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Welcome to 1996! In this issue we being you news on updates to RAM Doubler, Fetch, and Netscape Navigator, plus some pre-Macworld highlights and info on Roaster, the first Java development system for the Mac. Also, Adam reviews recent developments with the Newton MessagePad, Tonya takes a look at the Macintosh Software Update Report, and we round out the issue with an overview of two new Internet scripting technologies for the Mac.

Adam Engst No comments

Web Issues on Hiatus

Web Issues on Hiatus — Due to life changes and moving on the part of Bill Murphy, who translates TidBITS issues from setext to HTML for posting on the Dartmouth site, recent issues haven’t appeared there. Bill will resume the translations soon, and we’re working on other ways of providing TidBITS on the Web. In the meantime, you might want to check out TidBITS in HTML format on the PathFinder site at: [ACE] tidbits/tidbitsnew.html

Tonya Engst No comments

Please Feed the Nerds

Please Feed the Nerds — Macworld Expo attendees may wish to check out BMUG’s free rent-a-nerd service. You can participate as either a nerd or as a user seeking assistance. "Rented" nerds provide guidance for dealing with the hype and confusion inherent in an Expo the size of a European principality, and they may accompany users out on the show floor. Nerds mainly earn gratitude, but pizza is also considered appropriate payment. To find out more, visit the User Group Room in Moscone’s North Hall, Room 121. [TJE]

Geoff Duncan No comments

RAM Doubler 1.6.1 Update

RAM Doubler 1.6.1 Update — Late last month, Connectix released an updater to version 1.6.1 of RAM Doubler. This update addresses a freeze during boot on some configurations using SCSI Manager 4.3.1, and is compatible with ALSoft DiskExpressII 2.20 and the PowerBook 190. Like previous RAM Doubler patches, this updater brings both the version of RAM Doubler currently installed and your master disk to the current verison; see the ReadMe file for instructions and additional information. [GD] doubler-161-updt.hqx

Geoff Duncan No comments

Netscape 2.0b5 Available

Netscape 2.0b5 Available — Netscape released version 2.0b4 of Netscape Navigator late last month, but we aren’t going to talk about it much since 2.0b5 just appeared. Version 2.0b5 expires 01-Mar-96 and does not include the much-delayed support for Java, although it does fix file corruption problems with some FTP downloads and troubles with PowerBook 5300s. The release also rolls in a "What’s New" feature for bookmarks (letting you check for outdated or changed bookmarks), regains compatibility with System 7.0, and incorporates a number of user interface changes (some of which have met with mixed response). This release also purports to be more stable, although that claim is not evidenced on my machines. The archive is about 2500K; please see the release notes if you’re thinking about using this release. [GD] 2.0b5.sit.hqx relnotes/mac-2.0b5.html

Geoff Duncan No comments

Java Roaster to Ship

Java Roaster to Ship — Natural Intelligence has announced plans to ship Developer Release 1 of Roaster, the first available integrated Java development system for the Macintosh, this week at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Roaster lets Macintosh developers write and test Java applets on Power Macs, and Natural Intelligence plans to ship a 68K version soon. No publicly available Web browsers for the Mac support Java yet, but Roaster includes a runtime environment for Java applets, and applets can (and should) be tested on other platforms with Java-capable clients. The company’s Web site says Roaster will be available as a subscription for $299 (although their press release says $399), which will include unlimited tech support and free updates through the second commercial release of Roaster. [GD]

Geoff Duncan No comments

Fetch 3.0.1b1

Fetch 3.0.1b1 — In TidBITS-307 we mentioned that Fetch 3.0 has problems on 68000-based Macs (the Plus, SE, Classic, and PowerBook 100) and truncates some files uploaded on machines running Open Transport. Jim Matthews has released version 3.0.1b1 of Fetch, which addresses these problems, plus includes a setting to bypass Fetch’s Open Transport code (using MacTCP code instead) in the event other problems appear with Open Transport. If you experienced problems with Fetch 3.0, check out this release. [GD] _3.0.1b1.hqx

