This issue of TidBITS goes straight for your synapses, with essays on whether Apple and Be have a future together and the increasing complexities involved in maintaining a Mac. Adam weighs in with a glowing review of Web Ninja, Tonya writes about the new sixth edition of the Macintosh Bible, and we bring you news about Internet Config 1.3, Netscape Navigator for Cyberdog, OpenDoc 1.1, and numerous personal Web servers.
In the U.S., it’s Labor Day, which most people here celebrate by not working, and I certainly hope they’re enjoying themselves. We’ve sided with the rest of the world by painting the storm-battered trim on our house, releasing DealBITS, and publishing TidBITS. Speaking of TidBITS, last week’s mailing list distribution of the TidBITS issue went well, and we’re continuing to refine our tools and techniques. Please note that we’ve turned off the TidBITS list at the Rice University LISTSERV, which means that anyone who tries to subscribe via our old method will receive an error message. Please help spread the word far and wide that the way people subscribe to TidBITS is by sending email to <[email protected]>. [ACE]
Internet Config 1.3 — Peter Lewis and Quinn have released Internet Config 1.3, their public domain Internet Configuration System that centralizes a number of your Internet preferences, such as your email address and preferred Web browser. New in Internet Config 1.3, along with a few bug fixes, are windows for the World Wide Web, where you can set your home page and background color, and for Firewalls, where you set all sorts of firewall and proxy settings. It’s worth picking up a copy of Internet Config 1.3 at some point, but users of 1.2 aren’t missing out on any amazing functionality. Look for Internet Config to appear on Info-Mac mirror sites in a day or two – it was just uploaded Monday. In the meantime, it’s available at the URL below. [ACE]
Netscape Navigator for Cyberdog — Following through on public musings, Apple and Netscape jointly announced last week that Netscape plans to develop a new version of Netscape Navigator that supports Cyberdog and OpenDoc, and (perhaps more significantly) that Apple will distribute as Cyberdog’s default Web browser and as part of the Mac OS. Netscape has not announced a date for the release, but I don’t expect to see Netscape Navigator for Cyberdog until the second quarter of 1997. Industry opinion seems split over the announcement; some see Netscape trying to secure another beachhead against Microsoft’s Internet efforts, and some welcome the idea of an advanced OpenDoc Web browser. Still others are disappointed Apple failed to find an alternative to the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choices involved in using either Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. [GD]
OpenDoc 1.1 Available — As of late last week, Apple has made the final version of OpenDoc 1.1 freely available. Unless you’re a developer or one of the brave few already building your life around OpenDoc parts (now called Live Objects), version 1.1 is primarily useful for bug fixes and for running Cyberdog 1.1b3, also available for free from Apple. The download is about 3 MB. Please note that there’s a special version for users of some older Mac models; see the Web page for details. [GD]
Personal Server Wars — The battle for putting a low-end Web server on your desktop is heating up. In addition to ResNova’s Web for One (see TidBITS-337) and rumors of Apple’s plans to build a Web server based on Maxum’s RushHour into the Mac OS, Quarterdeck has released a beta of Personal WebSTAR, a personal Web server based on its popular WebSTAR server software. Personal WebSTAR has reduced administrative and logging features, but offers easy configuration via the System 7 Users & Groups control panel and support for WebSTAR server-side plug-ins. Personal WebSTAR does not support CGI applications, and is limited to about two simultaneous users. If you’re interested, Quarterdeck requests that beta testers of Personal WebSTAR subscribe to a beta discussion list.
If you’re looking for a free alternative to commercial Mac Web servers, it might be worth investigating Chris Hawk’s program, called WebCenter. Although currently in an alpha release, WebCenter has received some good comments from Macintosh webmasters, despite recently having to (at least temporarily) remove support for WebSTAR plug-ins (which Quarterdeck contends is a proprietary technology). [GD]
Prompted by a report last week in the Wall Street Journal, rumors are flying through the Macintosh world that Apple Computer is negotiating with Be, Inc., and possibly pursuing the BeOS as a replacement for Apple’s Mac OS 8.
