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Despite enjoying the festivities at a wedding until the wee hours, today we bring you another TidBITS issue, complete with a rumor of the flexible TidalWave computer from Power Computing, highlights from Developer Central at Macworld Expo, an announcement of the latest Solitaire Till Dawn, more on the new PowerPC PowerBooks, Adam’s latest Web-page discovery, and some thoughts on upgrading to System 7.5.

Adam Engst No comments


Today is Labor Day, a U.S. national holiday, but we self-employed types ended up spending the day, well, working. Along with putting together this issue of TidBITS, we completely moved all of our Internet servers from our venerable SE/30 to a shiny new Apple Internet Server 6150, which means that performance should be a good bit better. Lest you feel sorry for us for working hard on a holiday, just remember that I’m talking about a Macintosh. It might have taken me all of an hour to move email, email auto-replies, FTP, Gopher, and Web access over to the new machine and to install updates to all the software, including Apple Internet Mail Server 1.0, Peter Lewis’s FTPd 3.0.0, and StarNine’s WebSTAR 1.2.1. Most of that time was being careful about synchronizing the old and the new Macs. Running Internet servers on a Mac seems almost too easy sometimes. [ACE]

Pythaeus No comments

A Tsunami By Any Other Name?

A Tsunami By Any Other Name? Dyed-in-the-wool Apple fans may remember Apple’s code name for the new Power Mac 8500 was Tsunami. Rumors are now circulating about a machine called TidalWave from – you guessed it – Power Computing. Reportedly, TidalWave is a PowerPC 604-based Mac compatible that may be available as early as October of this year, based on the Apple Power Mac 9500. TidalWave reportedly unbundles the PCI slots from the main motherboard, making it possible for the machine to carry PCI slots, NuBus slots, or both. Customers would be able to choose how many of each type of slot they want their units to have, and there may be a less-expensive slot-less version as well. As with existing Power Computing machines, communications and video are added through daughter boards; the CPU chip itself is on a replaceable card, with the possibility of multi-processor machines and/or upgrades in the future. [Pythaeus]

Benjamin Turner No comments

Hidden Features of Control Panel Apps

Benjamin Turner <[email protected]> writes:
While exploring the new Power Mac 7200, I eventually noticed that a number of the new control panels ran more or less like applications and had their own menus. It took me a long while to notice, since I don’t generally expect control panels to have any effect on the Finder’s menus (although, since the release of System 7, the Users & Groups control panel has confused innumerable people by modifying the File menu). If it’s a control "panel," it would seem to me that everything should appear on that "panel." Anyone who has one of the new breed of machines should investigate new control panels for features hidden in the menus, like the auto-save features of the Energy Saver control panel.

Mark H. Anbinder No comments

A good night’s sleep

A good night’s sleep can always be sabotaged through judicious use of the latest computer game, and Rick Holzgrafe knows it. He’s just released version 2.1 of his $20 shareware game Solitaire Till Dawn (see TidBITS-246), offering sound effects, clever new display features, and a wonderful "magnetic mouse" option to move cards without clicking, which should reduce aggravation of repetitive stress injuries. Solitaire Till Dawn works fine on any Mac in color or black and white, and the program also includes two new games (I’m addicted to Bisley) for a total of 26. Look at your favorite software archive for Solitaire Till Dawn 2.1 and Rick’s other nifty utilities and games. [MHA]

Adam Engst No comments

Open Mouth, Insert PowerBook, Go to Sleep, Drool

My article about the new PowerPC-based PowerBooks in TidBITS-292 had a few omissions and errors. First, I forgot to include information about upgrades from the 500-series. The daughtercard upgrade provides a 100 MHz PowerPC 603e chip and comes with 8 MB of RAM on the card. You don’t get the expansion bay or the infrared networking, but you can keep any additional RAM that you’ve added, and the price will range between $700 and $750. Upgrades should be available in mid-October.

