This week we are anticipating our first snowfall as we wrap up another issue of TidBITS, which brings you news of Mac price cuts, ClarisWorks 4.0v2, an Asian Macintosh clone licensee, and Apple’s Chinese Dictation Kit. This week’s articles include reviews of World Wide Web Weaver 1.0 and Starry Night 1.01, a planetarium simulator, and the issue ends with the first part of an overview of PPP Internet connection software.
Another capitalist feeding frenzy season is upon us, and we at TidBITS are going to help in our usual fashion, by soliciting new, unique, or interesting gift ideas for the Macintosh user on your list. So please send one paragraph descriptions of your favorite gift ideas to <[email protected]> before 10-Dec-95 and I’ll compile them for the next issue of TidBITS. I’m especially looking for ideas that are a bit out of the ordinary, and please include contact information for any companies whose products are not readily available on the Web or via mail order. [ACE]
Apple Cuts Prices on Consumer Macs — Apple announced Friday it was cutting prices on a series of Performa and Power Macintosh models (including two DOS Compatible models) in an effort to target holiday shoppers and year-end purchasers. Though final prices are set by dealers, these are Apple’s new estimated street prices with the percent change: [GD]
Machine Configuration Old Price New Price Change ------- ------------- --------- --------- ------ Macintosh Performa 640CD 12/500/DOS/15" $1,999 $1,499 25.0% DOS Compatible Macintosh Performa 5215 8/1G/4xCD/15" $2,199 $1,999 9.1% Power Macintosh 6100/66 16/500/2xCD/DOS $2,299 $1,999 13.0% DOS Compatible Power Macintosh 7100/80 8/700/2xCD $1,799 $1,499 16.7% Power Macintosh 7200/75 8/500/4xCD $1,699 $1,549 8.8% Power Macintosh 7200/90 8/500/4xCD $1,899 $1,699 10.5%
ClarisWorks Update — Claris’s recent release of ClarisWorks 4.0v2 fixes a number of problems and enables ClarisWorks 4 users to save files in ClarisWorks 2.0, 3.0 and 3.1 format. According to the release notes the new version also adds support for drag & drop, speeds up some features, plus fixes problems with mail merging, rotating library images, and the Address List Assistant. The new version also comes with new RTF and WordPerfect 3.1 filters. An updater that updates ClarisWorks 4 is available online; the updater has created some confusion over two details:
- The release notes say that the updater updates ClarisWorks 4.0v1, but, as Claris later explained it, "ClarisWorks 4.0 and 4.0v1 are one and the same. Sorry. We should have made Get Info report it that way." The updater should work fine on any copy of 4.0, and it did work fine on my copy.
- The updater won’t necessarily work unless you move the updater file into the same folder as the ClarisWorks application. A Claris representative said that a new version of the updater corrects this problem; this new version updater has not yet appeared on Info-Mac nor in Claris’s software library. [TJE]
UMAX Licences Mac OS — On 27-Nov-95, UMAX Data Systems, Inc. (UDS) a Taiwanese manufacturer, announced an agreement with Apple to license the Mac OS and manufacture machines built to the PowerPC Platform beginning in late 1996. Until that time, UDS will sell Macintosh clones from other manufacturers to Asian markets. UDS currently manufacturers scanners and other computer peripherals, and Apple says they awarded the licence to UDS because UDS best understands the Macintosh market. UDS plans to target the Chinese market with improvements to the Chinese Mac OS and more Chinese Mac applications. [GD]
Apple Announces Chinese Dictation System — On 28-Nov-95, Apple announced a Chinese Dictation Kit, which converts spoken Mandarin (Putonghua) speech into simplified or traditional Chinese text. Users configure the system for their speech patterns by reading several pages of text into the kit’s special Apple Dictation Microphone (which comes with the kit); though this configuration process consumes almost 30 MB of disk space, the result is a 700K user profile that can be moved between machines on a floppy disk. Users typically start at about 40 characters per minute, and work up to 60 or more characters per minute with extended use. The dictation kit software includes over 3,500 single characters and more than 12,000 multi-character words, plus error correction features and the ability to customize the system’s vocabulary. The Chinese Dictation Kit requires a Power Mac with 4 MB of free RAM, System 7.5, Chinese Language Kit 1.1.1, and 16-bit sound. It’s expected to be available in early 1996 at an estimated price of $300. [GD]
Best Enterprises recently released World Wide Web Weaver 1.0. This commercial release looks like Best Enterprise’s shareware HTML Web Weaver, but its code is totally new. Best Enterprises re-wrote the application to eliminate bugs and make general behind-the-scenes changes. World Wide Web Weaver (which I will call "Web Weaver" for the duration of this review) isn’t for Web professionals who maintain large sites or who need macros – for those people, I still recommend BBEdit or Nisus Writer. However, for people getting started with HTML authoring, Web Weaver could be a useful tool.
