Is Apple thinking different? In this issue we look at the new Apple Store and Apple’s new G3 Macs, complete with an in-depth examination of the technology behind the G3 chip and backside cache. We also have news of Qualcomm purchasing Now Software, QuarkXPress 4.0; Eudora Internet Mail Server 2.0; Greebles, a game from Stairways Software; plus new minor updates to Speed Doubler, BBEdit, and QuicKeys.
Qualcomm Buys Now Software — Qualcomm, the wireless communications company best known in the Macintosh world for Eudora, today announced its acquisition of Now Software, makers of Now Utilities and Now Up-to-Date. Now Software had seemingly been in a slump of late, claiming that it lacked the engineering resources to update Now Utilities for Mac OS 8, so the acquisition comes at a good time for them. The press release noted that "Qualcomm intends to support Now’s flagship products," so we hope that means an update to Now Utilities, although a Qualcomm representative was unable to share any details with us. More interesting is what Qualcomm gets out of the deal since Now’s products don’t obviously fit the Eudora division’s focus on email. Rumor has it that Now is working on a revolutionary technology along the lines of the Now Synchronize data synchronization software. Qualcomm must have been attracted by the thought of synchronizing email and schedules across multiple platforms, including Macs, PCs, Newtons, PalmPilots, and Qualcomm’s cellular phones. Although Qualcomm plans to keep Now Software’s Portland, Oregon office open, the Eudora division has reorganized in the wake of the acquisition. We will miss one of the layoff casualties – tester Gary Nash, who was a fixture at Mac trade shows and user group presentations and who helped anchor the Macintosh Eudora mailing list. [ACE]
QuarkXPress 4.0 Released — More than two years after the last release of QuarkXPress, Quark is shipping version 4.0 of the popular desktop publishing application. QuarkXPress 4.0 incorporates new features such as support for character-level style sheets, the ability to create objects with bezier curves on a point-by-point basis, and options for controlling clipping paths in images. In addition to a U.S. English version, Quark has also released QuarkXPress Passport 4.0, which incorporates Danish, Dutch, French, German, International English, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, and Swiss-German into one product. The U.S. English version costs $995, with a variety of pricing options for upgrading, depending on which version you currently own; the Passport version has a suggested retail of $1,595. A 16 MB demo is also available via FTP download. [JLC]
BBEdit 4.5.1… and 4.5.1a — Last week, Bare Bones Software released an update to BBEdit, a widely used text, HTML, and programming editor. According to the press release, the new BBEdit 4.5.1 supports HTML tags for style sheets, frames, scripts, and applets, plus provides enhanced HTML updating and validation. Other changes include welcome improvements to TableBuilder, enhancements to the Find Differences command, and support for longer search strings. Unfortunately, the rollout of BBEdit 4.5.1 wasn’t smooth: the original BBEdit 4.5.1 update had a small problem, so Bare Bones released two new updaters for BBEdit 4.5.1a: a complete 2.3 MB "4.5.1 updater" (which, despite its confusing name, updates 4.5 to version 4.5.1a) and a smaller "4.5.1a" update only for people who installed the flawed 4.5.1. [GD]
Eudora Internet Mail Server 2.0 Released — Qualcomm has released the final version of the $199 Eudora Internet Mail Server 2.0 (EIMS), which provides significant enhancements over the still-available free EIMS 1.2. Important improvements include the capability to handle multiple local domains, prevent spammers from relaying through your mail server, administer the server remotely, connect intermittently, and make user information available via Ph. For $299, you can purchase EIMS 2.0 plus five licenses for Eudora Pro. EIMS 2.0 requires a 68030 Mac or higher running System 7.1 or later with Open Transport 1.1.2 or later. A 60-day expiring demo version is also available as a 1.2 MB download. Overall, we’ve been impressed with EIMS 2.0 in our testing; however, Qualcomm’s online purchases are available only in the U.S. and Canada right now and work through Software.net. Our one experience with Software.net’s unlocking scheme and our subsequent interaction with customer service was terrible. Our advice: save all email relating to your order in case problems develop. [ACE]
