Macworld Magazine, December 1993

The Desktop Critic by David Pogue

 

The Desktop Christmas ’93

Cheap and cheery things to put under the Apple tree

 

 

Hey, what is with everybody lately? You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about the gloom and doom at Apple Computer. Columnists are ranting about the Death of the Macintosh. Apple’s stock price keeps having system crashes. I haven’t heard such paranoiac hysteria since the original Macintosh model—remember that one? the toy? the one that would never last?—hit the streets.

 

Anyway, I’m certainly sympathetic to those affected by the Great Mac Depression of ’93: to those laid-off Apple employees, to the columnists who write about them, and to the Mac fans everywhere who’re alarmed by all the alarmism. Thus, in an effort to inject a little cheer into this gloomy season, I offer my fourth annual Holiday Gift Ideas for the Mac Nuts in Your Life. As always, the rules are simple: nothing over $50 and nothing buggy, cheesy, or predictable.

 

Apple Golf Ensemble

Apple: it’s not just for computers anymore. Perhaps in an effort to reassure its jittery stockholders, Apple now sells such circuitry-free equipment as wristwatches, felt-tip pens, and directors’ chairs.

 

And golf gear.

 

Don’t ask—I can’t explain it—but there it is in the Apple Catalog, nestled between the LaserWriter Select and the Apple II SuperDrive Controller Card. The Apple-logo golf balls are $30 per dozen. The $35 Apple Golf Umbrella, according to the catalog, "protects an entire foursome from unexpected showers!" (It’s 58 inches across, nylon, and fiberglass. The umbrella, I mean, not the catalog.)

 

Of course, your favorite Mac/golf lover will also go for an Apple Golf Shirt, pure cotton, with shoulders "reinforced with double-needle tailoring" (black or white, $30). And to top off your gift, top off its lucky recipient with an Apple Golf Cap. "Nylon and plastic? Never! Our cotton poplin cap is designed for comfortable sun protection." With its genuine leather band and solid brass buckle, this $11 item could be the best value from Apple since the PowerBook 145.

 

 

 

APS PowerBook Ensemble

APS Technologies makes two stunningly useful stocking-stuffers for your favorite PowerBook owner. First, complying with the industry trend of ditching Apple’s monochromatic palette of gray paint shades for more colorful alternatives (see "Screenies," below), there are the APS PowerBalls. These Day-Glo trackballs replace the soot-colored one that comes with each PowerBook ($9.99 apiece, in neon orange, shocking yellow, violent green, and obscene pink; specify PowerBook model). For best present-unwrapping reactions, give the full $19.99 four-color set (but failing to mention that these are not, in fact, gumballs could have unpleasant results).

 

But the PowerBalls can fill up only four toes of the stocking. If you want to fill the big-toe slot with something useful, consider this. A PowerBook’s SCSI jack is an odd-looking square matrix, not the wide rectangular 25-pin jobber we’re used to. Apple would be delighted to sell you a $39 converter cable so that you can, in fact, plug a SCSI device into the jack.

 

APS’s SCSI Boy, however, is a simple plug that performs the same feat with less clutter and expenditure ($29). And for $49, you can get the less funnily named but doubly useful SCSI Doc: an identical-looking plug that, with the flip of a switch, becomes an adapter for use with SCSI Disk Mode (where the PowerBook itself becomes an external hard drive for another Mac), thus saving you from having to purchase yet another, different $39 Apple cable.

 

 

Screenies

If you could meet the people I teach about the Macintosh, you’d understand why the Cupertino Corporate Doldrums are irrelevant. These are people who’ve never used a computer before. In fact, they’re not particularly crazy about even having one. But they tolerate the Mac because it’s far less intimidating and machine-like than any other computer. Mention QuickTime, virtual memory, or even RAM, and they cover their ears and start singing "Tomorrow" at the top of their lungs. What they want to know is how to get double-spaced text. Or print an envelope. Or find a chapter they typed last week.

 

These people want to make the computer as uncomputer-like as possible. To that end, Rusty Schwartz offers a unique twist on masking the nerdiness: interior decoration for your monitor. Not wallpaper, really, but a Velcro-backed cardboard frame that covers up the boring gray bezel with a lush colorful painting (available from CompUSA, Egghead, MacWarehouse, and Hallmark; $11.95 each, SE size $9.95). (Whatever’s on your screen is still visible, of course, through the cutout center of the frame. On the other hand, I’ve got a couple of students who’d probably prefer one that *doesn't* have the center cut out.)

 

There are 51 different designs. Many resemble, as I said, wallpaper: tropical, patterned, floral, whatever. Others make your Mac look like some more comforting American knickknack: a giant red Etch-A-Sketch frame; a 1950s-style TV set; an ornate, theatrical, rococo frame showing cupids and fleurs-de-lis. As a jaded pragmatist from New York, my personal favorite is the one made of write-on, wipe-off material. I scrawl phone numbers and other notes on it during the day, giving "I wrote it on my computer" a whole new meaning.

 

 

 

The Macintosh Reader

Great book. Interviews. Secrets. Insider Apple stories. Little essays—54 of 'em. Funny, alarming, surprising, sometimes maddening. Interesting? Always.

