In this issue we take a look at some of the eye-catching new products from Macworld, including a spate of feature-rich HTML editors and Rev, a version control utility for real people. We also have news about Apple’s new online tech support, a PowerBook 1400 update, and (last but not least) a hearty welcome for new Managing Editor Jeff Carlson, who takes you on a first-timer’s tour of the Macworld Expo.
In an effort to maintain sanity while continuing to keep the quality and timeliness of TidBITS high, we recently brought on a new Managing Editor, Jeff Carlson <[email protected]>. Jeff was most recently managing editor at Open House, a book publisher that produced numerous books for Peachpit Press, and he writes a monthly column for the online publication adobe.mag. Jeff’s projects range beyond the technical as well, with eSCENE 1996, a collection of some of the best online fiction. Jeff will be working with people who submit articles to TidBITS, and he’ll also help to put each issue together. We’re extremely pleased to have him on staff.
Geoff Duncan (yes, we’re well aware of the confusion of having two people whose names sound the same working on TidBITS) is moving over to become our Technical Editor, where he’ll continue to maintain our mailing list database, automate our repetitive publishing tasks, and write the in-depth articles you’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. [ACE]
Where To Send Press Releases — With the addition of Jeff Carlson as our Managing Editor, we’ve had to rethink our workflow somewhat, in part because we’re an entirely virtual organization that has in the past relied heavily on the Telepathy Manager for internal communication. As part of that rethinking, we’ve set up a new address for press releases. So, if you send any of us press releases, please remove our individual addresses and replace them with <[email protected]>. We all receive press releases sent to that address, and it will be a lot easier to filter them appropriately. Thanks for the help! [ACE]
Apple Online Technical Support — Apple recently revamped their online support Web pages, creating an electronic help system that doesn’t require its own tech support. Organized by product type (Desktop Computers, Portable Computers, Mac OS & Applications, etc.), this area of Apple’s Web site includes Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Apple Tech Info Library (TIL) articles, related software updates, and free-form discussion areas monitored by Apple employees. I was able to find just about anything within two or three mouse clicks, and because the pages are fairly graphics-free (I especially like the simple folder-tab motif used throughout) the information loads quickly. [JLC]
PowerBook 1400 Update — TidBITS has received notes from a few readers who have tried to use Disk First Aid and other disk utilities on PowerBook 1400s, but receive a message indicating the PowerBook hard disk is not an HFS disk. (HFS stands for Hierarchical File System, which is used by virtually all Macintosh disks.) This message does not indicate a fundamental problem with your PowerBook 1400; according to Apple, some 1400 systems shipped without a "reference file" these disk utilities use. (I’m puzzled what that file could be, and not having a 1400 I can’t easily find out.) Apple has released a simple fix ; if you’ve seen this problem, apply this update to make disk repair utilities run normally. [GD]
Macworld Expo put many HTML editor vendors on the floor within the same square mile, making it possible to compare their latest and greatest offerings. The editors that caught my eye and made the biggest splash were those offering free object placement. In currently shipping HTML editors like Adobe PageMill 2.0 and Claris Home Page 2.0, you can’t place page elements with abandon on a page. For instance, if you insert a graphic in a new document, you must place that graphic at the upper left. You can center or right-align the image, but to place it lower on the page, you must first press Return multiple times, which may work out awkwardly if you later wish to add items above the graphic. With free placement, you can insert a graphic in a new document any place you wish.
Programs supporting free placement include the next version of GoLive Pro 1.1, which will be called GoLive CyberStudio and ship in March for a suggested retail price of $349. (The company that makes GoLive has changed its name from gonet to GoLive Systems.) The $495 NetObjects Fusion 1.0 by NetObjects also supports free placement.
