Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

September General Meeting

by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

Magnificent Bout; Film at 11
Before you get buried in the details, let me first say that I was delighted with the September General Meeting. We had a large crowd, the demonstration was both informative and controversial, the audience was keenly interested in what they were seeing -- you couldn't ask for more. There were plenty of ruffled feathers, snide comments, loaded questions, and transparent evasions, plus startling honesty, bold statements of vision, razor-sharp wit, and cold, hard facts. I enjoy meetings with a lot of passion and emotion, and these are usually in short supply at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. But not this September.
Microsoft was the guest, and they came in style, flying in their own projection and sound equipment, plus a Power Macintosh 8100, plus Dave Martinez (davemar@microsoft.com), product marketing manager for Microsoft Office for Macintosh. For those who aren't certain what "Microsoft Office" might mean, this translates into the latest versions of the top-selling Macintosh application of all time, Word 6.0, plus the sole surviving big-name spreadsheet on the Mac, Excel 5.0, plus the top presentation package in the briefing and presentation-crazed DC Metro area, PowerPoint 4.0.
There were a number of controversies, starting with the size of the crowd. Microsoft estimated the size at around 200, but three different people attempted a crowd count (difficult with people drifting in and out) and came up with figures of 338, 348 and 349. The general feeling was that more people attended the WordPerfect 3.0 presentation earlier this year, which is a surprise. I had confidently predicted that Microsoft's presentation would draw the biggest crowd of the year, so maybe next year I'll buy my crystal ball in Orem, Utah.
Dave proved to be an enthusiastic believer in Microsoft Office. This may not strike you as all that startling, given his job title, but most vendors give presentations that can be ranked somewhere between tepid and reptilian. Dave, in contrast, not only had a pulse, he was also warm-blooded: he didn't just want you to buy his product, he wanted you to think it was neat, because he thought it was neat.
If Dave was excited, so were some members of the crowd. OK, maybe "excited" isn't the best term; they were angry and alarmed and resentful. Here was a representative of the world's largest software company asking them to buy a collection of software that, if fully installed, occupies an astounding 70 megabytes of hard disk space; the recommended RAM for running the entire package is 16 megabytes. Nothing less than a 68020-equipped Mac will do, either; every Mac introduced prior to the Mac II in 1987 (plus quite a few since then) will be left behind.
I loved it: Dave, armed with nothing more than a Macintosh 8100 and the power of a monster company (plus the microphone), on one side. On the other, a legion of doubters, nay-sayers, nit pickers -- and customers, armed with questions and pointed comments.
President Lorin Evans opened the bout by suggesting you could buy a fully equipped Apple II computer, hardware and software, for the price of Microsoft Office. And have money left over to get some frills.
The early rounds went heavily against Microsoft. Dave was rattled to learn that the big drawing prizes, brand-new copies of Microsoft Office, hadn't arrived. [We later learned that someone forgot to send them.] He then made a major tactical error, saying he would show a "brief" slide show (via PowerPoint 4.0). An hour after he took the stage, he finished the slide show.
If the slides weren't all that impressive, the questions were: Dave was under siege, buried in a torrent of questions concerning everything from how Office is packaged (1.4 megabyte floppies or CD-ROM only; no 800K disks will be offered) to Microsoft's programming practices ("But why does it have to be so big?") to the merits of different technologies for linking applications together. Dave, representing Microsoft, came out firmly in favor of Microsoft's OLE 2.0 (Object Linking and Embedding), as exemplified in the new Office components. The audience was either mystified at the need for any such thing, or expressed cautious interest in the multi-vendor OpenDoc standard favored by Apple, WordPerfect, Novell and a number of other vendors.
Running behind, both on the judge's scorecards and in time, Dave made a rally: he launched Word 6.0. Racing through a blizzard of new features, he showed Word automatically correcting typographical errors, automatically formatting boring paragraphs into styled, and stylish, text, and my favorite: dragging text between one document and another.
Where Word 5.1 had one tool bar, you can fill your entire screen with toolbars in 6.0. A macro language, offered for years in Nisus and WordPerfect, finally has made an appearance in the form of a BASIC programming language embedded in Word. Even better, the same language is present in Excel 5.0 (we, ah, forgot to ask about PowerPoint). If that wasn't enough, Excel and Word both work with AppleScript, too.
Document conversions between the Mac and Windows versions of Excel and Word are a thing of the past: both platforms use the same file format. There is a minor difference between the Mac and Windows versions of PowerPoint, but the conversion allegedly requires nothing more than a few seconds delay. [PowerPoint 4.0, by the way, ran the Pi slide show, done in PowerPoint 3.0, without a hitch.]
Excel offers mostly cosmetic changes, with one big exception: "pivot tools." Detailed commentary will require hands-on experience, but it looked like the new Excel will allow you to do far more extensive data analysis than in the past, slicing and dicing databases in ways that used to require extensive macro programming, when it could be done at all.
Dave's best trick, available only to those with ample RAM, was the creation of a complete Excel spreadsheet, embedded in a Word document. Note: he did not create the spreadsheet in Excel and then copy it to Word; he created the spreadsheet in Word, with links to all the Excel tools and functions. This will either be salvation to spreadsheet wizards or a great way to demonstrate conspicuous computing. Probably both.
Editorial Diversion
