Welcome once again to yet another issue of TidBITS. This week brings you some irrelevant articles about topics you probably don't give a damn about. In fact, just pack it up and don't read this issue. Go outside, get some sun, and have a life, okay? You probably need the disk space anyway, and besides, I was sick last week, so you might come down with a nasty throat infection coupled with a cold if you're exposed to this file. Sniff.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Future of the Web? -- I'd like to share an Internet utility that I think has great potential to help us break out of the rut that we've gotten into on the Web. Interlaced GIFs are all fine and nice, but tools like Nutscapify stand to really make a difference. I plan to use it for all of my Web pages in the future. As a sample, try the multiple line URL below. [ACE]
We'd Like to Thank The Academy -- In a ceremony held in Hollywood early last week, TidBITS was presented with an Academy Award for Best Short Electronic Newsletter with Weird Capitalization Written Directly for the Internet. "Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties," said presenter Pierce Brosnan, "delivery of the award won't be possible until the Academy is satisfied that the award can be securely transferred over the Internet. There are a lot of people out there who'll go to any lengths to get their hands on one of these," he added, hefting the weighty statuette. TidBITS editor Adam Engst would have liked to have been present at the awards ceremony, but they wouldn't install a T-1 line and a Mac 660AV with a video camera up to the podium so he could watch with CU-SeeMe. [GD]
What Me, Monopolize? -- In a move that may ruffle the feathers of the FTC, Melinda French, the wife of Microsoft's billionaire owner Bill Gates, announced today that she intends to buy Compaq Computer for an undisclosed amount of cash and Microsoft stock. French said, "This is a personal investment, and should not in any way be viewed as an official Microsoft acquisition, and there will be no connection between Microsoft and Compaq" adding that she's wanted to own a PC hardware company "ever since I was a kid." Previously working in the same division that produced Microsoft Bob, Microsoft's so-called social interface, French said she just had "to get away from that damn rodent," and, "I've always used Compaq machines at work, and they seem to be pretty good." Nonetheless, analysts pointed at the immediate move by Compaq to install a Bob-friendly minimum of 32 MB of RAM in every computer sold.
Justice Department chief Anne Bingaman, reached for comment at her home, said, "Frankly, I don't see the problem. If Melinda wants to buy Compaq, that's her business, and the Justice Department isn't going to harass her about any monopoly proceedings." Judge Sporkin refused to comment, but made irate gurgling noises. Rumor has it that the rest of the PC industry is considering merging in an effort to compete with what many view as a combined Microsoft/Compaq juggernaut. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When released later this year, Windows 95 is expected to ship on 24 to 28 high density floppy disks, and as a result, rumors have abounded that Microsoft is amassing huge quantities of floppies in anticipation of fulfilling millions of orders for the new operating system. This has led to speculation on the world-wide commodity markets that the release of Windows 95 may cause a floppy disk media shortage, causing prices for floppy media to increase.
Microsoft officially refused to comment on this speculation. However, TidBITS managed to speak with a Microsoft program manager about the issue under conditions of anonymity. "Think about it," our source said. "Wouldn't Microsoft want the price of floppy disks to be as high as possible when Windows 95 ships? If you need disks, then, the cheapest way to get them in bulk will be to buy a copy of Windows 95! It's definitely a market-saturation move." TidBITS managed to obtain an early copy of the Windows 95 registration card. In addition to normal registration information, the card includes a checkbox to indicate "I bought Windows 95 just for the floppy disks."
Microsoft tested the market-saturation idea earlier this year with its Macintosh products by releasing Microsoft Office on approximately 40 floppies and then continually delaying the CD version of Office containing the Power Mac-native version of Word 6.0. "The feedback was less than positive," our source said, "but we think we'll get it right this time."
In light of this information, TidBITS would like to applaud the efforts of America Online, which has been frantically sending multiple floppy disks free of charge to Mac, PC, and refrigerator owners for the last year. AOL has also attempted to prevent the floppy shortage by bundling disks with newsstand copies of Macworld, Byte, and Ladies Home Journal. In a related announcement, avant-garde artist Christo announced last week that he plans to tile the exterior of New York's Guggenheim Museum in Mac and PC versions of AOL disks. The proposed work is an impressionistic scene entitled "Washington Crossing the Internet."
Christo Pink Plastic Foundation, Ltd.
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Director of Technical Inertia, Baka Industries Inc.
