Miscellaneous Ramblings

iBook Hands On Report

Charles Moore - 1999.09.02 - Tip Jar

NOTE: This Miscellaneous Ramblings column originally appeared on MacOpinion on September 2, 1999. It is republished here by permission of the author and MacOpinion.

iBook Hands On Report

No, not by me unfortunately, but a Road Warrior reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent me this review of his impressions of the iBook up close and personal.


Over the weekend I was at an AppleCentre Training Camp, and they paraded an iBook. Afterwards I was able to have a really good play with it, and I thought you'd appreciate my notes/opinions.

The first thing I noticed was the size. It looked *small*! Here I was expecting some huge monster like the Mac Portable (almost) after reading all the articles about the width, etc., but it looks a lot neater than I expected. It was initially paraded into the room running QT4 client; the streaming server was on a new PB 400 (I think) connected to a Lucent transmitter (the AirPort wasn't available just yet) - we all got a good look at ourselves gawking (gosh I love live streaming video!). Then I had to wait forever while it was passed around the room; but at the end of the show I got a good hands-on.

The Apple reps answered a few questions with what certainly sound like company lines; the reasons they gave made good sense, though:

Why no microphone, when OS 9 will ship with the iBook?

(a) it's an opportunity for 3rd-party developers (i.e., Apple couldn't be bothered) (b) the iBook is pretty much going to be a one-user machine; it's portable enough that one person will take it everywhere (I certainly would)... is having to type a password so bad?

[Note: while trying to demo OS 9's voice recognition features, the acoustics of the room made it impossible for the Apple rep to successfully impersonate himself... there's a big difference between a hotel room at 2 a.m. and a demo room!]

Why not an ultra-slim notebook?

Well, we wanted something rugged. [The rep then poked his finger into the back of his PB G3/400 and moved it around, showing us all the screen so we could see the artifacts being generated. Such things damage the screen] You have to be quite gentle with a PowerBook, this thing's got double-shot rubber in the casing to help cushion corner impacts, and the plastic parts are *very* durable [rep knocked the casing with his knuckles, no artifacts showed through to the screen]. We also wanted to put in a full-size keyboard; it's no use having something small if you're hampered by using it.

Why not a cheaper screen?

Apple products are not second-best. Substituting a cheaper screen would detract from the product in certain situations; nobody here wants that (agreement from everyone).

[Editor's note: not from me; I like passive matrix screens - see below CM]

The keyboard is very precise, better than the current iMac/G3 keyboards IMO. A "function" key was included so that you can duplicate the numeric keypad; not a bad touch, but not an exact duplication (the "/" key is not in it's keypad position, for example). Apparently it's a duplicate of the Bronze PB keyboard, but it's very tasteful - flat, polished-metal finish on the keys; the function notation is highlighted with the same colour as the iBook.

The trackpad, as was gushed about by the Apple rep who sat down with me, is *gorgeous* - I think I could live without an external keyboard and mouse on this machine (that's saying a lot, for me).

The screen is also top-notch; my brother has been using a WallStreet PB with a 14.1" screen, he was worried that the screen would be too small but found he had no problems.

Waking up from sleep is 4 seconds *maximum* - a number of folks expressed their wishes that their PBs would wake up that fast. If you were putting this thing on a desk, opening the lid before orienting it, it would be completely ready by the time you want to do something. It's *fast*.

Speed was hard to measure, but it felt just like a new iMac - they didn't have Photoshop installed, unfortunately :) I'd say there are no performance worries. And the damn thing runs cool, too - barely any perceptible heat from the underside of the machine :)

The plugs for the modem, Ethernet and sound-out are all recessed in cutaway alcoves (it's hard to describe...) - you can actually reach the trigger to unclip the RJ-45 and RJ-11 jacks without needing long fingernails or a pointed object now (big plus in my book), and there aren't little access covers that can catch on something and tear off... Everything about the iBook is streamlined.

