Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
In this issue we offer two beginnings: part one of an excellent review of what's new and easy to do in Excel 4.0, and part one of our discussion about Apple's Newton technology. In the on-going department, the estimable Bob LeVitus passes on a better workaround for the Word Styles bug. Endings for the week include Solutions, Inc. going out of business, and CE's discounted email-only upgrade offer for QuicKeys, which ends in a week.
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bob LeVitus writes, "I've encountered the Word 5 styles bug many times over the past few months, working on book chapters (Dr. Macintosh, Second Edition and The Dr. Macintosh Guide to the On-line Universe). I discovered another work-around, one that's easier and faster than the RTF method you mention, as long as you have at least one other document that uses the same set of styles as the document displaying the bug. In my case, that wasn't a problem. To fix your document, just import all the styles from a similar document. So, for example, if I opened Chapter 6 and found that the fonts had changed, I open the Define Styles dialog box, then use the Open command to open a different chapter, one with the proper font/styles. That's all it takes. Chapter 6 is now right as rain. Works every time. (But I hope Microsoft fixes it soon!)"
Bob LeVitus -- email@example.com
New Address -- For those of you on the Internet, my address shrank recently, so you can now send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> although mail to the old address will still be forwarded. I'm also planning to do a series of short articles on the various electronic services with an eye to how they interconnect and where TidBITS is stored on each one, so stay tuned.
by Fred Condo -- CONDOF@CGSVAX.CLAREMONT.EDU
Solutions, the publisher of BackFax, SmartScrap, Glue, and other Macintosh software, is no longer in business. A recorded message listing phone numbers of companies now handling their software can be reached at 802/865-9220. The person who recorded the announcement speaks very rapidly; I had to call twice to get just the number of the people now supporting BackFax.
BackFax users may call Delrina Software in Toronto at 416/441-3676. I spoke to a technician there who said that Delrina had purchased the unfinished version 2.0 of BackFax, and that they were working on completing it. It is still going to support "orphan" modems such as the Apple FaxModem.
Delrina is adding names of people who call them to a mailing list. It might be a good idea for BackFax users to call to ensure that they'll be notified of the upgrade when it is ready.
BackFax incompatibility -- BackFax 1.5.1 has a minor incompatibility with AutoDoubler, the well-known compression utility. When BackFax is set to turn on at boot time, it inhibits AutoDoubler from starting to compress. A workaround that I have discovered is to turn sending and receiving off and then back on again from within the BackFax application. After this, AutoDoubler works normally. There is no need to restart the Mac. I have tried this only on a Mac II, so I have no idea if it applies to other hardware setups.
Delrina Software -- 416/441-3676
Last week at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, Apple unveiled Newton, the company's first new product line since the Macintosh debuted in 1984. Amidst the hoopla, Apple has made some fascinating claims, and if Newton lives up to those claims, we will all be better off.
But this week, let's look at what Newton is, other than a rather tasty confection from Nabisco usually filled with figs, although there are apple-filled Newtons as well. (Call out the lawyers!). "Newton" is being bandied about both as the name of the Star Trek-like communicator (in snazzy black rather than gaudy 60's gold) and as the name of the overall technology. Since there is no shipping product as yet, I'm going to talk about the technology rather than the demo unit.
Newton Intelligence -- There are five basic parts to the Newton technology. Newton Intelligence watches the user's actions so that it can predict what to do in future situations, much as Super Boomerang tracks recently used files. Apple's example of this is that if you wish to schedule lunch with Jane on Thursday by writing "lunch Jane Thursday", Newton will know that lunch is around noon, Jane is Jane Green from your address book, and that you probably mean this Thursday. Interestingly, Apple has made no claims about artificial intelligence or expert systems here, but Newton Intelligence appears to be a step beyond what most programs can do in this regard.
Recognition Architecture -- I said above that you'd write a few words and Newton would recognize them. At the moment, you'd do that with a pen on the screen of the Newton demo unit. Basic handwriting recognition is a major input method for Newton, but Apple is working on other recognizers, which will drop in as easily as a system extension on the Mac. These recognizers will include cursive writing, math (remember Milo from last week?), other character sets like Kanji, and even speech. Unlike other pen-based systems, Newton will not require the user to write in boxes or even on lines, and it will also be able to refine rough sketches into cleaner drawings. Apparently, Newton employs several different recognition technologies at once, leading to greater accuracy and flexibility.