Be, Inc., headed by former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee, introduced the PowerPC-based BeBox computer in October of 1995. One of the BeBox’s main attractions is its PowerPC-native, fully-threaded, and multi-processor savvy operating system (see TidBITS-298). More recently, Be demonstrated a version of the BeOS for Power Macintosh at Macworld Expo in Boston, running on Power Computing hardware.
Although sources from both companies have denied that any sort of offer had been made by Apple, speculation has been rampant as to whether Apple intends to replace the oft-delayed Mac OS 8 with an operating system based on the BeOS. Among other things, such an operating system would be fully PowerPC-native, multi-threaded, support multiple processors, and provide preemptive multitasking – all features that have been fingered as engineering hurdles contributing to the delay of Mac OS 8. Further, such an operating system would feature a system-level database, along with high bandwidth data streams between applications and a clean programming interface, devoid of a more than a decade of legacy code, patches, and updates.
I can’t claim to have any inside track on what might be happening between Apple and Be, but it’s unlikely that Apple is pursuing the BeOS as a technological leg-up on the way to Copland. Contrary to some published opinions, such a task wouldn’t be as simple as slapping a Macintosh interface on top of the BeOS, putting a "Made in Cupertino" sticker on the package, and calling it Mac OS 8.
First of all, it’s important to remember BeOS wasn’t designed to run any pre-existing software, whether for the Macintosh, Windows, or for Unix. That means every Macintosh application would need to be re-written to run "natively" under a Be-based operating system. There are technological possibilities, such as building a "System 7.5 virtual machine" for the BeOS that would run current Macintosh applications (and system software) in emulation. However, such options for the BeOS are untried, challenging, and fraught with performance considerations. In fact, finishing Apple’s Mac OS 8 (which already has years of design and engineering effort behind it) seems simpler in comparison. With the transition to the Power Macintosh, Apple demonstrated what a tremendous issue backward compatibility is for the Macintosh world. It’s worth remembering that Apple has been designing Mac OS 8 with backward compatibility in mind; the design of the BeOS explicitly threw backward compatibility out the window.
(Developers will note that Apple’s Mac OS 8 – when complete – will also require applications to be substantially rewritten to take advantage of the new operating system’s features and services. At that point, existing applications will run in a "blue box" that essentially lets those applications act as if they’re running on a System 7.x system.)
Second, it’s equally important to note that Be is still developing the BeOS, and the operating system hasn’t had the years of industry burn-in that have contributed to the development of Windows, OS/2, the Mac OS, various flavors of Unix, and other operating systems. It’s entirely possible – even certain – that the BeOS contains technological gotchas. Because the BeOS has fewer legacy issues than other operating systems, correcting these problems should be simple in comparison, but it would be unwise for Apple to volunteer itself, its developers, or its customers for ferreting out unanticipated problems in the BeOS.
However, all this doesn’t mean Apple doesn’t have an interest the success of Be and the BeOS. From the start, Be has stated that it intends to port its operating system to other platforms, and those plans currently include PCI Power Macintoshes based on PowerPC 603 or 604 CPUs, as well as future PowerPC Platform (PPCP) machines from Apple, IBM, and other vendors. Like Apple’s efforts with MkLinux, there can be no doubt that Apple would benefit if the BeOS were to become a viable operating system option for Macintosh owners – particularly for power users working in video, audio, and other high-bandwidth arenas that are hurt by delays in Mac OS 8. If developers come through with compelling, unique applications for the BeOS, the argument only gets stronger. And it’s no secret that Be would benefit if, say, the BeOS were bundled with every high-end Power Macintosh and future PPCP-complaint Mac from Apple and other Macintosh vendors, like Power Computing and (soon) Motorola.
That said, Be can also benefit from Apple technologies: QuickTime would be a great addition to the BeOS, and Be would no doubt love to shake hands on a commitment from Apple to develop a Macintosh Application Environment (MAE) for Be, which would let the BeOS run many Macintosh applications.
