This issue is crawling with mice, with part two of Warren Magnus’s overview of the USB mouse and driver market and this week’s poll asking what sort of pointing device you prefer. Last week’s poll about email clients merits additional discussion, and Adam briefly skims over the major offerings while examining the results. In the news, Aladdin releases StuffIt Deluxe 5.1.5 and 5.5, plus StuffIt Expander 5.5 and DropStuff 5.5. No issue next week!
Next Issue 06-Dec-99
Next Issue 06-Dec-99 — Due to the Thanksgiving holiday and associated family plans, the next issue of TidBITS will appear in two weeks on 06-Dec-99. However, we’ll continue to post TidBITS Updates to our Web site, and TidBITS Talk will continue unabated. See you in December! [GD]
Poll Preview: A Mouse in the House
Poll Preview: A Mouse in the House — Apple has stuck with a simple, single-button mouse because novice users can find multiple-button mice confusing. However, a two-button rodent is standard fare on PCs, and third parties have created a bewildering array of pointing devices in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Many users have switched to alternatives, and Apple’s widely criticized puck-like mouse that ships with the iMac and Power Mac G4 has energized the market for replacements. The question, then, is what sort of pointing device do you rely on the most? Register your vote on the poll form on our home page! [ACE]
Aladdin Updates StuffIt Line for Mac OS 9
Aladdin Systems last week released a free upgrade to StuffIt Deluxe 5.1.5, making the company’s long-standing compression and archiving package compatible with Mac OS 9. StuffIt Deluxe 5.1.5 requires System 7.5.3 or greater and 15 MB of disk space, and is a 4.3 MB download. In essence, StuffIt Deluxe 5.1.5 allows users of Mac OS 9 to regain full use of StuffIt Deluxe for free.
Simultaneously, Aladdin shipped StuffIt Deluxe 5.5, which offers Mac OS 9 compatibility and numerous additional features for a $20 upgrade fee (upgrades to the $80 package are free for those who purchased StuffIt Deluxe after 01-Oct-99 or $30 for users of other Aladdin products – all prices are exclusive of tax and shipping and handling). New features include faster performance, self-extracting archives for Windows users, Zip compression support, DiskDoubler expansion support, support for Zip and uuencode in Archive Via Rename, an Archive CM contextual menu plug-in that provides contextual menu access to the contents of StuffIt archives, a DropConverter utility for converting old archives to the StuffIt 5 format, and additional functions in Magic Menu. StuffIt Deluxe 5.5 also requires System 7.5.3 or greater.
Aladdin also released updates to its popular freeware expansion utility StuffIt Expander and $30 shareware compression utility DropStuff. StuffIt Expander 5.5 adds various refinements, including faster file expansion, leaner memory usage, support for Internet Config helper applications for uncommon file formats, and elimination of the need for additional extensions. DropStuff 5.5, which is a free upgrade for users of DropStuff 4.5 or later, offers faster compression (Aladdin claims 20 percent faster) and enhances StuffIt Expander so it can expand Bzip and DiskDoubler files.
Aladdin previously shipped StuffIt Expander 5.1.4 and DropStuff 5.1.2 on the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM to provide immediate compatibility with Mac OS 9 (see "Mac OS 9 Installation & Compatibility" in TidBITS-503 and Aladdin’s Mac OS 9 Compatibility FAQ). StuffIt Expander 5.5 and DropStuff 5.5 also offer the Mac OS 9 compatibility of the limited-distribution versions shipped on the Mac OS 9 CD-ROM, along with the features mentioned previously. Both utilities require at least a 68030 CPU; StuffIt Expander needs System 7.1.1 or later and DropStuff requires System 7.5.3 or later. StuffIt Expander is a 1 MB download; DropStuff’s download weighs in at 1.9 MB.
Poll Results: Your Preferred Mac Email Client
One of our goals with last week’s poll was to show people the wide variety of email clients available for the Macintosh. As it has become one of the major forms of communication in today’s society, email has turned into a tremendously personal task, and the software you use to read email reflects your individual preferences and uses. So, it’s important for the Macintosh world that we have numerous choices of email clients. I may prefer Eudora, but I’ll strongly defend the right of all the other email clients to continue to exist. The main source of concern in some parts of the Mac email developer community has been Outlook Express 5.0, which combines a top-notch feature set with a non-existent price tag and an preferential bundling deal with Apple – a hard mix to beat for smaller companies that can’t afford the same development resources as Microsoft.
