Ionic Column: May 1996
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
CeBIT 96 - Hanover
Oh my poor feet, or, the rest of the day at CeBIT 96
In the last column I reported on some of the items I saw at CeBIT 96 back in the middle of March. In part two I continue with some other points of interest. Again, I did not manage to see more than a quarter of CeBIT, and perhaps half of what I would have liked to have seen. I did not get to see much of new PCs or peripherals such as printers, on the basis that magazine reviews are more helpful anyway. Nor was there time.
Peer to peer networking is nothing to do with old school ties and the old boy net at the House of Lords, but simply means that you can link up PCs directly to each other without going through a central controller or server. For the record, Novell Netware is exactly the opposite, being entirely server-based, and PC faxes or modems can only function over a Novell network if you dedicate a PC to them to act as a dedicated server. (My Castelle FaxPress is in effect a small PC with no keyboard, monitor or compatibility problems, having no more than a motherboard with fax circuitry, the network interface circuitry and connector, and a couple of big lights to provide a great show on startup.)
Station to Station
Windows 95 and OS/2 Warp Connect can act as peer to peer networks. Add a network interface card (NIC) to each PC and whatever type of cabling is best suited to your budget and the distances involved, and voila! In a way, peer to peer networking is a better substitute for null modem connections and LapLink, although it costs more to set up initially.
The main entrant is peer to peer networking is Artisoft, with Lantastic. I used the program at the end of my time in Tokyo, and found it relatively easy to set up. Setting up printers was a cinch, especially compared to trying to get a Netware print server to function, but it got progressively more tedious to add new users, as each station had to be cross-referenced. The current version may not be so onerous. Also, Lantastic 5.0 and a mixed bag of Gateway PCs and Windows turned out to be a less than happy mix. We also discovered that if one PC crashed, the others were affected. That particular little buglet may or may not have been fixed by now.
Personal Net Where?
Novell offered Personal Netware as an alternative to Lantastic, but it seems to have been quietly ignored by all, and especially Novell. One other contestant in peer to peer networking was at CeBIT. Desk to Desk is produced by CBIS, and I found them at CeBIT at a stand for the state of Georgia.
Desk to Desk
The Desk to Desk salespersons persevered, even when I said I was already running a Novell network. I took a look at the product, asked them some awkward questions, and finally walked off with a leaflet. I offer the following on the basis of that alone, and without any actual hands-on experience.
Desk to Desk is rather like what Lantastic used to be, meaning "cheap." The comparison prices quoted list Lantastic at $238 for 2 (!) users and $595 for 5 users, the latter being close to the street price for Netware 3.12. Desk to Desk is $129 for up to 255 users. That's what I call reasonable. The product has the usual peer to peer features, such as security and printer sharing, and the ability to designate a PC as a file server or a print server if you wish. It is the sort of thing you start wishing for, when you don't know which PC has the latest version of a file, or if your PC is the one with the printer and regularly slows to a crawl when somebody prints.
CBIS did admit that you can't use faxmodems on other PCs, but they plan to add the feature. They did say that my Castelle could probably work on their system by using NetBIOS calls. Without actual testing, I can't say either what happens to the rest of the network if one PC crashes.
At the price, Desk to Desk certainly is worth looking at. You even get a 30 day no-questions-asked refund guarantee.CBIS
6050 Peachtree Parkway, Suite 340-208
Norcross, GA 30092
Bitstream ceased to be visible to me after they ceased to bundle their fonts. H-P used Bitstream Courier in the LJ II, but spurned it for the spindly Agfa Compugraphic version for the LJ III and 4. I don't recall seeing Bitstream fonts being bundled with programs after the GEM version of Ventura Publisher, Signature and XyWrite 4. Adobe gained more visibility by reducing the price of Post Script for printers -- my LJ 4 has it -- and making their fonts much cheaper. But Bitstream has not disappeared.
They still have fonts, lots of fonts, and indeed they have a CD-ROM with 500 fonts on it. The selection includes many fonts already widely available as standard PostScript or TrueType offerings, and all fonts are available in both those two forms and without further unlocking. But these days cheap TrueType fonts are a dime a thousand on CD-ROM. What was interesting was that they are working on what I might term "worldwide" fonts.
