HyperCard may be cool, but is there a business case for bundling it for free with every Mac? Check out Adam’s telling case studies of HyperCard’s utility. RSI sufferers should read Andrew Laurence’s review of the Kinesis Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard. We also look at Apple’s new $30 per month iMac financing model, updates to Retrospect, the releases of BBEdit 5.0 and Web Confidential 1.1, a WebDoubler solution to the Sherlock proxy bug, and SyQuest’s troubles.
Retrospect 4.1 Upgrade Handles Drives and Drivers — Dantz has posted a set of updates to different parts of the Retrospect 4.1 package. The Retrospect 4.1 Driver Update, Version 1.6 (a 150K download), adds support for new CD-RW drives and fixes a problem with faster DAT drives (DDS-2 and DDS-3) on some computers; the Retrospect 4.1A Updater (a 288K download) fixes a problem with the AppleShare lockout feature; finally, the Retrospect 4.1 Client Updater (a 96K download) fixes a problem with the version that shipped on early production Retrospect 4.1 CD-ROMs. [JLC]
WebDoubler Update Corrects Sherlock Proxy Bug — A known bug in Apple’s Sherlock can result in error messages instead of search results when using Sherlock through a proxy server. The problem stems from Sherlock generating incorrect HTTP headers. However, people using Maxum’s WebDoubler caching proxy server on the Mac can now download a free 157K WebDoubler plug-in that corrects these malformed Sherlock queries before passing them on. If you’re on a network, you can download the time-limited demo version of WebDoubler, install the free plug-in, and route all Sherlock queries through WebDoubler both to avoid the problem for a while and to test WebDoubler. [ACE]
Iomega Positives, SyQuest Negatives — Two related stories caught our eye last week. Iomega announced its plans to move the popular Zip drives beyond the computer market and install them in printers, scanners, set-top boxes, projection systems, musical equipment, and medical devices. Although Zip disks aren’t remarkably reliable, they’re small enough, cheap enough, and sufficiently ubiquitous in the computer world to make the jump to being true consumer devices. It’s a bold move – if Iomega can pull it off and figure out how to manage the success that has made the company unprofitable.
Also, Iomega’s main competitor in the cutthroat removable storage market, SyQuest Technology, suspended operations and may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The move follows layoffs in August of 950 employees that cut SyQuest’s staff in half. While operations are suspended, SyQuest said it will maintain a limited support staff, although at least for the moment, it appears that "suspended" includes SyQuest’s Web site, which wasn’t responding to connections. [ACE]
Web Confidential 1.1 Update Released — Alco Blom has released Web Confidential 1.1, the latest version of his utility for securely storing passwords and other confidential information (see "Web Confidential: Securing Information of All Sorts" in TidBITS-441). Changes include support for Mac OS 8.5’s Navigation Services and Theme Fonts, plus a useful option to close your documents automatically after several minutes of inactivity to prevent snoopers. Other minor features include Copy Card and Paste Card commands for moving cards between categories, an Export To Text command, drag & drop support for adding text to cards, support for Internet Config’s screen font setting, and better support for Netscape Communicator 4.5. Web Confidential 1.1 is $25 shareware and is a 460K download. Upgrades are free to registered users. [ACE]
Apple has announced an aggressive financing program to attract even more iMac buyers for the Christmas splurging season. Even at $1,299, the iMac can sound expensive, but under Apple’s new plan, you could instead pay $30 per month (plus a 14.89 percent annual percentage rate and a loan origination fee). Interim CEO Steve Jobs noted, "For the price of three pizzas a month, you can own an iMac." Admittedly, that assumes you’ll eat three pizzas each month for 67 months, and the total cost of an iMac financed in this way would be over $2,000 (or over 200 pizzas).
Apple also announced that the iMac will now come with Mac OS 8.5, the ATI Rage Pro Turbo graphics controller, 6 MB of video RAM, and Adobe PageMill 3.0.
I shouldn’t be specifically negative about the overall price of financing an iMac in this manner. There’s nothing unusual about the overall cost being much higher when it’s paid out over more than five years, although I’d question the fiscal savviness of anyone who takes the offer. Plus, five years is a long time to finance something like a computer, which becomes increasingly obsolete within six months.
The part of the fine print that I was sad to see, though, was "ISP fees not included." In this year’s April Fools issue (TidBITS-423), I wrote a spoof called "The First One’s Free…" about how Apple would be using a cellular phone service model with the consumer portable Macintosh that might debut at January’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
The idea was that Apple could work out deals with ISPs so Macintosh owners could pay a set amount per month for the Internet connection, but the Mac itself would be "free." Although presented as a joke, the idea has some merit, and Apple’s move to this $30 per month financing model shows that the company is willing to consider alternative financing schemes. Apple could even take a page from Gateway 2000’s YourWare program, which lets you finance a PC, include ISP service, and trade the PC in after two years.
