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Series: Macworld SF 2002
Sure, flatscreen iMacs and iPhoto are cool - but there's more to the Expo than Apple!
Article 1 of 5 in series
by Jeff Carlson
I hope the noodles are soaking in preparation for a serious flogging of the people in Apple's PR machine. This keynote was perhaps the most hyped event Apple has ever done, making it sound as if the reports on the rumor sites were nothing compared with what Apple would announceShow full article
I hope the noodles are soaking in preparation for a serious flogging of the people in Apple's PR machine. This keynote was perhaps the most hyped event Apple has ever done, making it sound as if the reports on the rumor sites were nothing compared with what Apple would announce. (The Crazy Apple Rumor Site took up the challenge, deciding in the end that the only thing Apple could do that would top the wild rumors swirling about was to introduce anatomically correct sexbots.)
But let's face it, the only people who didn't expect Apple to release an LCD iMac are those for whom news is the winners at Saturday night's Bingo tournament. There's no question the new iMac design is cool-looking, and numerous people have said they're not sure quite whether they like it or not - which is probably a good omen for what could be called an edgy design if it weren't so rounded.
Overall, for a keynote as heavily hyped as this one, the actual presentation was bland. Aside from the iMacs, iPhoto generated the most talk, but it too has been expected for a year, at least in these pages (see "iPhoto Joins the iFold" in this issue for more details). And the enhancements to the iBook are mostly just larger numbers in the spec sheet, including a model with a larger screen. Are we expecting too much from a Macworld keynote? Yes, but although that's always been the case, this time Apple deserves blame for overheated expectations.
Mac OS X -- The biggest news about Mac OS X is that all new Macs will ship with Mac OS X as the default operating system, starting with the new Macs introduced today and extending to the entire product line (well, not the iPod, we assume) by the end of January. That's sooner than we had expected, and frankly, sooner than we feel is warranted. Apple deserves credit for improving Mac OS X so significantly during 2001, but it's nowhere near the maturity level of Mac OS 9, as Adam and I just found out when trying to share files and an Internet connection using Mac OS X. For those using their Macs merely to browse the Web, read email, listen to MP3s, and manage their digital photo collection, Mac OS X is fine, but it's still easy to find things that Mac OS X simply can't do. And that's despite Apple's claim of 2,500 shipping Mac OS X applications.
Nonetheless, the parade of developers during the keynote was welcome. Adobe's After Effects 5.5 is now shipping, and GoLive 6.0 and LiveMotion 2.0 were announced (with no expected ship dates yet). But the most eagerly awaited application, Photoshop, remains a distant promise. Adobe did show it off, though, including a built-in spelling checker, a feature that was greeted with much applause, presumably from the people who do all their writing in Photoshop.
The highlight of the Mac OS X portion of the keynote - dare I say the entire keynote? - was Theodore Gray of Wolfram Research. Demonstrating Mathematica for Mac OS X, he engaged the audience by saying, "Okay, it's math... but look at the typography!" To round out his appearance, Gray demonstrated modeling a complex formula with the quip, "This would have been incredibly useful for people designing vacuum tubes."
Dan Gregoire of Lucasfilm began his presentation with a video clip of director George Lucas welcoming the Macworld audience and explaining how Macs have been used extensively to build around 4,000 animatics (low-resolution pre-visualizations of scenes) for the upcoming movie Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones. Judging from the circles under Lucas's eyes, using the Macs hasn't helped so much that he's gotten a lot of sleep of late, but it's no doubt an improvement from earlier methods of creating effects. Gregoire then briefly showed how the animatics designers use Maya for Mac OS X and After Effects to build the shots.
iBook's Big Brother -- Until today, the iBook's bigger sibling has been the PowerBook G4 Titanium - little did anyone know there was a half brother lingering on the family tree. Available now, the 14.1-inch iBook sports the same design as the existing iBook, but expanded slightly to accommodate a 14-inch screen. The new machine includes a larger battery, which Apple says offers a six hour charge. The 14.1-inch model, which also has a 600 MHz G3 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a Combo drive, sells for $1,800 and weighs about a pound more than the existing model. Hopefully it won't suffer the fate of the Cube, orphaned as that machine was between the iMac and Power Mac lines, but this larger iBook fits more neatly into the price gap. More the question is if it will seriously damage sales for the Titanium, given that screen size was a primary difference between the PowerBook and iBook lines before.
