Macworld Expo brings out not just the best and the worst in the Macintosh industry, but also the strangest. Besides, after four days of walking around the cavernous Moscone Center, surrounded by 70,000 Macintosh fans, it's hard to keep a firm grip on reality. Here then are some of the products, booths, announcements, and miscellany that particularly caught our attention.
Best Kids' Software -- Apple's Cocoa, a wonderful tool for kids of all ages for creating game and simulation worlds (written with Prograph, no less) has gone into free DR1 release and is available for download. It makes stand-alone applications or can be played on the Internet using a Netscape plug-in. Already some kids calling themselves Tenadar Software have marketed a game written with it; being shown a demo by munchkins is somewhat unnerving, but I guess I will have to have to get used to it. [MN]
Most Expensive Giveaway -- Symantec gave a free copy of the $99 Visual Page to anyone who sat through a demo of any of their products. It's yet another WYSIWYG Web page builder, but I didn't own one and it works just fine. I suspect they gave it away because (a) there were minor errors with the CD pressing, (b) the program has slightly rough edges, (c) HTML has evolved somewhat beyond the program, and (d) they needed to get into step with Adobe PageMill which is being given away left, right, and center. Symantec won't lose out because they'll hook a lot of users and then be able to charge them for future updates. [MN]
Get Thee to REI -- This award goes to Adaptec, a company that makes relatively dull-looking SCSI and network adapter cards. They increased the visual appeal of their booth by including of a 25-foot high fake mountain, reminiscent of the much larger indoor climbing wall (reportedly the world's largest) that Seattle's Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) recently installed in their flagship store. Apparently someone came by the Adaptec booth and offered to install a climbing wall - too bad the rock-colored foam wouldn't have supported crampons. [ACE]
Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen -- "PowerPC Only." This increasingly popular mantra was especially prominent with visual Java creation tools, including Symantec Visual Cafe and RandomNoise Coda (the exception was WebBurst, from Power Production Software). I knew this was going to happen but my 68K Mac and I are having trouble accepting it. [MN]
Coolest External Technology -- My vote for coolest external technology goes to SMART Board, from SMART Technologies Inc. It's a whiteboard which you attach to your computer through the serial port. You can write on it with colored markers, and whatever you write can be captured into the computer as a graphic; or (this part is even cooler) you can project your computer's screen onto the whiteboard, and then touching the whiteboard with your finger is just like mousing there to control the computer. Plus, you can "write" on the picture with virtual colored markers whose traces are actually projected. How I wish I'd had this when I was teaching! [MN]
Runner-up for Coolest External Technology -- The Wireless Modem, from Metricom. Already, I picture myself with my PowerBook, sitting in a yuppie cafe, connected to the Internet through the antenna of this cool-looking black box. Now if only Metricom would complete their receiver infrastructure; they have to attach receivers to streetlight poles all over your city before you can use the modem, and so far they've only done a few major cities. Besides, I can't afford a seat at a yuppie cafe. [MN]
Neatest Utility -- PreFab Text Machine, an ingenious program by the same folks who brought us PreFab Player, is a search-and-replace engine using an English-like GREP which in some ways is even better than Nisus Writer's! This could bring powerful text-manipulation to any program that can interact with TextMachine via AppleScript or Frontier, or that can use TextMachine as an OpenDoc part. So far it's in alpha only, but, as someone once prophesied of the Wright brothers, "These boys will bear watching." [MN]
Safest Email -- Belgian developer Highware showed a beta version of Pretty Safe Mail, which uses PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) to encrypt and decrypt files, folders, email messages, or even parts of email messages, all by choosing a command from a system-wide menu. Pretty Safe Mail also supports digital signatures and is the simple implementation of strong cryptography software that I've been waiting for. [ACE]
Most Boring Vaporware -- Apple takes this prize, with Mac OS 7.6. It hasn't even appeared yet and already everyone's wondering what all the fuss is about. [MN]
People That Most Closely Resemble Their Software -- The employees of Alien Skin Software, makers of the Photoshop filter package Eye Candy 3.0 (formerly known as Black Box), dyed their hair fluorescent colors, presumably to show off their Hairdresser plug-in for Photoshop. [ACE]
