Miscellaneous Ramblings

Mice of Many Colors, 'No Floppy' Feedback, and Apple Support Resolution

Charles Moore - 1999.02.12 - Tip Jar

NOTE: This Miscellaneous Ramblings column originally appeared on MacOpinion on 1999.02.12. It is republished here by permission of the author and MacOpinion.

Good news! Jan from Florida, whose problems getting her PowerBook G3 repaired under warranty launched The Road Warrior's recent Apple Support Problems series of columns, got her machine back this week, complete with new motherboard and keyboard. She has installed a 64 MB RAM upgrade, and is delighted to be computing in style again. Jan would like to thank the folks at Apple Support who got on the case and finally got her 'Book fixed.

Less happily, C. D. Campbell, whose story was published on The PowerBook Source and quoted here last week, has still not received what he considers a satisfactory resolution to his PowerBook G3 troubles.

In another letter, Mr. Campbell states that the Apple Senior Customer Service Rep he has been dealing with has informed him that he must sign a nondisclosure agreement before he can receive a replacement unit for his nonfunctional WallStreet G3 PB 250/13.3 machine. Campbell says that in nearly five months he has had my computer available for use a total of three days, and most of that time was spent ruling out possible software conflicts.

He notes that he is not in litigation with Apple, so the NDA is not being requested as part of an out-of-court settlement, and in his opinion Apple is insisting that he give up his right to free speech in order to get a replacement unit that is owed to him according to the terms of their warranty.

Mr. Campbell believes that consumers should be free to help and support one another, and notes that Apple has enjoyed a reputation as a progressive company, and that many loyal Mac fans feel uncomfortable about criticizing Apple. However, he says that he finds it difficult to find something progressive about censorship.

Why does Apple now want to prohibit me from sharing my experiences with others?

I can only conclude that Apple is uncomfortable with the truth.... I feel consumers have a right to quality products that function well and prompt repair/replacement if they don't. No-one else should have to go through what I have been going through. While I am happy for those who are cruising with their "Lamborghini of laptops", mine has been a proverbial "lemon" and Apple's desire to silence me leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Mr. Campbell asks others who have had problems with Apple Support to contact him directly at diorama@sirius.com.

I understand Mr. Campbell's extreme and justified frustration. However, I think Apple's interest in requesting nondisclosure agreements from customers who receive replacement machines is not so much censorship, but rather an attempt to pre-empt an a priori assumption of replacement entitlement among customers who have problems.

Having read Mr. Campbell's two letters describing his experience, I am convinced that he really should get a replacement for his PowerBook - or even the full refund of his purchase price that he would prefer. He spent nearly $4,000 for the 'Book last spring and has had virtually zero satisfaction from it. That his case has dragged on as long as it has is totally unacceptable. Hey Apple: give the guy a new 300 MHz PowerBook with DVD-ROM and an apology, and forget about the NDA. This cat is out of the bag anyway.

However, in general, most computer problems should be repairable, and Apple (or any other computer manufacturer) simply could not institute a policy of system replacements for malfunctioning units as a matter of entitlement. Regrettably, the more than a few bad apples (pun intended) out there who would take advantage of and abuse such a policy make it problematical for Apple to do the right thing by those whose problems legitimately do warrant a replacement machine. Hence the NDA as a Band-Aidô solution to keeping the lid on.

Black Apple Mouse to Match Your G3 PowerBook

A tip of the hat to an anonymous PowerBook Zone reader for noticing this item.

If you think a black mouse to match your PowerBook G3 would be cool, you can get one from Sun Remarketing, which has a stock of Graphite-Black Apple ADB mice (Part No. 922-2328) that were made for the little-known and limited production Mac TV, which was essentially a black LC 520 with a TV tuner in it and a maximum 8 MB RAM limitation (Apple's first experiment with "no-beige!").

The black mice don't quite match the PowerBook G3 Series's subtly bronze highlighted black plastic, but they're as close as you're likely to get. Sun's price is US$90 plus shipping. Web orders get a 5% discount.

Reader John Havard reports that he ordered one of these mice directly from Apple through his Apple dealer last year and paid substantially less than $90, so you might want to check that avenue out as well at your local Apple reseller.