The handle, we were told, is titanium-coated aluminium - the fastenings are very secure (a quick jerk was all the stress-test I could get away with, no problems there) with most of the translucent plastic being ornamental. Recommended security for the iBook is to run your standard metal cable through it's handle. Picked up by the handle, the weight of the machine is barely noticeable (although on your lap it feels a bit heavier than you expect) - I could carry one all day! (...the Apple reps wouldn't let me...) I also found it quite comfortable to sling it over my shoulder, rotate it with my wrist, swing about in a reasonably energetic manner... you know, all the things you wouldn't do with a PB but school kids regularly do with their bags :)

The look of the iBook just about sold me on it when it was first announced; having played with one briefly, I know I'll be getting one as soon as I can. The price is something of a sticking point... but some of the other folks I talked to said they're looking at selling them discounted anyway and will be pressuring Apple to make that viable (good to have people with the same ideas around you!) - I'm not too sure of Apple being flexible on this point.

When I get my iBook, I'm going to walk it through shopping malls and carry a stack of business cards and flyers - it's the sort of machine people will find fascinating.

Anyway, I'll have to wait until it ships before I can tell you anything else.

Many thanks to our anonymous correspondent!

Over 140,000 Advance Orders for iBook

Still with the iBook, Apple announced at the Seybold conference on Tuesday that it has received advance orders for over 140,000 iBooks.

"We are thrilled by the customer response to iBook, and we're working hard to ensure that we can meet the demand," said Apple iCEO Steve Jobs.

Pre-orders of iBooks are being taken through The Apple Store and through many of Apple's resellers including CDW, Club Mac, ComputerTown, ComputerWare, CompUSA, Cyberian Outpost, Datavision, J&R Computer World, MacConnection, MacMall, MacWarehouse, MacZone, Micro Center, RCS Computer Experience and Sears plus hundreds of Apple Specialist stores.

Apple's AirPort wireless networking system announced with iBook at MacWorld in July has been held up by FCC approval, but Apple's AirPort Base Station is expected to ship in October.

Canada's National Post Praises Lombard

ehMac, Canada's Mac news and information site, reports that the Canadian national-circulation National Post newspaper said on Monday that "PowerBook G3 outperforms its Wintel rivals in almost every category."

In an article entitled Cult of portability, reviewer Mo Al-Nuaimy compared the PowerBook G3/400 to notebook rivals in the Wintel world such as the IBM ThinkPad 570, and the Dell Latitude CPI R400.

The National Post concludes, "...the PowerBook is certainly the best-designed of the three"...."Aesthetics aside, PowerBooks have beaten their Wintel-based rivals in almost every performance test."

In a comparison of prices and configurations with the other units, the PowerBook G3 bested the other two units with its faster G3 processor and more built in features such as 10/100 Ethernet, 2 USB ports, SCSI port, 56k Modem, DVD Drive and longer battery life.

According to ehMac, "the article does give an overwhelmingly positive review on the PowerBook with quotes like, 'The operating system was so responsive and snappy that I had a hard time believing this machine is descended from the sluggish Macs that drove me into the arms of the PC world some time ago.'

Al-Nuaimy also makes points to calm people's fear of incompatibility by saying, "...most business applications [are] available for both machines..."

Accompanying the article, the back page of the National Post's Monday Business Section featured a full page PowerBook G3 ad by Apple Canada, showing the popular side shot of the PowerBook fully opened. The ad copy reads:

"14.1-inch screen. DVD drive, and a battery that will let you watch all of Austin Powers. Twice. More Power, fewer intermissions. The new PowerBook G3 has a Pentium-crushing G3 chip running at up to 400 MHz and a battery life up to 5 hours - all in a sleek 5.9 lb. design. Get the full-length story at www.apple.ca. Think Different.

I ran a search on the National Post Website for the article, but it did not turn up. Perhaps later?

An Upgrade Path (Sort of) for WallStreet Series I

One of my few complaints about the PowerBook G3 Series computers is the lack of an upgrade path. However, for some models there is a possible workaround.

