New products and updates! Adobe announces PageMaker 6.0, Peter Lewis revs his popular FTP client Anarchie, CE Software announces new pricing for educational users, the Yahoo Web catalog gives itself a face lift, and Claris ships Guy Kawasaki’s Emailer. We also bring you information on a new HyperCard virus, things to keep in mind when buying a mail-order Mac, and thoughts from Matt Neuburg on what a user should expect from commercial software.
It’s a Whole New Yahoo — In news that made it all the way to CNN last week, Yahoo! Corporation – maintainers of arguably the most widely-used catalog of the World Wide Web – announced they will be introducing a new interface on 31-Jul-95, along with directly incorporating hourly wire service newsfeeds from Reuters. Yahoo’s new interface sports small graphic elements and a bare-bones search form right on the top page; also, the number of major categories has been reduced from 19 to 14, and Netscape 1.1 users are treated to a two-column display of major topic headings. (Yes, a text version is still available.) Yahoo has been picking up corporate sponsors in an effort to remain free to Web users – it’s grown from a two-person effort to a company with a couple dozen employees . Yahoo’s new interface should be available today at Yahoo’s usual URL, but if they’re running a little behind, check out their beta site. [GD]
PageMaker 6.0 Announced — Adobe has announced PageMaker 6.0, a long-awaited update to its widely-used publishing application recently acquired in its purchase of Aldus. In addition to several new features targeted at its primary competitor, QuarkXPress, PageMaker 6.0 features the ability to export documents in Acrobat PDF format (with smart hyperlinks joining stories) and sets hearts aflutter amongst Web weenies everywhere with the ability to export HTML. But before you start saving your money, consider a few other added features: PageMaker 6.0 requires OLE, needs 20-30 MB of hard disk space for installation, has a RAM requirement of 8-10 MB, and though it will run on a 68030-based machine, it wants a 68040-based machine or Power Macintosh. PageMaker 6.0 should be available shortly at a suggested retail price of $895, and registered owners will be able to upgrade for $149. A CD-ROM version of the program will also be available, and it will include a version of Adobe’s Type On Call. [GD]
Adobe Systems — 800/422-3623 — 415/961-4400
Anarchie 1.6 Released — Peter Lewis <[email protected]> has released version 1.6 of his popular Internet FTP client Anarchie. New in this version of Anarchie are Open Transport compatibility and a few interface enhancements (click the transfer indicator fields in the transfer progress windows, and almost everything in the About box is now hot) in addition to optional Simple Internet Version Control (SIVC). Spearheaded by Chris Johnson <[email protected]> at the University of Texas, SIVC allows Peter to both have a rough idea of how many copies of Anarchie are in use and inform you of updates to Anarchie when new versions are available. (Chris has been using this technique with his MacTCP Monitor program for some time.) Participation is voluntary so as not to produce privacy concerns: if you’re paranoid, just keep SIVC version checking turned off in Anarchie’s preferences. This version of Anarchie also has several bug fixes and support for non-standard FTP ports. Anarchie is $10 shareware, and weighs in at a little over 600K.
Antiviral utility developers today announced the recent discovery of a virus that infects HyperCard stacks. The "HC-9507" virus infects HyperCard’s Home stack when an infected stack is executed, and from there spreads to other running stacks and randomly-chosen stacks on the startup disk. Depending on the day of the week and the time, the virus can cause odd system behavior when an infected HyperCard stack is running. For example, the screen may fade in and out, the word "pickle" may be inserted into your text, or the system may unexpectedly shut down or lock up.
Symantec and Datawatch have released updates to their SAM and Virex tools, respectively, which find and remove HC-9507 infections in HyperCard stacks. Check your documentation for instructions on obtaining the updates. Central Point Anti-Virus, Disinfectant, and VirusDetective do not attempt to deal with HyperCard viruses, so no updates are being released for these tools. Mac users who do not use HyperCard need not worry about this virus; only executing an infected HyperCard stack will spread the virus.
