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For the millions of Mac users who missed Macworld Expo in New York City last week, read on for a look at the new iMacs and Power Mac G4s that Apple introduced at the show, along with details on Steve Jobs's keynote and the overall tenor of this surprisingly positive show. In the news, we cover Apple's $61 million Q3 profit and put out the call for new Japanese translators for TidBITS. Finally, we welcome our newest sponsor, easyDNS!
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easyDNS Sponsoring TidBITS -- We're pleased to welcome our latest sponsor, the Canadian company easyDNS. The founders initially started out as a Web development company, but the process of working with Network Solutions to implement DNS changes was so frustrating that they changed direction and created easyDNS to provide Web-based administration tools for configuring and managing your domain name information. You can create and modify host names, aliases, and MX records for your domain, all of which are annoying to do via Network Solutions (and I can speak not only from experience but from my current attempts to update my contact information at Network Solutions). Other features that easyDNS offers include dynamic DNS if you don't have a static IP address, domain parking for domain names you can't yet link to a Web site, whois record management, email forwarding, and Web or IP forwarding. Although easyDNS is not a DNS registrar, they're an affiliate of OpenSRS, so you can register domain names through easyDNS using OpenSRS, and if you've registered your domain name through a different registrar, you can transfer it to OpenSRS to take advantage of pricing bundles from easyDNS. The tidbits.com domain has a complex setup with machines spread around four different networks, so I don't want to change it until I've had time to think carefully about what I'm doing and get my Internet connectivity in Ithaca locked down, but once that happens, I'm looking forward to trying easyDNS's services. If you've been frustrated with Network Solutions or your ISP's approach to managing your domain name information, I'd recommend you check out what easyDNS can do for you as well. [ACE]
Apple Posts $61 Million Q3 Profit -- Apple posted a $61 million profit during its third fiscal quarter of 2001, meeting analysts' expectations, although the company warned that the current economic slowdown could cause future revenue to fall short of forecasts. Apple's sales for the quarter were $1.475 billion, down over 29 percent from the same quarter a year ago, but up from the previous quarter's $1.43 billion. Apple says it shipped 827,000 Macs at a profit margin of 29.4 percent, with international sales accounting for 44 percent of the total. The company maintains more than $4.2 billion in cash, and Apple offset a one-time $7 million charge for its acquisition of PowerSchool, Inc., a Web-based student information system, with $7 million in investment income. Compared to other computer makers, Apple stock has been faring well recently, buoyed in part by the high-profile opening of retail stores, the record-setting debut of the new iBook, and strong sales in education. [GD]
Japanese TidBITS on Hiatus; Seeking New Translators -- It's with deep regret that I pass on the news that the Japanese translation of TidBITS is going on hiatus until a new team of translators can be found. There's no question that translating TidBITS takes some effort, and as the team shrank in size, the amount of work per person increased. That simply became too much for the current volunteers, and I'd like to thank Shuichi Odaka, Hisashi Nishimura, and the rest of the Japanese translation team for all their work over the past six years - their efforts have been appreciated by many thousands of people. It's time now to see if any other Japanese-speaking Macintosh users would like to pick up the translation where it left off. If so, contact me at <firstname.lastname@example.org> so we can work out a transition plan that will include taking over the mailing list and Web site (both of which we can host). Let's work together to keep TidBITS available to the many people who prefer to read their Macintosh and Internet news in Japanese. [ACE]
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
During his keynote address at last week's Macworld Expo in New York, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off a refresh of Apple's iMac and Power Mac G4 computers. The new systems primarily offer faster performance and further migrate CD- and DVD-authoring capabilities throughout the desktop lines, but make these enhancements with only slight alterations to Apple's price ranges. iMacs start at $1,000 (which is $200 more than the entry-level model at last year's Expo in New York) and high-end G4s still command a minimum of $3,500 - but now buyers get much more bang for their buck.
iMacs -- Pre-Expo rumors suggested that Apple would debut a substantial iMac revision, ditching the bulky CRT display in favor of a sleek flat-panel LCD screen. Such a move would be logical since Apple proudly converted its entire line of external displays to flat panels last May, a move trumpeted by a Macworld Expo banner saying "Hasta la vista, CRT." However, the only external design change Apple made to its iMacs this summer was to eliminate the somewhat off-putting Flower Power and Blue Dalmatian patterned cases in favor of the more-staid Indigo, Snow, and Graphite. Nearly all color has been bleached out of Apple's once candy-colored iMacs.