The only solution is for the rest of the Mac email industry to take advantage of Microsoft’s competition to innovate like crazy with compelling and unique features. Of course, the other half of the deal is that we in the Macintosh community have to be willing to support whichever program best meets our individual needs, whether it be freeware, shareware, or commercial. If we’re not willing to support email developers financially, we will lose a number of the choices we currently enjoy.
The poll proved our most popular yet, stressing our database server’s capabilities on Tuesday. Apologies to those who were turned away, but we still recorded more than 3,500 votes. The results, and the email that the poll generated in TidBITS Talk, proved quite interesting. I’ll cover each email client below, but to stave off future questions, let me reiterate that you can vote in polls only via the form on our home page, and you may have to scroll down on the page to see the form, depending on your screen resolution. It’s especially worth noting that our polls are in no way scientific. Although the increased participation this week would seem to increase the statistical relevance of the results, the fact is that at least four of the clients enjoyed some get-out-the-vote encouragement on their own mailing lists. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s one vote per person, but you have to take that into account when looking at the results for these products, listed alphabetically.
America Online: 1 Percent — I found the low results for America Online surprising, since America Online is used by millions of people and we know that over 3,600 TidBITS readers receive their issues via AOL. Assuming that the techniques we use to prevent multiple votes didn’t trip up too many AOL users (we had no reports of this, but since all AOL Web hits come from AOL’s proxy servers, it’s a possibility), the main conclusions I can draw are that AOL users either aren’t likely to follow links in email messages, perhaps due to reading mail offline or due to problems with the AOL email client, or that AOL users aren’t likely to participate in online polls. It’s also possible that TidBITS readers using AOL are more likely to rely on Emailer than AOL’s internal email client – this could account in part for Emailer’s strong showing. The AOL client software is of course free but requires an AOL account and works only with that account. Frankly, I can’t see anyone switching to AOL for email.
Cyberdog: 17 Percent — Cyberdog’s unexpectedly high results are almost certainly the result of voting encouragement in Cyberdog discussion groups (no searchable archives were available): the number of Cyberdog responses jumped significantly late in the week, a significant portion of Cyberdog supporters attempted to enter multiple votes, and we typically only receive about 50 Web hits per week from Cyberdog users. As much as Cyberdog offered some unusual and useful features for email (including Sherlock-style searching of stored mail) both Cyberdog and its underlying technology, OpenDoc, are dead products as far as Apple is concerned. Although there’s an enthusiastic user community surrounding OpenDoc and Cyberdog, it’s hard to see any future for Cyberdog, and many otherwise happy users have switched to programs that have current development support.
Emailer: 16 Percent — Even though Emailer’s numbers were undoubtedly helped by encouragements on the Emailer-talk mailing list, I still wouldn’t have expected so many people to continue relying on Emailer. However, the program still works under Mac OS 9, still offers the unique feature of being able to download mail from AOL, and has attracted a tremendously loyal following. Emailer’s future remains unclear, although rumors still swirl around the possibility of Apple building Emailer’s functionality into the integrated AppleWorks package. As long as Emailer continues to do the job, I expect it will remain popular with existing users, though I doubt it will attract many new converts. The Unofficial Claris Emailer Page lists several sources from whom you can still buy Emailer for about $30.
Eudora: 37 Percent — Qualcomm’s powerful Eudora ran away with the poll, registering more votes than the two runner-up programs combined, despite not having any outside voting encouragement that I saw. Reasons for Eudora’s popularity in this poll probably include our support for it over the years, the depth that the program has gained from over ten years of constant development, and the likelihood that TidBITS readers receive more mail than average Internet users and thus are more interested in using a program designed for serious email users. Eudora’s numbers were also probably bolstered by people still using Eudora Light, the free version of Eudora which is showing its age today, but which was among the best email clients available years ago. The $40 Eudora Pro requires a 68020 Mac or later with System 7.1 and at least 900K of RAM. You can download a 7.7 MB 30-day demo. See the "Eudora Pro 4.2" series of articles in TidBITS for details.
