Miscellaneous Ramblings

PowerBook Triple-Threat

Charles W. Moore - 16 April 1999

NOTE: This Miscellaneous Ramblings columnoriginally appeared on MacOpinion on April 16, 1999.It is republished here by permission of the author andMacOpinion.

Apple's Imminent PowerBook Triple-Threat

Doug Landry over at The PowerBook Zone reports that his sources sayApple's new professionalPowerBook (code named "PowerBook G3101" or"Lombard") has been tentatively scheduled for release on April 19thNational Association of Broadcasters conference. Production isreportedly ramping up.

Apparently, the new big 'Book, which will replace the currentG3 Series machines, has beenready to go for some time, with the holdups being:

Well, it is rumored that OS 8.6 will go Golden Master later thisweek, and a close associate of mine who has been running a latebeta build of the new OS has found it to be both fast andstable.

And, of course, anyone who takes more than a cursory interest inthe PowerBook scene will be aware of the extremely attractive dealsApple has been offering on G3 Series II machines to clear thoseclogged channels. That reportedly has been successful, and the pathis clear now for the new 'Books.

Doug has posted an excellent overview article about Lombard,which can be viewed here.

Regular Road Warrior readers will recall that a couple of weeksago I reported on speculation that Apple will release not just one,but two, lightweight PowerBooks - a consumer "iBook" model, probably with iMac stylecolor schemes, and a slimline 'Book for traveling executives andbusiness people.

At the Apple Shareholders' Meeting last month, Apple iCEO SteveJobs noted, "We're always trying to build lighter laptops, butwe're pulled in some different directions."

Jobs said that ultimately there might be three distinct laptopmarkets: one for a low-cost consumer model, one for professionalswho want a full-featured model that can do everything; and one for"digital road warriors, who just want something light so they canget email in their hotel rooms."

This week, O'Grady's PowerPage published a state-of-the-rumorsreport on the long-awaited lightweight machines.

According to O'Gradys' "well placed sources," the new executivePowerBook will feature:

Pretty cool, eh? Sounds like a feature set that will eclipse thepresumably more expensive Lombard.

The downside is that O'Grady's thinks this machine won't bereleased before late fall 1999, and that when it is, the price willbe in the $2,500 range.

As for the consumer iBook model ("P1") AppleInsider is sayingthat it is being referred to internally at Apple as the "StudentNotebook or the "School Book," and is "on track" for late-April/early-May introductioncoinciding with the Worldwide Developers Conference at the San JoseConvention Center.

Unlike the late Newton-based eMate, the Consumer Portable willrun on a full version of Mac OS 8.6 and a low-voltage G3 processorfor extended battery life. AppleInsider suggests that in additionto the familiar iMac flavors, Apple may be entertaining theprospect of supplying the iBook in custom school colors livery forlarge institutional purchases. Sounds very cool, and I'm bettingthat Apple is about to hit three more long loud ones out of thepark with its imminent one-two-three PowerBook punch.

The Great 5300/190 Debate

I've been getting a lot of mail this week about Apples' generous trade-in offer on PowerBook5300s and 190s, as reported in this space last week.

To recap, Apple Customer Relations is offering up to US$1,000off the purchase price of a new PowerBook G3 Series 266 or 300 as atrade-in allowance on PowerBook 5300s and 190s only.

In order to take advantage of this offer, proceed asfollows:

  1. Call Apple Customer Relations at 800-767-2775
  2. Mention the "PowerBook 5300 Limited Time Offer Upgrade"
  3. Apple will issue a case number
  4. Apple will send you a call tag to return your PowerBook 5300 or190
  5. Give Apple a credit card number (it won't be charged untilcomputer is shipped)
  6. Limited one per customer
  7. Apple is not responsible for any data or data transfer

Given that the current used price range of these computers isabout $300 to $900, this looks like a really attractive deal.However, one reader posted me this comment:

"At first this appeared to be a great deal. Then I found out,Apple doesn't care if its a 5300ce maxed out (approx. resale value~$900-1000 or a bare-bones 190 (approx. resale value $300). Hey,they don't even care if it actually works! They're planning to usethem for PARTS, according to Apple Customer Service (two calls,today). I hate the notion of someone trashing my 5300, which hasrun perfectly, without a crash that wasn't caused by a server or anobvious application error, for close to a year now.

"The savings gets less when you calculate out the sales tax, lossof incentives per the direct mail houses, and loss of the value ofany peripherals or improvements. My 5300 has a new 1 GB drive, tonsof memory, two batteries, two AC adapters, PC card, video outadapter - and Apple said, basically, toss them out or wewill."

Another reader, Jeff Seaver, agreed:

"I've signed up for one of Apple's 5300/190 trade-ins on newG3s., but ever since have been really plagued by the decision. I ama very happy 5300 owner. Went through all the usual 5300 nastiesearly on (motherboard swap, 750 MB HD failed, screen bezel had tobe replaced) but that stuff having been done, now it's ROCK solid,in my case having settled on OS 8.5.1, running RAM Doubler at 3xand Speed Doubler too, and tons of applications... never, ever aproblem anymore - days between restarts, it sits on my desk drivinga 15" monitor and a wonderful Power Computing keyboard. Onlyproblem is this baby is S-L-O-W, and I need to start doing somesnazzy on-site presentations in the next few months.

"Anyway, turns out Apple is planning to cannibalize these machinesfor parts. I can't live with taking a beautiful running PowerBookand giving it up for parts! It's like trading in an old beat upChevy I've poured love into for years, to a scrap dealer.

"Plus, is this such a deal? I'd like your opinion. Apple says$1,000 bucks off, but that's off their SRP of $3,200 - not the realworld retail of $3,000 - plus VirtualPC or an extra 64 MB of RAMkicked in, which most direct channels are now offering to clear_their_ inventory. That makes the trade-in value closer to $700.And no compensation for my soon to be useless Global Village PCcard, extra RAM in the machine, wetsuit, two batteries, two ACadapters, car adapter. You get the picture.

"I'm starting to think that maybe the ticket is to give Apple moretime to announce the Lombards, see if the DVD model gets into the$2800 range while they're still fresh in the box, and plunk downcold hard cash, and keep this 5300, or sell it to someone who willgive it a good home.

"The other notion is, buying a junked-out 190 fast, and turningthat in instead - Apple will accept that as trade-in, too. Theyseem to be going on eBay in the $350-400 range."

What Is Apple's Real Agenda Here?

The more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became aboutApple's true agenda with this offer. Why are only 5300/190 userseligible? Secondly, the junking them for parts bit is somewhatimplausible. What use do they have for a large stock of used5300/190 parts?

Which leads me to the following theory. The 5300 has been anembarrassment and public relations disaster for Apple ever sinceone machine caught fire in an Apple lab just afterthe 5300's launch in 1995, precipitating a recall. Never mind thatit was the Sony LiIon battery that went up in smoke. Never mindthat no consumer machines were affected and all 5300s were quicklyretrofitted with trouble-free NIMH batteries. The 5300's undeservedreputation as the "incendiary PowerBook" stuck. Of course, somevery real but fixable, design defects and quality problems didn'thelp, but Apple repaired them, offered and unprecedented seven-yearextended warranty on the 5300, and as the two 5300-owning readersabove testify, the 5300 became a solid and dependable, albeitslowish computer. The 5300 I'm typing these words on has not had aday's downtime or any serious problems since purchased new inNovember 1996.

I think Apple's true motive behind the trade-in offer is to getthe 5300s and 190s out of circulation and off Apple's back forgood. My guess is that the "parts salvage" story is mainly asmokescreen, and that most of the machines traded in will end up ina landfill.

As a satisfied and indeed enthusiastic PowerBook 5300 owner Ifind that hard to swallow. I can't object to Apple's offer on thebasis of economics - the trade-in allowance is more than fair. ButI still find the thought of a whole bunch of perfectly good,serviceable 5300s and 190s being thrown away or even junked forparts both sad and offensive. They could at least donate them toneedy schoolchildren or something. (they could suspend theseven-year warranty on giveaway machines by branding the case orsomething).

Are the 5300/190 series bad computers? I think not, and I boughtone new. However, if Apple just wants to bury them to eliminatewhat it apprehends as a source of embarrassment, what does that sayto those of us who like our 5300s and 190s and are still gettinggreat service from them? That we were chumps for buying a computer(an expensive computer) in good faith, that its manufacturer nowconsiders worthless? What will this do to the resale value of 5300sand 190s whose owners choose not to or can't afford to tradein?