I have no idea how well any of these programs might work, and it’s entirely possible that Apple has already run the numbers and decided that traditional computer sales models are best. However, Dell got its start by breaking out of the traditional sales channels, the online sales channel has proven quite successful, and perhaps an innovative financing model would improve Apple’s fiscal fortunes.
I’ve suffered from tendonitis in my hands and wrists for several years; having chosen a career in computing, this seems to be a logical occupational hazard. However, as anyone who suffered from a repetitive stress injury can tell you, the condition can be excruciatingly painful, not to mention debilitating. When I first read of the Handeze gloves in TidBITS, I ran out and bought a set. I found the gloves helpful, but I continued experimenting with different desks, chairs, keyboards and whatnot.
In keyboards, I found remarkable differences between different models. For my hands, a good, solid QWERTY keyboard seems to aggravate my condition the least. An AST keyboard I formerly used was wonderful, while the keyboard on a colleague’s Hewlett-Packard system sent me screaming down the hall. Being a Mac user, I was thankful that Apple’s original Extended keyboard does not cause me pain. The Extended II is almost as good; however, I find the AppleDesign keyboards mushy, which causes me to push the keys harder and aggravates my tendonitis. On the other hand, I like the keyboard on the PowerBook G3 Series. But these are all standard keyboards – what about odd-looking ergonomic keyboards?
Ergonomic keyboards profess to be less abusive to the human body than a standard 101 key unit. For one reason or another, I didn’t find them helpful: the keys on the Apple Adjustable Keyboard were mushy, lacking in tactile feedback. Although I liked the keys on the Microsoft Natural keyboard, I found that its design forces my fingers to reach even farther afield from the home keys – more extension and effort brings more pain. Meanwhile, the alternatives which place the keyboard in an A-frame (e.g. the BAT) or rely on key chording seemed too unusual for my profession, which requires the use of many different keyboards on a daily basis.
Then I tried the Kinesis Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard.
Doing the Splits — Kinesis’s Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard is broken into halves, following the touch-typing lessons of the QWERTY layout: left-handed and right-handed keys. The keyboard is about as long as a standard 101 keyboard, albeit with the halves placed at the outer edges of the keyboard. This placement puts the hands closer to shoulder width and avoids forcing the hands into severe ulnar deviation (where the wrists bend outward, forming an open "V" angle) as happens with standard keyboards. In addition, Kinesis placed the left and right key sets in concave bowls, so your fingers automatically land on the home keys when at rest. This arrangement solves the problem of finger travel, since Kinesis angled and elevated the keys so each key is within the natural range of motion of the appropriate finger. (You don’t have to stretch forward to hit the 8 with the middle finger on your right hand. Just straighten your finger a bit, and you can’t help hitting the 8.) On the Macintosh model, Kinesis placed the power key on the back of the keyboard; this seems odd to one used to Apple keyboards, but it’s only a minor inconvenience.
Kinesis placed the modifier keys (Command, Option, Control, Alt) in two pads toward the middle of the keyboard; you press the buttons on these pads with your thumbs. The keys for space, backspace, forward delete, page up/down, home and end are on the pads as well. The modifiers on these pads present the most difficult transition, and you have to learn the placement of these keys from scratch. Most users will probably find it necessary to move some of these keys around. I had to remap the location of the space key, since I use my left thumb for spaces; Kinesis puts it on the right pad by default.
Even having made that modification, however, I felt as though I was learning to type again. The first several days, my keyboard seemed to produce Newton poetry. My every other word was punctuated with a cry of "Agh!" as yet another unimaginable typo appeared on the screen. (Do not switch to this keyboard while in the middle of a large project!) However, my speed and accuracy returned to normal quite rapidly, and I’m now a faster and more accurate typist than before. I’m convinced that the key arrangement, in concave bowls and with elevated and angled keys, is responsible for this improvement. I’ve simply found it easier to type.
Pain-Free and Loving It — The proof, however, is in the lack of pain. After owning the Kinesis for four months, my hands and wrists no longer hurt, even after hours at the keyboard. Where I once felt crippled on a daily basis, I now feel like a normal, able-bodied person. It’s the only keyboard I’ve ever used that didn’t cause my hands to hurt. At all.
Kinesis sells several variations of the Ergonomic Contoured Keyboard that can be used with Macs, PCs, and Sun workstations. All models are PC compatible, but Mac users should probably get the MPC models, which are switchable between the Mac and the PC. You can choose varying degrees of key remapping and macro programming capabilities: Essential (none), Classic (some) or Expert (tons). The keyboards are also available with QWERTY or Dvorak key layouts, or even dual-legend keycaps.
