Attending Macworld Expo? Find out where you can meet us at the show. The Expo should be exciting, in no small part due to the rate at which Macintosh developers are churning out cool products. In particular, we bring you an overview of LiveCard, a product that puts HyperCard stacks up on the Web, plus news on the latest CyberDog and a rejuvenated Wingz. We also talk about a number of additional new releases this week, including detailed coverage of QuickTime 2.5.
We plan to test our ListSTAR-based mailing list for TidBITS in the next week (and we’ll be sending the next DealBITS issue out a few days early for testing purposes), so don’t worry (and please don’t respond) if you get a test message from us. Also, although the new subscription address at <[email protected]> is now functional, please don’t use it if you’re already on the current list that we’re moving from LISTSERV to ListSTAR. We will try to eliminate duplicates, but the fewer the better. [ACE]
Expo Expectations — Macworld Expo in Boston begins on Wednesday, 07-Aug-96, and will continue through 10-Aug-96. Adam and I will be attending, but only for two days, so we’ll be doing a whirlwind tour. If you’d like to meet us, Adam will be signing the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh at the Macmillan booth on Thursday, 08-Aug-96, from 11 AM to 1 PM, and I’ll probably be there too (you need not buy a book in order to stop by and say hello!). MHA Event Management has put up a Web site for the show that lists all the exhibitors (though it regrettably does not provide booth information for exhibitors). It also has lots of pricing and scheduling information. Although I haven’t personally downloaded it, Newton users attending the show from out of town might want to check out Brian Ogilvie’s freeware, Newton-based map of the Boston T (subway). [TJE]
Internet Explorer 2.1b1 — Microsoft has released its first public beta of Internet Explorer 2.1 for Macintosh. This new release supports Netscape frames (but not floating frames), offers much improved History and Favorites listings, has expanded preferences (including the welcome ability to turn off frames and plug-ins), and comes with built-in support for QuickTime VR movies. Internet Explorer 2.1b1 is available in PowerPC, 68K, and fat binary versions from Microsoft’s Web site. Oh, and the annoying "Homage to Windows 95" animated logo is finally gone! [GD]
CyberDog 1.1 Beta — Just in time to fuel the OpenDoc fires at Macworld Expo next week, Apple has released a beta of CyberDog 1.1, this time for both 68K and PowerPC Macs. Apple is quick to point out that this is a beta with known problems, but the release also features AppleTalk browsing, numerous interface changes (including reverting OpenDoc’s Document menu back to File), improvements to DocBuilder, and a unifying CyberDog application that launches all CyberDog documents in one session. The release weighs in at about 3.5 MB; please note CyberDog 1.1 requires OpenDoc 1.1 (which offers a number of speed improvements and weighs in at about 2.8 MB). [GD]
PWS now Web for One — ResNova has renamed its personal Web server mentioned in TidBITS-337 from PWS to Web for One (apparently due to trademark issues), and made a new pre-release version available. Based on my early impressions, Web for One may be the easiest way to put up a few Web pages using a Mac Web server, although it currently requires a dedicated IP number. ResNova is investigating solutions to that problem for future versions. (Individuals who might want a personal Web server very well may not have a dedicated IP number – most Internet providers provide dynamic IP numbers for dialup connections.) [ACE]
EvangeList Expands Web Presence — Guy Kawasaki’s 30,000-person EvangeList, a high-volume mailing list carrying Apple propaganda for the Macintosh faithful, now has its own full Web site (a number of other Web sites carried selections from EvangeList or provided search tools). The site is hosted by the new MacAddict magazine and looks like it will be a useful resource because the postings are nicely organized by category and sorted by date. I recommend that you take a look, especially if you’re feeling depressed about Apple or need information to back up the standard Mac versus PC arguments. [ACE]
Spreading Its Wingz — Remember Wingz, that spreadsheet from 1991 that looked like a real competitor to Excel and eventually became Claris Resolve? Wingz is on its way back to the Macintosh, and Investment Intelligence Systems has made a public beta of Wingz 2.1.1b8 available on their Web site. The beta features a rebuilt interface along with new charting and analytical capabilities, and Investment Intelligence will be showing Wingz and HyperScript Tools (a multi-platform visual programming environment) at Macworld Expo next week. [GD]
As the North American summer heats up, so does the competition in the Macintosh Web authoring market. Although Adobe is working hard to release PageMill 2.0 and maintain its lead, the rest of the pack is running close at Adobe’s heels, and Adobe may have trouble maintaining the position it won early with PageMill 1.0
Tapestry 2.0, a Web authoring program that will eventually compete directly with the likes of PageMill 2.0, is on track for release this week on 31-Jul-96. Concept 1 Communications will ship Tapestry as a beta 1 version, though a Concept 1 representative assured me that the program will be stable and of shipping quality. What’s missing is all the features they’d like to include, and they plan to phase in those features in the coming months in a series of seven beta releases. Registered users will be able to access new beta versions at no extra charge. New features in beta 1 include tables, a 12-level undo, and a Find and Replace that can search just one document or one document plus all local documents linked to that document. You can download a demo version from the Concept 1 Web site, starting on 31-Jul-96, and I hope to review Tapestry here in TidBITS shortly.