QuicKeys Revs for Mac OS 8 — After installing Mac OS 8, QuicKeys users have encountered problems with installed contextual menu commands not appearing on menus and with the Close Window and Zoom Window Mousies failing. Although CE Software provided workarounds that helped with these issues to varying degrees, a fix is now at hand in the form of the QuicKeys 3.5.2r1 updater, which corrects these problems in QuicKeys 3.5.2. CE’s download page links to the new updater and to software for updating 3.5 to 3.5.2. [TJE]
Connectix Updates Speed Doubler — Connectix has posted an English updater for Speed Doubler that takes the recently released Speed Doubler 8.0 to 8.0.1A (see our MailBIT in TidBITS-402 for more Speed Doubler 8 information). If you downloaded but haven’t used the 8.0.1 updater posted early last week, make sure you grab the most recent file, which corrects a problem with the updater itself. If you used the previous updater successfully, don’t bother downloading 8.0.1A. The update to 8.0.1A fixes a number of bugs and a conflict with the StuffIt Browser in Aladdin’s StuffIt Deluxe 4.5. Those upgrading to 8.0.1 should note that the Speed Doubler Updates page offers updaters for both Speed Doubler and Speed Copy. [JLC]
Stairways Software Releases Greebles — In a departure from their focus on Mac Internet tools like Anarchie, NetPresenz, and Internet Config, Peter Lewis’s Stairways Software has released their first game, called Greebles. Stemming from the two-dimensional maze and block-pushing genre of the arcade game Pengo, Greebles ups the ante with over a dozen types of blocks, numerous types of Greebles (the bad guys), both friendly and nasty computer players, and 100 built-in levels. As you’d expect from Peter Lewis, although you can play Greebles alone, it’s also a multi-player game with up to four people playing on a single computer and up to nine computers connected over the Internet (unfortunately 33.6 Kbps modem connections don’t provide sufficiently high throughput or sufficiently low latency – see Stuart Cheshire’s Bandwidth and Latency articles in TidBITS-367 and TidBITS-368). A Greebles Tracker Web page displays public Greebles games so you can join network games in progress. Greebles requires a 68040 or PowerPC-based Mac; System 7.0 or later; 3 MB of RAM; and a 640 by 480, 256 color-capable system. Network play requires Open Transport 1.1 or later and a TCP/IP network. Greebles is $15 shareware with multiple copy discounts available, and registered users can build their own levels.
At a press conference today, Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs announced a line of new Macs and Apple’s new WebObjects-based Apple Store, which enables customers to purchase Macs and other Apple products online and to customize the configurations of the new G3 Macs.
More interesting is what didn’t happen at the press conference. Apple didn’t merge with Oracle (though rumors of Oracle investing in Apple to help support Apple’s network computer efforts make some sense), Apple didn’t announce a partnership with Lucent, and Steve Jobs didn’t accept the CEO position (or even the coveted title of Dictator for Life). None of the widely circulated rumors turned out to be true, as is so often the case, and life goes on.
Apple should be both commended and condemned for their handling of this situation. On the one hand, by allowing the Oracle buyout rumors to persist (and one wonders if they might not have been intentional), Jobs managed to turn a fairly interesting announcement into a public relations coup. There’s no way that Apple could otherwise have generated such interest for new machines and an online store, and for that Apple should be commended. However, I don’t believe it’s healthy for the Macintosh world to sustain such intensity surrounding Apple’s possible moves and by encouraging that intensity without delivering (as Jobs did in part by telling BusinessWeek that their fairly accurate article last week was "way off"), Apple does its users a disservice. I’m seeing people burn out and cease to care what happens to Apple or the Macintosh, and Apple can’t afford that right now.
New Power Macs — The public rationale for the press conference was to announce Apple’s latest Macs, all based on the new PowerPC 750 chip, more commonly known as the G3. In this issue, Tonya covers the specs of the new G3 machines in detail and Geoff looks in more detail at the G3 chip used in the new machines.
These machines are unquestionably fast, and the prices aren’t bad by any means, competing well with comparably configured machines from at least the Dells and Compaqs of the PC world, if not the less-expensive no-name vendors. Those are both positive facts for Apple in light of this year’s decision to reduce Mac OS cloning efforts to far lower levels than they were prior to the Power Computing buyout we covered in TidBITS Updates and Motorola’s exit from the Macintosh clone market, which we looked at in TidBITS-397.