I think Apple has handled the whole 5300 affair rather clumsily.They did all the responsible things as far as product support wasconcerned, but by choosing not to address the 5300 problemsforthrightly and publicly, they passively contributed to a popularmisconception that the 5300 is a lemon just waiting to burst intoflames.

I don't quarrel with anyone's choice to take advantage ofApple's trade-in offer. I still think it's a really good deal,especially if you own a 190 or lower-end 5300, in which case youare getting substantially more than your machine is worth on theopen market. I just wish the machines that get traded-in were to betreated with more dignity.

Apparently, quite a few 5300/190 owners agree. One wrote thefollowing:

"As a happy PB 5300 owner which I bought used in HK for US$400, I really can't see parting with the 5300 at this time. OK, Ialready own a G3 233 but these suckers are huge, heavy, and hot.The 5300 is a great road Mac and the passive grey screen I havelasts pretty long. I can take this on trips and not be tooconcerned about dropping or losing it since it is my spare.

"For some people who use it as a primary computer, the deal is agood thing but I've added enough upgrades to my little baby to makeit worthwhile to keep. 48 megs extra, 750 megs hard drive...3x NIMHbatteries. All in all, its a personal decision but what Appleshould do is allow you to apply the purchase to a new consumerPowerBook or even a DVD player for us G3 owners.

"I hope that Apple will use this chance to ship the spare 5300's tothe third world or something instead of just throwing it out. Alaptop is a great learning tool and should be given away instead ofdestroyed."

Reader Chris Turkel wrote:

"I bought my 5300cs used on eBay, to compliment by G3 Desktopand I couldn't be happier. The 5300 is a nice little PowerPCmachine, which can run most anything, is stable and has nevercrashed. With a $10 cable and $25 adapter I am able to hook it upto my desktop and transfer files, back up, etc. What a joy. Thethought of 5300s ending up in landfill breaks the heart!

On the other hand, reader Abe Jellinek offered this comment:

"I am in full agreement with the school response. However,Apple would have to sift through the junk to get to the good, andthen give it to schools and hope nothing goes wrong. The INSTANTone of these units breaks Fred Langa and his cadre of misinformedPC Magazine "journalists" will jump all over it. Apple would takeon incredible cost (time and money) looking for the "good" 5300's(that look the same as the bad ones.) Also, it would be a huge PRhit if the units broke (and no PR gain, Intel dwarfs Applesdonations [the computers Intel gives break and are slow, but whocares? It is Intel, the controller of all journalism])"

A valid observation, but I still hate to see good, serviceablecomputers junked and trashed. Abe, by the way, is delighted withApple's trade-in offer.

"I bought [a 190] for school and tried to use it for a year.Every 3 weeks it would die. A little click and everything would begone or locked inside. My 190 would sometimes power up, and die inmid startup. Or the keyboard caps-lock light would come on(indicating power) but the screen would just be black. Or the casewould crack, or the hard disk would erase ALL of my files (backedup, of course)

"Anyway, what I am saying is I traded a junky 68LC040 processor anda faulty machine I haven't touched in two years worth 150 bucks,tops, for $1100 off a G3/300. The last thing I am thinking rightnow is that I am a chump for paying the money for it originally. Myfriend has a very nice 5300, and is thrilled Apple is essentiallyGIVING him 100 bucks more than he paid for it a few yearsago."

And Brian Gerstel, an IS Specialist at an east coast universityhad this to say:

"If my department had the funding to do the 5300 trade-in, we'dfigure out a way around the Apple Education ban and get rid of ourPB 5300 in a New York minute!

"First of all, the machine doesn't have a CD, and requires the"Slow SCSI Extension" to remain stable when using a Zip drive,which makes *my* job as chief software installer moredifficult.

"Second, the lack of built-in Ethernet or modem is a pain, and the3rd party Card Sockets and Services 2.0 drivers for Ethernet don'tseem as well-optimized as the 3.0 drivers (for the 2400/3400),unless the performance difference I've seen is just due to thedifference in CPU speed.

"Third, our 5300 has been plagued by one of the major design flaws:the socket for the AC adapter keeps breaking off the motherboard.Apple will pay for the repair *once*, but after that it's out ofour pocket, and it keeps happening.

