Good news, good news and more good news. Martin Russ just can't believe his luck.
It has been a good month. First, it looks like the iMac may well turn out to be priced at just less than £1000 including VAT (and some people are apparently already taking advance orders as I type this.) Second, the influential US computer magazine Byte has published some interesting processor power comparisons. Third, Apple seem to be firmly back on course. And finally, I solved my SCSI problems...
The Universal Serial bus
It's a weird circular world. Whereas PCs have always used simple point‑to‑point connectors for connecting the keyboard and the mouse to the computer itself, Apple have for a long time had the Apple Desktop bus which is a 16‑device mini‑network. You've been able to buy disc drives, scanners and a few other goodies which used the Desktop bus, but the idea never really took off.
Well, now it has. Compaq, Digital, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC and Northern Telecom got together a couple of years ago and developed the Universal Serial bus (USB), and many of the same low‑bandwidth peripherals are now starting to appear with USB sockets. With the PC industry behind it, USB promises to be what Apple's Desktop bus ought to have been in a sane world. For Mac users it opens up a world of low‑cost, ubiquitous peripherals that will work on a Mac or a PC.
Not only will USB joysticks and other game‑playing related add‑ons soon be appearing, but other peripherals including printers, video cameras, hard and floppy disk drives, infra‑red device interworking, digital still cameras and digital audio. Connecting a pair of digital speakers to your computer via a serial data buss might appear strange, but the Philips web site already has details! USB is designed to be completely 'plug and play', so you can simply connect your devices up and use them. No configuration, and no hassle. Innovative for PC users, normal for Mac users — but there are some surprises even for hardened Applephiles.
USB appears as a simple four‑pin socket, often with two sockets together as a pair. Unlike most computer connections, USB can be 'hot‑plugged', which means that you can plug and unplug at any time, and without turning the power off. If only SCSI was like this! The USB carries 5 volt power too, which means that many peripherals will not need their own mains power supplies. In performance terms, USB provides either 1.5 Megabits per second — faster than either the Apple Desktop bus or the RS‑422 printer and modem serial ports on a Mac — or 12 Megabits per second, which is comparable to some slower SCSI devices. Both speeds of data transmission can coexist on the same USB cable. Whereas SCSI is limited to seven devices, and the Apple Desktop bus to 15, USB can potentially support up to 127 devices — you use little extender boxes called hubs.
In keeping with the low‑cost world of keyboards and mice, USB isn't expensive to add to a peripheral, and the volumes of the PC marketplace mean that prices will be aggressive — some US web electronics suppliers are already selling USB PCI cards for less than $60. If digital audio cards for the PCI buss haven't completely taken over, then USB could provide a way of hooking audio into and out of your PC. Philips' digital speakers will carry digital audio over the USB — and so have no audio connections at all!
Despite what I've said in the past about using a search engine instead of explicit URLs, USB seems to be an exception. Visit these pages for more information:
At present, some PCs are shipped with USB sockets, but not Macs. However, this situation is about to change with the introduction of the iMac. Although aimed at the mass‑market with its clear plastic, all‑in‑one design, the iMac is actually very much in the same mould (all puns accidental) as the Mac Plus and Mac SE models that were used by MIDI professionals before software got too big for little screens and also went colour. While PCI slots have become standard on both Macs and PCs, however, the iMac has no internal card slots at all. Nor is there the familiar SCSI socket and the printer/modem ports have also gone.
In their place, as you've probably guessed by now, comes the Universal Serial bus. The iMac uses a USB to connect the keyboard and mouse to the main unit. It will also take a floppy disk drive (already available) and there are hard disks and more to follow. Since this is a 'Good news for Apple' month then you won't be surprised when I reveal that Opcode have just announced a brand new USB peripheral — a USB Audio Interface that, by converting between USB and S/PDIF, will enable you to connect DATs, CDs, A‑D converters and other audio devices to an iMac for less than $200. Which leaves me asking when the first USB MIDI interface is due...
