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Macworld Expo San Francisco 2003 Superlatives, Part 2

It's always telling when we lack enough space to publish our traditional Macworld Expo superlatives in a single article. Although Apple made most of the major show news, the TidBITS staff had no trouble finding other products on the show floor that were worthy of mention.


Best Use for a Finger -- Being forced to log in to Mac OS X all the time is annoying, even when it serves a valuable security purpose. Wouldn't it be nice if your computer recognized you automatically? We're not there quite yet, but with Sony's oddly named Puppy Suite for Mac OS X Fingerprint Identification Unit, you will be able to log in to your Mac by touching your finger to a sensor. You train the software to recognize a specific finger (with up to nine backup fingers to work around burns and bandages) and from then on, touching your finger to the Fingerprint Identification Unit works just like typing your password. Sony is still working on getting Mac OS X to accept your fingerprint in place of requests for the administrator password; that's when I want to try it. The Puppy demoed well, recognizing the finger with which I had trained it and rejecting both my other fingers and the fingers of the Sony representative. It will cost $200 when it ships in March of 2003 from the North American distributor Pacific Software Publishing; those in other countries should contact Sony for local distributors. [ACE]

<http://www.securecomputing.com/index.cfm? sKey=838>

Second Best Use for that Finger -- A colleague commented that USB "keychain" storage (memory cards with USB plugs attached) have become the new floppy disk. The problem is that these tiny devices are easily lost, giving the finder access to your data. To keep your bytes safe, the DevDepot booth was selling the BioSlimDisk, a USB memory card with integrated fingerprint security. Your data can be accessed only after you press your finger on the device's sensor (you can configure up to six fingerprints). A 128 MB version costs $120, or you can get a 64 MB model for $100 from DevDepot's Web site. [JLC]


Best "Aha" Accessory -- MacAlly's iceStation is a simple, great idea for improving your laptop experience. It's a $20 plastic stand composed of a groove that sits on the desk and a sharply rising plane. You stick the front edge of your iBook or PowerBook into the groove and lean the bottom of the machine (the keyboard area) against the plane, so that it's almost vertical; now you open the screen so that it's completely vertical. The keyboard is now almost unusable, so you attach an external keyboard and mouse. This solves two problems discussed in Adam's recent article on laptop stands: the screen is raised to eye level, and the computer's footprint is greatly reduced so there's room on the desk for the external keyboard in front of it. My PowerBook G3 is my everyday desktop machine, and I dislike its keyboard, so I was galvanized by this potential solution to my problems. I instantly bought MacAlly's small and responsive iceKey keyboard, and tried to buy the iceStation - but it isn't shipping yet. Impatience, however, is the mother of invention: when I got home I found that a book stand from an office supply store works nearly as well for one-fifth the price. [MAN]

<http://macally.com/spec/specialites/accessories /icestation.html>
<http://macally.com/spec/usb/input_device/ icekey.html>
<http://www.officequarters.com/product.php/prod_ id/2012041.html>

Clearing the Desk -- If you won't be replacing your desktop Mac with a 17-inch PowerBook G4 any time soon, but you need to reclaim some of your desk space nonetheless, take a look at Marathon Computer's DeskMount. It's an under-desk mounting kit for Power Macintosh G3 and G4 minitowers that suspends the machine securely under the desk, lets you open the side door to add memory while it's still mounted, and also lets you easily slide the machine out of the mount. Its price of $60 covers everything but the screws for your desk. [MHA]


Best New Click -- Adesso has impressed us before with its keyboard and mouse offerings, but we're tickled by the new way of clicking introduced with the PowerScroll Optical Mouse. Available in black or white, this $40 mouse can be rocked to one side or the other to click or right-click. The scroll wheel is great for scrolling through long documents or Web pages and serves as a third button. [MHA]

<http://www.adessoinc.com/product_detail.cfm? productid=81>

Sitting on the Dock of the Drive -- WiebeTech's DriveDock family takes home the award for smallest hard drive by eliminating that pesky case and even sometimes the power supply. The DriveDocks are tiny FireWire bridge controllers for standard IDE hard drives that just plug into the back of a bare drive, providing a FireWire connector, and if necessary, a power connector. The $140 FireWire DriveDock works with 3.5-inch drives, as does the $160 Super DriveDock, but the Super DriveDock powers most drives from the FireWire bus instead of requiring an external power adapter. There's also the $140 FireWire Notebook DriveDock, which works with 2.5-inch laptop drives and doesn't require external power. Finally, for specialized recovery situations, the $300 Forensic DriveDock works with 3.5-inch disks but doesn't allow writes to the disk. [ACE]


Hearing from your iPod -- We saw lots of third-party accessories for Apple's iPod, and there are of course thousands of earphones and headphones on the market (many of which Dan Frakes covered in "Music to Your Ears: 2002" in TidBITS-658). MacAlly's Noise Reduction Headphones ($70) and Retractable Earphones ($20) are iPod-white, attractively designed, and attractively priced. The noise reduction headphones work as well as my Aiwa set and come with an airline adapter so you can listen to the in-flight movie without paying the $5 "entertainment charge." The retractable earphones have a small, coiled stretch of cable that connects to an iPod, then the holder stays in your pocket while the earbuds sit in your ears. [MHA]