"Right now the 5300 serves as our backup PowerBook, in case of anemergency, but frankly I'd get rid of it immediately if there werean alternative."

No argument on the points of fact, but a lack of particularfeatures doesn't make the 5300 a bad machine, especially for peoplewho don't need those features.

Craig Hunter wrote:

"I had a 5300, and I agree, it was a fine machine once thekinks were worked out. Instead of focusing on the 5300/190 angle ofthe trade-in, I think you should look at it from the perspective ofApple being overstocked with G3's. They need to reduce theirinventory for lots of reasons (tax writeoffs, making the numberslook good for Wall St, etc.), and this is one way to do it. It'sfairly easy for them to write off a landfill full of traded-in5300/190's, but not so easy (or legit) for them to do it with alandfill of new G3's. I heard somewhere (perhaps AppleInsider) thatApple was prepared to take drastic measures to trim inventorybefore introducing the new PB models, and this looks like onestrategy. I also expect that they may offer new G3's to customerssending in the original G3's for repairs. It would be cheaper forApple to give a new 266/14.1" model to someone instead of fixing anearly production 250/13.3" model, which had lots of assortedproblems at the beginning."

Bob Seminak wrote:

"While negative PR may have contributed to Apple's decision tooffer this trade-up program, I suspect that the motives are muchless sinister. Apple has had well-documented problems with theircustomer service. They also presently have a glut of PowerBookswhich apparently are delaying introduction of new models.

"Someone most likely did an analysis of which older PowerBookmodels cost Apple the most to support currently (and in the future- the extended 5300 warranty) and decided that a program of thissort made sense - take potentially problematic systems out ofservice while offering customers more up-to-date machines. This isboth good PR and likely reduces current support costs as well asfuture exposure. While it may not be pleasant to think of thesemachines choking up a landfill with non-biodegradable mass, itcertainly makes business sense; any salvage value is only that muchbetter for Apple.

"One point not mentioned is that these trade-ups represent asignificant bonus to both Apple and those who take advantage ofthis offer: a bunch of computers supported under Mac OS X."

Hadn't thought about the OS X angle, Bob.

Anthony Doll speculated:

"Maybe Apple (after offering the unprecedented 7-year warranty)actually needs the spare parts now. It seems this would be cheaperthan manufacturing new ones."

Possibly, but I think that's a long shot.

James Sifert wrote to say:

"If Apple wants to give money back for an embarrassing machinemaybe they should think about compensating people who bought latemodel Performas.

"My brother bought a Performa PowerPC 5200CD on my advice of Macvs. Windows and he has never forgiven me. Some money towards aniMac would help I am sure."

Indeed. In my humble opinion, the 5200 desktop series is a lotdoggier than the 5300/190 PowerBook ever was.

5300cs owner Joseph L. Williams, who uses his to help coordinatenavigation of Space Shuttle missions at the NASA/Lyndon B JohnsonSpace Center, Houston, Texas, also wrote this week.

"I've continued to read your articles on MacOpinion since yourfirst offerings, and I'd like to again thank you for yourwell-written thoughts. I've been swamped with work the last fewweeks and haven't had the time to write, but I've been followingyour threads and have a few items to share with you.

"First, regarding Apple Support. I followed the stories youreported - some good, some bad - about different people's dealingswith Apple Support. Wouldn't you know it - around that sametimeframe, my 5300's screen started acting flaky. After someInternet research, I felt strongly that the video cable was goingbad. I contacted Apple Support and shared my problems with them. Idid have some minor troubles with them, mainly with working throughthe layers of phone support. However, within 10 days I had my 5300back, good as new. One item, the broken bezel(?) casing for thescreen, was fixed under warranty, even though my 5300 is a littlemore than 3 years old. The cable repair did cost me $120, includinglabor. I'd give my latest experience with Apple Support a B+.

