This week we bring you news about new versions of Mosaic and Netscape, a continuation of Adam’s look at digital cameras, and an article about the BeBox, a brand new computer from Be, the company started by ex-Apple honcho Jean-Louis Gassee. In this issue we also note the outcome of last week’s Apple board meeting and the easy come, easy go nature of the latest Power Mac printing fix.
Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves — Apple’s board meeting last Tuesday was the subject of wild speculation in the computing industry. With diminishing market share, product shortages, a shocking $1 billion in unfilled orders, and persistent rumors the company will be sold, industry watchers expected extreme pressure to be placed on Apple CEO Michael Spindler to produce results or step aside. However, it was Joseph Graziano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, who announced his immediate resignation due to "philosophical differences," and that he would leave the company under "amicable" terms by the end of the year. Apple investors and shareholders have been increasingly concerned about Apple’s market share, now estimated at between 7.5 and 8 percent. Apple affirmed that the company is not for sale and that Spindler’s job is secure, but warned investors that fourth-quarter profits would be "significantly" below projections. [GD]
eWorld Email Changes — Several TidBITS readers on eWorld wrote us last week saying they received TidBITS as file attachments with a 25K preview rather than as a series of messages. These changes are reminiscent of those AOL recently inflicted on its users (see TidBITS-292 and TidBITS-294); however, it looks like the attached files arrive as Macintosh text files rather than DOS text files, so at least they’re immediately useful without conversion. We haven’t changed anything about the way we send issues to eWorld; if eWorld’s new mail handling is causing you problems, please ask someone at eWorld about the changes. [GD]
Apple Printing Fix Comes… and Goes — Last week, Apple released a fix for a crashing problem when printing to already-busy network printers using a Power Mac 7200, 7500, 8500, or 9500. I’d give you the URL, but two days later Apple yanked the fix off its Internet servers, citing unspecified problems. If you managed to download and install it in that time, I recommend removing it from your System folder. [GD]
NCSA Mosaic 2.0.1 Available — Last Monday, NCSA released Mosaic 2.0.1, the browser that started the Web stampede that most Internet users risk being trampled under today. Although Mosaic 2.0.1 isn’t faster (or more stable) than its predecessors, it does support HTML tables, inline JPEG, some HTML 3.0, and offers good control over display characteristics of HTML tags (a feature sorely missing from Netscape). [GD]
Last Saturday, Netscape released the first public beta of Netscape Navigator 2.0. This beta of the "for export" version of Navigator weighs in at about 2 MB (binhexed) and comes with a single setup program that can install a 68K, PowerPC, or fat binary version. As noted in TidBITS-297, Netscape has seven FTP sites, so if this URL refuses connections, put the number 2 through 7 after "ftp" in the site name below to access a parallel site. This public beta is set to expire on 15-Dec-95.
Before you ask, no beta version of Navigator Gold – the promised edition of Navigator with Web authoring tools – is available, and there’s no public indication as to when it might appear.
What’s New — Here’s a rundown of some new features and changes in Navigator 2.0:
- Integrated email and newsreader: Though current versions can send mail and perform as a basic newsreader, Navigator 2.0 can send, receive, and store mail (i.e., serve as your primary Internet mail client), and offers enhanced newsreading in a separate, three-paned window. The newsreader follows threaded discussions, manages newsgroup subscriptions, displays news posting with "live" URLs, and features columns and panes that can be dragged to suit your tastes. These features don’t compare to dedicated, evolved products like Eudora and NewsWatcher, but they allow Netscape to promote Navigator as a "complete" solution.
- Bookmarks and Address Book: Navigator 2.0 features a separate, modeless window that contains an hierarchical, outline-like display of bookmarks. Bookmarks not only contain a title and URL, but can have optional descriptive text associated with them, and you can search on all these items. Navigator 2.0 also has a similar built-in Address Book for email addresses. Items can be dragged from these windows to other applicable areas of Navigator’s windows and other drag-savvy applications that accept text, but (alas) not to the Finder.
