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Mobbing the Moscone
Volume Number:12
Issue Number:4
Column Tag:Macworld Expo

Mobbing the Moscone

We came, we saw, we conked out

By Matt Neuburg, Managing Editor, and others

The Big Picture

MacWorld Expo was held in San Francisco, January 9th-12th, and MacTech Magazine was there - to learn what was fun and cool, to give away copies of the magazine, to sell from our Mail Order Store, and to help mind Developer Central, the area of the exhibition that we sponsor jointly with Apple Computer, Inc. A number of our associates - contributing editors, authors, and the like - were there too, providing an opportunity for Your Humble Managing Editor to meet some important MacTech identities who had hitherto been little more to him than a name in a byline, on a masthead, or after an email.

The event was both a barometer and a metaphor for the health of the Macintosh. Even as major executives were resigning from Apple and the newspapers were clucking their tongues over the company's weak pulse or even tolling its death-knell, users were flocking to the Moscone Center in such numbers that from opening to closing every day it was a struggle to move through the passageways between the booths, a graphic testament to the ongoing vitality of the Macintosh community, at least. If we compare the visitors to red blood cells and the passageways to veins and arteries, one might be forgiven for wondering whether the nay-sayers had their fingers on the wrong pulse. The irony was irresistible, and universally palpable.It was unsurprising that the South Hall should be jammed, because that's mostly where software was being hawked, often at considerable savings, and mementos of all sorts (bags, shirts, removable tatoos, little rubber brains) were being given away. More remarkable was that Developer Central, in the North Hall, was every bit as crowded. Of course, not all visitors knew what they were getting into. We saw one pair scratching their heads in confusion: "What is this place? What are these people selling? Wait! I know! They're geeks! Let's get outa here!!" But an amazing number of people did actually want to see what the "geeks" had to offer, and our folks were run off their feet keeping up with the demand.

Your Humble Managing Editor, too, proceeded to join the crowds and brave the madness of the South Hall. He had never seen a MacWorld Expo before, and, scouting for software deals and buying himself a few utilities, and seeing in person, as it were, software companies whose products had long been old friends, he felt as if he had died and gone to Mac heaven.

When he got past the kid-in-a-candy-store phase, though, he found that there were also a number of things in the South Hall directly germane to MacTech Magazine. For one thing, there was a BeBox in action (see MacTech 12.1 [January 1996] 25-45), showing off its way cool GUI (from which Apple might take a few lessons) and its speedy double processor - though intrepid reporter and Editor-at-Large Eric Gundrum felt that the blue, red and white box was "hideous". He also had this to say about the state of play with the BeBox:

The OS is speedy and modern, but the APIs are a bit rough and lack consistency. It also lacks any interface guidelines, though there isn't yet enough software for this to matter. Compiling on Be is sweet. No longer do we have to go out for coffee when starting a lengthy compile; the machine just shunts it off to one of its two 603s and allows real work to continue on the other CPU. It doesn't yet compile for Macintosh targets, but we can hope it will soon. The device could be a hacker's dream come to life. Only time will show if it will represent a viable market worth developing for. Seeing the BeBox caused more than one developer to reminisce about the early days of Macintosh.

Some HyperCard folks were present, and gleefully feeding the rumour mill: the program is to be rewritten from the ground up, in color, and cross-platform. But Apple continues to market HyperCard as geekware, unfortunately, representing it with such arcane terminology as "tool for creating software solutions", when what it really is, is Mac programming for the rest of us; whether, as part of this makeover, they will wake up and restore HyperCard to the flagship position it deserves, remains to be seen. General Magic was represented by Sony with its Magic Link communicator, as well as by Contributing Editor Richard Clark operating out of the Metrowerks booth in Developer Central. Mainstay was showing off the latest versions of VIP-BASIC and VIP-C (see MacTech 12.3 [March 1996] 14-24), and its many other programs, such as its database app, Phyla, as well as Plan&Track, Marco Polo, and others. Allegiant, along with its SuperCard, was also showing Marionet, its faceless app and XCMD for scripting Internet protocols, which had just come out of beta.

Back To Dev Central

It was, however, at Developer Central that the principal denizens of MacTech Magazine were mostly in evidence. The avowed purpose of Dev Central is, after all, to showcase the latest in developer tools and services, as well as to educate the public and one another. It also gives developers a powerful platform from which to make exciting announcements - of which this MacWorld Expo had its fair share, as we shall see if we just take a walk around Dev Central. Imagine an area of roughly 11,000 square feet, inhabited by some 39 companies, with perhaps 20,000 visitors coming through over the four days. You might also like to imagine Your Humble Managing Editor (a diminutive fellow to start with) crushed in this crowd, and competing with it, not always successfully, to visit the various booths and learn what was happening.

