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Adam Engst No comments


My mail link still isn’t completely solid, and it’s certainly not as quick as I was used to when I connected to the Internet via Cornell, but at least most mail is getting through now. I have two accounts that should forward correctly, and mail that goes to my old address will be forwarded as well. So please, send me information for TidBITS along with the usual gamut of comments and suggestions. If you have trouble getting mail through to me, you can still send it to Mark, who will forward it.

[email protected]
[email protected]

This account is my Mac running uAccess from ICE Engineering (an excellent implementation of UUCP) and connecting to polari, a Seattle-based public access Unix machine. Some time in the future, I hope to have another mail feed that will give me a domain name, thus making mail easier, faster, and more reliable. In particular, [email protected] won’t work well for a month or so yet because of the time lag in updating the UUCP maps around the world.

[email protected]
[email protected]
penguin%[email protected]

This account is my interactive account on polari. It is currently forwarding all mail to tidbits, and is often easier to reach from the Internet.

[email protected]
[email protected]

This is an old account at Cornell that merely forwards mail to polari and then on to tidbits. It is easily reached from anywhere on the Internet and equally as easily from Bitnet. However, it exists on the whim of Cornell, so should not be relied upon.

And, for those of you who read TidBITS but can’t connect to any of the networks I’m on, here’s my snail mail address.

Adam C. Engst
9301 Avondale Rd. NE Q1096
Redmond, WA 98052

If you’re thinking of buying a high-end Mac and you’re not planning to wait around for the ‘040 Quadra Macs to arrive in late October, you’ll be glad to hear that one of your options just became more attractive. Apple has quietly announced that the Macintosh IIci will now ship with a cache card installed. Depending on what kind of work you’ll be doing with your IIci, a cache card can vastly improve its computing performance, by using very fast memory to cache information that would otherwise have to be read from "slow" 80ns memory. This is similar in concept to using a disk cache, using RAM to cache slow disk information. In fact, the cache card makes the IIci compete very favorably against the IIfx on price/performance terms. No doubt third-party cache card manufacturers, such as Atto and DayStar, will be irritated by Apple yanking most of their market away (they can still sell to existing IIci owners, of course), but this move clearly reaffirms Apple’s commitment to the IIci as a high-end member of the Macintosh family.

Murph Sewall writes, "The start of a new term is as good an excuse as any to discard the flotsam and jetsam of past academic years to clear some shelf space for paperwork anew. I seem to have gotten more carried away than usual this Fall, or simply concentrated on one particularly disreputable shelf. Anyway, I came across a 1977 "Microcomputer Handbook." The cost justification may be of some interest, particularly for those who plead poverty with respect to the cost of present day systems.

The main (8080 CPU) was only $931, but it was missing a few little conveniences such as memory (24K that’s 24,576 bytes, folks only $1,674 – roughly the price of 41 MB at 1991 prices), a keyboard and (monochrome) monitor (only $900 for both, a bargain), I/O board and cables ($400), and (90K) floppy disk drive ($1,150). Throw in an 80 column dot matrix printer ($1,253) and an operating system ($150) and the total is $6,458 before buying the first application (of course, in those days you pretty much had to "roll your own").

But wait, those are LIST prices! So with academic discounts the price for the whole packages diminishes to ahem ONLY $4,430 (what a steal).

Also, consider that those are 1977 dollars, before the inflationary runup of the 1980’s. I haven’t checked the consumer price index for 1991 versus 1977, but I’d guess the inflation factor is about 1.8 ($4,430 in 1977 = something like $7,975 today). For nearly $8,000 you can you can buy something like a top-of-the-line 1991 workstation, but you can also buy a pretty satisfactory computer for much less than even 1977’s $4,430.

Since I’m among that group who remembers when 8080 CPU’s and the CP/M operating system seemed pretty amazing, the prices for today’s systems with all the bells and whistles don’t seem so outrageous." [Since I was in 5th grade at the time, I won’t pretend to remember the 8080. But thanks, Murph, for putting today’s price complaints into perspective.]