I’d like to see Concept 1 not release the product as a series of seven betas but instead to release 2.0 on its own merits and then release additional versions as 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and so on. A beta product by definition is one that still has bugs and is not of shipping quality. Changing that definition confuses users. Many products now come with subscriptions so that registered users can freely receive updates over a period of time; for instance, early adopters will find it cheaper to purchase an annual subscription to Netscape Navigator Gold 3.0 (which is due to ship in August) than to purchase the product without the subscription.
Akimbo Systems, publishers of FullWrite, recently announced Globetrotter. I hate to characterize Globetrotter before having played with it extensively, but it supports a great deal of HTML tags and options, and takes a site-centric point of view. Globetrotter takes the stance that users shouldn’t even much think about how the objects and styles in their documents relate to HTML. Apparently, you just create a document and Globetrotter does the rest; when you are ready to publish, you might choose Print from the File menu or you might choose Publish Web Pages from the File menu. Akimbo is planning a "third quarter" release for Globetrotter.
As many HTML aficionados know, a number of new Web authoring programs should ship in the near future; we’ll have more coverage and reviews as these programs ship and become available. In particular, based on email I received last week, excitement is running high over Claris Home Page, which is currently in public beta. To chat more about Home Page, you can join the official Claris Home Page Talk list, run by Blue World Communications, the same company that runs the PageMill-Talk list.
One of the most frequently-posted questions in HyperCard mailing lists and discussion groups has been "How can I publish my HyperCard stack on the Web?" Back in TidBITS-310, Adam and I hinted at a product we’d seen privately at the January Macworld Expo in San Francisco that could do the trick, and the veil has finally been lifted. Today Royal Software (recent purchasers of Heizer Software) announced LiveCard, the first product to bear the Royal Software name. With any luck LiveCard will let HyperCard users and developers look at the Web in a whole new way.
LiveCard is a bidirectional gateway between a HyperCard stack and a Macintosh Web server. Largely the brain-child of Eric Oesterle, a long-time HyperCard and multimedia guru, LiveCard publishes HyperCard stacks directly on the Web, using the HyperCard application as a CGI (Common Gateway Interface) – just drop the stacks into your server folder, and LiveCard does the rest. LiveCard does not require a browser plug-in – realistically, all a user needs is a browser that can display HTML forms and JPEG graphics.
Using HyperCard or another Mac scripting system as a CGI engine is nothing new – HyperCard, Frontier, and AppleScript users and others have been doing it since the earliest days of Mac-based Web servers. What’s new about LiveCard is its ability to put HyperCard content directly on the Web without modification.