The other iBooks received some attention, too: the entry-level model with CD-ROM is now $100 cheaper at $1,200, and the previous high-end 600 MHz iBook with Combo drive now sells for $1,500.
Flat-Panel iMac -- Based on the semi-exuberant reception to the new iBook, it was clear that the audience was itching for new hardware announcements, specifically the rumored flat-panel iMac. Jobs teased the crowd, noting that Apple has sold six million iMacs since its introduction in 1998, and running a succession of iMac commercials, allegedly to demonstrate the model's progression (conspicuously absent was any mention of the Flower Power and Dalmatian models). He even started quickly running down the impressive list of specifications before unveiling what we really wanted to see: the design.
On a platform rising from the middle of the stage was the most amazing table lamp you've ever seen. Okay, that's not a fair description, but it's the comparison I've heard most since the keynote. Retaining the iMac's all-in-one design, the new model has a 10.6-inch diameter white hemispheric base that contains all the components, including the power supply, which in the G4 Cube existed as a bulky external power brick. Despite that, the iMac still doesn't have a fan, making it near silent. The 15-inch flat screen sits on an adjustable metal neck that rotates 180 degrees left-to-right and 90 degrees top-to-bottom; the screen itself also tilts up and down, and even retains its angle when you move the neck (in other words, a screen that's vertical remains vertical when you adjust the neck). A lip around the screen's front face makes it easy to move the armature around - no doubt the models in the Apple booth will undergo massive user testing over the next four days. The screen's viewable area is the same as a 17-inch CRT monitor, running at resolutions of 1,024 by 768 or 800 by 600 interpolated (you can also choose 640 by 480 if you've attached an external monitor).
The base appears rather ordinary at first, but a peek around the back reveals a host of ports: two FireWire connections, Pro speaker jack, headphone jack, Ethernet, power, modem, three USB ports, and an iBook-style video-out port (video mirroring only). The machine's sole power switch is a button on the back left side, which seems somewhat awkward, especially now that Apple's keyboards no longer feature a power button. On the front, looking like a white-on-white smiley face, the media bay houses either a tray-loading CD-ROM, Combo drive, or SuperDrive, depending on configuration.
Looks aside, what about the iMac's power? Here, the iMac's designation as a consumer model is purely a side effect of its marketing. The low-end configuration, priced at $1,300, includes a 700 MHz PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine, 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard disk, and the CD-ROM drive. The mid-range model, for $100 more, has the same processor and hard disk, but includes 256 MB of RAM and the Combo drive. The $1,800 high-end iMac sports an 800 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 60 GB hard disk, and a SuperDrive. Each model also comes with an Nvidia GeForce2 MX graphics card, can support up to 1 GB of RAM, and is AirPort-ready. The AirPort antenna goes around the outside of the monitor, so range should be good, and the RAM and AirPort slots are easily available by removing the base's bottom plate. It's unclear how easy it will be to perform other upgrades such as swapping in a new hard disk.
Anticipating high demand for what is now an inexpensive SuperDrive-equipped Mac, the 800 MHz iMac will be available at the end of January, with the middle-tier model arriving in February and the entry-level machine showing up in March as the company ramps up production.
Apple is selling the new iMac as the ideal digital hub, and it's clearly more than capable in that regard. In fact, the biggest question seems to be whether potential buyers will accept or reject the new design - an interesting predicament, considering that until Apple introduced the original iMac, design was usually at the bottom of the list of considerations. But given that the "new" iMac will no doubt be the only iMac Apple offers (the two previous low-end models are still available, though I'm guessing only until Apple can clear out its inventory), the machine's impressive capabilities will win over even the most skeptical eyes - especially if they belong to someone looking to reclaim a fair bit of desk space.
