Speculating about Apple, while not yet named as an official Olympic sport, is certainly popular enough to be considered for the Exhibition category. In this issue, Adam examines much of the Apple speculating that’s going on and offers his own views about Apple’s directions. We also cover Apple’s presence at the recent Internet World, and look in detail at Snapz Pro, a snappy new tool for creating screenshots.
Express Yourself to Microsoft — Microsoft’s new Macintosh Office development team (about 100 developers dedicated to working on the Macintosh version of Microsoft Office 97) has posted a set of survey questions on the Web, the answers to which they hope will help them make Office more Mac-like. The mainstays of Office, Excel and Word, are among the most important Macintosh applications – without them, the Mac would have little to no chance of being sold in quantities to large businesses. Thus, it’s in all of our interests to encourage Microsoft to create more Mac-like applications, much as the MS Bay team is doing with the Mac version of Internet Explorer. [ACE]
New from Cupertino — Last week, Apple formally rolled out the powerful Newton MessagePad 2000 and the sleek Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, while also announcing availability of OpenDoc 1.2. Regarded by some as the first truly functional Newton-based device, the MessagePad 2000 is powered by a 160 MHz StrongARM processor, features reportedly excellent handwriting recognition, and operates vertically or horizontally. The Twentieth Anniversary Mac, on the other hand, seems like a device for prominent display in a gallery, and with its $7,500 price tag, buyers might choose to consider it modern art. On the software side, the new version of OpenDoc (4.3 MB download) fixes bugs dealing with international systems, increases stability in low-memory conditions, and supports Apple Guide 2.1, although some OpenDoc applications (like Nisus Writer 5.0) reportedly do not work correctly with OpenDoc 1.2. [JLC]
We’ve spent a lot of time and energy in recent TidBITS issues looking at the moves Gil Amelio and Apple management made to bring the company back to profitability. There’s no question that some moves were more popular than others, but I think the time has come to delve into what might be going on, or at least what a significant number of people feel might be going on.
What Else Could Gil Have Done? Apple has taken flak for decisions to lay off employees, terminate some technologies, and place other projects in maintenance mode. I’m certainly guilty of harassing Apple about decisions I feel were mistakes, but let’s face it: Gil had to do something. Apple lost a lot of money in 1996, and clearly that trend would continue in 1997 unless drastic action was taken. The recent announcements were that drastic action.
With no reason to assume sales would exceed all expectations, the only way Apple could regain profitability was to cut costs. Reportedly, a single engineer costs Apple about $150,000 per year in salary, benefits, support structure, office space, and so on. Not all of the 2,700 employees laid off were engineers, of course, and the 1,400 contractors and temps were undoubtedly cheaper, but even if you assume a savings of $100,000 per person, that’s $410 million.
More important, unlike previous Apple layoffs, this one was combined with elimination of projects. That’s depressing but realistic, since it means Apple isn’t expecting to continue with business as usual, just with fewer people. You can’t lay off 4,100 workers and expect to do everything you did while they were there.
That said, I would have liked to see Apple address its financial problems in other ways as well. First, where were the voluntary pay cuts and eliminations of bonuses for the executive staff? It seems hypocritical for executives to eliminate 4,100 employees not take pay cuts themselves. The buck stops at Gil Amelio, and I think it’s only fair to have fewer bucks stop at his paycheck.
Second, were the Apple technologies cut of so little value that they couldn’t be sold to raise money, such as with videoconferencing? Alternately, couldn’t Apple have created technology incubators with these projects? Form a new company around each one, give the source code to the former Apple employees, provide some administrative support resources, and retain 40 percent ownership. If they succeed, Apple makes money and Mac users benefit; if they fail, Apple loses nothing more than what was already being thrown away.
The NeXT Takeover — One theme among the mail I’ve received about Apple’s recent changes is the perception that former NeXT employees are now making Apple’s decisions. One person even commented that it felt like NeXT had bought Apple, not the other way around. To some extent, these perceptions are accurate – after all, Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein, two ex-NeXT folks, are in charge of the operating system and hardware divisions.
