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Adam Engst No comments


Adam and Tonya and their cats are busy moving this week! So that they can concentrate on finding a new place to live in the Redmond, WA area, settle into new surroundings and new jobs, and relax a little, I’ve volunteered to be your Guest Editor for a few weeks. Who am I? I’m Mark H. Anbinder, of STARNET’s Memory Alpha BBS.

For the next few weeks, any correspondence and information for TidBITS should be sent to one of my electronic or paper addresses, shown on the About TidBITS page of this issue. When Adam and Tonya take over TidBITS again, they will be providing new addresses that we can use to reach them.

Attentive reader Bill Dugan noticed a lack of detail in last week’s QuickTime article, on the specific subject of the MPC standard. Bill reports that the standard configuration is:

286 processor at 10Mhz or 12Mhz (depending on who you ask)
2 megs of RAM
VGA card with a minimum of 320 x 200 resolution with 256 colors
AdLib or SoundBlaster sound board (or emulators)
CD-ROM drive with transfer rate of 150K/sec

Thanks for the correction, Bill! Readers who want to learn more about QuickTime should check out the September 1991 Macworld, in which Jerry Borrell’s column is devoted to the topic. The column is entitled "Why I Love QuickTime: Not just because it’s way cool."

Rik Ahlberg also wrote, to let us know that Switch, which was mentioned in the 15-Jul-91 issue of TidBITS, is incompatible with Adobe Illustrator 3.0 under System 7. It apparently causes Illustrator to quit and return to the Finder as soon as its icon appears in the menu bar.

You may remember the controversy surrounding MarketPlace, a pair of products from Lotus that would have provided a variety of information on American households and businesses. The product that contained information about private individuals and households was withdrawn due to the uproar, and the business product was cancelled as well. Recently, though, a new company named MarketPlace Information Corporation was formed by Lotus personnel who didn’t want to see their project go down the tubes. They are now shipping MarketPlace Business 1.1, containing marketing data on over seven million U.S. businesses drawn from the Dun’s Market Identifiers database. According to the company, there are no plans to release the Households database, which was at the center of the controversy, but this announcement does raise some of the same accuracy issues (it’s very difficult to correct information on a CD-ROM) and might lead to increased popularity for this sort of desktop marketing… which could in turn bring us back to the same situation. If MarketPlace doesn’t release a households database, someone else might.

Speaking of which, a company calling itself variously "American Business Information" or "Online Information Network" was marketing products at the recent Comdex show along the same lines as MarketPlace. ABI is offering a dialup service whereby, for a $35 subscription fee, $1 per minute, and 17[cts] per name, users can retrieve names from databases of over ten million U.S. and Canadian businesses, or over 4.5 million "high income" families. The same databases will be available on CD-ROM as well.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]
Bill Dugan — [email protected]
Rik Ahlberg — [email protected]
Adam C. Engst — [email protected]
John G. DeArmond — [email protected]
MarketPlace Information Corporation — 617/225-7850
American Business Information — 402/953-4565

Adam Engst No comments


Since the May introduction of System 7, Apple has been shipping all computers with a coupon that users can mail to Apple, good for a free copy of System 7. They recently announced that, beginning at the end of July or the beginning of August, new Macintosh computers (except for the 1Mb Macintosh Classic, the Macintosh SE/30, and floppy-only configurations of the Macintosh LC) will ship with System 7, either pre-installed on the internal hard disk, or in the box for CPUs without hard disks. The Mac Classic and LC will start shipping with System 7 a little later than the beginning of August, no doubt due to the long lead times for these products. The fact that the SE/30 won’t be converted to ship with System 7 looks strange, unless you consider the rumour that the SE/30 is due to be replaced this fall by a new Classic ‘030 machine.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments


Novell is supposed to buy DRI (Digital Research Inc, makers of C/PM in the past and DR DOS in the present). This will give Novell a network OS and a desktop OS, which competes with Microsoft’s inclusion of networking hooks in DOS and Windows. Also interesting is that IBM has a deal with Novell that lets the Blue resell NetWare, and that might carry over to reselling DR DOS. Many people think DR DOS is technically better than MS-DOS, so IBM could show its displeasure with Microsoft even more than before by ditching the agreement with Microsoft (which produced PC-DOS) in favor of DR DOS. Also interesting is the fact that these large companies are gradually clumping together, which the newly aggressive FTC certainly won’t like and which may bode ill for the small, innovative, developers.