Apple have announced their third quarterly profit — $101 million, up from the previous quarter's $55 million, on sales of $1.405 billion (thousand millions!). Things have really turned around over the last year. After a period of doom and gloom, the G3 PowerMacs, PowerBook G3s and the iMac suddenly deliver leading edge performance at low prices. Although many people raised the odd eyebrow when Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple, it has already resulted in Office 98 appearing on the Mac first. There is now a dedicated team of 200 programmers at Microsoft who are dedicated to programming better Mac applications. Even top games are migrating back to the Mac — with PC and PlayStation favourites like Tomb Raider II due for Christmas.
I'm often asked by people which computer to buy, and I always tell them a Mac. All too often they then come back and tell me that they have bought a PC instead. Prime motivations for not following my advice are cited as low cost, easy availability and 'Windows 95 being the same as Mac OS'. These same people then come back later on and ask about driver problems, MIDI port limits and other niggles at which point I tell them that there are still good reasons for buying a Mac. Visit https://web.archive.org/web/2015... for some biased opinions.
After a couple of months now of living with Studio Vision Pro v4, I'm running v4.0.1, and looking forward to the free download of v4.1. Life with a combined MIDI and digital audio sequencer is certainly different, but I'm surprised at how MIDI retains its usefulness even in the face of very powerful audio capabilities. You see, although I can treat the audio and the MIDI with very similar processing and editing features, there are still certain times when it's useful to be able to quickly throw a generated sequence of jangly MIDI notes ogether. Also I'm astonished at how quickly I use up audio polyphony. It all makes me more confident that the future is increasingly about integrated MIDI+Audio sequencers, with software synthesizers available as plug‑ins. All this and USB too! As increasingly seems to be the case with computers, we're going to see the development of many different elements working together as one even more capable whole.
How It Works: Comparisons
You can't trust numbers. Intel Pentium IIs running at 400MHz must be faster than a 233MHz Motorola G3 chip, surely. Apparently, according to Byte when you measure something more related to computing power, then the reverse is true. Steve Jobs took great delight in mentioning this to July's New York MacWorld.
The speed at which a processor runs is not necessarily a good guide to how much it can actually accomplish. It has much more to do with how efficient the chip is. With the right esign, a slower chip may well achieve faster raw processing. At least, that's the technologist's answer. A marketing person might well point you to phrases like: 'This Operating System runs up to 33 per cent faster' where the 'up to' can include 0 per cent, or even negative speed increases.
But for the ultimate comparison‑busting, power ratings for audio systems must be well in the lead. 'Total music power' and its many variants seems capable of turning a few watts of real power into something much more impressive. Yep, numbers. Wonderful things. And in the hands of a trained expert: completely meaningless. You have been warned!
Apple News In Brief
· 56K IMAC MODEM
Early reports of the iMac claimed that the modem would be a 33.6 kbps model, but the latest indications are that it will be 56 kbps. September should see the first of the blue and clear curvies in the UK.
I remember attending a talk by one of Apple's top R? gurus about 18 months ago when he extolled the virtues of their V‑Twin search engine. Well, it has taken a while to reach the real world, but it looks like System 8.5 will get the benefit of V‑Twin, only renamed Sherlock. Imagine a web search engine inside your operating system and you get the flavour of this program.
Tip Of The Month: SCSI Bus 2
At the risk of this becoming a soap opera, I'm going to mention my long‑running SCSI problems again. It started with the mysterious freezing of my PowerMac when copying files, and more recently it has caused my CD‑R/hard disk combo to suffer from errors. But hey, this is a good month, and so here's how I solved everything.
Although my Mac already has an internal and an external SCSI buss, experimentation had shown that there was a limit to the number of SCSI peripherals which I could connect at once. So the solution was to add another SCSI buss via a PCI SCSI card. Installation was a 'plug and play' breeze and after rebooting I now had buss 0, buss 1 and buss 2 all up and running. With the CD‑R/hard disk combo connected to the new buss card, everything worked perfectly. The new card may have represented an extra £100 or so on top of the CD‑R budget, but my system is now reliable again and I don't need to replug things just to blow a CD‑R.