How long will you wait for Mac OS 8? Only a few months, as Apple re-christens Tempo. Also this week, we bring you news on a final release of CFM-68K, increases in Mac OS market share, and a sweet deal from Apple for some Performa owners. Plus, we take a look at feedback from readers on retail Macintosh sales, and Matt Neuburg offers an in-depth look at the multimedia authoring program SuperCard 3.0.
CFM-68K 4.0 — Apple has released version 4.0 of the CFM-68K Runtime Enabler, which corrects "all known problems" with previous versions of the component (see TidBITS-356). CFM-68K allows applications that require the Code Fragment Manager (like LaserWriter 8.4, Cyberdog, AOL 3.0, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0) to run on 68K machines. Now that a final version of CFM-68K is available, releases of CFM applications for 68K machines should appear shortly. [JLC]
Info-Mac Shutting Down for Two Weeks — Beginning 12-Mar-97, the Info-Mac software archive and mailing list will be down for two weeks to allow the all-volunteer Info-Mac moderators to shift their operations from the venerable sumex-aim.stanford.edu to a new machine. No new uploads or digest messages will be accepted during this time, although Info-Mac mirrors worldwide will of course still be available. We’ll put an announcement in TidBITS when Info-Mac is up and running at its new home at MIT. [GD]
Fetch 3.0.2 Released — As companies have begun to use the Internet to deliver software directly to users, file sizes seem to have grown exponentially. And frequently, as you download these huge files, your modem connection will break, requiring you to download the whole thing again. Fetch 3.0.2 circumvents this problem by incorporating a Resume Download feature that attempts to pick up where the first connection left off, assuming the specific FTP server you’re using supports it. Other improvements in this release include greater stability with Open Transport, and incorporation of Stuart Cheshire’s Natural Order sorting algorithm (see TidBITS-364). [JLC]
Internal Ethernet for PowerBook 1400 — Dayna Communications, Inc. recently announced plans to ship an internal Ethernet adapter for the PowerBook 1400 series this spring. The 10Base-T adapter will install under the laptop’s keyboard rather than in one of the computer’s two PC Card slots. Dayna and other manufacturers already offer PowerBook-compatible PC Cards with 10Base-T or 10Base-2 (thin) Ethernet ports, and combination cards with Ethernet ports and data/fax modem features. [MHA]
WebTV Alertbox — After Mark Anbinder’s article about the WebTV in TidBITS-367, Keith Instone <[email protected]> wrote to suggest that we check out an article about the WebTV. Written by Jakob Nielsen (a SunSoft Distinguished Engineer) for his Alertbox column, the article looks in detail at the usability factors of the WebTV, and it’s definitely worth reading if you’re considering one. I also encourage you to take a look at Jakob’s other Alertbox columns – I was especially intrigued by his 01-Mar-97 column about the need for speed on the Web, which comes to the conclusion that speed (meaning minimal graphics and multimedia effects) must be the overriding design criterion for Web pages, something we’ve long said here at TidBITS. [ACE]
TidBITS Search Tool Shootout Reminder — In TidBITS-368, we announced details of our contest to find the best Macintosh-based Web search tools to be used on the 11 MB of TidBITS back issues. The winning solution (whether it’s a specific product or creative implementation of several tools) will receive the main thing we have to give – exposure in TidBITS. The deadline for entering is fast approaching – 17-Mar-97 – so contact Managing Editor Jeff Carlson at <[email protected]> to participate. [JLC]
In an unexpected move, Apple announced last week that Tempo, the next incremental release of the Mac OS due this July, will ship under the moniker Mac OS 8 instead of Mac OS 7.7. Apple claims Tempo is a significant technological and user experience upgrade, and includes features like a PowerPC-native, multi-threaded Finder, significant interface changes, and the spring-loaded folders originally intended for Copland (the now-scrapped operating system formerly known as Mac OS 8).
