Disinfect Your Keyboard
Keyboards, particularly those shared by multiple people, harbor huge quantities of bacteria. If you want to reduce the chances of picking up your co-worker's cold, you can disinfect your keyboard with disinfecting wipes. To avoid damage to the keyboard, be sure to:
- Unplug the keyboard before disinfecting it.
- Squeeze out any excess liquids from the cloth to avoid liquid dripping into the keyboard.
- Don't let any liquid from the wipe sit for long periods of time on the keyboard.
- Don't scrub the keyboard, just lightly wipe down. Rubbing too hard leaves behind more lint.
- Avoid cleansing cloths that contain bleach.
Visit Das Keyboard
Series: Macworld SF 2003
New PowerBooks, Airport Extreme, Safari, and iLife hilite upbeat Expo
Article 1 of 6 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Saying he had "two Macworld's worth of stuff for you today," Steve Jobs unveiled a host of new software (and hardware, covered elsewhere in this issue) offerings at his Macworld Expo San Francisco 2003 keynote addressShow full article
Saying he had "two Macworld's worth of stuff for you today," Steve Jobs unveiled a host of new software (and hardware, covered elsewhere in this issue) offerings at his Macworld Expo San Francisco 2003 keynote address. In fact, the sheer number of products prevents us from going into much detail about the software in this issue - look for more detailed analysis in upcoming editions of TidBITS.
iLife -- The digital hub remains a core Apple strategy, and the company has tightened the radius of its iApps by creating iLife, a bundle consisting of iTunes 3, iPhoto 2, iMovie 3, and iDVD 3. In addition to new features, these applications now integrate with each other - so iTunes playlists are available in iMovie, iPhoto albums are accessible in iDVD, etc. iPhoto 2 and iMovie 3 will be available 25-Jan-03 for free download (iTunes 3 is already available). Due to iDVD's size, it's not practical to make it available online, so on 25-Jan-03 Apple will start selling the entire iLife package on CD-ROM for $50.
Keynote -- Steve Jobs has always been noted for his showy keynote addresses; now he's revealed the application he used to create his sophisticated slide shows during 2002. Keynote is a presentation program which takes advantage of Mac OS X display technologies like Quartz and OpenGL to make sophisticated slide shows. It imports and exports from PowerPoint, making it an intriguing alternative to Microsoft's dominant presentation program (see "Apple Reduces Its Microsoft Dependency" elsewhere in this issue). Keynote is available now for $100.
Final Cut Express -- Apple also announced Final Cut Express, a slightly stripped-down version of its Final Cut Pro digital video editing application. Final Cut Express uses the same interface as Final Cut Pro and offers most of the pro-level non-linear editing, transitions, and real-time effects as its big brother at about one-third of the price. That makes it a good choice for someone who wants to produce projects more sophisticated than what iMovie can handle, but who doesn't need extensive image capture and export capabilities. Final Cut Express is available now for $300.
Safari Public Beta -- One of the most exciting announcements was Safari, Apple's home-grown Web browser. Built by some of the folks who develop Chimera for Mac OS X, Safari is a new Web browser based on the open source KHTML rendering engine. Apple intends it to be the fastest browser available on the Mac - and so far, they seem to be pulling it off - with easy-to-use features. Currently Safari is in public beta and available as a tiny 2.9 MB download. On 10-Jan-03, Apple released a v51 update, which is recommended for everyone who initially downloaded Safari in the first few days after release.
Article 2 of 6 in series
Amid rumors of video iPods and tablet Macs appearing during the Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs calmly introduced a pair of new PowerBook models that slot neatly into Apple's existing iBook and PowerBook linesShow full article
Amid rumors of video iPods and tablet Macs appearing during the Macworld Expo keynote address, Steve Jobs calmly introduced a pair of new PowerBook models that slot neatly into Apple's existing iBook and PowerBook lines. The most obvious distinction for the new machines is display size, and that's how Apple refers to them officially: the 12-inch PowerBook G4 and the 17-inch PowerBook G4. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 packs a lot of power into the smallest laptop Apple has ever made, and the 17-inch PowerBook G4 breaks new ground for the size of a screen in a laptop computer. Both PowerBooks support Apple's new 802.11g AirPort Extreme wireless networking; both also exclusively run Mac OS X and cannot boot into Mac OS 9 (though the Classic environment is still available to run Mac OS 9 applications).
Given Apple's penchant for differentiating the names of new Macs as little as possible, there was much talk at the show about what these new PowerBooks would end up being called. After all, many people refer to the Titanium PowerBook G4 as the TiBook, and Apple's parenthetical descriptors like Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors) are both awkward and hard to say (and as a wag at the Netters Dinner chided me when I said the entire name aloud, the parentheses are silent). So the attendees of the Netters Dinner voted the most popular name for the 17-inch PowerBook G4 as "Lunch Tray," with the 12-inch PowerBook G4's matching name being "Happy Meal." Despite the elegance of a matching set of names, I suspect many people will call the 12-inch PowerBook something based on "Mini Me," the character played by Verne Troyer in the Austin Powers movies. That comes thanks to Apple's hilarious TV ad for the new PowerBooks featuring the diminutive Troyer with Yao Ming, the 7-foot, 6-inch (2.3 m) center for basketball's Houston Rockets. We'll see what names actually catch on in common usage.
17-inch PowerBook G4 -- With the new 17-inch PowerBook, Apple broke new ground in laptop size. The 17-inch screen is reportedly the largest laptop screen ever, although at 1440 by 900 (the widescreen 16 by 10 aspect ratio), it can't claim the award for highest resolution, since some PC laptops have screens that run at 1600 by 1200. Kudos go to Apple's designers for implementing a counterweight in the hinge that makes the lid incredibly smooth to open and close. Despite the massive screen, Apple managed to keep the overall weight down to 6.8 pounds (3.1 kg). It's also the thinnest PowerBook yet, with a thickness of just under 1 inch (2.54 cm), which is slightly thinner than the existing Titanium PowerBook G4. Rounding out the dimensions, it's 15.4 inches (39.2 cm) wide and 10.2 inches (25.9 cm) deep.
Rather than rely on titanium for the new PowerBooks, Apple switched to an aircraft-grade anodized aluminum. Although I'm not enough of a metallurgist to verify this, Apple claims the anodized aluminum is lighter and stiffer than the titanium used in the TiBook. My reading of bicycle frame building discussions comparing aluminum and titanium agree that aluminum is lighter, but not generally stiffer. However, it's also clear from reading those discussions that specific design makes a huge difference in final stiffness. The aluminum isn't painted, which will please those people whose watches have scratched the titanium finish or whose hand oil has caused the TiBook's paint to bubble and peel.
Under the hood, the 17-inch PowerBook G4 offers a 1 GHz PowerPC G4 processor with 1 MB L3 cache, 512 MB of PC2700 DDR RAM (upgradable to 1 GB), a GeForce4 440 Go graphics processor with 64 MB VRAM, a 60 GB hard disk, a slot-loading SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R), two USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, a PC Card slot, audio line in, stereo speakers, a headphone jack, and an internal microphone. Video out is handled by S-video and DVI connectors, and Apple includes a DVI to VGA adapter. The 17-inch PowerBook G4 supports dual displays, and a new function key on the keyboard lets you switch easily between an extended desktop and mirrored displays. Despite the huge screen and fast processor, Apple claims users should see up to 4.5 hours of battery life with the new lithium-ion prismatic battery.
