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Adam Engst No comments

AccessPC Details

AccessPC 1.0

Insignia Solutions, Inc.
254 San Geronimo Way
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
408/733-9541 (fax)
D1437, UK0032 at AppleLink

8 Penguins out of a possible 10

Summary: — AccessPC is a single purpose utility that sits in the background and allows you to mount MS-DOS disks on the Macintosh desktop (assuming of course, that you have a drive that can read and write MS-DOS disks). AccessPC is about as transparent as possible and is much faster than DOS Mounter 1.0. You even get the extra bonus of being able to mount SoftPC hard disk documents as volumes, which makes for much easier transfer of files in and out.

User Evaluation: (on a scale of 0 to 10)

Number of responses: 2
Ease of installation: 7
Ease of learning: 9
Ease of use: 8
Power & usefulness: 7
Documentation: 6
Technical support: 4
Overall evaluation: 7

Price and Availability: — AccessPC is widely available from dealers and mail order firms and is sold by MacConnection for $82 (note that we quote the MacConnection price in recognition of its industry-leading efforts to use ecologically-conscious packaging and its overall excellent service).


Adam C. Engst, TidBITS Editor

Adam Engst No comments

AccessPC Introduction

Apple has always boasted of the SuperDrive’s ability to read and write both Mac and MS-DOS disks. Apple’s propagandizing statements fail to mention that you have to use Apple File Exchange, a relatively obnoxious, Font/DA Mover-like program, to access the MS-DOS files. In normal operation, the SuperDrive rejects all MS-DOS disks. I’m sure that some rabid Mac users have modified the standard message from the staid "This is not a Macintosh disk. Eject or Initialize?" to "This disk is unclean. Convert it to the holy format?"

Those of us who don’t feel quite so chauvinistic about our computers and who actually talk to people who use MS-DOS machines can use a couple of different utilities to see MS-DOS disks on our desktops, just like any Mac disk. Dayna (the people who gave us the DaynaFile, which also has DOS-disk mounting capabilities) made the first of these utilities, DOS Mounter. DOS Mounter wasn’t perfect, by any means, since it had to write a Desktop file to the floppy disk, which meant that you couldn’t use locked DOS disks with it, or any copy protected disks, or any disks that had installation schemes that "know" which files are on the disk and become confused if any others show up. You get the idea, DOS Mounter was slow and irritating to use. Insignia Solutions, the people who came up with the elegant hack SoftPC, wrote AccessPC to compete with DOS Mounter. AccessPC circumvents most of DOS Mounter’s limitations and adds a few features to boot. To be fair, Dayna just released DOS Mounter 2.0, which supposedly addresses all of version 1.0’s limitations and provides better competition for AccessPC. We haven’t compared DOS Mounter 2.0 yet, but hopefully we will at some future time.

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AccessPC Installation

AccessPC ships on a single disk with five items, only two of which need to be installed by dragging to your System Folder and restarting. Those two items are the "~AccessPC" cdev and its associated document "~AccessPC Data." I presume that the tildes sit in front of the file names to make them sort together, and so that the cdev runs after most other INITs and cdevs. On my system, only the @Disinfectant INIT runs after AccessPC. The third item on the disk is a small HyperCard 1.2.x stack that talks a little about the process of assigning icons to DOS files with certain extensions and then gives 13 examples of common DOS extensions and the appropriate Mac file creators and types. Then there are two folders, "PRACTICE" and "Other." "Other" holds three alternate versions of the ~AccessPC Data file for people who use MacWrite II, Wingz, or the Ashton-Tate suite of Macintosh programs, FullWrite, Full Impact, and dBMac. If you fall into one of those three categories, Insignia recommends using the appropriate ~AccessPC Data file instead of the default one, which is set for Microsoft Word and Excel users. Insignia doesn’t say what to do if you use MacWrite II for your word processor, Wingz for your spreadsheet and dBMac for your database. Other than the last one, it’s not all that unlikely a situation. My impression is that the only difference between the different data files is that they have different preset extension mappings, so don’t worry about it too much. The "PRACTICE" folder contains four documents, an MS-DOS Word file, an MS-DOS Word style file, an MS-DOS WordPerfect file, and a Lotus 1-2-3 worksheet file. They are used in the tutorial chapter on how to assign Macintosh icons to DOS files with certain extensions. If you’re wondering, they merely have some examples of how formatting isn’t lost if you have the proper program on the Mac, along with a short blurb on how wonderful AccessPC is. What did you expect?

As I said before, installation is remarkably simple, simply drag two files to the System Folder and reboot. I haven’t noticed any conflicts at all, although Insignia recommends renaming CD-ROM drivers to load after AccessPC if they cause problems. The Errata sheet that accompanies the manual says not to rename the "~AccessPC" file itself though, but instead to prefix the offending INIT’s name with a tilde, which should cause the INIT to alphabetize after AccessPC.

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Using AccessPC

I tested AccessPC with a Kennect Drive 2.4 and Rapport as well as an Apple SuperDrive. Besides those two drives, AccessPC supports an external SuperDrive, the Kennect Drive 360 and Drive 1200, the 3.5" and 5.25" external DaynaFile drives, the PLI TurboFloppy 1.4, and the Outbound Portable with the FDHD-compatible drive. In addition, a Mac equipped with Rapport can read, but not write DOS disks in an internal 800K drive, and AccessPC does work with this combination as well. It does not work with non-floppy drives such as the Iomega Bernoulli series or any of the SyQuest removable cartridge hard drives. Can’t have everything yet.

