As Adam celebrates his 29th birthday, we learn about Apple’s plans to enter the restaurant business and about new versions of the online workhorses Anarchie and BBEdit. We have news about a 43.2 Kbps modem technology from AetherWorks and Apple’s Open Transport/PPP. In addition, Tonya reviews Robin Williams’s latest book, and Dan Meriwether discusses how the Web is changing expectations about how companies are supposed to do business.
You Want Fries with that PowerBook? In a move best described as unexpected, Apple Computer announced last week a partnership and plans to develop a series of "cyber-based" theme restaurants (really!) bearing the name "Apple Cafe." The first eatery is set to open in Los Angeles in late 1997 (future sites in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Sydney are being considered), with an emphasis on multimedia, the Internet, technology showcases, and the Apple corporate identity. There’s no word yet on items being considered for the menu, but I suppose it just wouldn’t be Apple without "Empty Trash." [GD]
Anarchie 2.0.1 — Peter N Lewis has released version 2.0.1 of his popular FTP client Anarchie (2.0.1 fixes a minor bug with international character sets in the three-day-old 2.0). New features include the ability to upload and download entire folders, various user interface improvements (such as a kangaroo progress indicator), plus a Tips window to familiarize users with Anarchie’s capabilities. Most significantly, Anarchie 2.0.1 sports a new MacSearch feature (developed in conjunction with Ambrosia Software) that quickly locates Macintosh files in the Info-Mac and UMich archives, now that Archie is a less-than-reliable service for finding files on the Internet. Anarchie is $10 shareware for new users, free for users who registered a previous version in 1996, and $5 for other previous users. The download is about 1 MB. [GD]
Bare Bones Software Ships BBEdit 4.0.2 — The widely-used text editor BBEdit turned 4.0.2 last week. Fixes and features in the new version should be popular with developers and general-purpose users. For programmers, there’s support for CodeWarrior 9 and 10, and anyone who likes keyboard shortcuts will appreciate the updated Set Keys dialog box. In addition, BBEdit 4.0.2 comes with a BBEdit Startup Items folder – as you might guess, when you launch BBEdit, files in that folder automatically open in the appropriate application. The new version has other changes, including improved compatibility with several utilities, such as QuicKeys, KeyQuencer, and Spell Catcher. Licensed users of BBEdit 4.0 or 4.0.1 can update for free; the download is sized at 2.2 MB. Those who own earlier versions may upgrade for $39 plus shipping. Bare Bones Software — 617/778-3100 — 617/778-3111 — <[email protected]> [TJE]
Were You Fast Enough? Last Friday, CE Software shipped its new QuickMail Pro POP3 mail client software, and of course removed the beta version from its Web site just a few days after we published the URL in TidBITS-353. QuickMail Pro is available now for a suggested retail price of $69.95, and the company reportedly plans a stripped-down freeware version in the future. [MHA]
AetherWorks Corporation last week announced its first ready-for-market technology, a high-speed analog modem that will offer symmetrical 43.2 Kbps connections over an ordinary analog telephone line. The technology, which the Minnesota company calls V.Mach, will be discussed at the company’s Las Vegas hotel suite at Comdex this week.
The company plans to license its technology to an undisclosed array of modem manufacturers, with the first models expected by the middle of 1997. Though AetherWorks says its reference platform includes support for all current modem standards including v.34+ (33.6 Kbps) and backward compatibility for previous standards all the way down to 300 bps, it’s not certain all manufacturers will be able to include support for uncommon protocols, such as AT&T’s v.32terbo (19.2 Kbps, included in Global Village Mercury modems). Compression and error correction standards such as the MNP suite and v.42 and v.42bis are supported in current prototypes and should be handled by most, if not all, licensee modems.
AetherWorks president and CEO Dr. Jonathan Sachs commented that the V.Mach technology performs especially well on noisy telephone lines, where some modem protocols fall down. He added that V.Mach performs at least as well as previous technologies all the way down the line quality spectrum.