In a move related to last week's announcement of free replacements for Apple's original M5140 PowerBook AC adapters, Apple announced that, effective 01-Apr-95, it will provide replacement batteries at no cost to certain PowerBook owners. This announcement follows the discovery that the batteries do not continue to provide electrical power to the PowerBook following more than a couple of consecutive hours of use.
Reportedly, Apple has determined through extensive testing that, after a period ranging from one-and-a-half to four hours of typical use, the batteries shipped with the 100-series PowerBooks fail to keep the PowerBooks running. Symptoms of this failure range from the appearance of inconvenient dialog boxes to unexpected data loss when the PowerBook suddenly ceases to function.
Apple engineers claim that this behavior can be expected from standard battery technology, but the company's public relations division felt that users were confused by the inconsistent supply of electricity from the batteries. "Users feel that a battery powered device simply ought to keep running," explained Jan Gesmar-Larsen, general manager of Apple Germany. When asked about the typical effective life of a standard Walkman battery, Larsen said, "That pink rabbit in the commercials just keeps on going, why can't PowerBooks?"
Users who take advantage of this new customer satisfaction program will receive Apple's new "FusionPower" PowerBook battery product in exchange for their old battery. Different FusionPower models are available for the PowerBook 100, PowerBook 140-180 models, 200-series PowerBook Duo models, and the current 500-series PowerBook models. Apple estimates that these power packs, based on a new hydrogen fusion technology, will provide the average user with 400 years of power on a PowerBook 100 or a Duo, and 750 years of power on other 100-series or any 500-series PowerBook. (Additional FusionPower batteries are available for 500-series PowerBook owners who wish to take advantage of the second battery compartment.)
Because of the nature of the technology, Apple says that only certain PowerBook users qualify for this free battery replacement program. Owners in the United States must first apply for a license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then send a notarized copy to Apple's Customer Assistance Center along with a lead-lined shipping carton. Outside the U.S., Apple recommends that users contact CERN in Geneva, Switzerland for appropriate licensing information. In addition, Apple warns that the FusionPower batteries must be stored in their plastic carrying cases. "If one of these suckers shorts out on a paper clip in your briefcase," said Larsen, "we might have to evacuate the surrounding city."
Former Apple CEO John Sculley, an early tester of the FusionPower technology, was curiously unavailable for comment. A technical support representative at Apple's 800/SOS-APPL facility in Austin, Texas, asked about the procedures for replacement, replied, "Are you sure your PowerBook 170 is still in warranty?"
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Impatiently waiting for the wonders of OpenDoc? Wait no longer! You can now have your OpenDoc cake and eat it too. A software startup from Georgia has announced CodeSucker, a program that beats Apple to the OpenDoc punch. The company, Sucker Software, uses early OpenDoc technology and a patented coding technique.
CodeSucker will list for $69, require System 7.5, and work on any Macintosh newer than the Plus (Sucker Software couldn't get around certain Plus ROM problems), although reports from beta sites indicate that it tends to be quirky when running on docked Duos (the MiniDock is fine, of course). Installed, the program consumes a mere 400K of disk space, and its minimum RAM allocation is 700K, but you can expect a minor increase (perhaps 5K) for every Feature module that you add, but with a cap of 10 percent per year above inflation, and a lifetime cap of 32 percent.
Getting Started -- To begin using CodeSucker, you use its Starter Control Panel to create a document - aptly named a Feature List - that lists the features you want to use with later with CodeSucker. Where do you get the features? You select them from software currently installed on your hard disk. CodeSucker looks into the code resources in your programs and creates a list of features, in much the same way that an AppleScript editor can see a list of AppleScript "commands" inside an application. For example, when I tried my review copy of CodeSucker, I sucked the Outline and Heading styles feature out of Word 5.1, the envelope printing feature from Now Contact, and the Transaction Register from Managing Your Money. (I was trying to create a humdinger of a billing system.)
Because you can only create your Feature List from software installed on your hard disk, Sucker Software maintains that they have made a reasonable effort to avoid piracy problems, though a few issues remain. Lesly Smith, Sucker Software VP of Legal Affairs, estimated that Sucker Software's venture capital set aside for legal issues would last until "well past the year 2075." She also said that the company would pay for any legal costs incurred by its customers as a result of using CodeSucker Feature modules.
