Wondering how to manage your money at Macworld Expo? This week’s issue brings you shopping advice and a look at Expo purchases we’ve made in the past. This week we also introduce a new sponsor – Hitachi and its new MPEG camera – and note news of a merger between top Macintosh magazines. Finally, Tonya wraps up her seven part article about Web publishing software with a look at Microsoft FrontPage and NetObjects Fusion.
As Apple Turns
As Apple Turns — With the dense fog of rumors that have cloaked Apple in the past few weeks, you might wonder where our coverage of that fog has been. We’re sick of press reports about Apple that sound like bad daytime soap operas. Once actual events of importance occur, which is likely to happen at Macworld Expo, we’ll write about them and what they mean. Until then, we are skipping write-ups about Steve Jobs being coy, Larry Ellison playing Jealous Deity, and rumors of Pamela Anderson taking over clone licensing negotiations. [ACE]
MacUser & Macworld Merge
MacUser & Macworld Merge — The breaking news of the past week is that rival publishing empires IDG and Ziff-Davis have created a new joint company called Mac Publications that will consolidate Macworld, MacUser, and MacWEEK. MacUser and Macworld will merge into a single monthly magazine, whereas MacWEEK will continue as a weekly news magazine. We’ll look more at the details and ramifications in a later issue. [ACE]
New TidBITS Sponsor Releases Versatile MPEG Camera
Hitachi joins TidBITS this week as a sponsor to publicize the release of the MPEG Cam, a new camera for Macintosh users, which debuts at Macworld Expo (Booth 1530). The MPEG Cam – aimed primarily at digital professionals – comes with a 260 MB PC Card that stores 20 minutes of digital video (at 30 frames-per-second) in full-motion MPEG format, 3,000 still-image JPEG images, 1,000 still-image JPEGs with 10 seconds of audio, or 4 hours of digital audio. Video resolution is 352 by 240 pixels; JPEGs are 704 by 480.
The camera has a small "media navigation" screen that enables file management tasks like moving files into different folders, playing them back, or deleting them. The camera comes with a battery charger plus two batteries (each should last for 40 minutes and has a 100-minute recharge time). Files can be transferred to any PowerPC-based Macintosh (with System 7.5 or later and 10 MB of free RAM) by way of the SCSI port or – for some PowerBook users – via a Type III PC Card. Fully loaded with a battery and PC card, the camera weighs 19 ounces.
Rob Burr, webmaster for the Hitachi MPEG Camera Network, described the camera as "the multimedia webmaster’s secret weapon. I used the MPEG Cam recently to capture 1,024 images and a number of VRML movies for a Web site about the island of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The cost of traditional film, developing, and Photo CD scans would have exceeded $4,000 on this job."
Although the $2,400 suggested retail price puts the MPEG Cam out of reach of general consumers, those who work with photographs or movies for a living, and especially those who work for news-related Web sites, may find it a must. I’m pleased that Hitachi released a Mac version of the camera and welcome them as a sponsor.
Macworld Expo: Planning for a Shopping Frenzy
This week’s Boston Macworld Expo has many purposes, but an important one is the opportunity to buy geek goodies.
