This week’s issue is a particularly serious one: we bring news of a major Internet downsizing and of TidBITS being cited under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. We review FEdit Pro and a few new Netscape plug-ins, look into an announcement of a new Newton, investigate a report that Microsoft’s testers may strike, and take a look at the new Mac of the Month club.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
- The numbers “1” and “0”
Just try to digitize anything without us!
- Internet Brewing <[email protected]>
Cold microbrews for hot microcomputers! Check out our newsgroup
- Comet Hyakutake — <http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/comet/hyakutake/>
March-May 1996 Inner Solar System World Tour. Catch the coma!
- Wimpy’s Hamburgers — <[email protected]>
Now serving chicken sandwiches and garden burgers!
- WheelBITS: Deals on wheels for denizens of the net. <[email protected]>
Perot & Forbes to Buy Apple? In the wake of Apple’s recent financial difficulties, there has been rampant speculation that millionaire former presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Ross Perot may join forces to buy Apple Computer, perhaps to help launch a third-party presidential bid in the upcoming U.S. November elections. Although representatives declined to comment officially, spokespersons for both the Forbes and Perot camps noted that while Perot carried an estimated 19 percent of the U.S. electorate in the 1992 presidential election, the Macintosh represents a considerably larger slice of the Web-using public. “Although the correlation between Internet use and voting is not altogether clear,” one representative commented anonymously, “having control of such a popular Web authoring and serving platform makes a lot of sense.” Critics have charged that Perot and Forbes would resort to charlatan publicity tactics similar to Netscape’s “Netscape Now!” buttons wantonly displayed on Web sites, and that such tactics would ultimately backfire. However, Apple executives might be more interested in the possible infusion of cash into the company, regardless of the election outcome. [DG]
Give Back to AOL — A broad-based coalition of online groups has announced an Internet-wide program to thank commercial online service America Online for providing computer users with so many free disks and CD-ROMs. Last year in TidBITS-270, we reported how AOL’s disk distributions were in fact an effort to prevent Microsoft from cornering the world market for floppy disks. Since then, Windows 95 has been released, and although it has become common on new machines, upgrade sales have been sluggish, with a high rate of returns. AOL’s ploy proved unnecessary, but the computer community still wanted to thank AOL for its valiant efforts; hence the Give Back to AOL program, which encourages users to send their stacks of AOL floppies and CDs back to AOL for reuse. Organizers of the program say they understand that CDs can’t be reused, but note that “you can do some really neat decorating things with them.” [ECA]
Star Trek fans were thrilled when an engineering firm last year introduced a “real tricorder,” a handheld sensing device that records temperature, ambient light, barometric pressure, and electromagnetic radiation of a few kinds, but weren’t as thrilled with the $400 price tag. Soon Trekkies who already own a Newton MessagePad can add Tricorder MP, a $69 utility expected this month from Sir Isaac Software that takes advantage of the Newton’s infrared port and internal temperature sensor to scan the environment. [AHM]
My First C Compiler — Broderbund Software has announced a new addition to its award-winning children’s CD-ROM titles. “My First C Compiler” provides children ages 4 to 7 with a full, working ANSI C compiler with Macintosh Toolbox support, combined with a colorful interface and animated characters that take children through stages of designing their own applications. “If we want our kids to be competitive in tomorrow’s job market, we’ve got to get them coding today,” said project manager Cass Ibrary. Among My First C Compiler’s cast of characters are Robby Recursion (who helps toddlers design elegant code), Doctor Bracket (helps with syntax checking), and Guy CGI (who walks children through designing hit counters and Web-based discussion forums). “Remember, tomorrow’s Webmasters are watching Power Rangers today,” said Ibrary. “It’s best to get them thinking in these terms as early as possible.” My First C Compiler is expected to add support for Java, Perl, and C++ in the third quarter of this year. [DG]
Point of Presence Company Expands — Glenn Fleishman, CEO of Point of TidBITS host site Presence Company, announced today that the company plans to expand its business to additional dimensions. Fleishman said that in 1996 the company’s name will change to Line of Presence Company to reflect its focus on the second dimension. Further planned expansions will require a name change to Plane of Presence in 1997 and Volume of Presence in 1998, assuming the company is able to achieve its goal of expanding into the fourth dimension by then. In a related story, a disgruntled Point of Presence employee has left the company and started a rival, called Pointless Presence Company, that will help establish highly graphical Web presences for companies that have no business being on the Internet in the first place, like the international agribusiness concern Haulin Oats. [ECA]
Jeff Carlson <[email protected]> writes:
In an effort to preserve its market share by prolonging the lives of its users, Netscape today released a Sleep plug-in for use in Netscape Navigator. The demo is a huge download, but there’s a workaround for users with slow connections or who can’t wait for some shut-eye:
- put your face close to monitor so that screen takes up all your visible space
- push the power button on the monitor and wait for the image to fade from your burnt retinas
This workaround provides just basic functionality; if you want the dream module, you’ll need to download the software and manually move your eyeballs rapidly to simulate R.E.M. sleep (looping “Losing My Religion” in the background is not required for this build of the module, pending negotiations with Warner Brothers Records). Be forewarned the software is still in “preview beta” stage, and according to the ReadMe file it’s “barely stable, it probably won’t work, but download it anyway so we can justify our over-inflated stock price.”