Best Way to Watch the Show at the Show -- Rearden Technologies set up several video cameras around the show floor using MacWebCam, which captured either static images every so often or streamed live video. You can even build time-lapse QuickTime movies with MacWebCam. New at the show was a pan/tilt unit that you could control from your Web browser to check out different sights around the camera. [ACE]
Best Potential HyperCard-beater -- Despite my desperate loyalty to HyperCard, I was strongly shaken by the demo of Allegiant's SuperCard 3.0, which looks like HyperCard done right (helpful palettes, true integrated color, vector-based graphics, easier "automatic" scripting) and can already operate across the Internet in Web pages by means of a Netscape plug-in called Roadster. [MN]
Best Program for Sun Worshippers or Cube Dwellers -- Sundial, from John Neil & Associates, replaces your desktop pattern with one of ten professionally photographed California landscapes. What's cool is that the image is actually a 288-frame, 24-hour QuickTime movie that changes slowly during the day to match the progress of the sun. Sundial even synchronizes with sunrise and sunset in your part of the world. Just imagine the non-scenic possibilities for future Sundial movies - "A Day in the Life of Sarajevo," "Living on the Street," or "Hotel Lobby." Sundial can theoretically use any 288-frame QuickTime movie, and John Neil & Associates is sponsoring a contest for new ideas. Imagine what it could be like if they add support (it's theoretically already there) for the sound track in QuickTime and/or QuickTime VR. [ACE]
Scariest Support -- Casady & Greene featured an extremely large man dressed up as a genie at their booth, calling him the Answer Genie (he was reportedly a member of the tech support staff). Unfortunately, he was so imposing that one show-goer, when prompted to direct a technical question to the Answer Genie instead of a more diminutive marketing person, looked quickly at the hulking genie and declared firmly, "No, I don't think so."
It's About Time -- Long-time Internet developer InterCon Systems has come up with a product that tons of people have wanted for years - MacVPA (VPA stands for Virtual Private AppleTalk). Basically, MacVPA provides AppleTalk access for people who only have a PPP-based Internet connection. So, if you're travelling, MacVPA enables you to dial any Internet provider and get AppleTalk access to your Internet-connected network back at the office, all without needing to run your own dial-in servers (or make long-distance telephone calls). [ACE]
Neatest Ergonomic Aid -- The No Hands Mouse, by Hunter Digital, isn't a mouse, and it doesn't even sit on your desk. It's actually a pair of foot pedals; the right one controls mouse movement with a joystick-like action, while the left pedal controls mouse clicking (rock forward to click, back to double-click). I had trouble moving the cursor around, and found myself unconsciously grabbing for a nonexistent mouse, but others I talked to liked the feel. I assume you'd get used to it fairly quickly. [JLC]
Most Dissonant Booths -- This award goes to all the RAM vendors at the show who had large, elaborate booths that stood in stark contrast to the small size of the almost identical products they sell. RAM is small, all SIMMs and DIMMs look the same, and RAM doesn't exactly provide much demo fodder. On the other hand, you can never have too much of it. [ACE]
Our Favorite Button -- "Email Rules", from StarNine. How true.
Coolest Computer Case -- Apple's four pound eMate Newton, which will be available shortly for the education market and for the rest of us in the middle of 1997, features an integral handle and (in the unit we saw) a murky green translucent plastic case. The handle has prompted some to label it the "Power Purse," but overall, I was extremely impressed. The keyboard was obviously designed for small hands, but was usable by adults. The Newton operating system worked well and the applications included a functional word processor, spreadsheet, drawing program, graphing calculator, address book, and calendar. I've been waiting for a Newton with a keyboard and larger screen (480 x 320) for a while. One neat feature I haven't seen before was a tripod mount on the bottom - a tripod would be an excellent way to use the eMate in the field. [ACE]
Best Tchotchkes -- Drive Savers, the folks who can recover hard drives from PowerBooks run over by buses or dropped in lakes, gave out Roomerangs, little foam four-pronged boomerang-like toys designed for tossing indoors. If you need to use DriveSavers' services, you're definitely going to be up for throwing something, so why not make it a Roomerang? [JLC]