Green — We didn’t have room to include Green as a choice on its own, especially since it’s still in beta. Green looks as though it offers a full-featured environment for sending and receiving email. It supports multiple accounts, multiple users, filters, flexible searching, and an address book. The main thing lacking in Green is the alphabet soup of Internet standards. Green’s developers plan to add support for HTML, LDAP, IMAP, and PGP, along with a spelling checker and some sort of forms support. Green is free for personal use, with a small fee for corporate and educational users. Green requires Mac OS 8.1 and is a 921 K download.
Mailsmith: 3 Percent — Bare Bones Software’s $80 Mailsmith garnered decent numbers (thanks in part to users mentioning the poll on its mailing list), considering that it’s a commercial email client that entered the market at a time when competition from commercial clients was fierce and decent free email clients narrowed the pool of possible buyers. Mailsmith remains worth checking out for people who want powerful searching and scripting combined with the text-editing power that Mailsmith draws from Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit text and HTML editor. The 30-day demo of Mailsmith is a 4.1 MB download.
Musashi — The other new mail client we didn’t ask about explicitly was Musashi, a shareware program that offers many powerful features for email. Musashi supports multiple accounts, multiple users, and multiple signatures, message filtering, searching, message templates, and support for sending and receiving attachments in BinHex, AppleDouble, AppleSingle, and uuencode. Musashi also features background mail transfer, custom colors for different mailboxes, and support for manipulation of messages on the server and a plug-in architecture. A svelte 600K download, Musashi costs $33 if you decide you want to use it after 40 days and is available in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and German versions.
Mulberry: 1 Percent — Cyrusoft’s $40 Mulberry’s isn’t well known, so its small numbers weren’t surprising, especially since over 90 percent of Mulberry users are site licenses, which may account for more users than would necessarily vote in a TidBITS poll. Those of you who use IMAP would do well to check out Mulberry, which started life as an IMAP-only client and added POP support only in version 2.0 (in public beta currently). Although I haven’t done a full comparison, Mulberry would seem to be the most fully featured IMAP client available for the Mac, and it’s not lacking in other features either, such as multiple accounts, flexible searching with multiple criteria, address expansion, a PGP plug-in for sending and receiving secure mail, and background sending of mail. The Mulberry 30-day demo is a 7.8 MB download.
Netscape Communicator: 7 Percent — I’m surprised that Netscape Communicator’s results weren’t higher, given that the program is free, bundled with Macs, and used by 30 to 40 percent of the people who come to our Web site each week. It’s possible that despite Netscape Communicator’s email capabilities, people who started using the program when it was merely the Web browsing Netscape Navigator haven’t switched away from their previous email client. In addition, although Netscape Communicator sports all the basic features for email and supports most new Internet email standards, the program lacks the depth of some the more-focused email programs. Netscape Communicator is free, requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 7.6.1 or later, and is a 12.9 MB download.
Outlook Express: 12 Percent — I’m also surprised that Outlook Express’s numbers weren’t higher, given the program’s almost ubiquitous distribution, free price, and solid feature set – plus encouragement on its unofficial mailing list that users participate in the poll. It’s likely that Outlook Express is used far more by new Macintosh users who stick with the default email client on their iMac and never explore sufficiently to find out about TidBITS, much less participate in our polls. Nevertheless, Outlook Express offers multiple accounts, IMAP support, a Mailing List Manager, a powerful address book, scheduled events, and message histories. Outlook Express 5.0 requires a PowerPC-based Mac with Mac OS 8.1 or later and is a 12.5 MB download.
PowerMail: 1 Percent — PowerMail has suffered in large part from being written by a small Swiss company with few marketing resources, which accounts for its low numbers. The $50 program has also had a star-crossed history: the first version was a full-featured PowerTalk email client that shipped just weeks before Apple killed PowerTalk. PowerMail’s current claims to fame are its indexed Sherlock-style searching, support for POP and IMAP, and WorldScript support for those using multiple languages or script systems. All the other basic features are present, including powerful filters, AppleScript support, background mail transfer, multiple signatures, message labels, and more. A 30-day demo in either English or French is available as a 4.4 MB download.