According to the PowerBook Zone's reader report, Sun Remarketing also has some Graphite-black Apple keyboards, also courtesy of the Mac TV (Part No. 922-2327), but I didn't find them during my brief tour of Sun's Website.

Also in the hard-to-find mouse department, Sun Remarketing lists the original Mac mouse (non-ADB) that works with the Mac 128k, 512K, Plus and Lisa, for a modest $39.00 (Part No. 712-101).

Contour Design Mice

Still with mice, this isn't a specifically PowerBook item right now, but USB support is coming on the next generation of PowerBooks, and Contour Design's new USB UniMouse is so cool it deserves mention. The UniMouse comes in five "flavors" to match the new, Revision C iMacs: two-tone Blueberry, Grape, Lime, Tangerine, and Strawberry . The UniMouse features three buttons, with drivers available to configure several button definition combinations, including double click, control click, option click and drag lock.

The UniMouse also offers a "Universal" palm support that Contour Design claims will provide superior comfort and control for the user. Some of the key ergonomic features of the original Contour Perfit (five sized) Mouse are also designed into the UniMouse. The Award-Winning Contour Perfitô Mouse is the only mouse available in five different sizes for both right and left hand users. The Contour Perfit Mouse was selected as "The Best Ergonomic Product" at the International Ergonomics Associations (IEA) world conference.

The Contour Mouse's open hand architecture provides elevated buttons and support for the hand, wrist, and thumb. It allows the hand to be open, balanced, and relaxed, rather than curved around the mouse, as is typically the case. The fingers are elevated, the palm raised and supported, and the wrist is lifted off the desktop.

Another key Contour Mouse feature enables the user to program buttons in order to minimize button clicks.

The new UniMouse also offers USB plug-and-play compatibility with PCs running Windows 98 or higher. On PCs, the middle button can soft-scroll in any direction and the right button provides contextual menus options. The two outer buttons can be reversed using the Windows standard mouse control panel.

The UniMouse suggested retail price is US$39.95 and will be available both at major retailers throughout the U.S.; and directly from Contour Design by phone 603-893-4556) or through the company's Web site.

Form Factors

The industrial design of most Wintel PC computers, be they laptops or desktops, is pretty pedestrian, and very rarely do I find myself attracted rather than repelled by the appearance of a PC.

However, a notable exception is the gaggle of sleek, ultrathin, PC subnotebooks that are selling like proverbial hot cakes these days while Apple scrambles to get its own subnotebook contender (the P1 or iBook or Webmate or whatever it will be called) ready for introduction.

In my always humble opinion, Apple is going to miss the boat if they don't come up with a form factor that looks just as svelte and avant-garde as the Sony Vaio (my favorite among the PC contenders) and Mitsubishi Pedion (my runner-up favorite despite the name, which sounds like arch-supports or something - Memo to Mitsubishi: time to do something about the committee that thinks up the dumb names for your computers and cars).

An excellent roundup of Wintel ultrathins can be found at: http://www.jpd.com/.

Of course the reality-check realization that lurking inside the winsome exteriors of these beasts are Windows and Pentium, is a bit like lifting the hood on a Ferrari and finding a wheezing, sputtering, econo-box four-cylinder, or having a beautiful woman smile at you and reveal a row of rotting teeth. However, they still look great.

Some of these little beauties are now offering built-in digital cameras (something that would never have occurred to me, but a really cool idea), and touch screens (doesn't particularly turn my crank).

Apple has some tough competition already established in this market sector, and will need something really innovative (like a substantially lower price point) in order to make an impression.

Floppy Not

I got a lot of feedback about the iMacFloppy concept reviewed here last week.

Reader Tom Dutton writes:

I am a cross-platform user. I use a P2 at work, until recently a 386 at home, and have recently purchased a Mac, my first, to replace the home peecee. The G3-300 has a floppy, of course. It has been used 2 times in 6 months. The only times I had to use it are due to two (backwards-thinking) manufacturers . To install the Keyspan USB card and to install Quark, we needed to insert a floppy disk. BTW, the floppy on my work peecee has been used once in two years, and that is because i needed to reboot from it.

The dependency we have on floppies can easily end. Once peecees can boot from CD (I may be wrong, but I think they still can't . . . right?) and manufacturers like Quark give up the ghost, the 3.5 will go the way of the 5.25.