Geoff Duncan No comments

Metrowerks Programming Kit and Promo

Metrowerks Programming Kit and Promo — If you’ve wanted to learn to program the Macintosh but didn’t know where to start, Metrowerks has something to think about. "Discover Programming for the Macintosh" contains a complete working copy of CodeWarrior for 68K Macs plus the text of three books, Learn C on the Macintosh, Second Edition and Learn C++ on the Macintosh (both by long-time Mac programming author Dave Mark), plus Jim Trudeau’s Programming Starter Kit, which I recommend as a solid introduction to Mac Toolbox programming with CodeWarrior. The books are on a CD-ROM in Adobe Acrobat format, along with four Apple Guides that work with CodeWarrior and Netscape Navigator. This product replaces Metrowerks’ Programming Starter Kit, and is priced at $79. If you pick this bundle up at Macworld this week, you get paper copies of Learn C on the Macintosh and Tricks of the Mac Game Programming Gurus, plus a CodeWarrior t-shirt and a Metrowerks mouse pad. [GD]

Adam Engst No comments

Newton News

Over the past few months, several interesting events have happened in the world of the Newton, and since no Newton experts have stepped forward to discuss them, I figured I would. I have and use a Newton, one of the original MessagePads that were sold for about $199 a year or so back. I like my Newton, but I only use it for one thing – keeping track of present lists in Notion, which came with the bundle I bought. With Tonya’s birthday in late September, mine in mid November, and Christmas in late December, I use the Newton about four months each year. I don’t keep contact or event information on it since I seldom go anywhere, and when I do travel I take a PowerBook with Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date files on it.

In some sense then, I’m the perfect Newton user. I don’t pretend it’s a computer, I don’t expect it to act like a computer, and I don’t expect Apple to treat it as a computer. It’s a simple organizational tool for me, since I don’t lose it during the eight months when I sporadically add items to the present lists.

Apple’s main Newton news is that they’ve released version 2.0 of the Newton operating system to fairly impressive fanfare. Newton 2.0 won the Best of COMDEX award in the Operating System category at November COMDEX in Las Vegas. For that, Apple deserves credit, especially on a platform that hasn’t received widespread acclaim, despite having been lampooned in Doonesbury, the Simpsons, and many other places for its handwriting recognition gaffes.

Newton 2.0 reportedly improves the Newton’s handwriting recognition significantly, so much so that people reported ceasing to use Graffiti, a utility that required you to modify slightly the way you wrote a few characters in exchange for almost perfect recognition. Newton 2.0 can now switch into landscape mode, which is no doubt more appropriate for certain applications. Other enhancements include a better human interface, a "comb-style" correction picker (to make correcting a single misinterpreted letter easier), better performance, more consistent treatment of unrecognized "ink," and an optional keyboard for more serious text input.

The catch, of course, is that Newton 2.0 only works with the MessagePad 120, and not with any previous versions of the MessagePad. Current MessagePad 120 owners can have their MessagePads upgraded to Newton 2.0 for $109 (call the Apple Assistance Center at the number below), but owners of all other versions of the MessagePad can take comfort only in a $100 rebate on a new MessagePad 120 with the new operating system (call the Newton Information Service at the number below).

I admit it’s somewhat disappointing to see Apple charging for the upgrade for MessagePad 120 owners and only giving older MessagePad owners a $100 rebate, but I think that’s my computer experience talking. When you buy a normal appliance, you’re lucky if you get any rebate upgrading to a better model, and in most cases I doubt you’d get much. The simple fact of the matter is that the Newton I have now does what I want it to do acceptably, and that’s good enough for the amount of money I paid. Those who bought the original MessagePad at full price and use it constantly for everything it can do – much as one might use a computer – are probably far more irritated than I about the upgrade policies.

So should you spend money on the upgrade or a new MessagePad? The answer depends on how you use your Newton. If it’s essentially a computer to you, then yes, you will likely find the new functionality compelling. If, however, you’re more like me and use the Newton as a secondary appliance, then, no, I don’t think you should upgrade, assuming you’re happy with your Newton. There are features I’d want in the Newton, but mostly I’d like to see different form factors and case designs. That’s when I’ll spend the money and retire my elderly MessagePad.

