Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Looking for a new spreadsheet? Don't miss Matt's cheery review of Spreadsheet 2000, a user-friendly program with a new take on how a spreadsheet should work. This issue also features a close look at Apple's recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple's plans for the Newton, and details on Global Village's latest foray into telecommunications technology.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Aladdin Systems -- 408/761-6200 -- <http://www.aladdinsys.com/>
Makers of StuffIt Deluxe 4.0, the Mac compression standard, and
InstallerMaker 3.1.3, the leading installer for Mac developers.
Small Dog Electronics -- Special deal for TidBITS Readers!
Used IIci 8/80, 13" Apple RGB, keyboard, Word 5 upgrade: $339
More details: <http://www.smalldoggy.com/#tid> -- 802/496-7171
Apple Spins Out Newton -- Last week, Apple announced plans to form a subsidiary company based on the Newton group. The new company, which doesn't yet have a name or a CEO, will focus on "the computing and communications needs of mobile users." At the moment, that means the company has two products, the MessagePad 2000 (see TidBITS-379) and the eMate 300 (see TidBITS-361), although Apple will continue to support, sell, and market the eMate into the education market. Future products will probably focus on vertical markets such as health care, sales force automation, and field service industries, and the company will also seek to create and license new technologies aimed at meeting the needs of mobile users. It would be ironic if Apple, in its search for a CEO for the new company, considered ex-Apple CEO John Sculley, who has the experience and championed the Newton during his tenure at Apple. [ACE]
TidBITS Still on ZDNet/Mac on CompuServe -- Kevin Norris of ZDNet/Mac tells us that they're continuing to upload TidBITS to the ZDNet/Mac Arts & Fun Forum's (GO ZMC:ZMACARTS) Electronic Pubs library (#11). He also notes that forum and all of ZDNet are now part of CompuServe's Computing Professionals package (GO CPRO). So, if you want to download TidBITS from CompuServe rather than receive it in email (by subscribing to our mailing list at <firstname.lastname@example.org>) or visiting our Web site, check out that forum. [ACE]
by Mark H. Anbinder <email@example.com>
This Tuesday, Global Village Communication will announce a new line of PC Card modems and Ethernet/modem combination cards offering 56 Kbps telecommunications to laptop users. The new cards support the K56flex technology developed by Rockwell and Lucent and should reach customers in mid-June.
The PC Cards will initially support PowerBook 190, 5300-, and 1400-series computers running System 7.5 or later. Global Village plans to ship a free software update in July for PowerBook 3400- and 2400-series laptops. Global Village is also releasing a parallel pair of modem and Ethernet/modem combo PC Cards for Windows 95 laptops - it's the first time the company has offered the same products simultaneously for Macintosh and Windows. Both cards offer fax capability via the popular GlobalFax software.
In response to questions about using K56flex technology over the competing U.S. Robotics X2 56 Kbps technology, Global Village said they had found broader support in the Internet Service Provider community for K56flex dialup users, and the same was true in the remote access server market dominated by companies like Cisco and Shiva. The new modems have a flexible flash ROM and software upgradable DSP technology that the company anticipates will allow upgrades to whatever 56 Kbps technology emerges as a standard. (Global Village Platinum 28.8 Kbps modem owners have been able to upgrade at no charge to 33.6 Kbps using updaters.)
The 56K cards use the same external dongle (known as a Clyde) as previous Global Village PC Card products to provide telephone and 10Base-T Ethernet connections. The Clyde also helps protect the card from surges and higher line voltages on some digital phone systems. The cards support the cellular adapter cables sold for Global Village's previous PC Card products. Global Village expects street price around $269 for the modem alone; $379 for the modem/Ethernet combo cards.
Global Village Communication -- 800/736-4821 -- 408/523-1000
408/523-2407 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
Every year, Apple puts on the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), a pricey technical get-together for serious Macintosh programmers. Unlike trade shows such as Macworld Expo, WWDC isn't packed with hundreds of vendors; bag-carrying, button-clad attendees; and stages awash with marketers, headset microphones, and plenty of styling gel. Instead, WWDC is a chance for programmers to learn about Apple's future technologies and directions, ask questions, and let Apple know what they're thinking. Developers are Apple's toughest audience - they're least likely to be influenced by promises, and most likely to require tangible proof of claims. WWDC is never easy from Apple's point of view.
