switch between launched applications and launch new applications – plus it has a number of less-standard tricks up its sleeve. PowerBar is a control panel: when installed, you’ll see a bar and several Status Pads when you switch to the Finder. Though PowerBar has a few rough edges, many of its features work together fluidly.
PowerBar is fairly flexible, complete with tiles that accept documents, folders, and Special Commands. Special Commands are similar to Control Strip modules in that they add special functionality. One Special Command, the Alias Boss, has several alias-management functions, including the feature of letting you drag an icon on the Alias Boss tile to make an alias of the icon and also quickly place the alias in a specific folder. PowerBar does not accept Control Strip modules and it does not automatically display tiles for launched applications.
PowerBar also offers Status Pads, informative buttons that tell you something about your Mac and give you one-click access to a related control. For example, the Printer Pad shows the name of the selected printer driver and whether or not AppleTalk is on. Clicking the Printer Pad opens the Chooser.
I won’t attempt to list every PowerBar feature, but I found two notable. First, you can Command-click a folder in the bar to display a pop-up (non-hierarchical) menu of its contents. Second, PowerBar can make the Applications menu into a hierarchical menu that lists open windows for each launched application.
List Launcher — If you don’t have much monitor space, you might like Glenn Berntson’s List Launcher. Although you can set up List Launcher a number of ways, I get the impression Glenn expects people will press a keyboard shortcut to launch it, use it to switch to a different application, and then automatically quit List Launcher during the switch. List Launcher marches to its own drummer, and may be a good option for people who need one of its specific features.
List Launcher displays of a long list of files and folders (which you can add to through an SF-type dialog box or by dragging things in). Beneath the list, List Launcher offers a few buttons, which enable you to show selected items’ path names and (optionally) copy the path names to the clipboard, open selected items’ parent folders, launch selected items, and rename selected items (an easier way of renaming a batch of icons than renaming them in the Finder). Any button can operate on just one item or on a group of items. List Launcher does not support drag launching, but it does have a nifty rocket button for launching things.
PowerLaunch II — Roby Sherman’s Power Launch II, version 2.0.1, sports an eight-tile "application palette three parts. The top part shows the tiles, the bottom part (which can be hidden) shows buttons for various functions, including adding, moving, and removing tiles, and changing your monitor or sound settings. The middle part is perhaps the most unique. It shows a nicely-done status bar, which can (optionally) list the name of the tile that the pointer is over, or can be used as a pop-up menu to switch to a different palette.
PowerLaunch II offers many standard features, including a number of different orientations and layouts for the application palette. You can only use it as an application switcher for applications stored on its tiles. It does not support Control Strips, but it does come with its own set of extensions that let you add more functionality. PowerLaunch cannot present you with a list of recently opened documents for a specific application, but the tiles of applications do act as pop-up menus, and you can add documents to those menus.
One of PowerLaunch II’s more unusual features allows you to set up special monitor and sound settings your Mac switches to if you launch (or switch to) a certain application from PowerLaunch II. You can also set the time that you want certain applications to launch and set an optional simple lock-out feature that password protects your Mac if you leave it unattended for a configurable amount of time. You can also (apparently) group documents in order to open them all at once – the documentation is sketchy on the capabilities and limitations of this feature.
PowerLaunch II is a commercial application, though you’d think it was shareware unless you carefully read its ReadMe files. The program appears to function correctly without "activation," but you are supposed to pay for it. The cost is normally $30, though there is a $10 discount in a number of cases. Frankly, compared with other products I’ve discussed in this series, I would expect more of a $30 product that billed itself as "commercial."
HoverBar — HoverBar 1.2, written by Guy Fullerton, is a $5 shareware application. Besides easily winning the award for inspiring the most laudatory comments from TidBITS readers, HoverBar’s claim to fame is that its bars hover above your windows at all times. In this respect, HoverBar works like Desktop Strip (reviewed in part III, in TidBITS-277), though the applications differ in other ways.