After saving your Feature List, you send it to Sucker Software. The company's programmers (and yes, they are hiring in droves - email <email@example.com>), then use Code Sucker technology to suck out the code for features you want to use in CodeSucker. The code gets converted into a set of Feature modules, and the folks at Sucker Software guarantee a two week turn around time. (I got mine back in nine days along with a t-shirt that says in big letters, "Code Sucks" on the front and "Suck Code" on the back.)
CodeSucker's interface lets you create most anything you'd like, within the confines of a Macintosh window. The CodeSucker interface is elegant, with a fruity nose, and somewhat strong oak overtones. My billing system worked wonderfully, and I feel as though I've been sucked into the Macintosh even further.
Pricing -- The $50 fee for CodeSucker includes the conversion of fifty-one features, with two free shipments of completed feature modules, and a free lollipop with each shipment. Additional features cost $1.57 each.
Ordering additional modules is a bit quirky - due to the religious beliefs of the company's CEO, customers must always own an odd number of Feature modules. This relates to the philosophical belief that you should, "never give a sucker an even break." Plan to always order such that you end up with an odd number of modules, and add an extra dollar per module for any software older than three years.
After your initial two rounds of free shipments, additional shipments cost $5.00 to customers in the U.S.; prices vary for other parts of the world. Expect prices in excess of $20 for shipments to Mars and other planets.
Future Plans -- CodeSucker currently only runs on the Macintosh, and your Feature modules must come from Mac software, even if you are running SoftWindows or a DOS Compatibility Card. Sucker Software does have cross-platform plans, with versions planned for OS/2 and the NeXT OS. (According to sources, Steve Jobs is a member of the company's board of directors.) Will Sucker Software develop a product for Windows? "Frankly," I was told by Marketing Manager Jim Smith, "according to our market research, there are few features in Windows programs that people want. However, Windows users are interested in a product that would port features from other platforms, and we are currently discussing how we might best implement such a product." Smith is optimistic about the company's future success. The way he sees it, "there's a customer born every minute."
Sucker Software -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
UrbanWerks Incorporated, a startup company based in the Cayman Islands with employees worldwide, today announced the immediate availability of its new Macintosh application development environment, Multimedia C++ 1.0. "This product marks a transition from the traditional software development model," says UrbanWerks chairman Ian P. Frehley. "It's geared toward the coming generation of Mac programmers who have been raised on multimedia and hi-res video games."
"Kids today are bored with environments like MPW, Symantec C++, or CodeWarrior," Frehley explains. "What's cool about those products? Nothing! Look at their displays - they're boring! We try to make software development an engaging interactive experience." And indeed, Multimedia C++ is a radical departure from earlier development environments. For instance, compiler errors appear on screen as various scenarios. Attempting a build with a missing library might deposit the developer in an abandoned castle. How to overcome the error? Find the hidden key and unlock the wizard's tower. Performing a search and replace throughout a source tree becomes a seek-and-destroy commando scenario through a deviously clever maze. "Kids understand this stuff," Frehley explains. "These techniques greatly enhance their productivity as programmers." Indeed, one thirteen-year-old beta tester wrote a complete page layout program in a seven-hour session.
Interactive scenarios aren't the only enhancements UrbanWerks has made. QuickTime videos featuring celebrities from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder guide fledgling programmers through common tasks such as creating an event loop or implementing graceful error handling. The interface of Multimedia C++ uses the latest in 3-D technology to provide fully-rendered and anti-aliased function templates, and its code-optimization routines are uniquely intuitive (a secondary window is displayed, and the faster your code scrolls by, the faster it's running). Taking advantage of Macintosh Drag and Drop technology, Multimedia C++ allows users to simply drag syntax errors to the trash. "Sure beats looking it up in a manual," said one beta tester. "I probably didn't need that code anyway."
UrbanWerks says the suggested price of the Multimedia C++ CD-ROM is $299.95, with a special six-player network edition retailing for $499.95 (includes ADB game controller adapter for Sega and Nintendo systems).
UrbanWerks -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Tonya Engst <email@example.com>
Frankly, I'm bored with the current crop of word processors. They all have more features than my vintage 1985 copy of MacWrite, and in that ten year interim, few of the new features make it easier to figure out what to write. With the exception of a few children's products, none of them have a sense of fun or exploration, although Word 6.0's 3,634 commands sometimes provide an acute sense of disorientation and frustration.
