This week brings you an in depth look at QuickMail 3.0, CE's latest and greatest release of its popular email program. We also have a short review of Links Pro, for the golf fans out there, a look at some of the issues surrounding fat binary programs, and a recollection of Kai Krause's demo at Macworld Boston, complete with lots of links to interesting and related Internet sites.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
The second edition of my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh is now available. It's significantly different from the first edition (a larger disk with an installer, and approximately twice as much actual text, although the appendices are smaller) and I'm still working on a change list. More later, but I wanted to mention it so people could stop asking me when it will be out. [ACE]
Bounce of the Week -- Every now and then you get a sign that lets you know that creativity is not dead, even among those who write mailer error messages. This message was one of those signs. It's not often that something on the Internet bounces because the recipient's machine isn't a typewriter. [ACE]
421 rex.re.uokhsc.edu.tcpld... Deferred: Not a typewriter 550 david@REX.RE.UOKHSC.EDU... Host unknown: Not a typewriter
Speaking of QuickMail (which we do below) there's a fledgling new Internet resource with news and information about QuickMail and related third-party products. Fire up your favorite World-Wide Web browser and check out this URL. Comments are welcome. [MHA]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Now that the Power Macs are increasingly common, a few issues need to be addressed in terms of how to best accommodate them when distributing software. I don't know that there are any complete answers here, but there are certainly some issues to consider when shipping a software product, and for those of you who consider yourselves merely users, when receiving a software product.
First, the Mac world now has three basic types of software. 680x0-only, PowerPC-only, and software that works on both the 680x0 family and the Power Macs. The first two are easily handled; developers simply make it clear (on the box, in the ReadMe, and additionally within the program itself by means of an informative dialog box) that the program only works on non-Power Macs or on Power Macs. (Programs that only contain 680x0 code and work normally on all Macs and in emulation on Power Macs aren't particularly interesting either, since they're simply a little slower in emulation than might be desirable.)
But what of the programs that run in native mode on the Power Macs and which also contain 680x0 code for normal Macs? The question raises its ugly head when it comes time to ship the program - do you ship two versions of the program, one containing only 680x0 code and one containing PowerPC-native code? Or perhaps you should ship a single fat binary program that contains the code for both platforms? Or finally, maybe you should use an installer that installs only the appropriate code for the platform on which it's being installed? All are valid choices, but all have trade-offs. Which would users prefer to receive, keeping in mind that adding disks raises costs, and large files mean longer download times?
Option 1: Ship Two Versions -- The first option, shipping two separate versions of the program, seems the least attractive. With shareware or freeware programs it's a minor pain to send the file twice to the <email@example.com> address for posting on the world-wide file sites. Commercial developers will have more of a problem, though, since they must either add disks to a package or create two separate boxes. Either way, it's more work and expense for the developer.
The main advantage for the user that I can see for this scheme is that if disk space is at a premium, 680x0-based Macs need not waste any space on PowerPC-native code and Power Macs need not waste space on unnecessary 680x0 code. In situations where the files are being downloaded from the nets, the user doesn't waste download time on the unnecessary code.
Option 2: Ship One Fat Version -- The second option, shipping a fat binary program, has a lot going for it in terms of getting the software to the user. It's a single product, which eliminates customer confusion, extra packaging expense, and general headaches. It works perfectly on all Macs and Power Macs without any foreknowledge on the part of the user (a major plus for many users, especially if the program lives on a server), and is generally the easiest solution. The only disadvantage of a fat binary is that it may be significantly larger than a 680x0-only or PowerPC-only version of the same program. It's a non-issue for people with large hard disks, but people having smaller drives (such as PowerBook users) won't appreciate the inflated size.
One possible solution to this disadvantage is a pair of freeware programs called Strip68K and StripPPC, written by Bill Woody of In Phase Consulting <firstname.lastname@example.org> (as an aside, In Phase Consulting published the two programs as method of promoting their development and design consulting business - I highly approve of such useful forms of Internet promotion). The programs do precisely what their names imply - strip out 680x0 or PowerPC code from fat binary applications. I haven't tested them personally, and the documentation implies that they weren't tested particularly rigorously, but they come with source code and are worth a try if you're concerned about wasted disk space.