Second, I’d like to note that my earlier article was not a review. I haven’t played with these machines at all, and Apple certainly never sends them to us before they’re released (or after, for that matter). All of those details come from Apple propaganda or from folks who have managed to try the machines. The main thing we couldn’t have known, because of this, is that the 68K emulation for the new PowerBooks is pretty lousy, according to tests run on pre-release units by MacWEEK and other sources. Performance of native applications ranged from good to excellent, whereas MacWEEK’s tests in MacBench placed the new PowerBooks around the speed of the IIci and IIfx when running emulated applications. The upshot of this is that you might wish to test your favorite 68K applications on one of these PowerBooks before buying, especially if those programs aren’t available in PowerPC versions.

Third, it turns out that the built-in infrared networking runs at the speed of LocalTalk, or 230.4 Kbps. This is good news, since I expected the performance to be a good bit slower.

Fourth and finally, I blew it by mentioning my pet peeve with desktop Macs not being able to sleep like PowerBooks. It turns out (and I’m astonished that I didn’t hear about this until I opened my mouth in TidBITS) that the new PCI-based Power Macs (the 9500, 7200, 7500, and 8500) can all enter some sort of sleep mode. Since we don’t have any of these machines and they’re difficult to find in stock anywhere, it’s hard to test for sure, but it seems that the feature set may differ between the 9500 and the slightly more recent Power Macs (and the 9500 cannot use the newer Energy Saver 2.0 control panel). It’s clear that all of these Power Macs can spin down the hard drive, and, if connected to an Energy Star monitor, can put the monitor to sleep.

Reports vary on whether or not the fan shuts off as well, as would be ideal given the fan’s additional noise (although at least one person commented that his 7200 fan is very quiet). One reason not to shut off the fan would be because you can’t know how many heat-generating PCI cards might be installed. Apparently the machines remain aware enough that sleeping Power Macs can still appear on the network as file servers, and connecting to a sleeping machine wakes it up. The same is apparently true if you call one of these Macs that’s using its GeoPort to act as an answering machine – no word on if that would work for just any attached modem.

The sleep feature works as you’d expect, with separate idle time settings for the monitor and the disk in the Energy Saver control panel, and the capability to wake up at a certain time. When asleep, the 7200 apparently draws less than 30 watts of power, with the other models drawing a little bit more.

All I can say is that I want one. Congratulations, Apple, for adding this much needed feature, and I hope it appears in all new desktop Macs from now on. I’d like to see Apple make a bigger deal out of this capability as well; the fact that I hadn’t heard of it indicates that it’s certainly not being trumpeted as a major reason to buy one of these machines. I’ve been happy with my 660AV, but frankly, this sleep capability will induce me to upgrade much sooner than I would have otherwise.

Eric Gundrum No comments

Exploring Developer Central at Macworld Boston

Once again Apple and MacTech Magazine teamed up to sponsor the Developer Central booth at Boston’s Macworld Expo. Developer Central is nearly 7,000 square feet of the show dedicated to over thirty vendors of Macintosh developer tools.

Not only is Developer Central the place to get the latest news about programmers tools, but it is also the best place to meet the people who get down and dirty with the Mac. As I crossed the line into the Developer Central area, the atmosphere changed. The people here don’t just use a Mac, they live and breathe Macintosh.

Apple had a strong presence, and they showed off many Apple technologies such as QuickTime VR, OpenDoc, and Apple Media Toolkit. Unfortunately, Dell Computer was absent this time around; last January they had barricaded their booth with sand bags to protect themselves from what they thought would be an onslaught of Macintosh developers. Apple brought up the slack by inviting Windows developers to join the Macintosh evolution with a "Starter Kit for Windows Developers" providing information about the many opportunities and resources available to Macintosh developers. Much of the same information is available on the Web.

