This issue brings you reviews of DiskTop 4.5 and Aaron Giles's excellent JPEGView, Mark Anbinder's notes about installing a modem in the new PowerBook 500-series Macs, a warning about using America Online's Internet access method, and more information about the BT project to provide video on demand using set-top boxes with Macintosh motherboards. Last, but not least, read on for information about a programming CD and the SGI reality.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
I'm in crunch mode again to finish the text of the second edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, so if you could send TidBITS-related mail to Tonya at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, I'd appreciate it. And, if you're developing an Macintosh Internet program, plan on releasing an update in the next few weeks, and would like me to mention it in the second edition, please send me email and we'll talk. Thanks! [ACE]
Macintosh Updates Updated -- We just released a new version of the Macintosh Updates database (with all the formats in the same archive, along with a text-only file) and I've uploaded to all the usual places. It contains a number of changes from the previous version (TidBITS #223), and continues to be a must-have. [ACE]
Source Code on CD -- Celestin Company recently released Apprentice, a $35 CD that offers an assortment of programmers' utilities and approximately 450 MB of source code. The source code comes from over 200 Mac developers (with permission, of course) and most of it is in C, C++, and Pascal, though it comes with small amounts of code from a variety of languages. For the new programmer, Apprentice includes shell programs that provide a program framework for new programs, and for MPW users, Apprentice has various libraries, tools, languages, and utilities. The CD also has tips, technical specifications, and a compendium of information from comp.sys.mac.programmer digest.
Celestin Company -- 206/385-3767 -- 206/385 3586 (fax) -- <email@example.com> [TJE]
Performas are moving into the higher-education retail channels, just to confuse matters when you're buying a Macintosh. This means that colleges and universities can now compete with Big Bob's Computer and Vegetable Warehouse (our motto, "Buy a Performa, get a rutabaga free!"). The move also raises the question of what happens to the LC line, most, if not all, of which are identical to Performa models. [ACE]
Brian Bezanson <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
As a Mac developer whose current product, Jet Stream Color Image Server, runs on SGI hardware (from the "Purple" Indigos and the Indigo 2 to the Indy machines), I can tell you they don't compare to Power Macs in price/performance.
The Indigo 2 that Mr. Showker saw (TidBITS #227) was probably the standard SGI Indigo 2 demo machine that has a 2 GB Barracuda hard drive, 128 MB to 256 MB of RAM, and is running minimal system software. A bare Indigo 2 machine starts in the $15,000 range. Add $3,000 for the 2 GB drive (SGI charges more), $10,000 for 128 MB of RAM, and $6,000 for a monitor with 24-bit graphics and Mr. Showker's "All for a few dollars more than a dressed-out Power Mac" starts at $33,000. A Power Mac 8100 has faster Specmarks, starts at around $5,000 and with an added $2,000 for the Barracuda drive and $4,000 for the RAM, you're at $11,000 for a machine that can do more when the truly native version of Photoshop 3 arrives. [And then there's the fact that SGI Photoshop is reportedly two to three times more expensive than Photoshop for the Macintosh. -Adam]
I have yet to see SGI Photoshop run at even Quadra speeds on our Indigo 2 and Indy machines when they are networked in our standard work environment. I was at Macworld in January where SGI was showing how the Indy at $4,995 was better than a Quadra. The folks from Corel were saying why they weren't doing development for the Mac anymore and why you should buy the Indy with their program. I then asked the Corel demonstrator the minimum machine required, and he said an Indy ($5,000), 2 GB hard drive ($3,000), 96 MB of RAM ($8,000), and 24-bit video ($3,000 to $4,000 for a new monitor and $2,000 to $3,000 for a 24-bit video card). The machine recommended to run CorelDraw for SGI cost over $22,000!