Under the hood, Apple pumped up processor speeds 100 MHz across the line, so the three iMac configurations now sport 500, 600, and 700 MHz PowerPC G3 processors. The systems also feature 20, 40, or 60 GB internal hard drives (up from 10, 20, and 40 GB respectively), an ATI Rage 128 Ultra graphics processor with 16 MB of VRAM with its own 66 MHz bus (previously only on the most expensive iMacs), and every iMac now sports a slot-loading CD-RW drive which can read and write both data and audio CDs. However, as with Apple's most-recent iMac offerings, no DVD options are available. The $1,000 iMac ships with 128 MB of RAM, while the $1,300 and $1,500 models start at 256 MB of RAM; all have both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X pre-installed. The new iMacs have only 256K of backside Level 2 cache, but that cache runs at the same speed as the main processor - 500, 600, or 700 MHz - making it pretty effective. The bottom two models are available immediately - the 700 MHz iMac will be available in August.
Otherwise, the iMacs primary features remain largely unchanged: a 100 MHz system bus, a 56 Kbps modem, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, two USB ports, two FireWire ports, two memory expansion slots, optional AirPort wireless networking, and a 15-inch screen with a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. A VGA video output is available, but as before it only mirrors the built-in display rather than expanding the available desktop to an additional monitor.
The new systems are a conservative revision to the iMac line, improving the value-to-dollar ratio and preventing the line from looking underpowered or static in this time of flagging computer sales. Since an LCD-equipped iMac would increase manufacturing costs on a system which already provides a comparatively low profit margin, perhaps it's better for now to stick with a proven design than to replace it with something untried and more expensive. That said, it seems only a matter of time before an LCD screen debuts in the iMac line, especially given Apple's ability to price the new iBooks so aggressively.
Power Mac G4s -- Like the latest iMacs, Apple's changes to the minitower Power Mac G4s are evolutionary rather than revolutionary and don't alter the system's basic price points. The systems sport a new mostly silver case, but otherwise the changes are internal. Processor speeds begin at 733 MHz in the $1,700 model and peak at 867 MHz, with a $3,500 dual-processor 800 MHz system (available in August; the other two are available now) occupying the top pricing spot. The system bus runs at 133 MHz, and the machines have a default 256 MB of RAM (expandable to 1.5 GB). Apple bumped up hard disk sizes (40, 60, and 80 GB drives are now standard) and also made the SuperDrive (which can read and write both CDs and DVDs) available in the mid-range model instead of only in top-of-the-line systems; otherwise, the machines are available with either a CD-RW or a combined CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. Like their predecessors, the systems support both standard VGA displays and Apple's flat-panel displays (via the proprietary ADC connector, which was analyzed at length in TidBITS Talk). There are three different video systems for the Power Mac G4's 4x AGP slot: a 32 MB GeForce2 MX, the high-end 64 MB GeForce3, or (most interestingly) a 64 MB GeForce2 MX with TwinView, a feature which enables the card to support two monitors with a single combined desktop, so long as one of the monitors is VGA and the other uses Apple's ADC connector. (You can also apparently order standard ATI Radeon cards from Apple, which can be installed in any of the four PCI slots.)
All the Power Mac G4s have 256K of Level 2 cache running at the same speed as the main processor(s), but the two higher-powered systems also feature 2 MB of Level 3 cache per processor running at one-fourth the speed of the main processor. These caches enable the CPU to stash frequently used data and instructions for re-use without having to fetch them repeatedly across the main bus (which runs at a mere 133 MHz). The effectiveness of cache varies widely with the nature of the code being executed at a low level and how well the processor can predict what it's supposed to do next, but tasks like encoding and data transformation procedures - capturing audio or video, compressing a movie, rendering an image, applying a Photoshop filter, etc. - tend to benefit from large, fast caches.
Otherwise, the Power Mac G4s offer now-standard features: four PCI expansion slots, Gigabit Ethernet, two 400 Mbps FireWire ports, two USB ports, optional AirPort wireless networking, three 3.5-inch internal drive expansion bays, and an optional 56 Kbps internal modem, and they ship with both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X pre-installed.
I'm pleased to see Apple continue shipping multiprocessor systems, particularly at processor speeds which keep up with the rest of the Power Mac line. Although multiprocessor support for Macs is still in its infancy, a handful of Mac OS 9 applications support multiprocessing now, including Adobe Premiere and Photoshop, and the just-shipped Digital Performer 3.0. Mac OS X offers multiprocessing capabilities to Mac OS X-native applications, and as more mainstream programs appear for Mac OS X, I'm hoping the potential power of multiprocessor systems will be realized after years of struggle and fleeting support. (Apple's first multiprocessor system was the 9500/180MP in mid-1996, although former clone-maker DayStar had multiprocessor systems on the market earlier).
