This week, Arthur Bleich concludes his two-part digital camera article with tips on what to look for plus specific camera recommendations. Douglas Tallman examines ClarisWorks 5, the latest version of the venerable integrated software package. We also note new Ethernet drivers for the G3 Power Macs, an update to (and discount on) Timbuktu Pro 4.0, a Microsoft Word 97/98 converter, and a FileMaker-based solution for archiving messages from Emailer.
G3 Ethernet Update
G3 Ethernet Update — Apple has released an updated Ethernet driver (version 2.0.1) for its new Power Macintosh G3 systems (but, notably, not for the PowerBook G3). The update corrects possible data corruption problems with using built-in Ethernet on high-traffic networks, and allows desktop G3 systems to connect reliably to auto-sensing 10/100 Mbps Ethernet hubs. The download is only 98K, but you’ll need DiskCopy 6.1 or ShrinkWrap 3.0 to access the update’s disk image file. [GD]
Timbuktu Pro Upgraded to 4.0.2
Timbuktu Pro Upgraded to 4.0.2 — Netopia, Inc., previously known as Farallon, has released version 4.0.2 of their remote control software Timbuktu Pro. New features include additional modem description files, some support for the Appearance Manager, and use of the underscore character in the TCP/IP tab. Bug fixes include mapping similar PC file names to unique names on the Mac, reduced memory requirements for copying PC files, a few network tweaks, and several cosmetic changes. The upgrade, which comes as a 2 MB patcher, is free to Timbuktu 4.0 users. Netopia is also offering special pricing on Timbuktu Pro through 31-Dec-97; check the second URL below for details. [ACE]
Stairways Lists Lost
Stairways Lists Lost — Stairways Software, Peter Lewis’s shareware company, runs a number of mailing lists for their products and related issues. Unfortunately, computer problems last weekend destroyed both the current subscriber lists and the backups, so if you were on one of Stairways lists, including the lists for Anarchie, Apple Guide, Greebles, Internet Config, MacLabManager, NetPresenz, Open Transport, or RumorMill, you’ll need to resubscribe – check the Web page below for addresses. [ACE]
Microsoft Word 97-98 Converter
Microsoft Word 97-98 Converter — Microsoft recently posted the final version of the Microsoft Word 97-98 converter. This version replaces the beta released earlier this year and makes it easier for Macintosh Word 5 and 6 users to share files with users of Word 97 and 98. (Microsoft plans to release Word 98 for the Macintosh early in 1998.) The converter requires a 68020-based Mac or better. The converter’s Web page has more information and a link to the 813K download. [TJE]
Archiving Emailer Messages
Archiving Emailer Messages — Users of Claris Emailer 2.0 (reviewed in TidBITS-382), can get archiving help from the new Emailer Archive 3.0, a freeware FileMaker and AppleScript solution that can store old email that has accumulated in Emailer’s Mail Database file, thereby decreasing the size of the active mail database folder. Storing old messages in a FileMaker database also works well for faster searching. Emailer Archive is available from Fog City Software’s Emailer Utilities Web site; the download size is 322K if you have FileMaker 3.0 or 4.0; 2.2 MB if you don’t. [JLC]
Same as It Ever Was: ClarisWorks Office
Many folks will be pleased to hear that the new release of ClarisWorks 5.0 is the same, tightly integrated program they’ve always known. However, some might be disappointed, too – in many ways, it’s practically the same program they’ve always known. For those who haven’t heard of it, ClarisWorks integrates a spreadsheet, word processor, database, and drawing program into one software package.
Whence ClarisWorks? A year and a half has passed since ClarisWorks was last updated, and the new $99 version has a trendy "ClarisWorks Office" appellation. The new name and the $49 upgrade price don’t balance the handful of additions to the program – and it’s not as if this release was supposed to be humdrum, either!
Earlier, Claris had announced that the next release of ClarisWorks would be an OpenDoc container, able to use parts from third parties. Such a product presented an intriguing thought: the premier integrated software application would latch on to the vanguard of software integration. Imagine doing word processing and email within the same software shell. OpenDoc might have made that possible.