V.Mach modems should be well suited to high-speed Internet dialup connections and network-to-network routing applications. Sachs is confident demand for analog modems such as those containing the V.Mach technology will remain high for the next several years; he says that recently announced asymmetrical 56 Kbps technologies require a digital local loop on one end of the connection and unusually high analog line quality, so these technologies will not be well-suited to most consumer and business applications where higher-speed technologies such as ISDN aren’t appropriate.
AetherWorks is also working on a telephony service called Jeeves, which the company says will revolutionize computer telephony by offering such capabilities as having email read over the phone and having voicemail transferred to a laptop.
AetherWorks Corporation — 888/552-3309 — 888/552-3301 (fax)
When it comes to selecting a computer book, you usually can’t go wrong with a Peachpit book by Robin Williams. Robin wrote The Little Mac Book (the book for Macintosh beginners), The Mac is not a Typewriter (see TidBITS-106), The Non-Designer’s Design Book, and more. I’m a fan of Robin’s work, so I recently read her latest book, Home Sweet Home Page, which Robin wrote with Dave Mark. This book aims to introduce the Internet to a novice, and to help that novice make an exciting, useful, family Web site.
Home Sweet Home Page begins with a light smattering of topics that concern Internet newcomers: finding an Internet service provider, URLs, how to identify links on Web pages, using search engines, and so on. Unlike most books about Web authoring, the book almost completely ignores HTML; instead, it discusses in general terms how to get started (choose software, plan page arrangement, organize files and folders). It points out that Web is a cheap way to publish with color and sets guidelines for page design, with pithy advice like "if it looks hard to read, IT IS," and "Don’t be a wimp." The book’s grand finale is a series of project ideas for sections of a family Web site. For example, the book shows how to organize links and dates in a family calendar and discusses the use of thumbnails in a virtual photo album. The projects section doesn’t offer much step-by-step how-to, but it does come packed with suggestions for organization and composition.
The design and layout is Robin Williams all over – casual, friendly, and professional. The book’s 180 pages have a lot of white space and not much text, making for an extremely approachable looking pages. Although the content is accurate and contains excellent advice, it’s not long enough to answer many relevant questions that might come up, especially for an Internet novice. Fortunately, the book sets readers up to ask intelligent questions.
Based on experiences with my family, I question how many families are (or are willing to become) Internet-savvy and have the motivation to maintain well-rounded Web sites. However, the book is a perfect start for families who do have the urge, and budding Web authors can use it to experiment with (or on) their families while learning Web design fundamentals.
Even so, if you consider yourself at least an amateur Internet user and Web author, you’ve probably advanced beyond the bulk of the book’s material. I think this is a shame, because the book especially stands out for its page design and site organization advice – advice that would be welcome in a more sophisticated book for readers to grow into – instead of the current book, which many readers will rapidly outgrow.
Robin tells me that she is currently working on two more books of interest to Web authors. The first (expected in January, though Peachpit’s Web site incorrectly says December), Home Sweet Home Page and the Kitchen Sink is simply Home Sweet Home Page bundled with a CD-ROM containing connection kits for the likes of AOL and AT&T WorldNet, along with clip art, fonts, and other goodies. The second, The Non-Designer’s Web Book, will be out later in the year.
Home Sweet Home Page, Robin Williams with Dave Mark, ISBN 0-201-88667-7, 180 pages. $14.95 U.S., $21.00 Canadian.
Peachpit — 800/283-9444 — 510/548-4393 — 510/548-5991 (fax)
Last week, Apple released Open Transport/PPP 1.0, its first in-house implementation of PPP, the protocol most people use to connect to the Internet via a modem. Although many varieties of PPP are available for the Macintosh – including versions of MacPPP, FreePPP, and NTS PPP, plus other commercial options – OT/PPP is the first version to be Open Transport-native (rather than relying on mechanisms designed for MacTCP) and only the second PPP implementation to be supported officially by Apple.
However, don’t make the assumption you need to turn your Internet world upside down and bring OT/PPP into your life. Though OT/PPP may benefit a number of dialup Internet users, the Golden Rule of PPP applies: if you’re happy your current PPP software, there’s no strong reason to change it.
Where and How — OT/PPP 1.0 is available from Apple’s sites as a disk image or as a Net Install package including an Acrobat PDF version of the manual. (The manual can also be downloaded separately.) Either way, the full package is about 2 MB.