FireWire is also onboard, in the form of a standard FireWire 400 port and a new separate FireWire 800 port that runs at, you guessed it, 800 Mbps. FireWire 800 requires a new connector, but it's backward compatible with FireWire 400 if you use the adapter Apple provides. And speaking of ports, the two USB connections are smartly placed, one on each side of the base, making it easier for left-handed users (or anyone using extra USB devices such as video or audio editing controllers) to minimize cable clutter.
Also built in are not one, but two forms of wireless communication. Bluetooth is now standard for communicating with cell phones and other Bluetooth-capable devices. Then there's AirPort Extreme, an enhanced version of AirPort wireless networking. AirPort Extreme relies on the 802.11g draft standard to provide 54 Mbps of bandwidth when communicating with another AirPort Extreme device, while still maintaining full backward compatibility with 11 Mbps (802.11b) AirPort devices. In a bit of good news for frustrated TiBook users looking to upgrade, Apple moved the antennas (which are used by both AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth, with some clever switching to make sure they don't interfere with one another) from the base to the upper edges of the screen. Apple claims that reception should be as good as with the recent iBook models, which provide better reception than any other machine I've seen.
Lastly, Apple upped the cool factor of the 17-inch PowerBook by adding a fiber optic system that illuminates the keyboard from underneath, with the light shining through laser-etched keycaps. That's neat, but what's even neater is that it's controlled by an ambient light sensor that automatically raises the level of backlight as the room light goes down. The ambient light sensor also automatically adjusts the screen brightness, although you can control both manually from the keyboard as well. People who regularly work in dim environments are sure to find this particularly useful.
The 17-inch PowerBook G4 will be available in February (though Apple's online store currently lists a 7 to 10 week estimated shipping timeline) for $3,300, and short of paying $300 more to add another 512 MB of RAM, there aren't any other options. It comes with a free copy of Intuit's QuickBooks for Mac New User Edition.
I'll be interested to see how the 17-inch PowerBook sells. Although the price is reasonable, the feature set is extremely good, and the screen is stupendous, it has one problem: it's big. Really big. Almost without exception, everyone I talked with at the show felt it was too big to be used as a general laptop computer, although it would be ideal for someone who merely needs a portable computer that can be moved from desk to desk. Though it's only very slightly taller than the TiBook thanks to a clever screen hinge, it's awfully wide, and I can't imagine using it in coach on most airplanes. It won't fit in many PowerBook bags, but the Apple Online Store offers two optional Brenthaven cases that are designed to hold it (and other bag manufacturers have already started working up new designs). When I asked about the size issue, Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of hardware products, shrugged and said, "That's what they said about the Titanium PowerBook G4 when it came out, too." For Apple's sake, I hope he's right, since it's one heck of a cool machine, and there will be people for whom it is utterly perfect.
12-inch PowerBook G4 -- It was the biggest of PowerBooks, it was the smallest of PowerBooks. With apologies to Charles Dickens, that's how the keynote felt, since after introducing the big-screen 17-inch PowerBook G4, Steve Jobs reversed gears and showed off the svelte 12-inch PowerBook G4.
It shares an anodized aluminum case with the 17-inch PowerBook G4, but with a 12.1-inch screen running at 1024 by 768, the new PowerBook has more in common with the 12-inch iBook. It's even smaller than the iBook in every way, measuring only 1.2 inches (3.0 cm) high, 10.9 inches (27.7 cm) wide, 8.6 inches (21.8 cm) deep, and weighing in at 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg). Both the PowerBook Duo and PowerBook 2400 are slightly smaller than the 12-inch PowerBook G4 in one or two dimensions, but not in all three or in overall volume.
But where the iBook has been slowed by its reliance on the PowerPC G3, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 uses an 867 MHz PowerPC G4. To that it adds 256 MB of PC2100 DDR RAM (expandable to 640 MB), a 40 GB hard disk (add $50 for a 60 GB disk) a GeForce4 420 Go graphics processor with 32 MB VRAM and dual display support, a slot-loading Combo drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM), VGA and S-video out (both via an adapter), a FireWire 400 port, two USB ports, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, along with stereo speakers (and a third mid-range speaker embedded in the bottom of the base), audio line in, headphone output, and an internal microphone. On the wireless front, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 boasts built-in Bluetooth support as well as a slot for an optional $100 AirPort Extreme card. The antennas are in the screen again, and Apple claims it should match the iBook's wireless range. Apple also says the 12-inch PowerBook G4 gets up to 5 hours of battery life from a lithium-ion battery.
The 12-inch PowerBook G4 should be available in about two weeks with prices starting at $1,800; for an extra $200, you can replace the Combo drive with a SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R). It currently ships with a copy of Intuit's QuickBooks. Unfortunately, the 12-inch PowerBook lacks the ambient light sensor and fiber optic keyboard backlight of the 17-inch PowerBook G4.
While I'm unsure about how well the 17-inch model will do, I have few doubts about the 12-inch model, since there are many people for whom the TiBook was too large and expensive, but the iBook suffered from lack of both performance and dual display support. Adding Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme merely sweetens the deal. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 is, quite simply, the perfect travelling laptop for a serious Mac user. And I want one.
A Step Back -- All that said, you may have noticed a few annoying limitations in the 12-inch PowerBook G4. Although 640 MB of RAM is enough, many people would like to install more. A PC Card slot might be nice, and a backlit keyboard would be welcome. It also has only VGA out instead of DVI, FireWire 400 rather than FireWire 800, and 10/100 Mbps Ethernet rather than Gigabit Ethernet. Why the limitations? Though space and power are undoubtedly tight in such a small machine, Apple was careful to provide a rational way for people to choose among Apple's iBook and PowerBook models, and the company didn't want the 12-inch PowerBook G4 to eclipse the larger and more expensive PowerBooks (the 15-inch Titanium models are still offered, and now represent the mid-range of the PowerBook line). Apple's pricing ramps up smoothly, as you can see in the list below:
- $1,000: 12-inch iBook (CD-ROM, 700 MHz)
- $1,300: 12-inch iBook (Combo, 800 MHz)
- $1,500: 14-inch iBook (basic config)
- $1,750: 14-inch iBook (more RAM and hard disk)
- $1,800: 12-inch PowerBook G4 (Combo drive)
- $2,000: 12-inch PowerBook G4 (SuperDrive)
- $2,300: 15-inch Titanium PowerBook G4 (Combo drive, 867 MHz)
- $2,800: 15-inch Titanium PowerBook G4 (SuperDrive, 1 GHz)
- $3,300: 17-inch PowerBook G4 (SuperDrive, 1 GHz)
The feature set of each machine follows along with the price, making it easy to determine which laptop is right for you. Apple is clearly taking portables seriously, and Steve Jobs said that the company believes that someday portables will outsell desktops. Currently, about a third of Apple's Macintosh sales go to notebooks, compared with less than a quarter of sales industry-wide.