In some quick tests, Jonathan Lundell <email@example.com> reported that StripPPC brought NewsWatcher 2.0b9 down from 616K to 288K, and Fetch 2.1.2 from 483K to 216K, thus saving 595K on only two applications. That's a noticeable amount for users with small hard disks.
Of course, you almost certainly won't be able to use an updater or patcher on applications that you've stripped, so please pay attention to this detail before you complain to a programmer that a patch doesn't work on a stripped application.
Option Three: Let the Installer Solve the Problem -- The third option, using an installer to install the appropriate code for the target machine, would seem to be the ideal solution for programs that would use an installer anyway. Users run the installer (Aladdin's excellent StuffIt InstallerMaker can install either 680x0 or PowerPC code from fat binaries; I assume the Apple Installer can do something similar) and it checks the machine type and installs the proper code. It's conceivable that the installer could even ask if you wanted to install a fat binary or the specific code. No matter what, you don't run into the confusions created by two separate programs, and there's no wasted hard disk space, as in the fat binary option, although downloading would take longer, and in the case of a commercial product, there would be more floppies.
The main disadvantage is that if a user moves from a Mac to a Power Mac, she may have to remember to reinstall a number of applications to be able to use them at full speed. It's likely to be something that people would forget, and being forced to reinstall might prove irritating at an already stressful time.
If a developer did set the installer up to install the correct code, it would make sense for the developer to leave enough 680x0 code in the PowerPC-native version that the program would be able to exit gracefully with an informative dialog when run on a normal Mac, and be able to inform Power Mac users that additional performance could be gained by reinstalling, rather than using the slower emulation mode. It's even been suggested that Apple should release a code stub that all developers could use for this sort of user information, thus making it both standard and far more common.
Final Thoughts -- So in the end, it's pretty clear that there are no set answers, as I said originally. Which you use depends on how you view the trade-offs and on your specific product. If an installer is involved, a single fat binary, with optional stripping on installation, would seem to make the most sense. For shareware/freeware programs that don't need an installer, two separate versions may work fine. And finally, if all else fails, there's always StripPPC and Strip68K.
by Richard C.S. Kinne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Links Pro, by Access Software, is certainly one of the prettiest games I've seen on the Macintosh. The trees, lawn texture, and golfers are almost photo-realistic. The beauty of the graphics will be the first thing to hit you, and the graphics alone may be worth the purchase price of the software. Not only is the game pretty, but a good bit of thought went into the program's controlling mechanisms and layout as well, so I consider Links Pro a quality product in both form and function.
The beauty and performance do come at a price, and that price is memory. Links Pro is the most memory-hungry game I've seen yet, with suggested memory partition of 8 MB. Thankfully, for those of us working on smaller systems, it will survive in only 2.5 MB if it must. The game is quite playable with less memory than it prefers, but I suspect it would do that much better on what it considers a properly configured system.
Access Software put a good amount of thought into the game's control layout. I especially like the "hot buttons." When choosing a club, for instance, you bring the mouse to the "choose club" panel and (before you even click) Links Pro automatically displays a radio button menu of clubs to choose from. The game also allows for multiple views of your shot on the screen and you can save those wonderful (or amazingly bad) shots or games to disk. You can later play them over again and analyze them, if you wish. If you've ever played a golf game on the Mac before, you'll be able to dive right in without referring to the manual. After you play a few rounds, however, you'll want to refer to the manual to find out about the features you're missing.
One of the neatest features is voice control. If you have an AV Mac or Power Mac you can use voice commands to choose your club and hit your ball. I tried the voice control on my office Quadra 660AV and it did indeed work as advertised. The commands the program accepts are natural enough, but I did find myself referring to the list in the manual every so often to make sure I got things right. I figure if you find yourself using this feature often enough, you'll quickly memorize the program's vocabulary.