Both programs employ tables to allow free placement down to (if I recall correctly) the pixel level. I’m not thrilled about this trend, though it strikes me as inevitable. I don’t like it because the HTML code that these products generate (whether it’s "correct" or not) is impossible for all but experts to understand. In the past, most HTML implementations have been simple enough that a wide user base could work with them. Now, we are moving into a realm where only experts will be able to modify code, making normal users as clueless as they were back in the days of trying to modify PostScript text and almost as powerless as we are now when a word processing document goes bad. Still, this is a price that many people are willing to pay, and these products both demo well and include advanced site management features. In particular, CyberStudio gets major kudos for continuing GoLive Pro 1.1’s gorgeous interface, and Fusion strikes me as particularly emphasizing site management. Notably, Fusion can automatically generate navigation bars that update as you rearrange site items.
But There’s More — Web designers who love the idea of free placement, but whose proclivities tend toward multimedia, will definitely wish to check out Coda, an HTML editor written entirely in Java by RandomNoise. Slated to ship in the first quarter of this year, the $495 Coda creates Web pages consisting primarily of Java code, with free placement of page elements as well a variety of animations and widgets, all of which can be set up without knowing a lick of Java. In the demo I saw, the presenter created a button that switched an animation on and off. The animation consisted of an object moving smoothly between key frames on the page. Because the created page did not present its text through HTML, the presenter was also able to use somewhat sophisticated typography. Pages created in Coda are viewable only in Java-savvy browsers.
And Still More — The HTML editor world continues to explode. Two products that I spent time with at the show were Visual Page and FrontPage. Symantec demoed the $99.95 Visual Page 1.0, which on the surface looks like a "me-too" version of Home Page, but without the maturity that Home Page is rapidly gaining. Microsoft’s $149 FrontPage 1.0 for Macintosh should ship in the first quarter of this year, and I took the FrontPage class at Microsoft’s Expo booth. The product helps you make Web pages and offers site management features. I was honestly expecting to like it, since I was impressed with Vermeer’s demo of FrontPage a year ago, before Microsoft gained ownership. Given my expectations I was disappointed to find that FrontPage is a classic 1.0-style Microsoft product with an interface only a Microsoft Office junky could love. I was particularly distressed with the program’s cumbersome table support, given the fact that Microsoft has had plenty of time to look at its competition.
I know there are other worthy programs out there that I haven’t mentioned; still, I hope this article gave you a taste of what was available for sampling at the Expo.
Information on energy saving control panels that can automatically put many Macs to sleep (in a variety of ways) and that can restart soft-power Macs after a power failure continues to roll in after my articles about the topic in TidBITS-356 and TidBITS-357.
Pete Resnick <[email protected]> notes:
Auto Power On/Off appeared for the first time in System 7 Pro. The same version of the software (1.0) is still in the release version of System 7.5. Unfortunately, back in 1993 when System 7 Pro was in beta, a bug was discovered in Auto Power On/Off. Basically, it installs a patch to the system _SetDateTime routine, which is broken. Apple finally confirmed the bug (bug tracking number 1147889), but never fixed it. However, if you check out the release notes for Open Transport, you will see that when you use Auto Power On/Off in combination with Open Transport and my Network Time control panel, the system will hang because of that bug. Apple evidently has fixed the problem in the upcoming Harmony release (Mac OS 7.6), but until then, beware Auto Power On/Off.
Vinnie Moscaritolo <[email protected]> writes:
As the author of the infamous Tech Note 1079 (Power Management & Servers) I would like to remind developers that calling into the Cuda manager can be problematic and tricky at times. It’s not recommended for novice developers (you can cause hardware damage).
The recommended procedure is to call into the Energy Saver API. Energy Saver attempts to consolidate all the power management functions that an application would generally need. It also provides a standard way to synchronize the various interfaces for all energy management features. As time goes on, I certainly hope you will see Energy Saver on more and more CPUs.
I’m making the final changes to another tech note on the Energy Saver right now, and it should be available for general developer consumption on my Web site by the time you read this.
Lloyd Wood <[email protected]> comments:
The $20 shareware Sleeper 2.1 from St. Clair Software gives you plenty of control over sleep and energy-saver times, installs the SAVR gestalt so that applications know that a screensaver is running, and can spin down your desktop Mac’s noisy hard disks, too, saving even more energy, just like a portable Mac. Sleeper has more control over the multiple energy-saving modes than anything else I’ve seen.
