Series: Macworld SF 2001
Faster G4s, iTunes, and a Titanium PowerBook highlight the Expo
Article 1 of 11 in series
Apple has often been accused of lacking direction or being unable to explain how Macs are different from PCs - perhaps the most valuable thing Steve Jobs brought to Apple has been focus, particularly with the iMacs and iBooksShow full article
Apple has often been accused of lacking direction or being unable to explain how Macs are different from PCs - perhaps the most valuable thing Steve Jobs brought to Apple has been focus, particularly with the iMacs and iBooks. But although the success of those machines silenced naysayers temporarily, the criticism returned with Apple's recent financial difficulties. So it was incumbent on Jobs to re-establish control over Apple's direction with his keynote address at last week's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, and for the most part, he didn't disappoint.
He started out with details about the forthcoming Mac OS X 1.0, segued into the specifications of the latest generation of Power Mac G4s, and finished off with the drool-inducing PowerBook G4 Titanium. You'll read all about those announcements below and in next week's issue, but Jobs paused in the middle to explain Apple's vision for the future, saying "I'd like to tell you where we're going..."
The PC Is Dead, Long Live the PC -- Jobs begged to differ with quotes from PC maker executives about how the personal computer was dead. He then provided a timeline that labeled the years between 1986 and 1994 as the Productivity Age, when we were entranced by word processors and spreadsheets. From 1995 to 2000, he said, we were ensconced in the Internet Age, where the browser and email ruled. But now, Jobs feels that we're entering what he calls the Digital Lifestyle Age, which is marked by the electronic devices we carry around with us such as cell phones, PDAs, CD players, MP3 players, and digital cameras, along with consumer-level devices like DVD players. Sitting in the audience with my Palm V in my left pocket and my Samsung cell phone and Canon PowerShot S100 digital camera in my right pocket, I couldn't help but agree.
Apple's vision, then, is to make the Macintosh into the "digital hub" of our digital lifestyle, adding value and interconnecting all of these disparate devices. Because of the size and single-mindedness of these devices, Jobs argued that the personal computer offers compelling advantages as the glue tying everything together. In contrast with these tiny bits of consumer electronics, computers have large screens, connect to fast Internet connections, run complex applications, feature inexpensive mass storage devices, and write to cheap and standardized removable media. By inserting a computer into that web of devices, you can, for instance, move audio tracks from a music CD to your hard disk, arrange them as desired, and then burn them to CD-R for playing in your car. Or you could send a slew of photographs from a digital camera to your hard disk, perform minimal image editing, post some to a Web site for public display, and burn the whole bunch to CD-R or DVD for archiving.
Jobs claimed that the success of Apple's simple video editing software iMovie provided the hint that putting the Macintosh at the center of the digital lifestyle was where Apple should go. The success of iMovie relies on a popular piece of consumer electronics (a digital video camcorder) working with Apple's combination of hardware (the Mac, with FireWire), operating system (Mac OS 9, with QuickTime), an application (iMovie), and an Internet service (iTools' HomePage, for posting movies on a streaming QuickTime server), along with Apple's marketing and advertising support to get the word out to people who might not have otherwise considered a Macintosh. With that lesson under its belt, Apple has moved to connect other gaps in the digital lifestyle with the combination of the new CD-RW-equipped Power Macs and new software: iTunes and iDVD.
iTunes -- Apple's next push toward making the Macintosh into a digital hub focuses on audio with a new free program called iTunes. It's by no means revolutionary, combining MP3 encoding and playing along with the capability to work with portable MP3 players and burn audio CDs (though initially only with the CD-RW drives in the latest Power Mac G4s). Those functions are available today in other programs, but iTunes goes the farthest in integrating them in an extremely usable interface. (Jobs compared it with the MP3 software included by PC makers; needless to say, against those motley interfaces, iTunes fared extremely well.) This isn't the place for a full review, but it was common knowledge at the show that iTunes was written by Apple's Jeff Robbin, previously the developer of Casady & Greene's SoundJam (which remains available, though Casady & Greene president Terry Kunysz merely said that SoundJam offers flexibility not present in iTunes and that it remained to be seen how SoundJam would compete). Plus, a bit of investigation with ResEdit shows that iTunes is heavily based on SoundJam. The rewrite seems to have given Jeff a chance to rethink the decisions he made with SoundJam, and iTunes addresses some of the criticisms we've leveled at SoundJam over the years.
Nevertheless, releasing iTunes for free and bundling it with all new Macs makes sense from Apple's standpoint, since it brings home the digital hub role Apple wants the Mac to play by connecting pre-recorded audio CDs with MP3 playback, portable MP3 players, and audio CD creation, all of which are becoming increasingly popular. iTunes does further complicate an already-tough market for MP3 software, much as Apple's anointing of Outlook Express made the email client business even harder for the many other developers of email programs. However, the situation with iTunes isn't quite as troubling as with email, since there wasn't as much variability in MP3 players, no one spends as much time in their MP3 player as in their email program, and few people would argue that listening to MP3s is more important than email. Plus, a case could be made for iTunes introducing people to digital music who would not otherwise have tried it, thus possibly increasing the market for products that go beyond iTunes, offer alternate interfaces, or provide ancillary services.
Apple has also left the older Mac market to other developers. iTunes requires at least Mac OS 9.0.4, with Mac OS 9.1 recommended, and instead of saying which Macintosh models do or do not work, Apple merely says that iTunes "works with all Apple systems released in August 1998 or later" - though our limited tests on older machines running appropriate system software have been successful. iTunes is a 2.8 MB download - if you're into MP3s, it's worth a look.
iDVD -- While iTunes is entering an already crowded market, iDVD stands alone. Working in conjunction with the so-called "SuperDrive" DVD-R drive in the $3,500 733 MHz Power Mac G4, iDVD provides a simple interface for creating graphical, hierarchical interfaces to movies and still images written to DVDs; those discs can then be played in consumer DVD players that support DVD-Video, which is reportedly most recent ones. iDVD is free, but it comes only with appropriately equipped Power Mac G4s. (Jobs also quickly introduced the $1,000 DVD Studio Pro, which complements iDVD much as the professional-level Final Cut Pro complements iMovie.)
