The world ends not with a bang, but with a kerchunking sound from a hard disk. Jeff Carlson relates how DriveSavers brought his data back from the dead. We also review Apple Confidential, a book packed with insider stories and little-known details of Apple’s tumultuous history, and note recent changes in the PowerPC universe. News this week includes the release of SkyLINE wireless networking and updates to Anarchie, Documents to Go, and BBEdit Lite.
Farallon Ships SkyLINE Wireless PC Card — With Apple’s AirPort still under construction, Farallon has flown out of the Macintosh wireless networking gate with the SkyLINE Wireless PC Card, which provides 2 Mbps wireless Ethernet capabilities to Macs and PCs with PC Card slots. SkyLINE uses the same 802.11 wireless Ethernet standard as Apple’s forthcoming 11 Mbps AirPort technology, and Farallon’s preliminary testing has shown the two to be compatible. A SkyLINE-equipped Mac can also work with access points (the equivalent of the AirPort Base Station) from Nokia, Lucent, MaxTech, Nortel, and Zoom, or it can do peer-to-peer ad hoc networking with another SkyLINE-equipped Mac. SkyLINE’s range is up to 1,000 feet (305 meters) outside or up to 300 feet (91 meters) indoors. Each SkyLINE card costs $300 and is certified for use in North America, Australia, and Europe (except France and Spain), with certification expected in France, Spain, and Japan. Even once Apple’s AirPort opens to the public, SkyLINE should remain popular for bringing existing PowerBooks into the wireless skies.
Anarchie 3.6.1 Eliminates Version Control Bug — Stairways Shareware has released Anarchie 3.6.1, a small but important update to the just-released Anarchie 3.6. In 3.6.1, Stairways fixed a bug that would prevent Anarchie from being able to check for new versions of the program; this bug could also potentially affect the stability of other features. The update is of course free, and Stairways recommends that all Anarchie 3.x users download the 1.4 MB update. [ACE]
DataViz Offers More Documents to Go for Palms — DataViz has released version 2.002 of Documents to Go, its utility for viewing word processing and spreadsheet documents on Palm handheld devices. (We first mentioned Documents to Go in "Palm Desktop Marks Return of a Familiar Organizer" in TidBITS-469.) The update, which is available for both Macintosh and Windows editions of the software, adds the capability to create, edit, and delete bookmarks within spreadsheets and word processing files, including support for Word 98’s Insert Bookmark command on the Mac. The Macintosh version also now reads AppleWorks/ClarisWorks 5 documents, supports AppleScript, and provides a contextual menu item for adding new documents without having to launch the Documents to Go application. The upgrade is free for registered users, and is a 4.9 MB download. [JLC]
Free BBEdit Lite 4.6 Still Shines Brightly — Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit Lite 4.6, the latest version of its long-standing free text editor (discussed in TidBITS many times over the years). Version 4.6 adds numerous interface and performance enhancements, plus extensions to its pattern-based grep search and replace feature and customizable key equivalents for any menu command. As always, BBEdit Lite 4.6 is a svelte application with small disk and memory requirements, and its features can be extended through plug-ins, some of which are included. BBEdit Lite remains a great way to start with advanced text processing, such as managing a Web site or searching collections of text documents. If you find that BBEdit Lite is not enough, registered users can upgrade to the commercial version of BBEdit at a discount. BBEdit Lite 4.6 is a 1.7 MB download, and requires System 7.0 or higher (System 7.5 or higher recommended). [GD]
The future of the PowerPC chips has recently lain in quiet, murky waters between IBM and Motorola, the chips’ manufacturers. A little over a year ago, the companies disagreed over the forthcoming PowerPC G4 processors – specifically, whether to include the AltiVec vector processing unit – and parted ways, with Motorola keeping AltiVec and taking over the primary PowerPC design facility, and IBM focussing on developing PowerPC chips for use in embedded systems and its server products. Two developments in recent weeks have made the PowerPC’s waters more turbulent, but no clearer: IBM plans to release free motherboard designs for PowerPC-based computers, and Motorola announced plans to buy Metrowerks, the leading maker of development tools for the Mac OS and PowerPC processors.
