Miscellaneous Ramblings

A Year with WallStreet

Charles W. Moore - 7 May 1999

NOTE: This Miscellaneous Ramblings column originallyappeared on MacOpinionon May 7, 1999, just three days before Apple announced the "Lombard" PowerBook G3. It is republishedhere by permission of the author and MacOpinion.

A Year with the PowerBook G3 Series

It was just over a year ago (May 6, 1998) that Apple iCEO Steve Jobswowed the troops by unveiling the coolest laptop most of us had everseen - the PowerBook G3 Series "WallStreet." Approximately 200,000 of theG3 Series I and Series II have been sold, making this modelone of the most successful PowerBooks ever. Lombard/101, which we may finally see as soonas Monday, has some big shoes to fill.

The G3 Series machines were not without some gremlins - the poorlyengineered ribbon connector on the 13.3" displays, some heat sinks thatworked loose, some shorted RF shielding, and a suspected batch offaulty capacitors in the power management circuit which resulted insome failures, and in a very few cases (I have heard of less than halfa dozen reported or rumored, with possibly some overlap) causing theunits to catch fire.

However, the vast majority of G3 Series users love their machines,which are as close to being a full-fledged desktop computer stuffedinto a portable form factor as we have yet seen. These PowerBooks cantruly serve most users as an "only" computer. Lombard promises to beeven better, although with at least one and possibly two junior PowerBook siblings expected to arrivebefore the year is out, it's doubtful that it will sell 200,000units.

Word on the street is that PowerBook G3 Series II inventory isnearly tapped out. Supplies of 266 MHz and 233 MHz units are runninglow, and 300 MHz units are essentially sold out. There is a bit of anadjustment to grasp here: Apple is obviously deadly serious abouttightly managing its inventories, and bargains in "leftover" units whena new model rolls out that we are accustomed to may well be a thing ofthe past. The bottom line here is that if you want a G3 Series II,better grab one now if you can find it. Prices are unlikely to go muchlower on the Series II machines even after Lombard debuts.

The low PowerBook inventories should all but guarantee that Applewill unveil Lombard at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference(WWDC) in San Jose, California.

Indeed, AppleInsider has posted an articlepredicting that Lombard/101, Mac OS 8.6, and 350, 400, and 450 MHzspeed bumps of the blue & white Yosemite will all be introducedduring Steve Jobs' WWDC keynote address on May 10th.

As is already common knowledge, Mac OS 8.6 will be a free upgradefor Mac OS 8.5 owners who wish to download a copy of the upgrade fromApple's FTP site.

There may also be some hints as to what we can expect in Mac OS 8.7(Sonata), currently in early beta build.

AppleInsider predicts the following features in the new professionalPowerBooks:

Another intriguing possibility is that the eagerly awaited consumerPowerBook or "iBook" will be shown butnot released at the WWDC, just as the iMac was last year at theWallStreet introduction. Actual shipping of the iBook is not expectedbefore August, possibly once again following the iMac introductiontimetable from last year.

PC Card to USB Adapter Issues

Lombard and all PowerBooks in the foreseeable future will supportUSB. However, it should soon be possible to hook up your G3 Series'Book to USB peripherals through one of several CardBus PC Card to USBadapters.

MacAlly, a company that makessolid (in my experience) and relatively inexpensive Mac input devicesand other peripherals should soon be releasing its PC Card (CardBusbased) to USB adapter for PowerBooks (CardBus 32-bit compliantonly).

The anticipated date of release is still listed as April 1999 onMacAlly's Website, but there has been no announcement as yet.

The MacAlly PC Card to USB Adapter will feature:

System requirements are: Mac OS 8.1 or above.

The MacAlly Part Number is UH276 and the suggestedlist price will be $99.

Apple is apparently endorsing the MacAlly USB/CardBus adapter. AnApple Tech Info Library page notes:

You can use a PC Card USB adapter such as the MacAllyPCMCIA (32 bit) to USB adapter.... This article provides informationabout a non-Apple product. Apple Computer, Inc. is not responsible forits content. Please contact the vendor for additional information.