Apple also offered a first look at the Pippin running as a TV set-top box. It was configured to receive hundreds of MPEG compressed video channels as well as video on demand and online games, all with simple mouse clicks. Due out later this year for only a few hundred dollars, Pippin might prove to be yet another platform opportunity for Macintosh developers.

One of the better goodies for programmers to come away with was Apple’s OpenDoc DR3 CD-ROM. In exchange for turning in a completed questionnaire, Apple gave all comers a CD packed with the latest versions of OpenDoc, OpenDoc Development Framework (1.0d9), 30 MB of sample source code, and 53 MB of third-party part editors. With the OpenDoc development tools so readily available, plenty of OpenDoc part editors should appear in the next few months.

Pictorious, makers of the visual programming environment Prograph CPX, exhibited an almost-finished version of Peregrine. Peregrine takes visual programming to a higher level than Prograph CPX, providing point and click support for building client/server applications. Without writing a single line of code, a programmer can build an application to access popular SQL database servers over a network. Peregrine should be available later this year.

Allegiant Technologies was showing SuperCard 2.5. This version includes support for Windows runtime, QuickTime VR, and 24-bit video. It offers a new plug-in architecture for card transitions, providing more than the original wipe and dissolve we all had so much fun with when we first met HyperCard. Allegiant was also talking about enhancing SuperCard with tools for scripting the main Internet protocols, which could prove interesting.

Symantec and Metrowerks were both present in force. Symantec is pushing ahead with their plug-in architecture for new compilers in Symantec Developer Advantage 4, planned for release in October. Metrowerks is hot on their heels with the next CodeWarrior release due in September. Unfortunately we won’t see the expected CodeWarrior 2.0 in this release, but maybe by January.

Digitool jumped on the Internet bandwagon with Mac CL-HTTP, a Web server based on their Macintosh Common Lisp 3.0 product. I think you would have be a hard-core Lisp aficionado to run a Web server this way, but it should offer great flexibility for customizing your Internet service.

Dev Deals — Typically I find that Expo prices are not as good as mail order prices, but the developer tools are an exception. Many of the products shown were available for purchase at considerable discount from the MacTech Mail Order Store and from APDA as show specials. I plan to save my change for the next Expo.

And As for the Rest — Many other development tool vendors were showing the current versions of their products, but they’re too numerous to list. Apple and MacTech Magazine did us all a service by compiling the Virtual Dev Central CD-ROM included in the bag of information handed to everyone exploring Developer Central. This CD contains a list of all the participants, sample applications, and Web pages for the better-connected tool vendors. The CD even includes the CodeWarrior Lite development environment to help fledgling programmers get started. MacTech’s Web server contains detailed information about each participant.

If you are a programmer, or just like hanging out with programmers, stop by Developer Central at the next Macworld Expo. I’ll be there.

Adam Engst No comments

Rating The List

I just ran into an interesting service on the Web that I thought was worth some discussion. The List, provided by a company called Colossus, is a large list of Internet access providers around the world. At over 1,100 providers listed, it’s one of the larger lists I’ve seen (for another excellent list that also has links to many others, check out Celestin Company’s Providers of Commercial Internet Access list at the second URL below), but that’s not what’s interesting about it. Nor is it particularly unusual that they accept submissions from users, which undoubtedly helps increase the number of providers listed.

What struck me about The List was that as you scan through the listings of providers (which are sorted by country and by area code in the U.S.), you see a Rating field along with all the usual ones for contact information and services offered. The Rating field is derived from information and comments that users are encouraged to add. These comments consist of your real name, your email address, a numeric rating between 1 and 10 (actually, I assume that’s the range – I did see someone give a provider a 12 and there weren’t any instructions forbidding higher ratings) and a free-form text field for comments.