<http://www.macally.com/spec/specialites/ accessories/podiopro.html>
<http://www.macally.com/spec/specialites/ accessories/podio.html>

Best In Show and Out of My League -- Redstone Software's Eggplant is, bar none, the best thing I saw at this Macworld Expo. It's for software developers, but I'm one, and I could have used it during the last five months when I was writing a custom Cocoa application for a corporate client. Here's the scoop: as you write an application with a graphical interface, you worry at every step that you may be breaking existing functionality, so you need to keep testing, and the only real way to test is to use the program like a normal user would, through the interface - choose this menu item, type this text in this field, press this button, and a certain window should appear containing certain information. To be rigorous and complete, and to save time, you'd like a way to automate such interface test suites. Eggplant is the solution, and a brilliant solution at that. It works through VNC, a Timbuktu-like system for viewing a computer's screen, and clicking and typing in it, from another computer across a network. Thus, Eggplant requires two computers, one to run the software being tested, one to run Eggplant itself. Eggplant literally sees the testbed computer's screen: it can search it, looking for a particular button or other window element, and it can click anywhere, choose menu items, type, and so forth. Testing actions are combined into suites using a HyperTalk-like scripting language. Results and screen images are logged, so if a test fails, you can find out what the problem was and what the screen looked like at the time. The downside: at $3,400 a pop, there's no way I'd ever get my hands on a copy. [MAN]


Best Vertical Market Software -- I'm not a salesperson, but if I were, the one thing I'd want (aside from a different job) would be Marketcircle's $150 DayLite. This program has absolutely the most gorgeous, insightful Mac OS X interface I've ever seen, and the software does everything - and I mean everything - that a salesperson or sales team needs, at an astoundingly reasonable price: it's a contact manager, calendar, to-do list, phone dialer, mail merger, sales and revenue diagrammer, multi-user database, and much more, all brilliantly and intuitively integrated. Words fail me; you have to see for yourself. A demonstration of the software left me gasping, "Wow, do these people have a clue or what?!" [MAN]

<http://www.marketcircle.com/daylite/ overview.html>

Unless You're a Songwriter -- DayLite may be cool for salespeople, but if you've always thought you could put pen to paper and turn out a few hit tunes, forget the pen and wake up your Mac instead. MasterWriter, written in the 4D application development environment, offers an amazing collection of writing tools for songwriters, including a rhyming dictionary, an alliterations dictionary, a rhymed phrases dictionary, a pop culture dictionary, a standard dictionary and thesaurus, and more. MasterWriter helps you find the words you want and assemble them into a coherent (and hopefully tuneful) whole. It's basically a good interface on a huge database of words and phrases; hence the reliance on 4D. It works in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and should be available soon. [ACE]


Best Laptop Accessories -- Lots of companies offer add-on batteries, car or airline adapters, and USB media readers. MadsonLine impressed us with its broad array of attractive, useful, and affordable adapters and other gizmos. Their $36 Modem Saver LT lets you test an unfamiliar phone jack for safety before you plug your laptop's modem in, then stays in place to serve as a modem surge protector. The $28 Worldwide Plug Adapter connects to many of the common electric outlets around the world. And then there's the tiny $52 USB IrDA Adapter, which adds an infrared port to Macs that lack them. Use the infrared to sync your laptop with your Palm, or to use your cell phone as a modem, if you're not yet in the Bluetooth world. [MHA]


Most Promising Educational Device -- We've noted electronic whiteboards in the past (such as Virtual Ink's Mimio), but newcomer GTCO deserves mention for its InterWrite School Suite. It has four components: a computer with software, a projector, a whiteboard, and a portable wireless drawing tablet. The computer constructs and holds the image, and the projector shows it to everyone on the whiteboard. "Drawing" (which really means communication with the computer, and includes control of the software) can be done at the whiteboard, at the computer, or at the tablet, and up to seven tablets can be used at once. Imagine the teacher lecturing and drawing from anywhere in the room, and saving and erasing screen-full after screen-full of diagrams, and handing out additional tablets so students can question and collaborate. The promised integration of computers and education has yet to be realized, mostly because computer companies don't listen to great teachers. These electronic whiteboards are probably too small and require too much high-tech setup for many venues; but when I was a college professor, the need to stand at the board, and the loss of the diagrams I created spontaneously, were serious problems that cried out for something like InterWrite. [MAN]


Most Communicative Outfits -- I nearly hit the floor laughing when I saw the MacWarehouse presence at Macworld Expo. Instead of having a booth on the show floor, MacWarehouse set up several small stations in the large atrium area between the two halls of Moscone. Each station was equipped with a high-speed Internet connection and an open wireless access point, giving wireless Internet access to anyone within range. To alert passers-by to this service, MacWarehouse staffed their stations with people in dark gray jumpsuits adorned with the "warchalking" symbol indicating an open wireless network. And unlike Microsoft's MSN butterfly guy mentioned last week, they seemed to be having a good time, as you can see in our picture linked below. [ACE]

<http://www.tidbits.com/resources/664/ macwarehouse.jpg>

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