Looking forward to Macworld Expo? Keep reading to find out about parties and other events at the Expo, and to get a preview of Photoshop plug-ins likely to be demoed. We have details about new versions of Conflict Catcher, Mac OS Runtime for Java, Virtual PC, and two new products billed as boosting Web browsing speed. This week also marks the beginning of a multi-part review of 3Com’s PalmPilot Personal.
Macworld Expo This Week — Various members of the TidBITS staff will be at Macworld Expo in San Francisco this week, so email replies may be delayed. We’ll try to post updates about the most exciting things we see during the week, and in the next TidBITS issue we’ll cover what was really important at the show. If you plan to attend or just want a sense of how the show has been in previous years, check out Jeff Carlson’s "Impressions of a Macworld Newbie" in TidBITS-362 from Macworld San Francisco last year, and Tonya’s "Macworld Expo: Planning for a Shopping Frenzy" in TidBITS-391 from the last Macworld Boston. Of course, searching for "Macworld Expo" in our search engine will also reveal lots of old show news. [ACE]
Microsoft Sponsoring TidBITS — We’d like to welcome our latest sponsor, a small company that a few of you might have heard of before – Microsoft Corporation. In fact, we’re being sponsored by Microsoft’s Macintosh teams, the groups responsible for the Mac versions of Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Microsoft Office 98. We recently visited the Internet Explorer/Outlook Express team in San Jose and were astonished to realize how many people there we knew from their previous jobs. It was an impressive collection of Macintosh programmers, with folks who had worked at companies like Aladdin, Apple, Claris, Metrowerks, Natural Intelligence, and ResNova. A number of these programmers continue to produce well-known shareware programs and were responsible for some of the earliest Macintosh Internet software. We asked a friend there (who used information from an early issue of TidBITS to help land his first job in the industry many years ago) why he had decided to join Microsoft. His reply was that he wanted to help create great Macintosh programs that would be used by the largest number of people, and Microsoft offered the best opportunity to do that. Whatever the reasons, it’s great to see Microsoft putting so much emphasis on Macintosh software and the Macintosh Internet community. [ACE]
NewsHopper Becomes Defunct — Laurent Humbert, developer of the offline newsreader NewsHopper, wrote last week to tell us the sad news that NewsHopper is no longer an available product (nor is it becoming shareware or freeware) because of his ongoing health problems. Laurent asks that anyone who has the existing demo version of NewsHopper on an archive site remove it, along with links to the NewsHopper Web page. Existing users can send tech support queries to Laurent at <[email protected]>, and the updater to the current 1.3b version remains available. Laurent recommends that people interested in an offline newsreader for the Mac check out Stefan Haller’s MacSOUP 2.3, which can also read email or interface with Eudora or Emailer, if you prefer. We wish Laurent the best. [ACE]
Conflict Catcher Boosted to 4.1 — Launching a preemptive strike against Mac OS 8.1 incompatibilities, Casady & Greene has updated Conflict Catcher to version 4.1 (See Adam’s review, "Conflict Catcher 4.0 Ups the Ante," in TidBITS-393). Previous versions of the powerful extension manager and troubleshooting utility will not work at all under Mac OS 8.1. The update includes several advances, including improved support for Apple’s Appearance Manager, more flexible Group Links, and enhanced options for listing and displaying startup files. The 871K update is free to users of Conflict Catcher 4.x; owners of previous versions can upgrade for $29.95 (plus shipping and handling). The update is available from either of the last two URLs below. [JLC]
MRJ 2.0 Released — Apple has released the free Mac OS Runtime for Java 2.0 (MRJ) for users of Mac OS 8. MRJ enables your Macintosh to run applications written in the Java programming language from Sun Microsystems. MRJ 2.0 implements Sun’s Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.1.3 and supports all the features of the JDK 1.1 specification, including Java Beans, Java Database Connectivity, Remote Method Invocation, Java Native Interface, and more. MRJ 2.0 also includes PowerPC and 68040 just-in-time compilers for significant performance improvements. Apple claims that MRJ 2.0 has passed every test in Sun’s Java Compliancy Kit. MRJ 2.0 currently does not support versions of the system software prior to Mac OS 8, although you can install it under Mac OS 7.6.1 using the Custom Install option. Apple plans to provide official support for Mac OS 7.6.1 in early 1998. [ACE]
Connectix Readies VPC Update, Surf Express — As usual, Connectix Corporation will show some of the snazziest products at this week’s Macworld Expo. The company will demonstrate Virtual PC 2.0, an update to its popular Pentium emulator, and Surf Express, a new Web accelerator. According to Connectix, Virtual PC 2.0 will ship in February and improve Windows performance 25 to 40 percent over the previous version, as well as add enhanced DirectX support, sound input capability, and better integration of Mac and Windows environments (including drag & drop between the two operating systems).
