close this bookTidBITS#196   19931004
View the documentMailBITS/04-Oct-93
View the documentNatives Restless Over Proliferation
View the documentNewton Electronic Updates
View the documentNewton Internet Resources
View the documentThe PowerBook Purist
View the documentReviews/04-Oct-93
View the documentFoot Notes

The Newton remains in the news, with Apple putting the automatic update process in place so you can call an 800 number to upgrade the OS to 1.04. I take a brief spin through many of the Internet Newton resources and review PBTools, a truly elegant PowerBook utility. Finally, readers chime in with their concerns about Apple's seemingly self-destructive marketing techniques - is there a conspiracy involved? Where's Oliver Stone when you need him?

Topics:

  • MailBITS/04-Oct-93
  • Natives Restless Over Proliferation
  • Newton Electronic Updates
  • Newton Internet Resources
  • The PowerBook Purist
  • Reviews/04-Oct-93

Copyright 1993 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:


MailBITS/04-Oct-93

For those who have been confused when calling the direct order line for Hayden to order The Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh and having Prentice-Hall Computer Publishing answer, my apologies, but don't worry. Prentice-Hall Computer Publishing is the parent company of a number of publishers, including Hayden, Brady, Que, and others. If you do wish to order directly, Hayden asked me to mention that they don't take Discover credit cards. They apologize for not making that clear before.


Natives Restless Over Proliferation

Truth is stranger than fiction. I didn't do a careful count, but last week's article on the October crop of Macs elicited as many irate comments as did my editorial on the subject several weeks before. Maybe people didn't believe me the first time around - we have a problem on our hands.

Software companies have a major stake in the outcome. Technical support is no joke these days. It's not something you can have the programmer do when she's taking a break from hammering out code. Support in today's real world requires staff trained to not only know the products in question cold, but also trained to handle the occasional irate customer. Support seldom earns money directly, despite Microsoft's recent addition of paid support for people who want to call at odd times or want priority into the calling queue. So Macintosh developers must consider the increased costs in testing and supporting their products on what seems like an exponentially increasing number of Macs, and once they have considered those costs, decide whether or not they should add their voices to ours in calling for a more sensible product line. Perhaps Apple will listen to the developers who keep the platform moving forward if they won't listen to the customers whose dollars contribute to Apple's bottom line.

A number of people commented that the reason Apple is creating differently numbered Macs for specific retailers is probably because that way each retailer can safely offer a guarantee that they will beat any price on the same system from another store. Since many of the stores won't carry the same models, there's no worry about the competition.

In any event, here are a few of the letters we received after TidBITS #195 that make the point especially well.

Saurabh Misra <smisra@eos.ncsu.edu> writes:

Lunacy. That is how you can describe Apple's naming scheme for new computers. Complete lunacy. I thought I kept up with new models better than anyone I knew, but I give up. LC 475, Performa 476, LC040... oh, forgive me isn't that a processor?

Buyers don't like being confused by smart naming schemes. If Apple doesn't stop, maybe one day there will be more Macintosh models than there are buyers.

Clint Laskowski <Clint.Laskowski@mixcom.mixcom.com> writes:

I have been very involved in the Mac revolution. For 6 years I sold Apple II and Macintosh personal computers (and Intel-based PCs too). I also worked for two Macintosh software developers. Most recently, I have spent the last 4 years providing Macintosh consulting services in the Midwest. I think I have a credible background regarding the Mac.

I agree that the number of Macintosh models is insane. There is no way anyone can follow these things. My customers are confused. I am sure retail sales people are confused. I am sure third-party vendors are confused. The Macintosh market is confused. I'll bet if we put Apple's top executives on a stage and asked them simple questions about product features vs. product models, they too would be confused. And this state of confusion is leading customers to consider other computers. Any military expert will tell you that confusion is a major reason for poor performance by a well-trained fighting team on a modern battlefield. Can the marketplace be all that different?

I love Apple and the Macintosh. I have based my career on them. I can understand some of Apple's problems. But I cannot stand to see them fragment and confuse their market. Why are they doing this? A competitor couldn't do a better job of destroying Apple's potential! [Hmm, perhaps it's time for a conspiracy theory. -Adam]

Mark Maris <mmaris@mv.mv.com> writes:

My first letter to you folks, but I couldn't help it. The latest issue of TidBITS is so ridiculous that I must vent my outrage! I mean really, how could you foist off the Performa article (in "The Proliferation Continues") as serious, when we are not even close to April 1st? Everyone knows that Apple has some of the most astute marketing people in the industry, and would never, ever follow a path that might confuse (or Heaven forbid) anger its customers!

Given that Apple marketing is much too intelligent to follow such a monumentally stupid course of action, and also given that I believe you are both honest, may I offer the following alternative reality?

I think that the announcement of the new Performa models must be the product of a cabal of PC clone makers, probably headquartered somewhere in south central Texas. Sitting around a conference table, sipping something way too strong for a normal business lunch, these ingenious fiends mused on various ways to derail the competition.

"What could we do to induce users to leave Apple products in droves?" they asked. "What would virtually guarantee that people would be so confused and frustrated that they would leave an obviously superior user interface, and migrate to the junk operating environment that we bundle on our machines?"

"I HAVE IT!" one particularly inebriated shareholder yapped. "It's the distribution channel, stupid! We could fake an Apple product announcement: Dozens of Macs with nearly, but not quite, identical features... nothing but meaningless model numbers to differentiate them... no obvious reasons or market strategy for the flurry of models. And... get this... we'll say that Apple will only market certain models through certain dealers!"

"Brilliant," said the Chairman (also well lubricated). "If people believe it, they'll conclude that Apple has abandoned any pretext at customer service. Obviously, no one would ever be able to keep track of operating system versions in that crowded a product line. Users would become hopelessly lost, just trying to upgrade!" By this time, the group was laughing so hard, they were reduced to tears.

"Also," the Vice-Chair said, gasping for breath, "for a company to single-source a model through one dealer is to explicitly encourage that dealer to gouge the public on that model, and someone is bound to make that connection. Go with it!"

And so, before the group could sober up, the plan was launched. The announcement was smuggled into the normal distribution channels, and you subsequently received it. I am certain that, within a very short time, angry Apple executives will issue a vehement denial of this sick joke, and we will all sleep easier.

Well, that's about it. I enjoy TidBITS a lot, but I think you might want to check your information sources more carefully in the future. Otherwise, these obviously ridiculous items might damage your credibility.

Charles Gervais <cgervais@uoguelph.ca> forwarded this excerpt from an article Jack Nissel wrote in an Apple II magazine called II Alive:

Want to be the first on your block to get the new Macintosh models when they come out? Then join Apple's Mac of The Month Club!

Imagine... the latest and greatest Apple Macintosh computer delivered to your door, each and every month. (If more than one Macintosh is introduced in any given month, you'll have your choice of receiving any or all of them!) Here's how it works. Each month, the Mac of the Month Club will select a Macintosh for you. You'll receive a card in the mail telling you what your monthly selection is. If you want to receive that Macintosh model, do nothing! Your Macintosh will be sent to you automatically. If you don't want the Macintosh model the Club has selected, just return the card and indicate your alternate selection. Yes, it's that easy!

Join the Mac of the Month Club today! Choose any six current Macintosh models for only one penny (plus shipping and handling). Then simply agree to buy an additional 14 Macintosh models (at regular Club prices) in the next two years.


Newton Electronic Updates

Andy Stadler of Apple passed on a note that the Newton software update service is now online and accepting calls. There are two numbers, an 800 number for U.S. customers, and a normal number for overseas callers, although given that the Newton doesn't currently understand languages other than English (or things like specialized mathematics terms), I can't imagine that there are many overseas users yet. I hope to see dictionaries and support for other languages and specialized terms appearing soon, although I haven't heard of much activity on that front. The numbers to call for the update are:

800/NEWTON9 -- 707/226-8839

And, although these instructions will only help Newton users, I'm including them here so everyone can see how utterly easy it is (assuming the modem works properly) to get the update. I'd like to see similar services from Macintosh software companies as well - it could be cheaper and faster for many users.

Update Instructions -- These instructions describe how to update your Newton software using a fax modem.

  1. Connect the fax modem to your Newton. (Plug the fax modem cable into Newton's communication port. If you need more instructions, refer to the manual that came with your fax modem.)

  2. Turn on your Newton and the fax modem.

  3. Open the Extras Drawer.

  4. Tap In Box.

  5. Tap Receive, and then tap Enhancement.

  6. In the space for a phone number, write 1-800-639-8669 (1-800-NEWTON9), or double-tap the space and tap out the phone number in the phone keypad that appears. For calls outside of the United States, please use 707-226-8839.

  7. Tap Call. The connection is made and installation of the update begins. Installation takes about a minute.

  8. Tap Restart when installation is complete. (Restarting does not erase any of your personal information.)

  9. After Newton restarts, open the battery compartment and press the Reset button. (Pressing Reset does not erase any of your personal information.)

If a problem occurs, press Reset again and try receiving the enhancement again. As always, if you need technical support, call 800/SOS-APPL.


Newton Internet Resources

For all of the quibbling and carping in the mass media about the Newton, interest has been enormous (Apple reported 50,000 units sold so far), certainly larger than for any Mac since the first PowerBooks, and in many ways even larger. It took a lot longer to create a comp.sys.mac.portables newsgroup than it did to create three Newton newsgroups on Usenet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I want to look here at a number of the Newton resources appearing daily on the Internet. I'm sure some of this information also appears on ZiffNet, CompuServe, America Online, AppleLink, Delphi, BIX, and the others, but frankly, it's probably a lot easier to find there. You need more help to find Newton information on the Internet, and that's what I hope to provide.

Newton on Usenet -- Three Newton newsgroups passed the Usenet voting process by significant margins (average margin of 455 yes votes to 33 no votes) not quite three weeks ago. The first, comp.sys.newton.announce, provides a moderated forum for announcements, FAQ postings, and other important announcements (Michael Nowak <mnowak@umich.edu> is the current moderator). Discussions of postings in comp.sys.newton.announce take place in either of the other two newsgroups, comp.sys.newton.misc and comp.sys.newton.programmer, both of which ought to be relatively obvious in terms of traffic. Neither are moderated.

From what I saw in a brief visit, the latter two groups have a healthy amount of traffic, and the announce group has just a few well-chosen postings. If you're interested in dipping into the river of Newton information, these groups are a good place to start.

Newton Mailing Lists -- For people who can't or don't wish to read Usenet, there are several mailing lists of interest. First is a LISTSERV list at Dartmouth that appears to have plenty of knowledgeable Newton aficionados. To subscribe, send email to:

LISTSERV@DARTCMS1.DARTMOUTH.EDU

with this line in the body of the message:

SUBSCRIBE NEWTON-L your full name

Once you're on, you can send questions and comments to this address (but please make sure to only send subscription and signoff commands to the LISTSERV address):

NEWTON-L@DARTCMS1.DARTMOUTH.EDU

Michael Nowak, the moderator of comp.sys.newton.announce, also runs a mailing list associated with the group for those not on Usenet. You can subscribe to the Newton-Announce mailing list by sending a request to:

newton-announce-request@umich.edu

and you can send submissions for both the mailing list and the newsgroup to:

newton-announce@umich.edu

Newton File Site -- Of course, FTP sites holding cool software are one of the best parts of the Internet, and thanks to Rob Bruce <robbruce@bnnrc-srv.med.jhu.edu>, Newton users have one. The archive supports Gopher access, and has gobs of files last I looked, including archives of at least some of the discussion groups covering the Newton. Definitely worth a look at:

bnnrc-srv.med.jhu.edu

You can send submissions of articles or binary files to Rob via email, or if you prefer, you can put them in the directory /pub/incoming.

Other sites worth looking at include Apple's Higher Education Gopher server at:

info.hed.apple.com

Look in the directory called Apple Corporate News for Apple propaganda about the Newton and the Mac, and the Product Information directory contains information and tips for Newton users.

Also check out sumex and mac.archive, the two major FTP and Gopher file sites for the Macintosh, both of which carry Newton files. On <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> look in the /info-mac/newton directory, and on <mac.archive.umich.edu> look in the /newton directory.

Finally, there is an FTP site at <ftp.uth.tmc.edu> that stores some GIF images of the Newton and the Newton logo in the /public/newton/newton_gifs directory.

Newton FAQs -- What would a newsgroup on the Internet be without a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list? Overwhelmed with the same old questions, that's what. The Newton community responded to the need, and Paul R. Potts <potts@oit.itd.umich.edu> has created several FAQ lists that are posted on comp.sys.newton.announce and made available on the FTP site mentioned above. From glancing through the /pub/newton/FAQ directory on the FTP site, plenty of other FAQ-like lists of information on Easter Eggs, bugs, wish lists, developer information, and the like exist as well. If you're merely thinking about getting a Newton, I definitely recommend that you read through all of these postings for the latest details on what's wrong and what's right.

Newton Web Server -- This all may seem fragmented, just as many Internet resources do, and to condense all of these resources, Chuck Shotton created a World-Wide Web server that pulls many (if not all) of these resources together into one place. You do need a World-Wide Web browser to see this, but luckily there's a great one in development right now for those who have MacTCP connections (although it's a bit slow over a 14.4 SLIP connection). To get this browser, NCSA Mosaic for the Macintosh B2, FTP to <ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu> and look in the directory /Mac/Mosaic. It's big, and again, you need a MacTCP connection to use it, but the Web is seriously cool and worth checking out.

Anyway, the Web server that Chuck Shotton set up has links to many of these resources, and it's a good way to browse, especially with a fast connection. To connect to the Newton Web server in NCSA Mosaic for the Mac, from the File menu choose Open URL (which stands for Universal Resource Locator). In the resulting Load Network dialog box, enter the following:

http://www.uth.tmc.edu/newton_info/

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, you can contact Chuck at <cshotton@oac.hsc.uth.tmc.edu>. He mentioned in the announcement that he's especially interested in hearing from administrators of existing Newton archives in order to figure out a way of making the existing information more easily browsed via Gopher and the World-Wide Web.


The PowerBook Purist

Billy Steinberg dislikes frills. This becomes most evident in PBTools, his package of PowerBook utilities marketed by Inline Design and supported by Microseeds. PBTools offers elegant, basic, PowerBook functions without loading the program down in order to compete in the current industry featuritis epidemic.

PBTools has four sections, PowerWatch, SafeSleep, PowerControl, and PBKeys. The PBTools window provides four buttons corresponding to the four sections, and the section title itself is a pop-up menu for alternative access to the different sections. PBTools places a single battery icon, monogrammed with the initials PB when you're running on battery power, in the menu bar to the left of the Balloon Help icon. Rather than provide several icons and changing cursors and all that, PBTools packs a ton of information into that single icon. The icon has three visually distinct states - battery power, AC Fast Charge, and AC Slow Charge. Two dots appear over the battery when AppleTalk is on, and a broken bar appears over it all while the drive spins up. While the drive spins normally, the bar shows solid. An up arrow icon does replace the battery icon when the Caps Lock is on, but does anyone use Caps Lock seriously? In each state, a fully charged battery is entirely black, and as you use power the black drains out. This works well, although I find it hard to see the PB in the battery picture when it's on battery power and about half full. The thick and thin lightning bolts for fast and slow charging work better visually.

PBTools provides a menu from its menu bar icon. The menu offers commands for Sleep (an immediate sleep that doesn't ask about AppleTalk), Wake/Sleep Hard Drive, and AppleTalk On/Off/On at Restart, along with a shortcut for opening the PBTools Control panel and a menu that lets you select which battery is in use. More on multiple batteries in a bit.

PowerWatch -- Unlike other PowerBook utilities which tell you battery percentage or estimated time remaining, PBTools simply displays battery voltages, the only real numbers available. This might sound overly technical, but the PowerWatch part of PBTools displays a graph over time (you can change the time length from three to 96 hours by clicking on it) of battery usage so you can easily see which voltages correspond to which icon states. PBTools lets you track up to four batteries and calibrate the icon displays (how many volts equate to which display for a given battery). I only have one battery, so I couldn't play with this much, but for people with several batteries, this will be useful since all batteries are different and change over time. You can even export your battery tracking log to a tab-delimited text file, but I think Billy momentarily lost track of his goal of simple elegance there. I can't imagine wanting to analyze such a log further. PBTools is smart about different types of PowerBooks, and automatically chooses the proper battery type depending on the PowerBook.

[PowerWatch helped last weekend with my new Duo 230. I plugged the Duo in all Friday night, but Saturday morning the battery was almost completely run down. As Saturday went on, the battery still didn't charge. PBTools indicated that the battery was stuck in slow (trickle) charge mode and that the voltage was decreasing slightly over time. Subsequent troubleshooting and a call to Apple revealed something wrong enough to warrant repair, but it was great to have the PBTools information while speaking to Apple's tech support person. -Tonya]

You can turn off the PBTools menu from within the PowerWatch section, and there's also a ChargeAlert function that alerts you if the charger is plugged into the PowerBook (not necessary on Duos) but doesn't appear to be charging the battery, probably because it's not plugged into the wall. Handy, since Apple's Battery DA just notices the fact of the charger being plugged into the Mac.

SafeSleep -- The SafeSleep part of PBTools is the least interesting to me, because it lets you password-protect your PowerBook. When you install PBTools, you can enter your name, address, phone, and reward information should you lose the PowerBook. You can enter anything you want in those six lines and they display whenever PBTools asks for your password at startup or wakeup. You can also set PBTools to just request a password, and you can have it accept any key as a password (which is good if you want to display the owner information, but aren't concerned with protection). PBTools will clear the screen either before sleeping or on wakeup so no one can see your work, and you can always change your password and change the timeout length, after which PBTools puts the PowerBook back to sleep if the correct password hasn't been entered. This password protection is not serious - booting with the shift key down circumvents it, but it's fine for basic privacy. I don't like having passwords, and much of the PowerBook's attraction is instant access to my work, so I turned SafeSleep off entirely.