Information Architecture -- Apple has designed Newton to handle the trivia of everyday life: phone numbers, addresses, scrawled maps, notes to remember a clever turn of speech. As such, Newton uses an object-oriented data structure so that the data you put into Newton can be categorized in multiple ways and inter-linked when necessary. In the lunch example above, the note "lunch Jane Thursday" will require a cognitive link between "lunch" and 12:00 PM, an associative link between "Jane" and Jane Green in the address book, and an entry in the appointment book for Thursday at noon. I'm sure my terminology with cognitive and associative isn't perfect, but you get the idea that Newton uses these little chunks of linked data.
Communications Architecture -- "No Newton is an island." Apple designed the Newton technology to be an active communicator. Newton devices will have built-in wired and wireless communication abilities, and Newton will know, for instance, to hold an outgoing fax in your Out box until it can make a connection with a fax modem. Newton devices will be able to communicate with each other well, thus making it easier to share interactive data with a friend or coworker. These features may end up relying on the TeleScript work going on at General Magic, although Apple claims that none of General Magic's work is currently present in Newton.
Hardware Architecture -- None of this would be possible with current 680x0 chips (think of a 68040 hot potato that runs for about 17 seconds on a charge), and the first Newton will use a RISC processor created by Apple and Advanced RISC Machines (ARM), a British company which Apple helped start and owns part of. The ARM 610 processor combines high speed and low power consumption. In addition, Newton devices will support a recent industry standard for portable plug-in cards, and a superset of that standard called TRIMBus. Cards that could plug into such a slot include ROM cards of data or programs, tiny hard disks, pagers, modems, or even low-power Rube Goldberg devices that pour water on your head to wake you up in the morning after having prepared breakfast and printed out your customized newspaper.
As my self-imposed deadline and size limit both draw near, I'm left with so much to talk about, so much in fact, that there's neither time nor room. Next week I'll talk about the relationship of the technology concepts to the cool unit that Apple showed at CES and how that device relates in turn to the Macs many of use in our daily lives. I'll also investigate briefly some of the proposed uses of the Newton technology and compare them with some of the current applications that have failed in the same areas.
MacWEEK -- 08-Jun-92, Vol. 6, #22, pg. 1
CE Software is offering a special upgrade deal to registered users of QuicKeys who are members of the online community. They can tell if you're an electronic denizen because you can only send in this upgrade via electronic mail. If you are on America Online, you can send the completed form to the address CESoftware, and if you are on the Internet, you should send it to <Tom_Hillsonemail@example.com> (the angle brackets are merely for decoration - don't include them in the address).
Tom will return a one-line reply within two working days, so you will know if you have gotten through (and don't send multiple messages to the different addresses). If you are definitely unable to reach the UUNET address, <firstname.lastname@example.org> should work, but is not preferred. Do note that CE has turned off access to their AppleLink account from the Internet due to the $0.50 charge for each message. Please do NOT send any upgrade forms to TidBITS. I may or may not reply, but I will definitely not forward your order to CE.
Complete all questions on this form and mail it to CE Software at CESoftware on AOL or <Tom_Hillsonemail@example.com> no later than 15-Jun-92 (so be quick!). Orders received after that date will not be processed.
All items must be filled out to process your order.
Please send a separate form for each copy of QuicKeys you have registered and wish to upgrade.
This offer is only available via online services. No mail-in or telephone orders will be accepted for this special offer.
You must be a registered owner of QuicKeys to take advantage of this special offer.
Shipping Information 1) Your Name: 2) Company Name: 3) Street Address: 4) City: 5) State/Province: 6) Zip/Postal Code: 7) Country: 8) Daytime Telephone: Product Information 9) Serial Number: (located on the white sticker on the back of your original disk) 10) Is the software registered in your name or the company name? 11) Is your current QuicKeys version 1.x, 2.0, 2.1, or 2.1.1? Pricing Information (discounted prices are listed) Upgrade price for registered owners of version 1.x is $44.00. Upgrade price for registered owners of version 2.x is $25.00. Shipping and handling is included with all U.S. orders. Canadian orders must add $5 for shipping costs. Non-Canadian international orders must add $15 for Air Mail shipping. 12) The price of your upgrade (with shipping if applicable) is: 13) Add Sales Tax for shipping addresses in IA, CA, and VA: 14) The total amount to appear on your credit card is: $ 15) Use your American Express, Visa, or MasterCard (choose one)? 16) Credit Card Number: 17) Expiration date: 18) Name as it appears on the card: Thank you for ordering your QuicKeys upgrade! Your credit card will not be charged until your order is shipped. Orders will begin shipping in early June.