Adam and I have purchased our share of winners and losers over the years, and – in the interest of helping attendees avoid costly mistakes – I thought I’d share our experiences. We’ve generally purchased devices that might help prevent and alleviate repetitive stress injuries. Although we are both quite functional at the moment, we’ve had our share of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Gotta Hand It to Them — Adam made our first Expo purchase – a pair of Handeze gloves. Made from a stretchy material, these finger-less gloves claim to provide support, circulation, and massage to wearers’ hands and wrists. As Adam reported in TidBITS-199, the gloves turned around his carpal tunnel syndrome and enabled him to meet the deadline for the first edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. Subsequently, my pair made an enormous difference in alleviating my tendonitis. Although new to the computer scene then, Handeze gloves are common now, and the $20 gamble paid off for us. Want your own pair? Check out a Handeze distributor’s Web site (where you can find the important sizing information), or use our primary source, TidBITS sponsor APS (the sizing chart is in APS catalogs as well). APS Technologies — 800/443-4199 — <[email protected]>
No Wrist for the Weary — More recently, Adam purchased a Comfort Point, a movable wrist wrest that uses velcro to attach to a mouse or trackball. This device cradles your wrist on a "contour paddle," a padded, curvy platform that can be set to several different positions. The Comfort Point’s goal is to help you control the mouse using your arm or fingers, but not your wrist. Although Adam and I still have minor RSI flare ups, neither of us found the device compelling; it cluttered our desks and made moving between the keyboard and mouse difficult. Still, at $20 (show special) it was worth a try, and it still strikes me as a valid concept. Comfort Point — 310/305-8931 — 800/429-3746 — 310/305-8731 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Run for Cover — Like the character Cat in the Red Dwarf TV show, I’m attracted to shiny things. I couldn’t resist spending a mere $5 for a translucent, purple plastic mouse cover. The cover snugs around the top and sides of my mouse and has a hole for the cord. It features raised ribs above the palm rest and little nubs over the mouse button. The ribs and nubs are supposed to increase circulation and afford better mousing precision. I haven’t noticed any change in circulation or precision, but I’ve certainly received $5 worth of enjoyment from the cover. Unfortunately, I’ve lost the name of the company who sold the cover.
Keyboarding up with the Joneses — One of my pet peeves is that extended keyboards extend to the right, forcing right-handers to reach an extra few inches to reach the mouse. I’d rather have directional and numeric keys at the left and keep the mouse closer at hand. As such, at Macworld Expo, January 1996, I was looking for a keyboard that would meet this requirement. I found it in a Datadesk TrackBoard keyboard, which had not only cool purple function keys, but also a trackball mounted at its right side, exactly where I thought it should be. I gleefully ordered the keyboard at the show special price, complete with an optional, separate ADB numeric keypad. The keyboard arrived promptly, but soon had to be exchanged – despite extensive troubleshooting, devices on the ADB bus tended to be inoperable after booting up, and – if I did manage to restart with everything working – the trackball tended to get stuck such that the mouse pointer would move in only one direction.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the new keyboard acted up just as the old one had. Given that the fourth edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh had taken over my life, the second keyboard spent six months lying on the floor, next to the first keyboard that I’d never sent back. Feeling negligent, I contacted Datadesk again. They were nice about the six month delay, and promised to try again. I returned the first two keyboards; they sent a third. The third arrived promptly, I hooked it up, and started typing. It worked okay, but triggered my tendonitis. Discouraged, I disconnected it. Someday, I’ll try it again. In the meantime, our extended Macintosh family has many members, and the keyboard is ensconced on the Power Mac 7100 that runs our search engine. Datadesk — 206/842-5480 — 206/842-9219 (fax)
Smaller than a Bread Box — The Nada-Chair is a cloth contraption that rolls up into a small bundle but expands into a wearable chair. Adam bought it for me, thinking it might ease some lower back strain that I’d been experiencing. Unfortunately, I found the straps for attaching it so cumbersome that I ended up not using it. The chair worked fine for sitting, but when I stood up, I had to remove the Nada-Chair or walk around dangling limply drooping cloth straps. Perhaps if we attended more outdoor sports events or concerts, I’d try it again. I should note that TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg owns a Nada-Chair and thinks it’s worth the work to get in and out of it. Nada-Concepts — 800/722-2587 — 612/644-4466 — 612/644-4488 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Bagging a Deal — Adam’s most recent purchase was a large PowerBook bag from Tenba with optional backpack-style straps. Adam knew he wanted a bag big enough to hold a PowerBook, as well as our QuickTake camera, plus a snarl of cables and power adapters. He thought the back pack straps would be handy for mad dashes through airports, and he was absolutely correct. The bag has been a great success. Tenba — 212/966-1013 — 212/334-0841 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Bigger than a Bread Box — Last summer, I decided to put aside my totally unrealistic expectation that most furniture should cost less than $100. It was time to buy an expensive, super-ergonomic desk chair. Because my feet often get tired at Macworld Expo, I figured I could combine resting my feet with chair shopping, and maybe track down a chair at the Expo.