In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Apple dominated the education market by donating computers to school districts and colleges, and by making many more available at steep discounts. Much of the software that schools needed was available first and finest for the Apple II and then for the Macintosh, and Apple had the institutions hooked. Taking a history lesson from Apple’s success, CE Software has just unveiled a plan to put QuickMail on the desk of every student and teacher in North America.
CE’s "Educate America" program begins this August (when CE has scheduled QuickMail 3.5 to ship) by offering the company’s LAN-based email software to schools for $10 per faculty user and $3 per student user (with several license sizes starting at ten-user packs). These prices contrast with current educational packages at around $35 per user, or the standard packages that sell for almost twice that.
The company says faculty license packages will include the server and administration software, network client software for Macintosh and DOS, "file based" client software for Windows (which requires an intermediary file server), the company’s QM Forms custom form editor, and QM Remote software for checking mail by modem. Student packages include the client software but none of the server or maintenance software. (Purchasers will need at least one faculty package or an existing QuickMail system.)
QuickMail 3.5 is expected to offer Macintosh "drag and drop" functionality, styled text within messages, and a new gateway to America Online.
Educate America goes on to offer Internet email service, World Wide Web browsing, and other Internet capabilities through Global Village Communication’s GlobalCenter service. For a one-time setup fee of $300 and a monthly flat rate of $325, all users on the network will have unlimited Web browsing and email access. Global Village’s Internet service (now through a recently announced partnership with UUNET) offers automatic connection via 28.8 Kbps modems or ISDN using the company’s OneWorld Internet hardware.
QuickMail isn’t the necessarily the best solution for Internet email access, but it’s well-suited to local networks of a few dozen or a few hundred users (especially if the majority are Mac users). The GlobalCenter Internet service provides a simple way to connect an entire network, and may prove to be a good starting point for schools considering more expensive connections down the road.
CE Software propaganda
There has been a recent spate of reports on the nets and to TidBITS regarding warranty service on Macintosh computers through third-party mail order vendors, such as those advertising in the backs of Mac trade magazines. Some customers have had difficulty obtaining warranty service they expected for defective machines and components, often leading to a great deal of frustration, not to mention lost time and money. Though there’s not enough information available right now to make specific recommendations, there are some general points to keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying machines from third-party vendors:
- Apple cannot (and does not) warranty any third-party accessories added to machines you order from a vendor. This includes (but is not limited to) third-party RAM, hard disks, CD-ROM drives, video cards, and so on. Any warranty or service on these components comes at the discretion of the vendor or the original manufacturer.
- Remember that clock-chipping a Macintosh to increase your its CPU speed violates your Apple warranty.
- Modification to or stripping down a stock Apple configuration may not be covered by a warranty, and may invalidate Apple’s warranty on a machine. Say you want to buy a Power Mac 6100 without an internal CD-ROM. The vendor will probably charge you for a technician’s time, but removing the drive may invalidate the Apple warranty. Be sure you understand the ramifications of any changes made to a machine by a vendor before you buy.
- Examine the vendor’s return policy and warranty agreement before making a purchase. Many vendors leave warranty service on stock configurations entirely up to Apple; others may charge shipping or return fees if there are problems.
- If possible, use a credit card with a consumer protection plan for your purchase. In the event you do have a legitimate problem with a vendor, the credit card company will often back you up.
When contacted, Apple declined to give an official response to reported problems but noted that they generally go to some lengths to meet warranty obligations (and this has been true in my personal experience). Also, it should be noted that vendors aren’t generally in the business of selling people bad machines, but they are in business of selling machines as cheaply as they can. Sometimes vendors are able to advertise lower prices because they managed to obtain a set of units that were discontinued or were originally slated to be shipped to a foreign market; other times, they may be able to offer refurbished machines at a significant discount, but with no warranty.
Always be sure you understand precisely what you’re buying, precisely what the vendor’s warranty and return policy is on your purchase, and precisely what your options are if there should be a problem. Buying a machine mail order isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart, and though there can be some substantial deals out there, always remember that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.