OT/PPP requires a 68030 processor or better and Open Transport 1.1.1 (also available from the URL above; see TidBITS-351). Apple recommends using OT/PPP with System 7.5.3 or higher, although it can also be used with System 7.1.x. Even so, OT/PPP cannot be used with System 7.5, 7.5.1, or 7.5.2 – you can upgrade those versions to System 7.5.3 or 7.5.5 for free.
It’s always a good idea to back up your Mac (or at least the System Folder) before installing new system software. However, you don’t have to remove PPP software: OT/PPP co-exists with it just fine (see below).
Using OT/PPP — You configure OT/PPP in the new Modem and PPP control panels, and online help is available via Balloon Help and Apple Guide. Like Open Transport’s AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels, the Modem and PPP control panels can switch between saved configurations without restarting the Mac. The PPP control panel tracks your dialup username and password (if any), along with your provider’s phone number and a set of dialing and other options. The PPP control panel also features send and receive indicators (so you can tell what your modem’s doing) and a built-in logging feature. Though the log’s verbose mode can be useful for troubleshooting, it might not capture all the information your provider needs to diagnose connection problems.
The Modem control panel lets you select your modem type and options. Unlike MacPPP or FreePPP, however, OT/PPP uses modem scripts (called CCLs) to manage modems. This is a mixed blessing: on one hand, CCLs allow more sophisticated control than modem init strings, and CCL scripts are also used by Apple Remote Access. On the other hand, writing CCL scripts is more art than science: if OT/PPP doesn’t come with a functional script for your modem, you might be out of luck. [Worse yet, my experience with the first edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh and InterCon’s free InterSLIP indicates that normal users detest working with CCL scripts. -Adam] Apple, Info-Mac, and other sources maintain archives of third-party CCL scripts, and Apple has an unsupported Modem Script Generator in the OT/PPP Extras package – it can help create CCL scripts, and contains some CCL documentation.
Once everything is configured, making a PPP connection with OT/PPP should be as simple as clicking the Connect button in the PPP control panel. If you previously used Open Transport, you’ll probably have to open the TCP/IP control panel and change your settings to PPP instead of MacPPP or FreePPP. Save the current TCP/IP setup (using the Configuration dialog) before switching to OT/PPP; that way, reverting will be easier if something doesn’t work.
Performance & Memory — Reports vary, but testing on my Power Mac 7600 shows OT/PPP is slightly faster than FreePPP 2.5 on my Supra 28.8 modem (usually between 50 to 100 bps faster during sustained transfers). This improvement might seem tiny, but remember the bottleneck is the sluggish pace of a modem. Users of ISDN terminal adapters and other higher speed PPP connections can expect bigger improvements. Also, because OT/PPP is Open Transport-native, the performance of applications developed specifically for Open Transport will improve.
However, OT/PPP’s performance comes at a price: an additional 500-600K of RAM, plus a little over 350K for the PPP control panel (if you leave it open). Considering that Open Transport itself requires 500-1500K of RAM, that’s a lot of overhead, especially for Power Macs currently using MacTCP.
Other Features — Unlike other PPP implementations, OT/PPP is scriptable right out of the box, so scripters can automate PPP connections using AppleScript, Frontier, or other tools. Though OT/PPP’s scriptability is nice (and the sample AppleScripts are straightforward), it’s not a compelling reason to switch, since Mark Aldritt’s Control PPP scripting addition gives some script control to MacPPP and FreePPP users.
Fortunately, Open Transport’s flexibility lets OT/PPP co-exist with previous installations of MacPPP, FreePPP, and other PPP implementations quite happily. If you use Open Transport, just create different configurations in the TCP/IP control panel, then use the Configurations dialog to switch between them.
For frequent travellers, OT/PPP might be a step backwards from FreePPP. Although the Modem, PPP, and TCP/IP control panel all store configurations, managing those multiple setups is difficult compared to FreePPP’s location settings. Some people strongly prefer FreePPP’s interface, although I don’t feel passionate either way.