Article 2 of 5 in series
Along with the completely redesigned iMac and inflated iBook, the other big news from Steve Jobs's keynote today was iPhoto, a highly welcome, if painfully obvious addition to Apple's suite of free applications that by themselves go a long way toward differentiating Macs from garden variety PCsShow full article
Along with the completely redesigned iMac and inflated iBook, the other big news from Steve Jobs's keynote today was iPhoto, a highly welcome, if painfully obvious addition to Apple's suite of free applications that by themselves go a long way toward differentiating Macs from garden variety PCs. And this year, iPhoto will also provide incentive for current Mac users to switch to Mac OS X - it's designed solely for Apple's now-default operating system.
How painfully obvious was iPhoto? We even guessed at iPhoto's name a year ago when it became clear that Apple needed a consumer-level application for managing all the images captured from digital cameras. After all, if Apple intends the Mac to be a digital hub, it needs to do more with digital photos than it has in the past. And as much as the image cataloging programs offer extensive feature sets, they're all aimed at graphics professionals rather than normal users.
iPhoto, on the other hand, is clearly designed for the average digital camera owner (and considering that six million digital cameras were sold in the U.S. in 2001, that's a nice market). It provides a three-pane interface reminiscent of iTunes, with the left-hand pane holding user-generated photo albums instead of playlists, along with controls for some common functions (adding photo albums, running a slide show, getting/setting information on an image or album, and rotating images). The large right-hand pane shows either a single image or scalable thumbnails of multiple images. The third pane, which takes up the entire bottom of the iPhoto window, changes to offer additional feedback or commands, depending on the current mode.
Importing and Organizing -- You bring photos into iPhoto either by connecting a supported digital camera or card reader (Apple has a list of supported cameras, card readers, and printers on its Web site), or by importing images already on your hard disk. Importing, even from hard disk, isn't fast, but it's a one-time operation. iPhoto imposes a somewhat odd Finder filing scheme on you, creating a huge date-based hierarchy of folders in your home directory's Pictures folder. So, for instance, I have a 2001 folder that contains numbered folders for the months in which I took photos. And inside each of those are numbered folders for each day. Within those folders are the individual files, sequentially numbered. Various other files provide the metadata iPhoto uses to track albums, keywords, and titles. One advantage (or potential gotcha, depending on your images) is that all of iPhoto's images are automatically available to Mac OS X's Slide Show screensaver module.
Once you've brought your images into iPhoto, you can organize them in a number of ways - click the Organize button to enter that mode. You can make albums and add photos to them, or use the controls at the bottom of the window for assigning keywords. You can change the default keywords or define your own, up to 16, but doing so requires entering keyword editing mode by choosing Edit Keywords from the Edit menu - an ungainly interface that you won't have to endure often. You can also name images: to see how, select one and click the "info" button in the left pane to reveal information about the image, including date, image size, file size, and user-defined comments. I don't recommend naming images generally, since it's a lot of work that I've found inherently unhelpful in the end (if you're like most people, most of your images are likely to have somewhat similar subjects, making coherent names difficult). Two checkboxes let you decide if you want to display titles or keywords next to the thumbnails, and a third adds dividers to your thumbnail view based on "film roll," a method of organizing the pictures into groups based on when they were imported into iPhoto.
It's a little hard to say when you'll want to use albums in favor of keywords or vice versa, since once you've assigned keywords to images, you can click the keyword controls to display just the images matching those keywords. You can produce exactly the same results using either keywords or albums - what I'd recommend (and keep in mind that as of this writing I have minutes of experience with this program) is that you restrict albums to unique labels that you're likely to want to use only once, whereas keywords should be the kind of thing you could apply to nearly any photo. Plus, albums are necessary for making books - more on that later.
Editing Images -- One problem most photo cataloging programs have is that the only editing they let you do on images is rotation. That's probably the primary activity you want to do and iPhoto offers a rotate button that works in any view, along with a bigger button when you're in Edit mode - click either button to rotate an image counter-clockwise; Option-click it to rotate clockwise.