More than ten weeks after U.S. customers began receiving the Word 6.0.1 update, it became available in New Zealand. Anyone calling Microsoft from New Zealand was told they had to deal with Microsoft NZ, and then – airplanes be damned – it was popped on the slow boat to save a buck. Amusingly, Microsoft NZ then overnight-expressed us our copy, as if this could somehow make up for the irrationally long wait.
After the usual harrowing installation procedure, I bravely but tremblingly turned Super Boomerang back on, and started Word; so far, no crash, so perhaps the thing I was most unhappy with is fixed. Meanwhile, as I’m trying to type while keeping my fingers crossed, I glance over some of what Microsoft has to say about the other improvements in this update:
- "Word Count was significantly slower in 6.0 than 5.1. Performance is now par with 5.1. Fixed by changing how we check for an escape out of the action."
- "The View menu took longer to drop than other menus. The extra time was used drawing the bullet symbol. We now preload the bullet."
- "The MS LineDraw font was corrupt. It has been replaced."
- "Other applications could not open Word 6.0 files saved as Word 5.1 files. Saving a file as Word 5.1 left the file with a W6BN File Type. The file now gets a WDBN File Type so other applications can recognize the file type."
And so forth. Microsoft is implying I should be grateful for these fixes. But why? After all, what’s being fixed in each case seems to have been a pretty silly error in the first place. Microsoft isn’t rescuing me from anything except itself! Perhaps Microsoft thinks of this update as valiant customer support, but to me it suggests that Microsoft did sloppy work and left its customers to act as beta-testers.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Microsoft-basher. I actually tried to write an article for TidBITS taking the decidedly minority tack of praising Word 6.0, as to its overall design and functionality at least. No praise, though, for this attitude that releasing an update is as good as getting it right the first time, which seems to be part of a general sloppiness among many commercial software developers. In the rush to publish, the user is lost sight of, while also being taken advantage of: by releasing buggy software so as to beat the competition to market, the developers raise capital to fix it at their leisure. And they have the leisure, because once you’ve bought bad software you’re hooked, waiting for the fix.
Granted, no software is bug-free (as every programmer knows), and software held back too long from release is vaporware. But many of the mistakes which the 6.0.1 update fixes were downright shoddy, and this is why I attribute them more to an attitude gone awry than the normal vagaries of the development cycle. And don’t forget, users who upgraded were paying big bucks to make this shoddiness part of their lives.
The makers of my other love/hate word processor, Nisus Writer, are not so different. Subscribers to the Nisus mailing list, probably among the program’s most thoughtful and intensive users, actually got organized enough to come up with survey of improvements they’d like to see. However, they were told quite explicitly by a representative of the company that their views had been largely cast aside at a meeting as being too marginal (revealingly, by the marketers and engineers, not by the techies).
And another representative of the same company recently wrote me personally and asked me to stop contributing to that mailing list, because my criticisms of the company were annoying the other readers. Funny how no readers had written directly to me about it; and never mind that the review of Nisus that I wrote with Adam in TidBITS-116, TidBITS-117, and TidBITS-118 – which the company happily distributed with its demos (without telling me) – won and still wins the program many converts. It seems that when my admittedly enthusiastic tone of writing extends to certain home truths, I’m anathema.
And what are these home truths? Mostly that the new version, Nisus Writer 4.0, for which users shelled out what I think is an outrageous sum, is demonstrably much slower and considerably buggier than the version it replaced (Nisus 3.47). True, it’s been getting better after several maintenance upgrades, but that’s largely thanks to the vociferous complaints of paying customers, like me, who found the bugs and drawbacks in 4.0 that the company missed (or deliberately set aside).
Well, I’m sorry. I think putting customers in the position of paying big bucks to act as unwilling beta testers for Nisus – or for Microsoft, or for anybody – is outrageous. And I think we’ve paid for the right to scoff. Of course one should resist the ever-present tendency to flame incoherently. But if the relationship between developers and customers has gone wacko, only the clamor of the customers can do something about it.