- Expanded HTML tags: Navigator 2.0 implements more of the HTML 3.0 specification, and incorporates new Netscape-specific tags for superscripts and subscripts, logical font size, and font color. Probably the most radical change is Frames, which allows the creation of multiple, independent, scrollable regions within Navigator windows. Each frame, or cell, can contain a separate HTML document, and frames can be named and targeted by links in other frames or documents. Needless to say, pages using this feature can be incomprehensible if viewed in a browser other than Netscape.
- Interface changes: Netscape’s preferences have expanded to consume a series of tabbed dialog boxes, the Help menu commands have (finally) migrated to Apple’s Help Menu, and there’s now a Window menu to create and manage windows. Netscape’s transfer window now appears for all file transfers, allowing users to browse while downloading files.
Under the hood, Navigator 2.0 implements new networking code which hopefully improves reliability on SLIP/PPP connections (although I’ve seen mixed reports), includes support for progressively-rendered inline JPEG images, supports HTTP file uploads (so forms can now prompt for files), and has a new, faster, disk caching mechanism.
One change that may surprise Netscape aficionados is that the HTML parser is more rigorous and requires proper use of quotes within links and other HTML tags. Previous versions of Navigator had a more forgiving parser; many people who bootstrapped their way into HTML coding using the "looks fine in Netscape" technique might be in for unpleasant surprises, including missing text, missing or broken images, or items that draw (or over-draw) other elements onscreen. A quick survey shows many Web pages – including some of Netscape’s own – display these errors.
What’s Not New — But wait, you’re saying – where’s the support for Macromedia Director playback, Hot Java, QuickTime, Acrobat PDF, and other technologies you’ve talked about in previous issues of TidBITS? Three features promised for Navigator 2.0 – plug-ins for third-party technologies, support for Java applets, and Netscape’s scripting language – are nowhere to be found. Well, okay – it’s the first beta. But "pre-beta" quality Java implementations are included in the Windows and Unix releases of Navigator 2.0b1, primarily for developers using Java and doing compatibility testing. Why not the Mac?
Also missing is support for Open Transport. Netscape says Navigator 2.0 doesn’t work reliably with any version of Open Transport. Also, there’s no indication of improvements (or even changes) to Navigator’s AppleScript support.
First Impressions — As with all beta software, this version of Navigator has rough edges, both in terms of its interface and outright bugs. It’s probably worth going over the release notes before running the beta.
The most impressive thing about this version is its speed. Navigator still uses four simultaneous TCP connections to load Web pages, but the new disk caching mechanism and improved streaming noticeably improve performance. My rough timings using a 28.8 Kbps modem connection indicate this beta of Navigator can be as much as 10 to 15 percent faster than Navigator 1.1N on some HTML documents, although it’s not a global improvement.
The new bookmark interface is both useful and usable, but not outstanding. Manipulating and managing items using drag-and-drop is straightforward, and I especially like using the Find command to locate items quickly. But these new capabilities only emphasize the sorry state of managing large numbers of URLs and online references. Numerous third-party bookmarking applications are appearing, and though Navigator has moved forward, I want something about a mile further ahead.
The beta of Navigator claims it will transparently handle preferences and bookmarks from any version of Navigator except the non-public alpha releases of 2.0. I haven’t seen problems with importing bookmarks, but I have seen numerous reports of problems handling preferences from pre-2.0 versions (some of which I can attest to firsthand), so I recommend backing up and removing existing Netscape preference files before running this release. Navigator 2.0’s prefs aren’t backward-compatible with earlier releases, so if your existing preferences are important, save a copy before trying the beta.
This version’s RAM allocation remains at 3 MB and that seems adequate for casual use, but it’s a tighter fit now, so increase the allocation if you use multiple browser windows, the newsreader, or routinely deal with sizable graphics or HTML documents. What’s more, plan on running this beta with at least a 4 MB disk cache, since using a small disk cache (or no disk cache) rapidly makes the application unstable.
If you depend on Netscape Navigator, stick with a previous release that’s been stable on your system. If you try the beta, frequently save work in other applications, and don’t throw away your previous version. Netscape has set up a Web-based form as well as an email address for handling bug reports; see How To Give Feedback on the Help menu for details. If you have a problem and need a solution in a hurry, check the newsgroup <comp.sys.mac.comm> where people are already discussing this beta.