Cyberbit is an international font that includes the typographic characters for most of the world's major languages. This includes double-byte languages such as Japanese. Cyberbit is Unicode 1.1-compliant for Windows NT and supports all the code pages in Windows 95. The initial release will include approx. 8,500 characters, and the Roman weight will be distributed free of charge by Bitstream. I don't know which font it is based on, but my guess it is based on Bitstream Swiss, a.k.a. Helvetica. This would make it possible to have a more unified look in one document when using romaji, kana and kanji, allowing for the differences between pictograms and alphabets or syllabaries.
Cyberbit is intended to make documents readable by anyone throughout the world, and Bitstream is looking primarily at the Internet for its target market. In short, Cyberbit will allow Web users to create and read documents in any language, since the accented characters will always show up at the other end if the reader also have the Cyberbit font (and a double-byte browser or application, if need be).
I also collected brochures for their non-Latin typefaces and Asian typefaces. The former covers Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic and Farsi, the former has Japanese and Chinese. In kanji you get effectively two fonts in three weights and two related fonts in two weights.
Bitstream is also selling to Printer OEMs and software developers a modified versions of Novell's Envoy with extra font handling capabilities. Envoy is a competitor to Adobe Acrobat, and is intended to do the same sort of thing; to produce and read documents while retaining all their formatting information, including fonts. Did I hear someone in the back row murmuring about Web homepages? But of course. Look for the product to turn up within Web browsers.
From Russia With Thanks
The Russian section had a number of packages on offer, nearly all scientific or AI-based. I fended off over-enthusiastic sales-tovarishi by saying that I did not have a Ph.D. and could not begin to understand their software, excellent as it undoubtedly was. My eye was caught by a "design your own jet engine" program, complete with gas flows in the combustion chamber, and a wind tunnel illustration of what looked remarkably like a MiG-29.
But it was time to get down to business, and so I decided against designing very my own jet fighter in favor of more mundane projects such as Russian dictionaries and CD-ROMs. Not surprisingly, they had information on the products I had read about in the flyer from Lexicon Software, but there was nothing there for me. No dictionaries, on CD-ROM, alas, but I did get two things that were on my long-term shopping list. I mentioned Cyrillic keyboards and Windows Cyrillic drivers, and hit paydirt. A brand-new Chicony keyboard with Roman/Cyrillic lettering and a set of Windows drivers plus TrueType Cyrillic Times Roman, Arial and Courier fonts became mine.
Comedy Time in Ukraine
I left the Russian stand, amused at the sight of a software package intended to control nuclear power stations, and then spotted the Ukrainian booth. What did I find but another software package intended to control nuclear power stations? As I turned away, shuddering, my eye was caught by a large model of some industrial installation or other, with a large hall and a high chimney -- omigawd, yes, Chernobyl! I turned away from this view of high tech manqué to the low tech; CD-ROMs of Ukrainian ecclesiastical chants of the 13th century. A counter-blast to the Spanish Benedictines? I was totally bemused by now, and decided that someone in the Ukraine must have a truly surreal, nay Pythonesque sense of humor, but one look at the stand convinced me that this unbelievable collection had been done in all seriousness. I was all set to comment on this, but the glacial blonde nymphettes behind the counter were far too absorbed in their conversations to take heed of passers-by. It reminded me of the good old Soviet days, when the entire USSR was run by jobsworths.
Too Good To Be True
Many of the minor vendors were clustered together in groups organized by their national chamber of commerce or the like. In one such agglomeration I spotted a sign offering Hitachi 4X CD-ROM drives for $33. US dollars, if you please. I did a double-take at the price, but then discovered that this was a dealer price, minimum order 200, FOB California. Too bad, but then I discovered why these drives are going cheap: Hitachi have up to 2 million of the things in their warehouses. Other vendors don't have this over-supply problem and are charging more, but it is clearly putting price pressure on other brands. The same Hitachi drive is selling in Düsseldorf for 99 DM, or about US$65, and I was able to get a "Creative" 4X CD-ROM for 100 DM from another vendor just before this column was finished. An inspection of the small label on the wee beastie as it was installed revealed its Matsushita origins.