Unfortunately, development along this line ended when Apple announced OpenDoc would be put into maintenance mode (see TidBITS-370). Claris looked into breaking ClarisWorks into a series of parts, too, but decided against it, according to Tom D’Arezzo, product manager for ClarisWorks. "We would actually lose some of the key differentiation of ClarisWorks: its incredible integration and overall small size," he said.
Tight integration has always been ClarisWorks’ major advantage. Stand-alone applications often gobble hard disk space and RAM. With ClarisWorks, you forgo some cutting-edge features, but you can operate with less overhead.
New Features — Of the new features, the most visible – and most hyped – is the button bar, which might remind you of the interface fad afflicting Word and WordPerfect. Play around with the button bar and you realize it’s really the steroid-injected Shortcuts palette that has existed for the past several versions.
The button bar adds some functionality, if you monkey with it. By default, the bar takes up the top of your screen, too much space on my 15-inch monitor. Along the left side, I found it less obtrusive. The default buttons, though, repeat easily accessed menu commands. After fiddling with the settings, I found a set of buttons that invoke commands that ordinarily need extra keyboarding or mouse clicks. Now, instead of a waste of space, the bar is downright handy. And if you can’t find anything useful to put on your button bar, you can hide it altogether.
Documents themselves have a few new features. Passwords can protect precious data from prying eyes, and files can link to other documents whether they’re stored on a local hard disk, on a network, or out on the Web. One click and ClarisWorks either opens the linked file or directs your Web browser to the appropriate page. Further, you can create bookmarks inside a document, making those particular spots reachable by a mouse click. Those spots can be spreadsheet cells, graphic elements, or sections of bitmapped art, but, oddly, not database records.
Long-time users will be relieved to see that this version has a simple method for choosing a default font. In previous versions, such a basic change required users to create a stationery file, with all the necessary settings, saved in a specific folder. That method gave great control but complicated simple tasks, such as setting the default font of converted text files or database fields. Now you can select a default font in the Preferences window. It works most of the time, though new text blocks inside word processing documents – for sidebars, as an example – default to Helvetica. Strangely, new text blocks in graphic environments default to the user-specified font.
Claris also seems to have worked the kinks out of its style sheet scheme. Many users objected to version 4’s method in which style attributes seemed to compound on text, but turning off unwanted attributes could be frustratingly complex. This version seems much more predictable. Claris added a "Compound Styles" command that mimics ClarisWorks 4, so the three people who mastered the previous scheme can feel at home.
Other additions include new brush effects in the paint module and named ranges in spreadsheets. Claris has expanded the number of characters for database fields from 500 to 1,000, although that’s still too limiting for many jobs. Databases can now have multimedia fields that accept graphics, movies, and sounds. Multimedia fields can hold an entire text frame, which gets around the 1,000-character limit, but that’s only good for storing text, rather than editing or even reading it.
New to 5.0 is an equation editor that works as a separate application and uses the Symbol font to construct equations. Apple events let you create and edit equations in the equation editor after they’ve been inserted in a ClarisWorks document.
The best addition may be AppleScript support, even if it’s far from perfect. You can run scripts from a menu inside the program, and ClarisWorks itself has a better-than-average AppleScript dictionary. Unfortunately, Claris has included a paltry set of example scripts, ClarisWorks is not recordable, and I’ve worn a bald spot scratching my head trying to puzzle out some intricacies of ClarisWorks scripting. But, even a little scriptability is better than none at all.
Also in the Box — Another plus is the abundance of stationery (more than 14 MB worth) and assistants (weighing in at 2.5 MB). Claris has included 64 templates from JIAN, a publisher targeting small businesses. I’d rather roll my own most of the time, but considering that many users are probably getting their first entree to computing with ClarisWorks, I can’t help but look at these additions positively.
However, the skimpy manual Claris provides is another story. It barely covers the basics, and pages are sprinkled with notes directing users to the online help. Unfortunately, there’s not much depth online either. Claris might better serve its customers by providing a coupon for a decent third-party ClarisWorks book. The least they could do is eliminate the annoying QuickHelp software and translate the information into ClarisWorks documents. Document linking and bookmarks would provide the functionality of hypertext. As native ClarisWorks files, they could be more useful in explaining the details of database searches or spreadsheet functions, for example.