Finding Kinesis keyboards can be a challenge, as they’re not carried in most computer stores. Fry’s Electronics carries the PC-only Essential, which I found handy when trying it out. (While trying the demo unit at Fry’s, I decided to get the Classic model so I could remap the space key.) Fortunately, Kinesis provides a list of resellers on their Web site.
Penny-pinchers beware: these keyboards aren’t cheap. Anyone who can’t imagine paying more than $100 for a keyboard is due for a case of sticker shock. My Mac/PC Switchable Essential QWERTY keyboard cost $239, and I consider that a bargain. However, that price is extremely reasonable compared to the potential costs in terms of money and suffering. Most important, my hands don’t hurt.
[Having pursued a career in computing, Andrew Laurence is the black sheep in a family of writers. He currently provides care and feeding for the Macintosh ecosystem at the University of California, Irvine.]
Our article "Alas, HyperCard!" in TidBITS-453 brought in numerous messages ranging from expressions of support to stories about how HyperCard remains in constant use even today. Most of the projects mentioned were not the multimedia projects that some people assume when they think of HyperCard; as Geoff noted, HyperCard doesn’t compare with full-fledged multimedia programs like Macromedia Director.
But I don’t want to recap Geoff’s history and explanation of HyperCard’s woes. I’m more interested in what HyperCard could have done for Apple, and what it might still be able to do.
To Compute Is to Program — Most people these days probably wouldn’t agree with that headline. After all, we spend our time in word processors, spreadsheets, graphics and layout programs, and of course, in email clients and Web browsers. However, in the relatively recent past, when our applications weren’t as capable, being able to create a tool to perform a specific task was a prime force in attracting people to the Macintosh. TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg, then my Classics professor at Cornell University, categorically refused to buy or use a Macintosh (the source of many after-class debates) until the release of HyperCard. Matt wasn’t interested in an appliance – he wanted a construction set. He appreciated HyperCard’s cleverly concealed power, which provides geeky concepts like dynamic typing of variables, object-oriented messaging, and an environment with no modal distinction between executing and editing. You can read some of Matt’s opinions in his HyperCard 2.2 review in TidBITS-213 from February of 1994.
But more to the point, when we install contextual menu utilities, play with Kaleidoscope themes, or even carefully arrange icons in a specific window layout, we are programming our computers. We’re using tools, admittedly high level ones, to create unique, customizable environments. I don’t much like using Tonya’s Mac, for instance, because I think it’s set up "wrong," and of course, it is – for me. For her it’s perfect. On our kitchen Mac, we compromise and leave it in a more or less stock configuration.
HyperCard fulfilled similar desires for many people. It was more work than arranging your desktop, but those who learned to use ResEdit to modify the startup screen moved on to HyperCard quickly when it came out, and one of the reasons was the promise of sharing, of increased community. Suddenly others could share your "programming" efforts. Stacks abounded and somehow managed to travel around the community, despite a rudimentary Internet. Sharing was in.
A few of last week’s messages made an interesting point. People still think of HyperCard in much the way they think of a person. Many programs have personality, but HyperCard went beyond that, because it was a conduit for so many personalities. Each stack reflected the individual who had written it, and the fact that the interfaces were awful and the graphics were ugly merely reflected the fact that these were real people, warts and all, who were writing the stacks. Even more important, those stacks provided a pipeline to funnel a person’s expertise and knowledge into a Macintosh for others to use.
The Business Case — This is all very touchy-feely, but what about the business case? Although the vast majority of HyperCard stacks were frivolous, repetitive, or otherwise pointless, many others solved complex, highly specific problems. For example, after I graduated from Cornell, I wrote a HyperCard-based front-end for Cornell’s public laser printers. It started as a way to solve the file format incompatibilities between versions of Microsoft Word, but evolved into a full-fledged dedicated print interface, information resource, and service logging application.
But my work was small potatoes compared to other serious HyperCard-based projects. Harry Stripe <[email protected]> is Manager of Line Maintenance Automation at Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis. He uses HyperCard to interface with the airline’s mainframes, and has set up Mac systems all over the world specifically to run his custom HyperCard solutions:
"HyperCard is being used to support over 75 processes, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One example is a mainframe paper-based system that would print an alert any time an aircraft maintenance item was signed off in our mainframe system. It was replaced by a much more flexible HyperCard networking solution, saving over $500,000 per year for the last three years. HyperCard is one of the main reasons Northwest Airlines still has over 375 Macintosh computers in more than 25 locations. Without HyperCard as a fully supported product, Northwest Airlines will have one less reason to continue to support the Macintosh."
