Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

April General Meeting

by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

When you ask someone why they purchased a computer, they usually respond with lists of things they intend to do with the computer: write letters, maintain lists of things, do taxes, manage their checking and credit card accounts. But if you listen to people talk about their computers, without any prompting, the most common use seems to be "tinkering."

April's General Meeting focused on programs to help you tinker, better known as utilities. Unlike applications, which are programs you "apply" to do some task, utilities are programs which help the computer, or help you use the computer. An application produces some tangible output, like a printed letter or check. Utilities, on the other hand, usually just make you, or your computer, happier. Screen savers, disk optimizers, file recovery programs, and dohickies that change your folder icons and play selections from The Cranberries latest CD when you reboot your computer are all utilities.

Some of them are more utilitarian than others.

Now: Instant Gratification

Now Software, according to their public relations information, is one of the fifty largest software companies. This is a significant achievement for two reasons: the company isn't that old, and their main products are lowcost utilities instead of high-profit applications. Lynn Halloran, Marketing Project Manager (halloran@nowsoft.com), visited the Pi to show off their flagship product, Now Utilities 5.0, and two non-utility packages, Now UpTo-Date 3.0 and Now Contact 3.0.

Lynn is a veteran user group speaker: she spent almost no time talking about Now Software, Inc., showed no interest in marketing comparisons with competing products, and didn't try to show overhead transparencies. Given the semi-conscious state of most Pi members early on a Saturday morning, she had the perfect strategy for waking them up: a clear, rapid demonstration of why Now Utilities 5.0 is essential for anyone running System 7.0, 7.1, 7.5, or MacOS 7.5.1.

Now Utilities 5.0 is, as the name suggests, a collection of pieces, which can be used individually or as an integrated suite. Some of them, such as Now Find, are beefed-up replacements for standard Mac features, in this case the Finder's Find command. Now Find offers more options than the standard command, is faster, and gives a great deal more information than even the excellent 7.5.1 version of Find, and goes well beyond anything you can do with System 7.0 or 7.1.

Other elements, such as Super Boomerang, are harder to describe, but addictive once you try them. Super Boomerang attempts to add some intelligence to the Mac's Open and Save options, using the last folder used by a program as the default, but also offering menus within the dialog box to select other files, folders and drives. Super Boomerang works with Now Menus to "remember" recently used programs and documents, allowing you to boot your machine and launch not only a particular program, but a particular document, without ever opening a drive icon, or folder icon, or rummaging around through various windows.

While System 7.0 (and particularly 7.1 and 7.5) are much easier to manage than previous versions due to the more organized System Folder, this has had an ironic effect: people add even more elements to their system since it is easier to manage, making it more difficult to manage. Now Startup Manager offers an elegant method of controlling and rearranging control panels, extensions, and even fonts, going well beyond Apple's Extension Manager.

Covering all the utilities would require a full review, so we'll ignore the rest and mention Now Contact 3.0 and Now Up-To-Date 3.0. Now Contact is a contact manager, maintaining names, addresses, and phone numbers of people you know. You can even use it to print out labels, memos, and paper-based contact books. It goes beyond the ordinary, however, in its interaction with Now Up-To-Date, a combination calendar and to-do manager. By itself, Now Up-To-Date is a calendar program of admirable elegance and ease of use, and the reminder function will keep you from missing any appointments. But combined with Now Contact, you can seamlessly transfer information from one package to the other, avoiding the bane of all computer users everywhere: retyping.

Now Software and Lynn Halloran should both be complimented: they understand user groups, they know how to put on good presentations, and they know their products. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the products themselves are solid. One unexplained question: is the name Now Software a somewhat dated reference to Steve Jobs' NeXT Computers?

Waiting for Main Event

Cal Simone, founder of Washington, DC-based Main Event (mainevent@his.com, or call 202-298-9595), had a more difficult topic than Lynn. Most utilities, such as Now Find, have a single, clearly defined function. Main Event's package, Scripter, is a bit more esoteric: it helps you create, edit, and debug AppleScript scripts. Since most Mac users have no idea what an AppleScript script might be ("AppleScript script" sounds a bit redundant, anyway), Cal's first hurdle was answering the question: why should you care?

AppleScript is a system-level scripting language built-in to System 7. Starting with System 7.5, it is also built-in to the Finder, and System 7.5 includes a number of pre-defined scripts to turn file sharing on and off, add aliases to the Apple menu, turn the sound on and off, and other common tasks. System 7.5 also comes with Script Editor, allowing the user to write their own scripts.

So why do you need Scripter? And the answer is: if you have TeachText or SimpleText, why do you need WordPerfect or Microsoft Word? Script Editor is a bare-bones editor for creating and checking scripts. Scripter, in contrast, is an entire editing suite that allows you to create and check scripts, debug them one instruction at a time, build up libraries of reusable AppleScript code, automatically create scripts by recording what the user does, and perform extensive search and replace functions.

