The Mac OS is perhaps the easiest operating system to use, but even beginners sense there’s more under the hood than first appears. A book by David Pogue and Joseph Schorr explores the Mac’s inner machinery. Also, Geoff Duncan reports on Apple’s newly announced Macintoshes, Matt Neuburg reviews Canvas 5.0.1, and Jeff Carlson explores the Internet from his favorite cafe, thanks to the Ricochet Wireless Modem.
QuickTake 200 — Apple announced the QuickTake 200, which briefly catches Apple up with the digital photography industry. The QuickTake 200 features a 1.8-inch LCD display that serves as a viewfinder and a means of viewing photos, along with NTSC video output and the ability to function as a video conferencing camera. Pictures are captured to removable storage cards, with the bundled 2 MB card holding about 20 high-quality images. The camera comes with Adobe PhotoDeluxe and PageMill, and should be available in early March for about $600. [GD]
Today at Macworld Expo Tokyo, Apple announced a new set of Macs, some of which give existing machines a speed bump and minor redesigns, one of which targets the Mac clone market, and one of which will make some PowerBook users green with envy.
Power Macs — At the high end come the Power Macintosh 9600/233 and 9600/200MP, which are enhancements to Apple’s 9500 series with faster versions of the 604e. The new 9600s have 12x CD-ROMs, 4 GB hard disks, 32 MB RAM, 512K of Level 2 cache, six PCI slots, 10Base-T Ethernet, and high performance IMS Twin Turbo 128 M4A video cards. Similarly, the new Power Mac 8600/200 is a revved-up version of the 8500, with a 12x CD-ROM, 32 MB RAM, the 8500’s video input/output capabilities, and a built-in Iomega Zip drive. The 9600/233 should be available in May for $4,250; the 9600/200MP and 8600/200 will be available in March for about $4,750 and $3,250, respectively.
Closer to earth is the Power Mac 7300, at prices from $2,300 to $2,800. The 7300 replaces the 7200 and 7600 as a middle-of-the-road system, and features a 604e processor running at 180 or 200 MHz, 16 or 32 MB of RAM, a 12x CD-ROM drive, 2 GB hard disk, 256K of Level 2 cache, three PCI slots, and 10Base-T Ethernet. The 7300 also adds a security feature to the accessible internal design of the 7000-series: it seems those internal components may have been too accessible. Apparently, a thermal problem with some CPU cards has delayed shipment of the 7300s, although Apple has reportedly told dealers units will be available in early March.
If the 9600s, 8600s, and 7300s are variations on a theme, then the low-cost Power Mac 4400 is a new tune from Apple. Designed to compete directly with Mac clones, the 4400 includes a 200 MHz 603e processor, 16 MB of EDO RAM, 8x CD-ROM, 2 IDE GB hard drive, two PCI slots, 256K of Level 2 cache and 10Base-T Ethernet (via a card in the Comm II slot). The 4400 is the first Apple machine based on the Tanzania motherboard used by clone vendors, and (also like clones) utilizes less-expensive parts from the PC world, including a mostly non-Apple case and non-switching power supply. Unlike other models, the 4400 has almost no bundled software, but with a price around $1,700 and performance in line with similarly-configured Mac clones, the 4400 could sell well.
The Power Macs 9600 and 8600 have new swing-out case designs that provide easier access to internal components, and the 9600, 8600, and 7300 all use replaceable CPU daughter cards, making it possible to upgrade the CPU without replacing the entire machine. These machines ship with System 7.5.5, except the Power Mac 4400, which ships with System 7.5.3. Apple says all these machines will run Mac OS 7.6.1, which should be available in April. All these new systems come with both a keyboard and a mouse.
PowerBook 3400c — Apple also introduced the fast, high-end PowerBook 3400c. The feature array for the 3400c includes a 603e processor at speeds from 180 to 240 MHz, 16 MB of RAM, 256K Level 2 cache, IDE hard drives from 1.3 to 3 GB, optional 6x and 12x CD-ROM drives, built-in 33.6 Kbps fax modem and 10Base-T Ethernet, and a stunning 12.1-inch active matrix screen. The PowerBook 3400c also has a hot-swappable drive bay (for a floppy drive, CD-ROM, or other devices), space for two Type II or one Type III PC Card, an infrared port, and a four-speaker sound system. The 3400c is reportedly very snappy, aided by its high clock speeds, 32-bit PCI bus, and responsive video. However, at 7.5 pounds and prices ranging from $4,500 to a whopping $6,500, the PowerBook 3400c is not for everyone. The 180 and 200 MHz versions of the 3400c should be available this week, with the 240 MHz versions appearing in April.
