This month we were pleased to welcome two Macintosh utilities vendors who ventured out from the left coast to visit us. David Loomstein, product manager for Symantec Corporation and Peter Thomas, product manager from Aladdin Systems came to show us their wares.
The cold and rainy weather seemed to keep many people home. A little over 140 of the faithful turned out this month. Following a lively and early-starting questions and answers session, ably hosted as always by Lawrence Charters, we launched directly into the demos. Aladdin won the toss and presented first.
Wasting no time, Peter Thomas launched into a demo of the newest incarnation of Aladdin Systems most well-known product, StuffIt Deluxe, now at version 4.5. StuffIt Deluxe is the utility that stuffs and unstuffs files, making them smaller for transmission over modems or small enough to fit on floppy disks. I shudder to think how large our TCS downloads area would be without this technology. StuffIt Deluxe 4.5 boasts an improved engine, Magic Menu and contextual menus which let you access Stuffit's features from the menu bar or, if you are using MacOS 8, use the contextual menu feature by command-clicking. You can also now open an archive by just double-clicking. This opens the StuffIt Browser from which you can drag and drop items.
Next came a demo of one of Aladdin's newest products, Spring Cleaning 2.0. This is a program which provides some functions which sound useful, but like any tool, can be dangerous if misused. As a user of Spring Cleaning 1.0, I was pleased to see that many of the things that I disliked about version 1.0 and 1.1 are fixed or changed in 2.0. The best news is that 2.0 is a free upgrade which can be downloaded from the Aladdin website, http://www.aladdinsys.com/. Look in the downloads area. You can also order an upgrade for a small processing fee.
Version 2.0 of Spring Cleaning sports a re-vamped user interface and the capability to move files to a storage area. This allows you to set aside things from your system folder into a folder called on the way to the trash and wait a few days before deleting the items, just in case they turned out to be something important to one of your favorite applications. There is also an application Un-installer that removes an application and any related items placed in your System Folder, an Alias Resolver that attempts to repair aliases that have become broken because you moved the original to another place or installed an upgrade and put it in a different place.
Two handy features I use often are the Empty Folder Remover and Help Remover. Its amazing how big some of those help files are! I freed up about 2 megabytes of space by deleting help files from applications I know well and never reference the help on. Empty folders take up relatively little space, but it can add up. There is also a Font Remover which searches for all of your fonts, arranges them by family in alphabetical order and allows you to remove the ones that you don't use.
A new feature in 2.0 is a Duplicates Finder that searches for files that have the same name and size or are byte-for-byte copies of one another. This is great for getting rid of the 36 ReadMe files and copies of Simple Text that inhabit your disk.
Finally, there is a Prefs Cleaner. This makes it easier to go through your preferences folder and delete preferences files created by that 30-day trial software you decided not to buy or for those shareware games your kids loaded up and played once and threw away. The application is gone, but the preferences linger on in your System folder until you trash them, either manually or with the help of Spring Cleaning. Spring Cleaning makes it easier by matching preferences to applications and then asking what you want to do with the orphans.
Have you ever hit the save key on your machine and realized that what you really meant to do was a save as instead. I know I'm a lazy guy and often use an old document as a basis for a new one. I just load up the old document and do an immediate save as to create a new one. What if you were working on a project at work and made major revisions to a document cutting out a large section. A week later your boss says, you know, we need to add that stuff back into the project. You can either type it all back in or go back 3 versions using FlashBack. FlashBack is an ingenious utility that saves just the changes to a document from one version to another. You can save up to 99 revisions to a document and you can also provide a time window which prevents you from saving more than one revision every 15 minutes for example. To enable FlashBack, you simply select a document in the Finder and drag and drop it into the FlashBack window. That's all. Now every time you save that document with that application the changes will be saved to as a revision file. You can go back to any of these revisions by double clicking them in the FlashBack window.
Peter's last demo was of Private File, an application which lets you encrypt a file using a 128 bit encryption algorithm and decrypt files sent to you by others. Each license, naturally, is for 2 copies of the program. The encryption key can be as long as 255 bytes, but you need to remember it, since it can't be recovered by anyone. Those scary guys up at NSA might be able to decrypt your file with their supercomputers in a month or so, but for all practical purposes, if you forget the key, your file is gone forever. The file is cross-platform with the dark side (DOS/Windows) and automatically uses StuffIt compression as well as encryption to save the file for transmission as an e-mail attachment or to put on a floppy to send to a colleague.