What's more, Apple hasn't had a great year. In the wake of Apple's financial troubles and the acquisition of NeXT, speculation was high and expectations were low for this year's WWDC. No one knew what Apple would bring to the table, and many developers have had their faith shaken by Apple's recent layoffs, technology freezes, and the ascendence of NeXT executives who seem to hold the fate of the Macintosh in their hands.
Rhapsody & Yellow Box -- One thing everyone at WWDC wanted to see and hear about was Rhapsody, Apple's forthcoming operating system based in part on technologies acquired from NeXT. Apple delivered on that expectation, surprising many attendees with demos of the Yellow Box, the environment derived from OpenStep that will occupy center stage under Rhapsody. The Yellow Box was shown on both PowerPC and Intel hardware including an Intel demo of the shoot-em-up game Quake (writing to the Yellow Box's Display PostScript while playing movies in the background), plus PowerPC demos of QuickDraw 3D and a commercial application from Stone Design ported from OpenStep in only a few days. Apple wanted to prove one thing: they had running code, not just promises. The Unix command line was also seen (to hisses from some attendees), but Apple stressed it will be hidden in Rhapsody's Unified release, available only if users want it. The Yellow Box interface was described as a work in progress, but it already bears some resemblance to the Mac.
Although the Yellow Box derives directly from OpenStep and includes NeXT standbys like Display PostScript and Unicode conversion, Apple plans to add several Macintosh technologies, including the QuickTime Media Layer (QTML), QuickTime VR, QuickDraw 3D, ColorSync, QuickDraw GX typography, and the V-Twin text indexing engine (on which Apple e.g. is based). Although it's too early to tell what this means, Apple also said all applications built for the Yellow Box will have some scriptability, and Yellow Box scripting would be carried as far as possible toward AppleScript. The Yellow Box will also include NeXT's much-touted WebObjects FrameWorks and Java.
Apple confirmed it plans to ship a version of Rhapsody for computers based on Intel chips; however (and this was arguably the big announcement for WWDC), Apple also announced it will ship a version of the Yellow Box for Mac OS.
To understand this, think of the Yellow Box as an application environment, like its predecessor OpenStep, rather than as a component of Rhapsody's larger operating system. Yellow Boxes for Intel and Mac OS would in theory make the Yellow Box the premiere choice for cross-platform development, because developers could deliver applications that run on Rhapsody (both PowerPC and Intel), Mac OS, Windows NT, and Windows 95 - all using tools derived from NeXT's highly regarded, object-oriented development environment. According to Apple, an application written for the Yellow Box can simply be recompiled for a different platform, or even shipped as a single, large file containing executable code for multiple platforms. (Aladdin's Leonard Rosenthol referred to these programs as "obese binaries.") To hammer home the idea, Apple also announced no-fee licensing of the technology that allows the Yellow Box to run on top of Windows, so deploying Yellow Box applications for Windows won't cost developers extra.
A version of the Yellow Box for the Mac OS is also an intriguing carrot for some developers. In theory, this would allow users running today's Mac OS (or future versions, such as Mac OS 8 or Allegro) to run Yellow Box applications without switching over to Rhapsody. Although no schedule was given and there are serious questions about what subset of the Yellow Box can be supported under Mac OS (threading was mentioned as a significant issue, and symmetric multiprocessing is right out), the ability to run some Yellow Box applications under Mac OS may help alleviate transition fears and give Yellow Box applications a wider market.
Rhapsody & Blue Box -- Apple also demonstrated Rhapsody's Blue Box running a beta of Mac OS 8, and hosted hands-on labs where developers could run Mac OS programs under Rhapsody's Blue Box. According to Apple, only five of about 500 programs tested in the WWDC labs failed due to errors with the Blue Box.