In case you're wondering, why do we use the SGI? Because for price/performance it is the fastest Unix workstation out there. We know the machines needed to run our software cost our customers $20,000 to $30,000, but we also have the fastest Adobe PostScript Level 2 RIP available and they view that as the price for speed and stability. My goal is to move to a PowerPC 604/620-based Mac running System 8 (Copland) in two years so we can get the pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection we get on the SGI along with the price/performance of a Power Mac.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
An alert reader writes to report on a phone call with America Online's tech support. Like many other people who have called, the phone person at first didn't know what our alert reader was talking about in relation to the America Online TCP/IP Internet access we reported on after hearing about it on Usenet. But after conferring with a supervisor, the tech support person came back and said that the Internet access was limited to beta testers who had signed up online (and presumably been accepted - I signed up, but as is standard with America Online, never heard a thing back). He said that if America Online caught any unauthorized people using the Internet access, they would be expelled from America Online.
The rationale for this Draconian punishment was that America Online doesn't have the capacity on its Internet links now to support more than the beta testers, and other people using the links will slow down the beta test and thus the release of the service to the public.
Although I respect America Online's right to limit this service to beta testers at the moment, I have little sympathy - if they post unprotected files on a publicly-accessible FTP site that requires no usernames or passwords, what do they think is going to happen? I test many products for which beta versions are distributed on the Internet, and in no case is everything laid open like America Online's Internet software.
Yet another reader passed on a letter from America Online that informed him that despite the fact that he was using the Internet to access America Online, the $12 per hour charge that covers the costs for the phone services to Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Canada still accrues. We strongly hope that America Online has the savvy to remove this silly policy once Internet access is generally available to its users.
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Many people wrote in about our brief mention last week in TidBITS #227 of some kind of video on demand (VOD) service in Britain related to Apple's rumored set-top boxes. Almost everyone had a different take on the situation, but as near as I can tell, here's the story:
BT (which prefers to be called BT, not British Telecom) is a phone company that wants to offer more than just phone service, in order to better compete with the many cable companies springing up. BT is trying to jump through a loophole in the law that prohibits them from broadcasting over their twisted pair copper (and some fiber optic) network by doing "monocasting," where subscribers request movies and TV shows and then receive the programming over their existing phone lines. According to rumor, the programming comes from the BBC.
According to a source at BT and to an article in the Feb-94 issue of UK MacUser, BT is currently conducting a technical trial that involves about 65 employees in the Ipswich, Suffolk area. Each employee's home television is attached to an LC III-based Macintosh set-top box, which contains a special MPEG card for handling video transmission. Although the box does not come with a keyboard or screen, users can request, pause, rewind, fast forward, and freeze programs.
BT is distributing the VHS-quality video using an Oracle Media Server running on massively parallel nCube hardware. The video travels over the copper twisted pair phone lines using a compression technology called ADSL (Asymetrical Digital Compression Line, and I'm not sure why the acronym doesn't work out). The technology allows BT to send video out at several megabits per second and for users to send information back at several hundred kilobits per second. Evidently, even while a house receives video, someone at the house can make a phone call over the same wires. The technology is apparently just beginning to work; unfortunately, nobody participating in the test wrote in, so I don't know how well it works.
BT's future plans are a bit murkier, but the company does have plans for a second technical trial, which will involve hundreds or even thousands of users. For the second trial, BT may use their twisted copper network, may try to use ISDN, and may include home shopping and banking services. Evidently, Apple plans to continue testing set-top boxes, with the eventual goal of coming out with a commercial product.
You can find additional information in the May and June issues of Australian Communications, which contain a two-part article about DMT ADSL and on the results of the MPEG Test Group's recent subjective viewing tests. For those who read Norwegian, there's a Web page at the Norwegian Telecom Research Institute that reportedly talks about video on demand projects in Norway and Europe.
by Radical Liberation <email@example.com>
There are two ways to look at netware, that increasingly huge body of software that is primarily available electronically and is paid for informally. (I include shareware, freeware, beerware, and so on in the netware category.) From the point of view of software producers, netware increasingly competes with the more trivial end of software products. This includes, for example, text editors and image viewers as opposed to, say, PageMaker or AutoCAD. Also, more and more commercial products are refined versions of popular netware; examples include StuffIt Deluxe from Aladdin Systems and White Knight (formerly Red Ryder) from Freesoft.