So, I’m not surprised to learn of Be and Apple spending quality time together; however, rumors that Apple is looking to the BeOS as a ready-made replacement for Mac OS 8 should be taken with a grain of salt. The two companies have more substantive issues to talk about.
Peachpit Press recently released the sixth edition of the Macintosh Bible (ISBN 0-201-88636-7), and this version continue’s the book’s ten-year tradition of providing a friendly guide to the Macintosh universe. Edited by Jeremy Judson along with a distinguished crew of Macintosh writers, the new edition adds a thoughtful chapter about setting up a Macintosh-based home office as well as a chapter about the Internet, including general pointers for how to get online, bare bones instructions for creating a Web page, and excellent suggestions for client applications to use as you venture online.
The fifth edition, which I reviewed in TidBITS-269, was a disappointment. The layout seemed dull, the text slightly fluffy, and the content decidedly lacking in Internet-related topics. The layout in this new version isn’t much different in terms of elements and design decisions, but a few critical changes – primarily a new font and a new hot tip icon – add more visual excitement. More important, the text of the sixth edition no longer feels lightweight, and it has more personality. Additional personal touches include signatures at the end of each editors’ biography, and occasional highlighted sections that showcase editors’ answers to questions like, "What are your favorite games?" and "What makes a Mac a Mac?"
The Macintosh Bible continues to convey information with a slightly irreverent tone. For instance, the section about WordPerfect relates that, "WordPerfect is subtle techno-jazz to Microsoft Word’s in-your-face baroque." Another section reads, "Let me be blunt. There’s not a good grammar checker available anywhere yet."
The Macintosh Bible, as always, acts as an excellent general reference, and strikes me as particularly useful for three types of people:
- Novice Macintosh users who aren’t intimidated by thousand-page books.
- Those who require specifications for older Macintosh hardware, or who desire a high degree of familiarity with which bits of Apple software could potentially end up in the System Folder (and what to do about them).
- Macintosh enthusiasts who need a good overview of what to expect and seek out from different software and hardware categories, such as word processors, contact managers, input devices, and monitors.
I predict that the sixth edition of the Macintosh Bible will be another best seller, not just because of its reputation, but also because of its merit. The sixth edition lists for $29.95 U.S.
Peachpit — 800/283-9444 — 510/548-4393 — 510/548-5991 (fax)
No, it’s not a badly dubbed karate flick. Web Ninja is a little utility written by Bill Tudor and distributed as a MacUser Exclusive, which means it’s free, but can only be downloaded from MacUser’s Web site.
I’ve looked at almost every bookmark manager available on the Web (see the four-part series of reviews beginning in TidBITS-323), and although Web Ninja offers some of the same kind of functionality, it’s not precisely a bookmark manager. Instead, it watches where you go on the Web in the background (assuming you use Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or Spyglass Mosaic), and records your path. Even this isn’t an entirely new feature; several other bookmark managers offer record modes.
Yet Web Ninja is a bit different. First off, it’s a complete no-brainer. You drop a faceless background application in your Extensions folder and forget about it. You don’t have to turn anything on or launch any special applications for it to work its magic, nor do you have to decide what you want to record. It captures every Web and FTP URL you visit using a Web browser, and if you have more than one browser window open at a time, it captures the URLs in each. It can’t capture URLs from multiple Web browsers at the same time, if you’re running several simultaneously, which I do on occasion. If you visit the same URL more than once, Web Ninja merely increments a counter rather than recording the entire URL again.