Many people, some of whom I hear from, are questioning the longdelay in getting PC Card USB adapters onto the street. An explanationposted byADS sheds some light on this issue.

ADS will support the Apple product line with our USBPort products as soon as we receive the final licensing agreement fromApple. This licensing agreement will allow us to legally distribute theUSB extensions, which are the property of and copyrighted by AppleComputer Corp.

Expected Date for Final Licensing Agreement fromApple: Any day now

The ADS USB Port for Notebooks (USBX-501) Card Bus PCMCIA will onlywork with Mac OS 8.6 and G3 Power Books - only G3 Power Books havesupport for the Card Bus 32 bit PCMCIA interface, according to ADS.

A further glitch for ADS is that:

"The Apple Computer Corp. agreement with will not allow us todistribute... USB extensions by e-mail. Therefore to receive the USBExtension diskette you must:

Mike McCoy, President, ADS Technologies, Inc., says that theyapologize for any confusion, and that they will do all that they can toproperly support their customers.

Of course, most PowerBook G3 Series computers have no floppy drives,and none will be available from Apple for Lombard (third-partyperipherals, such as USB floppy drives by VST and Imation will work). Areader letter posted on the PowerBook Zone notes that ADS tech supportassured him that their "sources" told ADS that all PowerBook G3s havefloppy drives. Better get some new "sources." I am continually amazedby the Wintel-centric world's apparent inability to comprehend lifewithout floppies.

However, in this case, Apple isn't helping. The ADSdrivers will only be available on floppy because their licensingagreement with Apple prevents them from making the drivers available asan Internet download. Consequently, purchasers with no floppy drivewill be obliged to copy the drivers from a machine with a floppy driveto their PowerBooks.

Incidentally, Apple recently discontinued manufacturing thePowerBook G3 Series expansion bay floppy disk drive. If you really wantone of these units, better hurry. Reportedly, most stock is sold out.LA Computer Center is still listing them on their Website for $139.00.

Another PC Card to USB-port adapter reportedly waiting in the wingsis from Hi-Val.

The Hi-Val card will sell for about $100 and reportedly be"hot-pluggable" with USB devices when running under Mac OS 8.6. WithMac OS 8.5.1, a restart will be necessary for the Mac to recognize thenewly plugged-in USB device. This product is nowhere to be found onHi-Val's Website so far.

For PowerBook owners interested in CardBus to USB connectivity,MacOSPlanet has posted a short article entitled "How To AddUSB To Your PowerBook"

More on PowerBook Quality and Support Questions

Last week I published a letter from RoadWarrior reader Matt Schultz, who related some disturbing stories aboutquality problems some of his customers have experienced with theirPowerBook G3s, including one of the abovementioned rare incidents of aPowerBook catching fire.

I received this follow up note from Matt a couple of days ago:

Hi Charles,

Sorry I haven't been able to follow up - beentraveling extensively on a new project.

I've reported a lot of bad news but in the interestsof fairness, I have some good news to report. I received a phone calllast week from Jill Byers, RN MS, President of Associated Home HealthCare Professionals (an excellent client of ours), who tells me thatApple Support has agreed to refund her money in full for her PowerBookG3/233/14.1. She bought the unit in September based wholly on ourrecommendations. It caught fire two weeks ago and burned up.

Although she had to speak with four levels ofrepresentatives over the course of a week, she finally was able toescalate the incident to someone who could make an executivedecision.

She was crying when she first called me last weekafter the flaming incident. While she still insists she will never havea computer in her house again, at least she feels relieved that hermoney will be refunded. She was not asked to sign an NDA. This takessome of the sting off the quality issues, at least as they relatedirectly to my customers.

I still think Apple's major worry at this point shouldbe MTBF on PowerBooks; the excessive heat generated by these units willdegrade component reliability in an accelerated fashion. Due to devicelife curves, it is reasonable to assume that the bulk of failures areyet to come... well outside the standard warranty window. I firmlybelieve we are at the rising edge of a quality epidemic.

I have left either email or voice mail for eachindividual whom I know with a PowerBook quality issue. So far, we have6 NDA's, 3 "no thank you's", 5 no responses' and a full refund.

I'm still trying!