Last week, TidBITS publisher Adam C. Engst, and TidBITS staff members Geoff Duncan and Tonya Engst were cited for the use of the phrase, “damn tootin'” in a TidBITS issue. The citation came after concerns that the phrase violated the indecency clauses in the recently passed Communications Decency Act.
The ACLU has already offered to pay all legal fees associated with the court case, and is optimistic of a successful verdict that will exonerate the TidBITS staff. Senator Exon, sponsor of the Communications Decency Act stated that he’s never read TidBITS, but said “the title alone leads me to believe that the publication should be banned. It’s only one character off from a lewd, lascivious, and titillating word, and that’s only the title. I can only imagine what filth may reside within.”
Allegedly, a group of 12 and 13-year old Girl Scouts had gathered for their weekly fix of “90210,” the popular prime time television soap opera, but started reading TidBITS-320 during the advertisements. The group began to speculate as to the various meanings of the phrase “damn tootin'” and reportedly went downhill fast from there, falling into an Internet-induced frenzy involving heavy intravenous drug use that almost led the girls to lives of prostitution.
Are you confused by the constant proliferation of new Macintosh models? Worse yet, do you suffer from Mac Envy, when three weeks after you get your new Mac a new model appears offering twice the features at half the price?
Your frustrations will be gone forever when you become a member of the Mac of the Month Club. Each month you will be sent the latest Mac model computer, printer, digital camera, or whatever! Try it out at your leisure. If you like it, keep it. If not, just return it. You simply agree to purchase just three Macintosh computers, printers, digital cameras, or scanners each year! We will automatically bill your MasterCard, Visa, American Express, or parents.
To start off your subscription as a charter member of the Mac of the Month Club, choose three of these great Macintosh classics for just $9.99:
The Mac Plus — It comes complete with floppy drive, System 4.2, MacPaint, MacDraw, MacWrite, and QuickDex! Won’t this tan beauty look great alongside your 8-track player and rotary telephone!
The ImageWriter — Shipped to you complete with 42 yards of perforated computer paper. Leave your ImageWriter turned on and printing when you leave home or office. Burglars will think you’re having a class reunion inside and steer clear! [Editor’s note: Apple only recommends use of the ImageWriter as a home security device for trips under two weeks – in that time the ImageWriter will either finish the document or jam, thus eliminating its utility as a security device. -Adam]
Floppies Galore — Two thousand pre-formatted 400K MFS floppy disks. They make great party coasters, mini-frisbees, or bathroom tiles!
Graphics Extravaganza! SuperPaint 1.0, FullPaint, Canvas 1.0, and PageMaker 1.0. Relive the days of the Desktop Publishing Revolution just like the early pioneers, in the comfort of your own home or office.
ThunderScan — It’s the scanner that pops into your ImageWriter just like a ribbon cartridge. Your kids will spend days spellbound by the sight of your stock certificates, magazine photos, and old love letters coming into view on your computer screen. You’ll be surprised and thrilled each time you turn on your computer and view these items as startup screens.
Send in your application today to the Mac of the Month Club. Membership is not available to residents of Cuba, certain Middle Eastern principalities, or planets currently at perihelion. A small charge for shipping and handling will be applied to all orders.
Netscape plug-ins are all the rage these days (see Jeff Carlson’s MailBIT above), stuffing multimedia features galore into the overburdened Netscape Navigator browser window. We’ve got Shockwave playing Director movies, Amber displaying PDF documents, and a host of QuickTime and PlainTalk plug-ins that only work on the Mac.