Do You Need OT/PPP? OT/PPP is well-engineered (having undergone thorough internal and public testing), and reports so far indicate that OT/PPP can be more stable than FreePPP or MacPPP. If your current PPP setup has been problematic (and you have the RAM), OT/PPP is worth investigating, particularly if you already use Open Transport 1.1.1. Similarly, if you need some of OT/PPP’s features – strong Open Transport compatibility, improved performance, configurations, or scriptability – then OT/PPP is probably for you.
However, Apple will continue to support its release of MacPPP for some time, and the FreePPP Group is continuing to develop and refine FreePPP. Once again, remember the Golden Rule of PPP: if you’re happy with your current PPP software, there’s no strong reason to change it.
How much money will my company make on the Internet?
I often hear this question from businesses. The answer, most of the time is, "in the best case scenario; you’ll break even." When their color returns, I usually ask them, "How much money does a bank make from an ATM?"
For each ATM, a bank pays thousands of dollars for installation, insurance, daily maintenance, rental, network linkage, upgrades, theft-prevention, and more. A bank does not make money from ATMs, it pays to provide them.
Next question: Would you bank at a place that did not have ATMs? Probably not. ATMs are a valued, often essential, service that we have come to expect. For example, I bank at a credit union whose nearest office is 300 miles away. I haven’t seen a teller in over two years.
I am not suggesting that your next modem should come with a cash dispenser. I am saying that the Web provides services that are fast becoming essential and valued. In much the same way that the availability of ATMs grew explosively in the 1980s, I expect Web sites to bloom in the near, medium, and far future.
The Web will become a necessary center for commerce in three areas:
Technical and sales support. Intelligent programs running on Internet servers (CGIs or other programs) can dissect customer questions for key words, assign probability scores, and group questions into defined categories. Then, batches can be forwarded to people best able to handle them, or a program may handle certain questions. At the least, an automated program can send a comforting acknowledgment to the querying users. All these functions – not to mention the savings on the tangible and intangible costs of keeping 800-number callers on hold for an hour – dramatically ease the cost of supporting products and services. Support is not a traditional area of income, but the Web may reduce (though not eliminate) the cost.
Nexus for product information and specifications. We’ve all heard contest rules or car dealership specifications mumbled incredibly quickly at the end of a radio or television commercial. The summary given there is just enough to satisfy the legal department. Now, consider magazine ads for prescription drugs. What’s that, around three pages of ultra-small type? Traditional media has limits to the quantity of information that it can transmit. In contrast, on the Web, for a comparatively low cost, companies can provide detailed specifications, without imposing a vast bulk of information on other, not-as-interested users.
Product purchasing, update, and upgrade distribution. It has become so expensive to distribute software through traditional channels (see TidBITS-352) that for the international corporation and the independent developer alike, the Web can be defined as a place to save a great deal of money. Software upgrades and updates cost tens of thousands to distribute through traditional mechanisms (such as mailing floppy disks). The cost of setting up and maintaining an Internet system that can serve thousands of users a day is a small fraction of the cost of mailings. This promotes more timely updates and incremental upgrades. The newest, coolest stuff gets out as it is developed, rather than being held up for a major overhaul that would justify the mailing cost.
[There can be a flip side to this ease of distributing incremental software updates – see "Waiting with Beta’d Breath" in TidBITS-328. -Geoff]
You may ask, "This is all fine and good for software companies, but what about my business?" This is just one model of how the Web can save money. I have built subscription-based trade information centers, secure two-way database access points, internationally distributed scheduling systems, ordering systems that can assist the buyer in obtaining all the requisite parts of a multi-part purchase, and more. Other uses stretch only as far as the imagination.
What About Web Advertising? Ad-tiles – small graphic panels typically at the top of a Web page enticing a surfer to visit a site – are reputed to have a "click-through" (successful enticement) of two percent. Of visitors that click-through, maybe two percent explore a site once they discover it’s an advertising venue.
Ad-tiles are, for the most part, a bad idea. They’re generally obtrusive, ineffective, and misleading. They are rapidly moving into disfavor with Web advertisers. Another inappropriate Web advertisement method is the use of meta-ads, where, prior to being allowed to go to where user intended, the Web surfer is forced to an intermediary advertisement. Web surfers have not been as anesthetized to this type of annoyance as TV viewers and many react in unpleasant ways.