In addition to linking to the Web, ClarisWorks sports other spiffy "Internet Enabling" features. One of the button bars provides easy access to your email software and Web browser. The full Office product ships with Internet access software and Claris Home Page Lite for editing Web pages. ClarisWorks can translate its documents into HTML, even converting embedded spreadsheets into HTML tables.
In Conclusion — Claris always has touted ClarisWorks’ tight integration and its scant needs for RAM and disk space. In this iteration, they’ve revved up the marketing, calling it "all the office you need." For folks at the shallow end of the power pool, it’s a perfect match. Even people with more powerful systems can appreciate the program’s simplicity and the wealth of templates. I’ve used ClarisWorks almost from its inception, and it’s been nothing but a workhorse. Nothing about 5.0 would make me think otherwise.
But I wonder how relevant ClarisWorks is today. Apple-branded Macs sell for less than $1,600 with 32 MB of RAM and 3 GB hard disks. Clones (what few remain) sell for less than that. These machines – and their cousins from the past few years – are forgiving to Claris’s bloated competitors. So long as the hardware can handle Microsoft Office comfortably, I doubt many people will consider lean software much of a plus.
[On the other hand, many older Macs are still in use, particularly among new users whose first Macs were passed down from more experienced family members and among organizations that cannot afford new computers. For these users, products like ClarisWorks remain key tools. Also, ClarisWorks is one of the few remaining competitors to Microsoft Office for the Macintosh, and the industry needs competition to fuel differentiation and innovation. Finally, given the environmental costs of throwing out old computers, it’s great to see new software that doesn’t require a newer machine. -Tonya]
ClarisWorks 5 requires a 68020 processor or better (including PowerPC systems), System 7.0.1 or higher, 18 to 55 MB of disk space, at least 8 MB of RAM, and a CD-ROM drive. You can download (3.5 MB) a feature-limited trial version of ClarisWorks 5.0.
Claris Corporation — 800/544-8554 — 408/727-8227
800/800-8954 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Choosing a Digital Camera, Part 2: Which One to Buy?
Last week in TidBITS-407, I discussed resolution and other general digital camera issues; this week I’ll talk about how to choose the best camera to suit your needs. If you buy a camera based on my listings, make certain that specific model hasn’t undergone any drastic specification changes or else WYWMNBWYG (What You Want May Not Be What You Get).
Resolution Review — Before purchasing a digital camera, as we noted last week, you should to consider what resolution you require. To review, for quality photographic prints or to enlarge small sections of images for onscreen viewing, purchase a camera with as high a resolution as you can afford. Digital camera resolution will only improve and today’s "high" will be tomorrow’s "normal" or even "low," so you may as well not start behind the curve.
Choose a camera with 640 by 480 ppi (pixels per inch) resolution as an absolute minimum. If you can afford it, go up to 1,024 by 768 ppi or higher. This lets you print larger pictures using the full image size and allows for moderate cropping without too much image degradation.
I also suggest that you check out print quality at different resolutions before you buy. At least two camera manufacturers, Olympus and Epson, offer sample images on their Web sites. Make sure you don’t print the images from your Web browser, because your output will be locked at the screen resolution of 72 dpi. Instead, download the files using the links provided, then open them in an imaging program such as Adobe Photoshop or PhotoFix. From there, print your samples at different resolutions and sizes to see for yourself how they’ll look. (If you don’t yet have imaging software, a program like the shareware GraphicConverter should let you view and print sample images.)
Avoid the Shakes — Unless you’ve got several thousand dollars to blow on a professional Steadicam system, even the best digital camera will seem like a poor choice if you can’t keep it still when shooting. Favor cameras that have conventional optical viewfinders or through-the-lens reflex viewing (which enables you see the image through the lens used for taking the picture, just like looking through a telescope), and look for cameras that you can steady against your head to avoid camera shake. Cameras that provide only an LCD screen to view the image you’re going to shoot may look nice sitting in a camera store, but make you hold the camera away from you to frame the shot, which creates unsteadiness. Also, the LCD image washes out if you shoot outside with the sun at your side or back. An exception might be cameras with screens that swivel to allow you to look down into them as you brace them against your chest or waist.
