Miscellaneous Ramblings

No New 'Books - Yet

Charles W. Moore - 1999.02.19

NOTE: This Miscellaneous Ramblings column originally appeared on MacOpinion on 1999.02.19. It is republished here by permission of the author and MacOpinion.

No New 'Books Yet

As regular Road Warrior readers are aware, I was skeptical that we would see a new professional PowerBook introduced at Macworld Japan, although I thought there was probable cause to speculate that we might get at least a preliminary announcement of the new P1/iBook subnotebook there. Turns out there was neither. Steve Jobs took no new hardware products with him to Tokyo, and PowerBooks were not mentioned in his technical problem-plagued keynote presentation.

So the rumor-watch will now focus on Seybold Boston next month and Apple's Worldwide Developers' Conference to be held May 10th to May 14th. I'm guessing that we will see the new professional 'Book whenever Apple's large inventory of G3 Series II PDQ 'Books clears, a process that will be speeded up by recent price slashes (see below). The P1/iBook may not ship until August, although we may see it announced before then (a la last years May iMac announcement). Apple has only committed to introducing the subnotebook during the first six months of 1999.

Images of What's Coming

Mac the Knife has posted what looks to me to be accurate artist's renditions of the coming PowerBook Series III "Magenta." I don't think that can be "Lombard/101," or if it is, prognostications about a new (rather than evolutionary) form factor and colored case were way off the mark. [Links to photos no longer valid.]

The images posted by "the Knife" look like the familiar G3 Series form factor with some of the voluptuous roundness squared off, which will no doubt please some and annoy others. Port-wise, it looks like SCSI will survive for another generation of 'Books (further inclining me to believe that this is not Lombard/101), but USB is there. The modem port has been moved to the back panel, and the Series I/II modem port slot becomes a fan exhaust vent. I am assuming that the squaring off at the front edges is in aid of slimming the big 'Book down a bit rather than to accommodate new internals, although O'Grady's PowerPage is predicting (see below) new, non-backwards compatible, batteries and expansion bay devices. If that is the case, it seems abysmally stupid, further fragmenting and complicating the PowerBook accessories situation. One of the smart things Apple did when they introduced the 3400 was to retain the battery and expansion bay form factor of the 5300 for a second generation.

O'Grady's Looks into the Future

As noted above, O'Grady's PowerPage has upgraded their speculations about the new professional PowerBooks' feature set.


The new 'Books are said to be pretty much ready to go, and the gospel according to O'Grady is that they will include the following:

The latter means that if you want a FireWire port on your 'Book, you will have to give up the internal modem, which must be deleted to make room for the FireWire (IEEE1394) card and port. That would mean using a PC Card modem or external modem.

There are many more speculative specs. listed on PowerPage.

If these accurately represent the new 'Books, the upgrade can be regarded as evolutionary, and those weighing the purchase of a Series II 'Book at the current friendly prices versus waiting for the new machine must basically decide how much they need or want USB, optional FireWire, a monstrous HD, and some more speed, and at what cost. Some of the other changes (e.g.: one less PC Card slot, removal of the screen and sound control buttons) might be regarded as less desirable on the new machines.

FireWire Gains Heavy Hitter Support

This week five of the biggest players in consumer electronics joined Apple in announcing common support of Apple's FireWire high-speed digital interface technology, officially known as IEEE1394. I think FireWire has a more euphonious ring to it, don't you?

In an unusual joint press release, Apple Computer, Inc., Compaq Computer Corporation, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic), Royal Philips Electronics, Sony Corporation, and Toshiba Corporation stated their intention to form a patent pool to efficiently license patents required to implement the FireWire standard. The six companies will work together to create a joint licensing program and promote the industrywide adoption of IEEE1394/FireWire.

IEEE1394 is poised to become the most widely used industry standard to interconnect consumer electronics and personal computer devices," commented Steve Jobs. "We want to pave the way for both the consumer electronics and the personal computer industries to adopt this powerful digital interface.