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

Adam Engst No comments

ROM Troubles Over

If we had presses, we’d have to stop them for this story. Apple has dealt with the dirty ROM problem by making a deal with Connectix to distribute MODE32 free of charge (yes, you read that right) to all users. Not only that, but Apple will support MODE32 completely on their free Customer Assistance line (that’s the free support line that anyone can call at any time, not the limited time number you can call for help with System 7). But wait, there’s more, and we’re not talking Ginsu knives here. Apple will be distributing MODE32 on all the licensed online services (including the Internet FTP site at, America Online, and Memory Alpha BBS, among others) and through dealers and user groups as well. For those of you who needed 32-bit cleanliness enough to buy MODE32 from Connectix (rather than just grumble like the rest of the world), Apple will buy that copy back from you. Just call the Apple Customer Assistance Center at the 800 number below and get information on where to send your original disk for a $100 rebate. If you paid more, you’ll need a valid sales receipt, but Apple will pay up to $169 plus tax. If you paid more than that, you got rooked. The other two details are that you have to have purchased MODE32 before 05-Sep-91 and you must send in your disk before 31-Dec-91. So get a move on if you want your $100.

Of course, Apple can’t please everyone with this move, but I think they should be coming close. Some people will hold out for the true new ROMs, little pins and all. There’s no real reason to do that, though, since the system software has lots of patches for code in the ROMs. In other words, patching the ROM code with system software is already standard practice.

Then you’ll get the belly-achers who are leery of patching the system software. These are the same people who think that all extensions (gotta get into using that word in place of INITs) are evil. The answer to these malcontents is that there’s nothing wrong with patching the system with an extension either. Do you think Apple would include so many extensions of its own if there were? Basically the use of patching the system externally (at least from my non-programmer background) is that those who don’t need the extension don’t have to waste the space or memory on it. Come on, how many of you have kept the DAL Extension around even though you’re never going to access a mainframe database?

Finally, there’s going to be the group that aren’t sure they can trust something like this from a company other than Apple. Apple certainly has this technology in house and will include it in future versions of the system software, but what they don’t have is thousands of users and thousands of hours of use behind a patch based on their technology. Connectix has both of those. In addition, the programmers at Connectix are memory wizards. Apple did come out with their own virtual memory scheme, but Connectix will continue to develop Virtual because they can make run it faster than Apple’s implementation. I wouldn’t be surprised if MODE32 is similarly slightly faster than what Apple has been playing with. Oh by the way, this deal applies only to MODE32, not to any of Connectix’s other excellent products. So please don’t start posting them to the nets claiming that it’s OK because of the Apple deal.

So overall, who wins? Users win because they get something for free that can increase productivity. Connectix wins because they’re probably getting something from Apple in return for MODE32 (though they’re not telling what), and at minimum, Connectix gains a huge amount of publicity and name recognition, which is nothing to scoff at. Apple wins because they are finally appeasing many angry users without charging a cent. The only people who don’t win are those that used the dirty ROMs as a reason to slam on the Mac. You’ll have to find a new whip, guys.

The main thing I regret about this entire issue is that it had to happen at all. If Apple had recognized the problem while developing System 7, they could have built a 32-bit patch into the system software. Alternately, if Apple had admitted the problem right after releasing System 7 and used the same escape route of distributing MODE32 for free, they would have avoided a lot of bad press. Still, I think the bad press that appeared in TidBITS, MacWEEK (thanks to Henry Norr, who also alerted me to this deal before I heard from Connectix), InfoWorld (thanks to Bob Cringely), and Macworld (the October letters section) played a large part in convincing Apple to follow this route. Along with Lotus pulling MarketPlace:Households, this event goes to show that people can affect the policies of multibillion dollar companies.

Connectix Corporation — 800/950-5880 — 415/571-5100
Apple Customer Assistance Center — 800/776-2333

Information from:
Connectix/Apple propaganda

Adam Engst No comments

DeskWriter C

[Editor’s Note: Even though I wrote a bit on the DeskWriter C last week based on my impressions at the dBUG meeting, I felt that this piece was more complete and accurate, coming from a knowledgeable person inside HP who has used the printer extensively. My apologies for any repetitions. -Adam]

by Dave Neff

This article is based on a bunch of email I have received. People seem to have many questions about the DeskWriter C. So, by popular demand, here is some information:

I did not work on the DeskWriter C (although it does contain the AppleTalk firmware I wrote for the DeskWriter) but have logged many hours beta-testing it for some time, both at home and work.

The printer is a 300 DPI monochrome printer (like the DeskWriter) and it can use the normal DeskWriter black ink cartridge or it can use a 300 DPI three-color cartridge. The user must manually swap the cartridges in and out of the printer. This is bit of a pain, but it really gives you two printers in one. The printer comes complete with a "garage" for storing ink cartridges when not in use – you can’t leave a removed cartridge on the desk or it will clog. It has all the monochrome capabilities of the DeskWriter, including both serial and AppleTalk I/O. The DeskWriter C has one additional monochrome capability over the original DeskWriter; it now has three print modes for both black and color – draft, normal, and best. When using the best mode the printer uses multiple print passes to improve print quality; in particular, color is generally better and grey shades (when printing with the black cartridge) are better. Best mode is about half as fast as normal mode but can be worth it for the improved quality.