It’s widely rumored this re-christening has less to do with making operating system releases clear to customers than with Mac OS licensing fees. Clone vendors currently have licenses only for System 7, and may have to obtain new licenses for Mac OS 8. Although this may create new opportunities for the application-poor BeOS, the timing should come as no surprise: most clone vendors knew Apple planned to ship a Mac OS 8 in 1997 when they originally signed up. However, Apple could be looking to increase its flagging revenues at the expense of Mac OS licensees, which could hurt the Mac clone business, a dangerous move in today’s market. [GD]
Mac OS Clone Sales — Dataquest recently released updated personal computer market share numbers that showed Apple’s licensing of the Mac OS provided noticeable increase in the overall Mac OS market share for 1996. Apple Computer’s share of the personal computer market was 6.7 percent in 1996, good for fifth place, but adding the Mac OS clones into the mix raises the numbers to 7.8 percent, or fourth place. In addition, Computer Intelligence just released numbers showing that the Mac OS market share in the U.S. dealer channel grew from 8 percent in Nov-96 to 11 percent in Jan-97, again, due primarily to Mac OS clone sales. Interesting stuff, especially in light of Matt Deatherage’s comments in TidBITS-363. [ACE]
Apple Drops QuickDraw GX Printing — Due to limited user acceptance and developer support, Apple has announced it will not include the printing features of its QuickDraw GX technology in the upcoming Mac OS 8. Other aspects of QuickDraw GX, including typographic and object-based graphics, will be rolled into the OS release. [JLC]
FTC Holds Apple Accountable — If you bought a Performa or LC 550 or a Performa 560 after 01-Apr-94, you may be able to purchase a PowerPC upgrade for $599, including upgraded software and extra RAM – and if you already upgraded your machine to PowerPC, you might be able to get $776 back from Apple! The Federal Trade Commission has held Apple accountable for "false and misleading" advertising regarding PowerPC upgrades for these specific machines. Although Apple admitted no guilt, Apple will be contacting customers directly about rebates. If this settlement affects you, feel free to contact Apple directly with your machine’s serial number or a proof of purchase. Apple Computer, Inc. — 408/996-1010 [GD]
More Developer Relations — Apple recently named David Krathwohl to replace the popular Heidi Roizen (see TidBITS-365) as the vice president of Apple Developer Relations. Although we haven’t heard a much from developers about the move, David has the background for the job, having managed Developer Relations in Europe for three years, after which Heidi named him director of International Developer Relations. [ACE]
Back in TidBITS-367, Ian Gregson reported on his experiences while working at Future Shop during the last holiday shopping season, and suggested that Apple could improve sales by better convincing consumers that they want Macs and by better rewarding salespeople who sell Macs. Several readers wrote in to support and augment these views.
Peter Miller <[email protected]> gave an Australian perspective, commenting that customer service is also important:
Down here in Sydney we have a number of Mac outlets, including Apple Centres, approved resellers, and the ubiquitous MacWarehouse. They are uniformly below what could be considered a reasonable level of service for any consumer item. The situation is so bad that recently my office manager told a MacWarehouse administrator that we would gladly pay extra for reasonable service…
Apple is being remiss in (at least) two ways: firstly they should be looking after the Mac evangelists and should have stuck with them despite the vast price differences between platforms. Secondly, they need intelligent sales representatives that actively promote and support the product. Neither of these things seem to happen here.
Francis Drake <[email protected]> wrote in from the southeastern U.S. to share concerns over Mac upkeep:
I live in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. Lately, when I visit the local superstores (such as Computer City or CompUSA) and pass by the "Mac ghettos" they’re invariably smaller than they used to be or don’t exist at all, the demo machines don’t work, and sales staff is nonexistent.
Jeri Croucher <[email protected]> from Alaska, shared concerns with the supply of new Macs and repair parts:
I am a salesperson at a computer store in Fairbanks, Alaska. I sell many more Macs than I do PCs because I believe that the first-time computer user will probably do much better on a Mac. However, lately selling Macs has been difficult. When the new PowerBooks were released, I took orders for eight. All of these orders were cancelled within a few months by customers who needed a portable computer now. The store just received its first PowerBook 1400 two weeks ago. These machines were ordered the day Apple released them. Who can blame me if next time I suggest a customer buy something I know I can get? Also, when a machine needs a repair, often there is a long wait for the part. I have had customers with Macs less than two months old wait up to six months for a repair part. I think everyone should own a Mac but I am disturbed at the way the company is handling business. Advertising will do nothing until Apple can live up to its end of the bargain with support and supply.