For an article from the December Apple Directions newsletter about Newton 2.0, check the URL below. /newton.html

Apple Assistance Center — 800/767-2775
Newton Information Service — 800/909-0260

Tonya Engst No comments

Level-headed Help from LEVEL 6 Computing

Do you support Macs for a living? If you do, you probably spend too much of your valuable time keeping track of software updates, time that otherwise could be spent using the updates or playing around with HTML. Kevin Garrett once supported Macs for a living, and he became so frustrated with trying to keep up with software updates that he started the Macintosh Software Update Report. The Update Report is a subscription-based, bimonthly newsletter published by LEVEL 6 Computing, and it uses a variety of media to cover the latest on updates from over 800 companies.

The Update Report narrowly focuses on updates – you won’t find any advertising, humor columns, or vaporware announcements here. Instead, you’ll find tightly written text explaining what products have been updated, when each update came out, and what each update changed. Each "issue" includes a paper newsletter, plus a disk of setext files that you can index and a HyperCard stack of vendor information.

Each printed newsletter lists updates from the past few months and gives information about the changes. For instance, by randomly flipping through the October 1995 issue, I learned that: Astrobyte updated BeyondPress, a QuarkXPress to HTML converter; Connectix released Speed Doubler 1.0.2; and Natural Intelligence released DragStrip 2.0.1.

Subscribers also receive a disk that contains one setext file for each update listed in the newsletter. (A setext file is a normal text file in a specific "structure enhanced" format. TidBITS also uses the setext format – send email to <[email protected]> for more information.) The setext files contain the same information as the newsletter, but sometimes go into more depth. Setext files lend themselves to being read in a viewer that lets you easily jump between topics and sub-topics within all setext files stored in a particular Macintosh folder (you might put them in a folder called "Update Report"). A viewer also enables you to search among the setext files stored in a folder.

The Update Report comes with Easy View, a popular viewer from Akif Eyler (see TidBITS-194 for more on Easy View). When a new issue arrives, you can add the new setext documents to your Update Report folder, and view the new documents along with older ones that you’ve kept around. As more and more issues arrive, you squirrel away the setext files and slowly develop a large, searchable database that records changes in software versions.

Easy View was the cat’s pajamas for text distribution back in 1992, and although it’s excellent for what it does, electronic publications these days need a Web presence. The Update Report is on the Web, with samples for anyone to browse, and with a special section for subscribers. The special section is updated frequently (recent updates have been weekly), so subscribers need not wait for the bi-monthly issues. Although the subscribers’ section is nicely organized by date, it would be nice to see it also offer a searching capability.

Each issue’s disk also comes with an updated HyperCard stack listing vendor contact information, including how to find vendor BBSs and sites on online services such as AOL and the Internet. The stack currently has about 700 entries. The contact information is also available to everyone on LEVEL 6’s Web site, complete with lots of live links. Large contact databases on the Web are nothing new, and I think it’s good to have more than one entity maintaining a Macintosh-oriented contact database. My favorite contact database is still at The Well Connected Mac, a Web site devoted to "everything Macintosh."

That said, do note that LEVEL 6 checks their contact information to make sure it’s accurate; The Well Connected Mac doesn’t do any such checking.

Although the Update Report has a friendly feel to it, new users won’t understand much of the terminology. That’s okay, because the publication is designed for savvy support people who need to know technical details. The Update Report’s pricing reflects its intended audience. Casual Macintosh users won’t pay $150 per year for such a resource, but businesses who offer technical support or consulting services may find their $150 well spent. Subscriptions cost an additional $25 for readers outside the United States. LEVEL 6 also offers "special pricing" to self-employed consultants, offers Web-only pricing, and can arrange site or volume discounts.

The Macintosh Software Update Report is just over a year old, and its strengths lie in its technical content and mix of paper and electronic media. Although the publication may be most useful to those who have fast Web access, people without much Internet access will still find it a useful tool. Also, people who want (or require) paper get paper, but the text also comes on disk and can be searched.

LEVEL 6 Computing — 818/888-0675 — 818/888-5635 (fax)
<[email protected]>

Geoff Duncan No comments

Macs Scripting the Net

If you’ve heard anything at all about hot, emerging technologies shaping the future of the Internet, you’ve heard about Java, a platform-independent programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Java has been licensed by everyone from Netscape to Microsoft for use in their Internet products, and offers the possibility of smart, distributed "applets" that can be run on virtually any platform.

