Digital Innovations
New Computers, New Standards, And A New Century

"Get on the bus, Gus"--Paul Simon

Recently I've been testing Apple Computer's hot new 400MHz Power Macintosh G3 computer. With its futuristic styling the G3 is clearly designed for the next century, but part of this approach includes a lack of "old school" ports, connections, and amenities. There are three models of the G3, including 300MHz, 350MHz, and 400MHz, but only the 400MHz model had SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) as standard equipment. Even the G3's internal hard disk is not SCSI but an IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) drive. Instead of the formerly standard SCSI and serial ports, all G3s have two FireWire--a.k.a. IEEE 1394--and two USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports which allow users to connect many different kinds of peripherals without opening the computer's case or shutting the system down. What's more, you can chain up to 127 USB devices together through a single port; a thought that makes some old-time computerist's hair turn white. The USB standard has been around for two years, but withered because of lack of support from Microsoft. In typical Apple fashion, the iMac made it cool, but 90 percent of all PCs sold last year include USB ports.

If you're wondering what this port strategy change is about, it's speed. When working with digital images you want to be able to read, write, and print those images as fast as they can. While SCSI ports can transfer data faster than serial, parallel, and even USB ports, FireWire does it 10 times faster than SCSI. For a comparison of data transfer speeds for the different kinds of ports and connections, see the list under "How Fast Are Your Peripherals?" Apple's port strategy may seem shortsighted to some, but they are clearly preparing digital imagers for the future.

Making A Change. A few weeks after the G3 test unit arrived, my Power Computing machine crashed and burned. I've had occasional problems with this particular computer before, but now the disadvantages of owning a seriously ill orphaned Mac OS-compatible computer were clear. My PowerTower Pro was dead and I needed to get a new Macintosh. Because of Apple's pricing structure for the G3 series, it didn't make sense for me to get anything but one of these striking new blue and white G3 computers. A 300MHz model starts at $1599, which is the same or lower than prices for used graphics-oriented Macintosh models. The 300MHz model was in my price range, but I needed a SCSI port to connect my APS HyperQIC tape drive and restore files from my now dormant computer.

A call to one of the leading Mac mail-order houses yielded a snippy response. They would sell me a 300MHz machine but didn't know when a SCSI card would be available for it. Another firm was less supportive. When I told them I needed to connect my existing SCSI peripherals, they suggested I "get a typewriter." A visit to an Apple retailer was just as frustrating and the salesperson I spoke with was as helpful as a vegetarian at the Trail Dust Steak House. They would sell me a 400MHz model with factory-installed SCSI but had no SCSI cards to add this capability to a 300MHz model and "we don't have any 300MHz models in stock anyway." The best solution was to order the computer from The Apple Store (www.apple.com/store) who custom built a G3 to my specifications. I ordered a 300MHz model with built-in 56K modem and Iomega Zip drive along with an Adaptec SCSI card. Like the iMac, the G3 has no floppy disk drive. One of the best solutions is to use Imation's external SuperDisk drive that reads conventional 1.44MB floppy disks as well as their own proprietary 120MB super floppies. I had them include a SuperDisk USB in the package. The total price was under $2000 and was delivered to my front door within eight days.

Mac traditionalists will find an ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) port on all current G3s but I have heard rumors that this will be the last computer. Since ADB supports existing peripherals such as graphics tablets, keyboards, and mice, I reused my old ADB keyboard and mouse. This saved me from using a USB port that the iMac keyboard and mouse packaged with the G3 are designed to use. The optional 56K internal modem doesn't require a PCI slot and installing it helps makes up for the lack of serial ports. If you require serial ports for existing devices such as a printer or digital camera, you can install a serial port card, such as Keyspan's SX Pro. For $179, this PCI-based serial port card adds four serial jacks, supports higher port speeds, and emulates a built-in Macintosh printer port. You can get more information from Keyspan's web site at: www.keyspan.com.

How Fast Are Your Peripherals? In an ongoing search for more speed, digital imagers have access to a surprising number of different kinds of ports to connect their cameras, scanners, and printers to graphics oriented computers. The following list compares various types of peripheral connections along with their data transfer rates in Megabytes per second (MB/s) or Megabits per second (Mb/s).

