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Macworld Expo SF 2001 Superlatives

We couldn't conclude our Macworld coverage without our biannual collection of Macworld Expo superlatives, the products that caught our eyes this year in San Francisco. We also have something a little unusual - a set of photographs Adam took with his Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph while wandering around the show. The photo gallery (courtesy of iView MediaPro) is by no means representative, but it might elicit a few giggles.


Widest Screen -- Panoram Technologies didn't have a booth, but another company was using their amazingly large three-panel integrated monitors and providing product literature. Basically, Panoram Technologies builds three LCD panels into a single wrap-around console, combining the cabling as appropriate. You still need three video cards, since the displays are actually separate monitors. The PV290 DSK offers three 18.1" LCD panels that give you 3830 by 1024 pixels for a mere $22,750. For only $10,000, the PV230 DSK uses three 15" LCD panels running at 3072 by 1024. Panoram Technologies also offers some bundles with Macs and appropriate video cards; the new video cards are probably a good idea, since mixing and matching older video cards may produce suboptimal results. [ACE]


Best Background Noise -- So once we're all using our Macs as digital hubs, what if you don't want to be playing MP3s all the time? Check out MindChimes, which generates the tones of wind chimes, and OceanSongs, which sounds like, well, an ocean. Both are configurable, just in case you're trying to match the sound on some particular beach or want to design your own chimes. They would both benefit from some interface work, but for $10 for MindChimes and $8 for OceanSongs, or $15 for both, you're still well below the cost of a single CD of relaxing background sounds. 20-day demos are available as 1 MB (MindChimes) and 1.3 MB (OceanSongs) downloads. [ACE]


Best Background Art -- Continuing in the same vein, you can certainly turn your digital hub Mac into a digital picture frame, but thanks to the Onadime Free Player, you can also play music (CDs or MP3s) and watch stunning visuals seeded from and interacting with the music itself (Onadime would say they're "a dynamic part of the aesthetic experience") and based on compositions created with the $200 Onadime Composer (a free 8.6 MB demo is available). Onadime compositions are roughly akin to visual plug-ins available for various music players but can react not just to the music playing, but also to sound input from the Mac's microphone, mouse movement, and more (making them popular in performance art and the dance party scene, I imagine). Though fully functional, the Onadime Free Player is mostly a technology demonstration, but here's hoping we see Onadime's display technology appear elsewhere or become independent of individual applications. [ACE]


Nocturnal Typists, Rejoice! We think of our USB ports as input, but of course they are also a form of output - for power. This point was brought home by both Kensington and MCE selling $20 flexible gooseneck lamps powered off the USB port (the USB FlexLight and the FlyLight Notebook USB Light). You could use this to illuminate your PowerBook's keyboard or a book while working in bed, in a darkened airplane, or while using a PowerBook as part of a stage performance. [MAN]

<http://www.kensington.com/products/pro_cas_ d1334.html>

Honey, I Shrunk the Keyboard -- One size does not fit all when it comes to keyboards, and that's especially true for children, whose hands simply aren't large enough to use standard keyboards properly. Datadesk Technologies has picked up on that with their LittleFingers keyboard, a real keyboard shrunk down to fit children's hands. It has basically the same keys as a PowerBook and includes a right-mounted trackball. ADB versions have been available, and at Macworld Expo Datadesk showed a $70 USB version. Proper ergonomics are hard enough to achieve for adults; it's even worse for kids, and a LittleFingers keyboard could help. One annoyance - Datadesk quite reasonably located the Control key in the lower left corner, but then put the little-used Fn key to its right, in between the Control and Option keys. [ACE]


Half a Keyboard -- Going still smaller, perhaps the most unusual product at Macworld was the $100 Matias Half Keyboard. It's available in USB, Palm, and Handspring versions, and is a compact text entry device with, appropriately enough, half of a traditional QWERTY keyboard. Daunting though it appeared, I found my left hand figuring out fairly quickly how to substitute for my right, mirroring the right-hand motions to type. Matias claims users can reach up to 88 percent of typing speed. The half space bar doubles as a modifier key; when held down, it makes the left-hand keys act like a mirror image of the (absent) right-hand keys. Although the Half Keyboard might be useful for some graphic designers and people who have problems with one hand, it's most likely to be popular with Palm users, who could easily type and use the stylus simultaneously. [MHA]


Hottest Network -- Gigabit Ethernet was last year's news. This year, the hottest networking product was Unibrain's FireNet, software for Mac OS and Windows that lets you do workgroup networking over standard FireWire (IEEE 1394) cabling. In situations where a small group of nearby machines needs very fast networking, this inexpensive (as low as $37 per machine) 400 Mbps solution seems ideal, and a good alternative to the still-costly gigabit option. Such a FireNet network could be linked to an existing Ethernet network using such tools as Sustainable Softworks' IPNetRouter, which the company confirmed works fine. I can see FireNet as a viable low-cost option for folks moving huge digital image or video files around locally. A 358K demo that works for 15 minutes per restart is available. [MHA]

<http://www.unibrain.com/products/ieee-1394/ firenet.htm> <http://www.sustworks.com/site/prod_ipr_ overview.html>

New Tricks for an Old Dog -- It was a thrill to meet Jim Matthews, author of Fetch, the first Internet program I ever used (back when it had an interface like the Font/DA Mover, if you remember that). With the winnings from his recent success on ABC's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Jim has acquired Fetch from his employer, Dartmouth College, and is now developing Fetch 4.0, which sports many cool new features, such as moving files from one remote computer to another without downloading them to your own. Fetch 4.0 looks to be a powerful, attractive FTP client, at the low price of $25. [MAN]


Better Backups -- Imation is well known as a media company, but now they're branching out into hardware. One impressive showing was the Travan FireWire Plus, a tape drive that includes a 30 GB hard disk; the hard disk is larger than the tape, so you can copy your files to the hard disk quickly, and then the hard disk will perform the much slower backup to the tape automatically and at leisure, even with the device disconnected from your computer. Much further down the road, Imation is betting on a new medium, the DataPlay, an optical write-once disk holding nearly as much as a CD-R, but about the size of a quarter and protected inside a plastic cassette (like a tiny floppy); they hope to market a small lightweight portable device that will act as a drive for reading and writing, a transfer point for digital camera data, and perhaps even a music player. Both devices are expected to ship much later this year. [MAN]

<http://www.imation.com/about/news/newsitem/ 0,1233,413,00.html>

Best Tchotchke -- What makes a good tchotchke? It should be useful yet nutty, simple, durable, memorable, and unique. Despite a truly disturbing entry from Totally Hip Software that was a clear, syringe-shaped pen with red ink sloshing around in it, the winner this year comes from Anthro, makers of the wonderfully adaptable AnthroCart computer desks. Anthro's tchotchke was two plastic cylinders with slots in them, one inside the other, and is absolutely incomprehensible until you are told that you're supposed to insert the end of the toothpaste tube into both slots and wind the inner cylinder as a way of slowly squeezing the toothpaste from the end of the tube, gathering the used tube between the two cylinders. You have to be really truly anal-retentive to like this. But ... guess what?! [MAN]



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