Nov 89 Letters
By David E. Smith, Editor & Publisher, MacTutor
Apple Introduces Two New Macs
Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh Portable and the Mac IIci at another fancy roll out at Universal Studios last week. In much the same fashion as the Mac II introduction, Apple invited the press and important industry representatives to hear John Sculley pitch his new toys and Jean-Louis Gassée attempt to assemble the portable from scratch. Fortunately it went together perfectly and we all cheered when he turned on the power and up came Ta Da! on the screen. The usual visual effects were there; laser beams, clouds of smoke, Macintoshes rising majestically out of the stage like granite monuments of progress. Everyone was properly impressed. There was even a fan club of school children wearing Macintosh shirts to stand up and cheer. I went with a very pessimistic attitude, especially about the portable, but I came away from it very upbeat about both machines. I think Apple has done a good job with these two products, even if the hoopla at the Universal Studios is wearing kind of thin.
The Macintosh Portable
If you were expecting a laptop, the portable will be a disappointment. My friend Jim Fitzsimmons of Mac America took one look at the portable and promptly went out and bought one of the new Toshiba Dynabook laptops. He wanted a more powerful version of a Radio Shack 100 laptop. The portable Macintosh may not be a laptop, but neither is it a transportable either. It is typical of many of the Japanese PC portables in size and weight. The portable weighs 16 pounds with a 40 meg hard disk, floppy disk and the lead-acid battery. The retail price of the portable including hard disk is $6500. The developer price is about half that amount. The look of the machine is very similar to the high end Toshiba portables except that the Mac portable has a keypad/track ball option next to the keyboard, making it a bit wider than other PC portables.
Battery is Design Key
The key to understanding the portable is the design decision made by someone at Apple that the portable must be a fully functional Macintosh on battery power alone. Which raises the question of how many portable PC users actually use their computers on battery power alone? Since the running time of most portable computers using NiCad batteries is only one or two hours, does anyone really use their computers on batteries? If that is the number one design criteria, then you need something other than NiCad to get more time from the machine. Hence the decision to go with a lead-acid battery. The Mac portable runs a true 6 to 12 hours of continuous use without re-charging and can be re-charged overnight (3 hours actually). Because the discharge rate is slow and even, sophisticated power monitoring and shut-down procedures can be implemented, guaranteeing the user never loses data. The Mac has a nine volt battery backed-up CMOS RAM as well as a power monitor desk accessory with suitable alarms. And the battery can be replaced with the power on without losing anything. The trade-off is size and weight. But you get what may be the first battery-powered full-blown PC in the world where you can actually do something useful all day before re-charging.
Another trade-off of the battery power requirement is that the components must be low power CMOS. However, Motorola does not make any of the 68000 family in CMOS except the 68000. Hence, the processor, and much of the power of the machine is decided for you. The portable has a CMOS version of the 68000 because that is the only processor available. To keep the machine from being a total wimp, Apple upped the clock speed to 16 mHz making it the same clock speed if not the same processor as the Mac II and the SE/30. The portable runs about twice as fast as an SE, which would be expected by doubling the clock speed, but not as fast as an SE/30 or Mac IIcx. The battery decision also determines memory configuration. Low power means CMOS static RAM chips. But CMOS is a bulky process of placing N-channel and P-channel transistors in series to form inverter pairs and is only available in very low densities. Hence Apple is only delivering 1 meg portables which can be expanded to 2 megs with a plug-in memory card. However, some third party vendors are said to be bringing 4 meg CMOS RAM cards to market for the portable which would give it a limit of 5 megs. From the appearance of the portables motherboard, the chip density is only 256K by 1 bit per chip. Since the battery takes up some bulky space (4 inch height in the rear end), the necessary height of the case allows the addition of plug-in cards. Besides the memory board, you can plug in a 2400 baud modem card, upgraded ROMs, and a single processor direct slot, not compatible with any other processor direct slot in the Macintosh family (naturally). The back end of the portable includes the standard Macintosh connectors for Appletalk, SCSI hard disks and the ADB bus for the mouse. Since operation on batteries alone assumes you are not near an AC outlet and hence not near a desk, the portable has a track ball so you can use it on your lap. The logic of that decision in light of the fact we already concluded it was not a laptop, escapes me. Perhaps the motherboard had a fixed width that determined the case size, leaving room for something besides the keyboard, so the track ball was added. Actually, the track ball, being small in size, is much easier to use than other track balls for the Mac that Ive tried. But I still prefer the mouse. Im pretty sure the width of 15.25 inches and depth of 14.85 inches means it wont fit exactly on an airline tv tray, the only place I can think of where you might use it without a table top handy.
