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MacTicker Reviewed

© 2000 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, March/April 2000, pp. 35-37, reprint information

Ticker tape is inexorably tied to images of wealth in the United States. Old pre-Depression movies showed smug industry giants examining ticker tape as it emerged from glass-domed devices. Post-Depression movies showed anguished industry giants examining less satisfactory tapes. Ticker tape parades are granted to war heroes, astronauts, and victorious sports teams. Electronic ticker tapes, created with tens of thousands of lights, are a virtual hallmark of New York City, appearing on buildings in Times Square and at Times Square wannabes scattered around the city.

MacTicker's main display is the ticker itself: a banner running across the screen at a user-selectable position and speed. Depending on the size of the screen and what else you might be doing, this can be a huge distraction or, on a large screen, a very subtle reminder that there is life out there, beyond your monitor. It is also a great way to impress your coworkers, even if you don't own a dime of stock. Comments such as "Wow! It looks like a bad day for margin buyers in postindustrial extractive mutuals" will impress almost anyone, as long as they don't ask you what that is supposed to mean.

All that and more can be yours with MacTicker, an electronic ticker tape from Aladdin Systems, best known for their Stuffit compression package. MacTicker doesn't provide wealth and celebrity, of course, but you can use it without the expense of replacing all those light bulbs in the moving billboards, or constantly recycling miles of paper tape.

If you see something of interest on the streaming banner, double-clicking on the item will bring up an information box about that stock. These can be set to one of two sizes: a small, stark box (such as Motorola's), with the bare minimum of information, or a larger box (such as Apple's) with a wider range of detail. Note the three icons in the lower-right corner of the Apple box. Clicking on the rightmost one will immediately refresh the information displayed, if possible. Clicking on the middle box allows you to configure how information is displayed. Clicking on the leftmost box will launch your browser and take you to a Web page listing much more detailed information about the selected stock.

MacTicker is a small program that allows an Internet-connected Macintosh to reach out and grab slightly delayed stock market information. This information can be displayed in a number of user-customizable ways, the most useful being a scrolling electronic ticker at the top or bottom of the screen. Color coding (using user-definable colors) allows you to tell at a glance if things are going well or badly on Wall Street.

A preference window allows you to specify what stocks MacTicker will track, and what symbol will be used for those stocks. Aladdin Systems provides a number of stocks as defaults (note the heavy technology slant), and thoughtfully provides their own lightly-traded stock as one of the options. Adding stocks is quite easy, and the Lookup option assists in looking up stock information on select Web sites.

You can add or delete stocks quite easily, attending only to those stocks of personal interest. Alerts can be set to trigger if the stock changes by a user-specified amount. If you want more information about a stock, just double-click on the symbol as it scrolls by and a box with more details pops up. From here, you can even launch a Web browser and go directly to a Web page filled with almost everything you could want to know about that stock, including recent wire service postings.

The advanced preferences allow you to set such items as proxy authorization (for firewalls, not corporate boardroom battles), as well as specify a site for on-line trading.

Installation is a breeze. MacTicker can be purchased and downloaded directly from Aladdin Systems' Web site, in a purely electronic transaction. Or (for more money) they can mail you a CD-ROM (which also includes demo versions of Aladdin's other programs). Aside from defining your own personal preferences, there is almost nothing you need to do to get MacTicker going -- provided you have an active Internet connection.

MacTickler can be set to alert you to drastic changes in stock price, with the definition of "drastic," the color of the alert, and any special formatting (blinking, bold, underline, italic) all under user control.

Running on a blue-and-white Power Macintosh G3, MacTicker is unobtrusive. Tucked down on the bottom edge of a 17-inch monitor, it was out of sight and out of mind. The 2.8 megabytes of memory it uses by default were not missed (this particular machine had 192 megabytes of RAM). No measurements were taken to see if it slowed the performance of the machine, mostly because it didn't interfere with anything at all so: why bother? These results would differ, of course, on a slower machine with less memory and, in particular, a smaller monitor.

There are many different options for determining how MacTicker displays on the screen. As it ships, MacTicker comes with a thoughtfully-selected series of defaults, but if you really do want it to stream across the top of your screen at breakneck screen, directly on top of anything else you are doing, displayed in garnish neon colors, yes, you can do that.

MacTicker, like several other recent Aladdin products, will notify you of updates as they are available. On the plus side, it always asks if you want to update, rather than going out and updating itself without your consent. On the minus side, the only update attempted during the period of review (updating from MacTicker 1.6 to 1.6.2) resulted in a machine lockup: after agreeing to download the update, MacTicker launched the browser, the browser went to Aladdin's update page, and promptly froze the machine. This exercise was repeated a couple times until eventually downloading the update "manually" by simply launching the browser (without MacTicker's aid) and grabbing the update.

MacTicker does not, of course, create the information it displays. Instead, it goes out and periodically sucks the information off well-known Web sites. You can specify where it goes for this information. Keep in mind, however, that all stock Web site postings are deliberately delayed, so information displayed on your screen will always be 15 minutes or more out of date.

MacTicker's only real constraint is, of course, the need for an active Internet connection. While it does work just fine over a dial-up account, it works best, of course, over a full-time Internet connection. Naturally, it is also much more interesting when the stock market is actually open; on weekends and holidays, MacTicker doesn't do much.

Even if you are not a hard-core speculator, MacTicker is worth the money simply for its entertainment value. You can, for example, use it as a news source: track a couple dozen interesting stocks, wait for some interesting changes in their value, and then, with a few clicks, you can be at a Web page, discovering that the company in question won or lost a lawsuit, was purchased or is purchasing someone else, or their latest product is a success or a disaster.

As far as electronic toys go, MacTicker is a winner.

MacTicker, $29.95
Requirements: Power Macintosh,
4 MB of RAM (for MacTicker),
Internet connection

Aladdin Systems
165 Westridge Dr.
Watsonville, CA 95076
(831) 761-6200

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Revised March 14, 2000 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
URL: http://www.wap.org/journal/