Information from:
Bob Cringely
Adam C. Engst — [email protected]

Rick Holzgrafe No comments

What Good is the Help Menu?

"So what good is the Balloon Help menu? I already know how to use my Mac!"

I’ve been hearing this question a lot lately, as I eavesdrop on the networks and bulletin boards. A lot of people seem to think that:

  • It’s only for system software.
  • It’s only for turning the balloon display on and off.
  • It wastes space on the menu bar.

These are all misconceptions. Let’s take them in order.

"It’s only for system software." Actually, any application can use the Help menu. Applications can have their own balloons to explain their own menus, windows, and controls. We haven’t seen much of this yet because most of us haven’t yet gotten our System 7-savvy upgrades and new applications. But the developers are all jumping on the bandwagon: I haven’t heard of a single upgrade or new product since the release of System 7 that will not include Balloon Help.

"It’s only for turning the balloon display on and off." Click over to the Finder for a minute, if you’re running System 7. Pull down the Help menu. There’s an item at the bottom called "Finder Shortcuts". You may have thought that was a special hack just for the 7.0 Finder; it’s not. Any application can add its own custom menu items to the Help menu. (And by the way, that’s its proper name: not the "Balloon Help" menu, but just the "Help" menu. It’s not just for balloons!)

Apple intends for the Help menu to become the standard place for users to go for on-line help: not just for balloons, but for the manual pages that you currently have to turn over all the rocks to find. ("Is there a menu called ‘Help’? No… maybe it’s in the Apple menu, under ‘About MacFoo’. Rats, not there. Check ALL the menus, looking for an item called ‘Help’. Rargh! Uh, maybe there’s a ‘Help’ button in the About box….") Just think how nice it will be when most apps have online help, and all in the same place!

"It wastes space on the menu bar." Well, yes and no – mostly no. In System 7, there can be as many as three iconic menus at the right end of the menu bar: the Keyboard menu, the Help menu, and the Application menu. (The Keyboard menu is for users who must change the keyboard layout for typing in different languages. Many users don’t need it, and never see it.) Both the Keyboard and Help menus will automatically disappear whenever your regular menus need the room, so normally these menu icons don’t waste space.

The only conflict is with menu bar clock INITs. Many people use them, and some apparently can’t live without them. They make two kinds of problem. First, older INITs don’t know about the Help and Keyboard menus, and don’t move over to make room for them. Second, a menu bar clock is not a menu: the Menu Manager doesn’t know it’s there and can’t make room for it when space gets tight. A menu bar clock on a 9" screen can find itself helplessly squeezed between the Help menu on the right and MS Word’s menus on the left!

Some people, wanting to keep their menu bar clocks, have figured out ways to remove the Help menu altogether. They figure that they won’t ever need it, or that they can use one of the new freeware or shareware hacks to turn on Balloon Help from the keyboard. I don’t recommend this. I hope I’ve convinced you by now that the Help menu is important and will soon become very useful to you, and that the balloons are not the only important feature.

I’d recommend that you live without your menu bar clock, either for a while (until System 7-savvy menu bar clocks appear), or forever. The menu bar clock can be replaced by a watch, a wall clock, a five-dollar stick-on digital clock, the Alarm Clock DA, or any of a half-dozen nifty freeware window-clock applications. But the only substitute for good on-line help is a paper manual, and I doubt whether you enjoy getting them out and flipping their pages any more than I do.

So, that’s what good the Help menu is! In about a year, you may wonder how you ever lived without it.

Adam Engst No comments

DoveFax+ Hears Voices

One of the more interesting modem spin-offs recently is the DoveFax+. I’m personally not all that impressed with fax technology, but I think sticking fax capabilities in a modem is a good way to avoid killing more trees. What makes the DoveFax+ stand out though, is its ability to do limited voice-messaging. You probably wouldn’t replace a huge voice mail system with the DoveFax+, but for an individual or a couple of people it looks quite good. The DoveFax+ is the first voice messaging system for the Mac, at least in the normal-person price range. It can differentiate between voice calls and fax calls when in the Voice Mode, and it sports several other modes, the Data Mode (2400 bips) and a straight Fax Mode (I assume that in Fax Mode the DoveFax+ doesn’t try to differentiate between voice and fax calls, but there may be more differences too). If you have really complicated phone setups, the DoveFax+ works with phone line managers as well, and Dove has tested it with the Phone Line Manager from La Cie and the SmartMax II from MaxTrax.