Apple and Company

Apple Computer, Inc., was of course very much a presence, showcasing present and future technologies for developers to write for, as well as tools for helping them do so. For instance, Newton 2.0 was backed up by the Newton Toolkit 1.6. There was info on Apple Media Tool 2.0 (as well as ScriptX, acquired from the collapsed Kaleida), on Apple Guide, on Dylan, and so forth. And there were the familiar catalogues of products and developer courses from APDA - whoops, I must try to remember to call them "Apple Developer Relations" now (though much of Apple's own literature has neglected to make this change, I noticed).

Quite aside from its own alphabet soup of development tools (the ETO, Mac OS SDK, MPW, and ODF), Apple also hosted a number of companies whose products pioneer its advanced technologies. The largest range of these was in the OpenDoc category. For instance, we saw Oberon/F, an applications development environment (using the Oberon programming language) from the Swiss company, Oberon microsystems, Inc.; this environment is itself not just object-oriented but component-oriented, making it ideally adaptable for generating parts for OpenDoc. Many companies, such as Ware Corporation, are forging ahead with the production of powerful parts. A fascinating and forward-looking product comes from Kantara Development: PM Finder is an OpenDoc plug-in (like an extension) which, when you open a document containing a part for which you don't own an editor or viewer, will put you onto the Web and show you where you can obtain it.

Naturally, Apple's own Cyberdog was also displayed. Our intrepid Contributing Editor for the Internet and reporter on the scene, Jon Wiederspan, reports:

Without a doubt, the coolest thing at the entire MacWorld show was OpenDoc, and for my part it was specifically Cyberdog. Cyberdog is a set of OpenDoc objects that provide TCP/IP client capabilities. Think of it as "Internet everywhere"! Your document can have FTP links or WAIS queries just as easily as it can have graphics or text. Cyberdog is a 180-degree reversal of the current trend on the Internet toward monolithic, do-it-all browsers, and it clearly shows why Apple remains the technology leader in desktop computing. Other companies are giving you access to the Internet, once you learn how their software works. Only Apple is bringing the Internet into the environment that you already know, making it a natural extension of your current work habits. Unfortunately, Apple failed to recognize the power of a Cyberdog demonstration for non-programmers, so it was only on display in the far reaches of Developer Central, well out of sight of the majority of MacWorld attendees and even the casual Dev Central visitor.

Programs making extensive use of AppleScript technology were also featured. B&E showed Ragtime, an integrated document processor (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) that uses AppleScript as its internal command language, making it scriptable, recordable, and attachable. Similarly, E-mailer, a program being developed by Connectsoft based on its E-mail Connection (for Windows), makes heavy and powerful use of AppleScript. QuickDrawGX was featured in a similar way; we saw a page layout program, UniQorn, by SoftPress, that should have shipped by the time you read this, and uses QD GX extensively - one of the first commercial programs to do so.

OpenTransport, QuickDraw 3D, and QuickTime were also featured; but, as noted by sharp-eyed roving reporter Eric Gundrum, PowerTalk was conspicuous by its absence. Eric writes: "Word on the floor was that Apple has decided to rethink its PowerTalk strategy, and PowerTalk is not likely to survive in the form we've known it. Instead, Apple will be breaking out the useful technologies into separate packages, and offering a more open architecture for developers to take advantage of."

Eric also had the following to say about Apple's TV-oriented technologies, the Set Top Box and Pippin:

The technology of the Set Top Box is still in the proof-of-concept phase and not expected to be released until at least next year. That is, Apple doesn't seem to have many content providers (cable TV companies) lining up to license it. This device is essentially a PowerPC converted into a cable TV tuner. It offers many more features, but without content providers supplying the necessary signal, it won't do much.

Pippin is much more interesting. It is much like a Mac stripped to the bone. For under $600 you get a box that uses your television set to display a minimalist Macintosh interface and run Macintosh software. Pippin doesn't have a hard disk, so the OS must reside on the CD-ROM that also contains the software. Technically speaking, the software could be any Macintosh program, but developers will want to make a few minor changes to work better with Pippin's limited RAM, lack of hard disk, and the lower quality TV display. With those software changes, Pippin could be considered another outlet for Macintosh software.