In monochrome mode, the DeskWriter C works just like a DeskWriter. When you plug in the color cartridge you have a 300 DPI plain paper color printer (although better color can be obtained with special paper). It also prints on special transparencies. The quality is fair on copy paper, pretty good on Gilbert bond, and really nice on special PaintJet XL paper. The transparencies turn out very well.

HP is targeting the printer at the pie chart/bar chart presentation graphics crowd, although 8-bit and 32-bit color graphics (PICTs, TIFFs, and GIFs) also print quite well – especially considering the cost of the printer ($1095 list). Of course, once you start playing with fancy color, you may find that you have an inadequate amount of RAM. In my opinion, my 5 MB IIsi at home was just barely usable with the DeskWriter C (with System 7 and spooling enabled). As usual, it depends on what you are printing. Simple color from Word or Excel can work with the minimum 2 MB configuration as long as you don’t want to spool, but I would strongly suggest 4 MB or more to allow for spooling and fancier color stuff.

In the highest quality mode, the DeskWriter C driver uses shingling (or checkerboarding) to increase the print quality in both black and color by doubling the number of print head passes. In fact, the driver is responsible for most of the features, as the printer itself is a simple graphics-only printer with only 8 basic colors. All the fancy color mapping, dithering, depletion, etc. are done by the driver. The firmware just puts 300 DPI dots of ink (cyan, magenta, or yellow) on top of other 300 DPI dots of ink. Because all the real work is done in the driver, you can only use the DeskWriter C with a Macintosh (with the driver and an appropriate amount of RAM, of course).

Nothing is perfect, and the DeskWriter C is no exception. Color print time is not fast because the color print head only has 16 nozzles for each color. Also, depending on the resolution of the drawing, there can be a huge amount of color data for the driver to handle. Assuming the Mac can keep up with the printer, typical print times for images run between three minutes (draft mode) and 20 minutes (transparency mode), with five to eight minutes per page typical for color output. No speed demon, but the spooling helps. The driver never asks the user to swap cartridges within a page, only between pages. Furthermore, the driver will separate color pages and black only pages, so that the user need only swap cartridges once for a typical document.

The new driver works under System 7, but is not fully System 7-friendly. Spooling with System 7 is not officially supported but can be made to work.

One problem with the printer is when the color cartridge is installed, you only have three colors available, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The printer must build black from these colors, and this "composite" black does not look as nice as the actual black from the black cartridge. As mentioned above, we decided not to swap cartridges inside a page, so any black on a page with color is this "composite" black. The color print cartridge won’t do as many pages as the black cartridge either, and costs around $35, which is a bit more.

Hewlett-Packard will offer a trade-in/upgrade program for current DeskWriter owners. The DeskWriter C is quite different mechanically and electrically than the DeskWriter so the upgrade plans I have heard will be rather expensive (around $450). If you currently have a DeskWriter and are considering a trade-in, you might first check out the possibility of selling your DeskWriter and buying a new DeskWriter C. Street prices for the DeskWriter and DeskWriter C presently run $500 and $800 respectively. So if you can sell your DeskWriter for $350 or more you would be better off selling the DeskWriter and purchasing a brand new DeskWriter C. On the other hand, I suspect that most people will have a hard time getting $350 for a used DeskWriter, so the trade-in/upgrade is a viable option despite its high price. I believe it really is a trade in, not an upgrade, and that the DeskWriter C that HP sends you will not contain any parts from your old DeskWriter. I also believe we don’t care if you trade in a serial-only DeskWriter or one of the newer AppleTalk DeskWriters. In either case, I think the price is the same, and you end up with a DeskWriter C with AppleTalk. So especially if you’ve got an old serial-only DeskWriter, the trade in would be an excellent way to get a brand new printer for a reasonable amount of money.

The DeskWriter C is a solid printer, and it’s fun to play with color. The product does have some drawbacks, but at its price point it gives you the faster and better black quality than the DeskWriter and the option to pop in a three-color cartridge whenever you want.