In all this multimedia fuss, a small group of students at Linkoping University in Sweden are fighting back with a new type of plug-in for Netscape. You know how Netscape is attempting to turn Navigator into an operating system in its own right? Well, the new WebCommando plug-in takes that one step further, providing a full Unix-based command-line interface within Netscape Navigator’s browser window.
Finally! Enough frothy movies and scratchy sounds! Now you can get back to basics with such long-time Unix favorites as ls and cd. Worried about Java applets deleting files? I’d worry more about accidently typing “rm *” in WebCommando. As an added bonus, WebCommando has a couple of Web-specific features. You can grep the contents of Yahoo and Alta Vista with it, and if you need to test a Web page, you can even run Lynx within WebCommando.
Pining for pine? Anxious for awk? Sighing for sed? WebCommando is the answer. Installation is a breeze – you just download the plug-in and put it in the plug-ins folder. Make sure Netscape Navigator has at least 32 MB allotted to it and that the disk cache is set to 80 MB, and launch Navigator. The requirements may seem a little steep, but remember that you’re running Unix, actually a variant of Linux, within Netscape Navigator.
Just weeks after the release of Apple’s latest MessagePad model, offering on-demand backlighting and on-the-fly orientation switching, sources at Apple have revealed that the company is poised to release a long-awaited larger tablet-sized model. The Newton LetterPad 200, slated for an 01-Apr-96 release, is about the size of a small portfolio and offers almost a standard sheet of paper worth of active screen surface.
As with the MessagePad 130, the LetterPad 200 is said to have a display that can be used with the backlighting on or off, and can be rotated and used in either a horizontal or vertical orientation. Unlike its handheld predecessor, the LetterPad 200 has all of its controls within the active screen area, so that such always-visible buttons as “Names,” “Dates,” and “Extras” can be rotated along with the display.
The LetterPad 200 features the latest low-power RISC processor from Advanced RISC Machines, Ltd, a 44 MHz ARM 640 chip that Apple hopes will let the Newton handwriting recognition technology keep up with a steady pace of notetaking during meetings or lectures. The deferred recognition feature introduced with the MessagePad 110 will still be available, but engineers expect the unit’s recognition pace will be so impressive that most users will disable the deferred recognition and allow the LetterPad to process handwriting as it goes along.
Rather than the flip-down plastic cover of recent models or the slipcase of the original Newton MessagePad, the Newton LetterPad 200, which will be about an inch thick, will come with a leather portfolio whose cover will have room for business cards and up to four PC Cards. (The system has two Type II PC Card slots side by side, so it will not support such thicker Type III cards as SyQuest’s removable cartridge drive.)
The most interesting new feature in the Newton LetterPad is a mode codenamed “Big Brother” that enables the wary executive to check up on what every other Newton user in the room is doing with his or her Newton. Gone are those unproductive meetings because the junior vice presidents are beaming love notes back and forth to one another, or because the CFO is playing Daleks again.
Answering a months-old criticism, Apple made the LetterPad 200’s infrared port compatible with both previous Newton technology and the IRTalk ports built into the PowerBook 5300 series. The infrared port remains capable of communicating with many consumer electronics devices, and Apple has bundled a universal remote application that can control almost any known infrared-capable device.
Final pricing had not been announced as of this writing, but the Newton development group expected the LetterPad 200 would debut between $900 and $1,100 depending on configuration. Since the form factor is completely different from existing Newton models, no upgrade will be possible through chip swaps or software installation, but Apple hopes to curry the favor (and reward the loyalty) of existing Newton owners by offering a trade-up credit to those looking to exchange a MessagePad for a LetterPad.
In a surprise announcement, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed last week that Microsoft has been in labor negotiations with its testing and quality assurance staff for some time. “We don’t believe the labor dispute has impacted the quality of our products, and we stand behind them one hundred percent,” the spokesperson said. “However, it’s true that negotiations have been underway for a few months.”
Whining in the Rain — TidBITS’s investigation reveals Microsoft’s spokesperson may have been putting a positive spin on the situation. “It all started back in 1993 when Microsoft took bottled Talking Rain out of the free soft drink coolers,” said one tester, who declined to give her name. Talking Rain is a brand of bottled water packaged and sold in the Pacific Northwest. After it was removed from the coolers, bottles of Talking Rain were only available for sale in Microsoft cafeterias in awkward one liter sizes. “I mean, it’s not like we can’t get water from other sources, but it’s the principle of the thing. Soft drinks, unlike software, should always be free.”