Tim Hillson -- Tom_Hillsonfirstname.lastname@example.org
by Howard Hansen
A new version of Excel already? I thought they just came out with one a few months ago! Microsoft has taken about 13 months to move from Excel 3 to 4 on the Mac side. Almost everyone I've talked to about the new version has wondered if Excel 4 is a major upgrade and if they should buy it. Well, it is, and if you use Excel a lot, you probably should send Bill Gates some more money.
With this upgrade, we see the fruits of two major forces at work at Microsoft. Most importantly, they've started to get some legitimate (read Lotus) competition on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. In addition, Microsoft started having a tougher time figuring out new features to add to Excel. The upgrades now focus on usability, rather than adding a new feature that most folks don't want and will never use.
The focus from above does not mean that Microsoft hasn't added new features for the ubiquitous head-to-head comparisons you see in the magazines. Hundreds of new functions (statisticians will rejoice) combine with new reporting and analysis tools.
Due to the short turnaround for this upgrade, Microsoft has lowered the price from the now-standard $129 to $99. The price will go up to $129 in September.
In this first part of the review, I will discuss the day-to-day "user" features which Microsoft added to Excel 4. I've found I use these features most and they make me more efficient.
Installation -- First, though a few words on installing and running this behemoth. The "Golden Master" beta I got of Excel 4 (which has just shipped, according to Microsoft) came on seven 800K disks. (Excel 3 shipped on three disks.) If you do a full installation, it takes up 11 MB on your hard drive. Microsoft seems to have fed it steroids over the past year, but thankfully it does not appear to have succumbed to the brain cancer that recently killed Lyle Alzado, the former pro football player.
You don't have to give up 11 MB on your drive to take advantage of Excel 4, but you probably will lose about 7 or 8 MB if you want the help system and new macro libraries installed.
The installation follows the standard "Insert disk 1, 2, ..." model. While I haven't tried it, a button appears which allows you to install the installation files on your network. This should save you from having to flip floppies hundreds of times.
After you insert each disk, an information screen comes up which variously tells you that you should fill out your registration card RIGHT NOW, as well as giving short descriptions of some of the new features that you should check out. I found the screens an informative addition to the standard progress bar.
Running Excel -- Out of the box, Excel asks for 1.5 MB RAM, but can run with as little as 1 MB. To run smoothly with medium-sized worksheets, I've found that it needs at least 2.5 MB. Just as with charity, give as much as you can spare, remembering especially that the add-in extras in 4.0 all take up some RAM.
The program certainly takes up more disk and RAM space and seems to run just a little bit slower on identical tasks in identical situations. However, using Excel 4 pays off in little ways. Once I got used to the new features like Autofill, Shortcut menus, Autoformat, the Chart Wizard, and Toolbars, I completed work much faster with the new version. I've worked with the beta of Excel 4 at my office and Excel 3 at all of my client sites for about three months now and feel much less efficient working with Excel 3. The new version lets me do simple and repetitive things much faster and with a lot less effort.
Autofill -- When I started Excel 4 for the first time, I immediately noticed a little black square in the bottom right corner of the active cell. Anyone who's used any graphics program on the Mac would recognize it as a dragging handle. Microsoft calls this the Autofill handle. When you drag it with the mouse, it fills the information in the current cell or range of cells horizontally or vertically into adjacent cells. Before, to fill a formula or value down into a range of cells, you had to select the cells, then choose Fill Down. With the Autofill feature, you can do it in one step - select the first cell, then drag the Autofill handle down. Bang, instant fill.
Autofill can do either a dumb fill or a smart fill. If you drag the fill handle across to fill a totals formula across a row, Excel performs a dumb fill. If your cell has an entry which Excel recognizes, it will do a smart fill. Smart fills have the potential to save more typing than just about anything I can imagine. Type "January" in a cell, then drag the Autofill handle across. In the reference area on the formula bar, you'll see the months of the year ticking along as you drag from one column to the next: "February", "March", etc. When you let go of the mouse button, Excel fills the month names across the columns automatically.