There was a day, not long ago, when the fact that your computer did anything at all seemed a miracle. Your jaw dropped in admiration, and you felt love and warmth for the dedicated artists who turned a dead box of chips and wires into ingenious magic. I’m not saying that that day is entirely past, but I am saying that the gee-whiz factor can now be tempered with a considerable dose of practical reality. The simple fact is that computer programs are not magic but artifacts, mere human creations with a straightforward functional purpose. If you’ve paid for them, they can (and should) be viewed and criticised like any other commercial artifact like a house, a car, a shirt, a cigarette lighter. If it’s shoddy, if it doesn’t do what you need it to do, by jingo it’s your money – you shouldn’t have to stand for it.
Yet we do stand for it. I constantly get email from folks who have noticed a bug or a shortcoming in a program, and I say: great, and have you written the developers about this? Too often the answer is "No," or "Gee, I didn’t think of that." I myself have more than once shelled out a couple of hundred bucks for software I found so buggy as to be unusable, and neither returned it nor complained. Why?
I suspect it’s partly because there’s a tendency to hope for developers to notice and fix their mistakes, as if they were with you, watching benevolently from inside your computer. This scenario, even with the best face put on it, is unrealistic; as Dave Winer pointed out in TidBITS-280, the notion that a corporation is going to generate good software is irrational. Another problem is that it’s surprisingly hard to describe – objectively and helpfully – a problem or shortcoming with a piece of software. And yet another problem is that most software companies have no clear ingoing communications channel: the folks who mind the phones or the email, I find, are usually not responsible for the program itself, and are either there to act as a buffer between you and those who are, or else, if they actively try to advocate your view, are just one more voice apt to be lost in the corporate storm.
I have no solution. There must be give on all sides. Developers must break out of their present isolationism and genuinely respect their users, actively seeking and facilitating cooperation with them. They ought to especially pay attention to those who show expertise, which is usually accompanied by a visionary commitment that the developers ought to value, not marginalize. Users must stop expecting either that software problems won’t exist or that they’ll just go away, do less flaming and less sitting on their hands, and make an effort to communicate cogently and persuasively with developers. And, I suppose, software prices should become more realistic. Think how different your loyalties, feelings, expectations, patience, and response would have been if the upgrade from Word 5.1 to 6.0 had cost $20.
[Claris announced last week that it has released Emailer, an all-in-one email application. The following text is excerpted and edited from Adam’s just-released Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Third Edition. -Geoff]
Emailer was developed by Guy Kawasaki’s Fog City Software – it’s a program that Guy had a strong hand in because, like many people in the industry, Guy has a large number of email accounts on different services, and checking mail on each one is a royal pain. Enter Emailer, which Guy and the folks at Fog City Software designed to be your central email program. Emailer can currently connect to America Online, eWorld, CompuServe, and RadioMail and understands POP and SMTP for talking to Internet email accounts. Other services, like BIX or GEnie, may also appear at a later date.
Services with a Smile — I tested pre-release versions of Emailer for several months, and it worked like a champ with the Internet, CompuServe, AOL, and eWorld. The configuration for each service is tailored to that service, so when you configure your Internet account, for instance, you enter things like your POP account, SMTP server, and return address. In a nice touch, Emailer is among the first commercial programs to support Internet Config, an increasingly widely used public domain utility that holds configuration information for use by any Internet Config-savvy Internet program.
Because many of us have multiple accounts on different services, Emailer takes that into account and lets you check all of your accounts, no matter how many you may have. In addition, many people travel around, and need to connect to the different services using different phone numbers. In the past, it’s been a pain to reconfigure each different program – CIM, AOL, or eWorld – for the local phone numbers in the places you regularly visit. Emailer turns this task into a one-time event by allowing you to store a variety of connection-specific settings (including modem initialization strings and baud rates as well as telephone numbers) for each service in its Locations list.