One reason Java is such a hot commodity is that it is independent of platforms and operating systems. In theory, the same Java applet will run unchanged on a Macintosh, a Windows machine, a Unix box, or almost any other platform. Java accomplishes this trick by being written and compiled to a rather sophisticated Virtual Machine – essentially a description of a single, generic computer. Anyone wanting to run Java applets must provide an environment that behaves like that Virtual Machine. In a sense, computers running Java applets are providing an emulation layer in much the same way SoftWindows lets a Macintosh run Windows applications, with the crucial difference that Java was actually designed with this in mind.

Bitter Beans — So far as Mac users concerned, there are three problems with Java right now. The first is that it’s vaporware. The average Macintosh user has no way to run Java applets. Netscape has yet to include Java support in the Macintosh beta releases of Netscape Navigator 2.0 (although it has included preliminary releases of JavaScript, a lightweight scripting language based on Java). Other browsers and products may eventually support Java, but as of this writing none appear to be close to market. navigator/version_2.0/script/index.html

The second problem is that Java is a sophisticated, object-oriented programming language with roots in Unix and C++. Java is not friendly to the average user. Although Natural Intelligence has just released a Java development environment for the Macintosh (and both Metrowerks and Symantec have announced plans to produce Java tools for the Mac), there’s no way for the average Mac user to take advantage of this technology. In a sense, an Internet user getting excited about Java is like a dancer getting exciting about a communications satellite. Sure, the satellite might let the dancer receive an important phone call, or watch a concert halfway around the world. But the dancer isn’t interested in the satellite; the dancer’s interested in things the satellite makes possible. Similarly, Internet users aren’t going to be any more interested in Java than they are in C++, but they might be interested in things Java can make possible.

The third problem is that Java is not a Macintosh technology. Mac users like their computers because of the things that distinguish them from other systems. Java supports only its Virtual Machine, which means that distinctive Macintosh technologies like PlainTalk, Speech Recognition, QuickDraw GX, and countless others will not be supported by Java directly. If we want to use these Macintosh technologies over the Internet, we’ll have to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, there are places to look. Macintosh developers haven’t been sitting on their hands watching Java go by – they’re producing solutions that both take advantage of distinctive Macintosh technologies and help make the possibilities of the Internet more accessible to Macintosh users.

MacBird — In May of 1995, Dave Winer made UserLand Frontier a free product, focussing on the Internet and the Web community. (See TidBITS-279 and TidBITS-301.) Frontier is a sophisticated and robust OSA-compliant Macintosh scripting system; since its public release, Frontier has become a standard for scripting CGI applications on Mac Web servers.

One common criticism of Frontier has been its lack of integrated interface tools. Unlike HyperCard, in which users create and manipulate fields and buttons onscreen, Frontier provides almost no interface tools save the ability to create and share menus with some Frontier-savvy applications. Frontier let you do powerful things, but it was mostly faceless.

Around the beginning of the year, however, Dave Winer made available the first test release of MacBird, a script-based interface designer targeted at the Web community. At this time, MacBird relies on Frontier and requires a working knowledge of UserTalk scripting to be useful. (There’s also virtually no documentation; remember this is a test release.) However, MacBird is interesting as a proof-of-concept and very likely points down one road of Macintosh scripting on the Internet.

MacBird itself serves two functions. It is used to create and design "cards," which are onscreen windows holding buttons, fields, graphics, and other objects. These objects can have scripts associated with them, so pushing a button can trigger anything that could be carried out by a script. Cards are saved as individual documents, and basic cards are quite small, usually less than 10K.

MacBird also serves as a helper application that works with a Web browser. When you click on a MacBird card on a Web site somewhere, it’s downloaded and opened by MacBird, giving you access to the controls and interface in the card. The possibilities are wide-ranging: two of Dave’s example cards are a four-function calculator (the obligatory scripting demo on the Internet, it seems), and a card that takes your order for Chinese food and sends it off via Eudora. A more humorous example that quickly appeared after MacBird’s release is a random Zen koan generator from Brent Simmons <[email protected]>, but Finger clients and Web page tools are quickly beginning to appear as well. Brent has kindly set up a temporary server to store MacBird cards as well as a brief guide to authoring for MacBird; if you’re at all interested, this is a mandatory site.