At Macworld Boston this August a number of companies exhibited add-ons to the QuickTake and its relative from Kodak, the Kodak Digital Camera 40.
Tiffen was showing a line of essentially identical accessories for both the QuickTake and the Kodak Digital Camera 40 (the QuickTake and the Digital Camera 40 were designed in a joint Apple-Kodak project). For either camera, with the addition of a Tiffen adapter for about $20, you can mount a UV Protector ($25), a Wide Angle Conversion Lens ($90), a Super Wide Angle Conversion Lens ($100), or a Telephoto Conversion Lens ($90) that zooms approximately 1.5 times. For close-up work, Tiffen offers a three-lens "stackable" Close-up Lens Set ($70) that enables you to focus as close as five inches (the QuickTake 150’s close-up adapter only enables you to focus between 10 and 14 inches). Finally, Tiffen offers the 812 Color Warming Filter ($30) to improve skin tones. Tiffen offers a number of other accessories such as a tripod, a table-top tripod, and a case, but they all look like standard photographic equipment, and might be more easily and cheaply purchased elsewhere.
DC Pro (Tiffen’s fulfillment house) — 800/522-7835
516/434-8800 — 516/434-9238 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Kaidan wasn’t content to let Tiffen provide the only accessories for the QuickTake and Kodak DCS 40. Like Tiffen, Kaidan offers a close-up solution and a wide-angle lens, and improves on Tiffen’s offerings with a ring flash that works with the close-up lenses. The CloseTake system comes in a number of different bundles, ranging in price from $80 to $260 and including +2, +3, and +4 diopter lenses and the CloseFlash unit. The wide-angle lens costs about $85, although various bundles with the close-up lenses are also available. Potentially more interesting to those of us who don’t have much of a background in photography is Kaidan’s $170 QuickPan Panoramic Tripod Head, an attachment for a standard tripod that enables you to use a QuickTake (or a normal camera) to take pictures at the strict angles necessary for stitching together a QuickTime VR movie. Along with five different sets of click-stops, the tripod head includes a leveling indicator to ensure a straight rotational plane and avoid oscillation in the resulting movie. A friend noted that such devices are common accoutrements for serious photographers, and may be cheaper from photography stores.
Unfortunately, having the tripod head to make sure you get the angles right won’t enable you to just knock off a QuickTime VR movie. First, you need the stitching software from APDA, and it’s not cheap at about $500. You can get a sense of the complexity of the process from a detailed paper Apple has placed on the Web at:
Kaidan — 215/364-1778 — 215/322-4186 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Printing digital images becomes more feasible with a small color printer from Fargo. Called the FotoFUN, the thermal dye-sublimation printer provides what seemed to be excellent output from the samples I saw at the show. It’s cheap too, at about $500, but the trade-off is that it only prints four-inch by six-inch pieces of paper. Actually, there’s another trade-off, and that’s materials cost. Supplies for dye-sublimation printers are expensive, and the FotoFUN is no exception at about $1 per print. You can buy a 36-print package with paper and a ribbon, but Fargo also sells a 36-print package with ribbon and postcards, and a FotoMUG Kit that includes four mugs and application instructions. 4" x 6" isn’t bad as for a snapshot, and that’s the main market for the FotoFUN. Although I’m enjoying the freedom of digital images tremendously, it’s hard to send good quality copies (or mugs, for that matter) to my grandparents.
Fargo Electronics — 800/327-4694 — 612/941-9470
612/941-7836 (fax) — <[email protected]>
The Kodak Digital Camera 40 (DCS 40) has come up a few times so far. I used one briefly at the show, and it differs from the QuickTake 150 in several important ways. First, it features exposure controls and has a threaded lens mount that accepts lenses without an adapter like the QuickTake. It’s good for up to 800 photos with its lithium batteries; Apple says the QuickTake can do 200 images before it needs new batteries, about half of which can use the flash. The Kodak DCS 40 has 4 MB of RAM, as opposed to the QuickTake’s 1 MB, enabling it to hold 48 high-resolution images or 99 low-resolution images. It also sports an image resolution of 756 by 504 pixels, higher than the 640 by 480 resolution used by the QuickTake. Finally, unlike the QuickTake, the Kodak DCS 40 has an option to erase the last image taken, which is useful at times when you have limited space left and just took what you know is a bad picture.