The Blue Box is essentially a Yellow Box application designed to run under Rhapsody for PowerPC. (Rhapsody for Intel will not include the Blue Box.) The Blue Box uses a Mac ROM image to run the Mac OS unmodified, so users can run unaltered Mac OS applications and system enhancements with much more compatibility than Copland would have provided. The Blue Box should inherit benefits from Rhapsody, including enhanced virtual memory and I/O improvements. Although Mac applications will not get separate protected memory, crashing the Blue Box will not take down Rhapsody. However, as an application, the Blue Box will run in its own window, and Mac applications will not sit in the same screen space as Yellow Box applications. Blue Box programs will be able to communicate with the Yellow Box via Apple events and more traditional mechanisms like the clipboard, but there will be a firm line between the Mac OS and the Yellow Box. The Blue Box will be able to run in a full-screen mode (and Apple reps noted this included all screens), but I have the impression using the Blue Box will be like peering through a magnifying glass at your old Macintosh.
Java -- During the WWDC keynote, new Senior VP of Software Engineering Avie Tevanian called Java Apple's biggest opportunity. It's not clear how many Apple developers share that opinion, but Apple proved it can make grand statements about Java as well as the next software company, announcing support for the Java Foundation Classes under development by Sun, Netscape, and IBM, and simultaneously announcing Java would have full access to Yellow Box APIs, thereby making it possible to write Yellow Box applications without resorting to Objective C or other programming languages. Although Apple stressed its commitment to "100 percent pure Java," it also stressed access to the Yellow Box would allow developers to deploy best-of-class Java applications, which sounds similar to what Microsoft tells developers about its competing Application Foundation Classes for Java.
The Rhapsody Schedule -- Currently, the Rhapsody schedule calls for a developer release in mid-1997 (with no Blue Box, and probably only supporting Power Mac 8500/8600 machines), a Premiere release for early adopters in early 1998 with some Blue Box capability for PowerPC, and a Unified release for general users in mid-1998 with full Blue Box capability for PowerPC. Apple plans to ship client and server versions of Rhapsody and has stated that the Unified release will work on today's PowerPC-based Macs and Mac clones.
The Spin -- There's no doubt that Rhapsody's potential is compelling. Developers and conference attendees I spoke with were generally surprised with Apple's progress so far, although opinions differed radically as to whether Apple could deliver on its ambitious schedule. For some developers, Rhapsody is simply too late: they needed mature cross-platform development tools over a year ago, not a promise they'll be available a year from now. On the other hand, some developers seemed incredibly energized by Apple's plans, including some makers of low-level tools and utilities for whom Rhapsody is an enormous technical challenge.
However, the gulf between NeXT and Apple cultures is still apparent. Steve Jobs managed to insult or offend many Mac developers in his WWDC fireside chat, and occasional comments from former NeXT employees during WWDC sessions highlighted the differences. This is an over-generalization, but NeXT customers tend to deal with high-end, often corporate environments with abundant bandwidth and CPU resources, while Mac customers are possessive about their machines and are more likely to think about sharing a single CD-ROM drive across a high school's LocalTalk network. Whether a healthy medium can be achieved in either Apple's software engineering teams or Rhapsody remains to be seen.
For more details and announcements from WWDC, check Apple's Developer World site; WWDC Webcasts are available until 31-May-97. John Norstad has also posted excellent notes on Rhapsody based on what he learned at WWDC.
by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At a time when Apple and the Macintosh seem to be whirling in fragments around my head, the release of Spreadsheet 2000 from Casady & Greene has given my spirits a much needed lift. It is a powerful, flexible, interesting way to store and retrieve information (in this case, numerical information, along with calculations). That, as longtime TidBITS readers know, goes right to the heart of what I want from my Mac. The light-hearted interface shows that there is still room for originality on the Mac. It is easy to learn: you do the tutorials, you grok the metaphor, and from then on it's completely intuitive. It was basically written by Steve Wilson of Emergent Behavior, reaffirming the place of small developers. And, the fact that Spreadsheet 2000 was written with Prograph CPX, my favorite Mac development environment (see TidBITS-312), is a delightful bonus.
Spreadsheet 2000, officially abbreviated S2K, is actually version 2.0 of Let's Keep It Simple Spreadsheet, officially abbreviated Let's KISS, or LKISS, or just plain KISS.
Go With the Dataflow -- A spreadsheet is a place where, typically, numbers live, some of which are the result of live calculations using others. For instance, in recording a budget, altering or adding a figure in a column of food-related expenditures for the month might automatically change entries for the month's food total, the month's grand total, and the year-to-date grand total.