On Board with IBM — At this month’s LinuxWorld conference in San Jose, IBM engineers announced that manufacturers could freely build computers using an IBM motherboard design based on the PowerPC 750 processor (known in the Macintosh world as the PowerPC G3). The design derives from the now-defunct Common Hardware Reference Platform (CHRP) specification, requires no novel parts, and has no proprietary or legal barriers to immediate production. IBM apparently does not intend to build products based on the design, but other manufacturers could use it as-is, or add additional options. The idea is that other computer manufacturers could produce PowerPC-based systems running Linux, which would offer significant performance gains over other Linux systems (especially in floating point operations, often used in rendering and graphics processing). A strong market for PowerPC-based Linux systems would, in turn, allow IBM to sell more PowerPC chips.
It’s too early to say what impact PowerPC systems running Linux might have on the Macintosh world, or whether Apple would allow the Mac OS or the Unix-based Mac OS X to run on third-party hardware. (It seems unlikely, given Apple’s negative stance toward Macintosh clones since Steve Jobs’s return.) In any case, the availability of inexpensive, high-performance PowerPC Linux systems should boost the profile of the PowerPC, which could indirectly be good for Apple. It’s unlikely Apple would lose many Macintosh customers to PowerPC Linux boxes: comparatively few people buy new Macs explicitly to run Linux. More interesting is the possibility that Darwin, Apple’s open source initiative surrounding the foundation layers of Mac OS X, could be modified by the open source community to run on these PowerPC-based machines.
Motorola Buying Metrowerks — Motorola recently announced that its Semiconductor Products Sector plans to buy Metrowerks for approximately $95 million in cash, pending shareholder and regulatory approval. Metrowerks develops the CodeWarrior product line of programming tools; CodeWarrior is the leading development environment for the Mac OS, but versions are also available for various flavors of Linux, Microsoft Windows, Solaris, Java, Palm devices, game consoles, and more. According to Motorola, Metrowerks products and technology will help form the software backbone of Motorola’s DigitalDNA initiative for embedded systems, ranging from cell phones and digital television to communications and automotive systems.
However, Metrowerks will be operated as a stand-alone subsidiary with its current management, so CodeWarrior products for desktop operating systems (including the Mac OS) will probably continue to be developed and enhanced. Motorola’s move may have complex implications for Apple, since Motorola will both supply PowerPC CPU chips used in Macintosh products and own the most widely used software development environment for the Macintosh.
Having just finished writing a pair of books that should appear in October, I’ve switched to a more relaxing gear and done a little summer reading. The first book on my list to finish was Owen Linzmayer’s Apple Confidential (No Starch Press, ISBN 1-88641-28-X, $17.95 or less via Amazon or for a signed copy direct from Owen), a record of the tumultuous history of Apple Computer from Apple’s founding through 1999’s Macworld San Francisco.
Despite the new title and publisher, Apple Confidential is essentially a second edition of Owen’s 1994 collection of historical Macintosh quotes, facts, and stories, The Mac Bathroom Reader. Although I’m one of those for whom reading in the bathroom is a foreign (and uncomfortable) notion, calling that book a "bathroom reader" was actually quite appropriate, since the book’s chapters are short and full of quotes, sidebars, and other easily digested bits of information. Apple Confidential, in contrast, suffers somewhat from this design because it ends up feeling choppy and repetitive in areas where the independent chapters are forced to duplicate information to convey the different aspects of Apple’s history.
But what a story it is, and what a job Owen has done! Thanks to TidBITS, I’ve followed Apple for nearly 10 years and the aspect of the job that I enjoy most is learning the real story behind the public faces of Macintosh companies. Subtitled "The Real Story of Apple Computer, Inc." Apple Confidential doesn’t disappoint, with information that you’re unlikely to have seen elsewhere. Owen talked to a vast number of Apple insiders while putting together the book, which enabled him to ferret out more of the reasons why various events happened, along with the stories of how they happened.