Keep this product line ramp up in mind as you imagine what the future might bring. I could see Apple releasing a 15-inch PowerBook G4 using the anodized aluminum case of the new PowerBooks, particularly if the current TiBook continues to meet the needs of many new customers. I also think a G4-based iBook might be in the offing, but only if the total package doesn't impinge on the PowerBook line.
Article 3 of 6 in series
As is becoming increasingly common at Macworld Expo, Apple dominated attendees' attention by introducing a wide-ranging set of new hardware and software productsShow full article
As is becoming increasingly common at Macworld Expo, Apple dominated attendees' attention by introducing a wide-ranging set of new hardware and software products. The new 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks, the speedy 802.11g-based AirPort Extreme, significant updates to three of the four iApps, three new major applications in Safari, Keynote, and Final Cut Express... the rapid-fire of announcements had journalists scribbling madly through Steve Jobs's two-hour keynote presentation.
But, as interesting and important as most of the announcements were, the release of the Safari Web browser and the Keynote presentation program offer the first major public look at what has been one of Apple's main goals of late: to reduce the company's dependence on Microsoft for essential productivity software. The task is by no means done, so look for future moves to complete the task of making Microsoft's software excellent alternatives, rather than the sole choices in any given field.
Past Efforts -- When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, a five-year agreement was made between the companies, requiring Microsoft to continue producing Macintosh software, in exchange for which Apple would bundle Microsoft software - Outlook Express and Internet Explorer - with the Mac OS. That agreement is over now and won't be renewed, but Apple has been working for some time to wean itself from Microsoft, a move that's not only in Apple's best interests, but which may also benefit Microsoft by giving the company's Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) some much-needed competition.
Though Apple didn't make much of it at the time, the inclusion of Mail with Mac OS X was the first step in this strategy, enabling Apple to drop Microsoft's Outlook Express, which had been bundled previously. More recent public hints came with Apple's unveiling of iChat in May of 2002, since iChat specifically offered compatibility with AOL Instant Messenger, rather than Microsoft's MSN Messenger. Then, although it wasn't blatant, Apple's system-wide Address Book and the release of iCal meant that Apple had duplicated most of the basic features of Entourage X. The public problems became more obvious after Microsoft complained about how Office X wasn't selling well enough because Apple wasn't helping to market it.
Big Game with Safari -- Once the cracks began to show, it became clear that Internet Explorer would be Apple's first target. Internet Explorer's favored position on the Dock made it the only non-Apple program to receive such treatment, and given the undeniable importance of a Web browser in today's computing world, Apple simply had to reclaim that spot.
Conceivably, Apple could have purchased one of the smaller browsers, such as OmniWeb or iCab, but the company has avoided that approach with the iApps after turning Casady & Greene's SoundJam into iTunes. In particular, Apple chose to develop iPhoto and iCal in house, even though there were plenty of decent programs that Apple could have bought to kick start the development effort. Part of that is undoubtedly Apple's desire to show how quickly Cocoa applications can be developed from scratch; there's probably some of the old "Not Invented Here" syndrome in play as well, although there are good reasons to write software yourself, as you can read in the "Joel on Software" article linked below.
So Apple set out to create their own browser, hiring a Netscape developer who was also working on the open source browser Chimera. That led to assumptions that Apple would use the open source Gecko HTML rendering engine that's behind all of the Netscape-derived browsers (Netscape, Mozilla, and Chimera), but those assumptions proved false when Steve Jobs announced that Apple had instead chosen the open source KHTML engine, reportedly because KHTML is significantly faster than Gecko and has about seven times fewer lines of code. Whatever the under-the-hood details, Safari looks to be a good, if not yet great, Web browser, and we hope Apple will continue to use it to push the browser paradigm forward.
Does the release of Safari change the Web browser landscape? Yes, since it will overnight become one of the primary Web browsers on the Internet, and anyone writing HTML must test against Safari along with all the other heavily used browsers. But overall, I don't think Mac users will find the change all that unsettling. Until Safari, Internet Explorer was the dominant browser, and all the rest (Netscape, Mozilla, Chimera, iCab, OmniWeb, and Opera) were used by people for whom Internet Explorer wasn't quite right. I suspect Safari will replace Internet Explorer, not just on the Dock, but also as the dominant Macintosh Web browser, and Internet Explorer will join the others as a browser of choice for those who eschew the status quo.
Selling the Keynote -- If the release of Safari was not unexpected, the appearance of Keynote was an almost complete surprise. Perhaps PowerPoint experts had been wondering about some of the effects in Steve Jobs's Macworld Expo keynotes in 2002, all of which relied on pre-release versions of Keynote, but if there was any such speculation, I never heard it. I had been thinking privately that Apple might be working to beef up AppleWorks so it could give Microsoft Office X some competition, but since AppleWorks doesn't include presentation software, I wasn't thinking in those terms.
In retrospect, though, a cutting-out expedition to separate the weakest member of the Office suite from the herd makes total sense. Excel occupies an extremely solid position, since it's incredibly mature and Excel spreadsheets are required for the day-to-day functioning of innumerable businesses. Word's position is also rather secure, thanks to the need for people to exchange Word documents among Macintosh and Windows users and to import them into layout programs. Word is more vulnerable than Excel, though, because many people find the program's features - even essential ones such as version tracking and comments - ungainly and awkward. As much as Word is currently an essential application for vast numbers of people, a competitor that read and wrote Word format files perfectly would have a chance of supplanting it.
With Mail, Address Book, and iCal already offering an alternative to Entourage, PowerPoint made sense as the next target for Apple. With the exception of a few programs like ConceptDraw Presenter from small companies, PowerPoint hasn't had any real competition since the demise of Aldus Persuasion in the mid-1990s. Although PowerPoint isn't a bad program, it had become the dominant presentation program more through its inclusion in the Office suite than its incomparable feature set or overwhelming ease of use. PowerPoint's file compatibility is important, but not nearly as much as with Word, and it doesn't fill the day-to-day role of Excel in running a business.
Hence Keynote. Although I'm not qualified to compare it to PowerPoint on a feature-by-feature basis, it looks as though it will be highly credible competition. Not surprisingly, Apple focused on helping users make visually arresting presentations with Keynote, but in a forward-thinking move, Keynote's file format uses XML (eXtensible Markup Language). Since XML files are merely structured text files, other programs will be able to write out Keynote files, thus making it possible to create automatic presentations based, for instance, on daily sales data. Plus, Apple enabled Keynote to import and export PowerPoint files, a capability that should address many file compatibility concerns (reportedly, QuickTime movies in PowerPoint presentations must be moved over manually).
Unlike the free Safari and iApps, Keynote costs $100, and thus will not automatically take over as the Macintosh presentation software of choice. But the buzz about it at Macworld Expo was positive, and if nothing else, it should serve as a wakeup call to the PowerPoint team that they need to innovate or risk losing the Macintosh platform.