The Big Two, and Several Others

Development environments are like worlds of their own, so Dev Central is a world of worlds. With regard to space and sheer physical presence, the Jupiter and Saturn of this solar system were, as one might expect, Symantec and Metrowerks. The latter especially pulled off a coup by providing several leather sofas, which immediately became a focal refuge for the footsore (meaning absolutely everybody).

Symantec were crying up a whole raft of releases and plans. Among them: Release 5 of their C++ 8.0 will add Apple Guide tutorials and support for drag-and-drop text editing. Their drop-in translator standard allows the user to take advantage of Apple's MrC and MrC++ optimizers. In the VaporWare category, there is hope that Symantec will pick up Language System's LS Pascal somehow, thus bringing Pascal support back into their suite of compilers. And in the AromaWare category, there was Café, their Java environment (formerly Espresso) which, when it appears, will be free to current subscribers.

Meanwhile Metrowerks's CodeWarrior 8 fights back with such things as tools for BeBox development, MagicCap, and, despite the power of its editing and debugging tools, a fairly small RAM footprint (minimum, 8MB). Two huge books provide paper documentation and instruction for CW8 and PowerPlant. The new CodeManager is a source code control system (based on Microsoft Visual SourceSafe) which works with any type of file. And, besides their present Academic / Bronze / Gold trinity of levels, there is now "Discover Programming for Macintosh", a complete working copy of CW 68K plus a set of books online, including the new 2nd edition of Learn C on the Macintosh by Dave Mark, The Programming Starter Kit for Macintosh by Jim Trudeau, Learn C++ on the Macintosh by Dave Mark, From Mac to Windows by Steve Chernicoff, and two others, plus Apple Guide files to help you navigate the materials; the remarkably low price is deductible if you then upgrade to CW Gold.

An alternative way to get your app up and running is to draw it and generate the resulting shell code using AppMaker, in some ways the granddaddy of interface designers. It's from Bowers Development Corporation, and Spec Bowers himself was showing it off; call me sentimental, but I think there's something mighty impressive about watching a demo given by the guy whose name appears on the box (v. infra, "Jasik").

Motorola were showing their new C/C++ and Fortran SDKs; these compilers are ready now, but there is some hope that they may appear as drop-ins to some other development environment (such as Symantec's) later this year.

In today's volatile computer market, cross-platform programming is becoming an increasingly important strategy. Microsoft were demonstrating their solution, in the form of Visual C++ 4.0 running on a PC. This, we are told, is the program that Microsoft used in-house to make the current versions of Excel and Word. An alternative approach was offered by Willows Software, Inc., who supply a development toolkit incorporating the Windows API; from one set of sources you can build for Mac, Windows, OS/2, and Unix. They told me they were just now getting around to providing Mac look-and-feel.

Different Strokes

Not everyone wants to program in C or C++, though, or even Pascal; and a healthy sampling of alternatives was on display, to get you talking another language (and living in yet another world). Fortran put in a strong showing with Absoft's development kits. There was also Macintosh Common Lisp, an important Apple in-house tool (it's what was used to write Dylan) now owned by Digitool, Inc., whose ports of both MCL and Dylan to the PowerPC are significant as well. Smalltalk was represented by Quasar Knowledge Systems, Inc., with SmalltalkAgents. And UNIX-heads could experience Tenon Intersystems' various levels of MachTen, including the version for PowerPC.

Pictorius, Inc., had a booth directly across from ours. Besides showing off their own remarkable Prograph visual OODL and Peregrine client/server database development tools, they were hosting some powerful third-party add-ons. One was Breathing Software's lively animation classes and editors, Animation Solutions, which bring multimedia authoring to Prograph. The other was from Everyday Objects, who have written a set of internet-protocol classes; by combining these with Peregrine and a dtF database, they had written an internet server which, when a client such as Netscape polled it, fetched the required information from its database, built a GIF around it and an html page around that, and returned the html page to the client. Very exciting.

Caught in the Web

Whatever the future of the Web, it (and the Internet in general) certainly has generated an excitement which has become the driving force behind the creation of many new development tools. As correspondent Jon Wiederspan writes: "Everyone [at the Expo] was eager to display a link from their product to the Internet, no matter how far-fetched - the ability to export images in GIF format now makes software ‘Internet-enhanced!'" Besides the Web server created entirely with Pictorius' Prograph language, web-heads in Dev Central were also thronging to look at Everyware's database front-end, Tango. Interface Builders were demonstrating their Online Workshop, which lets online providers design and implement their own interface (essentially allowing you to become your own Compuserve).