In the past, Apple has been accused of a "Not Invented Here" syndrome (NIH), where the only technologies perceived to be worthwhile were those developed within Apple. Now, some feel the NIH syndrome has been reversed, with internal Apple technologies being viewed as inferior and over-engineered. The NeXT acquisition is the best example of this – there’s some question if, had Apple really buckled down, bringing Copland to fruition would have cost $400 million and taken until 1998. Buying NeXT was a bold move, but it was neither cheap nor immediate relief from Apple’s technology troubles.
The fact that concerns me most is that many of the comments about NeXT engineers making the important decisions come from Apple employees, Apple insiders (often former employees), and long-time Macintosh developers. Psychologically, I’m sure there’s resentment about being bailed out by the acquisition of NeXT, a company whose technological achievements may be significant but didn’t result in a profitable business. Similarly, from the NeXT point of view, becoming part of Apple gives former NeXT employees a chance to show off to a true mass market – so an interest in pushing their technology over Apple technology shouldn’t be surprising.
In essence, the acquisition of NeXT is having a significant impact on Apple’s culture. That’s not necessarily bad, but it can make for an occasionally acrimonious transition. The question is whether the attitudes and beliefs that made the Macintosh special can survive in the new atmosphere.
Mac OS 95/Mac OS NT — As I was talking with friends about the Rhapsody networking issues, I realized that the issue of the Mac OS and Rhapsody coexisting is worth additional thought. Consider the following:
At best, Rhapsody will be available for users in early 1998. So, developing for the Mac OS isn’t a bad move for several years yet. The existing market isn’t going away, and Mac OS machines will outnumber Rhapsody-capable machines for a long time.
Although it will reportedly be easy to program for Rhapsody (and some Unix applications can be ported without much trouble), Rhapsody’s Yellow Box will have relatively few applications for some time. There’s a distinct risk of Rhapsody being marginalized unless Mac OS applications running in the Blue Box or on Mac OS machines carry it along.
- Rhapsody will have preemptive multitasking and protected memory for Yellow Box applications, which means that they could perform better and more reliably. In addition, things like the file system should have better performance, making the Yellow Box the obvious target for server applications and other situations where stability and performance are paramount. But, with the vast majority of the Mac market and the most applications, Mac OS machines will probably be the main clients for Rhapsody servers.
Now, doesn’t the differentiation between the Mac OS and Rhapsody sound like the difference between Windows 95 and Windows NT? They look the same, and most applications work under both, but Windows NT has fewer native applications and is more trouble to set up and maintain. But, Windows 95 doesn’t share NT’s stability and performance. The main difference is that Windows 95 and Windows NT share the same programmer interfaces (APIs), so properly written applications run on both Windows 95 and NT. In contrast, Rhapsody’s Yellow Box applications won’t run on non-Rhapsody Macs, and existing Mac OS applications won’t be able to take advantage of the preemptive multitasking and protected memory of the Yellow Box.
Comparisons to other Microsoft operating system switches may also be relevant. Even today, some PC games basically don’t run in Windows, and users run them from DOS (which isn’t possible with an NT-only machine). Similarly, some current Windows programs are still 16-bit and don’t support such niceties as long filenames. In other words, switching from one operating system to another is seldom a clean process, and even Microsoft hasn’t escaped its DOS and Windows 3.x legacy. In contrast, Apple has handled its operating system upgrades and even the move from the 680×0 to the PowerPC chip with aplomb. Will Apple maintain that level of consistency and excellent user experience in the future, with the move to Rhapsody?
For Sale or Breakup? Some of my more business-oriented friends have commented that Apple’s recent moves might be gussying up the company for acquisition. Drop unprofitable products, eliminate technologies that haven’t taken the world by storm, lay off 4,100 employees, and suddenly Apple becomes a more attractive acquisition target. We know Apple has had acquisition discussions with companies such as Sun Microsystems in the past; is it far-fetched to think Apple might consider such a move again? Rumors have already surfaced of a group of investors (led by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison) buying Apple.
Here’s another, less-depressing thought: one of Apple’s long-term problems is that it has always tried to do everything: hardware, operating systems, new technologies, application software, server software, and so on. Trying to do everything often causes conflicts, both internally and with third-party developers. Might it make sense to break Apple into three different companies, each of which could focus on its own goals more seriously?