The stories of Apple’s most famous commercials, the Big Brotherish 1984, anchored by blond model Anya Major (who got the job because she was also an experienced discus thrower), and the dismal Lemmings, with its line of suited business-people blindly walking off a cliff, highlight this inside information. Both commercials were so controversial with Apple’s executives that former CEO John Sculley ordered ad agency Chiat/Day to sell back the Super Bowl commercial slots. With 1984, Chiat/Day managed to sell back 30 seconds of the 90 seconds Apple had bought, and John Sculley left the decision of whether to run 1984 in the hands of William Campbell (then a VP of marketing, now chairman of Intuit’s board of directors) and E. Floyd Kvamme (an executive VP of marketing and sales). They gambled on 1984 and won. With Lemmings, though, Chiat/Day managed to sell Apple’s 60 second slot and had to repurchase it when Sculley again passed on the decision and left it to marketing manager Mike Murray, who made the mistake of running Lemmings. In retrospect, which imbues the entire book, Owen points out that 1984 was backed up by the ground-breaking Macintosh, whereas Lemmings was meant to introduce the Macintosh Office, which was essentially the concept of connecting Macs to a LaserWriter and sharing files on a fileserver. Unfortunately, although the Macintosh Office was a good concept, the fileserver part wasn’t to ship until two years later, prompting the quotable Jean-Louis Gassee, then general manager of Apple France, to refer to it as the "Macintosh Orifice."
Similar stories abound, providing a look inside the company during the tenure of each of the CEOs: Steve Jobs, John Sculley, Michael Spindler (who was intent on selling Apple for his three year stint), Gilbert Amelio, and Steve Jobs again. Here is where people who had previously read The Mac Bathroom Reader will especially appreciate the update, since the last five years have been a roller-coaster ride for Apple. Technologies like Copland have come and gone, Apple’s stock price has risen and fallen and risen again, and we’ve seen the Macintosh clone manufacturers sprout from nothing only to be cut down by Apple. As much as Apple as an entity has been notoriously difficult to direct throughout history, Apple’s CEOs have still been responsible for the pivotal decisions that made the company we now see, so it’s instructive to read their stories.
Owen Linzmayer writes primarily for Macintosh magazines, and his journalistic experience shows throughout Apple Confidential in ways other than the article-like style of individual chapters. Most refreshing is the level of accuracy he’s brought to the book. It’s always distressing to read a book about a topic you know well and to disagree with either facts or the analysis, since then you begin to doubt the veracity of the rest of the book. Although I’m certainly no expert on Apple’s internal affairs, especially during the early days, I never found myself questioning either Owen’s facts or his commentary about what happened.
You also get the sense that Owen has researched many of these facts for magazine articles, since figures like the timelines of Mac OS and Macintosh model release dates are not only interesting, but tremendously useful to anyone trying to write about Apple. Similarly, it’s instructive to see the chart of Apple’s quarterly profits over the last four years, broken up by CEO (Spindler, Amelio, Jobs).
In the end, I’ll end up using Apple Confidential as a resource when I’m writing – there’s no better source for Macintosh facts, quotes, stories, and code names (an interesting one that came after the book’s publication is the bronze keyboard PowerBook G3, commonly known as "Lombard;" amusingly, everyone I’ve spoken with inside Apple refers to that PowerBook’s code name as "101"). You may not need Apple Confidential as a reference the way I do, but anyone interested in Apple and the Macintosh can easily spend many enjoyable hours poring through the book’s inside information.
Late one night when I was writing for my high school’s newspaper, I finished an article using the staff’s new Mac Plus and saved it to my floppy disk. Perhaps because I was glad to have finished the piece, or maybe just because adolescent males seem predisposed to the motion, I wound up my body like a major league baseball pitcher and then uncoiled in a pantomime of delivering a winning fastball over home plate. Except in that case, because the floppy was tenuously gripped between the thumb and forefinger of my right hand, I actually delivered the disk directly into the side of a metal filing cabinet halfway across the room.