Excel recognizes days of the week, quarters, dates, and almost any pattern you throw it. For instance, if you type "1st Quarter", then drag the fill handle, Excel fills in "2nd Quarter", "3rd Quarter", "4th Quarter", then "1st Quarter" again. If you typed "1st Product" instead, Excel would act similarly, but would enter "5th Product" in the fifth place.
By selecting more than one cell and then dragging the fill handle, Excel will reproduce patterns as best it can (and it usually does very well). For instance, selecting cells containing "Mon" and "Wed", then dragging the fill handle results in: "Fri", "Sun", "Tue", "Thu", etc. It skips a day each time. If you select a series of numbers: 1, 6, dragging the fill handle gets you: 11, 16, 21, 26, etc.
Excel always assumes a linear series for Autofill, so 2, 4, 8 gets you 10, 12 not 16, 32. If you select more than two cells which don't have a linear progression when you Autofill, Excel creates a linear regression and fills in extrapolated values. For instance, if you select 1, 6, 13 and drag the Autofill handle, Excel fills the values 17, 22.5, 28, 33.5.
Autofill also recognizes mixed patterns. To create a standard 17 column table (12 months, 4 quarters, 1 total), simply type "Jan" and Autofill "Feb" and "Mar" across. Then type "Q1" in the next column. Put in your category labels down the side, then use Autosum and Autofill to put the totals and sub-totals in. Now select "Jan" through "Q1" and down through the totals. Drag the Autofill handle 12 columns to the right, and Excel will automatically put the right labels on the columns for the entire year and fill the subtotal and total formulas automatically. Cool stuff!
I would like to have the ability to make the Autofill temporarily "dumb". I've found myself entering dated transactions into a database and wanting it just to fill the same date down, rather than incrementing by one day - the default. I would also like to create my own Autofill patterns so I could enter the first item in the product line and have Excel know my business enough to fill in the rest.
Autoformat -- If you use Excel a lot, you've probably spend at least half of your worksheet-creation time formatting the darned things. Autoformat gives you the convenience and efficiency of one-step formatting.
With Autoformat, you simply click somewhere in the middle of the table of data you want formatted, then click the Autoformat tool. Excel selects the entire table, formats the labels, data, and totals with appropriate formats.
Microsoft has chosen 14 different Autoformats. The categories include: Classic, Financial, Colorful, List, and 3-D Effects. Unfortunately, Microsoft seems to value color and glitz over substance in these choices. For those of us who print our worksheets on black-and-white printers, you can only read about half of the formats easily when you print them. Since I expect impeccable printouts, I can only recommend two of the Autoformats: Classic 1 and Financial 1. Complain as I may, this feature has saved me a bunch of time.
Drag & Drop Editing. -- The current selection in Excel now has a (somewhat heavier than before) border around it which allows you to drag the selection anywhere you want on the worksheet. When you point at the edge of your selection, the mouse pointer will change from the standard heavy cross to an arrow. When you see this arrow, you can drag the selection around by its edges.
Simply dragging a range of cells mirrors the cut and paste commands. Dragging with the option key held down does what you might expect - it duplicates the selection in the drag destination. Holding the shift key down when you drag performs a cut and insert paste. Shift-option dragging mirrors a copy and insert paste.
While I use this a lot, I've found it all too easy to drag cells around inadvertently. New users especially might have problems and find cells in the wrong places. Luckily, you can turn drag & drop off from the Workspace dialog box.
Shortcut Menus, or why I have PC-envy -- With its myriad features, Excel can overwhelm you with choices. To partially alleviate this problem, Microsoft has added shortcut menus, which give you only the most used commands for your current situation. When you hold down the command and option keys and click the mouse, Excel brings up a pop-up shortcut menu right next to your mouse pointer. Select a range of cells, command-option click, and Excel allows you to instantly cut, copy, paste, clear, delete, or insert, as well as change number, alignment, font, border, or patterns formatting. This saves the trouble of mousing all the way up to the menu bar, finding the right option and choosing it. (I find our ever-increasing computer laziness quite wonderful!)
For most things, I favor the keyboard or the toolbar over the shortcut menus. I do use them a lot for displaying toolbars and with workbooks (more on those later). The main detriment to using them comes from the keyboard and mouse combination, which usually seems harder than doing it the old-fashioned way.