Web Weaver requires System 7 and comes with a suggested RAM allocation of 1700K. The program costs $50, or $75 for an annual subscription which includes all releases in that year. Web Weaver also has an educational cost of $30 ($55 for a subscription). Through the end of 1995, registered users of HTML Web Weaver 2.5.x can purchase Web Weaver for $25 (or $15 educational).
Getting Started — Unlike the $99 (list) PageMill (see TidBITS-305), which shields users completely from HTML, Web Weaver assists users in directly applying HTML tags, and displays tags in HTML documents as users add them. Web Weaver doesn’t enforce HTML rules – users can apply tags willy-nilly and Web Weaver won’t complain. This free form approach is 180 degrees from the rigid approach of the $199 (street price) HoTMetaL Pro, which does not permit incorrect tags.
As Web Weaver launches, it opens a document called Untitled.html. Untitled.html opens with a few tags helpfully pre-inserted. These tags – start and end versions of <HTML>, <HEAD>, <TITLE>, and <BODY> make up the basic structure that envelopes an HTML document.
Web Weaver displays tags in a different style from text, and it displays tagged text appropriately for how it is tagged. For instance, <STRONG>-tagged text looks strong (by default, it shows in bold). Users can easily customize the font, style, size, or color of tags and text. Unfortunately, Web Weaver sometimes mixes up its text and tags, and shows text in the colors and format of the tags. The Scan for Tags command in Web Weaver is supposed to make the tag and text colors show correctly; unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.
Web Weaver offers about five different ways to apply tags, and you can give any tag a custom keyboard shortcut if you don’t like its default shortcut. Web Weaver comes with many tags already listed in its menus, toolbar, and palettes, and you can add your own tags, including highly customized tags, such as an anchor tag with a MAILTO attribute and any email address.
Web Weaver reflects today’s melting pot of HTML tags, and users can insert tags with no regard as to whether they are HTML 2.0, in the HTML 3.0 spec, Netscape extensions, or what have you. In this respect, Web Weaver and PageMill share a big problem – the programs do not help users determine what flavors of HTML they are creating. Web Weaver does have a preview that can show documents in different installed browsers, but I’d like it to display different flavors of HTML tags in different colors so users can see what they are doing.
Why Care about HTML Flavors? I’d like the Web and HTML to avoid one of the biggest problems with the way word processors have evolved. Even now, word processor users find it difficult (if not impossible) to convert documents between different programs. Oh sure, lots of converters are out there, but few reliably translate most layouts and features. I can’t tell you what Adam and I have gone through trying to find a Word 5/6 converter that reads and writes Nisus Writer 4.x files and reliably retains all paragraph styles. (The DataViz MacLink Plus converter is essentially unacceptable, although we’ve managed to make it work sporadically.)
One great thing about HTML is that it has the potential to become standardized in every sense of the word – the potential to be a language everyone can write and everyone can display as it was written. I fear HTML will fail to become standardized, and we will end up with two big end-user headaches: gobs of HTML documents that cannot be shared between HTML editors without all hell breaking loose, and browsers that use largely incompatible sets of tags as multiple companies struggle to dominate the industry.
More Features — Web Weaver comes with a table editor, which is quite helpful for simple tables, but not a complete solution for complex tables or tables that must be updated from time to time. Although I did not test this personally, according to Best Enterprises, Web Weaver can import "tables created in Word, Excel or any other program that can save tables in a tab separated format."
Web Weaver has a rudimentary Find and Replace command, though it desperately needs a Replace Then Find option. It could also use a Wrapping option so you can easily start a Find operation at any location in a document and finish at that same location. I hope future versions will fix these problems and add basic wildcard options.