What's impressive about iDVD is that it takes a set of tasks that require significant design skill or are computationally difficult and builds them into a truly simple interface. You use drag & drop to add QuickTime movies to your DVD, picking an individual frame for each to act as the thumbnail. Similarly, you can drag folders of images into iDVD to create slide shows. Modifying the background image and choosing different fonts and colors can be as simple as choosing different themes, but it's also easy to add your own images and choose specific fonts and colors instead. Then, once you've set up the entire disc, iDVD does the compression and encoding necessary to convert the files to the format necessary for DVD-Video drives.
Apple claimed a software breakthrough in making that process take only twice as long as the video being recorded instead of 25 times as long (so a 1 hour movie takes only 2 hours to encode, rather than 25 hours); though I haven't been able to verify the truth of that breakthrough claim. Jobs's other claim, that the hardware and software necessary to create DVDs that would play in consumer DVD players cost about $5,000, is on target. Needless to say, going from a peripheral and program combination that costs $5,000 to building the same capability into the fastest Macintosh available (the 733 MHz Power Mac G4) and selling the entire package for $3,500 is brilliant work. Plus, Apple is also selling DVD-R blanks for $10 each, significantly less than the $30 to $40 the discs currently cost.
Thinking Digital -- So what do I think of Apple's new vision? It's compelling, in large part because it's a recognition of reality on Apple's part. Apple has been known for pushing the boundaries to provide new capabilities, as they did with iMovie, but I think the company has often looked too far out, rather than concentrating on the present. The fact is that vast numbers of people are living the so-called "digital lifestyle" right now, and by concentrating on that market, Apple could improve our lives in very real ways.
Over the years, I've written plenty in TidBITS about integrating Macs into everyday life, concentrating in large part on the "kitchen Mac" PowerBook Tonya and I have set up; it handles our calendar, lets us access the Web for activities like ordering groceries, and plays MP3s from a server in the basement over an AirPort-enabled wireless network. And since May of 2000, I've been writing columns for Macworld.com about living the wired life. Apple may be a little late to the party many of us been having for some time, but it's good to have them here at last. I look forward to seeing how Apple tackles the problems presented by some of the other common digital devices that litter our lives, such as digital cameras, cell phones, and PDAs.
Some of Apple's past and present moves in this digital lifestyle direction may feel gimmicky to those who can't imagine using them. We've been somewhat dismissive of iMovie in the past, and I'm sure many people have utterly no interest in burning DVDs with iDVD. But as Shawn King of The Mac Show reminded me while we were chatting at the Expo, sales and use aren't necessarily related. Apple is interested in selling products, and although they would like to see us using those products all the time, that's not necessary. So if iMovie helps convince someone to buy an iMac, Apple doesn't really care if that person makes only a couple of movies with it. Indeed, out of 160 people at this year's Netters Dinner (a geek-laden crowd if there ever was one), only about 10 or 15 had ever made a movie with iMovie, and only a handful had made more than two or three. Similarly, I'm sure that many people who get the top-of-the-line Power Mac G4 with the DVD-R drive will happily burn only a few DVDs for friends and relatives to watch; even if it doesn't happen on a daily basis, iDVD will still have been a success in helping drive a sale for Apple. In short, it's important to remember that just because people may not make movies at the rate they send email, there's no reason to assume that video products aren't successful or important to Apple or to those who do use them.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Jobs may be right about moving from the Productivity Age to the Internet Age and on into the Digital Lifestyle Age. But even though productivity applications and Internet clients have improved and become faster and easier to use, we're all still faced with a finite amount of time, and we haven't stopped using word processors or browsing the Web. Participating in the digital lifestyle doesn't necessarily come for free, as you've undoubtedly discovered while spending hours ripping audio CDs to MP3 files, shopping for a cellular phone, editing video tracks, or trying to manage a collection of thousands of digital photographs. The time necessary to participate in these digital activities has to come from somewhere, and I'd hate to see analog activities like cooking, exercising, or simply enjoying human companionship be pushed to the wayside. Or perhaps Apple will help us figure out how to integrate our Macs into those activities as well.
Cast Your Vote -- So what do you think? Is Apple on to something here? Or is the company just blowing smoke to cover the cracks in its strategy and execution that resulted in the recent disappointing financial results. Cast your vote in this week's poll on our home page, and let us know your opinion of Apple's new emphasis in TidBITS Talk at <email@example.com>.
Article 2 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Despite Steve Jobs's talk of ripping CDs and burning DVDs, the real heat of his Macworld Expo keynote address came at the end when he unveiled the PowerBook G4 Titanium, a svelte portable that promises to blaze through your data, roast your lap, and burn a hole in your pocket. The buzz before the Expo suggested Apple had a new laptop in the works, and the question before the keynote became: would it be a jaw-dropping reinvention or just a speed-bump upgrade with improved specs? Make room on the floor for your jaw. Mercury Rising -- The PowerBook G4 is certainly faster and more powerful than its predecessorsShow full article
Despite Steve Jobs's talk of ripping CDs and burning DVDs, the real heat of his Macworld Expo keynote address came at the end when he unveiled the PowerBook G4 Titanium, a svelte portable that promises to blaze through your data, roast your lap, and burn a hole in your pocket.
The buzz before the Expo suggested Apple had a new laptop in the works, and the question before the keynote became: would it be a jaw-dropping reinvention or just a speed-bump upgrade with improved specs? Make room on the floor for your jaw.
Mercury Rising -- The PowerBook G4 is certainly faster and more powerful than its predecessors. The first Apple portable to feature the PowerPC G4 processor, the laptop is available in two standard configurations (both can be customized at the Apple Store): a 400 MHz model with 128 MB of RAM and a 10 GB hard disk, or a 500 MHz model with 256 MB of RAM and a 20 GB hard disk (a 30 GB hard disk is also available). Both configurations feature a 100 MHz system bus, 1 MB of L2 cache, an ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics processor, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, a DVD-ROM drive capable of playing DVD video and CD audio, a 56K internal modem, an infrared port, room for an optional AirPort card, and a lithium-ion battery that can provide up to five hours of battery life.
