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Adam Engst No comments

The Art of the Interface

We’ve stuck to software reviews so far in TidBITS, but a new book has recently come to our attention that may merit a review once we’ve found and read it. "The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design," a book edited by Brenda Laurel (a name known to us from her work in interactive fiction as a scholarly subject) will be published by Addison-Wesley. The manager of Apple’s Human Interface group, S. Joy Mountford, conceived of the book and supported it technically throughout its development.

The $29.95 book features original pieces by some of the most famous names in the field of human-computer interaction. Luminaries such as Donald Norman, Nicholas Negroponte, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, Jean-Louis Gasse, Timothy Leary, and Ben Shneiderman talk about a number of subject including cyberspace, animation, multimedia, and speech recognition as well as explore the philosophical and psychological background to creating effective interfaces. So if you’ve thought that the Mac interface was not the end-all to graphical interfaces (unlike Apple Legal), or if you feel that graphical interfaces are not the end-all to interface design (along with many of us whose computers cannot keep up with our thoughts), we recommend that you check out this book. We certainly will be doing so.

Addison-Wesley — 617/944-3700

Information from:
News Notebook 1.07

Adam Engst No comments


HyperCard may be a commercial failure, but it certainly hasn’t failed to generate a myriad of add-ons. Although stacks are seldom sold outright, utilities for creating stacks are quite popular. Several new utilities ought to garner a bit of interest from stack designers, most notably HyperSpeller from Foundation Publishing, Sticky Notes+ from Survivor Software, and ConvertIt! from Heizer Software.

HyperSpeller is an XCMD that allows users to check text fields for spelling mistakes. Not an unreasonable thing to want, certainly. We now write all of the TidBITS articles in Nisus because of Nisus’s excellent macro facilities and decent spell checking (we wish it didn’t catch all the phone numbers :-)). A few of the early issues were written partly in HyperCard, which resulted in a few embarrassing typos. HyperSpeller will list for $49.95 and will work with the Microlytics 100,000 word dictionary that comes with MacWrite II from Claris. We hope that words added to the dictionary will be present for spell checks done in MacWrite II and any other applications that use the same dictionary.

Those little yellow PostIt Notes are ubiquitous because they are so valuable. Deneba Software brought the concept to the Mac several years ago with their product Comment, an INIT that allows users to attach notes to Mac documents. The program hasn’t become extremely popular because it is somewhat difficult to use and suffers from compatibility problems (ironically, one of them is with Survivor Software’s MacMoney). Now Survivor Software had brought PostIt Notes to HyperCard, which is much more suited to them than many other types of Mac documents (as Comment users soon found). Sticky Notes+ allows users to attach notes to scrolling text fields. It too lists for $49.95.

We’ve mentioned ConvertIt! in a previous issue of TidBITS, but more news has arrived since then. ConvertIt! is a utility that converts HyperCard stacks into ToolBook (the HyperCard clone for Windows 3.0) books. Evidently, ConvertIt! will sidestep any legal problems by creating an ASCII description of a stack in a new HyperMedia Interchange File Format (HIFF-at least it’s not HUFF, as in "I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.") The beauty of HIFF is that it could theoretically be applied to any sort of document so long as translators were available at the destination. ConvertIt! should also help ToolBook become established more quickly since there will be relatively few ToolBook developers in comparison to HyperCard developers if only because the full version of ToolBook costs almost $500.

Foundation Publishing — 612/445-8860
Survivor Software — 213/410-9527
Deneba Software — 800/622-6827 — 305/594-6965
Heizer Software — 415/943-7667 — 800/888-7667

Information from:
Survivor Software Technical Support

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 22-May-90, Vol. 4 #20, pg. 9
InfoWorld — 21-May-90, Vol. 12 #21, pg. 101
MacWEEK — 19-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #23, pg. 10
MacWEEK — 19-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #23, pg. 18
MacWEEK — 19-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #23, pg. 23

Adam Engst No comments


Programming on the Mac has been long bemoaned as a hard task because of the difficulty involved in programming the interface itself. It is much harder to write a graphical interface than it is to work with a command line, something that many IBM-clone programmers are discovering with Windows 3.0. Often a compiler (as is Symantec’s THINK C) will be bundled with some sample applications to help new programmers get started with the graphical environment. But these samples seldom help for very long and will not be of much aid to an experienced programmer.

Enter Ostrakon from Santorini Consulting & Design, Inc. Named after the Greek word for "shell," Ostrakon provides source code and project files for a complete generic Macintosh application. Those files can then be fleshed out to create powerful programs without the hassle of writing the code for the interface as well. Ostrakon provides event handling, menu handling, window management, memory management, volume management, color management, and error handling, many of which are not present in the samples included with compilers. In addition to an application shell, Ostrakon includes shells for CDEVs, INITs, operating system patches, and other low-level Mac functions.