Love the internet solution. Many people have an account now, and if you have one, why not maximize the value you get out of the services provided? Why do we need to spend 6 billion dollars on obsolete floppies, especially since they are NOT cheap. Figuring cost per MB of storage, even Zip 100s are less than a penny a meg if you buy 10 at a time, and CD-R are less than a penny for 5 meg, again buying 10 at a time. Neither are floppies particularly reliable. I know this is only anecdotal evidence, but on my peecee at home, floppy disks have failed me more often than my HDD did!
Love your stuff, Charles,
Rock on

Will do, Tom, and thanks. I agree with your observations, and have had more failed and defective floppies over the years than I care to remember. However, not everyone was like-minded.

Mike wrote:

Just my $0.02 worth.

On the floppy issue - the internet floppy is no substitute for a real one - didn't anyone mention that you have to log onto the Net to access it? That sort of defeats the main attraction of a floppy - quick and easy transfer of files. Based on reactions I've seen, I think more iMac sales would have resulted with a floppy as std. (or an Imation SuperDisk that reads both).

Many people don't *need* a floppy - but they do come in handy from time to time for taking files home from work, quick file xfers (most target consumers of the iMac do not have a home network). And I read some comments that some schools may have put off purchases due to no floppies (which are used for taking work to/from home). It amazes me how we will argue so hard and cite all kinds of workarounds to justify the fact no writable storage was standard or that we don't need a floppy. Including it would not have attracted more owners, and not been a negative for anyone else. The cost at that level (OEM) would have been less than what many owners spent in time and money doing workarounds and/or buying another drive to serve that purpose.

Just my opinion, but it's shared by many people that have written and talked to me since the iMac release. Some sort of removable storage should be present in my opinion on any consumer computer - either floppy, ZIP or SuperDisk. Otherwise how does the average consumer (newbie oftentimes) back up their data? (Other than a network, the Internet which many won't like due to real or perceived privacy issues). It just leads to more cost for the consumer, who has to purchase a ZIP, floppy or other removable storage that also adds more cables and clutter to a otherwise clean, self-contained machine.

Why *force* people to [give up floppies]? Remember we live and work in a diverse world - there are almost 1000 machines where I work and they all have floppies, as do most every notebook on the planet, etc.

Apple's basically cost cutting measure (don't fool yourself into thinking it was otherwise) is not blindly followed as some sign from messiah that the floppy is evil or something. Bizarre - floppies are cheap and handy, the drives cost $20 to end users. They are popular, and useful.

That's the end of my comment, I don't have time to argue this point and I know it's a never-ending thread for those that think that way.

And one correction to the feature rumors you reported that O'Grady was predicting. Unless the G3 chip design has been changed recently, the L2 cache limit is AMB, as noted in the specs on the G3 chip.

Best Regards

Thanks for your comments, Mike.

I think for schools, the obvious answer is to buy one removable media USB drive and network the whole concatenation of iMacs together. That way kids could take files home.

Good point about no standard writable backup medium.

However, I still think that the idea of getting rid of floppies is sound. Without the cold-turkey treatment, people would never give them up. I don't agree with you about cost being Apple's primary motivation for ditching the floppy on the iMac and Yosemite. As I asserted last week, they could almost certainly have sold a lot more iMacs if it had been equipped with a floppy drive, and nobody would have been turned away by the inclusion of a floppy. However, that would not be the cutting edge industry leadership Mr. Jobs and Apple are famous for.

I expect that there was hand-wringing back in 1984 when Jobs decided to not include a 5-1/4" floppy drive on the original Mac, and go instead with the new 3-1/2" floppies exclusively. It is impossible and impractical to hang on to every standard forever.

Dumping SCSI, ADB, and serial ports in favor of USB and FireWire is causing similar angst to the no-floppy policy, but that is necessary too if the technology is to advance. I'm reflexively conservative, and resist change for change's sake, but the hot-pluggability and general user-friendliness of USB has convinced me, not to mention the cross-platform issue.

Anyone who really wants or needs floppies can have them with their iMac or Yosemite or G3 Series 'Book by buying a peripheral drive or floppy module. Those of us who think we can make it as early adapters of an inevitable floppy-less computing universe to come don't have to pay for something we don't use. That seems fair as well as forward-looking.