I can no longer sleep properly - my dreams are twisted by my love-hate relationship with Word 5's Outline View, and constantly interrupted with fearful visions of Nisus Writer's Macros menu droppping down out of my monitor to the office floor, through the basement, and burrowing into the earth, never to be seen again. Writers of the world unite! I propose a new breed of word processors, a breed with spirit, soul, and simplicity. Maxis, are you listening? I want SimWord.
SimWord is a new concept in word processing, and it turns writing into a game. When you launch SimWord to start a new document, you choose from options such as Novel, Essay, Humor, Technical, Short Story, and Poetry. The interface features one palette, whose buttons are large, labeled, and have nifty pictures on them, so it's easy to discern one button from the other.
Disasters -- To get started with your document, you first choose what kinds of Disasters you want. Disasters add that random human element to your writing that computers otherwise have such trouble emulating. You can go for a simple Quotation Storm that randomly inserts quotes from George Will in your document. Or, you might choose Flooding, which arbitrarily adjusts your words (using the thesaurus to make sure they still mean the same thing) so that the rivers (vertical white space) in your document become large and unsightly. If you are the sort who likes to occasionally throw out your whole document and start fresh, you might turn on the Volcano disaster - the special sounds and visuals are just wonderful, but the clean-up time afterwards could make you miss your deadline.
Zoning -- After you set up your disasters, you use railroad tracks (much like Word's section breaks or Nisus Writer's and MacWrite's rulers) to separate your document into sections and zone them for different activities. For example, you might have Introduction, Credits, Summary, Basic Text, and so on. SimWord comes with about 50 possible zones, but the architecture of the program is such that third-parties can come out with their own.
Once you zone your document, you must create an environment conducive to words staying in the zone where you type them. This is where the strategy comes in, because if you type text in a zone where it feels uncomfortable, it will migrate to a different zone. The migration animation is terrific, so if you aren't in a rush, it's worth ignoring strategy for a while. To see an example, type "bus" - without the quotes - in a freshly zoned Introduction. Unless the title of your document has something to do with travel or transportation, the three characters in bus morph into a neon green school bus with lots of stuck-on decals, and complete with engine noises, the school bus moves into the Body section, squeals to a halt, lets ten kids of the bus, and morphs back into the word "bus." The names of the kids who got off the bus also appear in the Body section. You can turn off the sounds if you find them too distracting.
If you create a sufficiently conducive environment through well-thought out titles, carefully crafted sentences, and the like, SimWord will generate words and move them into your document. In effect, the program will start writing for you. Once generated words start moving into your zones, you can go have a cup of coffee and find your work nearly done when you return, though if you use a 68000 machine like the SE, you may have to go have a proper meal.
Congestion -- The more trouble you have putting words in the right zones, the more they migrate to other zones, and the more likely you are to have traffic control problems. The problems can be somewhat alleviated by using the Cross-Reference command. It works like a Star Trek-style transporter, and words that are cross-referenced can quickly move between zones outside of the normal flow of traffic. If traffic conditions become untenable, the words request an airport so that phrases that just aren't working out can leave, and replacements can be flown in. I've found that erecting Stadiums in the different zones also helps, because it gives the words a higher quality-of-life and makes them more likely to stick around. If you don't pay sufficient attention to the quality of life, your writing will lean more and more toward the style of Dostoevsky. A unpleasant side effect is that your document will gain an additional 500 pages, mostly composed of turgid conversation interspersed with lots of Russian names.
Corruption -- To prevent your document from becoming corrupted, you must keep the financial situation under control. Each zone can have a Commissioner, and you use the Insert Commissioner command to add a Commissioner. Without a Commissioner, the zone becomes a black market. Black markets encourage informal trading, which can cause real problems because your words will trade characters with each other. Some words will be better traders than others, so you'll end up with lots of two- and three-character words limping along and other words that get so long and powerful that they start making their own zones, called Criminal Zones, where stray words are killed and stripped of their vowels. Norton Utilities sometimes can delete a Criminal Zone, but other times the corruption is so bad that you must copy and paste the good zones into a new document. Commissioners must be paid for, and you must set the salary such that you attract and keep honest Commissioners.
Ratings -- As a replacement to the old-style word processor ratings boxes that tell your word count, passive verb count, grade level count, and white blood cell count, SimWord puts up a ratings box where your words rate you on how much they like your document. Ratings are based on how much corruption your words perceive, how much they like their zones, and so on. You must pay close attention to your ratings at all times so you know where to allocate more money or where to tighten up your prose. SimWord retains the Flesch Reading Ease rating, and if it falls too low, corruption increases, as does government rhetoric.