The Rating field, when it has data to work with, averages the numeric ratings and also reports how many people have rated that provider so you can get a sense of how large the sample size is at that point in time. Needless to say, if only one person has rated a site, the rating doesn’t necessarily mean much. However, if you see that a fair number of users have added ratings and comments, it’s more likely that the numeric rating reflects some sort of reality. I’m waffling in my statements about the utility of these numbers because I firmly believe statistics can be used to prove anything you want. Even the providers that have racked up 50 or 60 comments may have thousands of customers, so the 50 or 60 who have made comments to The List are unlikely to be truly representative.

However, I especially like the addition of the textual comments. Knowing that someone gave a provider a rating of 2 doesn’t inherently mean much, but if you can read that person’s reasons for the low rating, you may learn something valuable. Perhaps all the complaints are about a certain technical issue you don’t care about, or perhaps the provider has multiple points of presence and all the complaints are about one you don’t use – no matter what the specifics, if you can read the complaints and the kudos, you can get an idea of the reality.

A somewhat more subtle part of the text comment feature is that you can often get a sense from the person’s writing style if you might or might not agree with that person. As a writer and editor, I’m more likely to respond well to a note that’s well written (with proper grammar, capitalization, and spelling) than I am a badly written one-line comment with misspellings. I’ll understand both comments perfectly well – and I’m fully aware that not everyone has English as their first language or is capable of writing well – but that’s just my impression when I see written text. The reverse may be true of you, but either way, as long as you can identify with or against some of the people making comments, you have more information with which to differentiate among providers.

I commend The List for adding this feature, and I’d like to see more lists adopt it. As long as users realize that such ratings and comments are merely data points and not to be taken as gospel, I think they’re tremendously useful in aiding people who are trying to separate the electronic wheat from the digital chaff. I would like to see The List and similar services add the capability to sort list entries based on rating, and (in a list like an Internet service provider list) it would be ideal to be able to sort on some other fields as well, such as price. Even still, The List is a step in the right direction.

Wagner Luiz Truppel No comments

Update Madness

Most computer consultants will tell you that doing computer consulting for a living will expose you to some astonishingly weird problems. First, let me say that my first Macintosh was an SE (an old one, with an 800K drive) running System 6.0.5. I then jumped to a PowerBook 145 and then to a Centris 650. I have worked as a Mac consultant at the Cornell Information Technologies (CIT) help desk, and during that time I had the opportunity to use – and sometimes abuse – almost every Mac up to (but not including) a Power Mac.

It’s my experience that most problems are not related to bugs in the System software or the hardware, at least in the Mac arena. They are, in fact, the result of users not understanding how their computers work. People aren’t born knowing how to use computers, and many have no intuition at all about them. That’s normal. I have no intuition for cars, for example; I can drive a car and I can change a flat tire, but that’s it. On the other hand, some people have an incredible intuition for cars. They can listen to your automobile make a funny noise and tell you what’s wrong with it at once.

Let me give you an example. A student once came to the CIT help desk and complained that every time he took his floppy disks home, exactly one wouldn’t work the next day and would have to be re-initialized (not the same one every time). We asked him all sorts of questions about his computer and what programs he used. After almost burning our heads into oblivion, a fellow consultant offhandedly asked him what exactly he did with his floppies when he got home. It turned out that, in order not to forget to bring them to school the next day, he would use a strong magnet to make one of his floppies stick to his refrigerator door.

All right, I admit it: we all thought this was pretty funny. But the student didn’t! As naive or irresponsible as that action may have seemed to our trained minds, it was something we should have accepted as normal. People may not understand how or why certain things work and therefore they may make mistakes. Then, if nobody tells them what they did wrong and why, they often blame it on the equipment or, worse yet, on themselves.

That said, I’d like to humbly step up on the soapbox and add my two cents worth of opinion about Systems 7.5 and 7.5.1. I’ve recently read many messages to Info-Mac, criticizing System 7.5 and its update, 7.5.1, many stating that people have tried them but switched back to 7.1 because 7.5 is such a drag, very unstable, full of incompatibilities, and so on. As I recall, people used to say the very same things about System 7.1. When 7.1 was the new kid in the block, a lot of people criticized it. Now, people criticize 7.5 because it’s the new kid. Has 7.1 suddenly become better? Certainly not.