How Should Microsoft Respond? While not declaring war, Apple has certainly thrown down the gauntlet, and it remains to be seen how Microsoft will respond. Microsoft's MacBU has been flailing since the release of Office X in October of 2001. The more recent departure of MacBU general manager Kevin Browne emphasized the group's confusion and underscored the importance of Apple reducing its dependency on Microsoft for essential software.
Apple must extricate itself from this too-close relationship with Microsoft carefully. Were Microsoft to become too angry about how Apple was portraying the company and its products, it's not inconceivable that Microsoft would dissolve the MacBU (which probably doesn't contribute that much to Microsoft's bottom line) and stop producing Macintosh software entirely. Such a move could still be disastrous for Apple, given the essential roles that Word and Excel play in business, government, and academia. However, I expect better from Microsoft, particularly since the company has long utilized the same strategy in the Windows market that Apple is following in the Macintosh market. What's good for the goose...
Aside from the problem of being beholden to a company that is essentially your primary competition, the other reason it makes sense for Apple to lessen its dependency on Microsoft is that Microsoft hasn't been delivering of late. It's been 14 months since the release of Office X, and although carbonization of the four programs in the Office suite was an admittedly huge undertaking, Office X has few new features over Office 2001, released 13 months earlier. And Internet Explorer hasn't seen a major update since March of 2000, thanks in part to being left without a development team for long periods of time.
Sadly, a renewed sense of purpose at Microsoft, if it's indeed happening internally, hasn't yet bubbled to the surface. In our briefing with Microsoft, the only new thing they showed was MSN for Mac OS X, a novice-level Internet service that, short of some moderately interesting parental controls, was basically a yawn. But even MSN for Mac OS X was exciting compared to the rest of Microsoft's limp announcements - the extension of a discount on Office X for new Mac buyers, the release of Entourage X on its own for $100, and the bundling of the Office X Test Drive with all new Macs (in which you can see Apple trying to let Microsoft down gently). My questions about whether we'd see a new version of Office X in 2003 were ducked, and no one would venture a comment on Safari or Keynote.
Call me an optimist, but I hope that Apple reducing its dependency on Microsoft will motivate Microsoft to take renewed interest in moving Office X and Internet Explorer forward in interesting and innovative ways. Competition is a good thing, and Microsoft hasn't had nearly enough of it lately.
Article 4 of 6 in series
Every year I worry that Macworld Expo will somehow fall flat, that there won't be many exhibitors, that no one will come, that there won't be anything that's even moderately interestingShow full article
Every year I worry that Macworld Expo will somehow fall flat, that there won't be many exhibitors, that no one will come, that there won't be anything that's even moderately interesting. But every year, it seems, my fears are unfounded, and the Expo ends up showcasing an enthused community of innovative developers and committed users. This year was no exception, with over 330 vendors displaying their wares to more than 90,000 attendees. Never mind that the active show floor space was significantly smaller than in previous years or that IDG World Expo was giving free passes out like they were candy - without exception, all the attendees I talked to were upbeat, and the vendors were all happy about traffic and sales.
This was by far the busiest Macworld Expo I've ever had personally, thanks to 12 signings, interviews, and appearances over 4 days (including a quick bit on TechTV, which you can watch at the link below if you missed it live), not to mention a variety of press briefings and other meetings. Harried though I was, I had a great time and managed to see the entire show floor, where the Macintosh development community was demoing the latest and greatest. Without further ado, then, here are some of my superlatives from the show, mixed in with those from the rest of the TidBITS staff in attendance: Jeff Carlson, Matt Neuburg, and Mark Anbinder. Due to issue size restrictions, look for even more superlatives in next week's TidBITS. As always, thanks, guys!
Cheapest AirPort Range Extender -- It takes two to tango with wireless networking, and one way to improve your laptop's signal strength is to move your AirPort Base Station to a more central location. If you've avoided doing so because there's no electrical power near that ideal spot, MacWireless has a solution for you. The MacWireless Power Over Ethernet product consists of a pair of adapters that send power over unused pairs of wires in the Ethernet cable that connects your AirPort Base Station to the rest of your network. It's only $30 and should be shipping in a few weeks. [ACE]
Goin' on an iTrip -- Griffin Technology is starting to make a tradition of showing up at Macworld Expo with a hand-assembled pre-production device of some sort. This year's goodie, available in a few months, is the iTrip, an FM transmitter for the iPod. With the iTrip plugged into the top of your iPod, you can transmit music to any FM stereo (great for cars with no other audio input). Unlike other FM transmitters, the iTrip can use any frequency on the FM radio spectrum, controlled via software installed on the iPod, and it doesn't require an additional battery. The $35 iTrip can even sit perpendicular to the iPod if you need access to the FireWire port for charging. [JLC]
Best Addition to Your Stereo -- This award is shared by the HomePod, from Gloo Labs, and the SliMP3 from Slim Devices. The SliMP3 is an MP3 player that streams music from your computer over Ethernet straight to your stereo. It's a great way to direct those MP3s to a sound system that offers higher quality than tinny computer speakers. The SliMP3 is available now for $250 and requires that you plug it into your Ethernet network. But what if you can't easily run Ethernet cable to your Mac? You could attach a wireless bridge like the $100 Linksys WET11 to the SliMP3, but that's more expensive than buying a $200 HomePod, another MP3 player that communicates via an 802.11b wireless network rather than Ethernet (and in the process, makes true my first prediction for 2003 from "Back to 2002, Forward to 2003" in TidBITS-661). The HomePod is scheduled to ship in March and will be sold by MacSense. Both MP3 players offer remote controls, both can be controlled from a computer, and both have open-source platforms for developers to extend. Some differences though (as far as we can tell): the HomePod has a FireWire port for adding a hard drive or perhaps an iPod; the SliMP3 supports Internet radio; and the SliMP3 uses a bright front-mounted fluorescent display whereas the HomePod has a top-mounted LCD display. They're both way cool. [ACE]
Most Ingenious Use of Built-In Technology -- When I first heard that Riccardo Ettore had ported his popular TypeIt4Me utility to Mac OS X, my reaction was: "No way!" After all, TypeIt4Me is a control panel that hacks into the system to watch everything you type into any application, looking for abbreviations you've set up, and, when you type one, expanding it into its full form like some ghostly typist inside the computer. But on Mac OS X there are no control panels and no hacking into the system is allowed, so how could TypeIt4Me possibly work there? What I forgot, though, was that Mac OS X already has a technology that can watch everything you type and replace some characters with others - the Input Manager, which is used to implement "input methods." That's how you type Japanese and other Unicode characters, after all. So TypeIt4Me is implemented as an input method. To use it, just choose it from the keyboard menu, after which it watches you type, expanding abbreviations as necessary (an extra menu icon lets you access configuration windows). It's brilliant in its simplicity, and it works remarkably well. If you use any kind of boilerplate text that you'd prefer not to have to type manually every time (your phone number, your address, etc.), TypeIt4Me is a great way to store and access it. [MAN]