If You Build It… More interesting in many ways than the release of the new G3 Macs is the new Apple Store, which is well-designed and graphically attractive. Based on the WebObjects technology acquired with NeXT, the Apple Store is Apple’s latest foray into direct sales (previous attempts, such as the Apple Club, have been half-hearted and poorly implemented). The Apple Store is available via the Web site below or via phone at 800/795-1000 (which reportedly goes to MicroWarehouse answering as Apple Computer). For those of you in other countries, it appears that the Apple Store currently caters only to U.S. customers. I imagine that will change in the future, but it will take Apple a while to address international shipping, currency, and support issues.
The Apple Store appears to carry most of Apple’s product line, including Macs, peripherals, Newtons, and software. For the most part, pricing is comparable to what you’d find at Apple resellers, although a Special Deals page lists some clearance items and refurbished Macs at cheap prices.
The most interesting part of the Apple Store is that it enables you to customize purchases of the new G3 Power Macs. In the past, if you wanted to buy a Mac, you had a choice of several different configurations, but any additional customization was your (or your reseller’s) problem. Now you can specify the various aspects of the G3 Power Macs, including:
- Processor speed
- RAM amount
- Hard disk size
- Removable storage
- Graphics support (VRAM size)
- Modem inclusion
- Monitor inclusion
The Apple Store reminded me of Power Computing’s Build Your Own Box Web pages. After you select a basic G3 Power Mac, the site presents you with pop-up menus from which you choose desired options. A button at the bottom recalculates the sub-total so you can see the damage caused by deciding you really need more RAM and a 20" monitor. After that, a Continue button encourages you to add peripherals to your order, then takes you to the checkout.
We’re curious to see how much of a difference direct sales make for Apple since setting up a direct sales channel – particularly one that allows customization – requires massive infrastructure changes within the company. It’s ironic that the changes necessary for a direct sales channel are much more significant than the impact on most individual users, who will see the Apple Store as merely another way to buy a Mac. In the past, it hasn’t been hard to find someone who will sell you a Mac, ranging from companies like TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics up to the superstore chains. Will direct sales mean more sales, or merely the same number of sales through a different channel? Apple probably stands to make more money on direct sales by cutting out the middleman, though some of that added profit will disappear into the effort of building and customizing the machines.
But Do They Think Different? One of today’s Apple press releases says "Apple Computer today showed it takes seriously the "Think Different" message in its ads. The Company announced dramatic changes in the way it designs, builds, and sells its computers." I’m willing to concede that the Apple Store and providing customers the opportunity to customize their Macs are radically different ways of building and selling computers, at least for Apple, if not others in the industry. And, the G3 Macs seem nicely designed, if not stunningly designed.
However, these are engineering and business details. Apple has released innovative machines in the past, and we’ve certainly seen numerous business changes over the seven and a half years we’ve watched Apple in TidBITS. What remains to be seen is if Jobs has managed to make the company think differently. The visionaries and leaders portrayed in Apple’s ads weren’t the sort of people who changed a distribution channel or released incrementally better products – they thought and acted in ways previously unimaginable. Apple was once a company that did "think different" – if nothing else, Apple engineers created a system to which people could relate and with which they could identify. The Macintosh affected our lives, but Apple proclaiming "Think Different" from the electronic rooftops does little for me. The question remains: can Apple "think different" and transcend the limitations of large corporate culture to touch our lives once again?
As Adam noted earlier in this issue, Apple has unveiled the Power Macintosh G3 series and the PowerBook G3. These new machines all sport the new PowerPC 750 chip, commonly known as the G3 (see Geoff’s detailed coverage of the G3 and backside cache in the next article). Apple also announced the Multiple Scan Display 720, a new 16-inch monitor.
Three New Macs — The G3, combined with a 512K backside cache and 66 MHz system bus, makes these new Mac run quickly, and they’ve performed well in published performance tests. They each come with 2 MB video RAM, three PCI slots for add-on boards, a 24x internal CD-ROM, and 10Base-T Ethernet. Also, these are among the first Macs to use SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM). Unlike regular DRAM, SDRAM doesn’t use its own timing system; instead, it operates in synchrony with the computer’s CPU. By synching up with the CPU, the SDRAM stays on schedule with the CPU and other components, thus avoiding slowdowns that would otherwise arise due to conflicting schedules.