My main complaint about the Macintosh industry these days is that there are few new products with broad appeal. Internet products do relatively well in that category, but I ran across a product at Macworld Expo this year that should appeal to almost every Macintosh user.
When I worked at Cornell University as a student in the public computer rooms, it was all too common for someone to select an entire document with Command-A (often missing the intended Command-S) and type a letter accidentally, replacing the entire document with that letter. Unfortunately, many people panicked at that point and hit Save, rather than using Undo. With the word processors of that time (1988-1989) those actions put your document beyond all hope, since you’d just deleted your entire document and saved the change. One of the reasons I use Nisus Writer for all of my writing is its unlimited undo capability that works through saves – there’s no fear of losing a Nisus Writer document by replacing it accidentally with a single character.
In this respect, the world hasn’t changed much since 1989, and we also have programs that save constantly, making it impossible to quit without saving but also making it difficult to experiment without saving unwanted changes. More programs have auto-save capabilities and there are a number of third-party auto-save utilities, but few programs can undo changes made before a save.
Saver’s Remorse — The folks at 6prime call this problem "Saver’s Remorse." In essence, when something like this happens, saving has been turned into a negative action, and yet, failing to save frequently is even worse. To help eliminate Saver’s Remorse, they came up with Rev, a product that tracks changes made to a file as you save it (or as it auto-saves) and enables you to go back in time to recover work you wish you hadn’t deleted. Essentially, Rev is revision control software, something that up to this point has been expensive, complex, and limited to programmers.
Let’s take a look at how Rev works. It’s an application (it takes up 750K of RAM), so it doesn’t add any patches that might decrease the stability of your system. When you want to track revisions to a document, you simply drag its icon into Rev’s window. Rev creates a Finder-like outline entry for the application that created the document, listing the document under the application’s name. Then you work normally, saving or auto-saving as often as you like. Every time you save, Rev creates a small "diff" file that contains just the differences between the current file and the last saved version. The diff files appear an outline level underneath the document, so it’s easy to hide and show the different levels. The diff files are named with the name of the original file plus a time and date stamp.
Diff files take up much less space than complete files because they contain only the differences between two versions of a file. If Rev stored complete copies of files, your hard disk would fill up far more quickly. Rev also helps save space by enabling you to set the number of diff files it retains, deleting older ones automatically once you exceed that number.
Now, assume that you’re working in a ClarisWorks graphics document. You want to see what your document looks like without some specific object, so you delete it, expecting to undo the change if you don’t like it. But, something goes wrong, and you either save, an auto-save kicks in, or you do something else to prevent you from using Undo. Normally, you’d be out of options unless you had happened to save a recent version of the document elsewhere.
With Rev though, all you have to do is double-click on a diff file that contains the object you regret having deleted. Rev looks at the current file, applies all the changes back to the point where the diff file you selected was created, and creates and opens a completely new ClarisWorks document representative of your original at that time. At that point, you could just copy the appropriate missing piece from the earlier document and paste it back into the current document, or you could throw out the current document and use the earlier one instead.
Auto-save — Several programs, most notably FileMaker Pro and HyperCard, essentially save every time you make a change, which makes it harder to lose data by forgetting to save. Unfortunately, these programs tend to scare people who realize that an experiment (so, does Delete All work on the entire database or just the currently found records?) could misfire and result in lost data. Rev works fine with these programs as well, although you should set it to make diff files every few minutes instead of every time the file changes, since the files change so frequently.
Some people avoid auto-save utilities for similar reasons – my father won’t use one with ClarisWorks because he wants complete control over saving while he’s using the graphics module. With something like Rev, he could reap the benefits of an auto-save without worrying about it saving an unwanted change.
That’s It — There isn’t anything else to Rev – it’s a simple application that watches what you do and helps bail you out if you end up with a version of your document that’s not as good as a previous version. Rev comes with online help and a minuscule manual, but there’s almost nothing that you can’t figure out purely from looking at the interface. I approve when that level of simplicity masks power and a broad appeal to most Mac users.
Rev works with all (as far as I know) Macintosh applications, and is perfect for people who write, edit, create graphics, program, or develop multimedia of any sort. Obviously, Rev is best if you spend a lot of time working in a relatively small number of documents – there’s no point in adding a document to Rev’s list if you’re not planning on working in it over time.
I plan to try Rev with pretty much all the applications I use, other than Nisus Writer, although even Nisus Writer can’t undo changes once a document is closed, whereas Rev has no trouble with that situation. I have to edit chapters of my books in Microsoft Word and I frequently manipulate images from my QuickTake camera in PhotoFlash. In both programs I’ve found myself in situations that Rev could have handled by enabling me to go back to a previous version.
Rev costs $49.95 directly from 6prime, and although you can check out their Web site for additional information, you can currently only order via phone or email. They hope to have online ordering available on their Web site soon.
6prime Corporation — 408/252-9828 — <[email protected]>
When I began working at my current office (an informal co-op of computer consultants and authors with a sign outside that reads "Galactic Headquarters"), I came from a desktop publishing job where I was both the "Macintosh guy" and the "PageMaker guy." I thought I knew a thing or two until I met these folks, who quite literally know nearly everything about PageMaker, QuarkXPress, Photoshop, FreeHand, and more – they can even write their own PostScript code if necessary. These were real Mac-heads.
Imagine my surprise to hear every excuse in the book for them to avoid attending a Macworld Expo. How could they not want to go to what I envisioned was a great harmonic convergence of the Macintosh faithful? (Perhaps it had something to do with their natural crowd-avoidance instincts, or just that they had been attending for years.) So, when TidBITS wanted to send me to the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I jumped at the opportunity. Here are some (admittedly random) observations from a Macworld Newbie.
Three Hours Fighting for Floor Space — After an early flight from Seattle to San Francisco, I checked into my hotel and dashed over to the Moscone convention center to register. I was issued a press pass and told to stand in a line – not exactly an exciting start. After waiting about 40 minutes, I typed my name in a computer, made a typo I couldn’t erase (I am now a member of "TidBITS N," our new North office), collected my badge and hurried to meet Tonya for the keynote speech.
My first bit of advice: although only 80,000 people attended Macworld, it’s best to get to the keynote early – say, the day before. When we arrived, about ten minutes before the presentation, we were barely able to sneak into the auditorium through a closing door and an impatient group of security personnel. Inching along the front of the room, we managed to secure two tiny places on the floor near a big video screen to the right of the stage. This is where we would spend the next three hours.
Reality Distortion Field in Action — Seeing Gil Amelio for the first time was interesting (his voice is slightly higher than I expected, and his appearance wearing a tie-less shirt sent murmurs through the audience), and for a while I was interested in what he was saying. Unfortunately, Amelio isn’t a good long-format speaker: I’m sure he must have mentioned the future of Apple and the Mac OS several times, but the words got lost in a small sea of pauses, umms, and ahhhs (I overheard later that Steve Jobs’s flight was delayed, necessitating Amelio’s impromptu performance). Finally, Jobs was introduced and brought on stage.
Now, I’ve heard stories about Jobs – stories which have become legend and are repeated with great weight and gravity over smoldering Lithium Ion PowerBook batteries during engineers’ camping trips. After reading for years about Jobs’s powder-keg personality, I half expected him to launch into an extended rant on stage. Instead, he was smooth and collected. That’s when I knew that the Reality Distortion Field was cranked up to full strength.
There’s no doubt Jobs owns the patent, license, and all future merchandising rights to the Reality Distortion Field. Steve Jobs belongs on stage. He came out, addressed unspoken questions people had about the NeXT OS, and got right to the point. Even if you’re dubious about the merger between Apple and NeXT, Steve Jobs can make you want to go out and start developing for the not-yet-born new OS hybrid even if you wouldn’t know a developer’s release from a press release.
However, when he’s done, he’s done. Watching Apple drag him back on stage to accept a Spartacus Macintosh (the ultra-stylish 20th anniversary model) was like witnessing a bored parent indulge a child’s umpteenth rendition of the same magic trick.