The non-profit Hippocrates, Winslow, and Babbage Foundation collects clinical data pertaining to trauma care diagnoses, treatments, and complications from university-affiliated health care providers. The foundation provides the health care organization with necessary hardware and software, then makes the collected information freely available in aggregate form via the Internet to facilitate improvements in medical education and practice. According to William Burman, M.D.:
"On the strength of HyperCard, we have introduced the Mac OS into total DOS domains and won hard-fought battles with hospital information services which would not permit AppleTalk on their networks. HyperCard enabled us to demonstrate the capability of the Mac OS, leading to the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars of Apple hardware. Now, this hardware runs and provides a vital service in front of medical students, interns, residents, and attending physicians in emergency rooms, operating rooms, clinics, and wards in major teaching hospitals in the United States.
"If this software went away, it would be a disaster for us and the patients we are trying to serve. The fact HyperCard has been available and stable for over a decade (a practically unheard-of longevity in the computer industry) has enabled us to keep rewriting and refining our software to the point where it is now a nearly indispensable clinical tool. We need to bring some Apple executives on rounds with us so they can better understand what is at stake here."
These projects may not have been widely advertised commercial products, but they solve real problems, and what’s more, they solve them in such a way that requires the presence of a Macintosh. When HyperCard was free and came with every Mac, organizations were willing to pay someone to write a custom HyperCard stack because they knew they didn’t have to buy any more software. Whenever pressure came to switch to PCs, it was easy to point to the custom HyperCard stack and say, "No, I’m sorry, we can’t switch, since our software runs only on the Mac." In all those years of PC users blithering on about the Mac not having much software, did anyone ever count the HyperCard stacks doing yeoman duty?
HyperCard was the glue that held Macs in place. The PC had word processors, spreadsheets, and so on, and there were even some HyperCard clones. But none of them were free, and none of them shipped with every Macintosh.
This trend was tremendously diminished by Apple’s poor development record with HyperCard and by the fateful decision to make HyperCard a commercial product. I said this was a mistake back in 1990’s TidBITS-21_, and expanded on it in an article that included fascinating messages from HyperCard’s product manager and lead engineer in 1992’s TidBITS-106. I’m usually quite embarrassed by articles from our early issues, but I think it’s telling that my opinions have remained so constant over so many years.
Despite these obstacles, HyperCard stacks have kept the Macintosh in places where it would no doubt have fallen during Apple’s past few bad years. For instance, we heard of a recording studio in the San Francisco area that created a custom contact database in HyperCard. Trivial, perhaps, but this one included not just artists’ names and addresses but agents, agencies, rates, instruments, discographies, references, skills (instrumental or vocal arrangements, orchestration, dialog looping, impressions), location, travel fees, and even a collaboration finder, so you could see on a time-line who worked with who when, where, doing what, and for how much money.
And, Avi Rappoport <[email protected]> wrote to TidBITS Talk:
"My husband, Ed Allen, has been working with HyperCard for ten years, and, like Geoff, uses it in real life for serious projects. Right now, he’s working at the Stanford Genome Sequence Center, part of the Human Genome Project, using HyperCard as a link between sequence analysis and a Sybase database back end. They just bought 20 new high-end Macs as part of this work."
Show Me the Money — Although Apple PR never responded to my request for sales numbers for HyperCard, I doubt they were all that impressive and undoubtedly declined as time went on.
But we have examples right here of places where HyperCard resulted in Macintosh sales. Apple makes real money on the sale of 20 high-end Macs, and although there’s no quantifiable benefit to Apple in an organization sticking with an existing Macintosh, the fact is that HyperCard stacks continue to run on today’s fastest Power Mac G3s, where their performance rocks.
The presence of HyperCard in these situations actually lowers the cost of buying a new Macintosh because the alternative, buying a Windows-based PC, would require not just reprogramming time and effort in Visual Basic, ToolBook, MetaCard, or whatnot, but also downtime and conversion headaches. The much-vaunted PC price advantage disappears quickly when your custom applications can’t move over.
Do It Again, Steve — I’m going to go one step beyond the call to send politely worded snail mail notes to Steve Jobs about this situation. I suggest that in those letters, you make the argument that Apple should not only resume HyperCard development but also once again ship it with every Macintosh for free. I’m not talking about HyperCard Player here – I think HyperCard could pick up where it left off if the full program were once again made available.
There have been naysayers in the TidBITS Talk discussion on this topic, but most were introduced to HyperCard after it ceased to be free and ubiquitous, a compelling combination. Even releasing HyperCard’s code to the HyperCard community wouldn’t have the same effect as bundling it with every Macintosh and shipping with every release of the Mac OS. Only then can HyperCard return to its task of making the Mac indispensable.
I’m aware that this move won’t make Apple any money up front, and for that reason, it won’t be an easy decision. But many necessary expenditures don’t make money up front. Marketing and advertising are pure money sinks, but as everyone knows, without them, it’s almost impossible to have a popular consumer product. Feed the HyperCard team from one of those budgets, Steve, and think of HyperCard as a person that argues for every Macintosh on which it’s installed.