Unlike other portable PCs, the Macintosh portable has a readable screen display. Each pixel is controlled by a single transistor, resulting in what is called an active matrix LCD display, as opposed to a passive display used by other systems. In effect, the display is a giant IC. There is no ghosting or cursor loss and the graphics response is just as good as a Macintosh. This is probably the biggest achievement for Apple in the portable design. It really does not sacrifice anything in the display to be portable. The display is bright, easy to read, clear, sharp and fast enough for all Mac graphics applications. The trade-off is that the yields on the display are probably low, which could affect the number of machines Apple can make, and undoubtedly expensive, which explains the high price. One potential complaint is that the screen is not backlit, because of the power drain it would cause. But it shouldnt be needed as the screen is very bright and can be viewed at any angle clearly.
Besides the internal modem card option, an external video adapter option is available that allows monochrome images to be sent to either Apple monitors or RGB, NTSC, PAL or SECAM standard televisions, videocassette recorders and project devices. This would make the portable ideal for on-the-road presentations, seminars and instruction settings. This could be the highest demand market for the portable.
An Alternative Portable
Suppose you made a few changes in the design criteria. What might you get differently? Suppose you assume that no one really bothers to use computers on battery power alone so you dont need lead-acid batteries. Now you can build a Grid type Macintosh portable. With AC power, you can use high density dynamic RAM chips and an 68030 processor. Instead of 32 individual static RAM chips, you can use simm modules. Instead of a specially designed low power 40 meg hard disk, you can use off-the-shelf 80 meg hard disks. If you assume a table top is always available, you dont need a track ball. This would cut the width from 15 inches to 12 inches and the rear height from 4 inches to 2.5 inches. The motherboard depth could shrink from higher density chips so the depth could go from 14 inches to 11 inches, making it just slightly bigger than a piece of paper. Now you have a true laptop at around ten pounds, that has the power of a Mac IIcx or even a IIci if you bump up the clock speed. All those in favor of a smaller, more powerful, non-battery laptop that can run MPW and MacApp, raise your hands!
The Mac IIci
The Mac IIci is a 25 mHz version of the Mac IIcx. In every other respect, it is exactly like the Mac IIcx with a couple of notable exceptions. The IIci includes a video controller on board that will drive any of Apples monitors at a depth of 8 bits per pixel. The video RAM is taken from the system RAM. Apparently at pixel depths of 1, 2 or 4 bits, the on-board video is faster than going out over Nubus to an external video card, assuming you have at least 2 megs of memory. However, at 8 bits per pixel, the memory contention between the video processor and the 68030 makes the on-board video slower than going out to the Nubus. The video supports up to 256 colors or shades of gray on the Apple 13 inch color monitor (640 by 870 pixels).
In addition to the built-in video, the IIci has a slot for a RAM cache, although Apple will not announce a cache card until next year. The highest performance is achieved by using a Nubus video card with a cache card. Performance is said to be 45% higher than a Mac IIcx and higher still (up to 75%) using a cache card. The RAM in the IIci are 80 nanosecond chips as compared to 120 nanosecond chips in the Mac II. The retail price of the IIci is $7,000 including a 40 meg hard disk. The developer price is about half of that. In comparison to the IIcx, the price differential for a 50% performance improvement is only $800 and if you consider that includes a video card, the cost only $300, a small price for a lot of increased horsepower. If you are going to buy a Mac II, there is no point in getting anything other than this new IIci.