I found the ZACKBACK International booth, and later purchased a ZACKBACK posture chair, in a dreamy "Seashore" color. This $700 to $800 chair supports the thoracic portion of the back (just below the shoulders) and the sacral portion (at hip level), not the customary lumbar area. I was attracted to the ZACKBACK because I’ve always scooted lumbar supports as far down as they go, into the sacral region, because they feel more comfortable that way.
In supporting the sacral and thoracic back regions, the ZACKBACK positions you in what its creator, physical therapist Dennis Zacharkow, thinks is the best sitting posture – straight and open, so body fluids circulate and nerves remain unpinched. When my chair arrived, it required some easily accomplished assembly, and then had to be adjusted. The adjustments were simple, but required a helper since I couldn’t simultaneously sit in the chair and adjust it. Once the chair was adjusted, it fit me just right, but Adam, who is much taller, finds it almost impossible to sit in.
I experienced a whiplash injury several years ago, and one thing I especially like about the chair is the way it puts my neck into a comfortable position. The chair hasn’t cured my whiplash or caused all RSI problems to disappear, but I can sit in it comfortably for longer than I could in any previous desk chair, and definitely longer than I should. ZACKBACK International — 800/748-8464 — 507/252-9293 — 507/252-5150 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Plan and Wait — Given the upbeat flow of Macworld Expo and the consumer feeding frenzy it engenders, attendees can easily blow out their budgets (one year, Apple had a denim jacket to die for, which I nearly succumbed to). Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, I recommend the two-tiered approach of plan and wait.
First, make a spending plan. Attend the show with a firm handle on how much money you want to spend. (My first show was right after college, and my budget was a big fat zero.) Consider which products might be best purchased or seriously examined at the show and which will be easier to purchase through a different venue. If self-analysis reveals that you and your money tend to be easily separated, consider leaving your checkbook and credit cards behind when you actually attend the show. Most specials are available for a few days after the show, and many deals are also offered by way of flyers with mail-in forms.
When evaluating a product for purchase at the show, plan carefully. Consider how you’ll use the product in your everyday life. For instance, the Nada-Chair would have been fine if I sat still all day, but it didn’t work well for moving around frequently. With software, issues like compatibility and RAM requirements are worth exploring before you purchase. Don’t get sucked into the glamor of a product (like, say, a book about Java) and forget to consider whether you have time to use it.
After the planning is over, it’s time to wait. Wait until the end of the day to buy anything larger than a CD-ROM. Waiting means you have time to reconsider impulse buys, and you won’t have to drag your purchase around all day. Many vendors at the show are happy to ship your purchases for you, saving the trouble of schlepping them home. Waiting until the final day of the show may turn up even cheaper prices. Better yet, and especially if you’ve already spent much of your budgeted Expo funds, wait until after the show. I’m not saying you should pass up special, now-or-never offers, but if there’s no rush to buy, then wait. Waiting gives you more time to evaluate purchases on a rational basis or even provide time for that oh-so-necessary bug fix update.
Spinning the Web Part 7: FrontPage, Fusion, and Final Thoughts
Have you ever encountered a Sesame Street book about Grover? The story concerns Grover (a blue-furred monster) who doesn’t want you to turn the page, because there is a "monster at the end of the book." Well, we’ve almost reached the end of this series, and though there’s no monster, there are two programs remaining – including one of woolly mammoth proportions.
First, a correction. Gordon Meyer <[email protected]>, wrote about CyberStudio (reviewed in TidBITS-387 and TidBITS-390) and noted: "Checking external links is available, and it works well. A nice feature is that when you add a new external link, CyberStudio can automatically verify it. If it’s bad, you get a green bug icon in the Project window."
This article looks at Microsoft FrontPage 1.0 and NetObjects Fusion 2.0. Feature-wise, FrontPage is most appropriately compared to Adobe PageMill/SiteMill, and at its $149 list price (with a $40 rebate to owners of various Microsoft or Adobe products), it’s in the same price category. Fusion (the woolly mammoth program) is more costly at $495.
Installing FrontPage — FrontPage is allergic to my Mac. After my first installation, I couldn’t access the online help; for sites published locally, all body text was stripped out or garbage text appeared in the file; and I couldn’t connect to my FTP server (this seems to be a common problem with NetPresenz, despite its position as probably the most common Macintosh FTP server).