LiveCard works by generating a JPEG graphic of a card’s display, along with a textual representation of the card’s content, including converting HyperCard interface object (like buttons and fields) to HTML text and form elements. (These can be toggled by the user or the stack: it makes no sense for some stacks to display a graphic; conversely, it makes no sense for some stacks to display textual content.) In theory, there’s no need to modify a stack or its scripts in order to work with LiveCard, although some stacks will work better than others (see below). LiveCard itself provides Web users basic navigation and searching features common to HyperCard, and LiveCard users should be able to use many navigation tools built-into HyperCard stacks by pointing and clicking. LiveCard also provides for custom HTML headers and footers to add additional content or functionality.
What’s more, LiveCard is a two-way street: users can add, modify, and remove data in HyperCard stacks via the Web without using HyperCard, the HyperCard Player, or even a Macintosh. For instance, a site could make a selection of movie reviews in a HyperCard stack available via the Web, and collect and process user comments and feedback in real time. Data from users is stored directly in HyperCard, and is immediately accessible and searchable. This sort of functionality makes LiveCard a natural for easy-to-build Web-based chat areas, online ordering systems (complete with shopping baskets), product testing and bug databases, remote printing, email, fax services, and much more – all with little or no knowledge of HTML or CGIs. Since so many extensions exist for HyperCard in the form of XCMDs, XFCNs, custom scripts, and whatnot, a little HyperTalk expertise can extend LiveCard into truly surprising areas. For instance, I once developed a HyperCard-based editorial and advertising control system for a regional newspaper. Using LiveCard, it would be trivial to put that particular system on the Web and make it accessible to writers, editors, and art directors all around the world.
LiveCard is not a universal solution for putting every HyperCard stack on the Web – LiveCard is primarily about getting information stored in HyperCard onto the Web and back again, and is most suited to stacks that use HyperCard’s card metaphor to store and manage data. Stacks that rely on heavily on custom interactivity, sound, animations, or try to follow an interface model of a standard Macintosh application may require significant tweaking to work with LiveCard, and some probably won’t be usable at all (such as HyperCard-based games). This isn’t to slight LiveCard; frankly, until QuickTime 3.0 and HyperCard 3.0 are available, that kind of direct interaction with dynamic stack elements won’t be possible. Also, because LiveCard requires a Macintosh Web server, it isn’t useful for HyperCard aficionados who have dial-up Internet access or who don’t have access to a Mac Web server, although I’m very curious to find out if LiveCard works with Web For One (see above).
And LiveCard isn’t perfect: for instance, the HTML it generates can be rather unusual, and some users will find what they perceive as massive shortcomings in the product – for instance, there’s no way for LiveCard to create HTML anchors for HyperCard’s grouped text style, because HyperCard itself provides no standard functionality for this feature. Experienced HyperCard developers will recognize that most of LiveCard’s omissions are more-or-less unavoidable, and since LiveCard is HyperCard-based, most of them can be worked around in specific cases (including generating HTML anchors for grouped text). Also, unlike Frontier, HyperCard is not multi-threaded or particularly speedy; even though a respectable Mac Web server can handle several simultaneous LiveCard users without much trouble, LiveCard is not suited to enormous loads.
Nonetheless, LiveCard is compelling because it will let countless users and businesses put HyperCard-based data on the Web with a minimum of fuss. What I find most interesting, however, is that LiveCard is a great example of a gateway application for the Web. Gateway applications were a big part of the Web’s original vision: the whole idea behind the Web was to tie together disparate sources of information, such as databases and help systems, that already existed online. Products like LiveCard continue to prove the original gateway concept is very much worth pursuing.
LiveCard will be available beginning at Macworld Expo at a special show price of $49.95. For thirty days after the show, LiveCard will be available for $99.95, and thereafter will cost $149.95. It requires HyperCard 2.2 or better and access to a Macintosh Web server.
[By the way, 29-Jul-96 happens to be Eric Oesterle’s birthday as well as LiveCard’s announcement date. Happy birthday, Eric!]
Royal Software — 800/888-7667 — 813/581-6422
813/559-0614 (fax) — <[email protected]>
When Apple introduced QuickTime back in 1991, it was the ultimate in gee-whiz technology. Before QuickTime, no one seriously thought about digital video on the Macintosh: the idea that comparatively lowly Macs could play back digital video even at postage-stamp sizes was considered impossible, and that digital video would become a data type like text or graphics in the minds of most users was unthinkable.
