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Interview: PelicanWare's Don Vollum

From Pen Computing #8 February 1996

What impact will Newton 2.0 have?
DV: I do feel that the market is going to expand. I'm more concerned at the moment with possible supply constraints on the MessagePad 120, but that's typical of a new product in the early stage. I'm looking at double or triple the sales figures from last year. So I feel that both the consumer market and the vertical market will improve; there's really a lot going on there.

Newton 2.0 is a much more inviting environment and I think it will be a big success for Apple and for developers.

Will you continue to develop and maintain Newton 1.x-based apps?
As long as there is a demand for 1.x compatible apps we'll continue to maintain our older products. There are a lot of 100 and 110 owners out there and we intend to take care of them.

Tell us about Notion 1.5 now that you've acquired it from Eidetic.
DV: We were really glad to get Notion. After StarCore folded its tents it became available from Eidetic, the original developers. The Newton 2.0 Notepad outliner and checklist options are very basic. For example, there's no option to hide something; it's purely visual. Notion is a forms-based tool that allows you to create all kinds of different things. Notion 1.5 opens about twice as fast as the old version and you can set alarms for reminders. It uses heap space much more efficiently now, and it's integrated with Names so you can link contacts easily with a list. Most importantly you have the ability to sort your data, which is very useful. Notion is really a very simple to use end-user database, but I don't like to use the word "database" because it tends to intimidate people. Notion is probably the most-used tool on my Newton; I use it for everything throughout my day.

What makes QuickFigure Pro so fast?
DV: When I write an application I tend to be very focused on speed. I look at the things that need to be fast, for example when opening. I'm just doing what seems to be natural, making the application do the minimum it has to at critical times. I wanted QuickFigure to be fast from the start. There are some technical things you can do. For example, the Newton has all these views for this and that function, each incurring some system overhead. If you want to speed things up you can just use one view and draw everything on it.

Do stationery-based apps like QuickFigure Pro 3.0 cause any problems?

DV: We're looking at doing Notion 2.0 as a stationery app, but there are problems taking a forms-based tool and just sticking it on the Notepad. We may integrate an entry slip for a Notion list. We want to see what people will do with QuickFigure stationery and go from there. We don't have a grand plan yet, but we are definitely very interested in continuing with it. There are potential problems when you put a complex application into stationery like that. You have to be careful not to have too many worksheets on the screen at the same time or you might run out of heap memory. Each instance of a QuickFigure stationery worksheet that's visible takes up as much memory as running the QuickFigure application alone.

Where is NewtCase going to go as the OS becomes more sophisticated?
DV: NewtCase is a product to correct the OS's faults. There will always be problems with the Newton, always places where it can be enhanced. NewtCase 2.0 addresses all the problems of earlier Newtons, while NewtCase 3.0 does that and opens up some new possibilities.

GestureScript is a good example; using gestures to create macros. It really speeds up launching when you have a lot of software. One of the really cool new things is the new backdrop with its buttonbar. Its kind of like the control strip on PowerBooks. You have easy access to the rotate button and a menu of all the stuff in your Extras drawer. Apple has published a new way to do status bar buttons. Our buttonbar supports both the old and the new button types automatically. Newton 2.0 supports freezing an application, but you have to get a third-party tool to do it. NewtCase's Package Manager will turn on this feature and handle it in a much friendlier fashion.

What are the advantages of Newton 2.0 from a developer's perspective?
DV: There is so much that you can do now that wasn't documented before, like the status bar buttons I mentioned. In the old days Apple didn't want people messing around, but there's been an attitude change. It's like they're saying people are going to do these things anyway, so let's come up with a way that will work with future versions, make everyone happy, and give people what they want. I think they spent a lot of time looking at that. A lot of people at the Newton division were recently in the Newton shareware community, some of them very outspoken. These guys really stretched the Newton to its limits; they know what people are going to do. Apple did the right thing by hiring them to work on 2.0. There are a lot of people in the Newton group who have never worked anywhere else at Apple. I think Newton 2.0 is going to bring in a lot of new developers. The Newton Tool Kit is pretty nice, and they keep working on it and improving it, and the Windows version is coming soon.

Why the name PelicanWare?
DV: I originally wrote QuickFigure while on vacation in Mexico, and I liked to sit out and watch the pelicans diving while I wrote. They were just so amazing to watch!

- David MacNeill


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