Best Windows at Macworld Expo -- You thought I was going to mention Connectix's Virtual PC 6.0 (now with a 6.0.1 update that's especially useful for those with PowerPC G3-based Macs) here, didn't you? But no, not this time, because this superlative goes to Andersen Windows, which had a good-sized booth at Macworld Expo showing off their windows (the glass variety) and doors. There are always a few non sequitur booths on the show floor, such as the perennially ignored IRS table (Free audits! Step right up!), but none so completely inexplicable as Andersen Windows. At least they had the humor to display a hand-lettered sign saying, "The best windows for Mac users." [ACE]
Nichiest Niche-Market Device -- The iGo is a desk, of sorts, that's useful only if you have one of the new iMacs, no need for a writing surface, and a retro interior decorating scheme. You know how the iMac's base is the top half of a sphere; now imagine the bottom half of that sphere, with four huge chrome legs and a flat plank attached to the front two legs. The iMac sits on the half-sphere, and the keyboard and mouse go on the plank (with no room for anything else). It makes a statement, but could you really get any work done? And does it really match your furniture, your wallpaper, and your nightgown? I predict that ten of these will be sold nationwide; on the other hand, I also predicted that the Internet would flop, so there's always hope. [MAN]
Worst Outfit -- Over the years, the use of scantily clad women to attract expo-goers into booths has almost entirely fallen by the wayside. Although we're happy to see such a crass strategy disappear, we think those women would have felt a lot better about the job if they'd seen Microsoft's MSN butterfly guy prancing around in his multicolored leotard and wings, as you can see in our picture linked below. We also spotted him when he was grabbing a bite to eat, and he didn't look at all comfortable. Maybe he was just pining for some nectar. [MHA]
Best Booth Under the Stars -- Most booths are either bare-bones functional or attractively designed, but our favorite booth used its product to full effect. The Starry Night booth featured a SciDome portable planetarium, where you could sit and gaze at the astronomy software projected onto the curved firmament above your head. It wasn't just an excellent way to showcase the program - we liked to pop in occasionally to rest from Moscone's fluorescent rays. Check out our picture below. [JLC]
PALling around with a DVR -- Never let it be said that we don't try to expand beyond our American parochialism. This announcement may not have made headlines in the U.S., but we're sure it will be a huge hit with many of our international readers. At Macworld Expo, El Gato Software released a PAL and SECAM version of EyeTV, the digital video recording hardware and software package for the Mac (think of it as TiVo for the Mac). PAL versions of EyeTV should be available in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK by the end of January, and Mac users in other European countries should be able to buy it soon thereafter. The initial European version will not include support for an electronic program guide, which will be added on a country-by-country basis (engineers are already working on electronic program guide integration in the UK, Italy, and Germany). Plus, El Gato encourages Mac programmers to add program guide support to the EyeTV, much as Karelia's Watson does in the U.S. Although the PAL versions of EyeTV aren't yet available (and haven't yet been tested) in Australia, South America, Asia, and Africa, El Gato is working on the necessary distribution agreements. [ACE]
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Article 5 of 6 in series
Apple led the drive to offer Wi-Fi wireless networking equipment at reasonable prices to consumers way back in 1999, but the company's gateway product, the AirPort Base Station, had started to look under-featured and overpriced even by late 2001 - especially for broadband users who didn't need its built-in modem. But Apple stayed the course: $300 for the AirPort Base Station and $100 for the proprietary AirPort card that inserted into a special PC Card-like slot in every model of the MacintoshShow full article
Apple led the drive to offer Wi-Fi wireless networking equipment at reasonable prices to consumers way back in 1999, but the company's gateway product, the AirPort Base Station, had started to look under-featured and overpriced even by late 2001 - especially for broadband users who didn't need its built-in modem.
But Apple stayed the course: $300 for the AirPort Base Station and $100 for the proprietary AirPort card that inserted into a special PC Card-like slot in every model of the Macintosh. Because many Mac models over the last three years lack PC Card and PCI slots - notably, the iMac, eMac, Cube, and iBook - the AirPort slot was for a long time the only reasonable option for adding wireless access for under $150.
At this month's Macworld Expo, Apple not only caught up with but exceeded the rest of the wireless world by announcing AirPort Extreme. The AirPort Extreme products rely on a draft version of the IEEE 802.11g specification, which uses the 2.4 GHz radio spectrum band just like 802.11b, is completely backwards compatible with 802.11b, and operates at up to 54 Mbps.
In this article, which we're also publishing as an addendum to our recently released book, The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, we discuss compatibility issues with 802.11g and AirPort Extreme and run through the equipment's specifications. Later in this section, we note the other makers of 802.11g equipment, including Linksys, Belkin, and D-Link, and survey their initial product offerings and pricing. We've also started tracking Mac-related wireless news on a new weblog hosted at the book's Web site; stop by regularly (or add its RSS feed to your favorite headline watcher) if you're interested in what's up with AirPort and AirPort Extreme.
Forward and Backward Compatibility -- The 802.11g specification uses a relatively new method of encoding bits onto radio waves in such a way as to squeeze up to 54 Mbps of raw data across a single channel. As is the case with most theoretical network throughputs, the net throughput of real data - the actual contents of files or transactions - provides somewhere between 20 and 30 Mbps. In contrast, 802.11b's 11 Mbps raw throughput generally translated to 4 to 6 Mbps at best, and it isn't uncommon to drop below that as distance from the base station increases.
802.11g is attractive because it includes full backwards compatibility with 802.11b. This compatibility isn't optional for manufacturers, but rather is a mandatory part of the spec. 802.11g also has several intermediate steps for speed, so you don't just drop from 54 Mbps all the way down to 11 Mbps.
One of 802.11g's big advantages over 802.11b is that it better handles the inevitable signal reflection. Radio signals bounce off different pieces of matter - floors, metal, even the air around you - at different angles and speeds. A receiver must reconcile all the different reflections of the same signal that arrive at slightly different times into a single set of data. 802.11g (like 802.11a) slices up the spectrum in a way that enables receivers to handle these reflections in a simpler but more effective way than 802.11b.
Despite Steve Jobs's confident declaration in the Macworld Expo keynote that 802.11g is a "standard," the current specification has not been finalized and ratified by the IEEE, the engineering group that develops new standards. Ratification should happen relatively soon, almost certainly by the end of 2003. Until then, the 802.11g "standard," remains in draft form, although that hasn't stopped several chip manufacturers from shipping the silicon necessary to implement the current draft of 802.11g. (Apple's Web site now calls 802.11g a draft, reflecting reality.)
Also note that the Wi-Fi Alliance hasn't included 802.11g as part of its certification suite. The Wi-Fi Alliance tests equipment to make sure it works according to spec and is interoperable with all other certified equipment; if so, the maker is allowed to use the Wi-Fi logo. Until 802.11g is finished, the Wi-Fi Alliance has no way of guaranteeing that different 802.11g devices will work with one another, meaning that it will likely be some time after ratification that the Wi-Fi Alliance considers adding 802.11g to the Wi-Fi certification suite. Some of our sources speculate that a testing program could be in place as early as summer, but final certification almost certainly wouldn't start until at least late 2003.
