Fueled by a melange of Internet-related software, this year's Macworld Expo had plenty of enthusiastic crowds and product announcements. We'll cover more of these products in future issues, but in this semi-annual Macworld Expo superlatives article, I chronicle companies whose gimmicks particularly stood out or whose offerings caught my eye.
Slimmed Down Approach -- The Aladdin Systems booth wasn't new, but space-constrained attendees enjoyed the StuffIt t-shirts, which set a new standard for sartorial compression. The shirts, distributed in shrink wrap, were compressed with 50 tons of pressure to the size of a large bar of soap. Aladdin also announced an agreement with Netscape Communications to bundle StuffIt Expander with Netscape Navigator, which will mean that Netscape Navigator will finally be able to handle MacBinary files without the user needing to download another application.
Tower of Marketing Power -- Never one to sit quietly in a crowd, Power Computing made quite a display with an assortment of games and marketing pitches that attracted the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of the show. The height of the action, though, took place just outside, where Power Computing offered bungie jumping from a 225 foot tower. Power Computing's marketing firm must have had a good time with the promotional boxes being handed out at the MacWEEK Volume Buyers meeting the day before the show: the box looked like the face of a Power Tower, and when you opened the cover a small sound chip screamed as a paper doll flopped from a rubber band. Attached to the bottom of the box with a bungie cord was a t-shirt proclaiming, "We're fighting back for the Mac." Power was (of course) showing off its latest models (see TidBITS-337 and TidBITS-339), and as with the last few major Macworld Expos, Power Computing dotted the entire exposition scene, with many vendors showing their wares on Power Computing machines.
Buggiest Product -- Pulse Entertainment gave out realistic looking plastic cockroaches and showcased Bad Mojo, a dark, gritty, CD-ROM game where you play the role of a scientist who won a grant to complete research to wipe out cockroaches. Early on in the game, you are dealt a Kafka-esque hand of "bad mojo" and transmographied into a roach. Your mission is to collect information while interacting with objects and other animals, and eventually to gain enough insight to return to a human state, although there are several possible endings. What makes this game stand out is its real-life images and careful attention to interactions and detail. Bad Mojo's creators crafted a highly realistic environment by researching how roaches move and how surfaces become dirty. Pulse has made a 4 MB demo version available through its Web site.
Most Interactive -- MacUser, MacWEEK, and ZDNet teamed up with The Winners' Club, a series of games which culminated with each player putting on protective eye goggles and entering a small, transparent booth the size of a shower stall with coupons and dollar bills on the floor. The goal was to grab as many of those coupons and dollars as possible while a fan blew them around. When your time was up, you exchanged the coupons for software and hardware prizes, though the people I watched only won the default prize, a t-shirt.
Best Way to Make Money on the Net? Realizing that few companies are making much money from Internet content, but that plenty of companies make money selling physical objects, such as books, via the Internet, Wolff New Media was showcasing its NetBooks series. A NetBook reviews Web sites about specific topics, such as using the Internet to find a job or to follow the next U.S. presidential election. A representative described the company as having a "newsroom atmosphere," with some 50 editors writing books and updating books online with fresh reviews. The company plans to publish one new book every three weeks. You can check out their Web site, which reportedly holds reviews of some 50,000 sites.
Stock up on Stock -- As electronic transactions and record keeping become increasingly common, stock certificates have become increasingly uncommon, despite their often interesting typography and graphic design. Operating under the theory that actual certificates could become valuable collectors items (or at least well-loved wall decorations), One Share of Stock, Inc. sells framed stock certificates. You could pick any stock, but One Share of Stock featured Apple stock at the show. The company offered all comers the chance to spend $89 for a share of $21 Apple stock, delivered as a framed certificate. Considering the commission, certificate, and framing fee, $89 doesn't seem utterly unreasonable.
Staying Alive -- Live Objects, components that take advantage of OpenDoc technology, showed up here and there on the Expo floor. Some, like Bare Bones Software's BBEdit Lite for OpenDoc 1.0 module, are due for imminent release; others, like Nisus Writer 5.0, are still a few months from shipping. I didn't get to see them, but I heard glowing reports about upcoming Live Objects from Quebec-based Adrenaline Software - Adrenaline Numbers, a spreadsheet part that should import Excel spreadsheets and offers 149 functions, and Adrenaline Charts, for making 2-D, 3-D, and even animated graphs.
Handiest Product -- GBM design showcased mobile wrist supports called the Comfort Point and the Comfortype. You move the supports by resting your wrists on their "contour paddles" while you use a mouse, trackball, or keyboard. You can adjust the paddle to three different angles. The Comfort Point attaches to the back of a mouse (or trackball); the Comfortype looks much like a pair of Comfort Points mounted on a track installed in front of a keyboard. Adam bought a $20 (show special) Comfort Point, and we'll see how he likes it.
Loudest Party -- It's hard to give this award to any one party because it seems that all the parties we went to this year at Macworld were way too loud. These are geek parties, and what we geeks want to do when we get together is talk. We don't want to listen to music, and we certainly don't want to listen to music played so loud that we have to resort to screaming to carry on conversations. The worst offenders this year were the Apple party at the Roxy on Tuesday night before the show and the Mac the Knife party on Thursday night of the show. It took days after each for my voice to recover from trying to scream over the deafening decibels. If you're planning a party for a future Mac show, ditch the music and let people talk to one another.
Serious Font Management -- I don't do much with fonts these days, but I was extremely impressed with FontReserve, a new font-management tool from DiamondSoft. What's important about FontReserve is that it has a powerful database at its core. The database manages all your font files and stores information about the font names, font IDs, foundry information, version information, and location on your hard disk. Once you have all your fonts in FontReserve's database, you can easily create and manipulate hierarchical sets of fonts and even do things like create a Finder folder containing copies of all the fonts in a specific set for use by a service bureau. FontReserve supports all font formats, matches outlines and bitmap fonts, removes duplicate fonts (after comparing name and version information), checks for font corruption, classifies fonts according to a proposed ISO standard for font categorization, and organizes your fonts by type, foundry, and family.