But iPhoto doesn't stop there, providing three additional functions that should handle most image editing needs. You can crop images, and it provides a way of constraining your cropping to specific image sizes. You can also select an area and click a button to reduce red-eye - a common problem that can result in some truly demonic pictures. Finally, a Black & White button does exactly what you'd expect, an effect that works especially well with images of people. In Edit mode, the slider that sets thumbnail size in Organize mode instead zooms in or out of the image. And finally, Previous and Next buttons make it easy to move between images without having to switch back to Organize mode. Throughout the process, iPhoto uses ColorSync to maintain accurate color values.
If iPhoto's image editing capabilities aren't sufficient, you can also set a helper application to kick in when you double-click an image. That might be useful if you find yourself wanting to do color correction or adjust contrast or brightness on your photos regularly. Personally, I'm not bothered by iPhoto's lack of those controls - I usually end up botching the job when I try do such things.
Sharing Images -- Where iPhoto really shines, however, is in its functions for sharing and presenting your photo collection. Perhaps the most innovative feature iPhoto offers is the capability to create a picture book of your images. You can choose a number of themes, much as you can in iDVD, and within each them, you can customize how many images print on each page and the text that accompanies them. You can't print books yourself, unfortunately; instead you must upload it to a service that prints the images on high-quality paper and wraps it all up in a classy linen hardcover binding. Books cost $30 for up to 10 pages, and $3 per page after that, plus tax and delivery the following week. As a friend moaned after the keynote, the cost will add up fast by the time you create copies for all the grandparents several times each year (but it may also prove to be an easy and popular holiday gift).
Clicking into Share mode presents you with a number of choices: Print, Slide Show, Order Prints, Order Book, HomePage, and Export. Print offers four styles, Contact Sheet (where you select the number of images to print across and iPhoto does the scaling for you), Full Page, Greeting Card (which prints either single-fold or double-fold cards with the image on one panel), and Standard Prints (which offers 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 sizes). Slide Show runs a standard slide show with configurable delays and background music. Order Prints connects to a service run by Kodak for printing selected images on photo paper at a variety of sizes (and prices) for shipping to any address you choose. Order Book does much the same thing, but since you've arranged the book on your computer, it's just a matter of how many copies and where to send it. Clicking HomePage offers you the choice of different themes, after which your images are uploaded to your iDisk and displayed via your Mac.com picture page. (These last three options are described from memory - we didn't have an Internet connection available while writing.) Finally, Export lets you export images as individual files, as custom Web pages for uploading to your own Web server, or as a QuickTime movie slide show you can send to friends or family. Unfortunately, exporting as a Web page isn't particularly good - iPhoto provides you with one or more thumbnail pages, and clicking a thumbnail expands the image, but it doesn't even provide navigation to move on to the next expanded image without going back to the thumbnails. I'm still waiting for someone to come up with a program that generates a framed Web page approach that offers easy navigation for thumbnails and expanded images at the same time.
Close Shutter -- Perhaps my main criticism of iPhoto right now is that it doesn't acknowledge the fact that many families are likely to have multiple computers and may wish to share a single photo library. It may be possible to work some magic with aliases, but we weren't able to figure out any way to fool a copy of iPhoto on one computer into using the photo library on another computer. iTunes isn't great at this either, but at least you can point iTunes at a Music folder that exists on another Mac and have it load the music over the network. (Unfortunately, iTunes won't automatically mount a volume when you try to play an MP3 track shared like this).
Although we've been able to play with iPhoto for only a short time, it's clear that it's going to be a huge win for Apple. Aside from the fact that it provides a reason to choose a Mac over a PC (though, to be fair, Windows XP offers some of these sort of features as well), and Mac OS X over Mac OS 9, iPhoto provides a perfect example of how a free application could actually improve Apple's bottom line through revenues related to print and book orders. Steve Jobs claimed that Apple had sold one million DVD-R blank disks in the last year (and Apple has just reduced the price to $5 per disk) - I have to believe that there are a lot more people who will want to order prints or picture books than wanted to burn DVDs in 2001. I know I'll be giving it a try, something I've never managed to do with any of the other digital photo printing services.
