Another General Meeting already? Time really flies when you're having fun. This month we got the news that Apple has released MacOS 7.5.5. According to the press releases, this version fixed several known bugs and also offered many performance improvements to those of us who use virtual memory or RamDoubler from Connectix.
The meeting began as usual with the Question and Answer session featuring Tom Witte and Lawrence Charters. These guys never cease to amaze me with their ability to recall all of this stuff from memory. I usually have to refer to my (very thick) book of notes unless it is something fresh in my mind.
After a brief panic getting the presenter's Powerbook to operate in SCSI slave mode, we turned the floor over to this month's featured vendor, Claris Corporation (http://www.claris.com/). Our local Claris representative, Robert Dudley and his cohort from Boston, Christian Thomas, came bearing a large number of gifts and demos of their latest and greatest products.
First up was the newest product, Claris Home Page. This package enables you to develop World Wide Web pages in a "WYSIWYG" mode without resorting to HTML coding. For those of you who haven't taken the plunge yet, Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, is the way Web pages are constructed. You insert "tags" such as <CENTER> or <B> into your text to cause it to be centered or displayed as bold by your browser. The beauty of HTML is that the same language is used by Netscape, Mosaic, or any other web browser application. The interesting thing for those of us who use more than one computer, however, are the slight differences in exactly how each browser interprets the HTML code to display our pages.
Christian took us through the setup of a Web Page for a real estate office selling a house. He was able to set up the entire page with a table, graphic and links without typing a single line of HTML code. The nicest feature is the ability to switch from WYSIWYG to HTML to Browser mode from the toolbar. The product supports Frames as well as tables and even does automatic GIF conversion of images pasted onto the web page. HTML coding and WWW page creation are hard enough to show, let alone describe in words. Suffice it to say that this product looks pretty good and is much easier than coding HTML by hand. The product is also available on that other OS from Redmond.
We next saw a demo of FileMaker Pro 3.0. This latest incarnation of FileMaker Pro has introduced relational database capability to an already fine product. Databases are my business, and this product can't be beat for twice the price. It was already my favorite desktop database before version 3.0 and now it is miles ahead of its closest competitor. FileMaker Pro 3.0 allows you to link several separate databases together with common data fields (that's the relational part). This means you don't have information in one file that is different in another because you forgot to update it. If, for example, you keep Customer information in one file and Order information in another, you can link the two files together by customer number, for instance, and display data from both files simultaneously on one screen. FileMaker Pro 3.0 makes this process almost effortless, especially when compared to the other products available on the desktop. The interface is clean and elegant and you can even automatically create a FileMaker Pro 3.0 database by just importing it from another application. The import screen shows the fields and sample data and allows you to graphically map the input fields to the database fields you are filling.
Another fine feature of FileMaker Pro 3.0 is it's ability to work over a network. FileMaker Pro 3.0 Server allows network access to the database and it can even serve as a database server on the World Wide Web. FileMaker Pro 3.0 is also available for Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Windows NT and databases can be shared by Mac and Windows platforms.
At this point in the program, the demo gremlins finally arrived (as they usually do, no matter who is at the microphone) and we were treated to a crash and restart, finally ending up switching to the Pi's Power Mac 7100 as the startup disk and continuing from there. After a restart or two, we saw the improvements to one of my favorite applications, ClarisWorks. Version 4.0 has added some great features that make this great product even better. It is the only application installed on my Powerbook 140 and it is really all I've ever needed on the road. It has Word Processing, Graphics, Spreadsheet and Communications. Other than my Internet access, it's all I really need. The newest version adds Styles, which let you assign a style to, say, paragraph titles, and change them all at once by changing the style property from 14 point bold to 18 point italic. This will change all text in the document marked with this style.
Another great feature is the section break. Say you have a document which contains an introductory letter followed by a newsletter layout in 2 columns. Adding a section break after the letter allows you to apply columns to only the newsletter portion. You can also now adjust the width of the columns and the gutter between them .
The spreadsheet tool has also been enhanced. There are lots more tools and goodies for manipulating spreadsheets and graphs. In fact the entire toolset has been expanded, revamped and enhanced. Most of the major toolsets are tear-off tools that "park" in the upper left corner when closed in their torn-off state. I like this a lot more than having more toolbar than work area on my dinky Powerbook screen. Claris has also added a library feature for clipart and a shortcut feature which has scripts to let you perform frequently used tasks automatically. The color picker has added blends which can be customized and on and on and on. Well worth the upgrade price of $49.
Christian concluded with a mini-demo of Claris Organizer which has been totally revamped and has some nice new features to it's now less cluttered interface. Nice new look. Maybe more again on this later when the person who won the copy given away in the drawing writes a review for the Journal (heavy hint).
Speaking of giveaways! Claris was very generous. Robert claims to have cleaned out the stockroom for us and we were graced with lots and lots of Claris software for those of us who braved the lobby full of Wintel people at the computer show next door to get to the meeting. Now for the ever popular winners list: The copy of Claris Home Page was won by Robert Moore. Art Cheu won the copy of ClarisWorks 4.0, FileMaker Pro 3.0 was won by Patrick Garvey. Gary Nooger walked off with Claris Impact and R.Clifton Bailey is now the proud owner of Claris E-M@iler. Beth Trever can try out MacDraw on her new Performa 6200 (as soon as the defective logic board is replaced). Ed Kelty can now get organized with Claris Organizer and Robert Carmen can plan ahead with MacProject Pro. Encyclomedia II CD-ROM collections went to Grace Gallager, Jonathan Ross and David Essick. Thomas Boyer won the coveted Apple Canvas Tote Bag. W.L. Oakley won a QuickMail 30-day demo. R. Ketchel won the U.S. Robotics pencil cup/can holder. Marylou Langston walked off with the Power Computing T-shirt while the APS T-Shirt went to Rick Zeman. The infamous America On-Line T-shirt went to Barbara Leaf and Mouse Pads from the User Group Connection and other vendors went to Ned Spencer, Marty Ditmeyer and Michael Ross.
To those who won software, we extend an invitation to write a Journal Review of the package. Let all of us know what you think of the package. Compare it to what you were using before. Is it easy to use? Did you find it useful? What did you like about it? What annoyed or disappointed you? Let us know! Your fellow Pi members will be grateful. Journal article writing guidelines are available on the TCS. It is really easy to do and you don't have to be Tom Clancy. Just write about your experiences and share them wit all of us.
Congratulations to all of our drawing winners, large and small. It really pays to take the time to attend the monthly meeting. Thanks again to the generosity of Claris Corporation and especially to Robert Dudley for the software packages and to Christian Thomas for sensational demos and product knowledge. Especial thanks to Proxima for the loan of the Proxima 5011 projection system which adds so much to our meeting. And last, but not least, thanks to Lawrence Charters, Tom Witte, Beth Medlin, the NOVA Community College Staff and all of the other people who help to make these meetings a success. Please, if you don't ordinarily make the effort, come to next month's meeting when we will have Casady & Greene to show off Keep It Simple Spreadsheet and Spell Catcher and a special visit from Apple Computer who will be telling us all about Live Objects and what to expect from MacOS 8.