Last week for a few days, the PowerBook Guy was offering 292 MHz daughtercards to upgrade Series I WallStreet 233 (no cache) and 250 MHz models at $299. The bad news is that (a) the 292 won't work in my Series II 233 (512 k cache) WallStreet, and (b) they sold out in a couple of days.

However, the PowerBook Guy is expecting to have a batch of Series I 250 MB daughtercards with 1 MB backside cache available soon at a price to be announced. These will still offer owners of cacheless Series I 233 'Books with a substantial power boost.

The PowerBook Zone has posted an article about the WallStreet upgrade issue.

In general, the obstacle to third-party processor upgrades for the PowerBook G3 Series is that while this model's processor resides on a daughtercard attached to the motherboard as in the upgradable PB 5X0, 1400 and 2400 models, the G3 Series daughtercard also has the PowerBook's ROMs, and RAM on it. Consequently, unless Apple would release ROMs to third-party upgrade manufacturers (against their policy), G3 Series upgrade cards are unlikely to happen.

Processor Upgrades Redux

Speaking of PowerBook processor upgrades, Dave Manning of UpgradeStuff.com has been testing the waters to gauge interest in commissioning another batch PowerBook 1400 processor upgrades from Newer Technology. So far he has received expressions of interest from more than 600 respondents.

Dave has been in discussions with Newer at their headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, talking with engineers, product managers, and sales staff about the 1400 issue.

Dave speculates that Newer dropped the 1400 (and 2400) upgrades in anticipation of the iBook's release (originally expected in March), not wanting to get stuck with a lot of slow-selling inventory.

Costing of a possible new build of 140 upgrade cards is being done, but there has been no firm commitment that it will ever happen yet. According to Dave:

"We have two routes we can take with this: rebuilding an existing card with newer/cheaper parts, or designing and testing a brand "new" card. If we go with an existing card - say, the NUpowr 250 MHz with 1 MB of backside cache - we may be able to build it out using a lower-power version of the PowerPC G3. This could mean better battery life, for starters, and maybe - MAYBE - a cheaper product. We also wouldn't necessarily have to go through a long, stringent test cycle before the product was actually produced. Newer Technology has some of the best engineers in the business, and they don't like product to ship before they're sure they've made it work right."

Dave has also suggested that a possible new card with a 333 MHz G3 chip is a possibility, and that IF a build of these PowerBook upgrades goes ahead, they could be available by Hallowe'en. However, Dave stresses that he can't make any firm commitments on that yet.

Is the Free WordPerfect Download Really WordPerfect 4?

I have received more information about the free WordPerfect 3.5 download product I mentioned here last week. The downloadable version is called 3.5e (the "e" stands for "Enhanced"), and is not just a build incorporating WP 3.5 upgrade patches through 3.5.4, but reportedly incorporates development that was intended for WordPerfect 4.0, which was never completed.

A bit of history. WordPerfect v3.5.1 was the last version released while Novell owned WordPerfect. Versions 3.5.2, 3.5.3 and 3.5.4 were primarily bug fix updates released by Corel, and still available as downloadable patches on their Website. Version 3.5e was an "enhanced" version of WordPerfect that was released in October 1997, which added several of new features including an on-the-fly spell checker and compatibility with the MacOS 8 Platinum appearance.

You can download a free copy of WordPerfect 3.5e for the Mac here.

It's a big download - BinHex Download (33.1 MB); MacBinary Download (24.3 MB) Took me 4 1/2 hours over my slow rural dialup connection!

Word '98 SE Provides the Bloatster at a Bargain Price

Regular Road Warrior readers know that I am a word processor junkie and a Nisus Writer fan, and in fact I would rather use almost any Mac word processor I can think of than Microsoft's hideously bloated, ponderous, and overbearing Word '98 (I still like Word 5.1 a lot, though). However, if you must, Microsoft is now shipping Word 98 Special Edition, a special, limited time consumer version of their behemoth word processor, which was announced at MacWorld Expo in July as a special promotion especially packaged for iMac and iBook users.