But for users, netware is an often frustrating, occasionally delightful grab-bag that can be extremely elusive for those without access to mainstream networks. Since you are reading TidBITS, an electronically distributed publication, there is a good chance you have at least indirect access to a major network. But even so, netware remains a frustrating experience. With so much out there and so little time, it becomes fairly difficult to track down an application that will actually be useful or entertaining and not crash the third time you use it. The next article is the first in a series intended to steer you towards the best netware and away from the mediocre.
If you have a favorite netware package that you feel deserves some recognition email me about it. Please include information on how to get it via either the Internet or America Online. Some brief comments on why you think it is great would also be helpful.
by Radical Liberation <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It has been my great pleasure to discover that some netware has achieved commercial quality. In particular, JPEGView, by Aaron Giles <email@example.com>, is a useful and stable program with a good interface. JPEGView serves primarily as an image viewer for JPEG-compressed images. The most recent version, 3.3, comes as a "fat-binary" and works on regular Macintoshes equipped with System 7 and on Power Macintoshes.
JPEG compression is a "lossy" algorithm which achieves phenomenal compression by throwing away image information that we probably won't miss much anyway. JPEG compressed images can contain millions of colors, (most JPEG images available on the nets do). To facilitate viewing images, JPEGView provides fast JPEG decompression, the best color reduction available, and a new kind of window optimized for image viewing.
JPEGView windows automatically scale images to fit inside the window, eliminating the need for scroll bars. The windows can be resized or a portion of the window can be selected to make a new window (this is nice for zooming in on details of a large image). My one quibble with JPEGView's otherwise excellent interface is the resize box. If you move your pointer to where the resize box normally lives, your pointer turns into a resize box, telling you that the image will be resized if you click and drag. Since discovering this feature requires noting the pointer change when you pass over that small area of the image (or reading the online help), I used JPEGView for a good six months before I discovered it.
Color Reduction is an extremely important feature, since most JPEGs come in millions of colors but most Macintosh monitors are limited to 256 colors. To give you some idea of how well JPEGView's color reduction works, I visually compared the same image with three different setups, using TeachText with QuickTime.
Image viewer Monitor colors setting ------------------------------------------- 1) TeachText 256 2) JPEGView 256 3) TeachText Thousands
I found a great image quality difference between 1 and 2, but a barely noticeable image quality difference between 2 and 3. How does JPEGView do it? I don't know, but I like it. Since JPEGView is scriptable via Apple events, you can use AppleScript or Frontier to take advantage of this excellent color reduction algorithm.
Additional features that are peripheral to JPEGView's major purpose in life, but useful nonetheless, include viewing of GIF-compressed images, slide shows, and creating previews and/or custom icons for all supported image types. All of these services are performed with distinction. In particular, JPEGView's custom icons look better than the ones that System 7 creates when a PICT is pasted into the icon area of the Get Info dialog.
In addition, JPEGView, in part because it's postcardware, is the graphics viewer of choice for many Internet applications like NCSA Mosaic and TurboGopher. When you download a JPEG or GIF image, Mosaic simply asks the Finder to open the image with JPEGView, making for an almost seamless display of images from the Internet.
Online support from Aaron Giles is excellent, something many commercial companies could watch more closely. JPEGView has its own forum on America Online (keyword: JPEGView), Aaron <firstname.lastname@example.org> responds fairly promptly to email, and he has fixed all bugs that I have pointed out to him by the next release. Aaron always seems to be first with whatever neat new thing Apple wants programs to do. JPEGView fully supports Apple events, has extensive on-line help, balloon help, and was the first Power Macintosh native application that I could get. To show off JPEGView's native PowerPC performance, and for fun, I timed a slide show of about a dozen images of different types on several different systems. Here are the results (using JPEGView 3.2.1), all done with 14" monitors set to 256 colors; images on RAM disk; using QuickTime.