Why do I have PC envy? If you've used a PC mouse, you know that they have more than one button - either two or three. What did those other buttons do? Not much... until now. With Windows Excel 4.0, clicking the right mouse button brings up the shortcut menu - no command-option for PC users.
Toolbars -- Microsoft added a toolbar just below the menu bar in version 3.0. This toolbar contains a number of icons and a drop-down menu that allow you issue commands with a click of the mouse instead of a trip to a menu and a dialog box. While this made certain tasks easier to perform, 3.0's toolbar has many limitations.
In implementing toolbars for version 4.0, Microsoft seems to have taken every feature from every palette program in existence and put them all into Excel, which now contains a "well" of 160-odd tools (not "buttons"!). When you click the Customize button (not "tool") in the Toolbars dialog box, Excel presents you with an array of tools. As with Format Number and Paste Function, this dialog box shows you tools grouped by category and function. To add the oval tool to your standard toolbar, simply choose the Drawing tools category, then drag the oval tool into position on the toolbar. Nothing to it. To remove a tool from a toolbar, simply drag it off.
To move a toolbar, simply drag it. In Excel 3, the single toolbar has to sit at the top of the screen. Now tool bars can go anywhere. If you drag them into the middle of the screen, they turn into floating palettes like those in PageMaker or HyperCard. You can resize the floating toolbars to make them tall or wide. Drag the toolbar to any edge of the screen and Excel re-orients it and "docks" it flush with the edge of the screen. The standard toolbar uses this feature - you see it docked at the top of the screen, although you can drag it anywhere!
You can attach a macro to any tool on a toolbar. If you do, the macro will override the original function of the tool. Excel comes with a score of tools with faces, but no function attached - you just tell it what macro to run. You can create a tool face in your favorite graphics program and paste it onto any tool face, custom or otherwise.
Excel comes with nine pre-defined toolbars, including: Standard, Formatting, Utility, Chart, Drawing, Excel 3.0, and Macro. You can change the tools on each bar, and if you do Excel remembers the changes from session to session. If you've totally destroyed a built-in toolbar, you can click the Reset button and it returns to its original state.
Microsoft has left out only two major toolbar features in Excel 4. First, they didn't include a painting program, so you can't directly edit the bit map of the tool face within Excel. (I find this outrageous! A spreadsheet without a painting program!) Second, you can't save toolbars separately - Excel creates a file called Excel Toolbars inside the System Folder. This file includes information on all of your toolbars. If you put together one cool toolbar and sent your toolbars file off to a coworker, when she replaces her toolbars file with yours, she loses all of her own toolbar modifications - bummer. I have one other complaint with toolbars - screen real estate. My once-expansive 13" monitor shrinks to a size I can barely use if I have more than one toolbar docked. I don't expect Microsoft will recommend a 16" monitor on the back of the Excel box, but it's gotten to the point where I might.
The Chart Wizard. -- With Excel 3, Microsoft added the ability to place worksheets directly onto charts. This added a new level of complexity, because you had to go into a different mode to edit the chart. Excel 4 retains that need for a charting mode, but by creating the Chart Wizard, Microsoft made it a lot more likely that you'll never use it.
To chart data with the Chart Wizard, you simply select the titles and data you want charted, click on the Chart Wizard tool, then drag a rectangle on the worksheet indicating where you want the chart to go. Now the Wizard comes into play; it comes up to ask you a series of questions - almost everything you need to create a chart. Five screens appear in sequence, asking you about the data range you selected, which cells correspond to categories and which to data points, what type of chart you want, whether to add a legend or title, etc. The final two screens present you with a small picture of what your chart will look like. The Charting Wizard takes into account the fact that you might make mistakes, allowing you to move backwards to change your choices.
In the love it or hate it department, whenever you click on a chart, the charting toolbar appears docked at the bottom of the screen. While this makes changing your chart simple, I often find it visually annoying, especially on smaller-screen Macs, since Excel often has to resize the worksheet window when it displays the toolbar. Nonetheless, I've found it wonderful to change the chart type with just a click.
Coming attractions -- Next issue I'll cover some of the new Excel's less-glitzy features. While you might not use these each time you launch Excel, many of them will make your life significantly easier. I'll also list a series of those "little touches that mean so much," which you'll love about Excel 4.
Microsoft Customer Service -- 800/426-9400
Howard Hansen, The Oasis Group -- HHansen@aol.com
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue