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Macworld Expo SF '99 Superlatives

Attending years' worth of Macworld Expos, we've learned the simple mantra repeated throughout the show: "What have you seen that's cool?" Here are some of the products, events, and oddities that deserve mention.

Biggest Buzz Generator -- Connectix Virtual Game Station. Built by the company that brought us Virtual PC, this latest emulator allows Sony PlayStation games to run on the Mac. Games figured heavily in Steve Jobs' keynote address and had a large area to themselves on the Expo floor, so the announcement caused a palpable stir. The word was to buy a copy on the spot if you wanted it, in part because Connectix didn't have retail units together yet, but also because of persistent rumors Sony was contemplating legal action to stop distribution of the product. I wouldn't worry much about a lawsuit - if any company does their legal homework regarding emulators, it's Connectix. Nonetheless, Virtual Game Station sold out at the Expo, even though Connectix tried to have more copies on hand than they thought they could possibly sell during show hours. [MAN]


Nichiest Niche Product -- iMacButton. It appears that on the first few thousand iMacs you can't restart in case of a freeze or crash using the traditional "three-finger salute" of Control-Command-Power. Instead, you must push a recessed button which can be reached only with a paper clip or a pin. To save you the trouble, this $10 item is a pin embedded in a plastic button, like a thumbtack with a spring in it. You just insert the pin into the hole and leave the button on your iMac; now you (or your cat) can restart your iMac at will. [MAN]


Most Nostalgic Demo -- Gemulator Pro, from Emulators Inc. If you have an Intel-based machine, this program (together with a bank of ROMs you install) lets you emulate any of several Atari machines as well as a Mac Plus, a Mac SE, a Mac II, or a number of other 68K-based Macs. You switch between emulated machines without restarting or even quitting the program. One moment we were playing Centipede, the next moment we were running Word 4 on a Mac Plus - all inside a PC running Windows NT. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Don't joke about running Gemulator Pro using Virtual PC: they've heard that one already. [MAN]


Most Unexpected Technology Focus -- Not too long ago, talking about 3D acceleration chips suggested you were a high-end multimedia creator or a hard-core gamer. Now that the ATI's Rage 128 graphics accelerator has been rolled into each new Power Macintosh G3, Macworld attendees suddenly seemed to crave hardware they never knew they've never needed. It would be easy to chalk this up to mere marketing, but the benefits of built-in acceleration - from 3D display in games to faster 2D graphics redrawing - have made the Rage chip the hardware to have, beating the performance of the popular Voodoo2 graphics controller for PCs. [JLC]


Best Tchotchke (and Longest-Running Vaporware) -- Castlewood's Orb. The Orb is a removable hard drive that holds 2.2 GB on small, slim, inexpensive single-platter cartridges. Castlewood was at last year's Expo with a non-working model. This year the company (made up of ex-SyQuest execs and other hard drive industry veterans) was back with a more elaborate non-working model plus an elaborate booth, an elaborate presentation, and some elaborate promises. I exaggerate, though; the truth is, I'm starting to believe the Orb will ship soon, and when it does I might even want one. Meanwhile, they were handing out fake cartridges that play a little fanfare when you press a button - imprinted with a stern warning not to insert them into an Orb drive. With SyQuest kaput and Iomega gorging on its remains, more competition in the removable storage market is a good thing. [MAN]

<http://www.castlewood.com/castlewood/web/ index.htm>
<http://www.businesswire.com/iomega/bw.011399/ 952594.htm>

Most Creative Ergonomics -- A game's graphics may be the best you've seen, but you're still watching them from a typical office chair. To add a level of immersion, try the Intensor chair. With five built-in speakers, you'll not only hear the game's sounds surrounding you, but also feel the vibrations caused by the chair's subwoofers. If you usually play console devices (such as Nintendo or Sony gaming machines) that connect to a television, you can remove the chair leg assembly to rock and swivel in the chair on the floor. Another surprise is a headphone jack, so you can blast aliens in private without activating the external speakers (and still get some of the chair's vibrational feedback). [JLC]


Best Beta -- This is a tie between Stagecast Software's Stagecast Creator and Power On's Action Menus. Stagecast is the successor to Cocoa, a children's sprite-world creation kit developed at Apple by David Smith and Allen Cypher using Sk8, and later Prograph. With another former Apple notable Larry Tesler, they've formed a corporation to port it once more, this time to cross-platform Java, expanding and refining it in the process. I've played with the beta and it's delightful, Java notwithstanding; I anxiously await the final release and hope for its commercial success. Action Menus is Power On's Mac OS 8.5-compatible replacement for Now Menus; judging from the demo, the latter would be no match for Power On's upcoming version even if Now Software were still selling it. I need this so badly I break out in a sweat thinking of it. [MAN]


Best Slogan -- The people manning Alien Skin Software's booth usually get attention for the brightly dyed hair colors that match the varied effects produced by their suite of Photoshop plug-ins. But this year, the company's slogan stood out higher than their multicolored split ends: "Saturate the Industry with Freaks". [JLC]


Best Party -- We aspire to report on all aspects of the Expo, including the parties. Usually there's a clear winner, but this year's evening scene was a toss-up. The Mac the Knife party, held at a bar called The Stud, was the most party-like, though it failed in the TidBITS party test by being overly crowded, incredibly loud, and somewhat smoky despite California's anti-smoking law. MetaCreations deserves praise for holding the Kai's Power Tools 5 launch at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art; honestly, I wasn't as interested in seeing design doyen Kai Krause, but I did get to see the first floor of SFMOMA for the first time, which was worth the trip. Apple's party was huge, spanning a large section of Moscone Center with lots of people, vast amounts of decent food, and multiple live bands. However, I think Dantz takes the best party award: it was crowded and loud, but at acceptable levels, featured great food, and a good downstairs area to talk with the people we only see each year at events like this. Even better were the one-off black and white posters Dantz made of famous people drinking, each emblazoned with the party's motto: Drink Different. [JLC]



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