Word 98SE essentially gives you the same Microsoft Word 98 Macintosh Edition that is included in Microsoft Office, for a fraction of Office's price - $99 after rebate. The "consumer" version of Word also includes content specifically targeted to home users, including; thousands of new clipart images; 100 new, professionally designed greeting card templates and sample greeting card paper; the Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5 browser; and Microsoft Outlook Express 4.5 email client Macintosh Edition. Microsoft's Web Page Wizard makes it easy for users to create their own home page. All the products in the bundle are installed by simple drag-and-drop.

Microsoft Word 98 Special Edition is available now, for a limited time, from retailers nationwide for an estimated retail price of $99 after a $30 inbox rebate. Word 98SE will be available from Aug. 26, to Jan. 31, 2000.

FireWire 2 Go PC Cards Released

UpgradeStuff has (or at least had) their first batch of Newer Technology FireWire2Go PC cards in stock last week. Note that the price has been lowered from a list of US$249 to US$199, and now includes QuickTime 4 Pro.

The Case against PowerBooks as a Desktop Replacement

In his latest The O'Grady Files column on MacWeek, Jason E. O'Grady published a reader diatribe against PowerBooks as desktop replacements - a motif I regularly advocate here in The Road Warrior and elsewhere. The anonymous author says, among other things:

  • That he severely dislikes PowerBooks because they remind him of little toys.
  • Are currently only available up to 400 MHz
  • The PowerBook processor doesn't accommodate an upgrade to let you preserve your hardware investment.
  • The backside cache ratio in the PowerBook G3 is 5-to-2, whereas desktop G3s are 2-to-1, which makes the 'Book's performance deficit significantly more dramatic than a straight MHz to MHz comparison would suggest.
  • The EIDE drives in Lombard and Ultra ATA drives in iBook spin at 4,200 RPM, while the 30 Gig drive in the author's G3 desktop spins at 10,000 RPM.
  • RAID is impossible on a PowerBook
  • Limited expandability on the PB
  • Less video power on the PB
  • A 14.1-inch, 1,024 by 768 pixel flat screen isn't enough for professional page layout or photo editing work.
  • PowerBooks still cost too much. A Lombard 400 MHz is more expensive than a Power Mac G3 450 MHz with 256 Mbytes of RAM, a 9 GB hard drive and a 17-inch Apple Studio Display.
  • Alleged weird PowerBook SCSI problems
  • PowerBooks are easier to steal
  • PowerBooks are (allegedly) fragile

Now most of what the nameless author of the above points says is technically true, or at least arguable. However, I think he is missing the point, which is that compactness and portability are what PowerBooks are about. Of course a package the size of Lombard or iBook is not going to equal a behemoth like the b & w G3 PowerMac in power and expandability. No one reasonable would expect it to. If you are one of the relatively small minority of computer users for whom raw power and expansion potential are a priority, no argument. Get a B&W. They're a great computer, and yes, they are a lot faster than the fastest PowerBooks.

However, for the sort of stuff the majority of us do with computers, even a Lombard 350 is power overkill by a wide margin. And when you need to take computing power with you on the road, or even to another room in the house, a B&W is a pretty impractical candidate.

Durability? I've read too many testimonials about PowerBooks taking incredible abuse and coming up swinging to give that a great deal of credit (and iBook) is supposed to be the toughest Apple portable yet). Try dropping your B&W down a set of aircraft boarding steps onto the tarmac or backing over it with your car, and see how "durable" it is.

Two points the critic makes hit home, though; the lack of a processor upgrade path, and the cost of admission. PowerBooks ARE non-upgradable and still too expensive.

The Passive/Active Matrix Debate

Regular Road Warrior readers are aware that I am a passive matrix flat-screen monitor fan. Not that I say passive matrix units are better than active TFT units, mind you, but they are a lot cheaper, and I contend that they make perfectly adequate PowerBook monitors. I used a passive (STN) equipped PowerBook G3 233 series I daily for a couple of months, and liked it very much.