Shawn King <[email protected]>, wrote to both TidBITS and to Guy Kawasaki’s EvangeList with comments and suggestions for Apple:
I have been the Apple Demo Days Supervisor here in Western Canada for the past two promotions. I can tell you from personal experience Apple does a lousy job of communicating to the non-computer using consumer. I had dozens of customers a day, customers that are the perfect market for Performas (Mom, Dad, 2.2 kids, etc.) who knew Macs are easy to use but who didn’t want to buy a computer that was "out-of-date" or "from a company going out of business." Rather than showing customers features that blow them away like the TV Tuner Card, QTVR, ease of Internet setup, and Megaphone, we spent an inordinate amount of time explaining Apple. The lack of fight in Apple is perceived by the consumer that Apple has given up and is just "clearing stock."
Chilly Climate — Given the overall climate in the computer industry, frankly, Apple gets enough bad press [most of which comes in the form of "news" reports and opinion columns, rather than users’ honest comments. -Jeff]. However, TidBITS didn’t receive any feedback giving opposing examples to problems cited in Ian’s article.
I’d love for someone in a leadership role at Apple to outline a plan for addressing these problems and periodically share the progress in implementing the plan. Take America Online: they have a big problem – it’s difficult to connect to their service since they instituted flat-rate pricing. What are they doing? Running prime-time TV ads about how they are solving the problem. The ad I saw last night even mentioned how many new phone lines they’ve added recently. Little would please me more than – six months from now – writing a glowing article describing how Apple is implementing a crisp and polished sales strategy for the next holiday shopping season.
As a long-time user of Apple’s HyperCard, I had never given SuperCard a glance. HyperCard, when it was free, had been my reason for first buying a Macintosh; with it, I’ve written language-lab courseware and distributed stacks on the net, and I still reach for it to contrive spontaneous solutions when information storage or task automation beckons. It’s easy: you draw buttons for clicking, and fields to hold text, arrange them on "cards" (sets of window contents), and endow it all with functionality through HyperTalk, an English-like, powerful, mildly object-oriented, dynamic scripting language. Presto, you’ve put up a Mac-like interface to a homemade program.
My HyperCard loyalty verges on fanaticism; a once-again free HyperCard figures heavily in my secret, mad strategy to save the Mac. Nevertheless after HyperCard’s explosive development between 1987 and 1991, it languished and nearly died at version 2.1. True, in early 1994, version 2.2 appeared, a major upgrade that greatly heartened users, including me. But progress since then, although we’re now at version 2.3.5, has been all but insignificant. HyperCard 3, Apple’s planned port to QuickTime, seems an intriguing but as-yet distant dream.
SuperCard, meanwhile, I knew of only by hearsay, as a "HyperCard wannabe." Then I saw SuperCard demonstrated at Macworld Expo in January and wondered: what if, after all, this was HyperCard done right?
SuperCard was created by Silicon Beach Software, eventually acquired by Aldus. Allegiant Technologies, Inc., then broke away from Aldus to take over SuperCard’s development. That was at the end of 1993; thus, exactly while HyperCard has seemed most moribund, SuperCard has most vigorously evolved. SuperCard 3.0, a major upgrade, was unveiled just this past December. [A 3.0.1 updater that improves performance is available via the Allegiant Web site. -Adam]
Objects All Sublime — SuperCard rethinks and extends the HyperCard battery of objects. The top of HyperCard’s hierarchy is the stack; changing windows means changing stacks, unless you use an XCMD to put up an "external" window. SuperCard starts with the "project"; one project can open another, but it can also contain multiple windows, and each window, though in effect a HyperCard stack, can be of any standard type, including dialogs and floating palettes.
Menus are similarly well integrated. A project can contain multiple menu sets, each containing menus which contain menu items. Both menus and menu items are full-fledged objects, both containing scripts and receiving messages.
Like a HyperCard stack, a SuperCard window has backgrounds and cards, and these can contain buttons and fields. But they can also contain graphics; these too contain scripts and receive mouse-event messages, just like a button. A graphic can be a bitmapped rectangular region, or it can be vector-based, thus taking up little memory and adopting any standard shape (rectangle, oval, arc, roundrect, polygon, or freehand). Since buttons themselves can be polygons, too, it’s no wonder that "Anything can be a button" was once a SuperCard motto.
