Apple Adds Printers, Musical Link

Lawrence J. Magid is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer

Apple Computer today is introducing three laser printers that are likely to appeal to a broader market than the company's single previous model. The company also is unveiling a device that will enable musicians with electronic instruments to make fuller use of the company's computers.

Along with more than 300 other firms, Apple will display new products on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the semiannual MacWorld Exposition in San Francisco. Its offerings don't represent any revolutionary new technology. But the laser printers bring the company up-to-date with its competition, and the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) signals Apple's intention to penetrate the home and professional music markets.

Apple's first laser printer, the LaserWriter, which was introduced in 1985, has been a key to the success of the Macintosh. Like other laser printers, it prints graphics and type that look almost as though they were typeset professionally.

With LaserWriter, Apple became the first company to include the PostScript "page description language," or software. A PostScript-equipped printer can produce a variety of fonts, or type styles, in virtually any type size in use. Other printers also can produce a variety of styles, but in most cases they are limited to a predetermined number of font sizes unless additional fonts are purchased and loaded into the machine's memory.

Two of Apple's three new printers include PostScript, and each of the new printers is built around Canon's newest laser "engine." The engine, which includes the actual printing mechanism, is also used by Hewlett-Packard and several other manufacturers.

The device is smaller and quieter than its predecessor. It also holds twice the paper (200 sheets), prints darker and, according to Apple, should produce at least 300,000 pages over its lifetime--three times more than the previous model. Like the engine it replaces, it prints up to eight pages a minute with a print resolution of 300 dots an inch.

The LaserWriter IINT is billed as the natural replacement for Apple's existing machine. Like the earlier machine, the NT includes the PostScript language and 35 fonts in its permanent memory. It has 2 megabytes (2 million characters) of random access memory, up from 1.5 megabytes. The memory is used for temporary storage of additional fonts and to speed printing. The suggested retail price is $4,599, or $700 less than the machine it's replacing.

The top-of-the-line printer, the NTX, will list for $6,599. It is equipped with what is called a Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) connector so that the user can add a hard disk. A hard disk will allow users to add hundreds of additional fonts. That may be important for some graphics specialists. Font libraries can be purchased on diskettes and then copied to the printer's hard disk.

The NTX has the same Motorola 68020 central processing unit, or CPU, as the Macintosh II. The CPU is used to compose the page, once instructions are sent from the computer. The fast CPU reduces the printing time--an important consideration for heavy users. The printer also can be used with IBM-compatible computers and is capable of emulating a Diablo 630 or Epson printer. Its print quality, however, is no better than the NT's.

Like the older LaserWriter, the two new high-end machines can be shared by up to 31 users, connected with the AppleTalk network that is built into all Macintosh equipment. Sharing such an expensive device may make it economical for small companies.

The cost of Apple's early laser printer made it an expensive luxury for individual users. To address that problem, Apple is introducing the LaserWriter SC for $2,799. This printer comes with four built-in fonts and the ability to reproduce Macintosh graphics, but it does not have PostScript. As a result, it lacks the flexibility of the other machines. It does an excellent job with type sizes of 9, 10, 12, 14, 18 and 24 points, but at any other sizes, its print looks somewhat jagged. All the same, the type styles and sizes it offers should satisfy most users.

Apple's new machines are more expensive than similar-capacity laser printers from other manufacturers. Hewlett-Packard charges $2,495 for its popular LaserJet II. AST Research charges $3,995 for its PostScript-equipped laser printer. Other machines, including a (non-PostScript) Macintosh-compatible model from General Computer, retail for as little as $2,000. And as with most computer equipment, discounts are widely available.

Despite its price, I'm inclined to recommend the SC for individuals now using a Macintosh with a dot matrix or a letter-quality printer. Unlike the other printers, the SC is not suited for work groups; it can be used only by one person at a time. I haven't thoroughly tested the machine, but I did print a few pages with a preliminary version of the printer and was generally satisfied with the type quality, although it wasn't as crisp as that of the more expensive models. The graphics were excellent.

There often is a danger in buying a low-end machine. People may find that their needs expand beyond the equipment's capacity. But there's no such risk here because the Apple machines can be upgraded. The only differences among the new printers are their circuit boards, which dealers can replace in a few minutes.

Are you ready for "music processing?" Apple's new MIDI for its Macintosh and Apple IIGS is an industry standard for connecting computers with electronic musical equipment such as keyboards and synthesizers. With the appropriate software, the computer can be used to compose, record, edit and play music, although the music itself is generated by the instruments.

Apple isn't the first company to introduce a MIDI for a personal computer. Professional and serious amateur musicians have long been using Macs and other computers to compose and perform. But the Apple device, at $99, makes the technology available to the home and education markets. Of course, you also need the appropriate software and a compatible instrument. Casio and other companies offer MIDI-compatible keyboards starting at about $300.

I first bought a computer to do word processing and later began using it to process numbers and graphics. Now I'm off to the music store to shop for a keyboard. The new equipment won't transform you into an accomplished musician, but it could add to your enjoyment.

Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, 3235 Kifer Road, Suite 100, Santa Clara, Calif. 95051, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.

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