You can also create your own fictional golfers and keep statistics on them. They can be male or female, and the game even provides a varied wardrobe! You can print out score cards and statistics, and you can even select background noises so that when you step up to the tee a bird chirps in the background, and when you make your shot you hear applause and comments from your buddies on the green.
Links Pro, about $45 mail order, is a quality game from start to finish. If you have any interest in golf this game would make a fine edition to your software collection.
Access Software -- 800/800-4880
by Radical Liberation <email@example.com>
I joined a packed auditorium at Macworld Expo in Boston to see Kai Krause <firstname.lastname@example.org> demonstrate some of the graphic art tools from HSC. Though his presentation was nominally for graphics professionals and hobbyists who create images with tools like Photoshop, I suspect others attended for the same reason I did - to see Kai give one of his legendarily enthusiastic demos and see some fantastic images, some of which you can see by looking on the Internet as well.
Some of Kai's tips and tricks are also available on the Web at:
KPT Bryce -- Although I'll probably never use any of Kai's tools myself, seeing Kai use them to make cool images rated as one of my favorite parts of Macworld. Kai showed a couple new tools, but KPT Bryce, a recent addition to Kai's Power Tools (Photoshop plug-ins), blew me away.
KPT Bryce creates landscapes, and it is named after the beautiful Bryce Canyon in Utah (here's a photo of the canyon).
KPT Bryce can create beautiful and convincing skies, mountains, wisps of fog, and so on (and I do mean convincing. For now on, any landscape image I get off the nets will have me wondering, "Is it live or is it Memorex?"). And, at least when Kai does it, it looks incredibly easy. I was particularly taken with the images that look almost, but not quite, real. They remind me of one of my favorite painters, the surrealist Rene Magritte (here's a site where you can find, when it's working, GIF-compressed images of many of his paintings).
Some of the Bryce landscapes go beyond near-reality to completely alien looking landscapes. One of my favorites images, called "Planet Rising," by David Palermo <email@example.com>, (his stuff is always worth a look) appears on the KPT Bryce package, but I haven't found it online anywhere except on America Online. As with many of the Bryce landscapes, it seems like you could step right into the picture and that, in fact, it would be nice to do just that. Check out HSC's forums on America Online (keyword: HSC) or CompuServe for more Bryce images. Several images are also available at HSC's Internet site. [I wasn't able to connect to this site to double-check this - take the <ftp.netcom.com> URLs with a grain of salt. -Adam]
To find more Bryce images (and many of my favorites), try this file:
(By the way, when the files at this site convert from MacBinary they have a ".qt" suffix. Don't let it throw you, they are ordinary JPEG-compressed images.)
Sphere Rendering -- Another fun thing that HSC has made available on the nets is a demo of a sphere rendering tool. It is intended to show off the speed of the Power Mac but it also worked on my LC III. When you reach the interactive part of the demo at the end, the trick is to hold down the mouse button and move the mouse around. This drags the light source to different parts of the sphere.
HSC -- 310/392-8441 -- 310/392-6015 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
In TidBITS-237 we reported on CE Software's introduction of QuickMail 3.0, a new version of CE's popular LAN email software with lots of new features on the client end. Feedback we received on that article and a closer look during the recent Macworld Expo allow us to present more information on how CE's enhancements work for users in real-world situations.
Spell Checking -- The spell checking feature, implemented by InfoSoft, is fairly straightforward, if not particularly innovative as spell checkers go. Its biggest shortcoming at first glance is that it doesn't recognize "QuickMail" as a correctly spelled word! Such is life. One clever feature of the spell checker is that, even though it shows a word in context when it's presenting a word it believes is misspelled, QuickMail scrolls through the text of the message window in the background, so the user can see each questioned word as part of the entire message.
MailManager lets users set up rules to specify what should happen to incoming messages, and it looks great. Using the nicely laid out ruler editor, you can tell QuickMail to file, delete, forward, print, or reply to each message or certain messages, deciding which task to perform and how to perform it based on the original sender, subject, body text, priority, and so on.