Article 3 of 5 in series
by Jeff Carlson
iMac, iPhoto Corrections -- Last week's issue was a bit unusual for us, which led to a couple of errors in our Macworld Expo coverage. Although I was able to attend the rescheduled keynote address, Adam didn't arrive from Ithaca until the afternoonShow full article
iMac, iPhoto Corrections -- Last week's issue was a bit unusual for us, which led to a couple of errors in our Macworld Expo coverage. Although I was able to attend the rescheduled keynote address, Adam didn't arrive from Ithaca until the afternoon. So, the two of us ended up writing the issue over a five-hour period in a Starbucks near Moscone with flaky wireless Internet access (by the time we finished, Adam had been awake for 21 hours and was decidedly wobbly). As such, we didn't discover until the next day that the new iMac does in fact contain a fan, rather than relying on convection cooling as we reported. However, we were pleased to learn that it isn't an ordinary fan. It's temperature-activated, like a PowerBook G4's fan, and works at variable speeds depending on the iMac's temperature (so it's likely to turn off shortly after an iMac goes to sleep). What's more impressive is that it was specifically designed to minimize noise, so that the fan is quieter than the hard disk, producing a maximum of 25 decibels. (By comparison, a whisper is usually 20 to 30 decibels at a distance between 3 and 15 feet, and the typical background noise in even a quiet room will be louder than the iMac's fan.) Also, another difference between the iMac and the Power Mac G4 is the Power Mac's L3 cache, which will improve performance over iMacs with similar clock speeds.
We also erroneously reported that iPhoto wasn't capable of printing books on your own printer. In fact, when you're in the Book view, you can simply select Print from the File menu; we were looking for the option in the Share and Book toolbars. [JLC]
Article 4 of 5 in series
I've been analyzing Macworld Expos for a long time now, and never have I been quite so at a loss for what to say. It wasn't that this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco was a bad show, because it wasn'tShow full article
I've been analyzing Macworld Expos for a long time now, and never have I been quite so at a loss for what to say. It wasn't that this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco was a bad show, because it wasn't. But it wasn't a stunning show either, and more to the point, there simply wasn't a lot about it that stood out one way or another after the great new iMac and iPhoto.
The number of exhibitors was down quite a bit from last year, with notable absences such as Macromedia, Palm, and Handspring, and even those that were present occupied less space than before. There were bright spots - MacTech Central, which hosts interesting small developers, represented about 10 percent of the companies at the show and was larger than any of the other special interest pavilions, a nice achievement to mark MacTech Magazine's 200th issue and Neil Ticktin's 10th anniversary as publisher of the magazine. Plus, attendance estimates put it at least comparable to last year's figures, which is downright amazing in this weak economic climate. Other information technology shows have suffered significant attendance drops, and while I'm sure IDG World Expo worked hard to get attendees in the door, I see no reason to assume that other show organizers wouldn't be doing the same.
Most interestingly, just like the previous Macworld Expo in New York, both attendees and exhibitors were upbeat. MacAcademy reportedly sold a lot more of their training products this year than last, and Peachpit Press was doing banner business selling books. Other booths, like the CoolMacStuff.com booth and the folks selling old software at cut-rate prices, were constantly mobbed. Retailers weren't the only ones were happy - Jim Rea of ProVUE Development (the Panorama folks) said it was a great show for them, and others echoed the sentiment.
Although there were numerous exhibitors showing Mac OS X-native applications, most of those were ports of previous versions and didn't add much in the way of new functionality or showcase Mac OS X's capabilities. In fact, a number of them suffered from performance problems under Mac OS X because an application doesn't seem to be able to take over nearly 100 percent of the Mac's CPU power under Mac OS X, as is possible in Mac OS 9, making it difficult to provide peak performance on the same hardware. As a friend put it, when a company proudly told you they'd ported their program to Mac OS X, you felt like patting them on the head and saying, "Here's a cookie."