When the Pi first began negotiations to show Office, back in May, all the applications were still under development. A demonstration of Office at MacWorld DC was noteworthy for two things: less than two dozen people showed up in a room that seated 300, and Excel wouldn't even boot. On the other hand, there were enough refreshments for a small army.
Microsoft has obviously been very busy since then; the new Word, Excel and PowerPoint are impressive. They are also frightening; some in the audience were wondering if they should even dream of upgrading several hundred Macs, or even a single Mac, to the new Office, given the daunting memory, storage, and processor requirements. Say you have 400 Mac IIcx computers. Yes, they have 68030 processors, so will run Office. Yes, they have 1.4 megabyte floppies, so you can install Office. Yes, they have (mostly) 8 megabytes of RAM, so you have enough memory. But they also have (mostly) 40 megabyte drives, so you can't install all of Office; you'll have to leave off the extra TrueType fonts, templates, sample files, tutorial files -- even at a bare minimum, Office requires 18 megabytes of disk space. And you still need disk space for whatever files you might want that weren't written by Microsoft, such as a decent database program, and maybe System 7.5, and...
And then there is the nagging suspicion that a Mac IIcx may not be enough. MacWeek, taking an early look at Office, found the new packages running slow even on a Mac IIfx -- and a IIfx is several times faster than a IIcx, or II, or IIx, or IIci, or SE/30, or LC, or LC II, or LC III, or...
On the other hand, maybe Microsoft really is a big fan of Apple Computer. The new Office looked quick and crisp on a Power Mac 8100 running System 7.5; maybe this is Microsoft's way of luring the Macintosh faithful to the promised land of the PowerPC? "Sweetheart, I'm going to buy a Power Mac so I can run my new Microsoft Office upgrade." "OK. Sounds like a good idea to me."
We Now Return
As I said before, I thought this was a great meeting. Aside from the endless slideshow, Dave put on a dynamite presentation, and put up a spirited defense of his employer's software products, upgrade and marketing strategy, and even software technology. A liberal rain of Microsoft Office for Mac baseball caps encouraged even the shy to speak up. And there were goodies.
In addition to copies of Microsoft Office, there were also nice cloth Microsoft briefcases, plus the ball caps. Every user group member who wanted one also got a $40 rebate coupon for Microsoft Office; when combined with a rebate coupon included in Office, it makes for a hefty discount on the price of purchasing or upgrading. Microsoft also promised the Pi a full copy of the new Office (which, along with System 7.5, should just about completely fill the hard drive in the Pi's Mac IIci), and donated a number of their Microsoft Home packages to the Pi: Isaac Asimov's The Ultimate Robot (CD-ROM), Art Gallery (CD-ROM), Creative Writer, and Dinosaurs (CD-ROM).
Finally, one special little goodie will debut at the next General Meeting: a Pro Presenter. This is a small infrared receiver that attaches to a Mac ADB port, plus a hand-held control. Press one button, and a PowerPoint slide show moves forward. Press the other, it goes backward. I can't wait to try it out.
October 1994
The October 22 General Meeting will be a collaborative effort designed to show how ordinary mortals can produce spectacular color documents using off-the-shelf hardware and software. Proxima will talk about their Proxima Ovation LCD video projector (a star at Pi meetings for a couple years now), Microtek will use their scanners for capturing art, Claris will show how easy it is in either ClarisImpact or ClarisDraw to produce spectacular graphic images, and Tektronix will polish everything off by printing the color graphics with both speed and fidelity.
This isn't just hype; you really will be impressed. Or your admission charge to the meeting will be fully refunded.
November 1994
Not wishing to conflict with Thanksgiving, the General Meeting will be a week early, on November 19. Casady & Greene, one of the oldest Macintosh software companies, will be showing some of their newest games and utilities. They've been in the Mac business as long as Microsoft, but with a difference: their products are inexpensive, and usually much more fun.
Rounding out the meeting will be a full-fledged demonstration of the Internet. Since most people don't have a direct link to the Internet, the demo will be done with the same tools you are likely to use: a modem and a Macintosh. Mosaic, Gopher, Fetch and other strange sounding tools will be shown. We've had more requests for an Internet demonstration than almost any other topic, so this promises to be a packed meeting, too.
December 1994
Roughly a thousand people will descend on the winter edition of the Pi's Computer Garage Sale, shopping for bargains, gossip and information. New feature: for a modest donation to the Pi, you can have your Macintosh go through a checkup to confirm health or, possibly, diagnose existing or future problems. A team of recognized Mac gurus has volunteered to perform the honors.
1995 Meeting Dates
General Meetings for 1995 are scheduled for the following dates (all the fourth Saturday of the month). Mark your calendars (or, better yet, put them in your electronic calendars to give you advance notice):
Jan. 28, 1995
Feb. 25, 1995
Mar. 25, 1995
Apr. 22, 1995
May 27, 1995
Drawing winners
Microsoft Office ball caps: several dozen people.
Microsoft Briefcases: Grace Gallagher, Charles Stancil, Don Essick, Lou Pastura, Mark Rogers, John Ailes, Roger Firestone, D. Bingham, Joseph Goldscher, Joan Martensen, Mike Schmeible
Pro Presenter: Washington Apple Pi
Microsoft Office (Word 6.0, Excel 5.0, PowerPoint 4.0, MOM, RAMDoubler): Jay Miller, Georgia Sadler, Charles Ostrofsky, Marilyn Schmal, and Washington Apple Pi
Apple Power Macintosh 8100: courtesy Microsoft Corp.
Electrohome video projector: courtesy Microsoft Corp.
Setup and worrying: courtesy Microsoft Corp.
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte

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

To date, I've received several dozen comments from people out of the area, and two from people out of the country, but only three from people who've actually attended the meetings.

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