The PowerBook sports two USB ports and one FireWire port for expansion (apparently there was room enough for only three ports, which is why Apple dropped one FireWire port), one PC Card/CardBus slot, a stereo minijack, a VGA video output port, and an S-video output port. In short, almost everything a mobile Mac user would want from a modern laptop.
Thin Different -- It isn't necessarily hardware specs that will drive PowerBook G4 sales, however. The new machine is constructed of commercially pure titanium, the strong but lightweight metal used in surgical implants and aircraft engines. As such, the PowerBook is bright and shiny, almost making the brushed-metal QuickTime interface look attractive. (I said "almost.") The titanium shell also accounts for the PowerBook G4's light weight: a mere 5.3 pounds, compared to 6.1 pounds for the current PowerBook G3 (FireWire) model. The difference may not look like much, but anyone who travels with a laptop will appreciate the lightened load. But here's the best part: the PowerBook G4 Titanium is one inch thick, and that's with the lid closed. Apple has been making PowerBooks thinner and lighter since introducing the PowerBook G3 Series, but the G4 makes everything else seem positively bulky.
Overall, the case is a bit shallower (9.5 inches) and wider (13.5 inches) than existing designs. The good news is that the thinner body lowers the top edge of the screen, so the PowerBook G4 is likely to be more comfortable to use on an airplane. Oh, and Apple even changed the logo on the case so it is right-side up when other people see you using such a nifty device - or when it gets a cameo on television.
How did Apple's engineers achieve this flattening feat? In addition to ever-shrinking components, they made some design decisions that capitalize on space savings. The DVD drive, for example, is a slot-loading device built into the front-right side of the unit and there are no expansion bays. The battery is slim and square, and fits into a compartment in the bottom. The keyboard is also thinner, though it uses the same layout of existing PowerBooks (including the annoyingly placed Fn key), with the addition of an Eject function on the F12 key. And the lid latch is a small magnetic clasp at the front (unfortunately, the G4 doesn't have the elegant latch-less closing mechanism of the iBook).
The Widening Inferno -- Impressed yet? How about the last big departure from the PowerBook lineage (and I mean big): the PowerBook G4's screen measures 15.2 inches in a "wide-screen" format (a 3:2 aspect ratio), which accounts for the machine's added width. The default resolution is 1,152 by 768 pixels, though the screen can also display more common resolutions (such as 1,024 by 768 pixels) at a 4:3 aspect ratio. The included 8 MB of video memory displays millions of colors on external displays, plus supports mirrored and extended desktops on multiple monitors. Apple predictably touts the capability to use the larger screen to better edit video using iMovie or Final Cut Pro, but I'll be happy to make more room for the increasing number of palettes in programs like Microsoft Word 2001 and Adobe GoLive 5.
Burn Rate -- All this power does herald another hot aspect of the PowerBook G4: its temperature. Models on the Expo floor were definitely toasty on the bottom, even after accounting for them having been on lighted display tables. Considering that the titanium case must act as a heat sink, a lot of the heat generated by the G4 processor is bound to end up in your lap.
Apple is selling the 400 MHz configuration for $2,600, and the 500 MHz configuration for $3,500. Although not cheap, these prices are in line with new PowerBook models of the past. For many people at the Expo, the temptation to buy a PowerBook G4 drove conversations and comparisons. Some even gave in to their burning desires and placed orders at the Apple Store using the AirPort-equipped PowerBook G4 models on display.
However, therein lies the biggest potential problem of the PowerBook G4 Titanium: can Apple keep up with demand? Jobs announced that the new machines would start to be available in limited quantities at the end of January. Given the company's history of announcing products before manufacturing is fully ramped up - especially with a complex and detailed product like a one-inch thick portable - it will be interesting to see how well Apple can keep up. Still, it's a flame worth tending: my order is already placed.
Article 3 of 11 in series
The thrust of Steve Jobs's keynote at Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco may have been to position the Macintosh as the hub for today's digital lifestyle, but equally important in the speech were the details Jobs provided about Mac OS X 1.0. Jobs first gave a brief demo of a few of the already-known features of Mac OS X, after which he showed the changes Apple has made since the public beta, based on feedback from the user communityShow full article
The thrust of Steve Jobs's keynote at Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco may have been to position the Macintosh as the hub for today's digital lifestyle, but equally important in the speech were the details Jobs provided about Mac OS X 1.0.
Jobs first gave a brief demo of a few of the already-known features of Mac OS X, after which he showed the changes Apple has made since the public beta, based on feedback from the user community. He claimed, although I can't quite believe this, that Apple estimated that only 10,000 people would buy the Mac OS X Public Beta, and that they would receive only 3,000 to 4,000 comments. Those estimates turned out to be wildly incorrect, with over 100,000 people buying the public beta and submitting over 75,000 pieces of feedback.
Distinct Improvements -- Sounding humble, Jobs then worked through some of the major changes. Mac OS X now has a left-hand functional Apple menu (rather than a useless badge in the center of the menu bar) containing commands like Sleep, Restart, Logout, and others that you might want to access at any time. In response to comments about the lack of functionality in the Dock, Apple added contextual hierarchical menus to icons in the Dock - click and hold for menus that let you navigate folder hierarchies from docked folders, access recently used documents from applications in the Dock, and so on. To address complaints about the size of the Font panel, Apple made it resizable in a variety of flexible ways. And finally, to reduce the wasteful use of screen real estate in Mac OS X, Apple reduced the size of the toolbar in Finder windows, made it highly customizable, and provided a control for turning it off entirely. And, when the toolbar is turned off, Mac OS X switches from its all-in-one-window approach to a more familiar Mac OS 9-like style of each folder appearing in its own window when opened.
