In 1992, our long-time contributing editor Mark Anbinder suggested a post-Macworld article of "superlatives" - products, companies, booths, events, or anything else that struck us as intriguing. Since then, we've published a superlatives article after almost every Macworld Expo; it's illuminating to look back to see what we thought was worth mentioning.
This year, we almost cancelled this superlatives article because Apple's iBook consumer portable and AirPort wireless networking dominated the Expo. TidBITS readers at the show said the same thing - many products were of a high quality, but didn't knock your socks off because of the hubbub surrounding Apple. Nonetheless, Macworld sported many worthy exhibitors we haven't yet mentioned, and the following items caught our eyes.
Most Amazing Graphics Application -- I'm not a graphics professional, but I was stunned by Synthetik Software's new $295 Studio Artist. It's hard to describe, since it can "simulate natural art materials," "automatically paint and draw based on intelligent visual perception modules," and "autopaint or rotoscope QuickTime video frame by frame automatically." I'm also intrigued by its capability to "warp, stretch, and mutilate images in real-time." Studio Artist's demo at the Macworld Town Meeting had everyone's jaw firmly ensconced on the floor. Don't rely on my poor description, though: download a free 8.2 MB demo. [ACE]
Best T-Shirts -- Tchotchkes were almost non-existent at this year's Expo, but Cyrusoft International, makers of the Mulberry IMAP email program, came through with a t-shirt that neatly summarized existence: "Email is my life." Apple also won points for a shirt playing off the classic "I <heart> New York" phrase, replacing the heart with a red Apple logo. [ACE]
Best Bargain -- 999software.com is an online software discounter and clearinghouse. We're used to seeing such deep discounts at trade shows, but these folks do it all year long, online. All of their software titles cost $9.99, plus shipping. Their catalog leans heavily toward software for kids and last year's games, but they have some relatively new items, and some gems like StuffIt Deluxe 4.5. We were curious about upgrade policies for such purchases, but Aladdin assured us these copies of StuffIt Deluxe were as eligible for upgrades as any others. [MHA]
Best USB Product -- Dozens of vendors were showing off USB-related gizmos, but Entrega blew us away with their $150 Mac USB Dock, a one-stop solution for users of USB-only Macs who mourn the absence of SCSI and serial ports. The Entrega Mac USB Dock builds upon the company's USB-to-SCSI and serial converters, offering two USB ports, an 8-pin serial port, and a Mac-standard DB-25 SCSI port. The Mac USB Dock should ship this month. [MHA]
Rethinking CDs -- If you've been frustrated using a networked CD-ROM jukebox for sharing CD-ROMs in an office, check out LaCie's NetBox, a stand-alone 10/100Base-T network appliance that stores up to 54 650 MB CD-ROMs (or more smaller CD-ROMs) on an internal 36 GB hard disk. Just insert a CD into the NetBox and it transfers an image of the CD to the hard disk for network access. NetBox offers access times about 15 times faster than a jukebox, holds more CDs, and has no fragile robotic arms, all for about $2,000. You can add additional CD-ROM and DVD drives, as well as more hard disks. The only downside is that the NetBox may not be able to create valid disk images of copy-protected CD-ROMs.
LaCie also showed their $1,040 Dupli-121 CD duplicator - put a CD-ROM in the CD-ROM drive and a blank CD in the CD-R drive, and the Dupli-121 makes an exact copy. Although the Dupli-121 is a SCSI device and includes software so you can use it a CD-ROM drive and as a CD-R drive, you can also disconnect it entirely for speedy stand-alone duplication - duplicating a full CD takes only nine minutes. If you need to duplicate many CDs quickly and can't afford to tie up a Mac, take a look at the Dupli-121. [ACE]
Help for Orphans -- The PowerPC revolution happened years ago, and folks with older computers are finding they can no longer run current software. Sonnet Technologies has come to the rescue with the $300 Presto PPC, a processor upgrade card for the wide range of 68040-based desktop Macs, including the Quadra and Centris lines, plus selected Performa 400, 500, and 600 series machines. Impressively, these accelerated computers are even compatible with Mac OS 8.5.1 and may support newer operating systems. The Presto PPC carries a 100 MHz 601 processor, which just squeaks these machines into the PowerPC category. [MHA]
Least Visible Mail Server -- Frustrated by retrieving your office's email over a slow Internet connection or from your ISP's overloaded mail server? RockFord Systems MailProxy is a email server designed to deal with intermittent connections. Using MailProxy, email moves to and from your email client at the speed of your local network, not the speed of your Internet connection, which saves time as you use your primary Macintosh. MailProxy does require a Mac with a static IP address, which isn't true of most dialup modem Internet connections, but which can apply to many ISDN, DSL, and cable modem connections. MailProxy will cost $300 when it becomes available this month; you can download a 1.0 MB demo now. [ACE]
Smallest Firewall -- The growing availability of high-speed permanent Internet connections to the home via DSL or cable modems means individuals need to think more about personal network security than ever before. But firewalls are generally expensive and difficult to configure (see Chris Pepper's "What's a Firewall, and Why Should You Care?" in TidBITS-468). Now there's NetBarrier, a personal firewall from Intego that's inexpensive ($75, through 30-Sep-99, then $150) and easy to set up. If you have a single Mac with a permanent Internet connection, check out NetBarrier for protection from a wide variety of Internet attacks. [ACE]
Next PIM to Check Out -- We've used Now Up-to-Date and Now Contact for years; although the products were just picked up by Power On Software, they languished at Now, then Qualcomm, and their extensions aren't particularly compatible with current versions of the Mac OS. In the meantime, I plan to check out the $60 Chronos Consultant. The only missing feature I want is a client/server architecture (currently, if you take a PowerBook off your network, you must take a copy of the Consultant file with you and throw it away when you return). The forthcoming Office Consultant will enable you to work off the network and have changes synchronized when you reconnect. It's worth a look, particularly if you need multiple user network access and PalmPilot synchronization. A free 2.8 MB demo is available. [ACE]
About Time -- Graphic designers sometimes complain that they can't draw on their screens, seeing their artwork take shape beneath their fingers. Graphics tablets are a good halfway solution, replacing the mouse for finer control, and touch screens have been good only for information kiosks. Enter Wacom's PL-300 and PL-400 Display Tablets, which combine a graphics tablet and with a flat-screen LCD panel. Someone should have done this sooner, but flat-screen displays of any useful size have only recently dropped to a reasonable price point. Wacom's Display Tablets start at about $1,800, which is a lot of money, but reasonable when you consider the prices of similar flat-screen displays (such as Apple's Studio Display 15) and existing high-quality graphics tablets. It might seem odd to draw on a horizontal (or tilted) monitor, but the sharp, bright displays and superior pen drawing technology will make these products winners. [MHA]