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People who like to push the Web’s edge will be pleased to read about beta releases of Java-enabled Netscape and of Amber, an Acrobat plug-in for Netscape. We also have news about California’s NetDay, a cheap way to buy a Mac, Open Transport 1.1b16, and the testing tool QC 1.2. The issue continues with a helpful review of FileMaker 3.0, a look at problems InterNIC has had administering domain names, and an essay about personal Web servers.

Adam Engst No comments

NetDay 96

NetDay 96 — On 09-Mar-96, thousands of volunteers in California will go to their local schools and help connect them to the Internet. In each school, volunteers will pull Category 5 twisted pair cable from five classrooms and a library or computer lab to a central wiring closet. Hardware vendors are providing wire, jacks, connectors, and a patch panel at cost (between $350 and $500) and other companies and individuals are sponsoring specific schools by paying for the hardware. Internet access companies including MCI, Netcom, AT&T, and America Online have committed to providing free Internet dialup access for every school in California. Frankly, this is a fabulous way for everyone to put money and time where it can accomplish something. If you want to support education in California, check out the Web page below for the details and to find your local school. If you’re not in California, as so many of our readers aren’t, keep an eye out for similar projects in your area. If you’re really committed, I’m sure the NetDay folks would be happy to provide information on how you can duplicate NetDay in your area. [ACE]


Geoff Duncan No comments

Open Transport 1.1b16 Public Beta

Open Transport 1.1b16 Public Beta — Apple has a released a public beta of Open Transport 1.1, which addresses many existing problems plus runs on both 68K and Power Macintosh machines. The beta is unsupported (so you can’t ask Apple for help) and is only recommended for experienced users familiar with their network configuration; however, users of PCI Power Macs might be particularly interested in the release. The beta does not function on Performa 5200, 5300, 6200, and 6300 computers, along with the Macintosh IIvi, and Apple also recommends against installing it on the PowerBook 190, 2300, and 5300, or on PowerBook 540s running System 7.5.2. Be sure to check out the ReadMe files and notes before installing; so far, reports I’ve seen indicate that the beta is functioning well. There are two installations available, one with a set of floppy disk images and one as an all-in-one Net Install; both are a little over 2.5 MB in size. [GD]

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Adam Engst No comments

Cheap Macs Via Apple Employees

Cheap Macs Via Apple Employees — Through 31-Mar-96, Apple is running a program that allows employees to purchase up to four Macs, four Newtons, and four printers at seriously low prices. The program is specifically designed to make it easy for Apple employees to buy Macs for friends and relatives (the employee can order the equipment, and it will be shipped to the recipient and charged to the recipient’s credit card). The limitations are that the Apple employees cannot resell the equipment for a profit, they can’t sell it to dealers, and they must be able to account for the exact whereabouts of the equipment for a year. So, if you know an Apple employee who might be willing to do you a favor, drop her a line and see if she can send you the price list. Please do not harass anyone about this – the Apple employee may have already used up the quota, may not have the time, or may simply be uncomfortable with ordering the equipment for you. In case you don’t believe me, the URL below leads to the original message from Guy Kawasaki’s EvangeList (for more information about EvangeList, send email to <[email protected]>). [ACE]

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Geoff Duncan No comments

Power Mac Netscape 2.0 Java Beta 1

Power Mac Netscape 2.0 Java Beta 1 — On the heels of its official release of Netscape 2.0 for the Macintosh, Netscape has posted the first beta of a Java-enabled version of Netscape Navigator 2.0 for Power Macs. The Java implementation is compatible with the Java Development Kit released by Sun last week, and (unlike other Java-capable versions of Navigator) cannot be disabled via Netscape’s preferences. This beta expires 15-Mar-96 and is a little over 2 MB in size. [GD]

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Geoff Duncan No comments

Alpha Acrobat Plug-In Available

Alpha Acrobat Plug-In Available — Last week, Adobe released alpha versions of Amber, its Acrobat Reader plug-in for Netscape Navigator, for both 68K and Power Macintosh. Amber is the codename for a full update to both Acrobat Reader and Acrobat Exchange; the Amber plug-in allows Acrobat PDF documents to be viewed directly in Netscape’s window, and integrates those documents directly into Netscape’s navigation commands. Though Amber includes some optimizations for Internet use (including progressive rendering technologies and the ability to go to any page in a PDF document), these require specially-optimized PDF files and "byteserver" capabilities on Web servers. Adobe is already working with Netscape, Open Market, StarNine, and other vendors to include these features; in the meantime, Adobe has a lot of information about Amber available on its Web site. I have read reports of problems downloading the 4 MB release; I’d suggest waiting until non-peak hours (Pacific time) before trying to download it. [GD]


