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Adam Engst No comments

Happy New Year!

What better time to look back at the fun-filled events of 1990 than now. You were having fun, weren’t you? Actually, a few people suggested an article like this in their survey responses, and hey, we respond to feedback (well at least most of the time :-)). I will admit that I’m going to cheat and look back in my TidBITS Archive to better remember 1990’s hot news, so if you missed something mentioned here, check your archive or look for back issues at your favorite free software repository. Oh, for those few of you who didn’t know what the archive is and mentioned so on the survey, try reading the instructions on the first screen and then experiment with the Merge button.

I don’t think I can possibly rank these events in order of interest, but high on the list is the introduction of Windows 3.0 for PC-clones. Microsoft dumped something like $10 million into marketing Windows 3.0 and, surprise, they sold a lot of copies, around two million. I’d like to see how some other programs could sell with a $10 million ad campaign. After using Windows for a bit, my feeling is that it’s just fine if you use high-end PC-clones anyway, but no matter what people say, Windows does not give you a Mac, except perhaps in sheep’s clothing, to stretch the allusion. The best part about Windows is that it helps to legitimize graphical interfaces (I hate the acronym GUI – it reminds me of chewing taffy and having my mouth cemented shut) even further.

Despite the fall of the junk-bond king, Mike Milken, the computer industry has been prey to the vagaries of Wall Street and the stock market. First Lotus and Novell announced a planned merger, which would have made them larger than Microsoft. That deal quickly fell through, for reasons including unhappy Novell shareholders and Novell’s chairman wanting lots of power. Lotus bounced back from that defeat by buying Samna, whose Ami and Ami Professional number among the best of the Windows word processors. And then, just recently, AT&T tried to buy NCR for some vast amount of money, but NCR said that vast wasn’t enough and it wanted more. I believe the specifics were that NCR stock was trading in around $55 per share and AT&T offered $90. NCR refused $90 and asked for $125, at which point AT&T said $100 and that’s it. NCR refused again, and AT&T, last we heard, was trying to effect a hostile takeover. We actually saw the transcript of the process including the full text of the letters between Robert Allen and Charles Exley, better known in the letters as Bob and Chuck. I didn’t think you could call someone Bob or Chuck when you were talking about multi-million dollar deals – it doesn’t sound serious enough.

As far as new machines went last year, IBM pushed its PS/1 – finally, an IBM computer that isn’t divided by 2, but last we heard, the Macintosh Classic was the real story in the cheap computer market. Apple was so surprised by the popularity of the Classic that it started sending Classics to the US (from the plant in Singapore) by air instead of ship because it couldn’t come close to meeting demand. Even still, we’ve heard of 3-month waiting lists. The Mac LC and IIsi were also released and have proved popular as well, though there is some feeling that Apple scrimped to lower the prices on these two computers, particularly on the power supplies. NeXT finally released new versions of its workstation, the NeXTstation and the NeXTcube, along with some hot color hardware called NeXTdimension. NeXT is shipping now that Motorola has the 68040 in mass production, which hadn’t happened at the time of the NeXT introduction.

The year of the clones may not have come yet, but it will soon. A number of Macintosh clones were announced last year, including software that runs on Unix workstations, a SPARC laptop computer that can emulate a Mac and PC, a IIci clone from Cork Computer Corp. that should be interesting, and right at the last minute, a board for PC-clones called Hydra that runs Mac software. Don’t forget the Outbound laptop, which requires Apple’s ROMs, either. Apple bought the Outbound technology and then licensed it back to Outbound, which clarified the legal situation, supposedly. Other than the Outbound, none of these have hit the mass market, but it will be interesting to see what happens when they do. We’ve been muttering for a long time about how Apple should license the 128K ROMs from the Mac Plus and let clone makers saturate the low-end of the market, which would whet buyers’ appetites for the snazzier machines that Apple puts out. One way or another, it looks like Apple should recognize that companies have more or less cloned the Mac and it would be in Apple’s interests to have license fees coming in from all those sales.

Hydra Systems — 408/996-3880

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 18-Dec-90, Vol. 4, #42, pg 1

Adam Engst No comments

Stuff That Installer

There’s an odd trend I’ve been noticing. People have been complaining about StuffIt Deluxe’s installer and several months ago, people complained about StuffIt Classic’s installer. I thought of writing an article then, but refrained after I downloaded StuffIt Classic and tried it myself. I saw why people might complain – StuffIt creates a bunch of folders and files in the System Folder without being entirely up front about the process – but didn’t think that it was that big of a deal. It helped that StuffIt Classic’s installer created folders that adhered to Apple’s guidelines about where to store preferences and help files. There have also been complaints that StuffIt Classic reports some files as infected by viruses when no virus checking program can confirm the infection. I’d double check with the latest Disinfectant if you run into this.