Same Price, Only Faster -- Most of Apple's hardware innovation this year has come in the portable space, with the stunning PowerBook G4 Titanium and iBook (Dual USB). So although Apple's latest desktop offerings don't surprise the eye or satisfy rumor-mongers, they ought to be pleasing on the pocketbook: Apple has packed significantly better performance into the same price ranges the company has been charging for new computers so far in 2001. That's fine for now, but the company has made its recent fortunes on design innovation, and the iMac is seeming a little long in the tooth, especially for a machine that redefined the industry when it appeared in 1998. Apple's challenge is to figure out how to redesign the iMac with features such as an LCD screen without losing the tremendous recognition enjoyed by the bulbous iMacs.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It was the best of expos, it was the worst of expos.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, this year's Macworld Expo in New York City was a truly odd show. Expectations of new Macs ran high based both on rumors and on analysis of Apple's current products and release cycles. Equally anticipated was a significant feature update to Mac OS X. But the much-awaited Steve Jobs keynote on the first morning felt cobbled together at the last moment and showed more forward momentum than shipping products. Moving from the keynote to the show floor quickly revealed to me that the show floor was smaller than last year. Put these two facts together and you have what would seem to be the start of a dismal Macworld Expo.
As with all journalists, I was already writing bits of this article in my head, tying a mediocre show to the industry downturn, to Apple's inability to ship Mac OS X 10.1, to the error-marred keynote. Then I noticed that walking through the aisles was proving difficult due to the throngs of Mac users. And then, as with the Scrooge-like Grinch who hears the singing of all the Whos down in Whoville even after he's stolen all their Christmas fixings, I gradually realized that this crowd was not only large, it was happy. Clearly it was too early to call the show, so I put my musings aside and wandered the floor.
By the end of the second morning, I'd determined that not only were there fewer square feet of exhibitors, there weren't any breakthrough products for the mainstream Macintosh audience. Grinch-like phrasings started to rattle around in my head again, but then I started to ask all the exhibitors I knew how the show was going. It's a standard question that I ask of everyone I meet after the first day, but I was utterly astonished to hear the enthusiastic responses. The exhibitors with whom I spoke were, without exception, happy, and some of them were wildly happy. Those selling products said sales were good or even great, and Neil Ticktin of DevDepot said they sold a t-shirt every 22 seconds during the first day. Attendance dropped off the second and third days (due in part to the drab keynote, which would otherwise have drawn in more New Yorkers), but in the end, it seems that slightly more people came to this Macworld Expo than last year's show.
So, despite the disappointing keynote, paucity of exhibitors, and lack of any must-have products, people attended in droves, and the exhibitors were pleased with the results. Weird, truly weird. Let's look at each of these in more depth.
A Keynote to Forget -- Macworld keynote addresses since Steve Jobs returned to Apple have been extravaganzas. We've seen Phil Schiller jump from a 30-foot platform to demonstrate AirPort networking on the just-introduced iBook, and we've seen Apple Pro mice stuck to the bottom of all the chairs in the main hall of the keynote. We've seen products like the Power Mac G4 Cube and the PowerBook G4 Titanium released to huge fanfare. Jobs has become famous for his "And one more thing..." phrase that introduces the surprise product for the keynote. Compared to that stellar past, this keynote was lame, though still far better than the average trade show keynote.
Jobs led off with video footage from the opening of the Apple stores in McLean, Virginia and Los Angeles, California and then said Apple plans to open 4 more stores in August (in Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston), and follow that with more openings to bring the total to 25 by year-end. Although Apple believes the stores will break even by the end of this year, the president of a retail consulting firm was quoted in the New York Times as saying that Apple's approach was completely flawed and that the stores would shut down after two years of huge losses. Although initial traffic at the Apple stores was incredibly high, Jobs didn't provide any sales numbers for the stores in their first eight weeks.
Next up was Apple's industry dog-and-pony show "10 on X" that Apple hoped would make clear the level to which Macintosh developers are creating Mac OS X-based software. It was an important show of support, featuring Microsoft (Office and Internet Explorer), Adobe (Illustrator, GoLive, and InDesign), Quark, FileMaker, Connectix (Virtual PC), IBM (ViaVoice), World Book (2002 World Book Encyclopedia), Blizzard Entertainment (WarCraft III), Aspyr (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2), and Alias|Wavefront (Maya) showcasing their products. There's no arguing with Apple's choices of who to show, since these ten companies covered much of the overall Macintosh market. But only two of the products shown were actually shipping: the 2002 World Book Encyclopedia and Aspyr's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, neither of which seem to use Mac OS X in an interesting fashion. All the others are slated for later this year.