But Emailer’s elegant design doesn’t stop there. Anyone who uses a number of different services doesn’t want to connect to each of them manually throughout the day. It’s much more convenient to have the program connect automatically at a preset time, and in fact, CIM, AOL, and eWorld can all do this. Well, so can Emailer, and it’s more flexible than the lot of them, allowing you to schedule the time of day and which days of the week the scheduled connections are made.
Destinations and Filters — All right, so we have a program that can connect to multiple services using multiple accounts in many different locations at pre-specified times. Emailer has to know how to send mail from one service to another, and as you’d expect, it relies on the Internet, which can connect to all of these different services. You can, of course, reply to CompuServe mail back through CompuServe, but if you’d rather use a cheaper connection through the Internet say, you can also set Emailer’s Destinations settings to send mail back through a different service than the one you received it from. I especially like this feature, because I can have all my CompuServe replies go out through the Internet. In addition, if I want to send new mail to someone on CompuServe, Emailer uses this information to properly address the message so it’s delivered to CompuServe via the Internet.
Emailer offers full filtering capabilities that can auto-forward or auto-reply to a message, based on a number of criteria such as its sender or its subject. You can set priorities, file messages, and filter on basically any piece of information in an incoming mail message. Thought they bear some resemblance to the filters in the commercial Eudora 2.1.3, Emailer’s filtering capabilities – mostly thanks to the auto-forward and auto-reply features – are perhaps the best I’ve seen.
Reading and Sending Mail — When you connect to a service, Emailer brings in all waiting mail and sends all mail queued for that service (assuming that you ask it to do that; the two actions can be activated separately). Mail comes into your In Box, accessible from the Emailer Browser window, and double-clicking a message opens it for reading.
Almost anything you could want to do with a message is available in Emailer’s In Box, including deleting it (Emailer moves it to a Deleted Mail box in the Filing Cabinet part of the Browser for later permanent deletion), filing in a separate mailbox, printing, forwarding to another person, and replying (and Emailer quotes the selected text when you reply, a great feature). You can also move back and forth between messages in the current mailbox, and Emailer can automatically move read messages to a Read Mail box in the Filing Cabinet if you prefer. If you want to see who a message was sent to, the triangle in the upper left-hand corner flips down to display that header information, and clicking the "plus" button next to the sender’s name adds that person to your Address Book.
Speaking of the Address Book, it’s almost a work of art. You can easily store multiple addresses for users (including multiple addresses at the same service); you can create groups of users; and you can filter the group based on text strings (this is useful if a list gets large). I could go on for some time, but that would spoil the fun.
Other useful features in Emailer include search capability within saved mail, multiple mailboxes for filing mail, support for enclosures, and even support for enclosures from CompuServe to other services – something that isn’t possible any other way.
Not Perfect, But It’s Close — I don’t use Emailer in favor of the commercial version of Eudora for two reasons. First, in a design mistake, Emailer stores each message as a separate file on your hard disk (in comparison with Eudora, which stores multiple messages in a single mailbox file in Unix mailbox format). Most messages are relatively small, but they can take up a full allocation block on disk. For instance, the partition of my hard disk that holds email is formatted to 700 MB or so. That means that a 500 byte email message in Emailer’s format takes up about 20K on disk, since that’s the smallest file size possible on such a large disk. Considering how many hundreds of messages I get and send and keep each day, this inefficiency is a problem, and it may be addressed in a future revision of Emailer. Second, although I like Emailer’s interface and I think it’s well done for the most part, I’ve come to enjoy Eudora’s clever touches, such as turbo-redirect and automatically opening the next message after a deletion. That’s purely a personal preference though.
Overall, Emailer is strong contender among email programs, and I strongly recommend it, especially to anyone who uses multiple email accounts on the commercial services.
According to announcements from Claris, Emailer has a suggested retail price of $89, with educational pricing set at $59. Emailer requires a 68020-based Mac or better, System 7, 1.5 MB of RAM and at least 3 MB of disk space. Emailer will be available from retail and mail-order companies, as well as from Claris directly. Also, a demo version of Emailer is available online from Claris.
Claris Corporation — 800/544-8554 — 408/727-9054 (support)