Web Weaver handles special characters, and it shows them as the named entities required by HTML. If you set it up right, Web Weaver can also display these characters as the actual characters, so users composing HTML documents in languages that use frequent upper ASCII characters will find Web Weaver usable. If, however, you import a document containing named entities, or you convert the display of upper ASCII characters from showing characters to showing entities, Web Weaver cannot reverse the operation and show the entities as characters.
I think Web Weaver shows promise, and I look forward to future versions. I’d like to see the interface enlarged – the buttons are small, the pull down menus in the vertical toolbar are minuscule, the palettes have tiny text in them, and the dialog boxes appear vertically squashed. I’d also like improvements in the awkward dialog box for creating links. The dialog presents different text fields for different parts of a URL, instead of providing field for entering the entire URL – when I enter a URL, I don’t want to think about the scheme, path, and so on. If you copy and paste URLs into HTML documents, you can work around this process by clicking the dialog’s Import URL From Clipboard button, which effectively lets you "paste" into the dialog.
In the meantime, HTML amateurs will likely find Web Weaver easier to use and more engaging than a text editor or word processor. If you have difficulty seeing small objects or reading small text on a Mac screen, Web Weaver isn’t for you. A bunch of sixth graders, though, should have a screaming good time putting Web Weaver through its paces.
A fully-functional demo version of Web Weaver is available.
Best Enterprises — 315/265-0930 — <[email protected]>
Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on good software, of course, but when it comes to planetarium simulators, the United States may well be trailing behind. Sienna Software of Toronto, Ontario, has just released its first product, the $28 shareware Starry Night 1.01, and it looks like both the product and the company are off to a great start. Starry Night is available for both 68K and Power Macintosh, and requires a color-capable Mac, System 7 or higher, and 4 MB of RAM.
Graphics vs. Features — Starry Night isn’t the prettiest planetarium simulator I’ve run. As trite as it might sound, first impressions do count, and your first impression of an astronomy program is going to be based on how the program looks and – compared to other programs on the market – Starry Night’s graphics come off as its weakest link. On the other hand, although the graphics might not be photographic quality, they’re used well, are by no means sub-standard, and (more to the point) they make a lot of sense. Also, Sienna Software has programmed in a couple of neat graphical tricks (Starry Night is very fast – and try looking down through the center of any object you’re standing on).
Don’t let the lack of snazzy graphics deter you – get under this program’s hood before judging it. Starry Night is an easy-to-use program that makes sense out of the night sky. It usually takes time to learn to use a planetarium simulator, and some of that time is spent combing through the program’s manual or online help. In Starry Night, Balloon Help teaches you everything you need to know. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of Balloon Help, but using it with this program got me up and running in half the time I required for other commercial packages.
Starry Night sports many of the features of commercial sky simulators, and it doesn’t even have the advantage of a CD-ROM for storage space. The program also has a number of impressive little features. For instance, when you wish to go to a specific object in the sky, Starry Night pans from where you are to where you want to be. This is invaluable for helping you to keep your bearings in the night sky. The creative feedback sounds that play when you touch a control are always a surprise, and although an adult may grow tired of them (they can be turned off) I think children will be delighted. Likewise, QuickTime movies can be saved by simply selecting the area of the sky you wish to record and hitting the "record" button.
An Interface for the Amateur Astronomer — Other packages enable you to move around the sky by selecting the azimuth and altitude you wish to look toward. Starry Night lets you do this "naturally" by grabbing the sky and moving it where you want. This method is perfect for people who might not be sure what azimuth is but want to move the sky so they’re looking toward the south.
Other programs tend to confuse new users by displaying all the constellations at once onscreen. Though this is a valuable feature (and Starry Night also has it), Starry Night’s "constellation tool" allows you to point the mouse at a particular section of the sky to display the constellation in that area. I can see tremendous educational value to this: point to a section of the sky, try to figure out what constellation you’re looking at, and then point-and-click to see if you’re right. What could be more Macintosh?