A call to Microsoft technical support revealed that my experience is atypical and yielded a series of steps for removing and re-installing the software (about fifteen items had to be plucked from the System Folder). After re-installing, my Mac and FrontPage still have serious differences, though the problems have changed slightly. Given my deadline, I’ve decided to patch together a review, but I’m hobbled by FrontPage not working correctly.
Beyond my personal negative experience, FrontPage suffers two general problems that limit its utility. First, on my 604-based Power Mac 7600, it plods along, with delays bordering on the unacceptable. Microsoft’s FrontPage press release says it is "optimized for" any PowerPC-based Macintosh running System 7.5.3 or later with 16 MB free RAM (but 24 recommended), 30 MB disk space, and a CD-ROM drive.
Second, for best results, a server running FrontPage server extensions must host your site. These features are much of what might make FrontPage attractive. They center around live editing like that offered by AOLpress (see TidBITS-386); flexible uploads that only upload the changed portion of a site; the ability for a group to work on a Web site, complete with permissions for different pages and a shared To Do list; and the use of some of FrontPage’s WebBots (also called "bots"), which handle backend processing for features like forms as well as page elements that only appear for a scheduled time period. (Not all bots require FrontPage server extensions: important goodies like automatically generated tables of contents and includes [where repeating site elements need only be changed once instead of in multiple locations] work locally.)
Unfortunately, Microsoft has not released FrontPage server extensions for any Mac servers, and, if your ISP runs Windows or Unix boxes, you’ll want to confirm that it has installed the FrontPage server extensions. I asked Microsoft to set me up with a temporary account on a server running FrontPage extensions, but they were unable to do so in time.
Exploring FrontPage — Like Adobe’s PageMill/SiteMill combo, FrontPage includes two applications: Editor and Explorer. Explorer controls sites and offers a Folder view with similar features to the site outline view in SiteMill. A Hyperlink view lets you click a file in a site outline at the left and then – at the right – see a visual representation of what files link to and from that file (though my Mac only shows links from the file as does the screenshot in the printed manual). GoLive’s CyberStudio has a similar view, but in CyberStudio you can click any file showing in the visual representation to make it the focus and in this way move through a site. FrontPage can check and repair relative and external links, and its external link checker works nicely in the background.
Explorer also has a multi-file spelling checker and basic multi-file Find. (Editor has a Replace command.) Both work by running through the entire site (or portion) and then – from a list of pages with a typo or found text – let you add pages to the To Do list or correct them individually. The file-by-file technique for making corrections goes terribly slowly.
A Plain Jane Editor — Editor most closely compares to popular visual editors such as Home Page, PageMill, and Visual Page (see TidBITS-386). However, these three programs are much more like one another than like FrontPage. FrontPage does most formatting in modal dialog boxes instead of via palettes or "Inspector" windoids. This annoyance is increased by FrontPage’s tortoise-like pace. FrontPage also lacks drag & drop features: table elements can’t be sized by dragging and it cannot accept files dropped in from the Finder (it can accept files from Explorer, but slowly). FrontPage lacks an internal preview, and its HTML view is the most mediocre of the lot.
Given Microsoft’s years of experience with Word, I was disappointed that the Editor lacks many common keyboard shortcuts for moving the insertion point and cannot intelligently insert an extra space if you drop a word between two other words. (Visual Page and PageMill share the drag & drop problem.) On the plus side, Editor has multiple undos
Microsoft’s experience with tables does come through, however. It’s easy to add and delete any number of rows or columns from any portion of the table, and it takes just a flick of the wrist to select a row or column quickly. It’s possible to apply text formats like strong (the Bold command automatically applies a strong HTML tag!) and cell formats (like background color) to some (but not any imaginable) contiguous groups of cells. (This key feature is available in Visual Page and to some degree in PageMill, but only slightly in CyberStudio and not at all in Home Page.) Working with tables would be nearly perfect if you could use drag & drop to size table elements and the table-related dialog boxes were modeless. FrontPage also supports image maps and frames. You add a frameset through a flexible wizard, though I can’t determine if you can view pages within their frames in a frameset.