Although it too isn't scheduled to ship for a few more months, the first program shown, Microsoft Office 10, will be the key to Mac OS X's success. Without the popular suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage running native on Mac OS X, most business users would face a significant barrier to adoption. Microsoft is even giving Apple a boost by putting Office 2001 into maintenance mode and concentrating all future development on the Mac OS X-only Office 10. I'll look at the changes in Office 10 more closely in a future issue.
After the demonstrations, Jobs enthusiastically launched into showing the new features in Mac OS X 10.1, and from first glance, it appears that it addresses many of the glaring holes and problems in the current version of Mac OS X. We'll write more about Mac OS X 10.1 in next week's issue, but suffice to say, the changes, if not the September ship date, were well received.
The new hardware announcements that followed the Mac OS X 10.1 demo didn't rate the same enthusiasm (although the announcement that the new iBook (Dual USB) had sold a record 182,000 units in only two months garnered huge applause). The speed-bumped iMacs rated just a few minutes from Jobs, and they deserved no more. More solid were the new Power Mac G4s, which offered a minor front panel redesign and significantly improved performance at the same price points. Although these upgrades aren't inherently interesting, they offer a fabulous price for performance ratio.
What would an announcement of fast Macs be without a comparison with the top-of-the-line Pentium-based computer running Windows? Refreshing, since the canned comparisons are dull and wasted time in an already long keynote. People don't buy the Mac based on performance, and although it's fine to show that the fastest PowerPC chips are no slouches, it's time to let these comparisons die. If the comparisons were predictable (Jobs trots out Phil Schiller, they banter about how they had trouble even buying the Pentium, they run the Photoshop filters, the Mac finishes first), this year's lesson in chip architecture from Apple hardware chief Jon Rubinstein was inexplicable. In an attempt to show that clock speed isn't the only thing that makes a processor fast, he talked the audience through an animation of how more pipeline stages (the PowerPC G4 has 7, the Pentium 4 has 20) can significantly reduce performance. He's right of course, and his demonstration was well done, short of the fact that the longer pipeline representing the Pentium 4 wasn't running twice as fast to show the faster clock speed. But who cares? Chip performance is a highly complex issue, and no one who believes that clock speed is all that matters will be convinced otherwise by such a demonstration from Apple.
Last, but not least, was a preview of iDVD 2, which adds motion menus, new themes (some of which featured background animations), a soundtrack option for still image slideshows, background encoding, support for 90 minute DVDs (up from 60 minutes currently), and support for Mac OS X. Like so much else, it's due in September, and will be a free upgrade.
At the very end, there was even tacit admission of Apple's desire to have more to present. To show that Apple hasn't exactly been goofing off, Jobs flipped through slides of all the software and hardware releases Apple has had this year. He then asked the audience to give a round of applause for the hard-working Apple employees, and then another for the families of those employees. Though it's unlikely that many family members were watching the keynote to appreciate the gesture, it was still welcome recognition for the effect 80-hour work weeks have on families.
Missing Exhibitors -- There was no question that the show floor sported less booth space than in past years. A number of mainstays of the Macintosh industry weren't in attendance at all, most notably Adobe and Casady & Greene, and others had smaller booths than in previous years. Then there was Smith Micro, the makers of FAXstf. They had a fair amount of space, but it was occupied only by a banner hanging from the cavernous Javits ceiling, a wire snaking down from the rafters, and a couple of plain tables. The whole thing just screamed "cost-cutting!"
Companies chose to stay away for two basic reasons. The most important is the industry downturn. New York is expensive and my guess is that for a company like Adobe, the cost of a large space; the booth and related equipment; and the airfare, hotel, food, and salaries for the necessary staff could easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most companies are tightening the purse strings these days and even though Adobe in particular has fared relatively well, that kind of money might be better spent elsewhere, such as on traditional advertising that's both cheaper and more effective with the loss of many Internet advertisers.
The second reason - the transition to Mac OS X - is related to the first. It's one thing to spend marketing money on a trade show in hard economic times, but it's another to spend that money when you don't have much Mac OS X-specific software to demo. Other than a few games, Casady & Greene doesn't have any Mac OS X software, and given the expectation that this would be the big Mac OS X show, it's easy to understand their decision to stay home. By that reasoning, Macworld Expo in San Francisco this coming January should be huge, since Mac OS X 10.1 will be out and many more companies will have their Mac OS X versions done.