Peter Timofejew commented:

I agree with you that floppies are pretty much obsolete. I can't remember the last time I used one for Macintosh-only work. For backups, I use Zip disks, and for data/application installs, I use either CD or the Internet (FTP/Web/Email).

However, I did purchase a floppy drive for my G3 Series PowerBook. Why? Well, in my line of business, 99% of the people I deal with use Windows machines. And, they just can't seem to get up to speed with the concept of not using floppies, let alone using a "virtual" floppy.

I've been semi-successful with getting people to email me attachments, but I still get people giving me Word and Excel documents on a 3.5" floppy. And, I'm not willing to spend much time evangelizing a "floppy-less" world. Thankfully, Apple priced the floppy module for the G3 Series reasonably, so it's a fairly inexpensive option for the PB that saves me a lot of grief.

But, I must comment on your discussion about "virtual" floppies (i.e. services such as iMac Floppy). In iMac Floppy's case, I had visited their site to how well they did it, and I was equally impressed as yourself. Nice interface, very simple to use, and I imagine it probably works as well as advertised.

However, I'm not about to put my data up there.

I'm sure that the security precautions that iMac Floppy takes are most likely quite good. It's probably very difficult for a hacker/cracker to get into the site and access other people's data. But, and no slight intended against the folks at iMac Floppy, but I still wouldn't feel comfortable putting confidential client information (or personal information) up there. I know with my data on my PB hard drive or on a Zip drive, someone needs physical access to the disk in order to read the data. With a virtual floppy solution, who knows who can actually get access (maliciously or accidentally) to my data.

So, I think that it's not a bad solution, assuming that one *always* encrypts data before "saving" it on a virtual floppy. There are a number of programs for the Mac, commercial software, shareware, and freeware, that will encrypt data, and I would recommend that anyone contemplating using a virtual floppy service utilize one of these programs before sending their private data to a public server.

The downside of this is that it's an extra step, and a surprising number of people are confused about encryption (especially "industrial strength" encryption such as PGP).

In summary, I think that virtual floppies are a great idea, but only if people saving their data there are aware that it's not as secure as a physical floppy - they must take the extra step of encrypting their data first."

Peter's points about security and encryption are well-taken, and an issue to consider before parking sensitive or personal material on any Internet server.

Floppy-less Issues

Ronan O'Ciosoig, a design engineer in Dublin, Ireland, wrote:

By in large, I never use floppies. They are just too unreliable. I use Zip instead. Fine.

Now I'm considering buying the new G3. If I need a 3.5" disk drive I can buy the Imation SuperDisk drive. Fine.
I now use a lot of music software which is installed by CD, but authorized by 3.5" disks. Problem.

Even connecting the SuperDisk drive won't work. Major problem!!! So now I can either buy an older Mac or not use the software I bought, or just wait several months 'til it's all sorted out. Not good.

Such is life..."

This is a real issue with certain software titles that use floppies for copy protection. One of the programs Ronan uses is Digidesign's digital audio workstation Pro Tools.

Digidesign is indeed recommending that its customers not buy the new blue G3 minitower Mac, at least for now.

A company release notes that:

While these new computers are as feature rich, powerful and as cost effective as their G3 predecessors, they introduce some fundamental changes to the internal architecture which present Digidesign and many other Apple developers with significant engineering challenges.

Digidesign hopes to release a new version of Pro Tools in the spring which will add support for the new G3s. In the meantime, among several issues with the Yosemite that Digidesign finds problematical is indeed:

NO BUILT-IN FLOPPY DRIVE: Digidesign and nearly all of its software Development Partners use floppy disks for software installation and authorization. In most cases, the absence of a built-in floppy drive will require purchase of a compatible third party floppy drive for installation of Pro Tools and most optional software from Digidesign and our Development Partners.