Although all of these changes are excellent steps in the right direction, and I don't doubt that many more have been made as well thanks to user feedback, I hesitate to draw any hard and fast conclusions. For instance, the application menu remained to the immediate right of the Apple menu, and since that's the name of the application, it will continually change the position of the File and Edit menus that follow on to the right, harming usability by eliminating static targets for common usages. And although word has it that AppleScript is in Mac OS X, it remains to be seen if users will be able to script networking, printing, and other functions which are currently scriptable in Mac OS 9.
Line in the Sand -- Even if we don't know exactly what Mac OS X 1.0 will look like, we do now have a firm price and release date - you'll be able to buy Mac OS X 1.0 for $129 on 24-Mar-01. Jobs also announced that Apple would start pre-loading Mac OS X on all Macs by default in July of 2001. Mac OS 9.x will continue to run on new hardware for some time, so it should be possible to revert a Mac OS X machine to Mac OS 9, perhaps even with a dual-boot approach such as is used in the Mac OS X Public Beta. That's important, because otherwise some existing users may delay hardware purchases until they're ready to deal with Mac OS X. That would likely be especially true of schools and businesses that don't want to support multiple operating systems or that won't have approved it for release to their users yet.
Jobs also reported on the number of developers committed to developing for Mac OS X; the details are immaterial and unverifiable, but Apple believes that developer support will follow a bell curve starting this March, peaking in July, and finishing off toward the end of the year. Although I expect Apple's expectations are accurate, some developers were disappointed that Apple is implicitly shouldering them with responsibility for releasing sooner when Apple's developer materials for Mac OS X still have notable holes, such as driver support for a variety of peripherals.
With the release of Mac OS X, Apple is not so much walking a tightrope as playing a three-dimensional game of Twister while suspended above a pool of cohabiting alligators and piranhas. Snapping at Apple's heels are developers with programs that can't easily be carbonized or who require as-yet unavailable features in Mac OS X, and long-time Macintosh loyalists who fear losing significant investments in software, hardware, and knowledge. Standing by with safety nets to rescue Mac OS X 1.0 from these dangers are new users who face no transition troubles, Unix users excited about running Unix and mainstream productivity applications side-by-side, and developers creating new programs in Cocoa's fast development environment. Apple has worked miracles before, as with the transition from 68K to PowerPC, but it will be insanely difficult to meet the very real needs of all these groups by July, if not with the initial March release.
Article 4 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Although the PowerBook G4 Titanium stole the show at this year's January Macworld Expo (see "PowerBook G4 Titanium Burns Bright" in TidBITS-563), Apple also tantalized the crowds with improvements to the professional Power Mac G4 line, adding faster processors and the capability to create custom CDs and DVDs. The new machines feature PowerPC G4 chips running at speeds of 466, 533, 667, and 733 MHz, but include only single processor configurations by defaultShow full article
Although the PowerBook G4 Titanium stole the show at this year's January Macworld Expo (see "PowerBook G4 Titanium Burns Bright" in TidBITS-563), Apple also tantalized the crowds with improvements to the professional Power Mac G4 line, adding faster processors and the capability to create custom CDs and DVDs.
The new machines feature PowerPC G4 chips running at speeds of 466, 533, 667, and 733 MHz, but include only single processor configurations by default. A dual-processor build-to-order option is available for the 533 MHz system for those who use one of the few pre-Mac OS X applications that can take advantage of multiple CPUs. Dual-processor options aren't currently available for the faster processors due to their limited availability. The new machines also feature a 133 MHz system bus, a faster PCI architecture, and, in a nod to the audio and video professionals desiring more expansion options, four open PCI slots. A fifth slot, a 4x AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) graphics slot, is occupied by either an ATI RAGE 128 graphics card with 16 MB of memory (the 466 MHz configuration) or an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics card with 32 MB of memory. An optional ATI RADEON card with 32 MB of Double Data Rate memory is also available as a build-to-order option. All units include gigabit Ethernet, USB and FireWire ports, optional AirPort wireless networking, and a 10 watt digital amplifier (which can be hooked up to Apple's $60 Pro Speakers).
Catching the Boat -- As the current workhorse of the Macintosh line, the Power Mac G4 is the likeliest candidate to act as the hub of Steve Jobs's "digital lifestyle" (see "Jobs Aims Apple for the Digital Lifestyle" in TidBITS-563). Macs currently connect to devices like Palm handhelds and portable MP3 players, but Apple is now improving its position in the digital music revolution by including CD-RW (rewritable compact disc) drives in every configuration except the high-end 733 MHz model. Jobs acknowledged that Apple "missed the boat" on CD-RW, which has been standard-issue technology in the Windows world for some time. (To be fair, Apple bet on video and that DVD standards would coalesce sooner than they did, which gave CD-RW an opening it wouldn't otherwise have had.) Using the included iTunes, users can easily burn their own MP3 tracks to audio CDs. Since the Power Macs run Mac OS 9.1 with Disc Burner built in, users can also burn any data file to a single-session CD simply by dragging and dropping it on the CD in the Finder, and then choosing Burn CD from the Special menu.
It's rare to hear Jobs admit that Apple isn't at the forefront of innovation, so it's no surprise that the company is adding a wrinkle to burning discs beyond even integrating it into the Finder. The top-of-the-line 733 MHz Power Mac G4 includes a SuperDrive: no, not the 1.4 MB floppy drive of the same name which originally appeared on the Mac IIx back in 1988, but rather a Pioneer device that reads and writes CDs and DVDs. More importantly, the SuperDrive can write data in the DVD-Video format, which means anyone can use Apple's bundled iDVD software to burn digital movies and still images onto the disc and play them in most consumer DVD players. With the SuperDrive, for example, graphics or video professionals could easily create DVD-based demo reels and self-promotion materials. In the case of still images, iDVD automatically creates a slide show, so friends and relatives can use their DVD remote control to scan through your photos. Apple will also begin selling "Apple authorized" blank DVD discs for approximately $10 each, well below the standard $30 to $40 price for such discs.