Now I don’t personally use StuffIt Deluxe for various reasons. Nonetheless I was surprised when a number of people claimed that StuffIt Deluxe’s installer had created a variant of the so-called "Folder from Hell" problem. If you haven’t already heard of the Folder from Hell, it’s an empty folder that you cannot throw out without resorting to some ugliness with ResEdit or using Norton Utilities (which doesn’t always work either). In this variant, the installer program created multiply-nested folders that could not be thrown out due to a lack of Finder memory (or at least that was what the error message said, and the Mac wasn’t admitting to anything else). Backup and reformat time. This sounded like an obscure, if nasty, bug but one which stung a few other people on Usenet, judging from the discussion.

Luckily, Aladdin helped explain the mess. Evidently, the bug is real, but Aladdin can’t reproduce it consistently and it has only affected a tiny fraction of the StuffIt Deluxe users. There is an interaction between the installer and a system or toolbox call that handles bad sector information (though some of the people in question checked their disks and found no bad sectors). It’s unclear whether the fault is with the installer or with Apple – these things are often hard to pin down completely. I was relieved to hear from the people who had experienced this problem that they were still extremely fond of StuffIt Deluxe despite the installer.

Even better is news from Aladdin that the installer has been rewritten for StuffIt Deluxe 2.0, a free upgrade that Aladdin will release this week. So enough of the bad news, and if you’ve bought but not installed StuffIt Deluxe 1.0, you might want to register quickly and stick with 2.0 to avoid that 1 in 10,000 chance that your hard disk drew the short straw. StuffIt Deluxe 2.0 will be a significant upgrade to 1.0, but in an extremely nice move, Aladdin is making it a free upgrade. I’m not saying that every company should do that since upgrading programs can be a lot of work, but when I get a free upgrade I usually walk around for a few minutes muttering about how much I like that company.

The top of the list in new features and enhancements includes "tremendous" speed boosts (I’m not touching that one until someone’s done a comparison), a "Best Guess" feature for picking the smallest compression format, the ability, as in StuffIt Classic, to create self-unstuffing archives, and a bunch of StuffIt Tools and Optimizers. StuffIt Deluxe is rapidly becoming one of the most heavily accessorized programs, with a whole load of XCMDs, QuicKeys2 extensions, DAs, and who knows what else. I think that’s good, although many people will be somewhat overwhelmed by the variety, and there is certainly room for tools that don’t come with a catalog of accessories as long as the one that comes with Barbie dolls. One way or another, the upgrade will be showing at Macworld in San Francisco, so check it out if you’re there.

Aladdin — 408/685-9175

Information from:
Bill Johnston — [email protected]
Marco Gonzalez — [email protected]
Garance Drosehn — [email protected]
Dave Newman — [email protected]
Leonard Rosenthol — [email protected]
Ken Weaverling — [email protected]
John Starta — [email protected]
Ken Hancock — [email protected]
Rich Holmes — [email protected]
Peter Colby — [email protected]
Brad Cox — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

VCR Backups

I’m sure many people have thought of doing disk backups to a VCR tape, particularly the poorer crowd that can’t afford all sorts of snazzy backup hardware. I know I thought of doing it several years ago, but gave up because I couldn’t find information on how. That was before I knew how to navigate the nets. Well, someone else has realized that a VCR is basically a big, dumb, slow tape drive. The trick is figuring out how to hook your computer to your VCR – those little RCA plugs that connect to your stereo won’t cut it.

The net people produced information on a product that allows you to do this. It’s called Videotrax from a company called Alpha Micro. Videotrax is a combination of an external SCSI controller and software that provides basic backup features and talks to the controller. It’s not terribly expensive, at $499 or $1299 if you want the special Videotrax VCR that does automatic backups as well. Unfortunately, it’s not a lot cheaper than the no-name SyQuest drives. Videotrax saves 80 meg on a normal cassette, which is better than a standard SyQuest’s 42 meg, but a good backup program like Retrospect or MacTools Backup can come close to 80 meg of original data with file compression.

I’ve heard that using a VCR to backup computer data is relatively dangerous in that videocassettes and VCRs aren’t designed to the exacting specifications that computer equipment must to work at. A single bit of data doesn’t make the slightest difference in displaying an image on the TV screen, but it could destroy a file. I had a similar idea about converting a cheap audio CD player into a CD-ROM drive, and was told basically the same thing – a skipped bit in music is nothing, but a skipped bit in your program is fatal. This low level of accuracy might be a reason why we aren’t all using the Videotrax, because otherwise it’s a good idea subject to a few logistical problems, such as the separate locations of my VCR and computer. Details, mere details.