QuickMail Pro: 1 Percent — CE Software’s venerable QuickMail Pro has undergone significant metamorphoses in the last few years, moving from a proprietary LAN-based email client/server solution to a stand-alone email client and a set of server programs that support Internet standards but offer additional features when working together. The $40 QuickMail Pro client supports multiple accounts, hierarchical mail folders, automatic email address completion, per-recipient enclosures, background mail transfer, message stationery, and a spell checker. QuickMail Pro requires a 68040 Mac or later with 16 MB of RAM and Mac OS 7.6.1 or later. A 30-day demo is available as a 6.5 MB download.
Web-based Email: 0 Percent — This result surprised me. Only four people said they were using a Web-based email client to read their email. Yet Microsoft claims tens of millions of users for Hotmail, and services like Yahoo Mail are also reportedly heavily used. We even know that we have about 1,000 of these addresses on our distribution list, which leads me to believe that many people use Web-based email as a secondary account or forwarding service, use Outlook Express to avoid the Hotmail Web-based client, or aren’t heavy email users who read TidBITS and participate in our polls. Personally, I’ve never been impressed with the interfaces offered by Web email clients; it’s difficult to simulate a complex multiple window interface in a Web browser successfully. However, the benefit of needing only a Web browser to check email from anywhere is compelling at times.
Other: 2 Percent — One problem with this poll is that we were limited to listing only Macintosh email clients and only the main ones at that, since there are a variety of other programs that might have garnered only a single vote or two. Some, like Dartmouth College’s BlitzMail, we left out because they were too limited in distribution, and others, like SoftArc’s FirstClass, we left out because email is only a part of a larger package. Plus, many people read TidBITS using Windows or Unix email clients, and bringing them into the mix would have proved far too confusing. Nonetheless, thanks to all who participated in our poll, and I hope you found the results both interesting and potentially useful, should you decide in the future to choose a new email client.
Pointing the Way with USB Mice, Part 2
Apple’s introduction of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) to the Macintosh line and the addition of the puck-like mouse bundled with iMacs and Power Macintosh systems have prompted developers to create replacement pointing devices. Just as important as the plastics of each device, however, are the USB drivers that power them. In part one of this article, I talked about Contour Designs’ UniMouse and Kensington’s family of mice. Here, I want to wrap up with Logitech’s MouseWare, XLR8’s Pointer to make do with a single cadre of button definitions. This is adequate for my purposes, but it simply won’t suffice for the true customization junky.
Wheel scrolling works fairly well in applications that recognize the MouseWare driver. For instance, Internet Explorer consistently responds to the scroll wheel and behaves as expected; Sherlock does not. Logitech makes note of this incompatibility but has yet to announce a fix.
An added bonus is that MouseWare supports horizontal scrolling and defaults to horizontal if no vertical scrolling is available in the active window. Scrolling is also cursor-focused, so scrolling takes place in the window beneath the cursor, which is useful for applications like Ircle that have multiple windows and floaters. This subtle nicety does behave a bit oddly in framed browser windows, where it scrolls the closest scroll bar, which might not be what you want.
I enjoyed the capability to scroll in two dimensions while working in FreeHand and Word; this feature almost justifies a Logitech mouse and MouseWare combination by itself. For those who prefer a more consistent user experience though, the lack of scrolling support in Sherlock and undoubtedly some other applications may eliminate Logitech’s MouseWare driver from consideration.
XLR8 Point-and-Scroll… and Nothing Else — Dirt-cheap PC peripheral maker Interex has entered the USB mouse game on the Mac side with the XLR8 Point-and-Scroll mouse, a sub-$20 two-button mouse with a scroll wheel that’s available in a variety of colors.
The XLR8 Point-and-Scroll control panel is simple and clean, in part because it offers limited functionality. The control panel provides two tabbed panes, one for defining functions for the buttons and another for configuring the scroll wheel. No application specific sets are available.