Surf Express uses a combination of technologies to display graphics and text of Web pages up to 36 times faster than a browser alone, providing you use Netscape Navigator 3.0 or later, or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 or later. One approach is the software’s internal proxy server, which keeps a local cache the company says is more efficient than the browser’s caching. The software also keeps your most-visited Web sites up to date on your local cache, so when you visit, the information is ready. We’ll be interested to see how Surf Express compares with WebDoubler from Clearway Technologies, which sounds like a similar product. [MHA]
Apple Store Provides Feedback — In response to "Apple Store Reality Check" in TidBITS-410, Sean Carte <[email protected]> writes, "In your article regarding the Apple Store, you don’t mention its value as a source of information. By encouraging customers to configure their own Macs on the site, Apple receives direct feedback regarding which features customers really want and which they consider superfluous. According to Apple representatives at the recent Masters of Media road show, BMW has found this sort of feedback from its Web site invaluable; I’m sure Apple will as well." [ACE]
Apple Store Contributing More Profit (Correction) — In "Apple Store Reality Check" in TidBITS-410, I made a mistake in calculating how much money the Apple Store would contribute to Apple’s bottom line if you assumed that all of the Apple Store sales would otherwise have gone through the dealer channel. In short, the additional 15 percent that Apple makes on direct sales should have been applied to the $144 million in orders, resulting in a $21.6 million profit above what Apple would have made if those sales came elsewhere. Thanks to alert readers Clive Bruton <[email protected]> and Peter Schoenrank <[email protected]> for setting us straight. [ACE]
We’re about to head into the chaotic frenzy that is Macworld Expo. Although the best laid schedules often fall by the wayside, here are a few events in which we’re participating, plus a link to the Robert Hess Memorial Party List.
Eudora VQS Book Signing 08-Jan-98 — In my "Eudora Tips & Tricks" article in TidBITS-405, I promised to be at the Peachpit Press booth at Macworld Expo. The schedule has been set up, and I’ll be signing copies of my Eudora Visual QuickStart Guide on Thursday, 08-Jan-98 from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, so stop by and say hello! Tonya and Jeff Carlson will probably be around as well.
1998 Netter’s Dinner at Macworld Expo — If you’re interested in attending the 1998 Netter’s Dinner at Macworld Expo, visit Jon Pugh’s Netter’s Dinner Web page for information and a link to the Kagi-based signup form ($16 per person) for the necessary pre-registration. Since Jon isn’t able to attend this year, I will be emceeing the dinner and performing the ritual domain survey. At 6:30 PM on Thursday, 08-Jan-98, gather at the top of the escalators inside Moscone on the south side of Howard Street. After everyone has gathered, we’ll make the traditional walk to the Hunan (on Sansome and Broadway) in an impressively large crowd.
Robert Hess Memorial Party List Online — Ilene Hoffman has once again posted the Robert Hess Memorial Party List, a list of parties and other events at this week’s Macworld Expo. Robert was a MacWEEK editor who produced the party list before every Macworld Expo; he passed away 12-Jan-96 from complications due to pneumonia. To add an event to the list, use the submission form on the list’s Web site.
With Apple’s renewed focus on content creators, it should come as no surprise that a small army of Photoshop plug-in developers will be present at this week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco. What new goodies should you look for in the Photoshop plug-in universe? With vendors like Alien Skin, Chroma Graphics, DigiEffects, Extensis, MetaCreations, Pantone, and Wacom, there’s bound to be something to strike your plugged-in fancy.