The SuperTalk language is mostly a superset of HyperTalk, extending it in clever and desirable ways. Some telling examples: there’s a "case" control structure; besides the string offset function, there’s the lineOffset that tells you in what line of one string another is found; the "describe" function makes lists of similar features, such as all the buttons of this background; the textHeightSum tells you the pixel height of all text in a field as currently wrapped; you can set not just the itemDelimiter but the wordDelimiter and the lineDelimiter as well. The message-passing hierarchy beats HyperCard’s too, especially when HyperCard’s "start using" feature is generalized to allow insertion of scripts from any object at either the bottom or the top of the hierarchy.
In just one respect, I feel, SuperCard’s structure falls short. Imagine a stack (project) of to-do items: every card contains a field describing the item, plus a checkbox to show if the item is completed. Since these elements are common to all cards, they should be background items; but SuperCard background buttons cannot have different highlighting on each card (checkbox checking is considered highlighting). The same problem vitiates one of SuperCard’s most brilliant innovations: user properties. You can define and manipulate custom properties for any object, thus associating information directly with the object to which it pertains; yet a background object cannot have different values for its user properties on different cards. To me, that undermines the value of background objects.
The Multimedia Is the Message — In line with its image as a multimedia tool comparable to Macromedia Director, SuperCard integrates many features to dazzle and entertain the end-user. Of these, the most welcome to HyperCarders is surely color, which is fully built in. Vector graphics, fields, and buttons can have colored and patterned frame and fill. In fields, a character style can involve color. Buttons can have color icons (but not, curiously, colored text). Vector graphics can contain colored text, or a picture image (importable from various popular formats). Overlapping colors can interact in complex ways via many transparency, blending, and addition effects. Custom color tables and import of 16-bit and 24-bit bitmaps allow top-quality images.
Powerful movie commands let you manipulate QuickTime to your heart’s content, and if that isn’t enough you can play PICS animations and PICT "filmstrips" – plus, objects can be made to move along paths, and change their pictures or icons. Sounds can be played either from resources or from AIFF/AIFC files, and you can access text-to-speech through the Speech Manager. Since these effects are available asynchronously, your project can easily become a riot of activity and sound.
Edit for Your Life — The SuperCard environment is not fully dynamic; you are either running a project as an end-user, or you are editing it to add, remove, and alter objects, with system messages suppressed. The two states do overlap somewhat: in run mode you can still edit scripts, and in edit mode you can still send messages via the message box. Nevertheless, the dichotomy seems unfamiliar and awkward to a HyperCard user (and the transition between the two modes is rather tedious on my 68K machine).
Editing uses the new Project Editor, a set of windows, floating palettes, and menus which themselves are a SuperCard project, an astonishing demonstration of SuperCard’s power (and a commendable example of the toolmakers relying on their own tool, a practice which invariably improves the tool). The Project Editor supersedes SuperCard’s earlier editing environment, called SuperEdit – which is still included (because not all its functions could be emulated by the Project Editor), even though it has not been upgraded for SuperCard’s new entities.
The result is a hybrid. Only SuperEdit can edit cursors, icons, color tables, and bitmaps in close-up ("fatbits"); only SuperEdit lets you shape polygon buttons via auto-tracing, or replace a card’s background without affecting its card layer. But it ignores color icons, and can’t import PICT resources into graphics. In general, you’re expected to work in Project Editor and quit out to SuperEdit only when necessary. It’s disconcerting.
The good news is that many of the Project Editor tools are just what HyperCarders are starved for. The Property Inspector palette lists and lets you select every object of the current card or background, then shows and lets you set the selected object’s name, position, size, and major properties. The Project Browser lets you list, select, create, and delete windows, cards, backgrounds, and menus – plus it includes a resource copier. There are palettes for object color and object text. Object editing includes the ability to align, scale, and rotate objects, lock them to prevent accidents, and even group them into new compound objects. A fine Search feature lets you look for text in names, scripts, or contents, and restrict your search to various object subsets, obtaining a clickable list of objects and scripts.