The most notable improvement in the Mac IIci has nothing to do with hardware. The Mac IIci is the first Macintosh to get new 32-bit clean ROMs! The memory manager is 32-bit clean and all the ROM code has been optimized for the 68030 processor. A lot of the system patches in the system file, including 32-bit quickdraw have been moved into ROM, increasing the ROM space from 256K to 512K in the Mac IIci. This baby is ready for system 7!
When Apple released the IIcx, the motherboard was completely re-worked to give a much more denser design than the Mac II. With the IIci, Apple has re-designed the motherboard with the addition of five new custom ICs. Once again, Apple has shown its willingness to invest in top quality pc board design. The Mac IIci motherboard is a work of art. There are 6 very large custom IC designs including the video controller and the memory controller, plus the Motorola 68030, and 68882. There are 8 smaller custom chips, including the SWIM chip (revised woz machine disk interface) and sound chip. There are only 32 other chips on the board including the 4 ROM chips and all the Nubus sockets, RAM sockets, ROM socket and cache socket and still the board looks very uncluttered. The Mac IIci is by far the most powerful and impressive machine Apple has ever offered and certainly should give any PC configuration a run for its money. Apple is stressing the total performance improvement of custom hardware design, new ROM coding, system software enhancements as well as the 25 mHz clock speed to promote the IIci as advanced as any of the high end PC designs. It is obviously aimed at the government and University research markets. It even includes a parity memory option, apparently needed to satisfy government purchase order guidelines that were designed to lock federal employees into IBM PC machines. With the advent of the superdrive that can read IBM formatted disks, federal employees can order Macintoshes directly now. In fact, rumor has it that the first two months of production for both the portable and the Mac IIci, 10,000 units each, has already been spoken for by Uncle Sam!
So what is Apple saying about its product line now? At last John Sculley got off the presentation software kick he has pushed at the last two MacWorld Expos and returned to the theme that Apple builds computers for individuals that combine consistency, intuitiveness and ease of use for the way normal people work. This is the right message for Apple to be focused on. They have won the battle of convincing the world that Macintosh is easy to use, and graphically powerful. Now they should be pushing that message to milk it for all its worth, instead of backing off looking for the next desktop revolution. In its message to the press, Apple VPs seemed to be returning the message back to Apples roots. Randy Battat, VP of product marketing stressed the consistency of the Macintosh interface across all its platforms. The software doesnt change. The user interface doesnt change. Only the machine gets faster and more responsive or more portable and flexible. This goes to the heart of the IBM mess where IBM is investing millions into developing OS/2 and the Presentation Manager while ComputerLand dealers sell MS/DOS 3.3 machines running Windows. Is it any wonder IBM has reported third quarter results will be unexpectedly down?
Brodie Keast, product marketing director, stressed that Apple pays attention to details because it designs for the individual, to put the individual in control, making computing tools transparent. This message strikes at the heart of the PC confusion of trying to configure and set up machines that require device drivers, screen drivers, choice of incompatible operating systems and windowing systems and make the whole mess work together with a variety of dissimilar software applications. Keast points out that for Macintosh, integration and detail results in a complete set of Apple and third-party tools that work well together. Consistency, compatibility and integrated networking were themes further stressed by Kirk Loevner, Don Casey and Mike Homer. The message that Apple is sending out is that now flexibility and choice can be added without sacrificing consistency and compatibility. This is the right message for Apple and we hope that Apples national advertising in 1990 will concentrate on these strengths of the Macintosh design.