That's not to imply that compatibility is likely to be a major problem. Manufacturers have significant motivation to maintain compatibility with other makers. No one wants to sell equipment that won't play nice with others, because to do so would undermine confidence in the entire technology. In the worst case, unless a piece of hardware is designed extremely poorly, two incompatible 802.11g devices should be able to talk at 802.11b speeds.
Compatibility problems are particularly unlikely among different devices from the same manufacturer. Apple AirPort Extreme Base Stations will happily communicate with AirPort and AirPort Extreme cards, for instance. However, good compatibility likely goes farther. Apple's equipment relies on chips from Broadcom, as does 802.11g gear from Linksys. For that reason, and because Apple and Linksys have brought the first 802.11g devices to market, it's likely that Apple and Linksys equipment will be compatible. In addition, later equipment makers will have to meet Broadcom's specs rather than vice-versa. Sometimes standards are set merely by shipping the most devices.
One way or another, compatibility will not be an issue in the long run, whether you buy hardware now or later. Apple has promised firmware upgrades as the standard stabilizes, and Apple has done a good job thus far providing these kinds of updates to the older AirPort equipment.
On a related front, Apple hasn't committed to or rejected support for WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), the security update that fixes encryption problems and removes complexity from securing local wireless network connections. Apple said that they will monitor whether WPA becomes widely adopted and evaluate their response based on usage. Again, if Apple were to support WPA, that support would appear in the form of a free firmware update. Meanwhile, many other vendors are already promising WPA support. For instance, D-Link says their new 802.11g devices will support WPA with a firmware upgrade by the second quarter of the year.
Is 802.11a Dead? Apple has chosen to not support the existing 802.11a specification as part of AirPort Extreme. 802.11a operates in the 5 GHz band and its use of a different frequency means that it is not backwards compatible with 802.11b. Several companies offer dual-band 2.4/5 GHz radios now, but that approach increases cost and complexity.
Because of this lack of compatibility with millions of 802.11b devices currently in use, Steve Jobs said that 802.11a is doomed to failure. However, it's more appropriate to say that 802.11a is now relegated to niche status for particular purposes, such as dense installations in corporations, server room backup links, or high-speed point-to-point bridges.
Because 802.11a has 12 distinct channels that can be used without interference in the same place, it offers an advantage for scenarios in which avoiding interference is important. Likewise, the four channels reserved in the upper end of the 5 GHz band for 802.11a outdoor, point-to-point use can employ higher power levels, which may provide a better throughput than 802.11g in the same circumstances.
AirPort Extreme Base Station -- Apple offers two different AirPort Extreme Base Station models, priced at $200 and $250. Both units have 10/100 Mbps WAN and LAN ports, sport a USB port for printer sharing (but not spooling), and can bridge to other AirPort Extreme Base Stations, acting as an access point and a bridge simultaneously. The $250 unit also includes a 56K modem and a jack for an external antenna.
The 10/100 Mbps bump up in speed on the WAN port recognizes that some users might be hooking into wide-area networks or broadband connections that provide more than 10 Mbps of bandwidth (that's unfortunately not true for us, so we can't test that feature). If you're only running a 10 Mbps wired Ethernet, it might also be time to upgrade to 10/100 Mbps switches if you're also installing AirPort Extreme equipment to take full advantage of the intra-network speed. Do note that AirPort Extreme won't help your Internet use at all, since almost all Internet connections are far slower than even 802.11b's realistic 4 to 6 Mbps.
The addition of USB printer sharing enables a network of Macs to share a printer without connecting the printer to a Mac which must be turned on whenever anyone wants to print. However, the printer itself must be turned on: Apple confirmed that this feature is indeed "printer sharing," which makes it seem just like the printer is connected to each machine, rather than "printer spooling," in which print jobs are sent to the print spooler, stored in a file, and then printed out whenever the printer becomes available. (Adam absolutely adores print spooling because his printer is seldom on, and whenever he turns it on, his AppleShare IP-based print spooler immediately prints all the waiting print jobs.)
In the past, adding an external antenna to an AirPort Base Station required serious surgery that made a mockery of your warranty and required significant manual dexterity. Now, with the $250 model of the AirPort Extreme Base Station, you can simply plug an external antenna into the Apple-proprietary antenna jack.
Don't blame Apple for yet another proprietary jack - the FCC mandates that any wireless networking equipment that can take an antenna must feature a hard-to-find connector. That's because the FCC doesn't want just anyone attaching uncertified antennas that could spew more than the legal amount of signal. (An uncertified antenna is anything that the manufacturer didn't have the FCC test with a given wireless gateway or card.)
You'll be able to buy two external antennas for the AirPort Extreme Base Station. Both initial models are made and marketed by veteran Mac firm Dr. Bott. Apple said that they didn't want to get into the antenna business, but Apple is having the entire $250 AirPort Extreme Base Station plus Dr. Bott antenna system certified by the FCC. (Companies pay a separate fee for each certification - which may account for part of why the cheaper AirPort Extreme Base Station doesn't have an external antenna jack.)
The Dr. Bott ExtendAIR Omni ($100) is a 3.5 dBi omnidirectional antenna suitable for extending the range of an AirPort Extreme Base Station in a 360-degree spread; the ExtendAIR Direct ($150) is a 6.5 dBi 70-degree directional antenna. (For more on adding antennas to access points for extending range, read Chapter 8, "Going the Distance," in The Wireless Networking Starter Kit.)
Although you can still use the 56 Kbps modem (V.90, not V.92, unfortunately; see Kevin Savetz's articles on V.92 linked below) to connect via a dialup Internet connection, you might still want the modem-equipped version of the AirPort Extreme Base Station even if you have a broadband connection to the Internet. That's because the AirPort Extreme Base Station also supports PPP dial-in connections. Forget a file while you're traveling? As long as your Mac is turned on and has file sharing enabled, you can use your laptop's modem to dial up your AirPort Extreme Base Station and retrieve that file. Exactly how this feature will work won't be clear until we can test the hardware, but it could be a welcome addition. (Of course, this assumes a phone line dedicated to incoming data calls.)
The AirPort Extreme Base Station's bridge feature is unique for equipment in this price range. It enables you to extend the range of a network without wires. Just buy two AirPort Extreme Base Stations, connect one to your Internet connection, and set the other to work in bridge mode. The bridge unit connects to the master AirPort Extreme Base Station and acts as an access point for computers within range. In the past, you would have had to spend well over $500 to buy a single device that could act as an access point and bridge simultaneously, or combine separate pieces of equipment like the Linksys WAP11 and WET11 to achieve the same effect. (See pages 152 to 160 in The Wireless Networking Starter Kit for more on how wireless bridging works.)
Remember that even if you don't have a single AirPort Extreme card or 802.11g adapter on your network, two AirPort Extreme Base Stations can connect to each other at the full 54 Mbps raw speed of 802.11g. If your wired network runs at 100 Mbps, the high-speed bridging is another reason for the 10/100 Mbps WAN port on the new units.
With AirPort Extreme Base Stations, you could locate islands of wired and wireless access in various locations without running wire among those islands. This could allow you to create larger coverage area or connect neighboring buildings or homes.