Forge Ahead with Fusion — Like FrontPage, Fusion requires a PowerPC-based Mac. It requires at least System 7.1.2, 16 MB free RAM, 20 MB free disk space (80 MB recommended), an 8-bit color monitor with 800 by 600 pixels, and a CD-ROM drive. Fusion is also available for Windows, which shows in some interface aspects, though the program’s interface is fairly unique. Of the programs I’ve looked at so far, with the possible exception of Frontier, Fusion was the hardest to learn.
Fusion has several modules that you switch among by way of buttons in a common toolbar. Site creation happens in Fusion’s Site module. As you might expect, it has an outline view that works like those in SiteMill and FrontPage. It also offers an organization-chart like view. You use these views to create dummy pages for an entire site rapidly. There’s also a separate Publish module for uploading a completed site.
The Page module has page creation features ranging from mediocre to average but for a few unique and awesome capabilities. In particular, Fusion’s killer feature is its pixel-perfect layout. Using the pixel-perfect layout, you can drag page elements about to any page location, much as you would in a desktop publishing program. Oddly, you cannot drag items in from the Finder. Some designers will see pixel-perfect layout as the coolest thing since sliced bread (in flying toasters); others will find it a show-stopper, since it’s not optional (as it is in CyberStudio) and it turns Web pages into masses of table tags.
The Master Border is another unique feature. When you begin a Web site, each page has one Master Border encompassing its entire outside edge. If you change anything in the border on any page, that change appears in all pages. Or, you can create a new Master Border, associate it with only some pages, and only those pages will change in tandem. You can easily insert navigation bars into Master Borders. These bars are a wonderful timesaver, but are difficult to create if links don’t follow the logical hierarchy set in the Site module or make unexpected jumps within a site.
Combine Master Borders and the automatic navigation bars with the AutoFrames feature and you reach webmaster nirvana – AutoFrames instantly converts the site (or site portion) into a frameset with the central layout areas (the parts inside the borders) and the page sides (optionally) becoming separate framed pages.
If you must whip up a large site in just a few days and lack time to learn HTML, Fusion is worth consideration. It also looks like a good tool for quickly experimenting with site layouts (you can rapidly switch among some 50 provided site styles, modify an existing style, or create your own). I see it as a wonderful program for a design firm that must pitch mocked up sites to clients and then quickly make changes as requested.
DealBITS Discount — Cyberian Outpost is selling FrontPage to TidBITS readers at $134.95, a $5 discount from Cyberian’s regular price of $139.95, and Fusion for $469.95, an $8 discount from Cyberian’s regular price of $477.95.
Recommendations and Favorites — I particularly like PageSpinner, BBEdit, Visual Page, and CyberStudio. Frontier represents a key choice for those who require sophistication and flexibility, though it’s worth noting that – for those with the right technical knowledge – similarly powerful systems can be set up using software like HyperCard and SuperCard. PageSpinner and Home Page stand out as winners for novices, and PageMill is looking increasingly good, particularly for those who use Adobe products or for anyone looking for site management at a low price. FrontPage is unreasonably slow, but, should a faster version come out, I’d recommend it to those who enjoy using Microsoft products. Fusion costs a bundle but serves a unique audience that – for the most part – will gladly pay for the feature set.
What to Make of It — No one Web publishing program suits everyone. Sites like TidBITS that keep some pages around for years require radically different software from sites whose pages are discarded after a few months. Further, as sites expand, they often require automation or database interactions, and this may require that your Web publishing software be scriptable.
The best solutions often remain those cobbled together from a combination of text and visual editors, plus a few utilities and converters. I believe an opportunity exists for the first company to ship a scriptable site management program that works well with most HTML editors, only messes with text when it runs a spell check or updates links, and has oodles of carefully conceived features for uploading, downloading, multiple authors, and site synchronization.
We’ve seen desktop applications expand into feature-laden dinosaurs. I believe this happens because the bulk of the profits comes from site licenses made to large organizations. A large organization will often sacrifice excellence for a feature list that tries to accommodate different types of users. This encourages mediocre programs because there’s no time to both make them great and add lots of features. Whether all Web publishing software will go that way remains to be seen, but the idea that one program could accommodate most sites is ridiculous. I hope the future will bring us carefully designed applications that – though they may try to solve every Web publishing problem for some market segment – will also play nicely with other programs so that we can mix and match software as needed.