What happened to the dog days of August? Low 80's and sunny is not August in DC! Maybe it was the super weather, maybe the fact that Congress is in recess and just about everybody is gone on vacation, but the turnout was rather light this month. The good news is that we had some new faces, thanks to the fact that we made the "e-vents" box in the Post's Fast Forward section and the fact that some of the folks who came to look at used rental cars in the parking lot were also Mac users!
This month we were pleased to welcome Stefan Zauchenberger and Todd Taylor of IISC, makers of Wingz and HyperScript Tools. I remember using Wingz several years ago when I was tasked to build a gigantic spreadsheet analysis tool for my employer. We were looking for a tool that would put our entire model on a single spreadsheet and at just about the same time, Wingz appeared. I had finally found something which would persuade my employer to buy me a Mac! Well, everything worked out fine and I was so impressed, I even purchased my own copy. Great graphics and easy to use. More powerful than Excel for the Mac using much less memory.
Now, years later, after a checkered past at Informix, who bought the product and didn't know what to do with it or how to position it, it is back. Wingz and its companion application development tool, HyperScript Tools, are now a development tool for building complete desktop applications. HyperScript Tools provide interface element goodies, a project manager, a help builder, SQL access tools and a debugger. Wingz is available for Unix and Windows as well as the Mac. Applications developed on one platform are binary compatible on the others.
The Wingz spreadsheet can contain 32,768 rows by 32,768 columns. That's over a billion cells (assuming, that is, that you have lots of RAM on your machine!) The spreadsheet is a math maven's dream, containing over 140 built-in functions, an integrated database with up to 256 sort levels and the capability to write your own external functions in HyperScript, Pascal or C++. Once you've analyzed your data, you can present it in one of the 20 built-in chart types with almost unlimited customization options.
Once you've decided what you want to accomplish, you can then develop a front end using HyperScript Tools that will allow you to add buttons, dialogs and other interface elements to "package" your application. To those of us propeller heads who write software and develop applications, the ease of doing this with Wingz is exciting. Admittedly, this product is aimed at the power spreadsheet user, but if you are looking for a good cross-platform solution, Wingz is a winner.
Stefan ran Wingz and HyperScript Tools through its paces in an impressive demo. Current Wingz customers (any version) can upgrade to Wingz 2.1 for $89 or to HyperScript Tools with Wingz for $179. The Mac version goes for $179/$249 on a competitive upgrade basis for those of you who use other spreadsheet products. See their web site: http://www.wingz.com/ for details.
Next, we were pleased to welcome back Apple Computer to give us an update on the MacOS and Mac OS 8 in particular. I received a big surprise when Jack Quattlebaum of the Atlanta office arrived. When I attended the Mac OS 8 briefing last month at the Apple Reston office, Jean David Mankovski told me that he would be doing the presentation. I also heard that Kelly Marbury, the Reseller support person may be there. It was good to see Jack again and we welcome Kelly and J.D. to our meeting.
First the good news: Mac OS 7.6.1 and Mac OS 8 delivered on time as advertised. There's been a lot of griping in the press that MacOS isn't Copeland. So what. Apple at least delivered the promised upgrades on time when promised. Did you hear that Mr. Gates? I understand Office 97 is now Office 98. In fact, I heard rumors that you are abandoning the practice of naming releases after years altogether.
Before the presentation, Kelly Marbury gave us an update on the PowerBook 3400. There is a new, lower price and you now get 32 MB of extra RAM and an extra battery at no extra charge. If you are a registered Apple owner, you should be have gotten the word by the time you read this. If not, browse on over to http://www.apple.com/ for more information.
J.D. started off with a product update. The Performa line is gone, replaced by the 6500, which comes pre-configured in several flavors, for home, office and multimedia. Many include a built-in Zip drive. Most of the lines have been beefed up with faster processors topping out at an impressive 300 MHz. There is a new "sub-notebook" model of the Powerbook, the 2400, weighing in at a little over 4 pounds, it is a hot seller in the Pacific Rim and should be available here by now.
As far as MacOS goes, everything still appears on schedule. Rhapsody should be by early 1998. Mac OS 8.1 is due in late November. Allegro and Sonata are supposed to ship in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Expected in 8.1 are the new HFS+ Finder. HFS+ is the mechanism which the Mac uses to store and locate files on disks. Due to the increasing size of newer hard drives, you can now fill up the file system long, (especially if your files are fairly small) long before you fill up the hard disk. I'm not exactly sure, but I think the capacity of the current system is 64K files. Also the larger the drive, the larger the allocation unit. That is, on a 20 MB drive space is given away in smaller chunks than on large drives. This is because it divides the available space on the drive by the number of entries in it's allocation table and the allocation unit is the result.