The Response — Are Macintosh clone vendors going to let Apple steal the thunder with new machines? Not likely: you can expect vendors to reduce prices in response to Apple’s new models, as well as introduce new models of their own. Also, as Apple’s new machines enter the channel, watch for discounts on now-discontinued 7600, 8500, and 9500 models.
With any new Macintosh book, I evaluate its worth on how quickly I can locate valuable information that I can use immediately. Macworld Mac Secrets, Fourth Edition, by David Pogue and Joseph Schorr, rewarded me with these morsels:
I was helping a friend do diagnostic work on her Quadra 605 and PowerBook 140. I learned that the Quadra 605 is identical to the LC 475 and the Performa 475, including the 68LC040 chip, which gave me a useful frame of reference; and that the PowerBook 140 runs at 16 MHz on a 68030 chip, which helps explain the speed discrepancy from her Quadra.
- In the chapter on ClarisWorks word processing secrets, I learned several new features about the "wonderfulness of ClarisWorks Click-and-Drop" and that "amazing Font menu." The Option key triggers all sorts of tricks in ClarisWorks’ humble list of fonts!
The word "secrets" is appropriate to about one third of the information in the book. The other two thirds consist of useful general knowledge about all aspects of the Macintosh, plus helpful tips and tricks to boost your Mac productivity and enjoyment.
Lots of Book for the Buck — Mac Secrets consists of three components: the massive book (1,208 pages), a respectably packed CD-ROM disk (550 MB), and a Web site for updates to the book and the bundled software. This edition is quite current, demonstrated by a reference to Mac OS 7.6’s new installer, and, ironically, to rumors of Apple’s potential liaison with Be, Inc.
The authors describe the fourth edition by stating that "everything’s different, nothing’s changed." The format and feel are consistent with earlier editions, but the look is cleaner and easier to read. On the CD, the custom folder icons from previous editions have been replaced by "plain, boring, ordinary" folders, so they open rapidly.
Pogue and Schorr offer a diversified presentation, including conventional text and occasional entertaining back-and-forth dialogues, plus sidebars of secrets, true facts, case histories, and "Answer Man" solutions. The book is peppered with bulleted bonuses, such as Speed Tips, Exclusives, On the CD, Strange but True, and Worth Learning. For example, one tip worth exploring is "The Golden Troubleshooting Rule: A Clean Install," which explains the benefits of installing all generations of Mac system software from scratch, instead of on top of an existing System.
Chapter 4 is an outstanding, mini-encyclopedia on control panels and extensions, including "The Ultimate Extension-Linking Guide." Troubleshooting your Mac is covered in an excellent 30-page chapter. An extensive glossary and index help readers locate and understand terms, concepts, and the secrets themselves.
More Than Just a Book — Is this a book or a software package? Pogue and Schorr understand that "despite the countless hours your cheerful authors have spent researching and writing this book, you may well consider the software supplied with this book to be the main course." They’re not kidding: a total of 110 different shareware, freeware, and commercial programs and demos fill up the CD-ROM, and the book uses 58 pages explains the software in detail.
A few fully functional titles include: CanOpener, Claris Emailer, DiskFit Direct, TechTool, TypeIt4Me, Remember?, Cyberdog, OpenDoc, and QuickTime. The CD is a veritable software library kept up to date via the book’s Web site. (Discount coupons for upgrades and full versions of many commercial applications are also provided.)
On the CD, the software is conveniently listed by chapter, category, author, and a few more groupings, aliased to the Complete Software List. The entire text of the book is on the CD, in searchable Adobe Acrobat format.
Macworld Mac Secrets is extensive, but no doubt there are Mac secrets that didn’t make it into the manuscript. The co-authors are conducting a 1997 contest for the 50 best undocumented Mac secrets, with one $500 top cash prize and 50 free books awarded (with credit to the winners).
Macworld Mac Secrets is a good value for the money that will receive plenty of use either as an addition to your library or as a gift. I give this book my highest recommendation, especially for intermediate-level Macintosh users.
Macworld Mac Secrets, 4th Edition, David Pogue and Joseph
Schorr, ISBN 0-7645-4006-8. $44.95 U.S., $62.99 Canadian.
IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. — 800/762-2974 — 800-667-1115
(Canada) — <[email protected]> (international)
I’m a big fan of "cafe computing." I don’t mean going to a cybercafe, where the coffee-stained hardware is already there and waiting, or a trendy coffee mega-chain where an open laptop advertises pseudo-geek chic. I’m talking about sitting in my favorite coffee house with my PowerBook and doing a little writing. Since I spend most of my days in front of a computer screen, it’s nice to change the walls and atmosphere around it.
So, when I heard about Metricom’s Ricochet Wireless Modem, I was excited. Liberated from telephone jacks and cords, I could spend all day at the coffee house, sending and receiving email, searching the Web, even dialing the server at work via Apple Remote Access. Had I stumbled upon Utopia? Well, almost.
Get Unwired — The Ricochet modem is a small, black, rectangular device weighing 13 ounces, with a cord that plugs into the Mac’s serial port. The cord is only about six inches long, so you don’t have to worry about dangling wire. If you use the Ricochet on a desktop machine, I suggest buying the optional 10-foot cable. You can mount the unit on your PowerBook cover with the included velcro pads, but since I’m the type who gets nervous about bumper stickers on my car, I left the velcro in the package. The kit also comes with an AC adapter; two disks with the Ricochet software, MacPPP, and Netscape Navigator 2.0; plus a manual.
For a $29.95 monthly fee (the Basic Service option), you get unlimited Internet access via Metricom’s Ricochet servers and a POP email account. Renting the modem costs $12.50 per month on top of that, or you can buy the unit for either $299 (with a 12 month service agreement) or $599 (if you want the modem, but not the Internet access, to communicate wireless on a Ricochet-enabled Intranet or LAN, or even in the same room with others with Ricochets). You can also opt for a rent-to-own agreement at $25 per month. I chose the basic modem rental, since the Ricochet is bound to get smaller and lighter over time. Additional fees give you additional services: the Preferred option includes Telephone Modem Access (TMA), allowing you to dial into services accessible only via telephone number (such as other ISPs and bulletin board services). The Elite option includes a cc:Mail account and software (substituted for POP email), TMA, dial-in capability to retrieve mail outside the Ricochet coverage area, and outbound fax capability (at the unusually high cost of 50 cents per page).
The biggest limitation of the Ricochet service is its current coverage area, which is limited to Seattle, most of the San Francisco Bay area, and Washington D.C., although I gather that Metricom is frantically trying to expand coverage to meet demand.
Expanding coverage, however, isn’t necessarily simple, requiring a good deal of infrastructure and the cooperation of a given city’s government. If you live in one of the cities currently covered, you may notice many street lamps have acquired boxy appendages. Those "microcell radios" grab signals from Ricochet modems and pass them along to other microcells within the license-free (902-928 MHz) portion of the radio frequency spectrum using a technique called frequency hopping. The radio packets are eventually routed to a Wired Access Point (WAP), which transmits them to Ricochet’s servers via a T1 connection. Microcells are spaced roughly one-quarter to one-half mile apart in a checkerboard pattern, mounted on street lamps and utility poles. Installing these units requires city approval, which in most cases is no problem. However, a large chunk of San Francisco, for example, is currently "blacked out" due to pending approval.
Using the Ricochet — Installing the software was surprisingly easy. Although I backed up my TCP/IP settings first, the Ricochet installer made my preparations seem like overkill: the TCP/IP information was stored as a new TCP/IP configuration and made active. After a restart, I was ready to go.
The Ricochet’s power switch is on the side of the unit, requiring you to rotate the antenna out of the way to power up the modem – a nice touch that largely avoids accidentally turning it on and draining the battery. The switch has three settings: off, on/silent, and on/audible. If you’re used to the R2-D2-on-acid electronic screech of most modems, the polite chirp of the Ricochet will be a welcome change. After activation, a red light case flashes to indicate the Ricochet is searching for the signal from a nearby microcell; when the light flashes green, you’re ready to dial up using PPP; when you’re connected, the light flashes yellow.
Once connected, the Internet experience is similar to wire-based connections. Metricom broadly (and wisely) claims that the Ricochet will operate between 14.4 Kbps and 28.8 Kbps – not lightning-fast, but good compared to cellular phone/modem connections. People who need Internet access while away from the office would benefit by using the Ricochet, regardless of the speed. I found the speed hovering closer to the low range, depending on my location. The manual recommends operating the unit outside or near a window, and away from objects that could cause interference, such as stereo speakers.