Don't take this as criticism of the developers - just getting programs ported to Mac OS X has been a Herculean task for many. Despite what Apple claimed when Mac OS X was first announced, the process of carbonizing an application isn't trivial, and a number of developers were griping about having to pay their programmers to debug Apple's code. Especially notable was the lack of a Carbon version of Adobe Photoshop, partially because it's such a necessity for the graphic design market and partially because Apple had trotted Adobe out at the WWDC announcement of Mac OS X nearly three years back to show how they'd ported much of Photoshop in a week. Ouch.
It also shouldn't be taken as more than constructive criticism of Apple. Apple doesn't want to make things difficult for developers - that's a losing strategy if ever there was one - but merging NeXTstep and the Mac OS and moving it forward in new ways has simply proved more difficult than Apple imagined. There have certainly been stupid decisions and ill-advised bits of inattention to important areas, but that's often just the cost of doing business in a project as large as Mac OS X. One ray of hope is the return of Bud Tribble as a vice president of Software Technology, reporting to Avie Tevanian. Bud Tribble is well known as the manager of the original Macintosh Software team, after which he helped found NeXT Computer, worked as chief technology officer for the Sun-Netscape Alliance, and was most recently vice president of Engineering for Eazel, Andy Hertzfeld's attempt to create an open source graphical interface for Linux.
In fact, all this is in large part why iPhoto is so important. It's not just a Mac-only application, it's a full-fledged Cocoa application that runs only under Mac OS X. In essence, you have Apple saying, "Well, if no one else is going to show off just how easy it is to write a Cocoa application that does new stuff, we'll just have to do it ourselves." iPhoto isn't just a decent little application with a few neat tricks, it's a good-enough-to-ship proof of concept, where the concept is that Mac developers will bring new functionality to the platform thanks to the wonders of Mac OS X. That's what I'm looking forward to for Macworld Expo New York next July.
Perhaps what I'm trying to tease out is the level to which Macworld Expo has become a networking event as much as a showcase of the latest technology. Numerous private parties supplanted the costly corporate events, resulting in smaller gatherings held in venues where conversation didn't require screaming to be heard over the band. Although we all go to Macworld Expo to see the latest new thing, this year's show gave us - and hopefully many others - the opportunity to look beyond the obvious and see where the full range of Mac companies is headed.
Article 5 of 5 in series
Although the pre-show hype always centers on Steve Jobs's keynote and Apple's announcements, Macworld Expo offers much more. We spend the rest of the week walking the show floor, talking to vendors and attendees, and generally keeping an eye out for what's exciting in the Mac worldShow full article
Although the pre-show hype always centers on Steve Jobs's keynote and Apple's announcements, Macworld Expo offers much more. We spend the rest of the week walking the show floor, talking to vendors and attendees, and generally keeping an eye out for what's exciting in the Mac world. Here's what we found this year.