Hewlett Packard — 800/752-0900

Information from:
Dave Neff — [email protected]

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 06-Aug-91, Vol. 5, #27, pg. 5

Adam Engst No comments


[Editor’s Note: This is the first in what will hopefully be a long string of columns from John C. Fuller probing the edges and the futures of computing. We have no plans for a regular production schedule, so TerraTrends will come out whenever John has a column ready to go – same sort of semi-sporadic schedule as our other pseudo-regular columns. Please feel free to send comments, questions, and suggestions to John at [email protected]. Alternately, if you can get mail to me, I’ll forward it. -Adam]

by John C. Fuller

History has shown me mercy by presenting so much to write in the month of August as I prepare this first issue of TerraTrends, in particular the joining of Apple and IBM in what we users might refer to as a hopeful parallel to "Industrial Light and Magic[tm]". For that is just what we could hope for, were we to be so hopeful in this purview.

The title TerraTrends has a multiplicity of meanings in reference to the trends of the world we live in, the mega-mega-trends which will follow the Megatrends of Naisbitt, which will be teratrends within our lifetimes if the explosion of technology continues in the manner to which it has become accustomed. This first column will lay the groundwork for the columns to be built upon it in the future, and hopefully lay the groundwork for some interaction between TidBITS readers and your columnist. To effect this beginning your columnist would like to present a very small, telescoped history of where our technology is, where it came from, and where it will be shortly.

How do the current generation of inexpensive computers compare to what we have seen in the past? And how will they compare to those of the future? Let us take a 386SX or a Mac LC as an example. Generally the Mac prices are not quite in the same competitive league as what we see for PC clones from discount firms. (Your columnist is not involved with any retailer or manufacturer.) For the sake of using a popularly available comparison, please tolerate the examples of 80×86 machines available from a wide set of distribution sources.

These current machines are available for approximately $1500, in what is currently advertised as complete systems. (Apparently there must have been some feedback from the earlier advertising campaigns which included systems priced without monitors, et al) They have reasonable speed and reasonably high resolution, but not enough of either to delve into the current graphics bug-a- boo, fractals. Nonetheless, your columnist is not aware of too many folks out there who require their computers to do much in the way of number-crunching or better than VGA graphics. The storage of these mid-priced computers is heading toward the 100 MB barrier, and floppies are standardizing at 1.44 MB. A different variety of bundled software is available at most distributors. If you happen to like what they give you, great for you, but if you don’t, it is unlikely you will find any value to it. A year ago a similar amount of money would have bought you only a 286 and half as much storage, and you probably would have had to pay extra for the same quality monitor and video card. Unless the bugs Intel is having with the 486-50 cause lower level troubles, the prices of slower 486 machines should enter the above arenas in another year or two. What does this mean to the average user?

First will be the speed. A 16 MHz 486 should be four to five times faster than the 386SX, which will make tedious jobs far more bearable. This type of machine will probably also break the 100 MB barrier and will probably come with 4 MB of RAM, all as standard features in a machine that will probably start its career at approximately $3,000 and eventually be the $1500 special of the month. Unix users will probably find uses for ever increasing amounts of memory (some 486 Unix boxes already have 64 MB of RAM, which is hard to consider when so many machines currently on the market have approximately the same amount of magnetic storage). It appears likely that we will eventually have machines in which all the normal applications will be stored in RAM with only the large outputs from those applications stored on the disks.

With the joining of Apple and IBM, rumors have appeared that the 80×86 chip is going the way of the dinosaur. If this is the case, then the above will have to translated into terms of 680×0 prices and performance. Since TidBITS is a primarily Mac-oriented journal, it might be helpful for your columnist to solicit information on the 680×0 chips and their related hardware from the readership.

Since the orientation of TerraTrends is toward applications of personal computers in all areas, including networking, the discussions of machines and operating systems would necessarily have to include DOS, Mac, and Unix and the hardware discussions would have to include 680×0 and 80×86 chips. As other items of hardware and software enter and leave the arena, the discussion will have to be somewhat modified.

Your columnist has heard of current machines with storage on the order of terabyte amounts, and of discussions of future types of storage which will be measured in LOC’s (1 LOC is the storage requirement of the entire Library of Congress). Apparently the specs on the 80786 have been out for some time, and a few samples of the 80586 are out there at quite high prices, though they are much faster than any of the 80486 chips. Partitions of hundreds of megabytes are available now in all operating systems. Since few personal computers of the mid-1980s had more than a small multiple of five megabytes of disk space, and since more and more PCs have multiples in the gigabyte range, it would be hard not to predict terabytes in the not-to-distant future.

Hopefully this initial column has neither said too much nor too little. If either is the case, a helpful prod would be most appreciated from the readership. Next time a slight jump ahead into the non-technical applications requiring massive storage and speed.

Until then I remain,
Your obedient columnist,

John C. Fuller

Information from:
John C. Fuller