Transparent PowerBook 2400 Keyboard

Here's a funky little item for PowerBook 2400 owners that I firstheard about on O'Grady's PowerPage - a transparent replacement keyboardfrom the YU Co. Ltd. inJapan.

This keyboard apparently comes in clear, red, green and blue. Itfeatures slightly larger keys (by about a 1 mm) than the stock 2400 KB,which some people find a bit cramped. The YU keyboard also has an extracommand key and the Caps Lock and Control keys are switched.

The 2400 keyboard is so nice (other than the small size) that Iwould be cautious about replacing it unless the replacement wassimilarly engineered.

Unintentional G3 PowerBook Torture Test

Those G3 Series PowerBooks are tough! The PowerBook Source hasposted a reader essay from John Forward, who relates a tale of how hedropped his WallStreet down an airport shuttle's boarding stairs onto aconcrete sidewalk. (Memo: don't carry your PowerBook in a cheapcarrying case). The 'Book suffered some cosmetic damage, but woke upand ran flawlessly. Check it out here:

Low-End PowerBook Corner

MacMall has some refurbished WallStreet 250s with 13.3" displaysfor $1,579. As has been reported here before, there are some issueswith the 13.3" display, but these machines should have been reworkedwith that in mind. Caveat emptor.

L.A. Computer Center has similar refurbished G3/233 MHz machineswith 13.3" displays for $1,399. Note that these latter would be theSeries I "MainStreet" 233s with no Level 2 cache - still decentlyspeedy, but much slower than the Series II 233s that have a 512k L2cache (MacBench Processor 445 vs. 764).

L.A. Computer Center also has your choice of a refurbished PowerBook5300CS (100 MHz, 8/500, 10.4" passive) or a used 5300C (100 MHz,16/750,10.4" TFT) for $599.

Small Dog Electronics hassome PowerBook 2400Cs (180 MHz, 48/1.4GB, floppy) for $1,449. Buy one of these, install a Newer Technology orVimage G3 upgrade card, and you have a nice, powerful little Macsubnotebook, but it makes no sense to do it for the G3 speed alone atthat price. You can buy a real G3 Series 'Book for the same money orless.

Small Dog also has a PowerBook 3400c(180 MHz 16/1.3 GB/CD) for 1099.00, which represents a lot of PowerBookfor the money.

MacResQis offering refurbished PowerBook 180cunits (14/160, 14.4 modem, case) for $399. With the internal modem(fast enough for email and casual surfing) and 14 MB of RAM (themaximum this 'Book supports, and not as limited as it sounds, since thelatest system that supports the 180c's 33 MHz '030 chip is OS 7.6.1,which has modest RAM demands compared with OS 8.X) this makes a morethan decent road warrior unit.

MacResQ also has some refurbished PowerBook520s with internal 19.2 kbps modems for $399, and these babies willsupport Mac OS 8.1 and up to 36 MB of RAM.

Speaking of upgradeable PowerBooks, Infinity Micro isoffering refurb. PowerBook 1400CS units(117 MHz, 12/750) for $795. At this point, upgrading begins to makesome economic sense. You can get a G3 upgrade card for the 1400 fromNewer Technology for $265, which would give you a pretty fast computerwith a decently large display and a lovely keyboard for $1,060. Notethat these 1400s have no CD-ROM and a small hard drive, but either orboth can be added later if you like the package.

Infinity Micro also has a bunch of used low-end PowerBooksadvertised on their Website at very decent prices:

PreownedElectronics Ltd. has a "like-new" PowerBook Duo 280c with the followingspecification for $349.

and a PowerBook 5300c. 100 MHz, 32 MB,10.4" Active-Matrix Color Display, also "like new" for $749!

Psst: Wanna Buy a Mac Really Cheap?

This isn't a PowerBook item, but I couldn't resist including it.Preowned Electronics is selling used Macintosh Classics for the giveaway priceof $19. If you know someone who could use a cheap computer for wordprocessing and email, they can't do better than this! My old Mac Plus is slightly less powerful than aClassic and has only 2.5 MB of RAM, but it handles Eudora Light andWord 5.1 (or earlier), ClarisWorks 3, and other contemporary softwarefine.