The high-end model – a mini-tower form factor – runs at 266 MHz; contains a 6 GB hard disk and a Zip drive; and lists for $3,000. The list price drops to $2,400 if you settle for a desktop form factor and a 4 GB hard disk, and – at the low end – there’s a 233 MHz desktop model with a 4 GB hard disk but no Zip drive for $2,000. And of course, if you purchase these machines through the new Apple Store, you can customize the configurations to meet your needs.
Initially, I was disappointed with the G3 series because the models are dull when contrasted with the sexy features in Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Mac (see my article about that machine in TidBITS-387). Also, their relatively slow 5 MB/sec SCSI buses seemed an odd choice for such fast machines. Regular users won’t care, but those doing high-end video, for instance, will.
Although I’d still like to see Apple release truly exciting Macs, my initial disappointment has been smoothed over the reasonable pricing, and the fact that Apple appears to be abandoning its confusing model-numbering scheme. It’s easy to remember that a "Power Macintosh G3" contains a G3 chip.
In addition, these are the first Macs from Apple where each model contains the same logic board; custom components, including the G3 chip and the backside cache, live on a daughter card (or "personality card") that can be popped into the machine as it’s assembled. Although this isn’t a new idea, it is new to Apple and should help them quickly fill orders for particular configurations.
And a PowerBook — The new PowerBook G3, formerly code-named Kanga, runs at 250 MHz, and like its G3-based Power Mac brethren, comes with a 512K backside cache (running at 100 MHz, twice the speed of the system bus), and 32 MB EDO (Extended Data Out) RAM.
The machine uses the same form factor as the PowerBook 3400 and also shares the 3400’s four-speaker sound system, 33.6 Kbps modem/Ethernet card, and 12.1-inch TFT (thin-film transistor), 18-bit, 800 by 600, active-matrix color display. With its 2 MB video RAM, the PowerBook can drive an external monitor in 24-bit color at 832 by 624 pixels or 16-bit color at 1,024 by 768 pixels. Other specifications include a PC Card slot, lithium ion battery, and a bay that accepts interchangeable floppy disk and 20x CD-ROM modules. All these features fit in a 7.7 pound package that costs a whopping $5,699.
Who should buy this PowerBook? Those who need the speed and power now, and can’t wait for prices to go down. Apple is targeting the PowerBook G3 at design professionals who want to create and show sophisticated images and animations on a single computer.
What’s Next from Apple? I’ve heard rumors of a Power Express line of high-performance Macs, due for release in early 1998 with 83 MHz buses. There’s also talk of a G3-powered PowerBook, code-named Wall Street, which, from what I’ve heard, should offer a 350 MHz G3 and sport an optional DVD drive.
Beginning in TidBITS-334, we published a series of articles explaining the technical guts of a PowerPC-based Mac. We examined differences between PowerPC 601, 603, and 604 processors; Level 1 and Level 2 processor caches, the importance of the system bus, the 68K emulator, and other items.
Since then, the PowerPC world has changed. What is the PowerPC 750, and how is it different than the 603e and 604e chips in other Macs? Why is Apple touting the 750 so heavily? What’s a backside cache? This article will answer those questions – and maybe a few more.
PowerPC 750 — The newest member of the PowerPC processor family is the PowerPC 750, codenamed G3 by Motorola and Arthur by IBM. Like the 601, 603, and 604 series of processors, the PowerPC 750 is a 32-bit RISC processor that’s software compatible with the rest of the PowerPC line – meaning that the PowerPC 750 should have virtually flawless compatibility with all PowerPC-based Macintosh software.
The PowerPC 750 provides incremental improvements over previous PowerPC chips. It has larger data and instruction caches (32K each) and is optimized for integer operations, which makes it more spritely at common computing tasks. (The potential downside is that the PowerPC 750 isn’t as fast at floating point math as the earlier 604e.) The PowerPC 750 can run from two to eight times faster than a computer’s clock, so (in theory) PowerPC processor upgrade cards running as fast as 528 MHz could be designed for Apple’s just-introduced G3 Macs.