System Seconds ------------------------------ LC III 145 Quadra 950 50 Power Mac 7100 34 Quadra 950 with Power Mac upgrade card 29
Wrap-Up -- JPEGView costs a postcard, preferably color. I put my money where my mouth is by not only sending in a postcard but also paying the (optional) U.S. $20 to receive a printed manual and some images hand-picked by Aaron. JPEGView does it better than any other program, commercial or netware.
Also, be sure to check out the large and still growing collection of JPEG images at:
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Apple designed the original Macintosh as a closed box that the user would never need to open. All the ports were outside and easily accessible; even the battery could be changed from outside. (Of course, from day one, daring owners opened their Mac cases anyway.) When the Mac II arrived in 1987, we cheered Apple's return to an easy-to-open case with easily-accessible slots and devices. Unfortunately, the recently-introduced 500-series PowerBooks make even the intricate Duo look like child's play.
Recent discussion on Global Village's OneNet support forum have focused on the difficulty of installing a PowerPort/Mercury (the new 500-series model) into one of the new PowerBooks. For example, one installation took two hours in the dealer's service department, and the customer was charged at a fairly high labor rate for the full time. It's easy to chide Global Village for making the modem difficult to install, but it's not their fault. It's even tempting to complain that the dealer shouldn't charge for their learning curve - but who should pay for the technician's valuable time?
Unfortunately, the new PowerBooks are much more difficult to take apart than previous models. Some press coverage has described how easy it is to open the machine, but that's only part of the story.
In fact, the keyboard can be released by removing two screws from the underside of the PowerBook. Once that's done, it actually is fairly easy to install a memory upgrade. Hypothetical future PowerPC-based daughterboard upgrades shouldn't be too difficult to slide in here, either.
The modem poses the most difficulty. One part of the modem goes in the easy-to-reach area under the keyboard. The other part goes in the back of the computer where the telephone jack must live - and getting there requires taking apart virtually the entire PowerBook. Just reading how to accomplish the procedure takes noticeably longer than performing the entire modem installation on a 100-series PowerBook.
Global Village says their technicians have performed quite a few installations, and have the process down to about an hour. One service technician of my acquaintance spent nearly four hours, making sure to carefully set everything aside for easy retrieval and making sure everything went back in the right place.
Even more so than for previous PowerBook models, we highly recommend that owners of the new PowerBook 500-series models have installations done by an experienced service technician. Daring owners might find their installation attempts thwarted anyway; the required Torx 8 screwdriver bit must be longer than most, or it won't fit in the recessed screw-holes. As it happens, that may be the least of the difficulties; since Apple doesn't want anyone but service technicians inside these PowerBooks, Global Village doesn't even provide installation instructions in the box. They have instead mailed detailed instructions to their dealer base.
Obviously we can't carry around something the size of a Macintosh II just to get modularity. (The Macintosh Portable just leapt clumsily to mind, unbidden and overweight.) We would hope, however, that Apple could develop its next generation of PowerBooks with some semblance of accessibility in mind. If not for the sake of daring owners, how about for the sake of those poor service technicians?
-- Information from:
Global Village tech support
by Stephen Camidge <firstname.lastname@example.org>
DiskTop has long been a popular Finder-replacement utility for people who need to work with files in ways that the Finder simply doesn't do well. DiskTop enables you to quickly browse through your files, find specific files, work with sets of found files, make files visible and invisible and so on.
PrairieSoft, a new company formed by many of the employees who developed and supported DiskTop at CE Software, has purchased the rights to DiskTop. PrairieSoft's first update to DiskTop, version 4.5, offers several improvements over DiskTop 4.0.2 and maintains DiskTop's position as a great utility, but leaves room for further improvement. This review aims to help current DiskTop owners decide whether or not to take the plunge for the $30 upgrade. The upgrade shouldn't require any fancy new hardware - the minimum system requirement is System 6.0.4, and it runs on the Plus or anything newer.