Geoff Duncan No comments

QC Goes PowerPC Native

QC Goes PowerPC Native — Onyx Technologies has released the long-anticipated PowerPC-native version of QC, its popular software testing tool. Version 1.2 offers significantly increased performance on Power Macs, plus additional tools previously unavailable under the Modern Memory Manager. The update is free for registered QC users and available online; QC normally costs $99. If you don’t use QC and do any serious programming or software testing, you owe it to yourself to download a demo and get a demo serial number from Onyx. [GD]

Glenn Fleishman No comments

InterNIC Employs a Guard Dog

You wouldn’t think the guy that John Markoff of the New York Times described as one of the greatest computer security experts in the world could have his domain name ripped off, would you?

It appears the InterNIC is not immune to many of the forces that Tsutomu Shimomura and Markoff wrote about in Takedown, their book about the tracking of hacker Kevin Mitnick. An unknown hacker used social engineering – that is, talking somebody into something rather than using cracking programs or computer tools – to convince the agency that controls the registration for all domains on the Internet that the information for the domain had changed. The InterNIC duly updated the info, and laughs abounded as "takedown" was taken down.

The InterNIC doesn’t think this is funny, and neither do the managers of the now hundreds of thousands of domain names. Although the agency says the frequency of illegitimate domain changes is low, they have introduced a method of beating social engineering by using a combination of public-key encryption and password protection. The InterNIC has proposed a Guardian Object structure in which each domain name’s contact person can have associated protection information. Without a password, acknowledgment, or public-key signed message (or some combination thereof), the domain information won’t be changed.

Currently, the InterNIC won’t change domain name information unless the message originates from someone currently associated with the domain. However, the ease of forging email makes this method highly suspect. Coupled with "social engineering," there’s little protection now from any relatively committed individual.

The Guardian model should make domain name transfers more orderly and stable, and protect the folks who own these domains. If you are having a domain name registered on your behalf, always have it registered to your company (or yourself) and your physical address; in this way, you protect the ownership of the domain itself, separate from its technical information. So, if you’re the Flan Corporation, don’t allow to be registered to "Bill’s Internet Shack" – they should be listed as the contact for technical purposes only.

More information on the Guardian model is available online; there’s no current timetable for implementation.

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Charles Wheeler No comments

Cooking with FileMaker Pro 3.0

If you’ve read any reviews of the latest release of Claris’s database product FileMaker Pro, you’re probably aware of two things: it’s relational, and it’s Power Mac native. If you currently use FileMaker just to keep Aunt Millie’s cookbook on your four-year-old Mac, you may be asking yourself if there’s any point to the upgrade. With that in mind, here are my experiences creating and converting FileMaker databases, without a relation or Power Mac in sight. I did all the work on a PowerBook 520c, an SE/30, or Quadra 610.


Starts Slow, Runs Fast — I noticed early on that FileMaker Pro 3.0 is noticeably faster doing just about anything – startup, sorting, searches, and screen redraws are all improved. Apparently, previous versions of FileMaker had been written in Pascal, and the new version is a complete rewrite from the ground up. Unfortunately, some operations run quite slowly the first time they’re performed. For example, the first time you launch the program after installation, it takes some time to build a font list and a preferences file. After that, the application launches rapidly, and the splash screen appears only very briefly before you can begin working. Also, since indexing of fields is now optional, you will probably spend some time waiting for a field to index the first time you execute a find or sort on that field.

Speaking of indexing, if you ever use the Paste Special From Index menu item, you will notice you can now select an individual word ("egg", "whites") or the first line of field entries ("egg whites"). This makes the menu item much more friendly without sacrificing its original features.

The More That Things Change… What’s remarkable about this upgrade is, for all the changes, so many things remain the same. The interface is enhanced but not altered to the point of frustration. One notable exception: in Layout mode, double-clicking a field used to bring up the field attributes window, while Option-double-clicking brought up the field selection palette. Now they’re reversed. If I had a nickel for every time an experienced FileMaker user yells "Doh!" (or worse) before they get used to this change, I could stop buying lottery tickets.

Most people will begin working with the upgrade by converting FileMaker Pro 2.x databases. This is simplicity (if not perfection) itself. Drag the file onto the FileMaker 3.0 icon or open the file from within the program, and FileMaker will first back up your original file and then create a converted file in the 3.0 format. Of the many files I have converted, I have had only two minor problems, neither resulting in lost data. The first was a restored find in a script that simply forgot what it was supposed to find. The second was a bit more complicated: a calculation field that stopped calculating after the conversion. The records entered before the conversion contained calculated data, but those entered after refused calculate, returning instead a non-fatal "out of memory" message. Although I could not change the calculation, I could copy it, change the field to a number field, change the field back to a calculated field and paste the original calculation back in. At that point, FileMaker pointed out that I had a syntax error in the calculation, one that version 2.1 did not seem to notice. I changed the syntax, and all was well.