Everyone's favorite purveyor of good 'n' cheap shareware had a booth. I bought a few CD-ROMs that were already on my buying list, so I saved the postage and got a Dr. Hobbes CD-ROM for OS/2, plus the Japanese text processing CD-ROM and clipart collection. The JTP disk includes just about every Japanese text editor or formatter available in shareware for DOS and Unix. The clipart consists of scanned photos with a heavy emphasis on typical tourist fodder such as temples and festivals. Not much use to me, so I'll try Matsuri Graphics again in the USA and see what is now available in their selection of nicely-drawn clipart.
A New Contour For Your Mouse
Mice come in a variety of shapes, but the basic premise is the same; you hold it between your fingers and move it with your wrist. This gets tiring, and ultimately causes pain and stiffness in your hand. This is bad enough with graphics-based word processors, but CAD and DTP require almost constant mousing, to the point where RSI becomes a problem. An architect suffering from RSI designed a mouse that is genuinely innovative.
Contour Design have produced a mouse that looks more like a slug. It is much bigger and higher than ordinary mice, and also has a thumb rest on one side. The mouse comes in three sizes, according to the size of your hand, and only in three-button form. What then is the difference?
The manual goes to some length to explain how to use the mouse so as to avoid strain. You place your hand on the mouse, with the fingers lying flat on the keys, and with the thumb in the thumb rest. You do not need to pinch the mouse with your thumb, since it is held in place by your hand resting on the entire mouse. Operating the keys is like playing the piano. Your hand remains open and relaxed at all times.
The mouse is built to higher standards of quality than the MS Mouse, and it will cost a bit more. Retails prices are likely to be around US$60-70. The bane of cheap mice is two-fold; rolling balls and tracking units that do not respond properly, and key switches that don't always actuate. The Contour Mouse is designed for people who use their mouse all day for professional work.
I ordered one of these mice from the USA via Compuserve a few days after returning from CeBIT, and I like it greatly after the initial feeling of clumsiness. It is less sensitive than the Microsoft Mouse to mousepad quality, and it is genuinely untiring to use, although I have to break myself of the habit of arching my fingers and squeezing it in a death-grip. The mouse can be programmed in many different ways, so I just have to remember the combinations and beware of accidentally pressing a collection of buttons. The mouse can be programmed under Windows for all applications or for named ones, to avoid key-button combination conflicts. One neat feature for graphics; you can enlarge the pixels under the cursor by four times. Ideal for what I am doing right now, which is cleaning up scanned line art for a technical manual.Contour Designs
2901 Morgan Drive
San Ramon, CA 94583
101 Rock Street
Lowell, MA 01854
Back at the Ranch...
Some follow-up to CeBIT. A salesman came round to the office as a result of my call to the Polaroid stand. He offered to let me have a Polaroid screen filter on trial for two weeks, and was keen to sell me the 200 DM model as opposed to the 120 DM I had set my heart on. It turns out that the cheaper one is "only" four-layer technology and does not have the EMF-filtration feature. Nonetheless, I have asked him to come back in mid-May, and I'll try one or both or the filters on my system.
It crosses my mind that I might change my monitor one day. I saw an ad for the Pivot monitor in one of the computer magazines, and that might be an ideal choice. The effective space of a 21" monitor but not as physically big, since you can swivel it. A bit like the old monochrome Genius monitors, in fact, but able to switch planes electronically and physically. Alas, I have not seen a Pivot monitor anywhere -- there may well have been one at CeBIT, for all I know, and I don't know how it rates for screen quality, but it should be adequate at least.
Inducement Sways Doubtful Novice (ISDN)
It is dangerous to make categorical statements, especially in the privacy of the Ionic Column. While my CD-ROM was being installed, the helpful Teuton commented that an ISDN installation would get a rebate of anything from 300 to 700 DM if I did the deed before July 1st. I was extremely skeptical, but it appears that the whole business might be affordable and trouble-free, especially if everything is done for me by the same HT. It looks as if there are cost advantages for me, since I have two telephone lines already and don't want to mess around with line switchers again. It might also be an alternative to getting a faster modem. I await the details.
In the next column I'll have a round-up on memory management, including 386 to the Max, Netroom and RAM Doubler. Nothing very dramatic, unless you don't know already about the Netroom cloaked utilities. I'll also have more comments about Windows 3.1 / 95 in the light of a brief discussion with Corel at CeBIT, and a few words on Corel Draw 6.0 and Ventura Publisher 6.0.
Comments or feedback or more information? I am on Compuserve on 100575,2573.
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