On the downside, the Kodak DCS 40 is several hundred dollars more expensive than the QuickTake, at about $1,000, and downloading the images to the Mac reportedly takes a very long time, perhaps because decompression is happening in the camera, not on the Mac. The QuickTake’s images download quickly, and download times of more than a minute or two would definitely get in the way of dumping the camera to a PowerBook while at an event.
Kodak — 800/235-6325
Casio had a small booth at Macworld too, where they displayed a camera that in many ways puts the Apple and Kodak cameras to shame. The Casio QV-10 looks like a normal camera, not mutant binoculars, except that you immediately notice its 1.8" active matrix color LCD display. The display works in real time, so you don’t have to look through a tiny viewfinder – you look at the display to compose your picture. Composition is aided by having the lens move, so you can rotate it to shoot straight ahead while holding the camera at your waist, or even rotate it around to take a picture of your face. The camera stores 96 images at a time, although at a low resolution of 320 by 240. You can view one, four, or nine images on the LCD screen at a time, and you can delete any image at any time. You can control the exposure settings and even enlarge specific parts of pictures. You can download the images to the Mac, edit them, and upload back to the camera. Why would you want to? Well, since the camera can connect to a television to display the images, you could use it as a presentation device.
At about $750 in electronics stores, the QV-10 sounds almost too good to be true, and it does have a few problems. The low resolution is one – the QuickTake and Kodak DCS 40 take much higher-resolution images. Battery life is another problem. Since you have to run the LCD display while you use the camera, you only get about two hours of continuous use (although your images are safe even if you drain the alkaline batteries). Also, as far as I can tell, it has no flash, which limits its utility in low-light settings.
Finally, Mark Altenberg <[email protected]> comments that the software has problems:
I was excited about the QV-10 until I launched the Mac software and tried to download pictures to my Duo 280c. After numerous attempts and several passes through the horrible documentation, I couldn’t get the camera to connect (it does come with the necessary cables). Eventually, I learned I had to turn my Express Modem off – a simple mistake, but there was no indication anywhere (even from Casio’s tech support) that a user should do this. Furthermore, the software is flawed in a number of ways, the worst being the menu design: Copy, Cut, and Paste aren’t on the Edit menu where they belong, and frequently-used commands are on sub-menus with no command-key equivalents. There are also two Copy commands that work differently. (The difference is explained in the manual… if you can find it.) From the looks of the Windows manual, a ported version of the software would have been much better! Also, downloading images seemed slow; it takes about 20 seconds to download and view a single image.
Especially considering Mark’s comments about the software, my overall feeling is that this is a 1.0 product and that it’s worth waiting for the next version. If Casio can improve resolution and battery life, add a flash, and fix problems with the software, this camera could be a winner.
When Jean-Louis Gassee, former president of Apple’s product division, formed a company called Be, Inc. in 1990, most people weren’t sure what he was doing. Gassee was a visible and much-admired figure at Apple, an executive who knew his company’s technology and what he was talking about. His decision to leave Apple R&D and manufacturing to head up a company dedicated to "overcoming the limits of today’s computer architectures" puzzled many of industry watchers. After all, Apple was already light years ahead of its competition in terms of the design and functionality of its computers, right?
On 03-Oct-95 at the Agenda ’96 conference in Arizona, Gassee announced his company’s first product, the BeBox, and suddenly it all made sense.
Being Defined — In a nutshell, the BeBox starts over with what we consider a personal computer, using high-performance hardware and tools designed to give advanced performance at a low price. The BeBox is not a Mac clone, but nor is it a Windows machine or a Unix workstation, and it doesn’t run any Mac, Windows, Unix, or other legacy software. The BeBox uses its own multithreaded, multitasking operating system, and takes advantage of existing, inexpensive expansion hardware (mostly from the PC world) to keep costs down. Theoretically, just about any video card, hard disk, modem, networking card, or other peripheral device can be used in a BeBox, giving it unrivalled hardware versatility.