The slickest capability, however, may be Scripter's ability to display the AppleScript vocabulary of a given program. Drag WordPerfect 3.1 to Scripter's Application bar, and Scripter will display all the AppleScript commands known by WordPerfect -- a far more elegant method than the usual "find the manual and look it up" approach. Scripter also allows you to construct AppleScript commands step-by-step by changing parameters, and then adding the completed statement to your script.

Cal demonstrated these abilities by launching several programs at the same time, and then used Scripter to transfer information from one program to the next. He then made a few changes to the information, re-ran the script, and AppleScript dutifully re-launched all the programs and transferred the modified data. This is the sort of complex, tedious, repetitious task that computer users dread, but AppleScript makes it easy. And Scripter makes AppleScript much more useful to the average computer user.

At the end of the demonstration, there were basically two questions: how much? and when? Cal replied that Scripter would be released "in the next couple of weeks" for $199, and that Pi members would be able to purchase it at a special price.

I've delayed writing a meeting report for six weeks, hoping for some specific information. My last contact with Main Event, via E-mail yesterday (June 2), stated that an announcement would be made "in the next couple of weeks." Believe it or not, I heard similar reports about Scripter a year ago ("the next couple of weeks"), and have decided "a couple of weeks" means one of the following:

* It may ship before this article is printed in the Washington Apple Pi Journal.

* It may ship before Windows 95 is released.

* It may ship before the Pi's Winter 1995 Computer Garage Sale in December (note that this may have to be switched with the previous entry).

* It may ship before Copland/System 8 is released in 1996 (note that this may have to be switched with the Windows 95 entry).

[Note: Both Scripter and Windows 95 were shipping in August 1995, though Scripter generated several million fewer software support calls. Main Event is offering a special price to Pi members through the end of October 1995. Call them for details.]

GTSI and Tektronix

GTSI, the largest supplier of Apple computer equipment to the federal government, set up shop with Tektronix in the lobby to show Pi members some new technology. GTSI has verbally expressed an interest in "increasing their visibility" with the Apple community, but hasn't figured out how to do that yet. They don't really advertise to Apple users, have abandoned Falcon's used equipment sales program (a great attention getter), and have deemphasized equipment sales to government employees. But they still say they are interested in the Apple community. You might want to suggest they actually do something the next time you talk to a GTSI representative.

Tektronix, for its part, is doing an admirable job of staking out the color printing market in the Mac world. They dominated the high-end color printing market for several years, and in the past year have made aggressive strides into the plain-paper color printing arena, and recently introduced their first dry toner color laser. They also have drastically cut prices while improving quality, always a good sales technique.

GTSI, incidentally, does sell Tektronix printers.

Coming Events

July 29, 1995: the General Meeting will be at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, but on the fifth Saturday of the month instead of the fourth. Fractal Designs Corp. will demonstrate Painter 3.1, Poser 1.0 (a new package for creating and posing 3D human figures) and Dabbler 2 with the aid of a Wacom graphics tablet. Rounding out the day will be Interpress Technology showing VivaPress Pro, a formidable challenger to Quark XPress and PageMaker.

August 26, 1995 will feature a double program: in the lobby, Pi members will show off their favorite games. In the auditorium, we will present the first-ever Mac Maintenance Workshop, covering routine care and keeping for your rodentinfested computers.

September 23, 1995 is currently scheduled as an Education month, featuring education vendors.

October 28, 1995 will feature Cyberflix, a high-end multimedia firm specializing in exotic CD-ROM games and simulations.

November's General Meeting will be held on the 18th, a week early, to avoid conflicts with Thanksgiving.

The 1995 Winter Garage Sale will probably be held Dec. 2 or 9, which is so far in the future that Windows 95 may have a bug fix shipped by then.

Drawing Winners

Best carrying bag (Best Power Systems): Russell Strange
Norton Utilities carrying bag (Symantec): Donald Eckstein
FOSE gym bag (FOSE): W. J. Whetzel
FOSE gym bag (FOSE): Bill McBeath
Banyan gym bag (Banyan Systems): Gary Mannering
Quicken 5.0 (Intuit): Dennis Kruse
Photoshop in Black and White (Peachpit Press): Nancy Seferian
Exposure (DiAMAR Interactive): Bob Hewitt
Exposure (DiAMAR Interactive): Thomas Mason
Now water bottle (Now Software): Clifton Bailey
Now water bottle (Now Software): Paul Chernoff
Now Contact 3.0/Now Up-To-Date 3.0 (Now Software): Joe Gannon
Now Utilities 5.0 (Now Software): Larry Ichter
Now Contact 3.0/Now Up-To-Date 3.0 (Now Software): Allen Kent
Now Utilities 5.0 (Now Software): John Cavallo


Apple Power Mac 7100AV ("MacBeth"): courtesy Pi office
Proxima Ovation LCD projector: courtesy Proxima Corporation
PowerPoint 3.0 (R.I.P.): courtesy Microsoft Corporation
Silver Spring Metro Center penguins: courtesy Dennis Dimick
TCS Lounging Penguin: courtesy Nancy Seferian
Setup and worrying: Bill Wydro, Tom Witte
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte

Send meeting comments to: lcharters@tcs.wap.org.

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