Screens, Batteries, and More — Shakiness aside, cameras that have integrated LCD screens (or as a plug-in accessory) in addition to a regular viewfinder can still be useful. They’re great for checking the quality of pictures you’ve already taken, and for pre-framing tight close-up shots, preferably with the camera on a tripod. However, they’re not usually integrated into cameras under $500 and, to tell the truth, you won’t miss them.
Some cameras allow you to view images on a television screen. This is a nice feature, especially if you want to check a large view of your shots when you’re traveling and don’t have a computer handy. You can also use the camera for presentations by pre-recording your pictures in the correct sequence on a storage card. Just make sure you buy an AC adapter if it’s not supplied with the camera.
If the camera doesn’t have a rechargeable battery, buy rechargeable batteries and a charger, or be prepared to support The Energizer Bunny for the rest of your camera’s life. Most of these cameras eat batteries like candy, especially since batteries must power the flash and the LCD screen used to preview and post-view shots (if the camera has an LCD).
If you can afford a camera in the intermediate price range, look for cameras with a removable storage cards – it’s a pain to stop shooting and spend half an hour transferring images to a laptop halfway up Mount Everest. At the moment, there’s no established storage card standard, but the SmartMedia Card holds promise (about $10 per MB). In addition to being able to transfer images directly from the camera, it should also (with appropriate adapters) be able to pop into a PC card reader or directly into your floppy drive for faster cable-free transfer. (Don’t confuse this capability with cameras that use standard high-density floppy disks; the SmartMedia card is entirely different).
Books – Reading a book or two will improve your background knowledge of digital cameras and help you use one more effectively. Three good books on digital photography are:
Essentials of Digital Photography by Akira Kasai, Russell Sparkman, and Elizabeth Hurley (translator). (New Riders, ISBN 1-56205-762-6, $60.00.) This intermediate to advanced book covers digital photographic theory and practice, along with Photoshop techniques. Outstanding! The bundled CD-ROM is a gem and includes a cross-platform tutorial and other goodies.
Digital Camera Companion by Ben Sawyer & Ron Pronk. (Coriolis, ISBN 1-57610097-9, $30.00.) This winner of a book contains a potpourri of great stuff at a beginner-to-intermediate level, although it’s marred somewhat by a Windows-only CD-ROM.
The Photographer’s Digital Studio by Joe Farace. (Peachpit Press, ISBN 0201-88400-3, $25.00.) Joe Farace is a long-time photographer who’s "been there and done that." The book was the first and is a still-relevant overview for the beginning or intermediate user of what to do after you’ve taken your picture.
My Digital Camera Choices — Now that we’ve talked about issues and features relating to purchasing a camera, it’s time to focus on cameras especially worth consideration. I’ll save my winning set of camera models for the end of this section and begin with three cameras that deserve serious consideration.
Fuji DX-5: Sized at 4.5 by 1.5 by 2.5 inches, this compact pocket camera has a fixed focus that keeps everything sharp from about two feet to infinity. Fuji recently redesigned the camera, and the original integrated LCD monitor was dropped in favor of a bright optical viewfinder. Two manual aperture settings (for different lighting conditions) and a neat pop-up flash make it a great traveling camera. It can take 640 by 480 ppi images and has the added plus of SmartMedia removable cards. No TV output. $300.
Konica Q-EZ: This camera’s main claim to fame is that it can shoot as close as 1.4 inches. It uses removable storage cards, has autofocus, and you can preset and control some of its functions using your computer. (I haven’t tried this, so if that appeals to you check it out before you buy.) It lacks an LCD display and has no TV output, but it’s a handsome-looking camera from a camera house with a great reputation. $400.
Minolta Dimage V: This camera’s lens swivels mightily and can even be detached and used at the end of a three-foot cable tether to look around corners, over people’s heads… I’ll let your imagination take it from there. Put the camera in your pocket, mount the lens on your helmet, and you’re set to jump – just don’t forget your parachute. Features include a fixed focus, zoom lens, LCD viewing, removable SmartMedia storage cards, 640 by 480 ppi, and a 1/10,000 shutter speed. This camera is worth a look, particularly if you like to amaze your friends with all the latest technical marvels. $700.