But it happened. Not only did Apple deliver with QuickTime 1.0 all those years ago, but they’ve continued to improve and refine QuickTime, moving it progressively toward the center of their operating system and expanding it to include all time-based media (video, sound, and otherwise) on the Macintosh. And QuickTime has more or less set the standard for digital video under Windows, due in no small part to the Mac’s dominance of the multimedia development world. With QuickTime 2.5, Apple adds some new features and tries to further legitimize QuickTime in the world of high-end digital video.
What’s New in QuickTime 2.5 — QuickTime 2.5 adds new features that are useful to both digital media producers and the average Macintosh user:
- Speed: First and foremost, QuickTime 2.5 is considerably faster than its predecessors, and the performance improvements extend from high-end Power Macs all the way down to low-end 68030-based machines. Although some sources claim improvements from 25 to 200 percent, my (admittedly incomplete) testing on a range of 68K and PowerPC Macs showed improvements in the 25 to 50 percent range for typical QuickTime uses.
- More native code: Power Mac owners will appreciate that portions of the Component Manager (originally introduced with QuickTime 1.5, then later rolled into the system) are PowerPC native. This not only helps QuickTime perform better, but also helps other system components like the Sound Manager, AppleScript, ColorSync and QuickDraw GX.
- New File Formats: QuickTime now allows QuickTime-aware applications to support a variety of graphic file formats transparently, including GIF, Silicon Graphics, and (notably) Adobe Photoshop. If you want proof, try opening a Photoshop document in SimpleText after installing QuickTime 2.5.
- Expanded CD AutoPlay: QuickTime 2.5 can now start audio CDs and some Macintosh CD-ROMs immediately when they’re inserted into a CD-ROM drive. CD-ROMs must be specifically designed to use CD-ROM AutoPlay, and to the best of my knowledge not many do, although I suspect support is more prevalent among children’s CD-ROMs. You can turn off AutoPlay using the QuickTime Settings control panel.
- Enhanced MIDI Capability. QuickTime’s MIDI support is significantly improved, providing CD-quality sound, and (although I haven’t been able to confirm that it’s actually there), QuickTime 2.5 is supposed to have a public API for the QuickTime Music Instruments format, enabling developers to add and use their own QuickTime MIDI instruments in programs such as MIDI sequencers and composition programs. Also for the first time, QuickTime can route MIDI to external devices using Apple’s MIDI Manager or third-party tools like Opcode’s Open Music System (OMS), or Mark Of The Unicorn’s FreeMIDI system. Another, ahem, MIDI-related "feature" is the ability to play MIDI karaoke files, which play a tune and show you the lyrics at the same time. Don’t try this in public unless you enjoy humiliation more than we do.
- New versions of old components: QuickTime 2.5 includes new versions of the Sound Control panel, Sound Manager (3.2.1), MoviePlayer, and QuickTime Musical Instruments.
- QuickTime Settings control panel. QuickTime 2.5 includes a QuickTime Settings control panel, which allows users to control aspects of QuickTime’s AutoPlay and Music settings. Unfortunately, most users probably won’t think to look at a QuickTime control panel to control these aspects of their Macintosh, let alone to control the behavior of their CD-ROM drive. Although I’d prefer to see these controls integrated in more appropriate places, at least Apple is enabling users to toggle these settings.
- Codec Improvements: In case you were wondering, codec stands for "compressor-decompressor" – the word shares a similar etymology to modem, which comes from "modulator-demodulator." QuickTime has long provided support for multiple codecs from different vendors and different purposes, and QuickTime 2.5 now includes asynchronous JPEG and Raw codecs for Power Macs and API-level codec extensions for manipulating multiple video fields (primarily of interest to high-end application developers and producers). QuickTime’s codecs also support computers with multiple processors.