FireWire/IEEE1394 was invented by Apple and was adopted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as an industry standard in 1995. Offering data transfer rates up to 400 megabits per second, IEEE1394 has become the standard for transferring digital video, and over three million digital camcorders with built-in IEEE1394 have been sold to date. IEEE1394 is being incorporated into an ever-increasing array of consumer multimedia devices, such as set-top boxes and digital VCRs, and will very likely become the next generation industry-standard for connecting personal computers to high-speed peripherals such as printers, scanners and disk drives.

Microsoft began supporting FireWire with Windows 98, but relatively few PC makers have incorporated FireWire ports into their machines yet - only Apple, Compaq, and Sony thus far. Some PC manufacturers had expressed reluctance to license any technology from Apple, which has still not shaken its reputation as an unreliable business partner. That objection should now be removed with the new patent-pooling agreement.

Better TFT Displays Coming?

In more industry news, according to MacOS Rumors Apple is currently negotiating with its Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD flat panel screens suppliers to obtain units with high resolutions of 1280 x 1024 pixels.

MOSR speculates that we may see these new screens on PowerBooks later this year.

PowerBook Prices Plunge

Apple dropped the price of its PowerBook G3 Series II (PDQ) laptops last weekend. Nominally, PowerBook G3 prices now start at $2,299 for the 233 MHz version with 14.1" display, 2 GB hard drive, and 56k modem. Apple explained that the PB G3 Series' "sales success has enabled Apple to drive down component costs and pass those savings on to the customer, even though some component costs - such as displays - are being driven higher." That's all very nice, but a big part of the reason for such major price cuts is that Apple really wants to clear a large inventory of unsold Series II 'Books before it releases the next generation of professional PowerBooks and the new "P1/iBook subnotebook.

Apple has reportedly eliminated the minimum price floor from the PowerBook line for authorized resellers, so dealers can sell for lower than suggested list if they wish. Apple has a substantial stock of PowerBooks that have to be cleared to make way for new models coming soon. Speculation is rampant as to whether the next professional 'Book will be a Series III of the present form factor, or the much-anticipated "Lombard-101" machine.

The new official list prices are:

These are fantastic prices for the "Lamborghini of Laptops," which are still the fastest and most capable notebook computers on the market by a substantial margin. If you shop around, you can do even better than Apple's new lower list prices.

Cyberian Outpost is offering exceptional deals on G3 Series IIs, plus free shipping (and a free case on most models) until March 1st.

Here were the current Outpost prices at press time:

PowerBook 3400New original G3 250s (the one with the PowerBook 3400 form factor) are as rare as hens teeth these days, but Universal Computers had some in stock when I wrote this:

They also have machines like mine for a better price than at Outpost:

A tough choice. The PDQ G3 Series II 233 is actually a smidgen faster in processor speed despite the MHz numbers, but slower in disk access, so it's probably a wash speed-wise. Note that with the Original G3 you get a 5 Gig HD instead of a 2 Gig, a floppy drive, and the free case. The older machine also includes a "subwoofer" (not really) speaker.

With the PDQ, you get a much better keyboard, faster modem, and the swoopy G3 Series form factor. The displays are essentially the same. Tough choice.

Eric Tapley, who is shopping for a new PowerBook, is posting a page comparing prices for the three basic PDQ Series II models at 22 different Mac resellers this week on a Web page <http://www.wpi.edu/%7Eewtapley/prices.html>

Eric says:

I am planning on purchasing a new PowerBook G3 really soon, so I've started looking around for good prices. As time goes by (for the rest of this week, at least), I'll probably add 64 MB RAM modules, and maybe look around for good bundles. While I was at it I thought that for the benefit of other PowerBook buyers out there I'd put the fruits of my labor online...

Please be aware that I am not affiliated with any of these resellers, in any way. I'm just trying to help out some of the other Mac 'book buyers out there! "

Thanks Eric!

Road Warrior Seminars

A MacCentral news story reports that Global Village Communications and Microtech will be cosponsoring a free "Road Warrior" PowerBook G3 Seminar series on how to take best advantage of your PowerBook G3 in any situation.

You can check dates and locations, or register online at http://seminars.apple.com/series/roadwarrior

Or call 1-800-895-4853, reference no. 200.