I remember a friend telling me that her data got fatter when she upgraded from a 20 MB to a 2 GB drive. She used a backup program to save everything and then restored to her new hard drive when it was installed. Suddenly she had 80 MB of data, yet she had all of it on a 20 MB drive before. Where did the extra stuff come from? The answer is the allocation units on the 2 GB drive are much larger. Each file takes up a minimum of 1 allocation unit. HFS+ is supposed to have a larger allocation table and many other improvements which will enable it to handle huge hard drives and also be more compatible with the Unix underpinnings of Rhapsody. The bad news is that you must reformat your hard drive to use it. TANSTAAFL. Along with HFS+ are lots of other great things like new versions of QuickTime, QuickTimeVR and something called Apple Data Detectors.<
J.D. then proceeded into a demo of Mac OS 8. There are lots of nice interface improvements and cosmetic changes in Mac OS 8. First of all, everything looks more "3-D" than before. There is an Appearance control panel that lets you change how things look. The menu bar has been re-done. The yellow box with a question mark in it is gone, replaced by a Help menu item. Also, a la Windoze, menu items now stay open when you click on them. This takes some getting used to. The Apple in the upper left even looks more 3-D. You no longer need to play games to change your desktop to a picture. There is now a control panel which allows you to set your desktop to any pattern or picture. A bunch of patterns and pictures come with the CD in the CD Extras folder.
Another great convenience is "spring loaded folders" (not "spring loaded olders" as the announcement in last August's MacWorld described them). If you drag an item over a disk or folder, it will pop open. You can keep doing this for as many levels as you want. When you release the mouse button, the item and its container will stay open and all of the other folders will pop shut. There is now a window shade button to the far right of each window. Clicking this button will roll up a window just as double clicking on the title bar does. Windows now feature "active scrolling." There is no re-draw wait after scrolling. The View menu is improved with nicer look in the list view and the sort sequence at the top of the screen is highlighted. You can also keep your icon views arranged in the same order and you can turn everything into buttons a la Launcher.
Dragging a window to the bottom of the screen turns it into a tab. You can click on this tab to open up the window to full size again and it will collapse back again when you are finished with it. To get rid of the tab just pull the window away from the bottom of the screen and it reverts to a normal window. Click the close box and it's gone.
The Finder is now PowerPC native and multi-threaded. You can be copying many files while surfing the net. There are lots of other goodies too numerous to mention. 1.2 million copies flew off the shelves in the first two weeks of availability. I like it and I think you will too!
JD then launched into some demos of emerging technologies. QuickTimeVR has come a long way. We were treated to a QTVR tour of the Atlanta Market Center in which you could jump from room to room. We also saw a demo of Numbers and Charts, an OpenDoc spreadsheet product from Adrenaline Software (http://www.adrenaline.ca/) which allows you to create some impressive 3-D charts and use rendered objects or even QuickTime movies as bars. Makes you kind of sad that OpenDoc is going the way of the dodo bird.
Next came J-Press, a Java implementation of a platform independent document architecture similar to Adobe's Acrobat. Unlike Acrobat, the document is not "mummified." It is also much smaller, usually about 10 times smaller, than the original. The viewer is so small that it is routinely imbedded in the document.
Finally, we were given the "first ever live demonstration" of Rhapsody. There it was in living color. You saw it here first. What we saw will definitely not be what will be delivered by Apple next year. Yet there it was and Mac OS ran just fine, thank you. (Well there was a little tiny crash, but a quick restart and it worked the second time. Mac OS crashed, that is, not Rhapsody. One of the benefits of Rhapsody is protected memory. If an application crashes, it doesn't bring the everything else down with it.)
Next Month: Corel, featuring CorelDraw and WordPerfect. In October it is Aladdin and Symantec and November 22 may again feature Apple showing off Mac OS 8.1. This is not yet definite, stay tuned.
We had our usual drawings for door prizes at the end of the meeting. Two lucky people walked off with Mac OS 8 CD-ROMs and several books, bags and other goodies were given away. Unfortunately, one of the many people who were helping to clean up, cleaned up the prize winner forms. I found the blank ones, but the completed ones have vanished, maybe to the Pi office somewhere. You winners know who you are. How about writing a review for the Journal if you won software or a book?
Thanks once again to our presenters and to Beth and all of the Pi volunteers, especially Tom and Lawrence who do such a great job on the Q & A as we finish setting up every month. See you next month!