"Next, I'd like to share with you a revelation I had. I call it apersonal revelation even though many folks out there are probablydoing this and think "no big deal." For the last three years, I'vebeen working with my 5300 using the built-in screen. One day Iasked myself the question: Why am I not driving an externalmonitor? So, I walked into the department administrator's officeand asked her if she had any old PC monitors laying around. Turnsout that she had ViewSonic 7 in excess. I purchased a video monitorhookup that contained dual ports on it - one for Mac monitors, onefor PC monitors. A few flips of the DIP switches, plug in themonitor, and *shazam* - a working external monitor, running at800 x 600. My PC friends were amazed that I could do this with myPowerBook. They were even further amazed when I showed them that Iwas running in extended desktop mode, not mirroring mode. This isthe coolest thing, and it's a shame that support for the extendeddesktop mode was dropped somewhere after the 5300 series.Hopefully, Apple will fix this with their next PowerBook offering.By the way, my PC colleagues were even further amazed that I coulddrag a window from one monitor to the other. We can't do that onour multi-monitored workstations in the Mission ControlCenter!

"Finally, I've mentioned to you in the past that I'm happy with my5300, even though it's starting to show its age. I'd like to beable to run Virtual PC with Windows 95 on it, because we do have afew Windows-only applications I need to use. I tried it as anexperiment, but the 100 MHz 603e is too dog slow. Major bummer. Idon't know if you or any of your readers have tried this aswell.... Despite this experience, I'm still holding onto my resolveto wait another PowerBook generation or two before stepping up.That $1000 rebate you mentioned in Miscellaneous Ramblings #10 ismaking it quite hard, though...."

Joe is a brave man to attempt running Virtual PC on a PowerBook5300. Connectix recommends a 120 MHz 603e as the minimum hardwarefor VPC (the 117 MHz 5300ce is just shy of that spec.), but sinceVPC is none too speedy (although quite usable) on a G3 233, Ishudder to think how slow it would be on a 100 MHz 5300.

As for extended desktop mode, this is one advantage we 5300owners have had over the speedier 3400s and G3 PowerBooks. The 5300*was* in its day positioned as a premium Apple product, and indeedthe 5300ce was one of the ten most expensive Macs in history.

Happily, Doug Landry says that extended desktop mode willfinally be back on Lombard.

Andy Ferguson wrote:

"Re: two issues in MiscellaneousRamblings #10:

"1) the QuickTime powerplug problem. I did not have the sameproblem as you did, but (as I'm sure you know from other commentsout there) upgrading to 8.5 makes the 5300 a *whole new machine*.Really. My 5300ce was just about to lose out to a new Toshiba, butgot a new lease on life with the 8.5 upgrade.

"2) second class apple citizens: I don't think I'm going to do thetrade-in program since I'd prefer to squeeze another year out of my5300 before handing over more cash, but I did figure out anacceptable (to Apple) way to work around the "not in Canada"problem. O'Grady alluded to this solution, but didn't spell it out:basically, use a US shipping address (like a Mail Boxes Etc. typeplace...yeah, it means schlepping across the border twice, butdepending on where you are that could be worth it), and temporarilychange your credit card billing address to the same shippingaddress. Voila. Apple doesn't care where you and your computer arefrom, as long as the shipping and billing address are in the US.This scenario is even better if you use an address in a state withno sales tax! You can reach Apple customer service by dialing aregular number (not toll free) which O'Grady has posted."

I tried installing a beta release of OS 8.5 on my 5300, but withmixed results, due to partial incompatibility with some oldersoftware I use. I have heard rave reviews from other 5300 ownersabout OS 8.5 speeding up their 'Books, however, and I have it ongood authority that if you like OS 8.5, you're gonna love OS8.6.

The U.S. address is indeed a viable workaround for Canadian5300/190 owners who live within reasonable driving distance of theborder or who have cooperative friends Stateside.

Joe Kudrna writes:

"Just like you, I was very impressed by the 5300's smaller sizeand weight over the 500, but unlike you, its boxy PC shape and lackof an internal CD-ROM really turned me off. Most horrific was no L2in those early PPC days, crippling its performance to about a 500's(it desperately needed 8.1). Then there where the qualityproblems.

"No matter what everyone else said, you where right that the 500was the first portable desktop. The stereo speakers, 16-bit in-outsound, and Ethernet where features that up till then where thedomain of desktops. SCSI gave it better expandability than a PC atthe time! As for performance, it was better (except video) than aQuadra 700, on par with a Quadra 950. A chip clocker can push it to40 MHz, just shy of Quadra 840AV performance. Of course PPC washere and fast, IF the code was native.