That’s the data collection part of Web Ninja, and it’s performed that task well for me. Then comes the Web Ninja application, which provides access to the collection of URLs. It lists URLs you’ve visited and enables you to sort the list by URL, by number of visits, by date of last visit, and by the amount of time you’ve spent at the site. Double-clicking on a URL (or dragging it to the browser window) sends it to your preferred Web browser and resolves it. I enjoy sorting by number of visits, although it’s not tremendously useful since it mainly tells me that I go to Alta Vista, my home page, and sites that I’m writing about for some article – as if I didn’t know that. Most Web pages I visit once and only once. Similarly, the date of last visit and time spent at the site aren’t terribly useful to me, especially since I don’t shut my Mac off all that often and I tend to leave my Web browser running, which means that Web Ninja thinks I’ve spent hours perusing some Web sites when in fact my monitors were off and both me and my Mac were resting quietly.
You can also export your list of URLs as an HTML file or as a tab-delimited data file, should you think of some need to perform either of those tasks. New in the 1.0.4 release of Web Ninja is a command to empty your log file, although I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to do that, since your log file increases in value as it grows.
More interestingly, you can drag URLs from Web Ninja’s list to an Items to Download window, and when you click the Download button in that window, Web Ninja will try up to a user-specified number of times to retrieve those URLs. Web Ninja supports both Web and FTP URLs, so it could be a good way of breaking through a busy site, but since it only retrieves the HTML part of a Web page (not graphics), it doesn’t compete with a utility like WebWhacker from the Forefront Group, which can download an entire Web page, complete with graphics and fixed links.
All this is nice, but the killer feature in Web Ninja is its filter field. Type a couple of characters in that field and Web Ninja quickly narrows the list of URLs to those that contain the characters you typed. Forget the URL to Apple Internet Mail Server? Just type "aims" in the filter field. If that’s not good enough, you can just expand the filter term slightly, to say, "apple.com" to find all the Apple Web pages you’ve visited. You don’t have to be accurate – you just have to zero in on a couple of characters in the URL you want and hopefully not too many others. I’ve been doing some research on directory services recently and visiting a page about Ph servers. When I wanted to find that site again, I typed "ph" into the filter field, and got every URL with a word that started with "ph," like "www.phillynews.com." Still, there weren’t so many hits (Web Ninja tells you how many it has found, 26 in my "ph" example above) that I couldn’t quickly scan for the URL I wanted.
I’ve taken to visiting some Web sites quickly just to get their URLs into my Web Ninja list. Sure, I could search in Alta Vista, but it’s faster to do everything on my Mac, especially if I know I’ve been to a page before and merely need to find it in my log file. Of course, at some point URLs will start disappearing from the end of my log file, but since I’ve only racked up about 1,100 URLs visited in three weeks of use (Web Ninja holds a total of 4,096 URLs at a time), I suspect this technique of recording potentially interesting URLs will work fairly well.
One tip – on my 660AV, Web Ninja’s response time to typing in the filter field is much slower if you have your list sorted by URL than if it’s sorted by any of the other columns, like number of visits. Filter first, then sort by URL if you want.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what makes for good software recently, and I think Web Ninja hits quite a few of the necessary criteria. First, it’s dead simple to use. It comes with documentation, but for the most part, you can figure out everything it does from simply looking at the menus and windows. Second, it solves a specific problem – wanting to go back to a site you’ve visited once before – and solves it well. And, at least for me, the problem turns out to be a real one. I find it hard to predict when I will need a bookmark to a site, but I know that Web Ninja has saved the last 4,096 URLs I’ve visited, and whatever I need is probably in that list. Third, Web Ninja does most of the work itself, without requiring any extra attention from me. I have enough to do with my time – I don’t need to maintain more utilities.
MacUser deserves kudos for commissioning useful utilities like Web Ninja and releasing them for free. In the past, the MacUser Exclusives were only available on ZiffNet/Mac via CompuServe, which limited their audience significantly. Now that everyone on the Internet can download these utilities (check back – there are a bunch of great ones) from MacUser’s Web site, the Macintosh utility world has been greatly enriched.