The only ultra-new, never-seen-before plug-in I’ve run across so far is Chroma Graphics’ EdgeWizard. The new release is the second in Chroma’s trio of high-performance image masking plug-ins. Following on the heels of MagicMask, EdgeWizard is billed as a set of "perfectly wicked edge blending tools." With the addition of EdgeWizard, Chroma goes head-to-head with Extensis MaskPro. The combination of EdgeWizard and MagicMask should raise the bar yet another notch.
Although the Spring and Fall Seybold Seminars are definitely the most important shows for plug-in developers, a healthy selection of recently released plug-ins will be shown at the Moscone Convention Center.
Alien Skin (those folks with the brightly colored hair) have a new version of Eye Candy 3.0 for After Effects, tuned specifically for Adobe’s powerful video editing program. Video producers should love the wild effects, such as simulations of smoke, fire, and fur, as well as powerful beveling controls and alpha channel support. [Alien Skin has posted a press release (in an inconvenient Acrobat file), dated 06-Jan-98, announcing plans to ship Eye Candy 3.1 for After Effects on 31-Jan-98, so it’s likely the company will demonstrate version 3.1 at the show. -Tonya]
BoxTop Software’s Travis Anton will demo Boxtop’s new ImageVice image preprocessing plug-in along with the latest and greatest version of PhotoGIF Filter in the "Choosing and Using Tools for the Coolest Web Site" conference (Session 13 of the Web Technical (Tools) Track). [Look for a full review of ImageVice in TidBITS soon. -Adam]
Extensis will bring the latest version (2.0) of the popular PhotoTools plug-in set. This new version includes PhotoCastShadow (a new cast shadow creation tool that competes with Andromeda’s recently released Perspective Shadow filter) and PhotoButton (for quick button creation), along with enhancements to the PhotoText text editing plug-in. [Additionally, Extensis today announced Extensis PhotoFrame 1.0, a new Photoshop plug-in that helps in creating frames and borders for images. Extensis will demo PhotoFrame at Macworld Expo and plans to ship it in February for an estimated street price of $129.95. Extensis also announced a new Photoshop bundle, the $199.95 PowerSuite for Adobe Photoshop, which includes Intellihance 3.0 (an image-enhancement plug-in), as well as Portfolio 3.0 and PhotoTools 2.0. -Tonya]
Imagedrome should demonstrate a new beveling plug-in, Imazine the Tools-Bevel Pro. This diminutive startup company faces formidable competition in the beveling arena from the likes of Alien Skin, Extensis, and Fortune Hill (WildRiver SSK).
Pantone’s long-awaited HexWrench plug-in creates six-channel separations (CMYK plus orange and green) that can be saved in DCS or Photoshop format. If you’re producing high-end color print work, have a serious budget, and are looking for more punch, definitely check into this one.
Got a Wacom tablet? Check out Wacom’s freebie plug-ins! The tablet manufacturer will show PenTools 2.0, which include two new plug-ins, Bit Blaster and Metal Leafer.
Stay tuned for more. We can expect to see a rash of hot new plug-ins for Photoshop and Acrobat when the Adobe Plug-In Developer Pavilion returns to Seybold New York this spring.
[Daniel Gray is a journeyman designer/author. His most recent work, The Photoshop Plug-Ins Book (Ventana Press), is a virtual encyclopedia of Photoshop plug-ins.]
You wouldn’t expect this kind of devotion toward a blender. Most handheld electronic organizers are dumb appliances, storing appointments and phone numbers with the same mindless efficiency a blender uses to mix juice. Of course, if you take away my blender I’ll switch to a spoon. Try to take my PalmPilot and I’ll reach for a sharp knife.
After using a 3Com (formerly USRobotics) PalmPilot Personal for the past nine months, I’ve discovered what more than a million Pilot users already know: this little device isn’t as much an organizer as it is an extension of one’s daily life. In addition to maintaining my active calendar, address book, and to do items, my PalmPilot allows me to send and receive email; track my freelance hours; store notes and lists; and even sneak in a game of chess or Yahtzee – anywhere, without having to open my PowerBook. All in a compact unit that fits in a shirt pocket and runs for months on two AAA batteries.