According to reports, the situation gradually deteriorated from there. Microsoft makes a variety of juices and beverages available for free to its employees, and apparently did make carbonated varieties of Talking Rain available in cans. But the testers would not be appeased. “You can’t put the top back on an aluminum can,” said one contract tester. “That basically means you can’t take your water to a meeting, or carry it down the hall without fear of spilling it. That’s a completely unacceptable working environment.” Not being able to put the top back on aluminum cans is believed to have cost Microsoft thousands of dollars in damaged keyboards alone. Further, the problem does not seem to be endemic to testers; at least one Microsoft program manager is routinely seen with dozens of half-finished cans of Talking Rain on her desk. With one spill, those cans could easily spell doom for her computer and irreplaceable files. Oddly, for a company of its size and sophistication, Microsoft provides no centralized data backup services, leaving most groups to fend for themselves or (more commonly) not back up their files at all. “Management is always telling us testers to work smarter,” complained one test lead. “Then they go and pull a no-brainer like that. Go figure.”
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk — Microsoft apparently began to negotiate in good faith with its testers, who initially agreed to stay on the job until the issue was resolved. “The salaries aren’t that important, but we didn’t want them to suspend our stock options. Some of us will be fully-vested soon!” But apparently testers were frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, brought on by a number of technical failures, and are now threatening a walk-out.
Negotiations are said to have broken down at one point due to problems with Microsoft’s internal email system, based on Microsoft Exchange. “We actually had to walk copies of proposed settlements around on floppies because the network could have taken days to deliver the documents,” noted one program manager. However, according to a negotiator for the testers, communications broke down later because the Word documents (with OLE attachments) became too large to fit on floppies. There are also unconfirmed reports that a Microsoft negotiator attempted to sabotage the talks by distributing a proposal infected with a Word macro virus. “They made it look like an accident, but you never know.”
Leaders of the testers say they will stage a walk-out on 01-Apr-96 if their demands are not met. “This has been going on for too long – we want to resolve it before the weather gets nice in the summer.” Microsoft declined to comment.
The Macintosh was treated to a blast from the past today, as startup Dogcow Software announced that it has acquired rights to the popular disk editor FEdit from its original developers. FEdit was the first powerful disk editor on the Macintosh, enabling users to modify disks at the lowest level, much like Norton Disk Editor can do today. Those of us who specialized in floppy disk repair back in the late 1980s remember FEdit fondly as one of our most useful disk repair utilities. However, despite its following, FEdit wasn’t updated and soon ceased to work on new Macs, such as the IIfx.
Bringing FEdit into the present proved difficult for Dogcow Software, not only because of the low level at which FEdit works, but also because the source code was lost in the serious San Francisco earthquake a few years ago. Lacking that source code, Dogcow Software opted to revitalize FEdit by writing a wrapper around it, insulating FEdit itself from the wildly different world of today’s Macs and Power Macs. Similar technology has been used in the past to bring back Atari 2600 video games and other video games that never ran on microcomputers, much less Macs. In FEdit’s case, though, Dogcow had to write what was essentially a complete emulator for the Macintosh Plus, complete with a fixed 9″ monochrome window.
However, that’s not the most interesting part of FEdit’s return. Dogcow Software’s Mac Plus emulator is highly extendable through a technology that Dogcow spokesman Rex Muefmann says is awaiting final patent approval. As an example of how the technology can be extended, Dogcow plans to ship FEdit, renamed FEdit Pro, with a module that enables it to take advantage of Open Transport to edit disks over AppleTalk and TCP/IP-based networks, including the Internet. Another module broadens FEdit Pro’s range to disk formats used by a variety of common operating systems, including DOS, OS/2, Windows NT, and a number of standard flavors of Unix.
“Just think of what this will do for tech support,” enthused Dogcow’s Muefmann. “Never again will a novice user be forced to walk through a highly technical bit of disk editing on their own.” Critics respond that FEdit Pro’s capabilities provide power beyond what should be put in the hands of the public. In fact, such power might explain an otherwise inexplicable act of online vandalism. For a period of two weeks that appears to have fallen within the time when FEdit Pro was tested, all postings in <alt.politics> that contained what are considered “obscene” four-letter words had their letters replaced with “Exon,” the name of the senator responsible in great part for the widely reviled Communications Decency Act.