An exciting new feature for those who work with graphics is the ability to either import graphics into container fields or store just a reference to the graphic file. By storing references, I created a graphics catalog with thousands of image files that is a fraction of the size it would have been if I had imported the files. The graphics can be viewed, manipulated, and printed as if they were in the database. These images had previously been managed by a graphics catalog program in a 60 MB file; the new FileMaker Pro 3.0 file is under 16 MB. (Just image how Aunt Millie’s cookbook will look with all of those scanned images of her great dishes!)

Other enhancements too numerous to cover fully here include drag & drop support, phone dialing, speech, AppleScript embedding, and a super-charged ScriptMaker that addresses virtually all the top requests from FileMaker developers. I’ve been working with version 3.0 since late beta (fall of 1995) and am still finding plenty of interesting new features.

A Few Shortcomings — Although I am enthusiastic about FileMaker Pro 3.0, Claris did drop the ball in a few areas. The documentation is best described as a third-party opportunity. Here’s a glaring example: anyone who has developed databases in FileMaker has probably had a love/hate relationship with the "Today" function, a tool which updates a calculation whenever a file is opened on a new date. Unfortunately, this updates all of the records upon launching the file, a process that can guarantee an early lunch hour if you’re working with a large number of records. FileMaker Pro 3.0 has a new function, Status(CurrentDate), which Claris representatives tout as the cure to the Today function blues. But they don’t show how to use it, and neither does the documentation, except as part of a script. So we have a major improvement with no documentation, either in the printed manual or the online help. (By the way, I have your documentation right here: just substitute "Status(CurrentDate)" for "Today" in your calculation. That’s it.) These functions should be cross-referenced in both places.

Fortunately, the CD-ROM version of FileMaker Pro 3.0 comes with many examples and templates which can be used as is or modified to your heart’s content. In addition, Claris does provide some online resources, and you can also take advantage of some outstanding examples uploaded to major online services by FileMaker gurus like Jeff Gagne and Bruce Robertson. I also heartily recommend Matt Petrowsky’s excellent free ISO FileMaker Pro online publication, written in and about FileMaker. [ISO stands for Interactive Support Online; Matt can be reached at <[email protected]>. -Geoff]


The biggest mistake Claris made with this release was not creating a Windows 3.x version. Claris seems to have bought into Microsoft’s hype and believed every Intel machine would be running Windows 95 by the time FileMaker Pro 3.0 came out. As we all know, it didn’t quite happen that way. Rumor has it Claris is working on rectifying this little miscalculation. In the meantime, I have client who can’t upgrade about 40 Macs because they share a FileMaker file over an AppleTalk network with two Windows machines.

In Conclusion — So, should you spring for the upgrade? Unless you share FileMaker files with Windows 3.x users, absolutely. You’ll get speed, flexibility, and a host of new features, all for minimal cost and effort. And should you ever decide to go relational or upgrade to a Power Mac, so much the better. After all, Aunt Millie’s cookbook is worth it!

[Claris has just released a FileMaker Pro 3.0v2 Updater, available for the U.S. version of FileMaker Pro. -Geoff]

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Claris Corporation — 800/544-8554 — 408/727-9054 (support)
<[email protected]>

Adam Engst No comments

Personal Web Publishing

I’ve heard the term "personal Web publishing" a couple of times recently, and it has started me thinking. I first heard it when Chuck "Mr. WebSTAR" Shotton was talking about where he thought the Web would go in the future. Chuck’s idea is that whereas Web servers now passively dole out information, in the future they might work in a more active mode, going out on the net and collecting information for you. In this mode, your personal Web server would essentially act as an agent, or "knowbot." It would be aware of your interests, work, and priorities, and automatically seek, select, and present relevant information to you. However, despite great promises, consumer level agent software at this time does little more than basic filtering.

I can’t remember when personal Web publishing came up the second time, nor can I remember who mentioned it. However, the context was that Web publishing is something everyone might want to do, and thus it might behoove Apple (or someone else) to provide simple, inexpensive Web server software that was utterly trivial to use. Imagine having a folder whose contents could be made available on the Web by flipping a switch in the Sharing Setup control panel.

The concept of personal Web publishing is powerful, and one which Tonya and I both utilize and promote. In particular, we’ve started using the Web to share our QuickTake photos with our far-flung set of close friends and relatives. In this way, we can immediately show off our Halloween jack-o-lanterns and Thanksgiving feasts to many more people than we’d ever find the time to send photos. These pages, like pages from a photo album, are not meant for general public consumption, although it’s not much of a problem if other people see them. (In fact, I set up a robots.txt file to prevent Web worms from indexing these pages – see the URL below for information on keeping Web indexing programs like WebCrawler and InfoSeek out of your personal pages.)