Time to Burn -- As with any new hardware announcement from Apple, the big question becomes: when can I get one? The 466 and 533 MHz models are available now for $1,700 and $2,200; the 667 and 733 MHz models, which use a newer version of the PowerPC G4 chip, are expected to arrive in limited quantities starting in February priced at $2,800 and $3,500. Availability is limited in part by the CPUs, but the SuperDrives reportedly aren't available in significant quantities yet either. Compaq also has a machine that includes the Pioneer mechanism; between Apple and Compaq, supply is likely to be tight for the next six months. Similar mechanisms from other manufacturers will likely appear soon as well, so those with earlier Power Mac G4s (other Macs would work for most tasks, of course, but for DVD-Video, the MPEG encoding is done in software and probably relies heavily on the PowerPC G4's Velocity Engine) should be able to hop on the bandwagon then.
The SuperDrive repositions Apple at the head of the computing pack, but it's going to be something of a tough sell at first when machines are in short supply. Bundling the SuperDrive into Apple's $3,500 machine is remarkable considering that similar stand-alone DVD-writing drives by themselves cost several thousand dollars. But the high end of the Power Mac line excludes most consumer buyers, the audience Apple seems to be targeting with the SuperDrive. When Apple manages to shoehorn SuperDrives into the iMac line and its consumer price tag, DVD burning will truly have a chance at becoming part of the digital lifestyle.
Article 5 of 11 in series
Traditionally, TidBITS publishes a "superlatives" article covering things at Macworld Expo that we find compelling or, at the very least, amusingShow full article
Traditionally, TidBITS publishes a "superlatives" article covering things at Macworld Expo that we find compelling or, at the very least, amusing. Although we can't resist offering a few superlatives (see next week's issue), we found our impressions from this show centering more on existing and emerging trends in the Macintosh ecosystem than on specific products. Read on for more trends in this issue and the next.
One of the first trends worth mentioning involves Macintosh user groups, the Mac community at the grass roots level (or would that be the "massively parallel organic processing" level?). I was fascinated to see that despite the challenges presented by the Internet as an information source, a number of user groups have survived and continue to thrive to the point where they even had booths at Macworld Expo. Most user groups are of course focused on a specific geographical area, but that's not true of the International HyperCard Users Group (iHUG), who were showing off a few HyperCard-built applications (including one that mimicked much of the Mac OS X dock's functionality). Apple certainly hasn't done anything to support HyperCard in ages, though the HyperCard Web page at Apple is still up and it recently re-appeared in the Apple Store.
Also, on the first night of the show, Bob LeVitus and I helped hand out awards at the 2001 User Group Soiree awards ceremony (pictures on the page below). Representatives of numerous groups were present, many of whom Bob and I have met over the years while doing presentations to their groups. A dinner conversation afterwards with Dan Sailers, Executive Director of the User Group Academy, revealed an interesting agenda: he's trying to help user groups focus their efforts outward rather than inward. It makes sense - Macs have become sufficiently common, inexpensive, and supported that those of us who own them are no longer the people who can most benefit from Macintosh-based assistance.
To help refocus the power of user groups, the User Group Academy has made several $5,000 grants to groups that submitted proposals for public school outreach projects (check out last year's winning projects at the link below). This approach would undoubtedly involve a major change for many user groups, but given that many of the original reasons for user groups to exist have become less relevant over the years, it could be a great way to put that tremendous volunteer energy to work improving society - and to do so with Macintosh flair. I'd encourage representatives from all user groups to have a chat with Dan, Fred Showker, and the other User Group Academy folks about the User Group Academy Grant program.
Article 6 of 11 in series
No utility made the kind of big splash that, for example, Connectix's RAM Doubler made when it was introduced back in 1994. However, there were a number of worthy entries that made this Macworld Expo a showcase for innovative utilities rather than high-end applications. Aladdin Transporter -- Aladdin Systems was showing the $150 Aladdin Transporter, an interesting program that falls somewhere between a macro utility and a scripting languageShow full article
No utility made the kind of big splash that, for example, Connectix's RAM Doubler made when it was introduced back in 1994. However, there were a number of worthy entries that made this Macworld Expo a showcase for innovative utilities rather than high-end applications.
Aladdin Transporter -- Aladdin Systems was showing the $150 Aladdin Transporter, an interesting program that falls somewhere between a macro utility and a scripting language. Transporter provides 26 actions that you can link together in a simple drag & drop interface, including things like compressing, binhexing, copying, FTP uploading, sending email, and more (the Run AppleScript action provides additional flexibility not present in the interface). Once you've put together your steps, you create a "transporter" - a drop-box application that you can send to anyone. For instance, I plan to make a submission transporter for Info-Mac, so shareware authors can just drop a folder on the Info-Mac transporter to have their submission stuffed, binhexed, uploaded via FTP, and registered with the archivists via an email form. Anyone who regularly needs to perform repetitive actions with files should take a look at the demo.
Rewind -- Power On Software's $90 Rewind may seem like part of booth presenter Joel Bauer's magic act, but it's really a collection of techniques for tracking what you do on your Mac and making it possible to revert to previous incarnations of files or the entire system. I don't want people to think Rewind should stand in for a real backup strategy, but if it helps reduce the down time when you delete or overwrite a file accidentally, or when you install new software that prevents your Mac from starting up properly, it's worth it. As with all seemingly magical software that operates at a low level, it's worth watching for Rewind updates whenever Apple updates the Mac OS (such as the just-released Rewind 1.1, which supports Mac OS 9.1 and is available from Power On's updates page). Also make sure you have plenty of disk space free, since Rewind uses free disk space to store the information it uses to take you back to a previous time.
DoubleTalk -- Connectix presented a new utility that will be just the ticket for some people forced to live in a Windows-centric network. Like Thursby Systems' DAVE, Connectix's $100 DoubleTalk enables a Macintosh on an Ethernet network with PCs to access shared folders and printers just like any other PC. Unlike DAVE, DoubleTalk does not let your Mac share its own files and printers, but Connectix hopes that DoubleTalk's interface will make up for that difference. Where DAVE offers its own interface, DoubleTalk closely mimics the AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels and wiggles its way into the standard AppleShare and LaserWriter Chooser interfaces (though it doesn't work with the Network Browser at the moment), so there's essentially nothing new to learn. Plus, you can even see the print queue on shared PC printers via Macintosh desktop printers; sadly, Connectix's engineers resisted the temptation to make all Macintosh print jobs go to the top of the queue automatically or let Mac users manipulate the queue to get their jobs out sooner ("Yeah, Macs just print faster. Bummer, isn't it?"). For fun, turn on Caps Lock and try opening the DoubleTalk control panel while holding down Control-P-L, Control-J-M, and Control-L-S.