“You have to admit, it’s a good explanation for sentences like ‘What the Exon does Representative Exon Armey think he’s doing in the Exon budget debate?’ appearing in alt.politics,” said Mike Goodwrench, legal counsel for an online advocacy group. Goodwrench and others point to the indiscriminate replacements of words that aren’t always considered indecent, and the strict character-for-character replacement that’s representative of brute-force disk editing as evidence pointing at FEdit Pro. When confronted with this logic, Dogcow’s Muefmann dismissed the allegations as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) started by competing companies. “You wait,” he said, “I’ll bet tomorrow Microsoft announces it’s been working on network-based disk editing for six months.”
When asked about FEdit Pro’s future, Muefmann said that Dogcow was working on adding color to the interface, along with support for QuickDraw 3D. “We understand that FEdit Pro’s interface isn’t one of the easiest ones to use these days, but we have some great ideas for how to make low-level disk editing the sort of thing that any kid who can play Nintendo can do. Because of this, support for QuickDraw 3D is definitely one of our strategic directions.” It’s safe to say that the industry will never be the same again.
Complaining of feeling increasingly “old and stodgy,” TidBITS publisher and Macintosh Internet maven Adam C. Engst announced today his plans to retire gracefully as part of the InterNIC’s recently announced downsizing plans. The InterNIC’s plan calls for the retirement of anyone who has been on the Internet for more than ten years, noting that “if one Internet year is like ten normal years, these users have consumed as many Internet resources as some third world countries. It’s time for them to step down and make way for newer users.” Adam will receive a lifetime supply of postage stamps from the U.S. Postal Service and a gold 100 MHz clock chip.
The downsizing is so broad in scope that Geoff Duncan, TidBITS Managing Editor, and Mark Anbinder, News Editor, are accepting voluntary retirement. Both Geoff and Mark will receive silver 66 MHz clock chips as thanks for their long service. Tonya Engst, the remaining staff member, has been laid off. As a result of these broad cuts, the last TidBITS issue will be sent out on 01-Apr-96. The issue will mark the end of the sixth consecutive year of TidBITS publication. InterNIC spokesman Charlie Cutenhack commented, “it’s sad to see resources like TidBITS swept away in the reorganization, but I anticipate the Internet users will enjoy a new era of reduced choices.”
Other publications in the Macintosh industry face similar problems. All members of the MacUser staff who have ever used the Web are being summarily laid off. MacSense, MacChat, and a number of other publications will cease publication by July, though rumors have it that MacWEEK is busily hiring summer interns who have never touched computers before, in hopes that those new interns can carry the torch for those who must retire.
The TidBITS staff will be banned from owning modems or using the Internet in any fashion for life, and they plan to donate much of their equipment to charity. They do not, however, intend to lead a retired life-style. Instead, they’ve decided to move on to the world of television. Staff members recently signed a contract to participate in a cartoon mini-series called Bit Buddies. The story will focus on a small group of twenty-something East-coasters who move to Seattle, meet a long-haired stranger from Nevada and – amidst a backdrop of spectacular scenery, drizzling rain, and ubiquitous espresso stands – wage battle against the forces of evil while attempting to learn how to pronounce “Nevada” correctly.
Scheduled guess appearances on the show include The Tick, Gil Amelio, and Kermit the Frog. Bit Buddies action figures will be released to complement the cartoon; the anatomically correct action figures will come complete with keyboards, although batteries will not be included. The Tonya figure will come with an optional accessory set that will include a miniature, bootable, PowerBook Duo and a trendy collection of clothing necessary for today’s digisavvy female action figure. The Geoff figure will include an optional guitar collection plus hair grooming accessories (cut off the Geoff figure’s hair, and the figure explodes). Information about the Adam and Mark figures has not yet been released, but toy industry experts anticipate the release of action figures of several other Macintosh celebrities, including well-known Internet Macintosh programmers Steve Dorner, Peter Lewis, and John Norstad.
Before starting serious work on Bit Buddies, though, the staff has more personal plans. Geoff hopes to head home to Nevada for the dedication of the Extraterrestrial Highway (formerly Nevada State Route 375). Adam plans to do work with General Mills on a new breakfast cereal called “TidBITS” that will be market-linked to Bit Buddies, and Tonya has signed a deal to work with Apple Computer to create a line of Macintosh-related home decorating materials, such as sheets, wallpaper, and bathroom tiles. Mark has not yet announced his plans, but rumor has it he in negotiations for a part in the next Star Trek movie as an exceedingly polite alien.