One company would focus on operating systems and low-level technologies. As an independent company, it could focus on technologies that would advance the industry and earn licensing fees (can you say QuickTime?). That would probably mean more emphasis on cross-platform technologies and operating systems, and on shipping products in a reasonable time frame. It might also mean alliances with technology development projects in higher education, often the bellwether for the computer industry.
I see another company devoted to hardware, and since Apple has always made some of the best computer hardware, that company could make decisions that would let it be as successful as possible. If that meant making Intel-based hardware, so be it. Claris has made a lot of money selling Windows software, and the money is just as green on other platforms (in the U.S. anyway, where we have dull-looking money).
The third company would devote itself to application and utility software. Apple already has such a company in Claris, although I think Claris would do well to take over a number of additional products currently controlled by Apple. Even the Finder, which is just another application, could move to Claris, which could make different versions for different markets or platforms. I’d love to see the Finder instead of the standard Windows 95 interface.
Of course, this is mostly a thought exercise: I’m not in charge of anything at Apple, and I doubt Apple would do something so drastic. The question is, in such a situation, would there be an Apple Computer? If the answer is no, would that matter if the Macintosh survived and continued to thrive? When I commented in TidBITS-370 that customer loyalty to Apple was at an all-time low while users remained loyal to the Macintosh, email comments flooded in, agreeing 100 percent. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and one that Apple and the Mac clone vendors would do well take into account.
Perhaps, in the end, Macintosh is an experience, not a machine.
Myriad are the ways in which technological and economic experts propose to assist you with the Internet, as I discovered at the Spring Internet World convention held the week of 10-Mar-97 in Los Angeles. They want to give you access, give you faster access, restrict your employees’ access, give the outside world access to you, restrict outside access. They want to push, help you push, sell to you, help you sell, help you gather information, advertise for you, advertise to you. They want to teach you about it, teach you to program it, teach you to use it effectively, sell you books and magazines about it, and teach you to make money from it in dozens of ways from ISP to entrepreneur. They want to host conventions about it, and sell you CDs about the conventions. Everyone from cataloguers to meteorologists has a site for you to visit, and you in turn are supposed to brighten your site with powerful software, professional design, dynamic response, and high-bandwidth innovations.
It was fun in that exhausting way that these conventions are; and I learned a thing or two. The convention struck me as indicative of how the Internet largely remains little more than a tentative state of mind. There can’t be many true experts on Web site design or how to make money on the net, because the former (aside from being a moving target) has existed only briefly, and the latter is a complete mystery [except, perhaps, to X-rated sites, which according to recent media reports are an extremely successful example of Internet commerce -Adam]. So, the idea that such people exist and can pontificate to us – and that we will pay them to do so – is the product of a kind of self-hypnosis.
Indeed, the entire event seemed a smoke-and-mirrors affair; especially compared to Macintosh conventions. Attendance the first day was meagre: aisles that, at a Macworld Expo, would have been shoulder-to-shoulder one minute after opening time, were nearly empty. At talks, sound systems were muddy, projection facilities were unreliable. Email stations were rows of PCs poorly configured and so tightly crammed together that you couldn’t move the mouse. Nearly every demonstrator bemoaned the abysmal Internet access (another IBM triumph – remember the Atlanta Olympics?). In contrast to a Macworld Expo’s feverish emporia, few booths had anything physically for sale: most were selling a dream, a hope, a future business relationship.
As a Macintosh partisan, I instantly found myself a minority in an alien world. Here, Apple was but a minor player, and everything had an unfamiliar slant, starting with all the demos on PCs – including General Magic’s Magic Cap under Windows – and extending to the unaccustomed non-Apple philosophy that predominated. Watching someone from Microsoft smugly demonstrate how Internet Explorer and the operating system will be so tightly integrated that the webmaster will determine what applications the user can see from the desktop, I barely refrained from saying that if my computer ever did that to me I would hurl it out the window.