I couldn't raise that Web page in several tries, but it was probably a temporary glitch.

Spontaneously Combusting PowerBooks?

Longtime PowerBook devotees will recall the public relations fiasco after it was discovered that the lithium ion (LiIon) batteries originally intended for the PowerBook 5300 were capable of self igniting.

To the best of my recollection, this never happened to any consumer-owned machines, and Apple quickly ordered a recall to replace the potentially incendiary LiIons with NIMH units, but the 5300's reputation never fully recovered.

Unfortunately there are anecdotal reports of a very few G3 Series 'Books lapsing into self-ignition mode. A MacInTouch reader reported that his "screen went all funky and I heard some weird noises. Then I look inside my left drive bay (empty) and see an orange glow and flames not unlike the ending of Don Giovanni - and pull the power cord at my UPS, then at the power port. After one or both, the PB is off.... The only new thing that I'd installed recently was the newer (1.3? or 1.2) version of the G3 Series Modem extension update within the past week. Before I am NDA'd, if at all, I wanted to post this online."

A PowerPage reader also reported that his G3 Series 'Book caught fire. "It wasn't the battery, CPU, or hard drive," he wrote, "But there was plastic-smelling smoke and plenty of orange flames and I immediately pulled the power plugs and that shut down the PBG3. This is ridiculous, and i am afraid to send in my PowerBook to get repaired (even though it is under warranty) because of all the anecdotal stories that I see and hear regarding 'support.'"

Note: I'm not sure if the incidents respectively described above are one and the same or not. However, another PowerPage reader reported that one of his customers had a similar problem. The machine's power supply suffered a major malfunction and got very hot, but was unplugged before it actually ignited.

The reader, who seems to be a technician, said he brought up the issue with Apple's service tech line, and relates that the person he spoke with was familiar with the issue and said it had been seen before, but that "it was not a public thing yet" and is under investigation.

The limited number of alleged incidents are no cause for panic, but this appears to be a serious safety issue, and while after the 5300 farrago I can understand why Apple would be reluctant to go public with another flaming PowerBook issue, they have a responsibility to get this one nailed down PDQ.

Pram Battery Troubles? Go Here

Ever boot up your PowerBook and find that the date had mysteriously reverted to Aug 27th, 1956? That's a dead giveaway that your PRAM battery - the cell that keeps your motherboard's perimeter RAM alive when your 'Book is turned off - has expired.

Personally, I think that typical PRAM battery configuration and replacement procedures, especially on PowerBooks, are one of the most abominably ham-fisted bits of bad design afflicting most Macintosh computers. The early, original form factor "small Macs" (up to the Mac Plus) were an exception. They housed their PRAM battery in a convenient bay on the back of the computer case behind a pull-off panel.

However some Macs actually had the PRAM battery soldered to the motherboard, and many models require a technician to replace the battery (including most PowerBooks).

PRAM battery replacement is obviously a topic that defies generalization, but happily there is now a convenient resource on the Web that can guide you with respect to your Mac's particular PRAM battery idiosyncrasies. Charles D Phillips has posted an amazingly comprehensive Web page on PRAM battery issues. He deserves the profound thanks of the Mac community. Check it out!

A selection of Mac PRAM batteries can be ordered from www.ebatts.com.

Two New Mac Web Browsers

A German software firm has announced development of a new Mac Web browser, iCab, which is a Mac port of an existing and successful Atari ST Web browser, and currently available in beta for testing.

According to Alexander Clauss of iCab, the browser is still missing some features that will be included in the final version, "but iCab in the meantime has progressed far enough that he wants to give users a look at it." The final version of iCab will sell for 49 DM (about $30.00).

I downloaded a copy, and have been testing it for the past couple of days. My initial impressions are very positive, and I am a lot more impressed than I thought I would be.

iCab is indeed extremely small at just 1.9 MB, and operates happily in a - get this - 1,280 KB memory partition if VM or RAM Doubler is turned on.