The reader forum on PowerBook Central has been hosting debate about passive versus active matrix screens, and if this topic interests you, it's worth a look. I am even quoted by one contributor.

Gerry's ICQ Brings Advanced ICQ Features to the Mac

I find the ICQ instant messaging service a convenient way to keep in real-time contact with friends and family. Until recently, I used a standard copy of Mirabilis's ICQ client software, which works well enough, but is a bit buggy at times - at least the build I have. As the reader letter from Keenan in the RW Mailbag below indicates, the Mirabilis ICQ client for the Mac leaves much to be desired. However there is now an excellent Mac-only alternative for ICQ users.

My friend Stefan Wunner, editor and Webmaster of the German MacGadget news site, suggested that I try Gerry's ICQ, a relatively new Mac-only alternative to the familiar Mirabilis ICQ client. Stefan is an enthusiastic fan of Gerry's ICQ, and MacGadget is a mirror download site for the software. At 458k for the stuffed file, downloading Gerry's ICQ doesn't involve a big commitment.

Gerry says he created Gerry's ICQ as an alternative to the ICQ client provided by Mirabilis "because Mirabilis seemed to have forgotten about us Mac users." Gerry's ICQ contains most of the features available in the Windows ICQ Client such as Message History (something I sorely missed in the Mirabilis Mac Client) and More Status Options, but is also still in development which means new features will be implemented all the time. Gerry says he has been trying to release a new beta version of Gerry's ICQ about once a week.

System requirements for Gerry's ICQ are:

  • A Macintosh (the latest d30 build of Gerry's ICQ is fat, and supports 68k Macs as well as PPC)
  • Appearance Manager
  • Drag Manager
  • Thread Manager
  • Open Transport 1.1 or later
  • If you are already a user of Mirabilis's ICQ client, you can use your account in Gerry's ICQ too.
  • OS 8.X is recommended. Gerry says there have been reports of Gerry's ICQ working successfully on systems prior to 8.x, but only limited support is available. In the latest d30 build, Gerry switched from using Internet Config 2.0 to Internet Config 1.4, which will allow users of systems earlier than MacOS 8.5 to use Internet Config-specific features.

Configuring Gerry's ICQ was easy. I just entered my ICQ number, and the numbers from my contacts list, and I was up and running. If you have a large number of contacts, you will probably want to try Gerry's prototype contact list converter, which is included with the download. At this time, the converter only imports the ICQ Numbers of the people on your list, not the settings or the people's names. My contact list is small enough that it was convenient to do it manually. As Gerry says of the converter, "I hope it works! This is only a prototype."

If you are a new ICQ user, there is a Create New User protocol in the Gerry' ICQ file menu that walks you through the process of registering an ICQ username and password - a simple process that only takes a few minutes.

After you've added all your contacts to your list, or set up a new ICQ user file, Gerry's ICQ works similarly to the Mirabilis client. There is a comprehensive Preferences window in which you can set the default user that is automatically loaded when the Gerry's ICQ is launched, the preferred sounds for incoming messages, file transfer complete, and the Chat beep sound. Currently, Gerry's ICQ will only play System 7 sound files (the ones that play from the Finder when you double-click them).

Advanced features in Gerry's ICQ include:

  • To send Mass messages, just select the people you want to send the message to, and double click them (or use the contextual menu).
  • You can 'press' the Send button when composing a message using OPTION-RETURN or ENTER.
  • To use the Windows Character Translation, you must turn it on using the contextual menu on each contact you wish to use the translation on.
  • To select only the users who are online, press SHIFT-COMMAND-A.
  • Opening a user file with the COMMAND key held down will prevent the user from being automatically logged in. (This works when launching the application too.)