The controls for AccessPC are located in the Control Panel, reasonably enough. The AccessPC controls have three basic components. The first section, at the top of the Control Panel window, contains a scrolling list (at least it scrolls if it needs to) of the DOS file extensions and their associated Macintosh mappings. For those who don’t use DOS much, the extension is the three letters that follow the period after the eight character file name. So in the file MYFILE.DOC, MYFILE is the file name and DOC is the extension. Not all DOS files have extensions, but it’s good practice to use them and some programs assign them automatically. AccessPC allows you two ways of assigning a Macintosh mapping to any given DOS extension. If you are a power user (or wish to be), you can unlock the text input boxes for creator and type and type the correct four letter codes in yourself. Normal people will just click the "Mac App…" button, select the right application, and then select the correct document type from the pop-up list of possible document types. The process is extremely painless and well-done.

The second set of controls are merely two check boxes, one labeled "Save Mac Info to Disk," and the other labeled "Format Support." The first option is extremely useful because it allows you to either save Macintosh information on the DOS disk or not, depending on what’s most appropriate. For instance, if you have to work on a locked or copy protected disk, you obviously don’t want to save the Mac information on that disk. However, if you have a normal DOS disk and want your files to retain their icons and positions in the windows and all that jazz, then you have to save the Mac information on that disk. There are two other side effects to not saving the Macintosh information to the disk. First, resource forks aren’t copied, so even data files that have resource forks will lose them. Applications are completely crippled. Second, the file names are changed to become legal DOS file names, which can make them pretty unreadable. Of course, normal DOS file names are often unreadable even when people assign the names, so we can’t censure AccessPC on that account. If you don’t want to prevent all Mac information from being written to the disk, you can hold the Option key when you click on the check box, at which point AccessPC will present you with the choices broken down. You have the option of selecting or not selecting each of three check boxes, the first called "Finder information," the second called "Resource forks," and the last called "Desktop file." If you want to save the icon colors and locations as well as the Macintosh file names, check the first box. If you want to save the Mac resource forks, check the second box. And if you want to save the icons related to each file, check the final box. Needless to say, checking all three is the same as check the "Save Mac Info to Disk" button on the main Control Panel screen. The Macintosh info features can be toggled at any time and take effect as soon as you mount a new disk.

Insignia provided the "Format Support" button because some drives, most notably those from Kennect, already have the ability to format MS-DOS disks. If you allow AccessPC to format disks on one of these drives, you merely get an initial dialog box from AccessPC asking whether you want Mac or MS-DOS format, and no matter which you click, the Kennect dialog allowing all possible options comes up immediately thereafter. I haven’t tested this carefully, but it seems that formatting a disk with AccessPC’s format support installed is slower than just allowing the Drive 2.4 and Rapport to do it. In any case, if you have the Kennect drives, it’s best to shut off AccessPC’s format support so you don’t have to answer an additional dialog box each time you want to format a disk of any sort. The format support can be toggled at any time but requires a restart for new settings to take effect.

The final set of controls available from the Control Panel allow you to mount the SoftPC hard disk documents as disks on the desktop. If you used SoftPC heavily and wished to keep all your DOS files in the SoftPC hard disk (which I don’t, since SoftPC very nicely allows me to define a Macintosh folder as an E: disk), this could be extremely useful. As it is though, it won’t even let me mount my one SoftPC hard disk as a volume because it has more than two or three fragments. Oh, well, maybe I’ll defragment with Silverlining later and try again. Insignia thoughtfully added this feature, though it’s not a reason to buy AccessPC.

Adam Engst No comments

AccessPC Documentation

The manual is short but helpful and generally well-written. I didn’t notice any errors and Insignia provided a short index. I’m glad Insignia included the Errata sheet, because it explained a few things that the manual glossed over or had changed since Insignia printed the manual. Probably the best thing that I can say about the manual was that I haven’t looked at it until today, over a month after I installed AccessPC. I didn’t run into anything strange or unpleasant while using AccessPC that required explanation from the manual.

Adam Engst No comments

AccessPC Problems

As a matter of fact, I’ve only had a single problem with AccessPC since I’ve started using it. It surprised me, because I couldn’t figure out why it should have happened. While I was writing this review, the Mac crashed (I lost only a few words, thanks to Nisus) and when it came back up, even though AccessPC seemed to load fine, when I selected it in the Control Panel, it said that it wasn’t loaded and I needed to restart. I did so again, and it came back to life. Luckily, despite a number of other crashes, this hasn’t happened again. Strange.

My only other request goes to Insignia’s marketing elves. AccessPC performs absolutely no file translations, which isn’t particularly in its scope. However, I suspect that a fair number of people who buy AccessPC will want to do some file format translation as well, so it would be ideal if Insignia could strike a deal with MacLinkPlus/PC or one of the other file translation programs – a bundle or some sort of discount if you own one and buy the other.

Overall, you won’t go wrong with AccessPC. If you regularly work with DOS disks, using AccessPC is far easier than mucking around with Apple File Exchange. It’s fast (one person said he thought it was about 10 times faster than DOS Mounter 1.0 and I can vouch for the fact that it performs a lot faster than the DaynaFile), integrates DOS disks into the Mac environment with a minimum of setup and fuss, formats DOS disks from the Finder, and requires no weekly maintenance.