So, what’s going on? My answer to that will be in the form of some advice. I hope it will serve you as well as it has served me.

Do a Clean Installation — Although not every problem may be solved this way, it always helps to do a clean install. I remember, from my CIT days, many cases in which people would install parts of a system from one machine into another simply by copying the relevant file onto a floppy disk and then to the other machine. Often, they would mix components from different system versions – a sure way to computer users’ hell.

Sometimes users would install one System on top of another. Although the Apple Installer often knows it should remove older stuff, I don’t trust it. In fact, a recent message to Info-Mac talks about how someone requested a custom installation without some items and the installer put them in anyway. [This can happen when different custom installation options rely on one another – Apple should show in the interface when something must be installed due to other selections. -Adam]

So, when I install a new version of the System software, I first back up the old System Folder and compress it – this saves space and avoids the installer thinking that the backup System Folder is the active one. (No, you don’t really need to compress your System Folder; you can just copy it to another location on your hard drive, then change the name of the copy and move its Finder to another folder. But compressing it is generally safer and less confusing.) Then I boot from the Disk Tools disk [or you may be able to boot from your System CD, if you have one -Tonya], delete the previously active System Folder, and proceed with the installation.

I never choose the Easy Install option, because I know what I want installed and I know what I should choose to accomplish that. If you know what you need and what you don’t, do a custom installation. Otherwise, go for the Easy Install. After installing and restarting, I open and check all the Apple control panels. Most of them don’t require any knowledge of what’s going on inside the Mac, but some do. If you don’t know how to set up a particular control panel, leave it the way it is and hope that Apple set the defaults correctly.

Add Third-Party Software Slowly — Add any additional extensions and control panels one by one. Test-run the system for a few days, under your real-world conditions, before you add the next extension or control panel. This will help pinpoint incompatibilities. Also, use only what you really need. Having 97 icons filling up multiple rows of your 21-inch screen at startup sure is fun to watch, but that’s not what your computer was designed for! Besides, you can make a Quadra 950 run like my old SE that way. [A good rule of thumb is if you don’t use a particular system extension at least once a week, consider removing it. -Geoff]

The Benefits of Experience — Now that you have the picture, I must say that what I’ve described is not really what I do. It’s what I used to do when I was learning how to live peacefully with my computer. And that behavior brought me to where I am now: I have a 16 MB (32 MB with RAM Doubler) Centris 650 running 7.5.1, with several extensions and control panels, and with lots of minor alterations that I made to the System and the Finder themselves. Yet, I rarely experience a system error. Am I a Mac guru? No. I’m just careful. I’ve proceeded slowly and one step at a time, until I understood enough of the computer to experiment with it. And I kept myself informed.

My final advice is for people not to be afraid of System 7.5, but to exercise common sense, to be careful, and to ask for help if you need it. Also, much of this advice applies to application programs as well. Sometimes the help you need cannot come from the online world, but good places to look for help online include:

  • The Info-Mac mailing list: You can subscribe to the list by sending an email message to the machine that runs the list. Send the message to <[email protected]> with "subscribe info-mac your-full-name" (sans quotes) in the body of the message. Make sure to include your real name in the place of "your-full-name."
  • One of many Macintosh newsgroups: Try posting to a newsgroup, such as <comp.sys.mac.misc>.
  • Check out Ric Ford’s MacInTouch Home Page, which lists a collection of bugs and solutions. In particular try following the link to the MacInTouch Tips page.

Disclaimers — In the interests of full disclosure, there are a few disclaimers I should make:

  • I don’t work for Apple, and never did. I think they make great computers, though.
  • Yes, System 7.5 has its problems too.
  • Yes, I do experience system errors sometimes. So does my computer.