No Killer Products -- I was depressed to go the entire show without seeing anything that I found truly impressive. There were a few welcome Mac OS X versions, such as QuicKeys for Mac OS X from CE Software and Virtual PC for Mac OS X from Connectix. But as useful and necessary as those programs are, they don't introduce particularly new functionality to the Mac world. On the hardware side, the usual crop of high-quality printers and cameras and camcorders may not have been surprising, but they at least made for good browsing. I remain particularly impressed with Canon's PowerShot S110 and S300 Digital Elph cameras for snapshots (the S300 has a 3x optical zoom and a larger body). The most interesting devices were Griffin Technology's sleek PowerMate USB volume controller and PowerWave USB audio adapter, which provides high-quality audio recording and playback through a built-in amplifier so you can connect normal stereo speakers to your Mac. They weren't shipping at the show, but almost everyone with whom I talked mentioned them, along with the P5 glove controller from Essential Reality.
There were a few companies with products that were present only because Mac OS X provides a Unix core on top of which they can run, such as Memora for the Mac, a home server for email, digital photos, and music that runs on top of Mac OS X. But on the whole, Mac OS X has caused a pause in the level of innovation on the Mac. To be fair, innovation has fallen off a good bit over the past few years anyway, so my hope is that after programmers come up to speed on what Mac OS X makes possible and move their existing software over, we'll see functionality from our Macs that wasn't possible before Mac OS X.
Droves of Attendees -- Attendance at Macworld Expo was at the same levels or above those of last year, when Apple and the entire Macintosh industry was still doing extremely well. That's surprising enough in its own right, but a number of exhibitors commented that last month's PC Expo (also at the Javits Convention Center) was nowhere nearly as heavily attended. So not only did people come to Macworld, they did so in the face of industry conditions that caused a similar trade show in the same location to suffer significant attendance loss.
As I've noted before, Apple's fortunes aren't completely related to the rest of the computer industry because Macintosh purchases are more individual than corporate decisions. My current theory is that attendance at Macworld Expo is a roughly similar decision, and lots of people were curious to see Mac OS X and software that would run on it. Although Mac OS X 10.1 didn't make it out for Macworld Expo, almost none of the attendees with whom I spoke were running Mac OS X as their primary operating system, and as such they didn't seem concerned about the additional wait.
Even more important was that everyone seemed upbeat, and even when they'd seen the keynote, they didn't seem perturbed by the unspectacular present or unknown future. Perhaps it's just that Macworld Expo is the semi-annual gathering of what is essentially the Macintosh fan club, and the clear forward momentum on Apple's part made up for the lack of major announcements.
Happy Exhibitors -- The fact that all of the exhibitors I spoke with ranged from happy to ecstatic about the response from attendees was what surprised me the most. It costs a lot to exhibit in New York, and exhibitors are sensitive to the value of presence versus the hard costs of showing up.
The sheer number of attendees helped a great deal, since there's nothing like a crowd of people taking promotional materials to make an exhibitor smile. The folks at CE Software said they ran out of CDs on the first morning and had to rush another batch in for the next day. But these weren't just any attendees, these were the Macintosh faithful. Rich Brown of Dartware (the company spun out of Dartmouth to develop the network utilities InterMapper, MacPing, and SNMP Watcher) said he'd been mobbed by InterMapper fans on the first day, not necessarily a common experience for someone making fairly technical networking utilities.
But what really warms an exhibitor's heart is sales, and from what I can tell, sales went extremely well. Peachpit was selling lots of books despite a slowdown in overall book sales, and the cashiers at DevDepot were mobbed whenever I walked by. There's undoubtedly an aspect of being able to see and touch Macintosh products in person, something that's relatively difficult in most places (hence Apple's rationale behind the new Apple stores). But that's been true for years, and I simply don't know why people were more willing to spend money this year than in previous years. Perhaps it was the pricing: I know I was sorely tempted by a 100 GB FireWire hard disk and a 256 MB Compact Flash card, neither of which I really need, but both of which seemed cheap. RAM in particular was amazingly inexpensive, with one company advertising a 512 MB DIMM for $140, which I thought was low until I checked a couple of Internet price comparison sites such as the new and well-designed dealram. (I'm hearing that RAM is at a low right now due to a glut on the market, but because some production lines have been shut down to reduce supply and because the release of Windows XP in a few months will likely increase demand, prices will likely go up again soon.)
In the end, even if I don't really know why this particular Macworld Expo was so upbeat, I'm not going to complain about it. Perception is powerful, as we've seen so many times with human interfaces, and if the perception of the state of the Macintosh is positive, that goes a long way toward creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves us all well.
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