Knob and a Button, Two Bits -- Everyone at Macworld Expo goes around asking others what they think is cool, and the award for the coolest product of the show has to go to the PowerMate, from Griffin Technologies. Also known as "that shiny knob," the $45 PowerMate is a round brushed aluminum USB device that you can turn (the knob part) and also press down (the button bit, just like a mouse button). What might you do with such a device? Just about anything you can imagine doing with a knob and a button, since you can configure them independently for different applications. In iTunes, for instance, you might turn the knob to adjust the volume and click the button to mute the sound when the phone rings. In iMovie, you could have the knob scrub the playhead left and right and have the button act like a normal mouse click. The PowerMate is just cool, and the coolness factor is enhanced by LEDs that make the base of the PowerMate glow blue. The software even has a checkbox to pulse the LEDs; when someone asked Griffin's Jason Litchford why it did that, he just grinned and said, "Because we could." (Also falling into the "Because we could" category was Griffin's bit of hacked hardware that plugged into an iPod's headphone jack and turned the iPod into an infrared remote control.) [ACE]
Got Any Spare Charge? A constant undercurrent of every Macworld is power: who has it, who needs it, and where you can get it. I'm not talking about Steve Jobs's here, but the battery life of portable electronics. With the Palm charger forgotten at home and the phone's bulky brick back in my hotel room, I ended up purchasing a $25 combination from ND Dimension, Inc. that included a USB charging cable and interchangeable adapters to feed power to my two devices from my PowerBook's battery. In addition to being a handy thing to carry around, a USB charging cable dramatically cuts down on the bulk of transporting power bricks. [JLC]
AirPorts Without Security -- Kudos to the Macworld Expo conference organizers for making it easy to open an iBook or PowerBook in numerous locations and hop on a public wireless network with high speed Internet access. AirPort Base Stations have been present at Macworld Expos before, but never with the near ubiquity of this year. And with the light weight of Apple's current portables, carrying a laptop all day at the show isn't the shoulder-breaking task it once was. None of the wireless networks Jeff and I found from the hotel room allowed access (though one network was gleefully named "Bring beer to room 1162 for password"). Instead, being able to connect to Jeff's MobileStar account using the wireless Internet access at a nearby Starbucks came close to making up for the loss of Metricom's wireless Ricochet network, which we've used at previous shows but which hasn't yet been restarted by Aerie Networks. [ACE]
No Need for a Peeler -- Perhaps you really liked Apple's bright splashes of color from a few years back and bemoan the current graphite, snow, and silver cases. Well, if you're a Power Mac G3 (Blue & White) or G4 owner, you don't have to look any further than AppleSkinz, which are airbrushed (for now, silk screening coming in the future) plastic panels that fit over the sides of your Power Mac to give it back some color (there's also a clear skin you can paint yourself). Numerous designs are available for $50 until the end of January; $70 after that (prices also vary based on design). The AppleSkinz require no modification of your Power Mac or tape that will mark the original sides. The latch is covered, but it's easy to pull the AppleSkinz cover off to access it when necessary. [ACE]
It's Backup Time! This award goes jointly to Apple Computer and Dantz Development for finally making it possible to back up and restore a Mac running Mac OS X. Until Mac OS X 10.1.2 came out, a variety of bugs and limitations in Mac OS X prevented Dantz from releasing a version of Retrospect that could completely restore a Mac OS X-based Mac to a bootable state (the same was reportedly true of the other Mac OS X backup programs, but 10.1.2 made it possible for them to restore completely as well). Retrospect 5.0 Preview is required - previous versions of Retrospect will never work properly with Mac OS X - but you can download it for free (the final version will be a paid upgrade due by March). Although the Retrospect 5.0 Preview runs only on Mac OS X 10.1.2, the final version will also run under Mac OS 9, so you won't have to upgrade backup servers to Mac OS X. [ACE]
Quick, Easy Backup -- The main backup news of the show may have been Dantz's Retrospect 5.0 Preview, but the backup product that demoed best was the Automatic Backup System (ABS) from CMS Peripherals. ABS is a small piece of software that watches your Mac's FireWire bus for the connection of the ABS hardware - essentially a standard 3.5-inch FireWire hard disk. Once the drive is connected, the ABS software kicks in and copies files from the internal hard disk to the ABS drive. You specify which files should be copied, and ABS is smart about copying only changed files, so it runs quickly. Restoration (which is the point of backup, remember) must be done manually in the Finder, although if you're backing up from Mac OS 9, you can also boot from the ABS drive. Restoration in Mac OS X is trickier - user-created files restore fine, but you can't restore an entire Mac OS X hard disk to a bootable state. Our take is that the ABS (and the ABSplus, which uses a 2.5-inch laptop hard disk and thus doesn't need external power) would be great for making quick copies of important files on a number of Macs, but they're not really suitable for a complete backup strategy. Prices vary depending on the size of the hard disk you buy, and unfortunately, you can't use the ABS software separately from the ABS drive even though there's no technical reason such a requirement should exist. [ACE]