Digidesign acknowledges that the new Power Macintosh G3s introduce an increase in power to the Apple G3 product line and have the potential to be a good choice for Pro Tools users. However, they note that use of a new Power Macintosh G3 with a Pro Tools 24-based system will require purchase of one or more additional pieces of hardware: a compatible floppy drive, a SCSI accelerator card, and/or a USB-to-Serial Port Converter. It will also take some time for many of Apple's and Digidesign's third party developers to add full support and deal with the issues presented by these new machines, such as FireWire and USB compatibility with MIDI interfaces, hard drives, backup devices, synchronizers, CD recorders, etc. Until all of these issues are resolved and Digidesign has announced full compatibility with Pro Tools, Digidesign is advising its customers are advised to purchase the older Power Macintosh G3 machines.

On the other hand, perhaps Digidesign protests just a wee bit too much. While Digidesign is not yet supporting its Pro Tools Digital Audio software for Apple's Yosemite blue G3 minitowers, other audio software developers are.

MOTU's Audio 2408 recording system is fully compatible with the Yosemite, the company says. According to a MOTU release:

If you've heard that the new "blue" G3 Macintoshes from Apple are not suitable for music or audio applications yet, think again. MOTU recognizes the enormous benefits of these blazing machines, and we offer an entire line of audio and MIDI products that take advantage of this impressive power - today.

In fact, at the Winter 1999 NAMM show, our entire booth was decked out with G3/400s all running 2408 hard disk recording systems, Digital Performer 2.5 and our existing serial port MIDI interfaces.

[Editor's note: To find out how you can contribute to the "Buy Ben a 2408" fund, click here. It might even be tax-deductible! :-)]

MOTU is currently developing a full line of USB MIDI interfaces, but in the meantime, their existing serial port interfaces on a new blue G3 Macintosh can be used via a PCI serial port card from Megawolf and MOTU's latest FreeMIDI 1.38 software.

MOTU's Digital Performer 2.5 authorizes on all Macs, new and old, without a key disk or dongle, so no floppy drive is required.

Pertaining to hard disk recording, the company states:

Wow, are these new machines fast! Our 2408 hard disk recording system can simultaneously record 72 tracks on the internal hard drive of a top of the line G3/400 - right out of the box! Whew.

Reader Jim Hall says that in his opinion, "Digidesign is as slow as Molasses in January about anything new on the Mac."

Jim runs the audio system from Ensoniq called " Paris."

He says:

This is a fairly complete solution for audio production on the Macintosh. It features a PCI card, 16 channel hardware mixing controller, 24/16 bit digital interface, which can be used for professional level audio production on the Mac, or the PC platforms. This system is lacking a couple of features that Pro Tools has, but it is catching up FAST, and it is about half of the price.

I am not an employee of Ensoniq but I run this system on an older Mac 8600, in an audio production business. The word I hear from the Ensoniq user group is: the new blue Macs run just fine, with Paris."

Paris also won the 1999 Electronic Musician Editor's Choice Award for Best Digital Audio Workstation , and is available in two versions: PARIS Concept and the advanced PARIS Concept-FX.

So it looks like there are more than adequate workarounds to the no-floppy issue for users of digital audio software.

Free Web-based Address Book

Another Web-based service in the iMacFloppy.com genre is Techreations Ltd.'s Web Address Book, a free virtual day timer.

The Web Address Book Web site provides users with formatted space in which to store addresses, URLs, phone/fax numbers, notes, date reminders, and other data, retrievable with any Internet connected, browser-equipped computer anywhere.

Web Address Book is especially useful for mobile road warriors who might need to find an important phone number or address while away from the office. If you can access the Internet, you can keep all of your phone numbers, bookmarks, and essential information easily available.

A "Virtual Notepad" facilitates storage of any sort of information that you can type or paste into it. A Scheduler lets you view your personal calendar in daily and weekly views to keep track of important dates and appointments.

There is also a Search feature, and you can print out your contact lists in a phonebook style format. You can also export contacts for archive on your hard drive or to import into another program, or import current contact information from Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Access, or Outlook Express for the Mac.

Techreations Ltd.'s Sean Jordan says that "it seems the Mac community is more receptive to new ideas, or perhaps communicates within itself better than PC users."

We like to think so, Sean. Perhaps we're just used to "Thinking Different."

Finally

Getting back to iMacFloppy.com, the company's Frank Losa tells me that iMacFloppy.com will soon be available in the five new iMac colors, and says that I would not believe the number of people that requested this.

Rock on, Frank.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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