PowerControl -- Here's the part of PBTools that Billy Steinberg feels most appropriately handles settings for system sleep, drive sleep, and backlight dimming. Unlike other utilities which provide lots of options and let you create sets of different settings, PBTools only has time limits for system sleep, drive sleep, and backlight dimming based on whether or not the PowerBook is plugged in or running from battery. When plugged in, two additional checkboxes determine if PBTools will protect the LCD (a matter of inverting the screen once per minute after an hour of inactivity) and if it will allow the CPU to rest, which isn't necessary with AC power.

There are four other functions in PowerControl. A checkbox controls if AppleTalk loads at startup; if it doesn't load, you save 250K of RAM but have to restart to use it. If you have an Express Modem, you can turn on a setting that ensures that the PowerBook won't fall asleep while the Express Modem is working, something that might happen otherwise and cause great consternation. Another checkbox lets you thicken thin cursors to make them more visible - why this is in the PowerControl section I couldn't tell you. Finally, a Deep Discharge button claims to do the best deep discharge of any software product for those of you with nickel-cadmium batteries.

PBKeys -- The final section, PBKeys, lets you define shortcuts for the standard PowerBook functions, system sleep, drive sleep, find cursor (a circle flashes around the cursor), and oddly enough, drive wake. Why would you want to wake your drive manually?

PBTools can disable caps lock, although a sub-checkbox provides access with shift-caps lock. Another option makes PBTools beep if you press the caps lock key, my favorite for the "key most in need of being moved off of the keyboard" award. A final checkbox remaps the arrow keys when the control key is down, so control-up arrow is PageUp, control-down arrow is PageDown, control-left arrow is Home, and control-right arrow is End. Handy, I suppose, but Nisus has similar commands internally, as do most word processors. [The controls work great in Eudora! -Tonya]

What's not there -- PBTools doesn't have a lot of features in this day and age; however, many of the "missing" features are easily found elsewhere or frivolous. The free SuperClock does clock-functions admirably, and I see no need for the airport wakeup feature common in other packages since it's easier and possibly safer to put your PowerBook through the X-ray machine (set it well into the machine, away from the roller motor).

I admit that I'm fond of CPU's sticky menus. You could argue that such a feature is out of PBTools's design range, but every PowerBook has a trackball, and every third-party trackball I know of comes with a click-lock function. Sticky menus seems like a function every PowerBook should have, and thus appropriate for PBTools. In addition, I would like to see a keyboard shortcut for cycling among applications. Many utilities offer these options, but I like to run as small a system as possible on the PowerBook. Finally the one keyboard shortcut I'd like to see added is one that toggles AppleTalk on and off (or of course, PBTools could do it automatically).

Overall -- For the minimalist who wants the most from the PowerBook with the least distraction, nothing comes close to PBTools. If you like playing with lots of settings, you'll like the PowerWatch battery tracking graphs, but another of the packages may provide more buttons to push, menus to choose, settings to set, and displays to watch.

PBTools has some of the best balloon help I've seen, and perhaps the biggest balloon I've seen (it describes all the possible icon states). If you get PBTools, turn on balloon help and explore; you won't regret it. The manual is equally as refreshing in that it provides background as to why and when you might want to use the various features in different situations. With PowerBooks as different as they are from desktop Macs, the information about power usage in the manual is extremely welcome.

If you use CompuServe or ZiffNet/Mac, Billy provides tremendous tech support in various forums when PBTools questions arise; I hope Microseeds is as good on the phone. Fortunately, there's not much that can go wrong in a package as elegant as PBTools. Highly recommended - it's what we use.

PBTools lists for $99 and is probably available for a good bit less (and you can sometimes find it bundled with Inline Sync). If you already own an older version of PBTools, there is an updater to 1.1 online on the commercial services and on <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:

/info-mac/gui/pb-tools-11-updt.hqx
Inline Design -- 203/435-4995
Microseeds -- 802/879-3365 -- 802/879-4602 (fax)
76004.2100@compuserve.com

Reviews/04-Oct-93

  • MacWEEK -- 27-Sep-93, Vol. 7, #38
    • Lotus Notes 3.0 -- pg. 1
    • PainterX2 1.0 -- pg. 39
  • InfoWorld -- 27-Sep-93, Vol. 15, #39
    • AV Macs -- pg. 116

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