[Starry Night also lets you "Get Info" on selected constellations, bringing up brief descriptions of their origins and member stars, and most objects can be double-clicked for detailed information. -Geoff]
For Version 2.0 — Although Starry Night’s interface is among the best I’ve seen for an astronomy program, I do have a few suggestions for the program’s next version. One minor annoyance is that when you enter numeric values (such as a date), programs often provide up and down arrows to push. Most programs let you hold these arrows down so the values race in the direction you wish. Starry Night doesn’t do this; instead, you must click the arrow multiple times to achieve this effect, or type the value manually.
Starry Night’s Find function could also use some streamlining. It’s difficult to know what can or cannot be found by name. I would prefer that the program let you select from a categorized list (stars, planets, deep sky objects, etc.), or to let you choose objects based on a partial match of an object’s name.
Stellar Conclusions — I found Starry Night to be well designed, well thought out, accurate, easy to learn, and fun. True, it doesn’t have hyperlinked photos of the planets or an astronomical encyclopedia, but the package is also only 4 MB in size. Considering price over performance and features, Starry Night holds its own against anything on the market. If you can get through the fact that the ground you’re standing on isn’t rendered to the last blade of grass, you’ll find it to be a great program. Starry Night is Sienna Software’s first release; in a way its almost a shame since they’ll have to work hard to top their first product.
If you or your kids have an interest in astronomy but haven’t yet completed your doctorate in astrophysics, investigate Starry Night. It rates as a first magnitude program.
Sienna Software — 416/926-2174 — <[email protected]>
As an increasing number of people access the Internet via a Mac and a modem, the software they use to connect becomes increasingly important. The connection software combination of MacTCP and either a SLIP or PPP program has become popular, because it gives people full TCP-based Internet connections that enable them to run programs like Anarchie, Netscape, NewsWatcher, and Eudora. However, setting up such connections has become confusing: many new versions of SLIP and PPP programs have been released in recent months, and though Open Transport has replaced MacTCP for users of the PCI Power Macs (requiring changes to the connection software), a number of compatibility issues have resulted in a flurry of maintenance releases.
How They Work — SLIP and PPP are two protocols, or methods, of making an Internet connection with a modem over the phone line. Generally speaking, a SLIP or PPP program provides a temporary, low-speed Internet connection through your modem. Imagine that you have no water service to your house, and the only way to take a shower is to run a garden hose out to the water main in the street. That’s similar to what SLIP and PPP programs do for you, in conjunction with a modem: they establish a relatively low-speed (garden hoses don’t carry that much water, and SLIP/PPP connections are limited by the speed of your modem), temporary (when you’re done with your shower, you bring the hose back in) connection to the Internet.
The PPP protocol has slightly better technical specifications than SLIP, and in my experience can sometimes be slightly faster than SLIP. However, in the real world, the main difference between SLIP and PPP (assuming your Internet provider supports both, as mine does) lies in the programs that make each protocol run on your Macintosh. In this respect, PPP has a significant advantage over SLIP: there are several different freeware options for running PPP on the Mac (as opposed to InterSLIP, the lone free SLIP implementation, written by InterCon Systems), as well as a couple of commercial options. There are also a number of different pieces of add-on software that enhance the freeware PPP programs.
PPP and Open Transport — Open Transport is Apple’s new networking architecture. Eventually, it’s supposed to replace all of Apple’s low-level networking code on all Macintoshes; right now, it runs only in a preliminary release on the new PCI-based Power Macs (the 7200, 7500, 8500, and 9500).
One of the teething problems PCI Mac owners have with the preliminary Open Transport release is a series of compatibility problems with Internet software. In particular, InterSLIP and most of the basic PPP programs don’t work with Open Transport. The only dial-up Internet programs known to work with Open Transport are a pair of MacPPP derivatives – MacPPP 2.1.2SD and FreePPP 1.0.2 – and the commercial programs InterPPP II and MacSLIP. Apple is supposed to provide PPP software as part of Open Transport, but it isn’t included in the preliminary release.
Please note that I haven’t used any of the PCI Macs yet. The information I have on Open Transport has been gleaned from posts to various Usenet newsgroups.