The new version is still a desk accessory. Gone is the DiskTop window showing the status of the hard drive volumes. Instead, you are offered a window showing information about files on the desktop in a columnar format. Alternately, you can open to the last folder accessed by DiskTop with the hard drive volume information presented, and in the Preferences dialog, you can set what appears in the DiskTop window on launch.
It is now possible to create ten customized views plus the old Normal and Technical views. You can also choose the size and location of the window. A more modern interface offers 3-D buttons and the use of color, though the interface also looks fine on a small monochrome screen. You can resize and reorder the columns to present the information in the order in which you would like to view it. You can choose among Icon, Name, Type, Creator, Data, Resource, Modified, Created and Locked. If you select the Make Alias command, DiskTop provides a SFDialog box where you can decide where to locate the alias, though you cannot rename the alias while in the dialog box.
PrairieSoft included a new version of GOfer with the upgrade. I have not tested it as I find that the DiskTop find is adequate for my needs. GOfer is not currently compatible with the 68040 chip, but Microlytics (the company that makes GOfer) is in the process of completing a 68040-compatible version, and DiskTop purchasers can get a free copy of that version by filling out and mailing in a coupon in the DiskTop package. [In addition, Sue Nail <email@example.com>, PrairieSoft Public Relations Manager, said that DiskTop will ship with the 68040-compatible version of GOfer once the version is ready. -Tonya]
Nice Touches -- The new version offers a number of nice enhancements, including:
Pressing the Command key causes the buttons to display their Command key equivalents.
When copying files, the target window displays only folders, since you will not be copying to a file. Logical, and a nice touch, though you can also display the files if you want.
To simplify navigation, you may now add a list of often-used folders to each drive on the new Drives pop-up menu. The list appears as a submenu for each drive.
The Path command has been improved to facilitate copying the path name of a file to the clipboard, although it's not immediately clear that you must click on the volume name in the path to enable the Copy Path button. Quite handy, especially for scripting.
Although PrairieSoft is a new company with limited resources, I found technical support easily accessible and highly responsive. PrairieSoft changed their shipping policies to permit Canadians to bypass using UPS (who slap on a $25 fee when a package crosses the border).
Negatives -- This isn't to say that DiskTop is a perfect program, and no matter how useful, few people will use it in favor of the Finder most of the time.
File size is not available as a column unless you are in the Normal view. In other views, you must be savvy enough to add the size of the Data and Resource forks in order to come up with the total size of a file.
Although the Lock column displays the status, it is not possible to lock/unlock a file from the main window; instead, you must use the Get Info command while in technical mode. This limitation is most unfortunate, and I hope that PrairieSoft will add the capability in the near future.
DiskTop Launch has not improved. It supports one list for your most frequently used applications and documents. Multiple lists would be of greater use.
Users of NowCompress will note that DiskTop 4.5 still expands files as they copy. The problem occurs due to a flaw of NowCompress, not of DiskTop, but it is the only reason why I won't use DiskTop as my main copy utility. [This problem may occur with other compression utilities as well, since the compression utility must recognize DiskTop to allow the copy to proceed without decompression. It seems like a feature that a compression utility would want for the feature checklist wars. -Tonya]
Conclusion -- The improvements to the interface (Command keys, customizable views, window sizing, 3-D buttons, often used folders submenus) show that much thought and effort went into the upgrade. A new manual is included in the price.
The miser in me objects to the U.S. $30 price tag for the upgrade. However, it is encouraging to see work resume on my favorite utility. PrairieSoft has plans to further enhance DiskTop and is not just capitalizing on name recognition to sell units. DiskTop remains the best alternative to the Finder, and I believe that PrairieSoft has an excellent future.
PrairieSoft, Inc. -- 515/225-3720 -- 515/225-2422 (fax)
Microlytics, Inc. -- 800-828-6293 -- 715/248-9620
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