HoverBar’s features cover the usual bases. Bars can be horizontal or vertical, and tiles can display in small, medium, or large sizes. Names of tiles don’t show on the tiles, but if you move the pointer over a specific tile, the name shows in the status field, a narrow strip below or alongside the bar. Bars never have blank tiles that you must ignore or try to eliminate by changing the size of the bar (typically blank tiles exist so that you can drag an item on them, thus adding the item to the tile); instead, you add items by dragging them to a special tile that has a plus sign on it. Launched applications’ tiles have a slightly darker gray background than do inactive applications’ tiles. You can put documents and folders on a bar, and you can move or copy a file into a folder by dragging it to a folder’s tile.
Besides its hovering abilities, HoverBar’s main special feature is that you can set up a bar to only show when a specific application is active. HoverBar also has several options for hiding and displaying its bars, though you cannot minimize them. HoverBar’s ReadMe file notes that it does not work with WindowShade, a window-shrinking utility that comes with System 7.5 and later. It also vaguely notes possible problems with Word, Excel, and Quicken.
The Tilery — The Tilery 3.0, (formerly Applicon) a freeware application written by Rick Holzgrafe of Semicolon Software, does a lot of things right. Its Preferences dialog box brought a grin to my face by not only including relatively standard options such as setting a hot spot to bring The Tilery to the front and changing the appearance of icons on the tiles (small icon, large icon, or name), but also by letting me color the tiles (one color for launched applications, another color for everything else). I also got to choose a color for the sides of the current application’s tile.
The Tilery includes a Help menu, which lets you easily find answers to questions like "how do I add a tile?" Because The Tilery has been around a while, I think Rick has had a chance to carefully consider and smooth some of the rough edges that often come with a desktop launcher.
Most launchers employ at least two strips: one for launched applications, and one for things you want to keep around. The Tilery has no strip per se; it just has tiles that you can drag about independently and arrange as you like, in neat columns and rows (or not) as you wish. Like HoverBar, the Tilery never shows blank tiles – to create a new tile, you drag an item over Tilery’s own tile (which sports the Tilery’s application icon).
The Tilery has two kinds of tiles: regular and remembered. A regular tile appears when you launch an application, and that tile lets you do things relating to that application while it is launched. If you launch an application for which you don’t want to see a tile, you can hide the tile, and it won’t ever show again unless you unhide it. Remembered tiles can be applications, folders, or files, and they stick around until you ask The Tilery to forget them. This process is nicely implemented and clearly explained; you can just fall into this method of using the program without devoting many brain cycles to figuring it out.
The Tilery does not support Control Strip modules, but besides that it has all the basic features and many more subtle niceties than those I’ve mentioned. The Tilery also gets the nod for an excellent ReadMe file, which is incorporated in a rather nifty little reader called PocketDoc that Rick Holzgrafe also wrote.
Winding Down — In preparing this series, I briefly played with each launcher. I set up a number of them and tried to use them in my daily routine, including Square One, DragThing, Desktop Strip, HoverBar, and The Tilery. All in all, I’ve discovered three things about myself: First, I love using keyboard shortcuts to launch and switch to frequently used applications. Now Software’s Now Menus is one of many utilities that offers this feature, and I’m still a dedicated Now Menus user. Second, I don’t have enough monitor space for hovering. I initially thought Desktop Strip’s and HoverBar’s hovering features were way cool, but my 16-inch and 13-inch dual monitor setup is already too full with all the information that I’m typing or looking at. Third, I’m a sucker for eye candy. The Tilery ultimately won my pick as my desktop launcher of choice. It has a number of features that work well, and its unique ability to color its tiles decreases eyestrain and adds a fun touch to my desktop.
That’s it! I know I didn’t cover every desktop launcher available, but I hope you have a better idea of what’s out there. If you think a desktop launcher will make your Macintosh more efficient, more elegant, or more fun, I encourage you to take a few of them out for a test drive. If you already use a desktop launcher, I hope this article has confirmed your desktop launcher of choice or helped you choose upon a better one.