Although the AirPort Extreme Base Station bridging works with up to four units at once, you reportedly cannot daisy chain the AirPort Extreme Base Stations in bridging mode; all the bridged units must each connect back to the master unit. In more extensive installations, you could run Ethernet among several master AirPort Extreme Base Stations and still use bridging on the edges of the network.
AirPort Extreme Card -- The new AirPort Extreme Card is based on the mini-PCI Card form factor, and has a new shape and connector. The card is built into every 17-inch PowerBook G4, and is a user-expandable or build-to-order option with the 12-inch PowerBook G4. (Both PowerBooks were announced at the same time as AirPort Extreme.)
These two PowerBook models also have built-in Bluetooth and a pair of antennas. Apple said the two antennas reconfigure themselves dynamically to provide either antenna diversity for better reception of Wi-Fi or 802.11g signals, or for one antenna to be dedicated to Bluetooth and the other to 802.11 depending on what's needed.
The antenna redesign also solves a problem inherent in the Titanium PowerBook G4 design which restricted the signal strength entering and leaving the computer. In the new PowerBook G4 aluminum case design, the antennas are located at the top of both sides of the LCD display with rubber seals providing radio "transparency."
Will there be an upgraded AirPort Extreme card for older Macs? The answer is a firm no. Greg Joswiak, Apple's VP of hardware products, confirmed for us that the older AirPort card relied on a too-slow bus, or communications channel, inside each Mac. This slow bus can't operate at the speed required by 802.11g, thus making it impossible to revise the card or plug a different card into that slot.
We expect that new Power Macs will be among the first Macs to sport either an AirPort Extreme slot or, less likely, a PCI-based AirPort Extreme card option. iMacs, eMacs, and iBooks would require motherboard redesign to support AirPort Extreme, and thus only a major refresh to each product line will be extreme enough to incorporate 802.11g.
It's certain that other companies will step up to the plate as well, such as Asante, Proxim, MacWireless, and Belkin, all of which have a history of supporting Macintosh networking. These companies typically release PC Cards first, meaning that only certain PowerBook models would handle 802.11g. PCI card adapters are already shipping, and we might see Ethernet or even FireWire (USB is too slow for 802.11g) converters as well.
Other 802.11g Makers -- Although Apple is early with 802.11g, it's not the first to ship products. Linksys gets that honor, having pushed out its first "54G" gateways and cards before the end of 2002, with Buffalo following quickly. D-Link and Belkin aren't far behind. (Prices are all the lowest price at Amazon.com or via the companies' online stores.)
Many Mac users know Belkin as a cable company, but the firm has been shipping a variety of networking products, including inexpensive Bluetooth adapters, for some time. By the time you read this, the company plans to ship four devices: a wired/wireless gateway (F5D7230-4, retail price $150), a plain access point (F5D7130, $140), a PC Card (F5D7010, $80), and a PCI card (F5D7000, $80). Belkin has promised drivers for its 802.11g gear by February for Mac OS 8.6 and later.
Linksys has two 54G gateways and two cards. The WRT54G is a combination wired switch and wireless gateway which updates their BEFW11S4 model ($130). The WAP54G is a simple access point that adds 802.11g support to the WAP11 ($130). The WPC54G PC Card ($70) is available now, and the WMP54G PCI adapter ($70) is coming soon. Linksys has little to no Macintosh support for any of its existing products.
D-Link is offering products under the complicated brand name of AirPlus Xtreme G. They also have a wired/wireless gateway (DI-624, $150), a plain access point (DWL-2000AP, $140), a PC Card (DWL-G650, $80), and a PCI Card (DWL-G520, $90). D-Link has offered limited AppleTalk support in its previous offerings, but Mac drivers are unlikely.
Buffalo has its AirStation G54 Broadband Router Access Point (WBR-G54) for a retail price of $200 and a PC Card (WLI-CB-G54) for $100. Street prices should be less. The company has offered limited Mac support in the past.
Future of G -- The future of 802.11g is bright given its advantages, and the early rush to push products into the marketplace. Buying equipment now should cost only a slight premium over later prices: Apple probably won't adjust its prices much, if at all, based on its history, and 802.11g devices from other manufacturers will probably drop only $10 to $30 over the course of 2003 unless major manufacturing breakthroughs occur or chip prices plummet.
We're bullish on 802.11g because it's backwards compatible, and because it doesn't rely on unproven technology. Faster speed at about the same price? Count us in.
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Article 6 of 6 in series
It's always telling when we lack enough space to publish our traditional Macworld Expo superlatives in a single article. Although Apple made most of the major show news, the TidBITS staff had no trouble finding other products on the show floor that were worthy of mention. Best Use for a Finger -- Being forced to log in to Mac OS X all the time is annoying, even when it serves a valuable security purposeShow full article
It's always telling when we lack enough space to publish our traditional Macworld Expo superlatives in a single article. Although Apple made most of the major show news, the TidBITS staff had no trouble finding other products on the show floor that were worthy of mention.
Best Use for a Finger -- Being forced to log in to Mac OS X all the time is annoying, even when it serves a valuable security purpose. Wouldn't it be nice if your computer recognized you automatically? We're not there quite yet, but with Sony's oddly named Puppy Suite for Mac OS X Fingerprint Identification Unit, you will be able to log in to your Mac by touching your finger to a sensor. You train the software to recognize a specific finger (with up to nine backup fingers to work around burns and bandages) and from then on, touching your finger to the Fingerprint Identification Unit works just like typing your password. Sony is still working on getting Mac OS X to accept your fingerprint in place of requests for the administrator password; that's when I want to try it. The Puppy demoed well, recognizing the finger with which I had trained it and rejecting both my other fingers and the fingers of the Sony representative. It will cost $200 when it ships in March of 2003 from the North American distributor Pacific Software Publishing; those in other countries should contact Sony for local distributors. [ACE]
Second Best Use for that Finger -- A colleague commented that USB "keychain" storage (memory cards with USB plugs attached) have become the new floppy disk. The problem is that these tiny devices are easily lost, giving the finder access to your data. To keep your bytes safe, the DevDepot booth was selling the BioSlimDisk, a USB memory card with integrated fingerprint security. Your data can be accessed only after you press your finger on the device's sensor (you can configure up to six fingerprints). A 128 MB version costs $120, or you can get a 64 MB model for $100 from DevDepot's Web site. [JLC]
Best "Aha" Accessory -- MacAlly's iceStation is a simple, great idea for improving your laptop experience. It's a $20 plastic stand composed of a groove that sits on the desk and a sharply rising plane. You stick the front edge of your iBook or PowerBook into the groove and lean the bottom of the machine (the keyboard area) against the plane, so that it's almost vertical; now you open the screen so that it's completely vertical. The keyboard is now almost unusable, so you attach an external keyboard and mouse. This solves two problems discussed in Adam's recent article on laptop stands: the screen is raised to eye level, and the computer's footprint is greatly reduced so there's room on the desk for the external keyboard in front of it. My PowerBook G3 is my everyday desktop machine, and I dislike its keyboard, so I was galvanized by this potential solution to my problems. I instantly bought MacAlly's small and responsive iceKey keyboard, and tried to buy the iceStation - but it isn't shipping yet. Impatience, however, is the mother of invention: when I got home I found that a book stand from an office supply store works nearly as well for one-fifth the price. [MAN]