Unfortunately, MailManager, being a client-based feature, depends on the client computer staying put while its user is away or busy. In my case, had I left QuickMail 3.0 monitoring my mail while I spent several days at Macworld Expo, it would not have worked. During my absence, at least one other employee used my computer to check his QuickMail. When I returned, the surge protector had tripped; presumably a brief blackout left it powered down. As a result, my computer would have stopped performing its assigned mail-management tasks days before I returned.
There are solutions to such problems; an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) would take care of the power outage issue on at least a short-term basis. You can set QuickMail to connect automatically at startup, and CE has apparently foreseen the resulting security concern and implemented a "Lock Mailbox" command that survives restarts. This still assumes no one will use the mail-managing Mac, which in some offices, mine for one, is a dangerous assumption.
The good news is that MailManager is exceptionally cautious when messages might get lost. If a rule that files incoming messages from a certain sender and then deletes them from your mailbox, but your computer runs out of disk space, MailManager shuts down rather than deleting unfiled messages. Unfortunately, it will also then be unable to handle automatic replies, forwarding, or any other tasks until someone intervenes.
MailManager could still be enormously useful for day-to-day use. You could set up ruler to automatically file posting from high-traffic mailing lists, and automatically forward messages on a given topic to another person or group of people. Peter J. Kindlmann, a professor and mail administrator at Yale University, wrote to say that the software holds up the computer momentarily when new mail arrives and MailManager processes it in the background. Such interruptions might be bearable, in return for less human time spent sorting through received mail, but Peter feels that most users will quickly grow frustrated with the delay.
The primary cause of the delay when new mail arrives is the process of refreshing the user's mail list so that MailManager can scan it. Several versions ago, QuickMail would update its mail list even if it was not the frontmost window, whenever new mail arrived, and I recall having mixed feelings when CE changed this. I have to admit to mixed feelings now that it's been changed back, too! Users who keep lots of messages in their mailboxes will find that the refresh takes a while. (The background refresh is only done when MailManager is active.) Happily, the improved folder handling means there are fewer reasons to keep mail on the server, so a bit of discipline should minimize the interruptions' duration.
Full-Text Searching -- Speaking of folders, QuickMail 3.0's ability to do full-text searches within messages filed in personal mail folders is wonderful. This feature alone probably makes QuickMail 3.0 worth its upgrade price. The inability to search within the mailbox (messages still residing on the QuickMail server) matters much less now that QuickMail supports up to 250 messages in each of up to 250 folders. (Inability to search within these folders has been my primary reason for failing to use them properly.) Searching messages in the mailbox would require too much additional server work, or too much additional network traffic. A network administrator who prefers to remain anonymous suggests that this lack will "irritate many executive types" who aren't interested in changing their work habits to suit the software.
Searches may be performed within a single folder or across all folders, and may be based on the message text, or such criteria as subject, sender, recipient, priority, and date sent. Some software presents only individual found items, requiring the user to go from item to item, but QuickMail's search feature presents a complete "hit list" of found items, displaying its folder location, the sender, subject, and date. Even while the search is still in progress, the user may click one of the found items in the list to view the found text, in the message's context, in the window's lower pane. The search continues independently.
My sole complaint with QuickMail 3.0's search feature is that it can't search more than one user-specified folder at a time without searching them all. QuickMail 3.0 also can find specified text within the frontmost message window.
More Potential Problems -- The anonymous administrator mentioned above is also concerned about the possibility of unintentional "mailstorms" caused by MailManager's automatic reply capability. If users are not careful, their automatic replies could go to all recipients of a message sent to a large group as well as to the sender. In a scenario with a thousand users, five of whom happen to have an automatic reply set up, a single message to the entire company user list could result in an instant barrage of five thousand extraneous messages. Users must be careful to set the automatic reply feature to reply only to the sender in order to avoid this; in this network administrator's experience, users are not always so careful.