The Ricochet’s battery lasted between four and six hours, as promised, which was fine. I unexpectedly ran out of juice on only a couple of occasions before discovering a tip on Metricom’s Web site: you can put the modem to sleep by running a terminal program such as Zterm and typing "ATS327=3". You can set the time of inactivity before sleep by typing "ATS326=x" (x being the number of minutes; the default is 10).
Wild, Wireless Ways — After using the Ricochet for a few hours, I had completely adjusted to the notion of wireless computing. Suddenly, the idea of messing around with phone companies and wired access seemed outdated and antiquated. Certainly, wireless Internet access is the way access ought to be, although I’m sure it will years before we look back and laugh at our reliance on land-line connections. In the meantime, users who require mobile Internet access will find the Ricochet an invaluable addition to the growing arsenal of portable-computing products.
Ironically, although I enjoyed using the Ricochet, I’m compelled to mentioned that it no longer travels with me. One of the main reasons I got it was to serve as a second phone line both at work and at home, with the added bonus of using it in the coffee house. But because the speed was consistently slow in my home (and since the people in my office are installing an ISDN line) I opted for the slightly cheaper route and put a second phone line into my apartment. Frankly, $42.50 per month was a bit of a luxury, so I took the Richochet back. However, I’m still an advocate of cafe computing, and I won’t think twice about getting one in the future. For now I’ll be content to envy the other people with Ricochets in my favorite coffee house.
Although I’m no artist, I do need to make diagrams and pictures occasionally, and the early surprise and pleasure of MacPaint and MacDraw helped define the Macintosh for me. For years I was a fan of SuperPaint (TidBITS-112), which essentially combined the two; but it "progressed" to become sluggish, and when I used it to diagram my New Zealand garden, it was clumsy, it wouldn’t print, and screen updating was slow. That’s when I switched to Deneba’s Canvas 3.5.
Put Me in the Picture — Canvas, which first appeared in 1987, had developed a kind of cult following. It could both draw and paint, and it went beyond SuperPaint in its precision, multi-layered documents, and the many cool tricks it could do thanks to its component architecture, which allowed integration of new tools, such as binding text to a path, or adding dimension measurements. It was quick and rugged. Most remarkably, it handled a huge variety of graphics formats.
When Deneba announced that Canvas would be so radically improved as to be designated 5.0, we adherents were smug. We’d backed the right horse this time! Our anticipation, though, was prolonged. Canvas 5.0 was advertised month after month; the upgrade was previewed at Macworld Expo in August, 1995, and again in January, 1996; but no product. Finally, it "shipped" at the Expo in August, 1996 – meaning that in late September and early October, users began actually receiving copies.
A collective howl of anti-climactic despair arose on the nets. Users complained of crashes, erratic behavior, of slow screen updating, of unaccountably large file sizes, of inability to print, of inability to export to PICT or to import from Canvas 3.5. My own first 5.0 project, a house diagram, was a dismal failure – the dimension measurements showed as nonsense, and rotated text wouldn’t print on my StyleWriter (I went back to 3.5 and did the job easily). Deneba’s customer support server was swamped; an email provoked an automated response after a few days, a human response after weeks or never. Evidently, for all our patience, 5.0 was still not the real release.
In November, a 5.0.1 updater appeared. In January, a new installation CD shipped. My printing problems went away when I adopted Apple’s Color StyleWriter 1500 driver (no thanks to any advice from Deneba). The dust was finally settling.
Graphic Analysis — As promised, Canvas 5.0.1 goes well beyond its predecessor, integrating into one program capabilities that could save users from having to purchase single-purpose applications in a number of areas.
It’s a draw program. You get the usual vector-based shapes and Bezier paths, plus many specialized shapes, enhanced by pen widths, arrows and calligraphic shapes, plus colors, gradients, hatchings, and textures, all heavily customizable and savable in library form for later use. Bezier paths can also now be combined and blended in powerful new ways.
It’s a diagram program. As in 3.5, "smart lines" link their objects even when the latter are moved, and dimension tools and "smart mouse" features help with exact measurements.
It’s a 3-D program. The extrusion tool now makes parallel or circular rotatable objects with customizable lighting.
It’s a page layout program. A new type of document, the publication, can have columns, linked text boxes, headers and footers. You can have cascading paragraph and character styles, automatic hyphenation, even widow and orphan control.