The Winner — My winner of the 1997 World Series of Digital Cameras is… the Olympus Camera Corporation’s lineup of cameras, which address a variety of tastes (and pocketbooks). An innovative camera manufacturer for generations, Olympus always comes through with the right stuff at the right time, from half-frame cameras to autofocus point-and-shoot 35s, and now to digital cameras that, in my opinion, are the best in their class.
Here’s a quick rundown of the specifications for Olympus’s camera lineup. If you buy a D-220L or D-320L, make sure it’s a 220 or 320, not a 200 or 300; these earlier models lack removable storage or television compatibility, and are still being sold. (You might be able to get a great price on one of these if you can do without those two features.) All prices are average street prices; you may be able to do better.
D-220L: This baby is sweet, small, and loaded with features, which include 640 by 480 ppi high resolution (320 by 240 ppi low); three user-selectable compression modes; autofocus; optical viewfinder; built-in LCD screen; flash; 2 MB removable SmartMedia storage; and TV-compatibility. $500.
D-320L: Buy this one if you want a big brother to the D-220L with all its features plus 1,024 by 768 ppi high resolution, 640 by 480 ppi low. This camera was a Macworld "Best of Show" winner for 1997, and it’s worth every penny of its price. $700.
D-500L: This camera has a totally new and exciting design. It has a TTL (through-the-lens) single lens reflex type viewfinder; 3x zoom lens; flip-up powerful flash; 1,024 by 768 ppi high resolution, 640 by 480 ppi low – both with multi-compression modes; and 2 MB removable SmartMedia storage, though – regrettably – no TV output. $900.
D-600L: This camera provides the highest resolution -1,280 by 1,024 ppi – of any camera under $2,500. It also offers an alternate resolution at 640 by 512 ppi, helpful when shooting images for the Web and multimedia, or when large-sized prints are not required. The D-600L has all the features of the D-500L (plus a few more, like 4 MB removable SmartMedia cards) and even though it lacks TV output, I predict it will fly off dealers’ shelves. $1,300.
The following URL points to a detailed FAQ on the D-500/600Ls, plus sites where sample images can be downloaded.
Web Sites for Digital Photography — The Web offers a number of resources for immersing yourself further in the world of digital imaging and photography. The best photography site on the Web, bar none, is Zone Zero, where you can spend many pleasant hours looking at both digital and conventional exhibits. Two other sites are also worth checking out. PC-Photo Forum is an ambitious and well designed commercially supported site with detailed digital camera comparisons, reviews, and a search engine to find the best camera prices. And, only a few weeks old, the Digital Camera Resource Page goes into great detail on digital camera industry news, specific cameras, technical glitches and fixes, reviews, forums, and other good stuff.
Magazines offer other interesting sites: Photo District News Magazine has a hip site with great technical information and a special digital section; PhotoElectronic Imaging Magazine specializes in digital photography; and newcomer PCPhoto Magazine stands to become the de-facto popular publication for digital photography.
Choosing and Using — Whichever digital camera you choose, keep in mind that it probably won’t be the only digital camera you’re going to own. Like people who buy computers (which are notorious for becoming techno-relics as little as six months after purchase), digital camera owners understand that the future promises better hardware with more snazzy features (satellite broadcasting? holographic output?). But while you wait for your ideal camera to appear, you’ll watch your friends become digital shutterbugs. If you think you need to buy a digital camera in the near future, by all means consider jumping into the foray now. Like it or not, digital photography will no doubt usurp film-based photography in the coming years. And to you traditionalists who are scoffing at that statement, I ask: "How many photographers do you know who still coat glass plates?"
[Arthur H. Bleich has been a photographer, writer, filmmaker, musician, and teacher. He currently serves as the Executive Director of The Children’s Telemedical Health Fund, which provides free medical and psychological care to needy kids through interactive television.]
Sponsor Specials — TidBITS sponsors Small Dog Electronics and Cyberian Outpost are both offering digital camera specials this issue; check the sponsorship information at the top to learn more.