Once activated, scrolling is where XLR8’s driver shines. Holding down the Option key while moving the scroll wheel enables horizontal scrolling. The driver also supports what it calls "accelerated scrolling." Once activated, scrolling is continuous and scrolling speed increases the farther the wheel is moved. For users looking for a cheap mouse with a scroll wheel, the XLR8 mouse may be the perfect choice.
Microsoft IntelliPoint… A Smarter Mouse — A cursory examination of the Microsoft IntelliPoint mouse driver reveals tightly tuned controls. Microsoft did a nice job of integrating all of the functionality into three tabbed panes. IntelliPoint includes the common "snap-to" feature that automatically moves the cursor to the default button in dialog boxes./P>
IntelliPoint has one undocumented feature that’s quite useful – accelerated scrolling that changes the scrolling distance based on the speed at which you rotate the wheel. Move the wheel one notch a time, slowly, and you’ll scroll a single line a time. Give the wheel a quick turn, and you’ll scroll an entire page at a time.
IntelliPoint works with all the different Microsoft USB-based pointing devices, including the Microsoft IntelliMouse (the classic Microsoft mouse), and the new IntelliMouse Explorer, Redmond’s new chrome multi-button monster with a red tail-light. I found the feel of the buttons and scroll wheel on the IntelliMouse Explorer to be light and strangely dainty given the rat-like size of the beast, but many will love the light touch and Microsoft’s maintenance-free IntelliEye design that eliminates the crud-gathering mouse ball in favor of an optical sensor.
USB Overdrive… Difficult to Drive — Alessandro Levi Montalcini’s $20 shareware USB Overdrive is the uberdriver for all sorts of USB-based pointing devices. It works with both mice and joysticks, and once configured, works very well, offering consistent, reliable behavior. Scrolling is reliable and ubiquitous. Horizontal scrolling suffers the same liabilities as the IntelliPoint driver and just isn’t as handy as it should be. USB Overdrive also supports application-specific configuration sets.
Despite USB Overdrive’s excellent feature set and reliability, its user interface is compressed and inelegant, with mouse speeds using arcane descriptors like Fast 20 and Medium 80. Since USB Overdrive supports all known types of USB pointing devices, it displays the entire set of controls it knows about, including those that don’t exist on devices you have connected. This results in a confusing array of controls, and because there’s no way to determine the names of these controls from the ROMs in the pointing devices, USB Overdrive assigns them arbitrary names that don’t always make sense. In addition, controls are held to a single window which, while busy, makes it easier keep track of settings and trace down unexpected mouse and button behavior.
Revisions to InputSprockets with Mac OS 9 created some problems for gaming devices (not mice) controlled by USB Overdrive that Alessandro is working with Apple to resolve. Some users will find it necessary to disable USB Overdrive’s joystick support (by removing the USB Joystick Overdrive extension from the Extensions folder, then unplugging and replugging the USB device) to facilitate game play with InputSprocket games.
That said, USB Overdrive is the ideal solution for any USB pointing device that would otherwise go unsupported on the Mac and might be worthwhile for Logitech mouse users who desire more reliable scrolling.
Finding Your Hole in the Wall — Ultimately, a pointing device buying decision becomes a compromise between physical design and driver limitations.
Thanks to its clean interface and bulletproof scrolling, Microsoft’s IntelliPoint driver helps the Microsoft pointing devices stand out in a crowded and contentious field. The lack of a traditional mouse ball helps the IntelliEye mice scroll smoothly regardless of surface (including your leg or a pillow), although early reports noted problems with certain specific surfaces (such as glass and other reflective surfaces) that I have been unable to reproduce.
For those who wish to avoid Redmond’s answer, the extensive configuration options provided by Kensington’s MouseWorks makes a Kensington USB pointing device a good second choice. Scrolling support in MouseWorks is less robust than in IntelliPoint, but the variety of pointing devices available from Kensington may compensate for this limitation.
[Warren Magnus is the brains behind samespace, a marketing and business development consulting firm. He also serves as sponsorship chair and webmaster for the MacHack software developers’ conference.]