The BeBox is built around two PowerPC 603 processors running at 66 MHz. You might say that two 66 MHz 603s doesn’t sound all that fast, but when you consider that the entire operating system is native code, fully-threaded, and permits preemptive multitasking, a lot of those doubts disappear. Be’s OS can support up to eight PowerPCs, and future models will likely sport faster and more numerous processors.
The BeBox includes three 32-bit PCI slots as well as five 16-bit ISA slots to take advantage of the wide range of ISA peripherals in the PC world (mostly inexpensive modems and networking cards). The BeBox supports IDE and SCSI devices, flash ROM, and 8 slots for 72-pin DRAM (rated at 60 ns or better). Also included are two MIDI ports, a joystick port, four serial ports (two are PReP-compliant), a parallel port, and three infrared (IR) ports for sending and receiving IR data. The BeBox also features a 16-bit stereo audio system with line, mic, and CD audio inputs, along with headphone and line-level outputs.
In a highly unusual move, the BeBox also includes an utterly non-standard, 37-pin "GeekPort" aimed purely at hobbyists and experimenters so they can do cool things. The GeekPort allows bidirectional data input and output, D-to-A/A-to-D conversion, and is configurable to 16 inputs, 16 outputs, or 8 of each. The 37-pin connector isn’t likely to be confused with anything in the PC world (or any world, for that matter), and could be a dream come true for tinkerers and wireheads who love to goof with this stuff. Imagine the multi-player game controllers, hardware interfaces, and other devices that could sprout off a port like this.
Though the BeBox is based on the original PReP specification and uses a number of PReP-compatible chips, it should be noted the BeBox is not PReP-compliant and will not be able to run future PReP-compatible operating systems from Microsoft, IBM, Apple, or other vendors. The BeBox runs Be software, and that’s it.
The Be Operating System — If the hardware sounds interesting, that’s just half the equation. The Be system software provides features you’d expect in a state-of-the-art OS, including protected address spaces, preemptive multitasking, inter-application messaging and data streams, built-in networking, a modern graphic interface, support for dynamically linked "shared" libraries (DLLs), loadable device drivers, a fast graphics environment and (of course) a multiprocessor microkernel. The Be OS also comes with TCP/IP built in (including Telnet and FTP, along with support for PPP connections) and is designed to allow real-time manipulation of high-bandwidth media like audio and video.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the Be system software – aside from its lack of pre-historic components – is that the file system is integrated with a relational database where information can be viewed as pre-defined or arbitrary "tables." Information can be presented in a normal file system-like hierarchy, but also as a database query. Via multithreading, database queries can be "live" and continually updated to reflect changes to the stored information. These services are also available to applications, which can retrieve information as if they were using a traditional file system or looking it up from a sophisticated database.
The BeBox also gives each window its own graphics environment. Although that’s not a new idea, since each window has its own thread, they don’t have to wait for each other to update or compete intensely for resources, enhancing the system’s overall responsiveness to the user.
The Be interface looks like a suspicious cross between the NeXT, Motif, and the Macintosh. The Finder equivalent is called the Browser, and lets users navigate the database and file system, manipulate applications and files, and (interestingly) open command-line console windows.
Given Be’s connections to Apple, it should come as no surprise that Be is targeting Macintosh developers. The BeBox is currently bundled with a Macintosh-hosted version of CodeWarrior (meaning you do development on a Mac, then bring the application over to the BeBox), and a version of CodeWarrior specifically for the Be operating system is expected shortly.
Be also plans to take full advantage of the Internet and online worlds to facilitate communication between developers, resellers, users, and other parties, thereby bypassing a traditional bottleneck in developer and customer relations.
To Be or Not To Be — Nobody is going to place a rush order for a BeBox so they can do print merges or write memos. Without the ability to run legacy software, the BeBox targets users, developers, and companies willing to look beyond today’s technologies and take a chance on a brand new product with no track record. Apple was in a similar position a little over a decade ago, and as Mac aficionados are fond of pointing out, the rest of the personal computing world still hasn’t recovered.
The BeBox should be available in mid-October (directly from Be or from selected resellers) at prices starting around $1,600.
Be, Inc. — 415/462-4141 — 415/462-4129 (fax) — <[email protected]>