Gerry notes that he is writing this application in his spare time by himself, and as much as for himself as everyone else. He requests that users read the "to do list" posted on his Website before sending him a message requesting a feature you would like. Also he asks that users not email him with bug reports or suggestions, but post only to the online message board.

So far, I haven't found much not to like about Gerry's ICQ, and I will be using it for my ICQ messaging from now on. I did prefer the two-thirds smaller and thus less-intrusive window of the Miribilis client, but that's about it for gripes.

You can download Gerry's ICQ for free.

WallStreet in Mongolia

PowerBook Zone reader Stuart Hertzog has filed a fascinating report about his travels in Mongolia with a PowerBook G3/250 WallStreet.

OS 8.6 Unmasked

If you'd like to learn more about the advanced features in OS 8.6, check out this article.

MMR Mailbag

From Curt Webbe:

Charles,

I could not agree with you more on the question of whether or not new Mac hardware is as good as older machines. I am a public school teacher in a Mac district. I have many old Macs in my classroom. My LC IIs are okay, my 6100 and 7100 are both good computers but my SE/30 is positively the finest Mac I have worked on.

Despite the monitor that is starting to die, the SE/30 is fast and very stable. In fact, I do not think I can remember the last time it crashed. I am running 7.5.5 with 8 megs of ram and I can't believe that it has a 16 MHz processor.

Conversely, both my recently purchased iMac and PB both have crashed many times and I have spent long hours trying to tweak the systems extensions so that the machines are stable.

Curt

From Denis Demco

Hello Charles,

In Miscellaneous Ramblings #27 Jeffrey Harris' (Canberra, Australia) email to you provided a fix for a loose power connector on a PB 5300. In his message Jeffery offered to provide an Apple PDF document that detailed how to open the PB case and remove the motherboard. I looked for the PDF on the Apple Web site, but could not find it. Please send me Jeffrey's email address - his message implied that he was willing to send the PDF to interested parties - or forward my message to Jeffrey - thanks.

BTW, I have been a long time reader of your column(s) and find it informative and interesting - please keep up the great work.

I found your article on Volvos and Macs of particular interest - I have owned Volvos since 1975 and Macs since 1985. To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh:

- Volvo just is
- Mac just is

In my opinion both these products are more than they appear to be - BTW, in the context of your original column, politically I consider myself a liberal (small ell).

Regards,
Denis D. Demco

From Octavio Heredia:

Dear Charles:

First : I'm using my girlfriend's Internet account, mine has just expired, I will renew it first days of September.

Well, I'm an Apple reseller in Mexico, and I've got the chance to play with most of Apple products, last month I bought a 333 PB Lombard for myself, everything you wrote is true.

Last week I sold my new PB with only 2 weeks of usage to a client who was desperate for one of these babies. There are a lot of great things in this product, but there are two things that are not acceptable:

1) Back lit illumination of the 14.1" TFT really sucks; It looks easily twice as bright in the lower part of the display than the upper part, this is very annoying, it makes almost impossible to retouch a photo and it is a waste for this gorgeous display.

2) This machine produces a not very loud but a very annoying high frequency noise, related with the brightness control, the only way to get rid of this noise is to set the brightness to the highest or the lowest (which are not a comfortable), and things get worse while the power adapter is connected, problem number 2 is not present with the WallStreet PBs.

I contacted Apple but they are not aware of problem 2, although I found in the MacInTouch site some Lombards owners reporting the exactly same problem.

I will wait to buy this machine, I hope Apple takes care of this two engineering flaws ASAP, and a will also wait to play with the iBook first.

Thanks.
Octavio Heredia.

From Mark Anthony Collins

No Video on IIsi....

Before you look at the video card, try having the 3.6v PRAM batteries replaced... or test them with a multimeter . . . I believe the ones for that machine are soldered on . . . so you might want to take it in....

You can check the voltage, or you can try this trick . . . power it on . . . let it sit powered for a minute . . . then quickly turn off and re-power on (not giving the power supply time to completely power down) . . . and the monitor may very well come back on!

I hope you have fun....

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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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