Filters -- SimWord has import filters for most known word processors, and any feature that a filter doesn't understand gets turned into an Additional Reading zone. Future versions of SimWord will output directly to HTML, although the quality of the HTML code is directly linked to your ratings, once again. If the words aren't happy, your HTML document will be strewn with <BLINK> tags and probably won't display properly in anything but an old alpha of Netscape.
My publisher has already expressed interest in any books I write with SimWord, just so long as I stay away from the Volcano and Earthquake disasters when I'm within a week of deadline.
by Hubert "Vince" Fournier, Special to TidBITS
In a move sure to spark some serious competition, Los Angeles-based Guzzlers, Inc., announced the release of Grand 'Ol Party 0.93b1 for Newton, billed as the world's only continuous, real-time guide to the Los Angeles party and entertainment scene.
Global Positioning Technology -- Grand 'Ol Party (GOP) is a Newton application that uses a PCMCIA-based Global Positioning System (GPS) transceiver to ascertain the user's location at any given time. With that information, GOP uses a PCMCIA-based cellular modem to access partyMCI, a commercial service that maintains an up-to-the-minute database of all "recreational gatherings" throughout the greater Los Angeles area. "You know, all the big celebrities have been subscribing to this service since, like, you know, Day One," said Bob "Spaz" Hubbard, Guzzler's President, CEO, and self-styled cyber-rocker. "How else do you think they know, like, what Oscar parties to go to, man? They have an inside source!" Spaz whips out his Newton. "Now, I just say 'Hey, Newton, where's the good stuff happening?' and it draws me a map! Is that cool, man, or what?!"
Filters and Intelligent Agents -- But GOP is more than a road map to the nearest party. "Like, GOP tells you whether you want to go to a party or not, which is totally important." Tapping an individual party listing presents detailed information about the gathering. A star-rating system indicates the number and relative importance of celebrities in attendance - four stars indicates a gathering of Hollywood royalty, "but, like, half a star probably means Kato Kaelin's there." Users can edit their preferences to give more or less weight to individual personalities. "Like, I've got Alice Cooper totally cranked up 'cause he's way rad, but I don't want to be partying with Jay Leno, understand?" says Spaz. Other user preferences include adding more weight to parties with high alcohol consumption ("see the little keg icons?"), upscale gatherings, live bands, controlled substances, hot babes, or hot tubs. Other information available through GOP includes movie premieres, concerts, and bingo tournaments in Toronto. ("That's a bug - that'll be fixed when we ship.")
GOP also integrates with the Newton's built-in address book so you can get in touch with all your party-going friends "in case you need to bum a ride or something."
Future Directions -- Spaz notes the possibilities for GOP are daunting. "We're, like, working with partyMCI to get more information on the parties, like playlists for the bands and stuff, and whether there's anything to eat." Another future feature is something called AutoCab. "Like, when, you know, you've had a little too much of the good stuff, your Newton will call a cab for you and put your home address on the screen so, like, you don't goof up and get dropped off at your mother's or something. Our beta testers have had some problems with that." The feature won't be in the 1.0 release because the PCMCIA Breathalizer cards aren't expected to be on the market until third quarter of this year. "But when they're ready, we'll be there, man."
"One mondo problem is that GPS is, like, only accurate to a few hundred feet sometimes," Spaz notes.. "When you're really out of it, man, those few hundred feet can make the difference between getting to a party or not! Uncool!" Spaz also notes other regional markets are prime candidates for GOP. "I mean, if I'm in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, right, this ain't gonna help. Personally, I don't travel much because of that, but, like, I can see how other people might want to go other places sometimes."
Nonetheless, Grand 'Ol Party is a compelling product. "Apple expects Newton will go through the roof when we ship," says Spaz. "Like, it's hard to find a metalhead anymore that's not looking up a cool party, or beaming his party preferences to his friends." At an estimated retail price over $3,000 - including Newton, necessary accessories, and the GOP software - GOP is only for serious partiers. But Spaz predicts the product will catch on. "Car thefts are way up since we announced this man. All that money's gotta be going somewhere!"
[We'd give you a URL, but all the details on Grand 'Ol Party can be found in Wired's cover story this month. What, you don't read Wired? -Geoff]
Guzzlers, Inc. -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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