DiskWarrior 2.1 -- Alsoft was showing DiskWarrior 2.1, which is not so much new as improved. I've had good luck with DiskWarrior's approach to rebuilding directories to eliminate corruption, and in version 2.1, Alsoft added a report listing out the differences between your original directory and the rebuilt one to ease checking. Since I have over 50,000 files on my hard disk, that's a huge help, otherwise I never know what to look for. Also in 2.1 is the capability to bless the System Folder, rebuild Mac OS X disks, and check for damage in the System and Finder files. DiskWarrior costs $70 (but see the Mac Care Unit deal below), and is a $30 upgrade (plus $5-$8 shipping) for existing owners unless you purchased after 01-Dec-00, at which point you just pay shipping. For a review of DiskWarrior, see "Fighting Corruption with Alsoft's DiskWarrior" in TidBITS-486.
Mac Care Unit -- Last, but certainly not least, Casady & Greene has put together a bundle of utilities to compete with the recently released Norton SystemWorks and Norton Internet Security bundles. Mac Care Unit costs only $130, and includes Casady & Greene's Conflict Catcher 8 extension manager, Alsoft's DiskWarrior and PlusOptimizer disk utility and defragmenting software, Connectix's CopyAgent copy utility, Intego's NetBarrier and VirusBarrier personal firewall and anti-virus programs, and Radialogic's Chaos Master, which helps clean up unnecessary files and download updates. All are the latest versions except for NetBarrier, which is version 1.1. The price for the Mac Care Unit bundle is stunning - Conflict Catcher and DiskWarrior alone would cost more, and they're both worth owning (see "Nice Catch, Conflict Catcher" in TidBITS-446 for more on Conflict Catcher).
Article 7 of 11 in series
The rise in permanent Internet connections via cable modems and DSL has raised fears of crackers breaking into individual computers and wreaking havocShow full article
The rise in permanent Internet connections via cable modems and DSL has raised fears of crackers breaking into individual computers and wreaking havoc. For Windows users, those fears are real, since most of the automated attacks look specifically for security holes in Windows network services. Macs are significantly less vulnerable to such problems, especially if Personal Web Sharing and Personal File Sharing via TCP/IP are turned off or properly secured, but a number of companies are now producing personal firewall products for Mac users who want additional peace of mind or who want to know precisely what's happening. Intego's NetBarrier and Open Door Networks' DoorStop (now the foundation of Norton Personal Firewall) were first on the scene, and they've just been joined by IPNetSentry from Sustainable Softworks, the network wizards who brought us IPNetRouter.
IPNetSentry -- The $35 IPNetSentry tries to differentiate itself from the others by using a "trigger" approach rather than a "firewall" approach. In short, rather than building a wall and punching holes in it for specific services by default, as with traditional firewalls, IPNetSentry watches for typical sorts of suspicious activity, and when it notices such activities, blocks the attack. Sustainable Softworks explains this approach by noting that firewalls make sense for installations with multiple users, where an administrator is better able than individual users to decide what the firewall should allow or block. But where there's a single machine, that approach is overkill and may cause more work than is necessary. Peter Sichel of Sustainable Softworks also passed on an interesting side effect of running IPNetSentry or IPNetRouter. Since those programs look at every packet coming in, they can (and do) throw away malformed packets, and it turns out that approach actually eliminates a few seemingly random crashes when something on the Mac fails to deal with a malformed packet correctly.
Who's There -- Also new at the show was the $40 Who's There from Open Door Networks. Building on the expertise gained in writing the DoorStop product that's now at the heart of Norton Personal Firewall, Open Door created an application that works in conjunction with DoorStop or Norton Personal Firewall to watch your Internet connection, log all access attempts, and help you understand what's actually going on. My main worry is that Who's There and similar utilities may cause some people to obsess unreasonably about possible problems, much as fictional characters who suddenly find themselves with the ability to read the thoughts of others struggle to deal with the previously unknowable information. Put another way, would you really want to know every time someone had an idle thought about your car?
NetBarrier 2.0 -- Even though its huge inflatable castle booth at Macworld Expo didn't sprout a moat, Intego has updated the $60 NetBarrier to version 2.0, adding the capability to control cookies, block banner ads, and filter spam on your POP server. NetBarrier 2.0 can also filter outgoing information to avoid sending identifying information about your computer and browser, plus filter personal information sent via forms. Intego is clearly trying to address a wide variety of security issues with NetBarrier, and although I haven't had a chance to evaluate the new version, I worry a little about letting a program filter mail before I even download it, since no spam filter is 100 percent accurate.
Article 8 of 11 in series
Back in 1999, Apple started the ball rolling on wireless networking by releasing the inexpensive AirPort Base Station and providing an AirPort option for all MacsShow full article
Back in 1999, Apple started the ball rolling on wireless networking by releasing the inexpensive AirPort Base Station and providing an AirPort option for all Macs. Wireless networking is clearly here to stay - in addition to the increasingly common individual and corporate use of wireless networks, there were tons of AirPort Base Stations on the floor at Macworld. And, for the first time ever, Jeff Carlson and I managed to maintain Internet connectivity for the entire show without once dialing a hotel phone. Jeff has a Ricochet wireless modem that provides roughly 28.8 Kbps of bandwidth (a different device will get the newer and more expensive Ricochet 128 Kbps service in San Francisco, but we couldn't acquire one in time), and he also has a Lucent WaveLAN PC Card that works with Apple's Software Base Station. Put the two together, and my PowerBook's Farallon SkyLINE Wireless PC card could connect to Jeff's PowerBook, then access the Internet via Jeff's Ricochet. Most interestingly, a few times when I was fiddling with the settings I ended up connecting to other nearby AirPort Base Stations. They had generic names ("Apple AirPort" and "Macworld") so I had no idea whose they were; perhaps people who don't mind sharing some bandwidth in such a situation could put their email address in the name so people who connect can thank them for the connectivity.