 

What went wrong with Steve Jobs. Sculley vowing never, ever to license the Mac operating system. An Apple head programmer's 1984 interview: future of the Mac.

 

Kawasaki. Alsop. Bunnell. Shapiro. Tognazzini. Famous folks with something to say.

 

Style? Yes. Too much. Short sentences, almost obnoxious. Doug Clapp wants to be Hemingway, I guess. Dashes—and ellipses. . . and very short sentences. And lots of italics. The hand of one Clapp sounding.

 

Still. He didn't write all 450 pages of it: only the intros and a few of the essays. Otherwise—juicy stuff. Random House Electronic Publishing. $25.

 

 

CopyDoubler 2.0.1

I'm ordinarily leery of giving a piece of software as a gift. I mean, someone unwraps 16 layers of paper and cardboard, and at the center is—a floppy disk. The joy is somehow not as visceral as when, nested in the mounds of ripped-off wrappings, lies, say, a camcorder or a BMW.

 

Still, CopyDoubler (Fifth Generation Systems, $59, about $40 by mail order) will bring joy to any System 7-savvy Macintosh user. And it’s a bliss that renews itself every time your recipient tries to copy something or empty the trash. Beautifully, simply, and quietly, CopyDoubler intercedes, taking over these interminable tasks from the Finder and doing them at least twice as quickly.

 

One more point; it’s easy to set up CopyDoubler to copy specific folders to a certain location, either at the touch of a key or at shutdown. This is news. It means that you never again have to think about backing up! Each day when you choose Shut Down, CopyDoubler backs up whatever folders contain your documents—quickly and automatically—and then dutifully turns off the computer.

 

 

Icon Gallery

Can you figure out what’s missing from these instructions for replacing an icon in System 7? (1) Copy a graphic to the Clipboard; (2) highlight an icon; (3) choose Get Info from the File menu; (4) click on the existing icon and paste.

 

What’s missing, naturally, comes before you even start: how you’re supposed to create the replacement icon to begin with. We are not all, alas, Norman Rockwell. (Many of us aren’t even Jackson Pollock.) Even icon-editing programs are useless if you're talent-free (see The Desktop Critic, July 1993, for more on these).

 

Enter the simple, sweet, serendipitous concept of Icon Gallery ($59.95, about $35 by mail order; Component Software Industries). It’s 850 professionally painted color icons. People, appliances, logos, plants, design—disk upon disk of them (see "Icon Heaven"). They’re enfoldered by category, almost universally usable, and unbelievably tempting.

 

Within 30 seconds, you can make your landscape of files and folders more personal, more colorful, and funnier.

 

(Techie note: Each icon in this collection is actually a ResEdit resource file containing the large, small, color, and black-and-white versions of that icon. If you are handy with ResEdit, therefore, you can slap these icons even on System 6 files, or install them permanently in your own files instead of using the Get Info method.)

 

 

 

America Online Starter Kit

For the fourth consecutive year, I’ve prodded America Online to develop a gift certificate good for using its dial-up modem wonderland. Such a certificate would make a perfect gift. They’re still saying “Good idea. We’ll look into it.” Meantime, if you’re a Santa on a budget, call them and ask for a free America Online starter kit. It comes with ten free hours of dial-up time—more than enough to get your recipient hopelessly addicted.

 

 

Newton MessagePad

Now, don’t get huffy that I’m breaking my self-imposed $50 price barrier on this one. The list price for Apple’s remarkable, palmtop, keyboardless, handwriting-recognizing, note-taking, quick-faxing, phone-dialing, day-scheduling, Etch A Sketch-descended, snazzy corporate show-off computer is more like $700. If the price bothers you, look at it this way: give somebody a MessagePad, and you’re covered, giftwise, for the next 14 years.

 

And if you give a loved one a Newton, you’ll also be covered kiss-wise. One guy’s opinion: this is a fantastic machine. Yes, OK, fine, be that way. It takes three days before you and it reach a handwriting understanding. There. I’ve said it.

 

But oh, what a world opens then. You’re checking your answering machine for messages; as you jot down the phone numbers on your MessagePad, you’re actually entering them into your phone dialer for future use. Or you’re drifting to sleep, and you get an idea for tomorrow’s presentation. Scrawl it on the MessagePad and go back to sleep. Or you write the dinner tab on the MessagePad’s Conversion screen, and you instantly know what the tip should be. And so on.

 

Advice-wise, here’s my offering: The way to a Mac or gadget freak’s heart is with a MessagePad.

 

 

The Upshot

Day-Glo trackballs… hand-held computers… jumbo golf umbrellas… You know what? I find it impossible to buy into the Mac Is Dead school. Not for an instant. I think this must just be a slow news year. I’m no MBA, but I can’t see how any company that makes a machine this great couldn’t come back from a slump. Stockholders, schmockholders—my computer plays movies and talks!

 

 

Modesty forbids DAVID POGUE from mentioning the Christmas-gift candidates he had a hand in creating: Hard Drive, a $5 paperback thriller (Berkley Publishing Group, 1993); Macs for Dummies, 2nd Edition: and Macworld Macintosh Secrets (both IDG Books Worldwide, 1993).