Biggest Threat to Excel -- Mesa, from P & L Systems, is a $50 spreadsheet for Mac OS X, written in Cocoa. It's not a feature-complete clone of Excel, but it does imitate a good-sized chunk of Excel's core, and can import and export Excel documents; it even adds some formula functions that improve upon Excel. Now that Cocoa lets anyone write an application, perhaps we'll see a bit more competition for the ensconced industry behemoths. [MAN]
Is That a Mouse in Your Pocket? Although the trackpad on an iBook or PowerBook is perfectly adequate for manipulating your Mac, sometimes it's easier to use a mouse when you're on the go. For a while I toted Apple's thankfully banished puck-style mouse because it didn't take up much space in my bag. Now, however, I'm looking forward to carrying Kensington's Pocket Mouse Pro. It not only boasts a smaller overall size than most mice, it has two buttons, a scroll wheel, and optical tracking. I'd be happy with that combination, but a retractable USB cable (which fits inside the mouse body for storage) makes the Pocket Mouse Pro an essential addition to my PowerBook's carrying bag. [JLC]
Best New Utility -- WorkStrip, from Softchaos, is a $40 Control Strip replacement. It's a hierarchical menu that lets you navigate your hard drive, and a launcher which, for any application, lets you access recently opened documents. You can also construct "workspaces," sets of applications and documents to be launched together. WorkStrip is reminiscent of Now Menus and Action Menus, and there's not much here that couldn't be done with OneClick, but WorkStrip will soon do something none of those can do - run on Mac OS X (a preview release is already available). I can't wait. [MAN]
iPods Galore -- When Apple first introduced the iPod, we wondered whether the $400 price tag would keep people away from the extremely cool MP3 player (see "iPod Makes Music More Attractive" in TidBITS-603). Apparently not. In addition to the company's announcement of 125,000 units sold in its first 60 days, iPods were in generous supply among attendees at the show. The identifiable white earbuds seemed to be everywhere, much the way PalmPilots seemed to appear all at once several years ago. Vendors were conscious of this fact too. XtremeMac, MCE, and Other World Computing all offered a variety of iPod cases and adapters. iPods were also being sold at the show, if you could find them. When I inquired at one of the few retail companies in attendance, Unitek, I was told that a shipment of 72 iPods was due any minute via FedEx - which apparently sold out within an hour or so. Perhaps creating the best device in its class really does make a difference. [JLC]
Most Brilliantly Sneaky Hack - Jim Rea of ProVUE was demonstrating the Panorama iPod Organizer, which lets you use your iPod as a sort of lightweight read-only PDA. It exports a Panorama database as MP3 files. These contain no music; what's important is their names and ID3 tag information. The result is that after you sync your iPod, your database entries show up organized hierarchically within the Artists folder (e.g. Artists -> Family -> Sister, and within that are the actual music files whose names are my sister's phone number and address). For $20, it's a cheap way to look cool and reduce the number of digital devices you carry. [MAN]
Before You Ask... Working a booth at Macworld Expo is a grueling haul, and is made worse when you're one of those folks who is asked the same question constantly. Joe Kissell of Kensington added some levity to his booth shift by taping a piece of paper to his back which read, "YES! We are working on Keystroke Emulation for Mac OS X." Below that, in smaller letters, read, "YES! I know I have a sign taped to my back," and at the bottom, "(Yes, I know it looks silly.)" [JLC]
Best Toy - Remember how the old SuperPaint let you paint with really weird brushes, such as bubbles? The $40 GroBoto, from Braid Media Arts, propels that idea into the third dimension. As you move the mouse, elaborate abstract 3D drawings spring up like tentacles and fill the screen. Unlike traditional 3D programs, GroBoto is neither difficult nor slow; you make freeform 3D drawings instantly. That's because GroBoto's objects are made of pre-rendered elements, so the computer's chief worry is merely what's in front of what. At a higher level, you can assemble variations of a number of built-in 3D objects, animate them, and even construct little games and simulations using a Logo-like programming language. Enchanting, intriguing, and educational for kids of all ages - you simply must give the demo a try. [MAN]