In addition, branch prediction in the PowerPC 750 has been improved, providing another across-the-board performance increase. In general terms, branch prediction is a low-level technique that processors use when code can do different things depending on the value of particular data. When the processor reaches a point where it must wait to learn a value in order to continue executing code, it makes a reasonable guess at what the value is likely to be and continues processing, instead of waiting simply around for an answer from RAM or an even slower subsystem. When the appropriate data is returned from memory or a subsystem, the processor looks at it and makes a decision. If the processor "predicted" the right path, it’s already well on its way to finishing the task (or even done); otherwise, if the prediction was inaccurate, the processor starts again from the decision point, which is what it would have had to do if it hadn’t guessed in the first place. Earlier PowerPC processors also do branch prediction; the PowerPC 750 improves on their model by making cached instructions immediately available once a path is resolved, rather than loading the cached instructions separately.
Finally – and perhaps most interestingly – the PowerPC 750 is the first PowerPC chip designed for the Mac OS. This means the chip recognizes and efficiently handles types of byte sequences produced by (reportedly) Apple’s and Metrowerks’ compilers. All other things being equal (which they aren’t; see above) a PowerPC 750 is better at running typical Macintosh software than a PowerPC 604e at the same speed.
Watts the Deal? Most Macs available today use either the 603e or 604e processor. The 604e was meant to be a high-performance chip for workstations, while the 603e was designed as a low-power, higher-speed version of the original PowerPC 601. That’s why you’ve never seen a 604 processor in a PowerBook: they’re too hot and they consume too much power.
However, unlike the PowerPC 604 series, the PowerPC 750 offers high performance and low power consumption, using just five watts of power at 250 MHz. In comparison, the PowerPC 604e consumes nearly 20 watts at 200 MHz. Portable machines using the 750 can (in theory) rival the performance of desktop workstations. The PowerPC 750 features four power-saving modes which kick in automatically when functional units of the processor are idle, reducing power consumption and heat dissipation without impacting performance. The PowerPC 750 also includes a thermal assist unit which enables manufacturers to interrupt or slow down processing in response to temperature increases.
Exposing Your Backside — So what’s with the "backside" caches always mentioned in relation to PowerPC 750 systems? Well, a backside cache is just a faster version of a Level 2 cache.
Level 2 caches are comparatively small units of high speed memory (256K to 1 MB) where PowerPC processors stash frequently used instructions and bits of data. Remember that in comparison to almost everything else on a PowerPC-based Macintosh, the processor itself is quite fast. That means it spends much of its time waiting for other systems, like RAM, video, networks, and disk drives. A fast Level 2 cache makes it so the processor can rapidly access frequently needed items and thus spend less time twiddling its thumbs, waiting for slower systems to respond. Increasing the amount of Level 2 cache in a PowerPC-based Mac is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to enhance performance.
The problem with Level 2 caches on earlier PowerPC- based Macs is that the processor accesses the Level 2 cache by crossing the system bus, which acts like a traffic cop for almost every subsystem on the computer. On PCI-based machines, the system bus runs at a comparatively slow 33 to 50 MHz; Apple’s new G3 desktop Macs use a 66 MHz system bus.
The PowerPC 750, however, offers a built-in controller for Level 2 cache on a separate, private bus, so the processor need not touch the system bus to use the Level 2 cache. This separate bus can run anywhere from one-third the speed to the full speed of the PowerPC 750, so it’s almost always faster than the main system bus. The bus handling the backside cache for Apple’s G3 Power Macs runs at half the speed of the PowerPC processor, although some third-party PowerPC 750 processor upgrade cards run at the same clock speed as the PowerPC chip.
Why not make the main system bus faster, rather than having a separate bus for Level 2 cache? In theory, that would be great: we’d all love for our system buses to run at 250 or 300 MHz. In reality, it’s much harder and more expensive to engineer a system bus (and its requisite controllers for RAM, disks, networking, and other systems) to run that fast than it is to make a high-speed bus that does just one thing. However, increasing the speed of the system bus always improves performance, and you can expect to see 83 MHz system buses from Apple in future models.
More Info — Motorola has good technical information about the PowerPC at the first URL below (although, unfortunately, mostly in PDF format). In addition Apple has posted a succinct overview of the PowerPC architecture (including the G4 processors expected in 1999), and IBM also has made some information available.