Apple CEO Gil Amelio’s keynote speech was the first good performance I’ve seen from him – intelligent, coherent, even dynamic, recalling the legend of the dying swan’s terminal song. His choice of four pieces of software historically representative of the Mac’s unique importance – PageMaker, HyperCard, Director, and Frontier – seemed to me one of Apple’s more perceptive self-assessments. I may not have agreed with everything he said (Apple is betting the farm on gaining 15 percent of the Web server market share? how?) but I did feel for once like defending his right to say it. And the demos, especially of Frontier and of QuickTime 3.0, were stunning.
I also attended a talk on Apple and Java, where the speaker was somewhat hamstrung both by the approach of Black Friday (then only four days away – see TidBITS-370) with its attendant unknowns and by Apple’s general Java uncertainty. The present situation is reflected by Mac OS Runtime for Java, but the future is expressed as a vague diagram in which Java looms as a mysterious third beside the Blue Box (System 7 and its heirs) and the Yellow Box (OpenStep). I admit to bemusement as to the wisdom of this, since if Java becomes a full citizen the Mac OS may lose its distinctiveness and hence its appeal. I did come away feeling friendlier to Java than previously, at least.
Amidst all the glitter, I found two sites that particularly impressed me with their promise. SemioMap makes a Java applet and a search tool which coordinate to provide an MCF-like visualization of related topics on the Web (or any other data collection). StockSmart is a living advertisement for Java and for Oracle Corporation; even if you don’t care about stocks, this is a fine and generous presentation of live, searchable data.
I just finished another book, and the books I write require screenshots. Previously, I relied on a shareware screenshot utility called Flash-It. Written by Nobu Toge and last updated in 1993, Flash-It 3.0.2 continues to function today, surprising for a utility that works at such a low-level.
That is, Flash-It continues to work well with one notable (if not surprising) exception: Microsoft applications. If I were a conspiracy buff, I’d say Nobu Toge did that on purpose, but that’s unlikely since most of the Microsoft programs it has trouble with didn’t exist in 1993. Some problems were minor, such as bits of color showing in screenshots taken when the monitor was set to 256 grays.
Internet Explorer 3.0, though, was the final straw for poor Flash-It due to problems in Standard File dialogs, so I went looking for another screenshot utility. I didn’t go far, because Ambrosia Software posted their $20 shareware Snapz Pro 1.0.1 to Info-Mac that very day, and I’ve used it happily since. There are many other screenshot programs out there, but Snapz Pro met my immediate needs, so I didn’t look further. Perhaps some day I’ll compare them all, but for now I’m sticking with Snapz Pro.
Loading the Film — Snapz Pro installs a single control panel, but you only use it for basic setup. Clicking the Settings button brings up a small dialog where you choose the Snapz Key that invokes Snapz Pro (it defaults to Command-Shift-3). A checkbox toggles sound effects. Snapz Pro only saves screenshots in PICT format (which may seem slightly limiting – more on that later), but you can choose which program will open those PICTs when you double-click them in the Finder. Finally, a pair of radio buttons let you select whether invoking Snapz Pro should open the Snapz palette (the program’s primary interface) or take the screenshot with the last-used capture tool.
Click the Shutter — When the time comes to take a screenshot, you arrange the screen however you want, and, if necessary, drop a menu. Then you press the Snapz Key, which brings up the Snapz palette.
The palette contains four large buttons for the different capture tools: Screen, Window, Menu, and Selection. Below the four capture tool buttons are three pop-up menus. One lets you choose where you want to send your screenshot: to a file in the Screen Snapz folder that Snapz Pro installs in your Apple menu, to the clipboard, to the printer, or to a file within a folder in your Screen Snapz folder. Another pop-up menu lets you set the scaling of your image from 10 to 400 percent in a variety of useful percentages. The final pop-up menu enables you to change the colors in your screenshot using different palettes, including Black/White, System palette, Greyscale palette (probably the standard for books), Thousands, and Windows palette.
Checkboxes let you decide if the cursor should show in the screenshot and if you want to name each screenshot individually. If you choose not to name each screenshot, Snapz Pro names them using the name of the active program, several spaces, an incremented digit, and a ".pict" filename extension.