A little background may help put the newness of the Web into perspective. When radio first appeared, it had model to determine the best method of advertising. Eventually, per-show sponsorship became the preferred method. In the case of television, the same per-show sponsorship model didn’t prove to be the optimal solution. I suspect that we have not yet discovered the best method for Web advertising.
The best method for attracting large numbers of people to a site – and I’ll let the cat out of the bag here – is to have excellent content. This requires knowing your audience, using in-depth log analysis, and having quality people working with adequate resources.
Who’s There — So far, the Web audience is like none that advertisers have experienced before. Web surfers are far more technically savvy than channel surfers. They are on the Web to gain information. Never patronize them, talk down to them, or feed them unqualified assertions. Most importantly, to the best of your ability, understand what they want and give them the information they request.
Don’t Wait For the Nielsens — Every commercial Web site keeps a detailed log of its users, the likes of which TV advertisers would pay for in flesh. Yet hardly any sites make full use of these logs. Specific, important information can be gathered from logs, including what users are interested in, what they read, what they ignore, where they came from, and (loosely) how long they visit. Though it’s not perfect, this information is an invaluable tool for planning site revisions. Most technical people concentrate on data and analysis tools that are absolutely factually substantiated, and may miss the big demographic picture by ignoring the potentially more valuable inferred information.
Webmastery — All too often the budget for a Web site is a fraction of that for janitorial services. The Web is a remarkable medium capable of producing quality – and response – in nearly direct proportion to what goes into it. Many people call themselves webmasters based on a little knowledge of the basics, much like someone who wrote an article for the high school newspaper and calls himself a journalist. The difference is that the market is familiar with what it means to be a journalist. Webmastery is just that: a skill to be mastered. Qualifications and prerequisites include acute design sense, programming ability, managerial and interpersonal competence, and in-depth understanding of many technical areas. When a company gets its hands on a good webmaster, again, all too often, due to fear, past negative experiences, and lack of understanding, the company stifles the webmaster’s ability by a nearly unworkable budget.
All right: so you’ve put up everything you had, customized your site to match what the logs tell you about your the users interests, and, boy, with what the webmaster makes you’re thinking of changing careers. So why has your Web site has performed so badly? Let’s look at some problems that lead to the disillusionment many early adopter companies have felt from their Web ventures:
Unrealistic expectations: Advertisers are used to television and magazine figures. They want 150,000 people to hit the site per day, because that’s how many the rating services tell them saw the 30-second TV spot last night. Advertisers don’t grasp that viewers of their Web site are there because they want to be there. They are not passive viewers suffering through another audio-visual assault, but inquisitive potential buyers or those who have already purchased and want more information. Each Web hit should count as at least 1,000 TV commercial viewers in terms of potential.
- The Web sites stinks: Just because the junior vice president of water cooler refilling is capable of building a Web site doesn’t mean he should. Just as designers are brought in to create a TV spot, so goes the Web. It is as much a place for alluring imagery as for hard information. Often, commercial Web sites lack quality content. Television and radio ad firms often use lifestyle look-and-feel imagery; they seem to want to reproduce a TV commercial on the Web, cinematographics and all, regardless of the capabilities or interests of their audience. This is the wrong approach. Though it’s true the average attention span of a Web surfer is considerably less than a minute, it’s wrong to have this figure drive content. Surfers are looking for something. If they do not find it on a page, they choose the next most likely link until they do; or they give up.
If a site provides a thorough but layered information structure providing adequate quantity and quality information (quantity, meaning the site is as complete as possible, and quality, meaning the information is well-written and designed, appropriate, and meaningful), then the site will be visited.
Customers already expect a business to maintain a Web site; and their expectations will only grow. Though your Web site may never earn a dime, it may help save your business. Like ATMs are to banks, it will become mandatory for a business to maintain a Web site to stay competitive.
And it’s wise to assume your competitors will read this article too.
[Dan Meriwether is the author of The Macintosh Web Browser Kit, published by John Wiley & Sons, and a consultant whose clients include Canon, Wells Fargo Bank, Tsutomu Shimomura, and other national and international organizations. Dan is also BMUG’s webmaster.]