Clearing the Desk -- If you won't be replacing your desktop Mac with a 17-inch PowerBook G4 any time soon, but you need to reclaim some of your desk space nonetheless, take a look at Marathon Computer's DeskMount. It's an under-desk mounting kit for Power Macintosh G3 and G4 minitowers that suspends the machine securely under the desk, lets you open the side door to add memory while it's still mounted, and also lets you easily slide the machine out of the mount. Its price of $60 covers everything but the screws for your desk. [MHA]
Best New Click -- Adesso has impressed us before with its keyboard and mouse offerings, but we're tickled by the new way of clicking introduced with the PowerScroll Optical Mouse. Available in black or white, this $40 mouse can be rocked to one side or the other to click or right-click. The scroll wheel is great for scrolling through long documents or Web pages and serves as a third button. [MHA]
Sitting on the Dock of the Drive -- WiebeTech's DriveDock family takes home the award for smallest hard drive by eliminating that pesky case and even sometimes the power supply. The DriveDocks are tiny FireWire bridge controllers for standard IDE hard drives that just plug into the back of a bare drive, providing a FireWire connector, and if necessary, a power connector. The $140 FireWire DriveDock works with 3.5-inch drives, as does the $160 Super DriveDock, but the Super DriveDock powers most drives from the FireWire bus instead of requiring an external power adapter. There's also the $140 FireWire Notebook DriveDock, which works with 2.5-inch laptop drives and doesn't require external power. Finally, for specialized recovery situations, the $300 Forensic DriveDock works with 3.5-inch disks but doesn't allow writes to the disk. [ACE]
Hearing from your iPod -- We saw lots of third-party accessories for Apple's iPod, and there are of course thousands of earphones and headphones on the market (many of which Dan Frakes covered in "Music to Your Ears: 2002" in TidBITS-658). MacAlly's Noise Reduction Headphones ($70) and Retractable Earphones ($20) are iPod-white, attractively designed, and attractively priced. The noise reduction headphones work as well as my Aiwa set and come with an airline adapter so you can listen to the in-flight movie without paying the $5 "entertainment charge." The retractable earphones have a small, coiled stretch of cable that connects to an iPod, then the holder stays in your pocket while the earbuds sit in your ears. [MHA]
Best In Show and Out of My League -- Redstone Software's Eggplant is, bar none, the best thing I saw at this Macworld Expo. It's for software developers, but I'm one, and I could have used it during the last five months when I was writing a custom Cocoa application for a corporate client. Here's the scoop: as you write an application with a graphical interface, you worry at every step that you may be breaking existing functionality, so you need to keep testing, and the only real way to test is to use the program like a normal user would, through the interface - choose this menu item, type this text in this field, press this button, and a certain window should appear containing certain information. To be rigorous and complete, and to save time, you'd like a way to automate such interface test suites. Eggplant is the solution, and a brilliant solution at that. It works through VNC, a Timbuktu-like system for viewing a computer's screen, and clicking and typing in it, from another computer across a network. Thus, Eggplant requires two computers, one to run the software being tested, one to run Eggplant itself. Eggplant literally sees the testbed computer's screen: it can search it, looking for a particular button or other window element, and it can click anywhere, choose menu items, type, and so forth. Testing actions are combined into suites using a HyperTalk-like scripting language. Results and screen images are logged, so if a test fails, you can find out what the problem was and what the screen looked like at the time. The downside: at $3,400 a pop, there's no way I'd ever get my hands on a copy. [MAN]
Best Vertical Market Software -- I'm not a salesperson, but if I were, the one thing I'd want (aside from a different job) would be Marketcircle's $150 DayLite. This program has absolutely the most gorgeous, insightful Mac OS X interface I've ever seen, and the software does everything - and I mean everything - that a salesperson or sales team needs, at an astoundingly reasonable price: it's a contact manager, calendar, to-do list, phone dialer, mail merger, sales and revenue diagrammer, multi-user database, and much more, all brilliantly and intuitively integrated. Words fail me; you have to see for yourself. A demonstration of the software left me gasping, "Wow, do these people have a clue or what?!" [MAN]
Unless You're a Songwriter -- DayLite may be cool for salespeople, but if you've always thought you could put pen to paper and turn out a few hit tunes, forget the pen and wake up your Mac instead. MasterWriter, written in the 4D application development environment, offers an amazing collection of writing tools for songwriters, including a rhyming dictionary, an alliterations dictionary, a rhymed phrases dictionary, a pop culture dictionary, a standard dictionary and thesaurus, and more. MasterWriter helps you find the words you want and assemble them into a coherent (and hopefully tuneful) whole. It's basically a good interface on a huge database of words and phrases; hence the reliance on 4D. It works in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X and should be available soon. [ACE]
Best Laptop Accessories -- Lots of companies offer add-on batteries, car or airline adapters, and USB media readers. MadsonLine impressed us with its broad array of attractive, useful, and affordable adapters and other gizmos. Their $36 Modem Saver LT lets you test an unfamiliar phone jack for safety before you plug your laptop's modem in, then stays in place to serve as a modem surge protector. The $28 Worldwide Plug Adapter connects to many of the common electric outlets around the world. And then there's the tiny $52 USB IrDA Adapter, which adds an infrared port to Macs that lack them. Use the infrared to sync your laptop with your Palm, or to use your cell phone as a modem, if you're not yet in the Bluetooth world. [MHA]
Most Promising Educational Device -- We've noted electronic whiteboards in the past (such as Virtual Ink's Mimio), but newcomer GTCO deserves mention for its InterWrite School Suite. It has four components: a computer with software, a projector, a whiteboard, and a portable wireless drawing tablet. The computer constructs and holds the image, and the projector shows it to everyone on the whiteboard. "Drawing" (which really means communication with the computer, and includes control of the software) can be done at the whiteboard, at the computer, or at the tablet, and up to seven tablets can be used at once. Imagine the teacher lecturing and drawing from anywhere in the room, and saving and erasing screen-full after screen-full of diagrams, and handing out additional tablets so students can question and collaborate. The promised integration of computers and education has yet to be realized, mostly because computer companies don't listen to great teachers. These electronic whiteboards are probably too small and require too much high-tech setup for many venues; but when I was a college professor, the need to stand at the board, and the loss of the diagrams I created spontaneously, were serious problems that cried out for something like InterWrite. [MAN]
Most Communicative Outfits -- I nearly hit the floor laughing when I saw the MacWarehouse presence at Macworld Expo. Instead of having a booth on the show floor, MacWarehouse set up several small stations in the large atrium area between the two halls of Moscone. Each station was equipped with a high-speed Internet connection and an open wireless access point, giving wireless Internet access to anyone within range. To alert passers-by to this service, MacWarehouse staffed their stations with people in dark gray jumpsuits adorned with the "warchalking" symbol indicating an open wireless network. And unlike Microsoft's MSN butterfly guy mentioned last week, they seemed to be having a good time, as you can see in our picture linked below. [ACE]
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