That pitch still haunts me, a ghosted slow-motion memory of the type experienced by cinema sports figures graced with good lighting and a soft lens. Little shards of beige plastic erupted horizontally, then settled on the bent magnetic platter that seconds before had represented the only copy of my article. That was my first lesson about how fragile most of our high tech devices can be.
The memory of that floppy disk’s wreckage returned with a vengeance recently when my PowerBook’s hard drive began making a nasty kerchunking noise before suffering a major hardware failure. Salvaging the drive, and more important, the data stored on it, required more than a diagnostic pass with Disk First Aid. I had previously wondered whether the much-lauded data recovery services of DriveSavers was worth its reputation; this was my chance to discover firsthand.
This Is the Way the Drive Ends — I’d always thought a severe hard drive crash would be a visual spectacle. After looking at the various ways data is represented onscreen, you’d think that having it all disrupted would make for bright colors and digital fireworks. Instead, my drive’s demise was an audible event: after pressing Command-S to save a file, the drive spun for a bit then made fast clicking sounds, punctuated by louder clacking noises.
I shut off the PowerBook and rebooted, but got nothing but a blinking question mark icon. Starting up from the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM worked fine, but my drive’s partitions didn’t appear, and weren’t visible to Disk First Aid or Drive Setup. Each time I powered up the machine, however, the clicking and clacking sounds remained. Spurred on by visions of the read/write mechanism chopping into the disk platters like a lumberjack, I shut down, hoping to minimize additional damage.
Fortunately, prompted by Adam’s articles on backing up your Macintosh (see "Backed Up Today?" beginning in TidBITS-432), I had finally purchased a DAT drive and Retrospect at home, which meant that I had a backup of my data. Unfortunately, as it too often is with technology that seems to be working fine, I hadn’t been diligent about verifying the integrity of my backups. So although I had been backing up information on a fairly regular basis, an error on my part meant that Retrospect was backing up the wrong data: instead of excluding each day’s Web browser cache files, they were the only files being archived. Oops.
I had done a full backup two weeks earlier, so much of my data was available. A separate incremental backup at my office reduced the bulk of my data loss to one week. But email! I get a lot of email, and over the years my email program has come to rule my life. A full week of notes, deadlines, conversations, and agreements were gone. And, of course, I was juggling multiple deadlines.
A cold, odd sense of terrified calm came over me, like Roy Scheider’s character in the movie Jaws when he first sees the killer shark and says, "We’re gonna need a bigger boat." I knew it was going to be a long week.
Damage Control — After contacting DriveSavers (at 800/440-1904; outside the U.S. and Canada they can be reached at 415/382-2000) and verifying that the problem was most likely a hardware failure, I removed the drive from the machine – a simple process thanks to the PowerBook G3’s accessible design – and shipped it to the company’s headquarters in Novato, California.
In the meantime, I restored what data I could from my backups to an external APS hard drive, which then became the primary startup drive for the PowerBook G3. There were times when I needed portability, and since toting the external drive was a poor and inelegant option, I re-enlisted my PowerBook 5300cs and loaded it with my week-old email and essential files. The speed difference between the two machines was dramatic, but I was able to remain mobile, which minimized the collateral damage to my work. In this case particularly, that PowerBook 5300 was worth more to me as a second-string machine than anything I could have made by selling it.
DriveSavers to the Rescue — While I was scrambling to patch together fragments of lost work and communications, the technicians at DriveSavers were performing triage on my malfunctioning hard drive. If you’re not familiar with DriveSavers, you may recognize them from descriptions of their booth at Macworld Expo. Walking past the PowerBook 100 on display at the bottom of an aquarium or an unidentifiable half-melted PC laptop tells you that DriveSavers is serious when it comes to recovering data from all sorts of catastrophes. (You can read more about similar feats of recovery at the company’s Museum of Bizarre Disk-asters on their Web site.)
John Christopher, my contact at DriveSavers, was able to determine that the crash was due to a failed actuator, which is the armature that holds the drive’s read/write heads. To make the determination, they used a proprietary hardware device that enables them to test various physical drive functions. Failed drives are never mounted on a computer for diagnostic purposes, since mounting could change a disk’s structure and overwrite important information needed for the recovery.