MacPPP, the Original and Derivatives — The first widely-used Macintosh PPP software was MacPPP, written by people at Merit Network and the University of Michigan, and released free to the public. MacPPP went through several versions before reaching its current release, 2.0.1, in 1993. Since then, several people have obtained the source code to MacPPP and have written derivative versions; unfortunately, each derivative usually had just one or two added features, and you couldn’t run two versions at once to get both sets of features. Two different groups have worked on collecting the best features from all of these versions into a single coherent release, giving a growth path for the future. [See "The Future of PPP Projects" in next week’s article. -Geoff]
Here is a rundown of the MacPPP-based programs that will establish a dial-up Internet connection using PPP. All of the programs described below are available on the Info-Mac software archive, in the MacTCP software directory:
If I’ve used a particular piece of PPP software, I’ll give my opinions on how well it works. However, I haven’t used everything, and what I have tested has only been used on my old PowerBook 170, my new PowerBook 5300, my IIci at home, or an 840AV at work. I can’t guarantee how well these programs will work on your system.
MacPPP 2.0.1 is the last official University of Michigan release. Its interface is clunky, it’s a bare-bones program with relatively few features, it hasn’t been officially updated in two years – but it’s the standard. Several people have released PPP versions based on MacPPP 2.0.1, and many others have written add-on software that works with it, making it the reference version everything else is compared to. Unfortunately, it does not work with Open Transport. If you’re not using Open Transport, MacPPP 2.0.1 is still the safest version to use before trying any of the derivative versions.
MacPPP 2.0.1cm4, by Cliff McCollum, adds three main features to the basic MacPPP 2.0.1 release:
- The basic MacPPP has minimal support for entering your user name and password as you sign on. If your PPP server supports PAP authentication, you can enter your password in MacPPP’s Authentication dialog; otherwise, you must put your user name and password into your connect script. MacPPP 2.0.1cm4 adds a pair of tags – $USERID$ and $PASSWORD$ – that allow your connect script to ask for that information when you sign on.
- Some internal PowerBook modems wake up slowly from the power saving sleep mode; 2.0.1cm4 adds a slight delay that’s supposed to fix the problem. (I haven’t tested this in 2.0.1cm4.)
- The original MacPPP 2.0.1 used a modal dialog box to display the connection status, which kept you from doing anything while MacPPP was dialing. 2.0.1cm4 allows you to start dialing and switch to another application, though the program that you started dialing from is suspended until dialing is completed.
MacPPP 2.1.2SD is another Merit MacPPP derivative, written by Steve Dagley (hence the SD initials at the end of the name). Its original purpose was to add support for high-speed serial connections on Macs with GeoPorts, and it was later the first PPP version to support Open Transport. Several people have contributed to it since its initial release. Here are some of the more significant features:
- Allows serial-port-to-modem connections of 115 Kbps and 230 Kbps for Macs with GeoPort technology (the 660AV/840AV, and most Power Macs).
- Supports Open Transport on the PCI Macs.
- Several fixes to provide better support for timing-sensitive modems, by John Stephen.
- Includes a fix for PowerBook modems that are slow to wake up.
- Support for PSI’s ISDN service, also by John Stephen.
- Improvements to the Terminal window for manual connections.
- Displays the connect speed in the PPP status box.
I use MacPPP 2.1.2SD on my old PowerBook 170, and it seemed to be more stable (and cause fewer problems with the internal modem) than MacPPP 2.2.0a on the same machine. With the release of FreePPP 1.0.2, also by Steve Dagley and based on the same code, MacPPP 2.1.2SD is technically obsolete; however, I’d probably keep it around a little while longer until we see how stable FreePPP turns out to be. [For more details on FreePPP, see next week’s continuation of this article. -Geoff]
MacPPP 2.0.2 (YA 1.0) — Also called MacPPP 2.0.1mlb, 2.0.2 (YA 1.0) was created by Mason Bliss to disable MacPPP’s automatic connection feature. Although FreePPP includes this option, Bliss had problems with FreePPP’s stability, so he released this version. It’s distributed as a patching program for 2.0.1, so you need an unmodified copy of 2.0.1 to use 2.0.2 (YA 1.0).
Other versions of MacPPP have been created, but 2.0.1cm4, 2.1.2SD and 2.0.2 (YA 1.0) are the only "first derivative" versions still in circulation at Info-Mac.
Stay Tuned — Next week, I’ll cover current freeware PPP projects as well as commercial PPP implementations. Please note that this article is based on information from my Web page on Macintosh PPP software. I’ll keep updating this page with new information on PPP programs as I find it.