The really big Web buzz (might we call it a caffeine buzz?) came from Natural Intelligence, which announced not only the initial release of its Roaster environment for making Java applets, but also its plans for Roaster Professional, which is to create applications in Java. The attention from press and public lavished on Natural Intelligence was quite tangible, and indeed left little room for folks to visit our Online Support expert, John Kawakami, at his booth across from theirs. Here's Jon Wiederspan's report:

Natural Intelligence releases DR1 of Roaster, their Java development environment. With this, NI was not only the first to announce but also first to fulfill their promise to bring the joys of Java to the Macintosh. Unlike the products arriving from Borland, Symantec, and Metrowerks, NI is producing an entirely new environment for Java work, and they feel that this is what will differentiate their product. NI took hits earlier in Java newsgroups from people worried about the fact that NI was not actually licensing Java from Sun, but those worries appear to be unfounded. According to Hillel Cooperman, Director of Business Development for NI, Sun has shown great interest in their environment and has already promised complete support for their developers. Given the fact that Sun has promised to eventually release Java as an open standard, there seems to be little reason for licensing in the long run.

By the same token, the two competing makers of alternatives to Apple's own AppleScript Script Editor - Late Night Software Ltd., with Script Debugger, and Main Event Software, with Scripter - might have been expected to be plenty busy as it was, with users becoming more and more interested in AppleScript, and more and more apps letting them take advantage of its power. But thanks to the excitement generated by the Web, Main Event also found itself quite busy fielding questions about Dogpatch, a new solution to the threading problem with CGIs which allows the CGI to run on a different machine from the server. Here's more from Jon Wiederspan:

One of the main drawbacks of using AppleScript for creating CGI applications has been the problem of handling multiple incoming events. AppleScript handles new events as soon as they are received, even if they supersede older events. On a busy system, this could result in a CGI that was never able to finish processing an event because new events would always be interrupting. Until now the only solution was to use FaceSpan by Software Designs Unlimited to create the CGI application. FaceSpan takes over processing Apple events and forces them to be processed in FIFO order.

Main Event Software, creators of the Script Editor replacement Scripter™, announced their answer to the multiple event problem. Dogpatch is an Apple event dispatcher that can sit between a Web server like WebSTAR and a CGI application. Dogpatch doesn't just force events into FIFO order. It also allows you to create multiple copies of a CGI and have events handed off to them in a variety of sequences (round-robin, least recently used, and more). This reduces the load on any single CGI, so threading is less of a problem. Dogpatch can be used with any CGI, not just those written in AppleScript, and it can send the events across an AppleTalk network so CGI processing can be handed off to other CPUs without requiring another Web server to be running. The result is effectively a better CGI interface for Macintosh Web servers.

While there were no official new announcements from Late Night Software, the booth staff did let me know that they are working on their own solution to the multiple event problem. The Script Debugger focus will be on improving the compiled applications that are produced from AppleScript. In future versions, users will be able to choose whether to compile like Script Editor or to use the new Script Debugger compiler which will provide FIFO event management and multi-threading (processing multiple events simultaneously).

A Cast of Dozens

Developers and programmers can find all sorts of tools and support, and Dev Central is the place to find them. Here are some more of its inhabitants.

Databases and client/server applications to access them are a major obsession of businesses everywhere, and tools for building solutions are ready to hand. OMNIS, in its various "editions" from Blyth Software, provides some serious cross-platform capability. JYACC, too, were showing their cross-platform client-server app builder, JAM; version 7 is "Pre-Release" as I write this, but should be moved to "General Availability" by the time you read it. dtF Americas, Inc., displayed dtF, their powerful relational database front end. Planning Sciences, Inc., exhibited Gentium, and Oracle showed Developer/2000, both mighty client/server design and development tools.

Aladdin Systems was displaying its Stuffit Installer Maker 2.0.2, a version which reportedly has improved scripting and can build multi-file updaters. MindVision Software, had its installer, Installer VISE, as well as its new Updater VISE and the newly acquired TMON debugger (the Professional 4.0 version, with numerous changes to support PowerPC, should be out of beta by the time you read this). Competing in the debugger category was Steve Jasik in person, with The Debugger and MacNosy, including his new "SoftMMU" feature. And Mathemæsthetics was present, with Resorcerer 1.2.5.