A Sharp Instrument — At first glance, the PalmPilot looks like a baby version of a Newton MessagePad (check out David Gewirtz’s review, "MessagePad 2000: New Newton Exceeds Expectations," in TidBITS-379). Measuring 4.7 inches tall and 3.2 inches wide, the gray plastic case rests comfortably in your hand like a deck of cards. There is no keyboard, just a stylus for tapping on the 160 by 160 pixel backlit screen and writing on a silkscreened area below. Four buttons on the front access the built-in Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, and Memo Pad applications. The Pilot’s serial port is located on the bottom, where it rests in an accompanying plastic cradle that connects to your computer.
The PalmPilots on the market today come in two varieties: Personal and Professional. They look exactly alike, and differ mainly in the amount of RAM included: the Personal ships with 512K, while the Professional comes with 1 MB. The ROMs and versions of the Palm OS differ slightly because the Pro model supports built-in email and expense-tracking applications, which don’t work under the Personal’s smaller RAM allotment. (If you will be using the Pilot with a Mac, however, this point is moot: these last two programs won’t synchronize with the current Mac Pilot Desktop software. I’ll go into more detail later.)
IBM recently began selling a Pilot clone called the IBM WorkPad, which ships only in a 1 MB RAM configuration. It’s also worth noting here that if you’re thinking about buying a used Pilot, you can easily find a Pilot 1000 or 5000, the first-generation machines that look the same but don’t have backlighting capabilities and ship with less RAM (typically 256K and 512K respectively, although a 1 MB upgrade is available from 3Com that effectively turns them into PalmPilot Pros without the backlight).
Cooking with the Palm OS — I originally bought my PalmPilot in an attempt to bring order to the paper-infested chaos that was my schedule. I was carrying around a decidedly unorganized organizer stuffed with printed contact information, calendar pages, scribbled notes, and scraps of crossed-out to do items. The Pilot, thankfully, replaced all that.
The four main applications that run under the Palm OS behave as you would expect from a personal information manager. The Address Book stores important contact information such as name, company, address, phone, and email address. It includes four custom fields for adding categories like URLs or anniversary dates. Phone number fields have pop-up labels, so you can choose among seven labels (such as Fax, Mobile, and Pager) instead of settling for something generic like Phone 2. You can attach notes to any record, which I’ve found handy for storing driving directions to homes and offices. Individual features aside, by far the best aspect of the Address Book is the simplicity of searching for a contact: simply start to write a person’s last name, and the Pilot jumps to the first matching listing. Try that with a packed DayTimer.
The Date Book, though hampered by the screen’s size and low resolution, manages to deliver nearly everything I’ve needed so far in a calendar application. You can view your schedule by day, week, or month. Although you can read text labels of events in the daily view, you’re limited to movable gray bars occupying time slots in the weekly view and tiny black rectangles in the month view. It’s easy to set up repeating events and alarms. You can also look up and grab contact information from the Address Book using the Phone Lookup menu.
Based on usefulness alone, the To Do list is my favorite application. Some people feel satisfaction when they can scratch off a to do item, but I enjoy tapping a task’s checkbox and watching the project disappear. That way, I (hopefully) end up with a short list of projects at the end of the day. Entries can be sorted into categories and prioritized for importance on a scale of one to five. If you prefer to view the struck-through carnage of finished tasks, you can choose to show completed items.
The last main application is the Memo Pad, which stores pretty much anything you’d like in text format. Similar to SimpleText, Memo Pad is good for jotting down notes, flashes of inspiration, grocery lists, and the like. This application is also the catch-all for most programs’ export commands (such as exporting my freelance hours from a program I use called Hourz), making Memo Pad a vehicle for shuttling some information between your Pilot and the desktop Pilot software.
In addition to the four main applications for managing personal information, the Palm OS includes utilities such as a calculator, security options, memory controls, general preferences, and a fast Find command that can zip through all of your data in one pass.
This is, by no means, the limit on the software available. Early on, the Pilot’s creators decided to open up the development environment to anyone who wanted to program for it, and the result is a community of commercial, shareware, and freeware developers writing applications that range from financial calculators to drawing programs to card games. Although many Web sites host PalmPilot applications, I find myself going back to PalmPilot Gear H.Q. and Jim’s App Archive.