Serial port .115 Mb/s
Standard parallel port .115MB/s
USB 12 Mb/s
Enhanced Parallel Port 3MB/s
IDE 3.2-16.7MB/s
SCSI-1 5MB/s
SCSI-2 10MB/s
Ultra SCSI 20MB/s
FireWire 12.5-50MB/s
Ultra2 SCSI 80MB/s
Wide Ultra3 SCSI 160MB/s

Plug-In Of The Month. This month's winner is Auto F/X's AutoEye which is delivered in a package that includes a Photoshop-compatible plug-in and a stand-alone application. AutoEye uses what Auto F/X calls Intelligent Visual Imaging Technology to reclaim the color and detail that can be lost when film or prints are digitized. AutoEye examines and then automatically enhances digital images by providing full spectrum color correction, along with increased color vibrancy, contrast, and sharpness. It then rebuilds color and detail in your images along with providing color correction, contrast, sharpness, brightness, moiré pattern removal, despeckle, and tonal range adjustment. Even a basic scratch and dust remover is included. In addition to the automatic mode, a manual mode provides you with a large preview window and sliders that let you tweak the automatic settings a bit. If you're in a hurry, you can just drag and drop files onto the AutoEye icon. The plug-in version supports Adobe Photoshop's Actions feature and can batch process images from within the program. AutoEye 1.0 is compatible with Power Macintosh and Windows 95/98/ NT computers and has a list price of $99. For more information, visit Auto F/X's web site at: www.autofx.com.

To Infinity...And Beyond. For the rest of the year, I'm going to be using Digital Innovations to introduce some Y2K products and information that may take some of the sting out of potential problems with your computer when New Year's Day 2000 rolls around. There will be no hysteria, no survivalist mentality, just a few tips and tools that can help protect your computer from Y2K complications.

Bi-Com Link, Inc.'s MilleniumPlus product line combines Y2K hardware and software solutions at reasonable prices. Three packages are available and each one includes software along with an ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) circuit board providing a Y2K compliant BIOS (Basic Input-Output Systems) extension, Y2K compliant Real Time Clock (RTC), and integrated boot virus protection. The MilleniumPlus Three is priced at $49.99 and features a permanent Year 2000 BIOS fix, permanent Real Time Clock fix, and protection against 99.99 percent of boot viruses. You'll be glad to learn that no jumper setting changes are required and you don't have to tinker with IRQ (Interrupt ReQuest) settings. The MilleniumPlus Two costs $39.99 and features a permanent Year 2000 BIOS fix and protection against 99.99 percent of boot viruses. The MilleniumPlus One costs $29.99 and includes a permanent Year 2000 BIOS fix. For more information about Bi-Com Link's products, call them at (877) BIC-OM54 or visit their web site at: www.bicomlink.com.

At the CeBIT trade show in Germany, Intelliquis International Inc. recently launched its latest Y2K products. The new IntelliFIX 2000 product line is an upgrade that replaces Intelliquis' fix2000 which was mentioned in a previous column. IntelliFIX 2000 includes increased stability for hardware testing and repair, improved software scanning, along with a data scanner for scanning data in spreadsheet and database files. The product line includes IntelliFIX 2000, a self-booting software utility for diagnosing and repairing PC hardware, including BIOS and CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semicon-ductor) real time clock. The package includes software for testing operating system and application conflicts. IntelliFIX 2000 Pro includes the same stuff but adds a data scanner that examines each cell in spreadsheet and database software files to locate Year 2000 date data problems. IntelliFIX 2000 Deluxe includes all of the aforementioned software along with a ROM-based add-on circuit board for installation in any computer with a spare ISA slot. The ISA card is a permanent, built-in solution that repairs CMOS, BIOS, and real time clock hardware conflicts on DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2, UNIX, and other PC operating systems. For information about Intelliquis' Y2K products, call them at: (801) 990-2600 or visit their web site at: www.intelliquis.com.

Reading Other Computer's Disks And Discs. Like it or not, we live in a cross-platform world. Macintosh users often must share data with clients who use Microsoft Windows and PC users need to send or even create data that can be accessed by Macheads. Mac users have a jump on this situation because Apple's PC Exchange software, that's bundled with recent versions of the Mac OS, enables them to read and write DOS formatted media. The way Windows users can give themselves the same capability is to use DataViz's MacOpener. Recently, the company released version MacOpener 4.1, which is a minor upgrade that adds Year 2000 compatibility. MacOpener lets you read, write, and even format Mac OS disks on your Windows PC. It will also let you read Mac formatted CD-ROMs on your Windows PC and supports Mac formatted Zip, Jaz, SyQuest, and other SCSI, IDE, and Parallel Port removable and fixed drives. If you like the features of MacOpener but also receive Macintosh files via e-mail, the Internet, clients, or friends, check out Conversions Plus. This package gives you all of MacOpener's features plus the ability to convert word processing, spreadsheet, database, and image formats back and forth between Windows, Macintosh, and DOS platforms. Conversions Plus lets you view and print virtually any file type and you can convert files while retaining your original document formatting. It's also useful if you need to decode/decompress e-mail attachments that show up on your screen as "garbage" text. MacOpener runs under Windows 95, 98, and NT 4.0 and is Year 2000 compliant. For more information about DataViz's file conversion products, visit their web site at: www.dataviz.com.