For those who feel the need for speed, DayStar Digital were showing their multi-processed clone, the Genesis machine, plus their MP API; beside them, Emerson Kennedy had their PowerTap software, which lets you multi-process using ordinary machines over a network. (See MacTech 12.3 [March 1996] 46-54.)

Conveniently located next to Apple's own Apple Guide station was guideWorks, LLC, consultants and makers of Apple Guide solutions; among other things, they showed off guideWorks Translator, a tool that converts Apple Guide source files to Windows Help source files. Rainbow Software demonstrated their software protection devices. Bare Bones Software was there with BBEdit 3.5.2 and their t-shirts, always in demand ("it still doesn't suck"). Terran Interactive showed their video compression tool, Movie Cleaner Pro. Adobe had a station representing the Adobe Developers Association, where one could inquire about the SDKs for Acrobat and for Illustrator or Photoshop plug-ins. Stone Tablet Publishing demonstrated StoneTable, their List Manager substitute. Douglas Electronics were there with Douglas CAD/CAM. And Scientific Placement, Inc., were providing information on their developer job-hunting services.

Editor's Choices

Now that we've explored Dev Central, let's finish by strolling back out and visiting the rest of the floor once more, to look at those things which particularly interested our roving reporters at MacWorld Expo. First, Contributing Editor Jon Wiederspan, who, as might be expected, spotted all sorts of Web-related material that the rest of us didn't even know about...

Jon Wiederspan's Tour

Databases and the Web

Everyware Corporation announced two new products, Bolero and Tango ODBC, based on their popular Butler SQL database. Bolero takes advantage of a feature of WebSTAR, the HTTP server from StarNine, to receive log data directly from WebSTAR and insert it into a Butler database. The data is compressed on receipt by replacing redundant data so the database will be only a fraction of the size of its text log file equivalent (busy web sites can have logs measuring over 100MB/month!). Bolero comes with several of the report formats most commonly needed by sites, and new reports can easily be generated. With this solution, reports can be made available on-the-fly, and can be customized for the needs of each different department. Tango ODBC extends the Tango CGI to connect to ODBC databases, including Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, FoxPro, and Butler SQL ODBC (also to be released this month). The Tango CGI provides a graphic interface for easy building of query documents for accessing databases via Web pages. With the addition of ODBC support and the ability to access database servers over TCP/IP, Tango makes it very simple to provide cross-platform access to your databases wherever they reside.

Heyertech Inc. was displaying their new product for Web site development. With WebMaster Pro, the entire site (graphics and all) is kept in a database. This reportedly makes it much easier to make global changes and keep track of internal links, reducing errors in site development. The database runs as a pre-processor under WebSTAR so there are no actual files on the server, only the database. WebMaster Pro includes a flowchart for designing a site, a template database, and built-in imagemap processing.

SuperNova from Purity Software Inc. is a multi-user database that is designed specifically for access and control through Apple events. The database is fully threaded and PowerPC native and includes a C-language API. WebSiphon is a CGI application that uses template files to produce dynamic HTML pages on demand. The templates can substitute variables, conditionally include or exclude portions of a document, and much more. WebSiphon interfaces directly to SuperNova to provide persistent storage for the CGI.

Foresight Technology, makers of the NetLink/4D software that turns your 4D database into a CGI application, demonstrated their new scheduler for the Web. CalendarSet/CGI displays clickable calendars in any Web page, complete with banners, icons, and an unlimited number of events. Calendars can be displayed in multiple views and can be secured from public viewing if desired. Installation is very simple and there is a complete graphical point-and-click interface for quickly creating and maintaining an unlimited number of calendars.

Interactive Catalog Corporation is a new company formed by several ex-Aldus engineers. Their first product, iCat, creates catalogs that can be easily exported to HTML or CD-ROM from one central database (CD-ROM support due later this year). This same database is used by the iCat Commerce Manager, which operates as a CGI application on your Web server to add shopping cart functionality and online purchasing to the catalog.

WebCatalog, from Pacific Coast Software, makes it very easy to add a searchable catalog to your Web server, including "shopping cart" functionality and graphics. WebCatalog provides very flexible searching of the catalog and will also do a ranking of multiple term searches much as Lycos™ does. Pages can be formatted to match the user's browser capabilities, returning tables only to table-enabled browsers. The catalog database can be built from any tab-delimited text file or even from Quark XPress documents. The catalog database is cached in RAM on the server to provide optimum search performance. In a move to keep up with the times, WebCatalog also allows you to include advertising that automatically changes as people visit your site multiple times.