It is also plenty speedy, definitely competitive with the 4.5 iterations of Internet Explorer and Communicator, and faster in some instances. It breezes through cached pages almost instantly, and is lightning with the pictures turned off. I did have one crash so far to remind me that this is beta software.

The interface is clean and uncluttered, and in place of IE's and Netscape's somewhat pretentious animated logos at the upper right of the browser window, iCab features a little animated cartoon car (cab) driving through the window blowing puff of cartoon smoke. A nice, lighthearted, self-effacing touch.

Unlike Internet Explorer, which is fast and powerful but has a sort of raggedy, unfinished feel about it, as if the developers went home when they were only 90% finished, this beta of iCab has a competent efficient feel about it that bespeaks its Teutonic origins, which brings us to a downside for most readers of this column: iCab is currently German-language only. I have a bit of German, so I don't find this a major problem, and iCab helpfully assimilated my Internet Explorer favorites in English anyway. My son, Tristan, likes iCab so much that he has begun a project of translating the program's menus into English with ResEdit. In any case, if you are familiar with how Netscape and IE work, you probably won't have too much trouble manipulating iCab.

Described by iCab as "the Internet taxi for the Mac," the iCab browser requires

Additionally recommended are:

Special abilities of iCab include:

Planned features (for the final version)

To download a free beta release of iCab, go here.

The other new Mac Web browser is a specialized one that isn't quite available yet.

Heartsoft Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has just released KIWE!, which it describes as "the first secure Internet browser for children." KIWE! stands for "Kids Internet World Explorer."

Heartsoft, a publisher of educational technology products for early-learning students, has licensed KIWE from its developer, CytWare Corp. Ft. Worth, Texas.

Intended for children ages 4 thru 14 (yeah sure, I can imagine my 14 year old using a "kids' browser!) and built on proprietary CytLoc™ technologies developed by CytWare, KIWE offers parents and educators a secure environment where children can learn to use the Internet without worry about running into its nastier elements.

"We are absolutely enamored by the enormous potential of KIWE,'' said Benjamin P. Shell, Heartsoft's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "It's a rare event in a young company's growth to have the opportunity to bring a product to market with such a mass appeal as KIWE. Our intention is to see the Kids Internet World Explorer on every computer in the U.S. where children may have access to the Internet. With KIWE, there is no need to fear that children may stumble into Internet sites unfit for young eyes.''

When released, the Kids Internet World Explorer will support both Windows and the Apple Macintosh, including the iMac. According to Heartsoft, KIWE is "an age appropriate alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator Internet browsers."

Heartsoft has also formed a strategic sales and marketing alliance with Technology Integration Group, Apple Computer's exclusive K-12 education sales agent for the Southwest U.S. Under the terms of the alliance, Technology Integration Group will co-market Heartsoft's new critical thinking skills product, Thinkology, side-by-side with the Apple Macintosh to educators in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii.

In addition to representing Apple Computer as the exclusive education sales agent for the Southwestern U.S., TIG also distributes technology solutions by The Learning Company, Macromedia, Edmark, Netscape, and Microsoft.

Heartsoft, Inc. publishes and distributes a line of multimedia educational software products for schools and homes nationwide. Headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., Heartsoft is acknowledged among educators as the price-vs.-performance leader, delivering such product classics as the Heartsoft Bestsellers and its latest release, Thinkology, with unsurpassed customer satisfaction and loyalty. Heartsoft's web pages may be viewed at http://www.heartsoft.com and http://www.thinkology.com.

PowerBook G3 Microphone Draws Praise

An emusician article by Ken Stockwell, entitled Laptop Warriors, had these kind words to say about the G3 Series internal microphone:

There have been great improvements in the past few years in the quality of internal laptop microphones. I use an Apple PowerBook G3 laptop, and I've never heard a better performance from any computer's microphone, including the external mics that come with desktop computers. For the first time, this new breed of mobile computers allows you to get great samples without a lot of extra gear. Of course, you will have to do some tweaking when you get back to your studio. With some heavy EQ work and a little noise reduction, you can build your own sample library with sound quality that approaches professional sampling options.

And Finally - Ever Been To www.mammals.org?

Check it out: http://www.mammals.org