In most spreadsheet programs, this is done through hidden formulas. You are presented with a blank grid of cells, into each of which you can put either a number or a formula describing a calculation based on other cells. A cell containing a formula, though, shows only the result of the formula's calculation. That number can then be used in still other formulas, and so on. This means that you must learn a formula language, which is often difficult. More important, it means that a spreadsheet is hard to explore and easy to harm: since you cannot usually see the formulas (and even when you can, it is hard to trace a cell's formulaic dependencies), you may accidentally make a change that causes a formula to give a bad result, or one that overwrites a formula altogether.
Spreadsheet 2000 is nothing like this. Instead, you are presented with a completely empty window. Into this window you place, by drag & drop from palettes, any of a number of objects, and by dragging arrange them as you like, much as in a drawing program. These objects are principally either rectangular grids of cells, or operators (such as "+", "*", "avg", and so on) represented as small named rectangular panels. You then click to draw connecting lines leading from grids to operators, and from operators to other grids ("output" grids). You can put numbers into the cells of grids - but not if they are output grids (output grids automatically take on a different color). So, the results of calculations are specially marked and automatically protected. Also, the structure of each calculation is visible as a physical flow of data: from an input grid or grids, through an operator, to an output grid.
The chain of grid-operator-grid can be extended as long you like; a grid may serve as input to more than one operator, and an operator may require input from more than one grid. To prevent a clutter of such chains from tangling up like spaghetti, you can select a segment of chain and "crunch" it, replacing it by a single custom operator. If you double-click the custom operator, an edit window opens and displays the grids and operators you crunched. You can work in this edit window, rearranging elements, altering data, modifying calculations, and even crunching segments of chain within it, too. By judicious naming and arrangement of crunched custom operators, you can create visual calculation structures which remain neat and easy to understand; yet the details remain available by quickly drilling down, opening the edit windows of custom operators to any desired level.
Spreadsheet 2000 also provides a second way to avoid clutter. This is called a report, though I prefer to think of it as a view, since it's really another way of looking at particular portions of your data. The main window (called the Master) is replaced by one containing just a designated subset of elements: typically, one window might show two or three chief grids, with no operators or connections at all. A document can have many different named reports, listed in a Report menu, and at any given moment you see either one report or the Master (which is another reason I call them views). How you use reports is up to you. You can enter data in a report, so when a calculation involves a lot of bits of data, multiple reports can provide multiple entry forms. They are also good places to summarize the grand results of a calculation.
I mentioned earlier that spreadsheet elements are added by drag & drop from palettes. You may create your own palettes to store elements you might need later (libraries, in other words). Such elements might range from a complicated, crunched custom calculation that generates histogram information to a simple, frequently needed grid of data or an empty 12-row grid labelled with the names of the months.
Spreadsheets can also contain special elements, such as charts that automatically show simple but effective graphs of any grid connected to them. There are also notes - simple text rectangles useful for placing comments and instructions - and graphics. These can all be arranged as desired, of course.
True Grid -- All data entry and display is, as already stated, by way of grids. You can type data directly into a grid cell, and of course you can cut and paste data between grids and another applications (S2K does some intelligent processing of clipboard contents); you can also export grid data as tab-delimited text files.
A grid can be resized to any rectangular dimensions in terms of the cells it contains: it can be a single cell, a single column, a single row, or a full rectangle. Labels can be attached to any grid's top, side, or both, letting you specify what each column or row denotes; with output grids you can attach labels yourself, or tell an operator to allow its input's labels to "flow through," so that the operator's output grid reproduces them.
The display of numeric data can be formatted by dragging & dropping a formatting icon onto it; various basic formatting icons live in a toolbar at the top of the screen, or you can tear off a formatting palette which lets you be more specific about things like the number of decimal places to be displayed. Text formatting works similarly, or you can choose from a Text menu. S2K enforces formatting consistency: you can numerically format a whole grid or selected columns, or textually format a whole grid or all top or side labels, but not individual cells.