Right now MacBird is only valuable to experienced Frontier scripters, and most discussion is taking place on the Frontier-Talk mailing list. But MacBird is literally a brand new tool with the potential to bring Macintosh-specific scripting technologies to life on the Internet in a compelling way. As of this writing, I don’t think anyone knows whether MacBird will be a freeware or shareware product, a commercial endeavor, or something else entirely. mailinglist_406.html

Marionet — If Java is for hard-core developers and MacBird is only for Frontier aficionados, what’s out there for the rest of us? One answer is Marionet, a new Internet protocol tool from Allegiant Technologies, the same folks that make SuperCard. A public beta of Marionet that expires on 31-Jan-96 is available from Allegiant’s Web site; the package includes the Marionet application and materials, plus preliminary documentation.

Marionet is a faceless background application that works as an intermediary between the Internet and dedicated applications on the client machine, such as a SuperCard project, a HyperCard stack, or a Director presentation. Via Marionet, these applications can gain access to Internet services, integrating them directly into the application in whatever manner seems appropriate. Using Marionet, it should be possible to write a Web browser or newsreader in HyperCard, a custom email client, a mailing list manager, a set of Web authoring tools, or something else entirely. Marionet allows authors to combine direct Internet services with the interface and multimedia capabilities of authoring environments, without having to learn C or Toolbox-level Macintosh programming.

Marionet supports a number of protocols, including HTTP, FTP, SMTP, NNTP, DNS, and Gopher searches, in addition to its own custom "chat" protocol which lets authors to create real-time collaborative applications via the Internet. Marionet can handle asynchronous connections (so an application could upload files and get new mail at the same time), and also allows synchronous connections for finicky or specialized operations. Marionet can serve a number of applications at the same time, so a HyperCard stack could get news postings while an AppleScript resolved a list of IP numbers into real site names. One of Marionet’s strengths is the comparative ease of setting up sessions, handling data returned, and using that information directly within the client application. There’s not much obfuscating syntax to deal with, and Marionet allows scripts to be simple yet surprisingly flexible.

Marionet’s potential is undeniable, but there are potential rough spots. Marionet’s AppleScript support is still in development and shouldn’t be considered final. Applications such as FileMaker Pro or Excel that would have to rely on AppleScript to communicate with Marionet could be in for some surprises when the final version becomes available. Also, though Allegiant supplies an XCMD for applications like HyperCard and Director to interface with Marionet, Marionet is clearly designed with SuperCard in mind. The Marionet XCMD takes advantage of specific aspects of the SuperTalk scripting language that aren’t available in other applications, forcing them to rely on global variables and receive responses via an Apple event. Though these mechanisms are certainly workable, they are rather awkward and make users of other authoring applications feel as if they’re being treated like second class citizens. (Admittedly, this is Marionet’s first public beta – it’s entirely possible this will change in future releases.)

Also, Allegiant doesn’t have a strong background in the Internet world. (At last year’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Allegiant reps were consistently baffled at the concept of an online publication like TidBITS.) To their credit, they have set up a mailing list to discuss Marionet and now have a substantial online presence, but one wonders how responsive they will be to the Macintosh Internet community. It seems likely Allegiant will position Marionet as a developers’ tool: introductory pricing of the final release is expected to be around $100, but the final list price for Marionet will probably be significantly higher, putting it out of reach of many online enthusiasts. I hope Allegiant instead chooses to make Marionet an inexpensive, accessible product, with a functional demonstration version available freely online. Even with some drawbacks, a tool like Marionet could earn a significant following among the Macintosh community if it were inexpensive and widely available.

Something’s Brewing — Even if the much-touted Java isn’t accessible to typical Macintosh users (or typical Internet users, for that matter), products are beginning to appear that have lower entry thresholds and that allow users to exploit specific Mac technologies. Admittedly, setting up custom Internet applications is still more complicated than printingt labels from a word processor, but enough new ideas and products are appearing that I might not miss Java… if I had it.