WebSite Searcher is the first of several products from Blueworld Communications that uses Frontier to interface with FileMaker Pro 3.0 databases. WebSite Searcher provides users with a very fast search of the contents of your Web site so they can find exactly the pages that interest them. The load on your site is very low and indexing of files occurs in the background without decreasing performance.

VRML

3-D is a hot Web topic and there was plenty of activity on that front. First, Apple announced plans to make the 3DMF format a standard on the Internet for 3-D graphics. 3DMF has many advantages over VRML, primarily that VRML is not really a suitable format for direct storage of 3-D data. Two VRML browsers were announced as well. The first is from North Plains Systems Inc. and is called VRML Equinox. This product supports the entire VRML 1.0 specification, has an easy to use control palette, and views (and converts to) both VRML and3DMF file formats. It can also handle WWW Anchors, allowing objects to be links to the Internet for creating 3-D data browsers. The second is Virtus Voyager, a 3-D viewer from the makers of the Virtus Walkthrough 3-D modelling application. Like VRML Equinox, Voyager operates as a helper application for your Web browser and provides walkthrough capabilities for VRML files including URLs embedded in objects. Instead of 3DMF, Voyager adds additional support for VMDL, the Virtus Modelling language. Virtus also announced a simpler version of Walkthrough Pro called Virtus VR that allows users to drag and drop pre-made 3-D objects and link in URLs to create VRML files.

Web Servers

As you might suspect from the name, Web Server 4D is a complete HTTP server built on a 4D database. All of the basic features are there, including imagemaps, basic security, and several extensions as well such as active text (inserting counters, time, date, etc.), SMTP mail client, and the ability to listen on multiple ports at once. In addition, all logging information is included in the database so users can create custom reports. There is also a Web Server 4D Developer which adds the uncompiled 4D code for customization of your server. If you are planning to integrate a 4D database with your Web site, this solution can be much faster than a CGI interface.

Delphic Software again announced a complete line of Internet server software, this time changing the name from NetAlly to OneSite. The Web server has been promised for beta release by the end of February and surprisingly is going to be free. No date was set for the other servers.

Spider Island Software announced that version 5.0 of their BBS server now also includes HTTP and POP3 server capabilities. The HTTP server is reportedly faster than MacHTTP (interesting that they didn't compare it to WebSTAR), supports CGI applications and allows an unlimited number of simultaneous Web connections (a neat trick). Probably the most desired feature, though, will be the ability to create "virtual hosts", allowing different home pages to be assigned to different domains on the same server machine.

More Cool Stuff

Intelligence at Large Inc. was demonstrating a CGI application/server combination that allows live video to be delivered through a Web interface. The CGI application MovieStar Server displays the live video by using server-push to send frames to the client's browser. For better performance, the client can click on the frames and launch a free viewer that will connect directly to the MovieStar Server and display live video. MovieStar Maker is a simple drag-and-drop interface for creating multimedia files that can be saved out either as QuickTime movies or a multi-part MIME file. The latter format allows the animation to be played immediately as quickly as it can be downloaded by the browser.

WebAnimator, from DeltaPoint Inc., creates multimedia files complete with sound and animations that will play on the client machine. DeltaPoint provide a free plug-in and a stand-alone player, both of which are freely distributable. WebAnimator uses vector-based objects to decrease the size of files (as opposed to bitmap images) and has four soundtracks that can be synchronized with animations.

Lundeen & Associates were displaying Web Crossing, a CGI application that provides discussion forums on Web sites. The forums are structured hierarchically into various topics with threaded discussions ("conversations"). Topics can be limited to private viewing only or open to the public. Users can create new topics and conversations so they forum grows according to user interests. Users can also selectively view only those postings that they have not read yet and can optionally include a small picture to associate with their postings. Web Crossing works with any browser and is available on all platforms.