Graffiti on the Walls — One reason some people are hesitant to try the PalmPilot is its stylus-based input. Unlike the Newton’s built-in handwriting recognition, the Pilot uses a type of shorthand called Graffiti, which is written in the silkscreened area below the screen, not on the screen itself. Most of the area recognizes Graffiti strokes as letters, while a smaller section to the right recognizes strokes as numbers. Although it’s hard to believe until you’ve tried it, Graffiti is easy to learn, and can sometimes be faster than writing normally. I’ve heard stories of Pilot-savvy businesspeople unintentionally using Graffiti when writing on white boards in meetings and presentations. It took me about four hours of use to get the hang of it; for unusual characters that I don’t use often (such as the pound sign (#), I check the quick help built into the Palm OS.
Alternatively, you can bring up an onscreen QWERTY keyboard that allows you to tap each letter, similar to finger-pecking a manual typewriter. If you must input a lot of information, you can enter it into the Pilot Desktop program on your Mac, then use the HotSync command (see below) to transfer the data when you’re finished. Or, you can purchase a PiloKey, an adapter and software driver that enables you to connect a Newton keyboard to the Pilot’s serial port.
Communicate from Your Palm — I mentioned earlier that I use my PalmPilot Personal to send and receive email, but also noted the Palm OS email software doesn’t work on the Mac. Several companies offer alternatives to 3Com’s email software. In my case, I connect to my mail server through a Ricochet wireless modem using Smartcode Software’s HandStamp. You can also purchase the PalmPilot Modem from 3Com or the Minstrel wireless modem from Novatel Wireless, both of which snap onto the bottom of your Pilot.
Cooking over a HotSync — Jeff Hawkins, creator of the PalmPilot, describes the device as a "window on data that exists elsewhere," meaning that it’s not necessary for all of your information to reside on one machine. Although you’ll end up storing some programs solely on the Pilot, the bulk of your important information gets copied to your computer’s hard disk for use with the Pilot Desktop application. This is the Pilot’s much-vaunted HotSync feature, and it works at the press of a button on the cradle. HotSync synchronizes the information in each main application, and is also used to install new program files.
The downside to using HotSync with a Mac is that it doesn’t seem to work well for some people, and this is where we delve into some of the difficulties Mac owners can face with the PalmPilot. The HotSync cradle plugs into your Mac’s serial port, and you must turn on HotSync monitoring via a control panel. However, some programs (notably modem and fax software) jostle over who controls the serial port, resulting in a broken connection between the Mac and the cradle. I’ve read a variety of suggested workarounds, including restarting the Mac without extensions, restarting with the HotSync cable attached at startup, and others. My Mac sometimes fails to see that anything is connected, so I’ve found it helpful to toggle the HotSync monitor on and off a few times. This is easier to do with Yukinari Suzuki’s Control Strip module HotSyncCSM.
Mac Owners Get Burned — Despite the wonderful aspects of the PalmPilot itself, the Macintosh Pilot Desktop software is a disappointing, slow, ugly Windows port. Although I haven’t experienced any crashing bugs with the software, performance can be glacial at times, and the interface is crude and sometimes confusing. Pilot Desktop (still at version 1.0, while its Windows counterpart is currently cruising at version 2.1) strongly favors the broader installed base of PC users.
On one hand, this is understandable since the ratio of Windows users to Mac users is about 10 to 1. But what makes the Mac software an insult is the lack of a conduit to link the Pilot to desktop applications running on your Macintosh. On the Windows platform, users can exchange information from their Pilots with many different programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes. So far, Macintosh equivalents haven’t surfaced, although my contacts at 3Com assure me one is in the works.
The only other option for Mac users is to use Now Software’s Now Synchronize, which ties the Pilot to Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date. I haven’t used Now Synchronize, but some colleagues and acquaintances alternately swear by it or at it. You can download a free trial version.
And Yet, Still Invaluable — It says something about the quality of the PalmPilot and the Palm OS that, despite my disappointment with the desktop software, I’m still fiercely devoted to my Pilot. It has become one of those rare tools that I can’t imagine living without.
Next in this PalmPilot series, I’ll cover some of the available software, and reveal some tricks to getting the most out of your PalmPilot.