One of Spreadsheet 2000's cleverest features is the intelligent behavior of its operators with respect to grids. Take, for example, the "+" operator: what it does depends on the shape you give its output grid. Imagine you have a 5-by-4 grid of numbers connected into a "+" operator. If the "+" operator is then connected to a single-cell grid, that cell will display the sum of all 20 input cells. If it is connected to a single-row grid, that grid is automatically resized to 5-by-1, and displays the sum of each column of the input. If it is connected to a single-column grid, that grid is automatically resized to 1-by-4, and displays the sum of each row of the input.
Other operators that take multiple inputs react to the shapes of those inputs. For instance, the "A+B" operator, which adds two inputs, will add two single-column grids by making the output a single column each of whose cells contains the sum of the corresponding pair of cells. It will add a rectangle grid to a single-column grid by making a rectangle grid, summing corresponding pairs of cells one column at a time. It will add a single-column grid to a single-row grid by making a rectangle grid, each cell containing one of the possible sums of pairs. And so on.
The extraordinary thing is that, although this sounds very involved when I describe it, in action it is immediately obvious and intuitive. S2K gives you a sense of doing the right thing, of knowing what you mean (often better than you do yourself!).
Spreadsheet Icing -- Native operators include standard numeric functions (arithmetic, trigonometric, exponential, rounding), and "form" operators act as a shortcut in the composition of elementary algebraic expressions; basic statistical functions (such as average and standard deviation) are included too. Grid operators let you count cells, columns, and rows; combine or decompose grids; copy, rotate, and sort grids; and extract grid parts by various match criteria. Logical operators let you perform Boolean tests and even build "if-then-else" constructs. Loop operators generate automatic fill data, and let you construct cumulatively computed output grids (such as a running bank balance).
These operators turn out to be sufficient for most needs; the trick, when you want to build a new function, is getting used to the dataflow model, which works differently from an algebraic language. To help you, a large selection of pre-built custom operators is included; these can be used as shortcuts, and (being constructed from the native operators) they are also valuable study models. They range from simple unit conversions and physical constants to arithmetic representations of complex numbers, polynomial roots, primeness test, Fibonacci series, pseudo-random number generation, linear regression, and various financial operators - enough to prove that S2K's dataflow language is pretty powerful (especially considering its lack of recursion).
Many model solutions are also included in the form of stationery and other files. Again, the wide range testifies to Spreadsheet 2000's power: break-even and depreciation, budget and car leasing, triangle solution, Fourier sine wave addition, numeric integration by Simpson's rule, a gradebook, even baseball statistics. More user-created templates can be found on Casady & Greene's Web site.
The manual, unfortunately, fails to document any of this (except for the native operators). Otherwise, though, it is quite nice: it consists mostly of chatty tutorials and general advice, followed by some lightly written reference material, which is all you need because the program is easy to use once you've done the tutorials. There is also good balloon help, plus some Apple Guides.
The Magic Draggin' -- If I have one overall complaint about Spreadsheet 2000, it is that the program is strongly mouse-oriented. I like dragging & dropping as much as the next person (and S2K's optional sound effects add to the fun), but the program calls for more physical dexterity than I possess and more reaching hither and yon than I have patience for.
I've made this and several other suggestions to S2K author Steve Wilson - such things as having crunched operators' edit windows remember their size and position next time they're opened, and an optional dialog to make it easier to size a grid. His receptive attitude suggests that, with constructive suggestions from users, S2K's future incarnations will be even better.
Having exhausted my feeble supply of negatives, I'll reiterate: Spreadsheet 2000 is a fine program. It seems rock solid (I haven't been able to make it choke or crash); its behavior is intuitive and convenient. It has those direct, simple, Mac-defining qualities that come along once in a blue moon, giving it the potential to be a classic. It performs a powerful, basic function, yet is easy to learn, and satisfying and fun to use. In my opinion it is the everyday spreadsheet that every Mac owner must have.
Hot Off the Grid -- A splendid QuickTime movie showing S2K in action can be found on Casady & Greene's Web site (200K), along with demo versions of S2K for both 68K and PowerPC-based Macs (a little over 2 MB):
In our checking, the street price for Spreadsheet 2000 ranged from $60 to $75, and there's currently a $30 rebate if you own another spreadsheet. The LKISS upgrade is $20 (free if purchased in 1997).
DealBITS -- Through the URL below, Cyberian Outpost is offering TidBITS readers Spreadsheet 2000 for $54.95, which is $5 off the standard price.
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