It’s a paint program. The paint tools include many new ways of laying on color, plus complex transfer modes and tools for smudging, sharpening, blurring, saturating and so on.
It’s an image-processing program. You can use channels, masks, and filters to manipulate images in complex ways.
- It’s a presentation program. You can use successions of images to make a slide show (not much changed from 3.5).
Dull as Paint — Unfortunately, Deneba has created a decidedly unpleasant user experience. The program feels at every step like a cross-platform port: the help file reminds one of Microsoft Help; the dialogs have an un-Mac-like look and feel; a status bar mars the bottom of the screen; 3.5’s extensive scriptability is completely gone; and there are occasional meaningless error messages. Installation is a nightmare, with dozens of undocumented files dumped into the System folder. The manual, while impressively slimmed down from 3.5’s 900-page brick, is a tedious, repetitive reference, burdened with double sets of illustrations and instructions for both Windows and Mac.
A number of problems come down to speed, or the lack of it. On my computer using Canvas 5.0.1 is painfully slow. Okay, so I’ve got an LC 475. But that’s a 68040 processor, though without an FPU. It runs 3.5 quickly, and comments on the net suggest that even Power Mac owners find 5.0.1 sluggish.
The screen is astoundingly slow to refresh – and it chooses to refresh a lot, at the most unaccountable times: after you’ve peeked at a palette; after just about any individual operation on a single object; even after scrolling in a floating window that doesn’t cover any of the drawing. If you switch in from another application, the screen sometimes partially redraws, then the floating palettes redraw (also a tedious operation), and then the screen starts redrawing (slowly!) all over again. Besides which, the screen often unaccountably vanishes in the middle of an operation, or redraws incorrectly, so you have to force a refresh – and wait through it.
Various operations seem to send my computer into a frozen limbo: no status-bar message, no watch cursor, no change in my menubar clock, no response to clicks, no ability to switch away, nothing. Thus I have frequently believed the program to have crashed and restarted the computer; but it appears that most of the time there was in fact some calculation going on. An indication of this would have been nice.
Bad Brushwork — Basic tools have not been much improved; on the whole, they are inconvenient and clumsy to use, both physically and mentally.
For example, selection tools are poor; it can be difficult and tedious to select the particular vector items you want, because all you can do is click or draw rectangles.
With the Bezier path tools, it is difficult to see what’s going on as you draw or select, even with your face right up against the screen. Drawing a new path is unnecessarily difficult: after you draw the first point and tangent, the tangent vanishes, leaving just a point that’s difficult to see and which gives you no sense of what will happen as you draw the second point and tangent. (As you draw subsequent points, the previous point and its tangent are both shown, so why not as you draw the second point?) There are no keyboard shortcuts for selecting points or tangent handles; you have to find them by eye (not easy) and click right on them (ditto). There have been some improvements in these tools – a new pop-up menu is a welcome relief from the numerous modifier-click path editing combinations one used to have to memorize – but they don’t make up for these basic shortcomings.
When you use a paint tool, you can’t see what you’re doing either, because it appears as the same little icon regardless of the size and shape of the actual brush you’re using; in effect, you’re trying to paint with an invisible brush, so you just have to guess at the effect of clicking the mouse at any particular point. This is a major step backwards from 3.5.
It is hard to learn what the current settings are for any particular object. For instance, after you select an object, clicking on the line tool doesn’t show you the object’s line width (you must tear off the palette and scroll through it, hunting for the selected item); nor does the object’s pen or fill color become selected in the inks palette. The distinction between a particular object’s settings and the default settings remains confusing as well.
Drawing Conclusions — Canvas 5.0 was shamefully full of bugs and errors; a glance at Deneba’s own lists of changes and fixes in 5.0.1 shows just how full (and such lists are usually deliberately incomplete).
Canvas 5.0.1 runs far more reliably, but still in a sluggish, useless, unhelpful way. The slowness of screen redraw, in particular, is unforgivable; I have enough spare RAM that the program could cache the whole screen as a bitmap (though even paging out to disk and back would be vastly faster than what’s happening now), and in any case I don’t see why all 50 objects on the screen have to redraw just because I change the color of one of them. Both screen redraw and the interface with the basic vector and paint tools need to be rethought from the ground up, if this version of Canvas is to be useful.
Meanwhile, Deneba has not dropped Canvas 3.5 from its list of current products. That’s wise.