Steve Jobs devoted a large portion of his Macworld Expo keynote last week to building excitement for the next major release of Mac OS X. Codenamed "Jaguar" and known officially as Mac OS X 10.2, the release will reportedly offer significantly improved performance and 150 new features when it appears for sale for $130 on 24-Aug-02. For people buying Macs between 17-Jul-02 and 24-Aug-02, the Mac OS Up to Date program will provide a copy of Jaguar for $20, but unfortunately, there is currently no other upgrade discount for current Mac OS X users.
Many people have complained about Jaguar's cost, and as much as Apple needs to find sources of revenue in this harsh economy, the company will have to be careful. It's clear that Apple wants to keep people upgrading versions of Mac OS X, and if the price is too high, that could slow further adoption just when Mac OS X is gaining ground. Apple estimates that there are 2.5 million copies of Mac OS X in active use, and they believe that number will double to 5 million by the end of 2002, thanks to 77 percent of Mac buyers keeping Mac OS X as the primary operating system. (For reference, Jobs implied that 5 million Mac OS X users would account for 20 percent of the installed base of Macs, many of which can't even run Mac OS X.)
Our take: Apple should offer a discount for existing users. Times are tough all over, and as much as Apple needs to bring in revenue, Mac users don't have unlimited funds either. Apple is already pushing the limits with the $100 annual .Mac subscription fee (see "iTools Morphs into .Mac; Users Squawk," later in this issue), but that's more optional than a major upgrade to an operating system that still has significant problems and gaps. Plus, losing too many people in the upgrade process could complicate Apple's work in pushing out security fixes going forward and providing a single target for future application development. Until this point, it was safe to assume that everyone was running the latest version of Mac OS X; a too-high upgrade price could further divide the Mac community by operating system version. I strongly encourage people to send Apple feedback on this issue - it's unreasonable to ask Apple to give Jaguar away for free, but the cost could be lowered for existing users.
A Few More Jaguar Details -- We covered the main features of Jaguar when Steve Jobs first announced it at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) several months ago, so we won't recap that coverage - see "Jaguar: Mac OS X Prepares to Pounce" in TidBITS-629 for information about iChat, Mail, Sherlock 3, QuickTime 6 (now shipping via Software Update, along with a minor Mac OS X security update), Rendezvous, and more.
In fact, the Macworld Expo demo of Jaguar appears to have been extremely similar to the WWDC demo - the only new feature I hadn't seen mentioned before was a Desktop Pictures preference pane that can automatically switch between different pictures every so often, a feature previously found in the realm of shareware utilities. That's not to say there weren't new details, and I'd highly recommend browsing through Jaguar's extensive list of features, including such things as AirPort Software Base Station, AppleScript folder actions, mounting of FTP servers in the Finder, and a clean install option. Especially fascinating was the keynote demonstration of Rendezvous, which lets Macs running Jaguar discover network services over TCP/IP. Jobs first showed iTunes automatically discovering and sharing music between a pair of Macs connected only via AirPort; a subsequent demo showed a Mac automatically finding and configuring a network printer, something that's currently a tedious manual process.
An important improvement barely mentioned in the keynote for lack of time is Jaguar's improved accessibility, which includes a Zoom feature for magnifying anything on the Mac OS X screen, a black-and-white option for improving contrast for reading text, mouse support using the numeric keypad, and system-wide keyboard access.
One interesting note: the Macworld Expo keynote was the first large-scale webcast to use the new MPEG-4 open standard. About 50,000 people watched, half of them with QuickTime 6, which had garnered more than one million downloads in the 36 hours from its initial release to the keynote.
iCal -- Although Apple is building an ever-increasing level of functionality into Mac OS X itself - witness the system-wide Address Book and Sherlock 3 - Apple also announced two new applications: iCal and iSync. iCal is a simple single-window calendar that should fill the needs of many consumers. It supports multiple calendars (such as one for each member of a family), and can publish calendars and subscribe to them via .Mac or any other WebDAV server. iCal will be a free download from Apple when it ships in September, and it will require Mac OS X 10.2.
The product most likely to suffer from iCal's release is Microsoft's Entourage. Although my impression is that Entourage is a more capable calendar, it lacks extensive sharing capabilities and is aimed at the individual user, leaving it vulnerable to iCal. Sharing is key - as Jobs noted in the keynote, we all have calendars, and there's almost no point in having a calendar if you can't share it with the other people affected by your schedule. For many years, Tonya and I have relied on Now Up-to-Date (once again sold by Now Software, just revived as a division of Power On Software) for its sharing capabilities, and we've been flabbergasted that more busy families didn't use something similar. It's unlikely iCal will hurt Now Up-to-Date much, since Now Up-to-Date is more appropriate for businesses. Plus, Now Software announced a Windows version of Now Up-to-Date at Macworld Expo that should make the program significantly more attractive to offices with Macs and PCs.
Our take is that iCal will be as much of a hit as the rest of Apple's iApps. It's hard to beat a free program that offers much-needed functionality, especially when it comes from Apple.
iSync -- iCal is cute and will be useful for many people, but iSync is far more important. Based on the SyncML open standard, iSync is a general-purpose application for synchronizing data between multiple devices. Jobs described it synchronizing calendar events from iCal and contacts from the Mac OS X Address Book to an iPod via FireWire, to a Palm handheld (it still requires the Palm conduits) via USB, and to a Sony Ericsson cell phone via Bluetooth (a wireless communication technology that is to USB what AirPort is to Ethernet). As with iCal, iSync will be a free download for Mac OS X 10.2 users when it ships in September.
The utility of such a program is obvious - Macs are getting smaller all the time, but they can't hope to compete with the tiny consumer electronics that continue to gain in popularity. For people who are often away from their Macs, iSync will make it possible to carry a minimum number of these devices and choose between them based on the primary feature you want - an MP3 player, a PDA, or a cell phone.
In the future, Jobs said that iSync will be able to synchronize files between multiple Macs via .Mac (presumably via local networks as well, with some help from Rendezvous). My impression is that iSync is meant to be open, so other applications can take advantage of it as well to synchronize data instead of entire files. The first one I'd like to see is iPhoto, which currently has no good way to synchronize photos between a laptop you would take on vacation and a desktop Mac that you'd use for most of your photo work.
Jobs called iSync a landmark, groundbreaking application, and I think he's right. When coupled with the next generation of small digital devices, it brings significantly more power to Apple's concept of the Mac as a digital hub.