Once the Snapz palette has appeared, you modify the settings in the pop-up menus and the checkboxes (Snapz Pro remembers your settings from the previous usage), then you click one of the four capture tool buttons. (There are also copious keyboard shortcuts.) The cursor changes to indicate which tool you’ve selected, after which you click on the screen, window, or menu you want to capture. Obviously, the Selection capture tool requires you to drag out a rectangular selection instead of just clicking, and the Menu capture tool is unavailable unless you had a menu dropped when you invoked Snapz Pro. Helpfully, Snapz Pro enables you to select which sub-menu you capture of a set of visible hierarchical menus, and by default captures all visible sub-menus down from the one you click.
As you click on a screen, menu, or window, or let up on the mouse button after making a selection, Snapz Pro makes a clicking shutter noise and inverts the area you’ve captured, providing visual feedback about your target area. If you’re saving to a file and you’ve selected the checkbox to choose the file name, a small dialog appears where you can enter the name (it’s not a Standard File dialog, and the file will be stored in the pre-specified folder). If you enter the name of an existing screenshot, Snapz Pro asks you to confirm that you want to replace it.
The well-written Snapz Pro documentation outlines various options you can apply to each of the capture tools. For instance, pressing Option causes the Snapz palette to reappear so you can take more screenshots immediately. The Command key modifies the Screen capture tool to capture all attached monitors, and also modifies the Window capture tool to capture only the window content. When using the Selection capture tool, Shift constrains the selection’s shape to a square, and Command tries to select the smallest area in the selection that is not of a certain "bluescreen" color.
Developing the Image — For my purposes, Snapz Pro’s ability to change the palette to greyscale was helpful, but not sufficient. The publisher, Osborne/McGraw-Hill, wanted screenshots in TIFF format, and Snapz Pro only takes PICTs. Luckily, the free clip2gif from Yves Piguet works wonderfully for converting files with a single drag & drop action.
Clip2gif proved useful later on as well. My publisher wanted me to print all the screenshots and label them with the appropriate figure numbers. This was a pain, but it’s hard to argue with production departments – you don’t want them to mess up your screenshots. I turned on the Desktop Printer capabilities in System 7.5.5, selected the screenshots for a chapter, and dropped them on the desktop printer icon, which resulted in the files printing in the order that they appeared in the Finder window (View by Name in this case).
The only problem was that if I used the SimpleText PICT files, SimpleText printed multiple pages for the larger screenshots. Since the paper copies were merely representative of the screenshots, I saw no reason to waste paper printing edges that flowed onto a second page. If, however, I dropped the clip2gif TIFF files on the desktop printer, clip2gif displayed the Print dialog for each file, allowing me to specify that I wanted to print only the first page of each one.
Image Problems — Although Snapz Pro met my immediate needs, it isn’t perfect. The feature I would have most liked to see is an option to set the pattern for automatically naming and numbering screenshots. The basic capability is obviously there – what’s lacking is an interface to let the user specify a more useful pattern to the names and numbers, like "Figure 23-12."
Also annoying was the requirement that the screenshots end up in the Screen Snapz folder in my Apple Menu Items folder. I partition my hard disk in very specific ways, and I don’t like being forced to save files in one place, much less in my System Folder. Whenever I finished taking screenshots for a chapter, I had to copy them to the proper location for them on my hard disk. The destination folder should be configurable.
Finally, I could see adding the capability to send screenshots to more than one place at a time – I would have tried printing a screenshot at the same time I saved it to a file, especially if Snapz Pro could scale it to fit on a single page and automatically print the filename as a footer on the page. Perhaps that’s excessive, but authors would appreciate the flexibility.
Choosing the Camera — I used Snapz Pro for about a month and took over 80 screenshots with it, so I felt comfortable paying the $20 shareware fee via Ambrosia’s Web site (Snapz Pro reminds you about paying after 15 days of use by telling you how long you’ve had it and how many screenshots you’ve taken, which I rather miss now that I’ve paid, since I’m generally curious about how many screenshots I’ve taken). I never experienced crashing problems, and it’s a fat binary, so its performance was always snappy on my Power Mac 8500.
If you’re not happy with the built-in screenshot capability in the Mac OS, (press Command-Shift-3 to try it; in Mac OS 7.6, you can also press Command-Shift-4 to make a selection or capture a window), Snapz Pro is worth a look. It’s a solid utility, and a great example of a program that works well as shareware.