"My first Mac is my 520c. I have a faster PC (K6-300), but my 520cis my workhorse. My wife has a 550c, which I am typing this letter.It is a real beaut! Recently someone offered $1000 for a 550c. Itis a collectors item in a way. Considering how hugely popular the500 was, why they made the 190 that served no demand beats me.[Cheaper? CM]

"These have been incredibly successful PowerBooks. I think onlyWallStreet G3 has the WOW power exceed the 500."

Joe has published a Website dedicated to PowerBook 500s with a ton ofinformation on these solid and popular machines.

More On iCab

I reported on iCab, the new German Mac-only challenger in thebrowser wars several weeks back when it was in one of its veryearly beta versions - German language only. I've continued todownload the successive betas of iCab as development progressed,and this week Preview Version 1.4 is out - the best iCab yet.

I've been back on the 5300 for the past month or so for personalreasons I wrote about previously in The Road Warrior. With the G3 Itend to prefer Internet Explorer 4.5 as my everyday browser (sorryNetscape fans, but it's the better browser right now - I have highhopes for Communicator 5), but IE runs very slowly on the 5300, andI tend to quickly gravitate back to speedy little Netscape 2.02,which is crash prone and Java-challenged, but which re-launchesfast and is the speediest browser I've yet found that supports thefeatures I need.

However, iCab, which is even smaller than Netscape 2.02, isgetting closer to being a very adequate replacement for the oldNetscape with every incremental beta release.

iCab is not as fast as Netscape 2.02, but it is feature-loadedand Java -savvy. While I had found version 1.3a unacceptably buggyand unstable for routine use, version 1.4 seems markedly improvedin that department. Scrolling is faster and smoother than withearlier versions, and it hasn't crashed on me yet in three daysintensive use.

There are still some things that need work, though. Contextualmenus refuse to work more often than not, and support for someforms is still wonky. And one feature iCab will have to add beforeI can use it as my everyday browser is a "text only" option in the"Save As" dialog. At this point iCab will only save pages as htmlfiles.

However, this browser has real potential, and is already auseful alternative to its monster competitors.

iCab preview Version 1.4 will work until the end of June. Thedevelopers intend to charge a modest $29 for the full, shippingversion of iCab, but "iCab lite" will continue to be available forfree.

Changes in iCab Preview 1.4 (since Preview 1.3a) include:

Bug fixes:

New Features in Version 1.4:

For questions concerning iCab, bug reports and suggestions:support@icab.de

For general questions concerning the concept, marketing etc.:info@icab.de

You can download a free evaluation copy of iCab preview 1.3a at:http://www.icab.de/download.html

Compleat Buyers' Guide Feedback

Charles Broderick had these comments about my Compleat PowerBookUsers and Buyers Guide feature last week:

"I owned a PB 1400 cs 117 MHz 12/750, and now own a used PB2400c, so I can correct / fill in some facts.

"The bottom of the line PB 1400cs 117 12/750 was the only modelthat did not have a CD-ROM, and was the only 1400 to have 12 MB RAMsoldered on. The rest all came with 16 MB on the motherboard. MyMacBench 4 results for the processor gave it a rating of 117 (100being the 6100/60 MHz).

"The PB 2400c is indeed a gem. It has a Lithium ion battery, not aNiMh.

"That's about all I know to flesh out your article. As forupgrading/buying a new PB, the quandary is whether to upgrade. Iwas thinking of upgrading my PB 1400, and can do so cheaply now,but the passive matrix screen was always a handicap. I bought aused PB 2400c, and I am very happy. I am wondering about how thenew P1's will be, but think I am likely to upgrade my PB 2400 sinceit's so cheap."

Charles is correct on all counts, and upgrading 1400s and 2400sjust got even cheaper.

Vimage Cuts G3 Upgrade Prices

The Vimage Corporation this week announced price cuts across theboard for its G3 upgrade cards, including PowerBook models.

The Vpower PB 1400 G3/233 (512K of backside cache, 02.1 backsidecache bus clock ratio) upgrade for the PowerBook 1400 has been cutby $160, to $339, and the PB 2400 G3/240 (512K, 02.1) has beenlowered to $489. The PB 2400 G3/320 (1 MB, 02.1), which technicallywill give you the fastest PowerBook processor in the world untilLombard ships, has been cut to $899.

In summary:

For more information visit Vimage's website.

That's all for this week!