Digital Cameras: Things To Come. Canon's new PowerShot A50 digital camera bears more than a passing resemblance to the company's ELPH series of Advanced Photo System film cameras. The A50 has a svelte all-metal body that is equipped with a 28-70mm (35mm equivalent) lens and has a built-in flash. Like the ELPH, the camera is small, measuring just 4.1x2.7x1.5", making it the smallest and lightest zoom lens megapixel camera out there. The 1.31 pixel CCD sensor delivers images at a resolution up to 1280x960. The A50 has an optional 640x480 pixel resolution setting for web-based images, while allowing more images to be captured on the 8MB CompactFlash memory card the camera uses for image storage. Both resolutions have two JPEG compression settings: Fine Mode (7.5:1) for higher quality images and Normal Mode (14:1). There's a "CCD Raw" setting which permits uncompressed images to be stored, a setting most serious digital imagers will want to use for non-web images. The PowerShot A50 includes serial interface cables for Macintosh and Windows computer interfaces. G3 users will need an external adapter such as offered by Keyspan which plugs into one of the G3 or iMac's USB ports and provides two serial ports for connecting serial devices, such as the A50. The Canon PowerShot A50 is due at your dealers in the second half of '99.

Also at CeBIT, Olympus unveiled a prototype of their newest digital camera, the C-2500L. This new SLR produces images with a 2.5Mp resolution and features a progressive scan 2/3" CCD. The camera's all-glass 3x zoom lens has the equivalent of 35-110mm on a 35mm film format. In addition to the built-in, four mode flash, the C-2500L can connect to and control an external flash, much like the company's D-620L. You should expect to see the camera this summer with an expected street price of $2000. For more information, call Olympus at (800) 347-4027 or visit their web site at: www.olympus.com/digital.

Digital Film: Long Rolls. I remember back in the '70s when Ilford introduced 72 exposure black and white film. I can't remember how many rolls of this thin-base film that I ruined trying to load and process it onto the special thin-walled reels it required. That's why I think that digital camera owners--especially those with megapixel capability--will be glad to learn that Simple Technology has introduced a high capacity 128MB CompactFlash card for image storage. For many users this means they can store over 125 digital photographs as a full 1800x1200 pixel resolution. Simple Technology's 128MB card is constructed with 256Mbit flash memory components which lets them operate at fast write and erase speeds of 3MB/sec. What this means for the impatient digital imager shooting high-resolution images is less elapsed time between shots, while they wait for the blinking LED to stop so they can make another shot. This new "long roll" CompactFlash card has a street price of $399. For more information, contact Simple Technology at (800) 367-7330 or visit their web site at: www.simpletech.com.

New Color Printer. Hewlett-Packard announced their new DeskJet 882C color ink jet printer. Priced at $299, the new printer replaces the DeskJet 722C printer in HP's line-up. The 882C can print up to eight pages per minute (ppm) in black and 5ppm in color, which is 25 percent faster than the 722C. In addition to being able to print photographs and text, the 822C has a handout mode that lets you condense up to four pages of text and images onto a single page. Wanna go bigger? You can also print poster-sized images by printing small segments of your original image onto letter-sized pages, then assembling up to 16 pages into a large sized poster. In addition to a parallel port connection, the printer has a USB port allowing it to be connected to Windows and Mac OS computers. For the first time in a long time, Hewlett-Packard will provide drivers for Mac OS and Windows computers with USB ports for the 822C color printer as well as the 880C and 895Cse/Cxi printers. Drivers can be downloaded from www.hp.com/go/mac-connect. You can purchase the printer online at HP's Shopping Village at: www.shopping.hp.com For more information about HP products, call them at (800) 752-0900 or visit their web site at: www.hp.com.

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