Macworld: Celebrity Central? If you were to ask me about celebrities I would have liked to see at Macworld, my short list would include Jobs, shareware author Peter Lewis, and maybe Guy Kawasaki just to see what he’s like in person. I was able to see Jobs on stage; Lewis stayed in his native Australia; and although Guy appeared at some booths and sessions, I never spotted him.
Instead, thanks to the keynote I was able to see bona-fide celebrities – you know, the Hollywood kind. Here’s a quick rundown:
The only man to stop an invading alien horde with a PowerBook and wireless modem, Jeff Goldblum, has a lot of charm, a good wit, and seems to "get it" about Apple and the Mac. Musician/multimedia artist Peter Gabriel definitely gets it in a big way, and even though his music demo went over my head, I could listen to him talk for days about a transcendent future of enlightenment through technology and education.
Muhammad Ali was a great boxer and great personality, and it’s too bad Parkinson’s disease and years in the ring are taking their toll on his health. But I doubt he’s a rabid Macintosh user, and it offends me that the latest trend seems to be to parade him in front of crowds reminiscing about the Atlanta Olympics torch lighting ceremony.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak by far had the best smile of the show. Can millions of dollars make a man happy? Who cares? He looks happy. I also briefly saw actor/dancer Gregory Hines and actor/comedian Sinbad, who were both shorter than I expected.
Oh Yeah, the Expo Itself — I’ll have to admit the keynote was probably the highlight of the show, at least in terms of solid information about Apple and the Mac OS (which eventually arrived toward the end of the speeches; see Tonya’s article about the subject in TidBITS-361). However, I noticed a few other things walking the floor and checking out the booths.
- The silent co-star of the Expo didn’t seem to be NeXT, Be, Power Computing, or even the Internet. Instead, one of the most interesting items – and simultaneously one of the most boring items – was OpenDoc. After years of talk and promises, OpenDoc finally looks like a maturing technology. It certainly contributed to one of the coolest demos I saw, which was Apple’s V-Twin search-and-organize technology. However, OpenDoc’s boring because it’s supposed to be: you shouldn’t have to think about what a cool technology it is, because it just works. Nisus Writer 5.0, for example, can now graph and draw and chart without having to resort to the long tradition of bloatware.
- I saw more 3D software packages than I expected, nearly all with splashy booths and impressive videos showing what the programs could do. The most interesting find, however, was a "splashless" little booth tucked in a corner containing Hash Inc.’s 3D Animation Pro software. Sporting inverse kinematics (which ties sections together that react to one another, like fingers on a hand), lip-sync capabilities, and collision detection, 3D Animation Pro was one of the most powerful-looking programs I saw. Retailing for around $200, it offers many of the features of high-end programs that can run anywhere from $500 to $3,000.
Wise Words from a Macworld Veteran — Now that I’ve been to a Macworld Expo, I’m free to extol advice, right? Here are some random nuggets that caught my attention:
If your company is hiring presenters, try to hire people with British, Australian, or Indian accents. I don’t know what it is, but a light accent sounds great over the small microphone/speaker devices that adorned nearly every presenter.
For your first Expo, try to have one or more experienced guides lead you around. Tagging along with Adam and Tonya was not only fun, but introduced me to many people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. It’s a cliche, but it is indeed who you know that’s important in many areas. Luckily, Adam and Tonya happen to know practically everybody, which makes for a slow crawl through the booths, but great conversations. (And for those of you who didn’t run into them: yes, their house is fine after the winter storms in Seattle last month. I lost track of how many people asked.)
Despite the overpowering urge to grab everything that’s free, don’t pick up every product sheet, button, or demo disk thrust at you. I don’t care how muscular or athletic you are, your shoulders will not be able to handle the load. Take only items that truly interest you. I saw press people carrying stacks of papers and press kits that wobbled well over a foot and a half in their arms. Forget that.
- Lastly, even though your espresso craving may be intense, don’t even try to get into the Starbucks closest to Moscone Center in the morning.