< robots.html>

Along with our personal experience, we’ve tried to promote personal Web publishing by adding a chapter about basic HTML to the third edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, and later turning that into Tonya’s stand-alone book, Create Your Own Home Page. But preaching about basic HTML and practicing what we preach can only go so far – let’s look at some of the problems that Apple or another developer could solve to make personal Web publishing a reality for anyone with a true Internet connection.

First, personal Web server software must have a small footprint and be inexpensive. WebSTAR, as good as it is, likes a significant amount of RAM and isn’t cheap. The same goes for InterCon’s InterServer Publisher and most of the rest of the commercial Web servers. Peter Lewis’s NetPresenz is cheap enough at $10, but in many ways it’s still too much tool for the job. I think personal Web server software should require no more than 500K of RAM, preferably less, and cost $25 to $50. The barriers must be low, and if we’re aiming at individuals, we have to assume minimal amounts of RAM and a desire for a low price.

Second, personal Web server software must be easy. I love the concept of creating a personal Web server by merely flipping a switch in the Sharing Setup control panel and then dropping files into a Web folder on your desktop. Consider the possibility of automatic translation, perhaps when files go into the folder. Automatic translation would require a technology like XTND and some seriously clever programming, but for basic pages and graphics it should be feasible. Once the pages are converted, a tool like PageMill (but perhaps one that made a better effort to not choose sides in the various HTML arguments) would probably be best for any editing the user wanted to do.

Third, but perhaps most importantly, we can’t assume average Macintosh users have direct Internet connections. To make a bad situation worse, modem connections often go through a dynamically addressed account, which means these users’ IP numbers change each time they connect. This effectively makes it impossible to connect to their personal Web server unless you know their current IP number. So, we need some way of permanently identifying personal servers whose IP numbers constantly change. One solution, used by Electric Magic’s NetPhone software, is to create a centralized location using specialized server software (called NetPub in the NetPhone world) at which a personal server registers its IP number when it comes online. That way, even if there’s no way of determining the IP number of the personal server each time, users can go to the NetPub location and check to see if the server you want is currently online.


But let’s take this further. What if a centralized NetPub/Web server could act as an intermediary between the personal Web server and the Web browser? Let’s use a phone analogy first, since it’s easier. Sam checks in at the NetPub to see if Mary’s online with NetPhone. She’s not, so he leaves a message. When Mary comes online and her NetPhone registers its presence with the NetPub, the NetPub server automatically delivers the message from Sam.

Now, take one step up to Web serving. Say Sam is using a normal Web browser and wants to look at some baby pictures that Mary has put in her personal Web server folder. She’s sent him the URL, so he knows where to go (or perhaps the NetPub/Web server knows all the URLs available on a personal Web server, if not the contents of those pages). Since she’s not online, her personal Web server can’t provide the files. But, just as in the phone message example, the NetPub/Web server would store Sam’s URL request, and when Mary comes online with her personal Web server, the NetPub/Web server would request the files and store them for Sam, making them available to him when he checks back in.

Needless to say, this is clumsier than it would be if Sam and Mary had dedicated Internet connections, but most people aren’t so lucky. Clumsy or not, the technique is effective and neatly circumvents the problem of non-dedicated connections with varying IP numbers.

To come full circle, if you think about the process I outlined above, you’ll realize that my hypothetical NetPub/Web server is acting much like Chuck Shotton’s hypothetical personal Web server, pretending to be you when you’re not there and later providing you with information it has collected. So perhaps the two ideas about personal Web publishing mentioned above are related and are possible with today’s technology. My impression is that the code necessary to create a basic Web server (no CGI support or anything fancy) is minimal – Peter Lewis said it only took him a couple of days to add it to FTPd. Thus, the primary task would be integrating such code into System 7’s Personal File Sharing or just making it sufficiently easy as a separate application. The NetPub/Web server would undoubtedly be a trick as well, but since it’s similar to a proxy server, it shouldn’t be a major development task either.

The point is that as software companies increasingly try to think of the Internet as a simple extension to their operating systems and applications, it only makes sense personal publishing and network services should be integrated as well. Given the inherently cross-platform nature of the Web, products like this could be extremely effective and powerful solutions for a wide variety of people. Also, let’s face it, all computer companies are going after the holy grail of the individual consumer, but to turn that individual into a customer when designing Internet products, companies must start to think of what the individual wants, needs, and can realistically afford.