I have an interesting and puzzling feeling about being a Mac owner that I want to share and about which I would value your opinions. I believe I am a happy and productive Mac person – a convert from the world of the Apple II – because I was able to leave behind almost all of my knowledge of computers and computing with my Apple II and concentrate on getting real, creative work done with my very first Mac. The early Apple IIgs operating system, which was quirky, had given me all the taste I needed, and the transition to the Mac, once made, was a delight. My productivity, my creativity, and my mood were all enhanced almost from the first day. For years I kept up with Macintosh technology, though I have never needed to own the latest machine with the most RAM or the biggest hard drive. Today, for instance, I am writing on a Power Mac 7100/66AV with 40 MB of RAM and a 1 GB hard drive: hardly on the cutting edge, not to mention the fact that I work on a 21" gray scale monitor, rather than on a color monitor.
Over this time I have acquired an undeserved reputation as a local Mac expert, though I have constantly maintained that I know little about computers. Most local professional consultants refuse to touch a Mac because if they sell a business a Macintosh system, they’ll receive few, if any, repeat service or support calls, and that’s how consultants make their livings. Some of my friends in that business are quite open with me about their complete unwillingness to install Macs for that very reason. (Small businesses rely almost entirely on such consulting firms, which is one reason why there is so little Mac software for small businesses. But that’s another story.)
Two things seem to be happening. First, we now seem to be under external pressure to become computer experts or to leave behind the ease and power which computers can bring to life and work. In part, this pressure stems from the increased interest in the Internet. Connecting to the Internet and maintaining a collection of functional Internet software tools requires that even Mac people have at least a bit of arcane knowledge – knowledge that was common in the Apple II world and that is taken for granted among DOS folks. In my opinion, the Macintosh world isn’t even ten percent as bad, yet, but I have a sinking feeling the operative word in that sentence is "yet."
I also wonder if this level of increased complexity becoming a trend. The sad fact is that the 85 to 90 percent of computer users who use Windows see no problem with this complexity, perhaps because things could only get better in that world. Windows users who lack computer knowledge (the majority) simply pay someone else for help. This extends even to tasks like hooking up a new, basic home system, for which resellers regularly charge $50 and up in my area. Can a Mac person imagine paying a store $50 to get their first system up and running?
But if almost no one, percentage-wise, sees any problem here, I fear we are on the way to losing our ability to concentrate on working with rather than on a computer.
Secondly, on the internal end of things, I am worried Apple may be infected with the prevailing mentality that flawed operation is acceptable without extensive knowledge. One does not have to read TidBITS or Ric Ford’s MacInTouch for long to figure out the Mac is no longer really a "plug-and-work" machine. It’s seemingly always something: this system update will not work with that hard disk driver. That hard disk driver will not work with this menu utility. This PPP extension won’t work with that memory enhancement utility. This update to the system update does not contain the new version of Open Transport. And so on.
The chaos that prevails in the Windows world and that enriches so many small consulting businesses – look in your yellow pages and marvel at the number of local computer service storefronts – is encroaching on us from within. Apple’s decision to release future enhancements to the operating system in bits and pieces is, indeed, an ominous sign. How is the average Joe who wants to work (and work hard) with his computer going to keep up with all the changes and updates? Even I, the "local expert," can no longer expect to have my computer work well all the time without undertaking some remedial research. Why, without warning, did inserting a SyQuest cartridge cause 18 copies of its icon to appear on my desktop? I guessed I should update the driver on the cartridge or, alternatively, reboot my system. I was right, but why should I have needed to know that? And why should I have had to go online and try to find drivers or a tech note about what I was seeing?
Let me be perfectly clear. I am a Macintosh fan because the Mac is the best computer we have currently – not the most elitist, but the best workhorse. The day the Windows world can offer me a better, easier alternative at a competitive price is the day I switch platforms. Today that is clearly not the case, at least to me. My fear is that my present level of comfort will continue to deteriorate as the world forces me from excellence into increasingly complex mediocrity, both from without because the majority of the computing world neither knows, expects, nor demands anything better, and from within because Apple may be forcing this man to become a computer expert against his will.
In the end, the world will have the computing technology the world deserves. That is not a comforting thought. You and I deserve better!