Alpha Micro — 800/253-3434 or 800/821-0612 in CA (old #)

Information from:
David Elliott — [email protected]
John Kratochvil — moebius@mofh
Ted Morris — [email protected]
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Cut Rate Borland

I’ve been getting all sorts of offers in the mail from Borland. Borland isn’t well known in the Mac market, but it is a big player in the PC market and its spreadsheet, Quattro Pro, may be the best one for the PC despite Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft’s Excel. Anyway, Borland wants to sell Quattro Pro 2.0 to me for $99 and has offered its powerful database, Paradox, to me for the same price. I have two problems that prevent me from taking Borland up on this kind offer. Problem #1: I don’t much use a PC even though I do consult on them and have been known to check stuff out in SoftPC. Problem #2: I hardly ever use either spreadsheets or databases, and I’m unlikely to buy a PC spreadsheet and database to use under SoftPC when Full Impact and HyperCard serve me perfectly well. As I said, I’m not big on spreadsheets and databases.

Borland dropped its prices on these products only to owners of competing products, but I get the impression if your friend’s father once used a pirated copy of Lotus 1-2-3, Borland would still sell you Quattro Pro for $99. It’s all a marketing scheme, of course. (I’m beginning to suspect that all the world is a marketing scheme and not a stage, as William Shakespeare thought. Does that make me cynical?) Well a public word to Borland. It’s working. I feel guilty for not buying Quattro Pro each time I read one of your offers. It’s just that I really don’t need the program. Now a Ronco slicer-dicer, that I could use. 🙂

Seriously, Quattro Pro has gained a lot of market share from Lotus 1-2-3. It helps that Quattro Pro is probably a better program, but the low price is what’s done the trick. I’m writing this, not because I want you to run out and buy Quattro Pro or a Ronco slicer-dicer, but because I heartily approve of lower prices for quality products. I would like to look back on this article in a year or two and see this marketing gimmick as the end of the $795 business programs. Sure, it may be slightly worse in the PC world, but have any of you priced a copy of Macintosh Quark XPress recently? $530 mail order! Sure, it’s a good program, maybe the best, but that’s a lot of money. So I say more power to Borland, and may it someday put out a decent Macintosh program.

Adam Engst No comments

Out of the MarketPlace

You may or may not have heard of Lotus MarketPlace:Households yet. It’s a CD-ROM disk from Lotus that lists over 120 million names in over 80 million households in the United States. Wanna put money on whether or not you’re in there? There is also MarketPlace:Business that lists over 7 million American businesses, but part of the point of being in business is being easy to find. That’s not necessarily the point of life – though if the world really is just a marketing scheme, I could be wrong. The idea behind MarketPlace:Households is that if you run, say, a sleazy pseudo-legal chain letter, oops, I meant to say, multi-level marketing business, then for a mere $695 you can buy this disc and the right to use any 5000 names on it. Further 5000-name units cost another $400. By my quick calculations, buying all the names would cost $9,600,295 before taxes, which I don’t want to think about until I review MacInTax. Microsoft could have bought all the names and still had some $400,000 left over to spend on Windows propaganda to send to everyone.

That’s not the way most businesses will use it, of course, because you can select the 5000 names you want by region and lots of other categories. These businesses hope that they will be able to peg you perfectly based on name, address, age range, gender, marital status, dwelling type, income range, lifestyle, and shopping habits. Once they’ve picked you as a potential customer, the junk mail barrage begins. Ideally, they would be right every time and you’d only get interesting mail, but it doesn’t work that well now. I just received an offer to subscribe to a magazine on health issues for people over 50. My grandparents are over 50, but my parents aren’t, to give you an idea of how appropriate this offer was.

You have a chance to save yourself from tree-eating, landfill-filling, junk mail generated by every bozo who thinks he knows how to do complex searches. For this address, I thank Robert X. Cringely, of InfoWorld, who listed it in his year-end column. To get your name removed from the database, write to this address and tell them to remove you from all of their databases. I’ve already done so.

Equifax Options
P.O. Box 740123
Atlanta, GA 30374-0123

Information from:
Lotus propaganda
Robert Cringely, InfoWorld — 24-Dec-90, Vol. 12, #52, pg. 62

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 26-Nov-90, Vol. 12, #48, pg. 8