Proxim's Farallon division was at Macworld with a three-room "house" (it turns out you really can walk into an IKEA store and buy an entire room of furniture) set up to show off wireless networking. In addition to their existing SkyLINE 11Mb Wireless PC Card, Farallon was showing an extremely welcome addition: a SkyLINE PCI Card for older non-AirPort-capable PCI-based Power Macs (it's basically just a carrier card into which you plug a SkyLINE 11Mb Wireless PC Card, so the SkyLINE PCI Card costs either $70 by itself or $240 complete). Also new from Farallon was the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway, which differentiates itself from Apple's AirPort Base Station by providing not only 802.11b wireless networking, but also two Ethernet ports, one for a cable/DSL modem and the other for a wired Ethernet. Those ports help make possible basic firewall capabilities, and the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway software adds support for a variety of networking alphabet soup standards, including DHCP, NAT, PPPoE for DSL connections, and VPN with PPTP client and server pass-through. Farallon anticipates shipping the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway in February for $400.
TechWorks was also showing a variety of differently configured AirStation 802.11b access points, its alternative to Apple's Airport Base Stations. Although the price of an AirStation is comparable to Apple's AirPort Base Station, the AirStation requires a Windows-based PC if you want to set it up from a machine on a wired Ethernet network. Also, although the AirStation line has four different models, only the $340 Local Router model offers anything unusual - in this case, an integrated 4-port 10/100 Ethernet hub.
More interesting for the future was Farallon's release of a Macintosh driver for Proxim's $130 Symphony PC Card, one of the products in the Symphony-HRF wireless networking suite. Symphony doesn't use 802.11b - the technology behind Apple's AirPort - but instead relies on a different 2.4 GHz wireless networking standard called HomeRF. HomeRF is currently slower than 802.11b (1.6 Mbps versus 11 Mbps), though Farallon noted that difference should go away by the middle of this year with the next revision of HomeRF. However, the main difference is that HomeRF is designed for applications other than data networking that require specific quality of service assurances, so later this year Farallon expects that we should start seeing consumer electronics devices that support HomeRF, such as cordless phones, stereos, video cameras, and more. Until that point, it's probably worth just keeping an eye on HomeRF, but it has the potential to become quite interesting as a way of providing wireless connectivity to a range of devices. And if that happens, Apple may be forced to pay close attention, since wireless technology is definitely a key component of the new digital lifestyle focus.
Article 9 of 11 in series
Missing from Apple's statement of support for the digital lifestyle was an emphasis on digital photographs. I could easily see an iPhoto or iPicture from Apple at the next Macworld Expo - something to categorize and organize digital photographs, print and export them in useful ways, and easily create Web pages with your photos for viewing by your friends and familyShow full article
Missing from Apple's statement of support for the digital lifestyle was an emphasis on digital photographs. I could easily see an iPhoto or iPicture from Apple at the next Macworld Expo - something to categorize and organize digital photographs, print and export them in useful ways, and easily create Web pages with your photos for viewing by your friends and family. Luckily, there were a number of photo cataloging applications at Macworld Expo, including iView Multimedia's $45 iView MediaPro, Canto's $90 Cumulus Single User Edition, the $100 Extensis Portfolio Desktop Edition, and ACD's $40 ACDSee.
These programs are perhaps more similar than different - here's my current take on them, although I haven't had time to do a detailed comparison:
ACDSee 1.5 is the cheapest at $40 and perhaps the most consumer-oriented, but it comes up lacking in a number of ways. You can't modify the page design for HTML exports, you can't easily categorize images other than via the Finder, and its interface combination of panes and windows is clumsy. ACDSee is more of an image browser than a photo cataloger, and I worry that it wouldn't stand up to frequent use with many photographs.
iView MediaPro 1.0 is the best combination of a fast, svelte image cataloger that's easy to use, sports a true Macintosh feel with a well-designed single-window interface, and offers all the features anyone is likely to want. You may need to refer to the documentation for some of its more obscure details, but overall, I've been extremely impressed with the program. It does well at exporting to HTML, and you can edit its templates to achieve the look you want. At $45, it's a good deal.
Cumulus 5 is a big, complex application that's clearly aimed more at the professional than the consumer. Although it seems to have all the features you could want, finding them proved somewhat daunting. It also relies on a number of integrated applications for its functions, which adds to the confusion, since some menu commands launch separate applications. Cumulus can export to HTML, and it appears to support templates. At $90 to $100 (download versus boxed), it's a bit expensive, but will clearly do the job.
Extensis Portfolio started life many years ago as Aldus Fetch, and is also aimed more at the professional user than the consumer, with features like password protection, sophisticated cataloging options, flexible keywords and categories, and more. It can export HTML with template control, though it's not clear at first blush if you can export full-size images as well as thumbnails. At $100 it's on the high-end for these programs, but it looks fully functional and has a strong Macintosh feel.
There are other photo cataloging applications out there that I didn't see at Macworld; a few have been mentioned in TidBITS Talk. I'll be looking at this space more in the future, so if you want to make sure I don't miss your favorite, be sure to send it in to TidBITS Talk.
Article 10 of 11 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Computer sales may have dipped industry-wide, but the popularity of Palm handhelds is looking up - two stories up, to be precise. At Macworld Expo 2001 in San Francisco, Palm's booth featured not only a contingent of Palm OS developers and Palm's lineup of devices, but also a two-tiered presentation stage with balconies that inspired at least one attendee to exclaim, "But, soft! what backlight through yonder window breaks?" Not to be outdone, Palm OS licensee Handspring dazzled attendees with a large main screen and video displays set behind huge mock Visor handheldsShow full article
Computer sales may have dipped industry-wide, but the popularity of Palm handhelds is looking up - two stories up, to be precise. At Macworld Expo 2001 in San Francisco, Palm's booth featured not only a contingent of Palm OS developers and Palm's lineup of devices, but also a two-tiered presentation stage with balconies that inspired at least one attendee to exclaim, "But, soft! what backlight through yonder window breaks?"