Ideally, beginning programmers can learn more quickly by being able to add small parts to the Ostrakon shell and test them without having to learn the details of programming the interface right off. Beginners will also appreciate the extensive documentation, comments within the Ostrakon shell, and references to other sources. Experienced programmers will be able to work on the meat of the project without having to implement the basics each time. Our only query concerning Ostrakon is that all the books on Macintosh programming that we have read talk about programmers creating only one program in their entire lives and merely modifying or enhancing it for each specific application. In that sense, most experienced programmers would have little need for Ostrakon, considering that they have their own shells. Beginners would still stand to benefit greatly from Ostrakon as long as they did learn how and why certain things done by Ostrakon were done that way.

Ostrakon will be available on July 1st, 1990, and although pricing has not been set yet, site licenses will be available. Contact Santorini for more information regarding the pricing.

Santorini Consulting & Design, Inc. — 415/563-6398

Information from:
News Notebook 1.07

Adam Engst No comments

NFS on the Mac

As the high end Macs approach the low end workstations (which in turn are dropping quickly in price), methods of connecting the two become more necessary. A recent discussion on Usenet reveals that the software that allows a Mac to mount an NFS (Network File System) server (such as a SUN workstation, IBM PC-clone, or a variety of mainframes) as an icon on the desktop has been completed since 1988. Apparently, CITI at the University of Michigan was contracted by Apple to write the software, which they did and shipped to Apple in 1988. Yet no one has seen anything of this MacNFS software. By some reports, Apple is just sitting on it for no apparent reason; others say that CITI may have had access to some SUN code, which would force Apple to pay license fees to SUN. These latter sources say that Apple contracted the work out again to another group that definitely had no access to the SUN code.

One of the programmers who worked on the CITI project said that he may rewrite the code next year and release it into the public domain just so people can have something to work with. Some others thought that NFS client software was a bit too complex to be supported via the PD route, but others replied (and we agree) that PD products are particularly good for organizations with less money than time. For those of you with more money than time (assuming you don’t want to donate large sums of it to TidBITS), The Wollongong Group will release MacPathWay NFS to allow Macs to read and write files on an NFS volume. Wollongong hopes to price MacPathWay NFS at about $200 per client.

The Wollongong Group — 415/962-7100

Information from:
Tim Endres — [email protected]
Anders Wallgren — [email protected]
Amanda Walker — [email protected]
Sharon Fisher — [email protected]
(also author of the Macworld article)
Richard Perlman — [email protected]
Allen Wessels — [email protected]

Related articles:
Macworld — Jul-90, pg. 107

Adam Engst No comments

The View from the L

You’ve all heard of the Radius Pivot and the PCPC Flipper in previous issues of TidBITS. Well, another monitor has arrived on the scene for those of you interested in modifying your view on the computer’s world. Sigma Designs has a new monitor called the L-View Multi-Mode, which is a 19" monochrome monitor (the monitor itself can handle grey scale, but the video card can’t). It doesn’t sound impressive, but the gimmick is that it can change resolution on the fly. The L-View boasts six different resolutions, 120, 92, 72, 60, 46, and 36 dpi. The principle is that for applications with which you want a lot of screen real estate, such as spreadsheets or some desktop publishing applications, you work at a high resolution. However, if you merely want to enter text, you can work at 60 dpi so you don’t have strain to see the letters. And if you think HyperCard 1.2.5’s window looks funny in the middle of a big screen, you can have it fill the screen in 36 dpi.

As far as the other details go, we aren’t yet sure when the monitor will really be available, but it will cost $1995 and will have refresh rates of up to 92 Hz to prevent flicker. Its resolution is a whopping 1664 by 1200 pixels. Everything is controlled by a cdev or by hot keys. It works with the Mac II line of computers, and also apparently with the SE. Dan KoGai said he tested it on an SE as well, so although we hadn’t heard about the SE or the SE/30, hopefully they will be supported as well. Evidently it has a few conflicts with applications that aren’t well-behaved about checking their QuickDraw coordinates, but on the whole it works with most everything.

Sigma Designs — 800/933-9945 — 415/770-0100

Information from:
Dan KoGai — [email protected]
Scott T. Huang —

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 22-May-90, Vol. 4 #20, pg. 9

Adam Engst No comments


If you have ever had to upgrade an entire office full of software, you know what a pain it can be. Some offices don’t upgrade as often as possible because of the trouble involved in upgrading each computer relatively often. A new utility may help solve some of these problems. Advantage Software, Inc.’s PatchMaker will compare old and new versions of the a program and will generate code that it will later install into other old versions of the application. So a computing manager could generate a patch on his or her computer, then distribute the patch program to all the users. When run, the patch program installs code reflecting the differences into the user’s original application, thus transforming it into the new version with much less work than is usual. PatchMaker can even modify the icon of the original application to reflect the fact that it has been upgraded.

The users must have copies of the older versions of the program for the patch to work of course, which allows software companies to easily distribute patches on electronic information services without worrying about software piracy. Patches are also efficient to transfer electronically because they are usually only 10% to 20% the size of the original application.

The details? PatchMaker will retail for $99 Canadian and $79 US but it is currently only available from Advantage Software via mail-order, telephone, or electronic mail. No distribution license is required to distribute patches created with PatchMaker.

Advantage Software, Inc.
Attn.: Greg Hemstreet
67 Lakeshore Rd. East,
Mississauga, Ontario, M5G 1C9
AppleLink: CDA0188

Information from:
News Notebook 1.07