Adobe - Apple - Microsoft Connection
This years Seybold Conference turned into a real shouting match as Apple and Microsoft proved they really do love each other after all and Adobes John Warnock and Steve Jobs tried to put the best foot forward at finding themselves the odd men out. Just a few months ago, Apple sold its 16% interest in Adobe, makers of the Postscript standard. Anyone who was at the Developer Conference and saw System 7 understood why Apple had sold out. Apple wants to be in control of its own destiny in regards to both its imaging and printing technology. By paying royalties to Adobe for every LaserWriter that goes out the door, Apple was taking a financial beating. And Steve Jobs was giving them an emotional beating by pushing Display Postscript on his Next machine. Clearly Apple had to make a choice. Either it had to go with Display Postscript and lose more control to Adobe, or it had to do something about Quickdraw. It chose the latter. The new Apple font technology, dubbed Royal, brings screen outline fonts to the Macintosh product line. Now Quickdraw can print text just as good as Postscript. But it still cant rotate text or place text on an arbitrary path. Presumably Apple is hard at work on the next generation Quickdraw that will replace Postscript in functionality. The surprise move at Seybold was that Apple has licensed its Royal outline font technology to Microsoft for inclusion in OS/2 and IBM officials have announced that Royal is both technically sound and will be present in future versions of OS/2, as reported by MacWeek. In return, Microsoft is licensing its own Postscript clone to Apple, thus ending Apples dependence on Adobe. It also eliminates 25% of Adobes gross income and Adobes stock fell dramatically from $23 to $15 on the day of the anouncement.
What this means is that Apple, Microsoft and IBM have all agreed on an outline font technology that does not belong to Adobe. This leaves the Next machine out in the cold. It makes Macintosh and IBM PCs even more compatible in the area of typesetting and layout, which strengthens both companies. It could also lead to a graphics standard as well if Apple improves Quickdraw and eventually licenses that as well as its font technology in the future. We dont expect that to happen, but it is clear that Apple and Microsoft are the big winners and Adobe and Next the big losers in this round of corporate hardball. Expect Apple to further drive the nail in the coffin with a future line of cheap, Quickdraw laser printers, perhaps even a portable one for the Mac portable? Apple must continue to support Postscript of course, because Quickdraw is not presently an alternative and desktop design and typesetting has become Apples main market advantage. But the writing is on the wall and Apples direction is clear. There will be an improved Quickdraw to go with the outline font technology in future Macintosh system software releases that will eliminate the need for the slower Postscript interpreter.
Calculator Construction Set
Dubl-Click Software, Inc.
Calculator Construction Set (CCS) has been dubbed Nerd Heaven. If that is so, then CCS is truly a miracle. Normally I do not give much thought to my calculator under the Apple menu. I have two: the standard wimp calculator and a base conversion calculator. I found myself never using them and always using my powerful pocket calculator.
I always hated the extra slot taken by the DA and lack of any real power. So it was no surprise as I tore open the packaging, willing to bypass the virus examination of the disk as I inserted my salvation into the drive. I showed enough restraint to open the manual for a couple of seconds.
It turned out, I didnt need the manual very much. In another couple of seconds, I had emulated my favorite calculator; a couple more seconds, I had modified it with my favorite features and had removed the offending calculators with my dream one.
CCS is really one nice product. It has many displays, financial and statistical functions, programmability, and many more options. One special feature is the scripts you can write. They emulate HP 41CXs syntax, so you have thousands of solutions open to you. About the only thing I could wish for would be that, once I have created my custom, dream calculator, I could save a hardware version of it so that I could get rid of my wimp pocket calculator.
Lee D. Rimar
Absoft Technical Support
Id like to correct some outdated information given in the September 89 Fortran World article (FaceIt Saves Fortran by Mark McBride, page 92).
The article claims Absoft is reportedly working on a Fortran compiler for MPW. In fact, we released MacFortran for MPW last year; version 1.1 is currently shipping.
More importantly, our technical support phone number was given incorrectly as (904) 423-7587. Users needing the dynamic array subroutine mentioned in the article should call us at (313) 853-0095.
Our technical support hours are 9 AM to 3 PM (Eastern time) Monday through Friday. We also have an electronic BBS at (313) 853-0000 (1200 baud, 8n1) on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week.