- Other improvements: The improvements list continues with integrated support for QuickDraw 3D (so 3-D modeling applications can export resolution-independent 3-D movies in the future), support for PCI hardware acceleration, improved text handling (including capturing close-captioned text into QuickTime’s text track – it’s now possible to create transcripts from captured close-captioned video), alpha channel support, and a new Clock component that improves synchronization of sound, video, and other elements.
MPEG & M-JPEG Confusion — If you’ve been paying attention to digital video during the last year, you’ve probably heard of MPEG, a digital video format that’s being widely adopted and promises high playback rates with quality similar to a video cassette recorder. At the moment, MPEG isn’t a big deal for typical computer users because there’s comparatively little MPEG content available and because the MPEG format is CPU-intensive. Playing back MPEG video requires a fair bit of processing power, and most of today’s consumer-level machines can’t do it easily, especially at full-screen (640 by 480) sizes. A common solution has been to ease processor loads by using add-in boards dedicated to MPEG playback (like Apple’s MPEG system available for some Performas and Power Macs), but it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that a software-only solution is preferable. Since many forthcoming digital television technologies are based on MPEG, you can expect MPEG technologies to blossom in the near future.
Contrary to a number of published articles, QuickTime 2.5 does not include software-only MPEG support, although basic internal support for MPEG playback has been present since QuickTime 2.0 (see TidBITS-294). According to current information, Apple will release an MPEG extension to QuickTime to enable QuickTime to handle MPEG movies on its own; in the meantime, the premiere MPEG player for the Mac continues to be Maynard Handley’s Sparkle. Maynard works for Apple now and he’s helping work MPEG support into QuickTime; however, Sparkle is no longer being maintained and reportedly has problems under System 7.5.2 and higher, although I’ve never encountered any difficulties.
As part of Apple’s effort to further legitimize QuickTime at the high end of the digital video world, however, QuickTime 2.5 includes much-hyped support for a "universal" M-JPEG format. M-JPEG is a video format used in high-end video capturing and editing systems; unlike MPEG, it retains information about every frame of a movie (rather than interpolating between keyframes), which makes it more suited to high-end production. Unfortunately, every M-JPEG format has until now been proprietary and non-interchangeable. QuickTime 2.5 will enable high-end video people to exchange and work more easily with M-JPEG video – provided hardware vendors adopt Apple’s new formats. The bottom line is that QuickTime 2.5’s M-JPEG technology might be great for high-end video producers (and maybe a feather in Apple’s cap), but doesn’t mean much for end-users directly.
What Else? Apple took a slightly new route with QuickTime 2.5 by publicly making pre-release versions available to developers and serious QuickTime users. Although these beta releases were slightly marred by the distribution becoming too public, I applaud Apple for providing fast and thorough response to questions and bug reports during the pre-release period, and also for fixing a number of outstanding bugs.
The next step for QuickTime is version 3.0, which will enable QuickTime authors to build interactivity and a wealth of functionality into their movies – functionality which will also serve as the foundation for HyperCard 3.0 (see TidBITS-329). Apple is taking QuickTime very seriously and considers it one of the company’s core technologies. Apple’s new organization scheme places QuickTime under "Alternative Platforms," and the company has already announced QuickTime IC (Image Capture), which is an entire QuickTime-based operating system for digital cameras. Apple has been demonstrating its commitment to QuickTime in other areas, including Netscape plug-ins for QuickTime and QuickTime VR, and enhancements to QuickTime Conferencing. In short, QuickTime’s future looks bright, as long as Apple can manage to integrate QuickTime’s media capabilities seamlessly into the Mac OS and other operating systems.
Where To Get It — QuickTime 2.5 is available for free from Apple. QuickTime 2.5 requires System 6.0.7 or higher, but some features of QuickTime only work on later versions of the Mac OS.
Two versions of QuickTime are available from the Web site above: a 2.7 MB all-in-one install, and a version with two floppy disk images. Choose the one that’s most appropriate for you (the FTP site only carries the disk images).
If you’d like to learn more about QuickTime and digital video, be sure to check out Charles Wiltgen’s QuickTime FAQ, available in Acrobat PDF format at the URL below. (Charles works for Apple now, but the FAQ is not an official Apple document.)