Let's start this column with some ironic news from IBM:Officials recently announced that OS/2 will cut down on training costs because programs will conform to its consistent user interface. The irony is what Michael Maples, director of software strategy, offered as proof for the claim: "The Mac is evidence to support this theory."
A New SystemWell, as other computers get easier to use, the Macintosh is getting a little more complex. Larger (and open) machines, mega-memories, a variety of screens and keyboards, and ultra-sophisticated software can intimidate a new user even on a Macintosh. It can get pretty intimidating even for a seasoned user.
To go along with all the hardware advancements, Apple keeps updating the System and Finder. This has been a problem since the first update: The System and Finder have their own version numbers (let's see, is it System 3.2 and Finder 4.1 that have to be used together?), and although they were distributed free through dealers and electronic information services, users seldom knew what all the changes were, or when they were released.
The situation is improving. Apple intends to release system updates every six months, with full documentation. Of course, you'll have to pay for the package if you want it that way. You can still get free updates if you don't want to shell out the $50.
Apple's also trying to straighten out the numbering system. As of this writing, the current versions are referred to together as System Tools 5.0. A step in the right direction, but not far enough: The individual version numbers in 5.0 are 4.2 (System) and 6.0 (Finder). We'll see what happens in the next release, due out in late spring or early summer. (To check your Finder version number, use the About the Finder command in the Apple menu when you're on the DeskTop; the latest Finder also reports your System version number.)
This current System (and future ones) contains the MultiFinder "operating system." If you have at least two megabytes of memory, you'll be able to use it. Basically, MultiFinder keeps the DeskTop around all the time, and your applications' windows appear on top of it. You can have as many applications open as memory allows, and then just juggle around the windows.
Bugs and NoiseApple has also announced two hardware updates in the last few months: one for the Mac II and one for the SE.
When National Semiconductor released its memory expansion board for the Mac II, it exposed a bug in the Mac's ROM, one that kept it from accessing all the memory on NuBus cards. Apple fixed the ROMs and has been using them since February. If you have an old one and run into memory-addressing problems with it, your dealer should be able to arrange a free upgrade for you.
Complaints about the SE's noisy fan were finally heeded a few months ago, and Apple has been shipping SEs with new, quieter fans. You can arrange a fan swap with your Apple dealer for about $90.
New LaserWritersApple didn't surprise anyone with its announcement of three new LaserWriters, but it is nice to have all the details.
At the bottom of the line is the LaserWriter SC. Its name hints at its defining feature: an SCSI port. This is a one-computer printer-a personal printer not meant for a network. It's a QuickDrawbased system, and does not handle PostScript. When General Computer released its non-PostScript printer last year, my advice to those who asked was to avoid it; it wouldn't be long before they found they needed PostScript output. My reservations don't necessarily apply to Apple's SC, because it's upgradable. At $2,799, it's a reasonable entry into quality printing if you're not using programs that speak PostScript, such as Illustrator and PageMaker.
The LaserWriter NT (for NeTwork) is priced at $4,500. It is comparable to the discontinued LaserWriter Plus, with one megabyte each of ROM and RAM and 35 built-in fonts.
The top of the line, the NTX (eXpandable), is the NT with more memory and more potential: ROM expandable to 2 megabytes, and RAM expandable to 12 megabytes. It also has a port for its own hard drive, where you can store more fonts. The price is $6,599.
All three LaserWriters use a new Canon engine that outputs blacker blacks (large black areas have always been a problem), and all three print at about eight pages a minute. The bodies of the printers are the same; you just swap the brains. The price of the upgrades is roughly the price difference among the models.
Note, though, that Apple is going to support the LaserWriter Plus for five years. It was going at the show for $2,999. If there are any left by the time you read this, they may be priced at $2,500 or less, and could be a wise purchase.
Claris ArrivesThe San Francisco MacWorld Expo in January saw the release of many new or upgraded products, and the announcements of even more. There were many noteworthy releases.
First, Claris (the chip off the old Apple) released MacPaint 2.0 and MacWrite 5.0. Seeing the new MacPaint is like meeting an old friend who's had a makeover by a fashion magazine: new surface stuff, but the same old friend underneath. MacPaint incorporates HyperCard's tear-off menus and has a `Magic Eraser that erases down to what you previously had in that portion of the document. It has multiple, resizable windows (finally). and a few new drawing tools. In all, though, it's a disappointment. Macintosh graphic programs have grown so sophisticated since the original MacPaint that this version needs more to really cut it in this software category. Upgrading from the last MacPaint is $25; new, the program is $125. It still can't touch SuperPaint, but with the new SuperPaint jumping to the $200 price range, there will be users who can't touch the new SuperPaint.
The new MacWrite is significantly enhanced with a spell checker and multiple on screen, editable columns. You still have to insert a ruler for every paragraph that has a format change. The problem with this method has always been that you have to insert a ruler after every changed paragraph, too, or the changes continue through the document. MacWrite also has an upgrade fee of $25 and is $125 to new users. But, with Microsoft's Write priced at $175 and a simple and generous upgrade path to Word available in case you get powerhungry, MacWrite is not necessarily a bargain.
Write is an elegant subset of Microsoft Word, and is highly recommended as the word processor for beginners (unless you also need a little spreadsheeting and database capability; then, start with Microsoft's Works). The upgrade fee to Word is only the price difference between the two products. How can you lose? It's like using Write for free.
In the WingsOther new software which wasn't shipping at the show,but is worth waiting for:
• PageMaker 3.0 addresses the three major flaws of the previous versions. It has automatic text flow throughout the document, automatic text wrap around graphics, and, best of all, style sheets. With style sheets, first brought to the Macintosh by Microsoft Word, you define a combination of paragraph and character attributes as a specific style. Defining any section of a document as a certain style applies the style's attributes to that section. Change the definition of a style, and all the sections of the document that belong to that style change accordingly.
• SuperPaint 2.0 has multiple object layers, new tools, and, most interesting of all, an expandable tool palette. Silicon Beach, and any interested third parties, can create tools that you can then put into the palette. Its sophisticated tracing function can turn bitmapped items into objects with Bezier curves. There's no doubt SuperPaint 2.0 will be worth its new price ($199), but there's also little doubt that it will lose fans because of the increased price and complexity. The upgrade price for registered owners is $50.
• Neither WordPerfect nor Full Write Professional (WordPerfect and Aston-Tate, respectively) was ready for release, though each word processor did a brisk business selling in prerelease form.
HyperCard TipHyperCard automatically opens the Home Card, which lets you navigate to other stacks. But the Home Card is really just another stack.
If you'd rather that HyperCard open one of your other stacks automatically, just rename that stack Home.
One last tip: If you want to circumvent the Apple menu's "slot" limit of 15, or want to keep your System down in size, get Suitcase, from Software Supply. Suitcase lets you get at desk accessories and fonts even when they're not in your System file (Suitcase, $59.95, Software Supply, 599 N. Matilda Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086; 408-749-9311).
- Sharon Zardetto Aker