Best of all is the message box – why on earth didn’t HyperCard do it this way? The SuperCard message box has two parts, one for your command, the other for SuperCard’s response (whereas HyperCard’s response overwrites your command). The response area can be enlarged and scrolled so you can see a whole multi-line response, and your commands are saved into a history pane for later repetition. But why didn’t Allegiant go all the way and let the command area be multi-lined too, so that you could type and run a utility script from it? Instead, you have to create a handler in some object’s script and then call it, as in HyperCard.
Script editing takes place in a modal dialog box that covers the screen and can’t be resized (unless you’re in SuperEdit). I find this unpleasant and astonishingly primitive; while editing a script, one needs to investigate objects and consult other scripts.
What’s Up, Docs? The manuals are not at all bad, considering the size of the subject. There are quite a number of misprints, including occasional howlers where a crucial sentence asserts exactly the opposite of the truth. There’s also a certain amount of repetition; the manuals are a bit out of synch with what’s actually shipped, and some of the coolest new features are omitted. But much effort has evidently gone into making the manuals both compendious and instructive, and it has paid off.
Letting Go — SuperCard projects can be released in three forms. The project itself can be given to someone who has SuperCard or the free SuperCard Player. Or, the project may be built into a stand-alone application. Or, the project (provided it has but one window, and subject to many other restrictions) may be played over the Internet through a Web browser using the free Roadster Web browser plug-in.
I tried to convert a project into a stand-alone and found the process harrowing. My main difficulty turned out to be SuperCard’s handling of color icons from its SharedFile library. These need to be transferred into the project, but if you set up the Standalone Maker utility to do this automatically it changes the icons’ ID numbers and the project can no longer see them. So you have to find all color icons manually and move them into the project, then change every button that uses them to see its newly renumbered icon. This took a couple of hours, and the interface was buggy and crude. At the end of the process the Standalone Maker quit with an unexplained error and I never got my stand-alone. I did learn that a stand-alone aimed at 68K machines adds nearly 1 MB to the size of the project, much more than the 540K claimed by the manuals.
I didn’t have the wherewithal to test the Roadster distribution method properly for this review. It’s intriguing, though, and the manual outlines numerous techniques for loading data so the project will start running on the user’s machine before all the resources and data have downloaded (and even how to behave if particular data or media is not yet available). Acceptance is the real problem – whether people will download a 1 MB browser plug-in just to view your project, especially with so many other plug-ins, plus Java, clamoring for attention.
SuperCard won’t replace HyperCard in my personal software arsenal, because to me they aren’t in the same category. To throw together a solution for personal use, HyperCard will always get the nod: it’s faster, smaller, and far more convenient. And even though Allegiant touts HyperCard compatibility, few of my existing HyperCard stacks could be effectively ported to SuperCard, because they each rely on HyperCard features that SuperCard lacks: its ability to print reports and fields; its full scriptability (and its capacity to run OSA scripts internally); its use of fields for list-selection (SuperCard has list-selection fields but you can’t style individual chunks of text in them); its far better sorting; its Boolean card-marking; and (as already mentioned) its use of non-shared background button highlighting. I believe that these shortcomings could mostly be worked around or made up for by XCMDs (not all of them free), but it’s interesting that the focus of my HyperCard stacks is so exactly SuperCard’s missing features.
Nonetheless, to build and distribute stand-alone applications that don’t need any of these features (since presumably my issues with Standalone Maker can be ironed out), SuperCard ought to be ideal. Its rational design shows up HyperCard for the quirky, misshapenly grown plant that it is. Its extended HyperCard-like metaphor is a powerful, easy, and flexible way to make an interactive application, and its integrated color and other multimedia effects ensure high presentation value. I do think the price tag (at about $330) is somewhat high, though the academic version comes in at a more reasonable $129, with site license options. If you know a current SuperCard user, that user may have received a mailing enabling them to share with you Allegiant’s recent $149.95 "SuperCard for a Friend" offer. Still, SuperCard 3.0 is a major upgrade of a product that deserves to attract serious attention; perhaps it will get it despite the price.
DealBITS — Cyberian Outpost is offering SuperCard to TidBITS readers for $317.95 ($10 off Cyberian Outpost’s regular price) through this URL:
Allegiant Technologies, Inc. — 800/255-8258 — 619/587-0500
619/587-1314 (fax) — <[email protected]>