The DoveFax+ simulates the "Press1 to talk to a VP, Press 2 to talk to the CEO, etc." with a Caller ID feature. Unlike anything to do with the phone company, this is merely an ID that you assign to a caller, so if they call and punch in their ID, the DoveFax+ plays a specific message for them. You can record different messages and link them to different Caller IDs, which gives you a lot of flexibility in the sort of messages you leave. You can also save messages and reuse them, a technosend (I’m not religious, and the word godsend didn’t seem appropriate) for those who hate creating messages. The DF+Manager program even keeps track of people who called with a Caller ID and will auto-dial that number when you get back and want to return the call.

Since the DoveFax+ records messages digitally onto the hard disk, I was concerned about the amount of space it could consume. Page Gilley of Dove Technical Support said that a 30 second call takes about 150K of disk space. That would only cause problems with a few of my friends who like to talk to the answering machine at length. You probably wouldn’t want to leave for vacation without clearing some hard disk space, but in general it doesn’t sound like disk space will be a problem.

The main problem I personally have with the DoveFax+ is that it’s not all that impressive as modems go. At the moment, it is merely straight 2400 bips Hayes compatible, but that can’t compete with the 9600, v.everything modems that come in at about the same price, $549. Page said that Dove was working on implementing v.42 and MNP, which could increase the throughput significantly, though I’d still prefer a full feature 9600 bips modem with the fax and voice features of the DoveFax+.

As far as the details go, the DoveFax+ can work in the background as a fax modem and is a Group 3-compatible 9600 bips fax. Included are the QuickFax DA, customizable cover sheets, an activity log, and automatic phone directory updating. The voice messaging part of the DoveFax+ can import SoundEdit, snd, and AIFF sound files (so you can use all those great sounds as phone messages, and if you’ve got SoundEdit, you can have a lot of fun with manipulating your messages). Two other useful features for when you’re away include remote retrieval of messages and message forwarding to another number. So if you are in the market for a modem and a fax machine with some sophisticated answering machine capabilities thrown in, you might consider what the DoveFax+ will do for you.

Dove Computer Corp. — 919/763-7918

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — [email protected]
Page Gilley — [email protected]
DoveTech or PageG1 on AOL

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 19-Mar-91, Vol. 5, #11, pg. 16
Macworld — Sept-91, Vol. 8, #9, pg. 223

Adam Engst No comments

AppleLink in Space

The upcoming flight of the space shuttle Atlantis, which has been delayed a couple of times this month, will be a first for the information age. NASA’s astronauts will be carrying aboard a Macintosh Portable that has been outfitted with an off-the-shelf modem and a customized version of the AppleLink software, and they’ll be connecting to AppleLink and sending electronic mail from space.

While this isn’t the first time e-mail has been sent or received from space (earlier missions have included packet radio BBS experimenting), it will certainly be the first use of Apple’s online service from space (assuming everything works as planned). Not only will the astronauts be able to exchange data files and mission reports with ground control personnel, but they’ll also be able to communicate with their families during the trip. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the astronauts and their sanity, the shuttle’s AppleLink address is being kept confidential.

Connections to AppleLink already involve a complex data network, but this time things will be a bit more convoluted. Here’s the path as described by Apple’s Michael Elliot Silver:

The digital X.25 packet goes through the GE IS ww network to a modem pool (converts to analog) which is connected to a ROLM telephone switch (converts back to digital), then to a data phone at Johnson Space Center.

The data phone is connected to a Mac Portable through its Printer port. The packet then goes through a ‘Data Forwarder’ application written by our own Byron Han (the genius behind this project) which sends the packet out the Modem port using ‘NASALink,’ a CTB tool specially written for this event (also by Byron).

The packet then goes through a PSI Fax Modem (back to analog) operating in v.27 terr (half duplex, ungodly, and evil) and is then routed through an ATU (Audio Terminal Unit) which digitizes the signal (converts to digital).

The packet is then sent up to an orbiting CommSat (Commercial Satellite) then back down to White Sands, New Mexico TDRSS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System).

It is then sent up again to another TDRSS Satellite which is orbiting geosynchronously with the space shuttle, and that satellite sends the packet to the space shuttle (still digital) which sends it through its voice subsystem and converts it back to analog.

It is sent through another ATU to another PSI Fax modem (back to digital) through the modem port, through the NASALink CTB tool and finally into AppleLink 6.0.2s1 (a special version of AppleLink 6.0.2).

Information from:
Rick M. Holzgrafe — [email protected]
Michael Elliot Silver