"We have dedicated clean-room technicians who do nothing but assemble and disassemble drives daily," he said. "The technician on your drive identified the physical failure of the drive, removed the actuator assembly, and replaced it with one from an identical model drive." DriveSavers has about 100 Macintoshes of all flavors from the 128K on up, plus at least one unit of nearly every removable drive ever made and parts for over 3,000 drives. "From there we clone the drive for safety, making a mirror image of every sector. We figure that once a drive comes in, we may only get one shot at doing a recovery before everything goes south."
In my case, actually recovering the data was an easy task because the hardware failure had not disrupted the information on the disk. "We had a perfect directory, so I was able to mount my clone and copy the data over," John said. "In most cases it’s not that easy, so we rely on software we’ve had written to scour the drive and give us the best possible recovery."
The diagnosis, recovery, and restoration of my data took about seven hours. Disassembly and reassembly typically take one to two hours; cloning and recovery take at least two hours, depending on the amount of information recovered. DriveSavers then verifies and checks the data for viruses before being loaded onto whatever storage media you prefer, such as CD-ROMs, Zip disks, Jaz disks, hard drives, etc. A DataExpress service offered by DriveSavers also lets you download your data from their FTP site, an option that can be timed well for customers on the east cost of the United States.
"I did a priority job one time for a guy in New York," John said. "He shipped it to me counter-to-counter service. The drive arrived at 9 P.M. Pacific time and I finished the recovery at 3 A.M., so he was able to start his download from the DataExpress site at 6 A.M. Eastern time. He got his server back up and online before 9 A.M."
Six days after hearing my drive fail, I received a box via UPS containing my dead hard drive and five CD-ROMs containing the complete contents of the disk at the time of the crash, which now have the added benefit of being permanent archives of my data at the time. The cost in a situation like mine, where DriveSavers performed the recovery on a 4 GB hard disk under their standard 1-2 day service, started at about $900 and could run to $2,800 or more depending on the nature of the problem. DriveSavers also offers priority, economy, international, and on-site service options, as well as a high security service plan. In short, DriveSavers isn’t cheap or for casual use, but if your data is truly important to you, the costs are worthwhile.
Warranty Woes — With my data in hand, my remaining hurdle was replacing the damaged drive. Since the PowerBook was less than a year old, the failed drive was replaceable under warranty. However, since DriveSavers had opened the drive casing (an action that would normally void the warranty), I needed to make sure I was still covered. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. DriveSavers handles nearly 400 drives each month, and therefore works closely with hardware providers and every hard drive manufacturer. I was able to have the drive replaced while retaining my warranty.
The biggest surprise at this late stage was finding a local service provider who could order a new drive with a minimum of fuss. One company wanted me to bring in the entire PowerBook, diagnose the problem (which was impossible since the original drive had been opened and modified by DriveSavers), order the new drive, and install it themselves – meaning that I would be without my perfectly functional PowerBook for at least five days. After asking around, I went to MacTechs, a local Apple-authorized service center, which ordered the replacement drive and handed it over in exchange for the damaged one.
Calling Apple directly was not helpful in this case but did provide some amusement. After I explained the situation, the technical support person I spoke to asked if DriveSavers had removed the drive. When I answered no, he pointed out that I may have voided my warranty by pulling the drive myself, since Apple considers RAM to be the only user-installable part of the PowerBook. This is despite the fact that pages 81 and 82 of my PowerBook manual specifically explain how any user can remove the hard drive "for repair or security reasons." When I pointed this out, he got a bit defensive, so I didn’t press the issue. Since I already had a lead on a local company, I didn’t try to follow up with someone else at Apple, so this very well could have been an instance where the individual was misinformed.
Late that night, after installing my new drive, copying over the recovered data from the DriveSavers CD-ROMs, and merging them with that week’s changed files, I performed a different action than the one in my high school’s newsroom: I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep (while my DAT drive created a good backup, of course).