Little utilities (sometimes not so little) for organizing your URLs are popping up everywhere. All of them store URLs in an easy-to-search hierarchical structure and provide simple methods adding and using the URLs. Each also has its own take on what is an easy interface so you pretty much have to try them all and pick the one that works for you. Dragnet from TikiSoft Inc. provides several interfaces for collecting URLs, e-mail addresses and more. There are user customizable hotlist menus, a searchable index, and a Finder-like window of folders. WebArranger from CE Software Inc. is an update of their existing information management software to add URL support. You not only get storage of URLs and other Internet information, but a complete contact database, calendar application, and more. On the down side, WebArranger works best at full screen on a 15-inch monitor and requests 3 MB of RAM. On the up side, it was being given away free. CyberFinder from Aladdin Systems Inc. takes a different tack and uses the Finder to store URLs and other information bits. URL links look just like files on your desktop and can be organized into folders like any other files. This is very handy if you get tired of having to juggle a dozen or more "useful utilities" and their respective windows.

Eric Gundrum's Tour

One of the most curious products at MacWorld Expo was Executor, by a startup company called Ardi. Executor is a clone of the MacOS running on a Pentium. The software is pre-beta, and doesn't support I/O or most System 7 features, but it does run many 68K Macintosh applications, including many from that company in the Northwest, and it runs them faster than any Macintosh. Executor is intended for the corporate environment that is phasing out Macintosh but isn't ready to spend much money upgrading to all new Windows applications. Any company so cost-conscious should know that the Wintel platform is more expensive than Macintosh.

PowerComputing gets the award for best aisle-blocking booth. They built a large stage backed by a tower of video monitors. Then Bob LeVitus got up and emceed "MacJeopardy". Bob had some wonderful ancient Mac trivia questions. He did a great job getting the crowd worked up about winning a PowerComputing Mac. People were crowded around 15 to 20 deep and raising their hands with a wide variety of objects. Contestants were chosen by how interesting was the object they held up. People held up hot dogs, hats, money, small children, and just about anything else they could think of.

Elsewhere on the entertainment front were the Macintosh games. It seems there were many more games being shown this year. In fact, an editor of a popular video game magazine reported that 90% of of the game developers she knows do their development for other platforms on the Mac. With the right support from Apple, it is only a matter of time before many of those games can also be played on Macintosh. Best of all was the CH Products booth with Thunder seat and game pedals, throttle, joy sticks and other controls. It is not quite virtual reality, but they are getting close.

For years NoRad Corporation has been making devices to detect and shield against various CRT display radiation. Now they have a device that has a more pratical use: the JitterBox. Have you ever noticed a slight wobbling on the Mac screen when you place two displays close to each other? This occurs because the frequencies of the displays interact with each other. The JitterBox is designed to protect the video monitor from outside interference such as this. The JitterBox can seem a bit expensive, but NoRad has a less expensive alternative, the ELF ProTech, a pair of carefully designed metal belts that fit on a monitor to reduce its ELF emissions. With the correct configuration, the ProTech can prevent one display from causing jitter in another.

For those who want to get away from CRTs altogether, there were a number of new projection LCD displays shown. Until recently, projection LCDs were limited to 640 by 480 pixels. However, all the vendors were showing 1028 by 768 pixel units, and Sharp was showing a full 1280 by 1024. Unfortunately these devices remain extremely costly for the present.

Still in the area of Macintosh displays is NSC Software Construction's PowerPC-native screen saver, ScreenLight. No INITs required, and a open plug-in architecture makes this a viable platform for developing new screen saver modules. If you are interested in exploring what you can put on a PowerPC screen during idle time, check out ScreenLight.

If you spend a lot of time on the road, you might consider the Ricochet wireless modem. For a small monthly fee you get a 28.8 kbps wireless modem and Internet IP access from any area that is wired. The modem communicates with repeaters and other modems within a quarter mile radius. The network latency is pretty high, making the effective throughput more like 14.4 kbps, but it is still an effective solution for those who can't afford to be without email for even a few hours.

Final Word

And so, on the seventh day - well, the sixth actually, since we arrived on a Monday and got home late on the Friday - we rested. Your Humble Managing Editor spent the weekend basically supine, very worn out, but very contented as well. We saw enough to propel us forward as a magazine, picking up lots of leads that should pan out into articles over the coming months (write and tell us what would particularly interest you!), and enough to feel that the Macintosh, too, is being propelled forward by the enthusiasm and ingenuity and dedication of its programmers.

Here at the Editorial offices of MacTech Magazine, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that computers are for fun, and that part of that fun is programming. When tools make the Mac easy and fun to program, the power of the computer is put into the hands of the user, where it belongs. If the numbers of exhibitors and customers in Developer Central is any indication, the Mac, so far from being moribund, might be entering a Golden Age.

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