Not to be outdone, Palm OS licensee Handspring dazzled attendees with a large main screen and video displays set behind huge mock Visor handhelds. In addition, there was a color Visor which - if it were functional - could have been dubbed the organizer that fits in the back of your pickup truck.
Why so much size for products that fit into your hand? We've seen large booths before - for example, Power Computing's 1996 massive military outpost was a study in brilliant last-minute exterior decorating (after Apple bought NeXT instead of Be, the choice Power Computing had anticipated) as well as being a promotional tool - but this year the spaces occupied by Palm and Handspring were clearly built to accommodate the crush of curious attendees. Standing room only during presentations was the norm, with Handspring's crowds completely blocking a side aisle at times.
Seeing Palm devices in use is now commonplace at Macworld; I was privy to a few spontaneous "pick-up beams," or small knots of people swapping their favorite games and utilities (one new treasure is PicChat, a collaborative drawing program for multiple IR-enabled devices). Of course, folks were also beaming their business cards back and forth; I even created a Zoos Software E-Card with some general information and tips from my Palm Organizers Visual QuickStart Guide.
The large booths held more than eager attendees: both companies featured pods where a number of developers could showcase their Palm-related products.
Talk to the Hand(spring) -- Probably the most notable trend on Handspring's side of the floor was the fact that Springboard modules - expansion devices that snap into a slot on the Visor - are actually shipping. A year ago, modules were just a promise. The showcase module was Handspring's VisorPhone, an attachment that turns your Visor into a GSM-compatible cellular phone. Folks who typically carry multiple electronic devices finally have the chance to merge the handheld and phone.
The VisorPhone does everything a cellular phone does, but with a usable interface. Say goodbye to using a numeric keypad to choose letters: just add new phone numbers by writing them in Graffiti. Having an actual interface also means some tasks are much easier. At a Handspring user group breakfast, Handspring CEO Donna Dubinksy demonstrated how to set up a three-way call: call one person, tap his name to put him on hold, call the other person, then tap the 3-Way Call button. All the contacts in your Address Book are available for dialing, and when you receive a call the Caller ID feature searches your records to display the caller's name and number. And of course, you can use your Visor normally while talking to someone when you plug in a hands-free microphone or earphone.
The VisorPhone is also capable of transferring email and accessing the Web, though Handspring isn't emphasizing these features given the data speeds of cellular networks. Handspring did promote SMS text messaging, a quick way to send short text messages to other GSM-enabled phones that becomes a lot easier when you can write messages in Graffiti. Also, since GSM is far more widespread outside the United States (where GSM coverage is unfortunately spotty), Handspring will soon be pushing VisorPhone use around the world. The device costs $300 when you sign up for a calling plan, or $500 without a plan (if you're migrating your existing GSM service).
You Are (Always) Here -- Another Palm trend picks up on the ever-shrinking technology of GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers (see "Feeling Lost? An Overview of Global Positioning Systems" in TidBITS-388). The most promising (though largest) device was GeoDiscovery's $290 Geode Springboard module. It includes two "MultiMedia Card" slots for adding memory to the unit, allowing you to store more map data than will fit in the Visor's memory. As the cost of expansion memory comes down, you could keep chips containing your favorite locations and swap the appropriate one in when you arrive at your destination. A future update to the software will also let you use the cards as regular memory for other Palm data.
Nexian demonstrated its less expensive HandyGPS device, which at $150 provides basic GPS service in a smaller Springboard profile. Magellan was also showing off its forthcoming GPS Companion for Visor.
Wireless Internet Access -- Of course, no self-respecting handheld developer in 2001 would fail to have some type of wireless Internet access on display. OmniSky showed off the Springboard version of its wireless device, which feels less bulky than the Palm V modem that's been available for the last year. The OmniSky modem so far seems to be the best wireless method of getting onto the Internet from a Palm, offering decent speed and a slew of Palm applications for accessing email and the Web. (The Palm VII, conversely, only offers features mediated through the Palm.net service.)
Taking a slightly different approach, Palm was demoing its Palm Mobile Internet Kit, a software package that enables any current Palm device to get onto the Internet by connecting through a cellular phone. Be sure to check out Palm's list of supported phones, however, since some phones can set up an infrared connection to the Palm, while others require a separate cable to work. Also on the software front, Palm showcased its recently acquired MultiMail email client.
Talk Back to Me -- One surprising trend was the presence of multiple digital voice recorders for Palm devices. LandWare has previously offered the $65 goVox, a recorder whose only connection to the Palm is the fact that it doubles as a screen cover. Targus was showing Digital 5's $100 Total Recall recorder, a Springboard module for Visor that uses the Palm interface to organize and play back your flashes of brilliance. The nice thing about the Total Recall is that you can use it as a recorder when you don't have your Visor handy or are using another Springboard module. Shinei International also showed its My-Vox recorder, which plugs into the Visor's Springboard slot.
Keep Those Pod Bay Doors Open, HAL -- Palm is clearly enjoying success in the market, but it's good to see that Palm recognizes where much of that success comes from: outside developers. Palm's presentation pods offered space to established companies like AvantGo and DataViz (showing the professional edition of Documents to Go), but also smaller niche developers. For example, Sunburst has developed Learner Profile to Go, a Palm program that enables teachers to evaluate student progress over time, then generate reports on the desktop based on data collected on the handheld. ImagiWorks had more of their intriguing data acquisition devices on display, such as temperature and water probes that replace traditionally bulkier equipment. These are the types of products that give the Palm world variety and depth, much as the education pavilion and developer areas of the Expo remind us that there's more to the Mac market than image editors and word processors.
Article 11 of 11 in series
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 FranciscoShow full article
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]
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]
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]
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]