Those of you who attended the meeting were able to get very attractive discounts on many Aladdin products, including a bundle of StuffIt Deluxe, Spring Cleaning and FlashBack, retailing for $349, Pi User Group price $99.95! Now, aren't you sorry you missed the meeting!
After a brief technology switch, David Loomstein of Symantec (http://www.symantec.com/) took the floor to update us on his company's products. Of course he started out with Norton Utilities for Macintosh, another exceedingly popular utility which has saved me numerous times. Norton Utilities for Macintosh is now at version 3.5.1. If you are a MacOS8 user, you should be sure to get the update, as there are some annoying glitches in 3.5. None are serious enough to destroy data, but there is a bogus warning in Disk Doctor which can cause some confusion.
The Norton Utilities consist of a number of Goodies including Disk Repair, File Recovery, Unerase, Volume Recover, Crash Guard, Speed Disk and Disk Editor, plus I think I forgot one or two. Crash Guard is one of the newest features of NUM. Crash Guard attempts to intercept those annoying application crashes and attempt to enable you to save your work and do a graceful shutdown instead of having to hit the power switch and pray. It doesn't always work, there are some errors that have scrambled your computer's memory like a Denny's omelet, but its worth a try to save some brain sweat when Word goes south yet again.
Of course the one thing which can cause a Mac users blood to run cold is the dreaded Question Mark Mac. You turn or your Mac and instead of Welcome to Macintosh you get a little Mac icon with a question mark on the screen. This usually means that your Mac can't find a suitable boot disk. Not a pleasant prospect. Fortunately, the NUM CD is bootable and you can also use the CD to make a bootable Emergency Disk just in case. If you are running Speed Disk or Disk Repair, its a good idea to start up from the CD, since there are some things which can't be fixed on the startup disk.
Just as you should regularly run Disk First Aid, its a good idea to run Disk Doctor on a regular basis too. Disk First Aid is good for detecting problems with the disks HFS file system, but it doesn't go nearly as far as Disk Doctor in diagnosing and repairing problems.
Speed Disk is the Norton Utility which defragments your disk. As you use your Mac, you are constantly using up free space. When you open a file on your disk or use Netscape to surf the Internet, you are causing your disk to become fragmented. Ever see that little cache cleanup - removing 99 files message at the bottom of the Netscape screen? You just left 99 holes in your file system. Some of them might get reused, but if the new files don't exactly fit the available space, they will be scattered over your disk like rice after a wedding. The new version of Speed Disk has optional Optimization Profiles for Multimedia, CD ROM Mastering, Software Development and Recently Used as well as the old default, by File Type. If the demo we saw was any indication, the process is much faster than it used to be, with the demonstration badly fragmented 10 MB partition being defragmented in about 45 seconds.
There are extensive Apple Guide instructions with the product and disk images and instructions for creating bootable emergency disks as well as the bootable CD make this a very nice package available to those who picked up a WAP User Group discount form for $50 off the SRP of $99.95.
Due to time limitations and questions and answers regarding what will happen with HFS+ if it arrives on schedule with MacOS8.1 precluded another demo. Perhaps Symantec will stop by again when they are in the neighborhood to demonstrate ACT, SAM (soon to be renamed Norton AntiVirus for Macintosh?), Suitcase or Visual Cafe (a Java development tool).
We had lots of Aladdin software to give away. Symantec's shipment didn't make it, so we will have it in the future.
Special thanks to David Loomstein of Symantec and Peter Thomas of Aladdin Systems for coming all the way from the left coast to visit with us. It isn't cheap for these vendors to send someone all the way across the country, provide a hotel room, rental car and expenses to talk to us. We really appreciate the fact that they are willing to spend some of their marketing money on us. Thanks as always to Lawrence Charters for fielding the Q&A so ably, Bill, Beth, Lorin, David and the other volunteers that help with the logistics of getting everything in place and making the meeting happen.
Next month, Apple Computer has tentatively promised to reappear to show us MacOS 8.1 and possibly some of the new G3 hardware. December 13 is the Garage Sale. Mark your calendars now!! No confirmed presenters in the new year so far. Microsoft has committed to coming to demo Office 98 for Macintosh as soon as it is ready. They're talking April or May. If there is anything you would like to see, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I'll see what I can do.