The auto-reply function of the MailManager also lacks the ability to refrain from sending multiple "I'm away..." notices to the same address. The absence of this feature, available in mainframe "vacation" utilities and in the QMConcierge package from Information Electronics, will render MailManager less practical than it should be. (Information Electronics has moved; see their new contact info below.) This factor could also prolong a mailstorm like the one described above. Since mail forwarding is client-based rather than server-based, a network administrator would have to move fast to interrupt such a barrage.
More Pluses and Minuses -- QuickMail 3.0 also makes handling address books and groups easier. For starters, an easily accessible dialog box allows users instantly to add the sender of a message to a specific address book or group list. (The applause for this feature is likely to be deafening.) Users may now also print user lists from their address books and groups, and may more easily import and export address book information.
One shock is that the QuickConference interactive chat feature of QuickMail has been neglected. CE's Ned Horvath admits that QuickConference has not been a high priority item for continued development, as the company has never seen an enormous interest among its customers. This is a shame; making QuickConference function in a non-modal fashion, which is crucial in today's multitasking-heavy work patterns, would probably not have been too difficult. This change was promised for the "next" release at around the time both 2.5 and 2.6 hit the stands, so its continued absence is somewhat disappointing.
Also on the list of items expected but missing is proper network access to online mailboxes for Windows users. CE's boasts of universal access to the mailbox are just hot air as long as they haven't fixed this. When the Windows client was first developed, there was a good reason not to support AppleTalk; the only available AppleTalk protocol stacks supported DOS and didn't work well (or at all) under Windows. Now that Farallon's PhoneNet PC has offered a complete AppleTalk implementation under Windows for a while (since before QuickMail 2.6 shipped) it's hard to justify the continued absence of a complete Windows client for QuickMail.
In fact, CE's new Newton client, EnRoute [discussed in a future issue -Adam], adds yet another client platform that lacks proper network access. There's a better reason for that; EnRoute is designed for access by the roving QuickMail user. CE assumed that users who can hook their Newton MessagePads to a network can probably sit down in front of a Mac instead. A reasonable assumption - but we hope CE will find sufficient interest in this product that a future networkable version will be worth developing.
Some improvements that won't show up on a feature list include a more consistent use of color, and less modality. Our article about QuickMail 2.6 in TidBITS-171 called CE's addition of "Turnerized" buttons a "cruel reminder" of the lack of a real color user interface. QuickMail still doesn't support color graphics or color message text, but at least it has more cleanly colorized interface elements. As for modality, we commend CE for using movable modal dialogs in several places, such as the search window, so the user could switch to another application rather than just wait. The non-modal help window can be moved around the screen and left open for reference purposes.
Upgrade Pricing -- CE Software announced last week that U.S. and Canadian customers can upgrade from QuickMail 2.5 or 2.6 to QuickMail 3.0 for $12 per user; customers with QuickMail 2.2.3 or earlier can upgrade for $15 per user (though, oddly, customers having competing mail products may "sidegrade" for just $12 per user). CE has elected not to provide discounts for large-volume upgrade purchasers or educational institutions. Those who purchased QuickMail 2.6 after 13-Jun-94 are entitled to a free upgrade. The upgrade kits include a complete set of client and server disks, new user manuals, and reference cards. Brand new QuickMail 3.0 packages are available immediately as well; a ten-user pack retails for $649.
Concluding Thoughts -- Lest anyone reach the conclusion from this article that QuickMail 3.0 is lousy, I want to stress that CE Software is deservedly proud of what they've accomplished in assembling this release. We see the MailManager function as good start towards automated mail handling, and the searching works as well as we've seen in any mail package. According to CE, QuickMail development is an ongoing process, not one with an end. Bearing that in mind, we look forward to QuickMail 3.1.
CE Software, Inc. -- 800/523-7638 -- 515/221-1801
515/221-1806 (fax) -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Information Electronics -- 912/638-1893 -- 912/638-1384 (fax)
CE Software propaganda
Peter J. Kindlmann <email@example.com>
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.