As it has for the last ten years, Apple recently rolled out its "pommes" for the annual Apple Expo, in a vertical business ghetto just west of Paris. As I have never attended any computer show or Apple Expo outside of France, I can’t tell you what makes a Gallic version different from one in Boston or Reykjavik. Perhaps the underwear is a bit more chic here, but who can know for sure?
Meet Me Tonight — Some things have been around in fiction so long that when you see them working in real life, you may not even notice. This happened to me with the Visioconference system for Macintosh, which is being marketed as Meet-Me. At the heart of the system lies a box called the GeoPort ISDN Adapter, co-developed by Apple and France Telecom developer and supplier, Sagem. Although the box was characterized by Jeff Soesbe of Apple as a "beta prototype," I saw it functioning all over the Expo site – so much so that I just about took it for granted.
The Apple Expo price for the system is 42,200 francs. Before you gulp, some explanations are necessary. This French price includes a 20.6 percent value-added tax, and you get a Power Macintosh 7100/80 with 16 MB RAM, a CD drive and an AV card, a 17" Apple monitor, and the Meet-Me kit; which includes a video camera. Straight conversion to dollars yields about $8,000. On top of the kit, you have to find and pay for an ISDN line; a Sagem engineer told me Meet-Me will run on 56 or 64 Kbps line, and that a 128 Kbps line would be nice. The engineer added that France Telecom charges $20 a month for a 128 Kbps line, plus, of course, line charges.
Here’s how it works: Your caller can hold up an FBI badge to the camera and say that you are under arrest. Or, you can work together with your accountant on your tax form. You can send your accountant a still photo of your receipts (or any other kind of document) or just do a screen dump of the FBI agent’s badge.
[The basic Meet-Me technology appears to also be available as a NuBus board (apparently priced around $3,000); if you are interested, check out the URL below -Tonya]
Apple Djinn Pro is not a Sexy Sports Car — The Apple Djinn Pro is Apple off-white, looks like a small 1930’s table radio just smaller than an AppleDesign speaker, and was developed by Apple France and France Telecom. What’s behind the sexy name?
The Pro succeeds the plain old AppleDjinn, which was essentially a 9600 bps modem with special features: Djinn Pro is also a fax/modem, it answers and records phone messages, and – France Telecom holy of holies – it is also a Minitel terminal emulator. The new Pro offers speeds up to 14.4 Kbps.
The rhythm of development in France seems to dictate that as soon as the next fastest modems take off, the AppleDjinn moves up to the previous fastest speed. Too bad, because it looks neat – just like those 1950’s movies where the boss used a desktop box to say, "Monica, get me a reservation for lunch at Maxim’s."
It is a usual plug-and-play Apple product: plug it into Mac, plug it into the phone box on the wall, and plug in the power. It comes with all the software necessary for its functions, including a software telephone book that supports QuickDraw GX and PowerTalk, plus an onscreen dialer that can handle international prefixes and keep a log of calls. It can manage nine voice-message folders, and can be consulted remotely. Like any modem, it can access the Internet as well.
In case you were wondering, Minitel emulation means that the AppleDjinn permits you to look at a Minitel-service videotext screen on your Mac monitor. On a stock (but free) Minitel 1 from France Telecom, these screens look like computing in 1978. But Minitel is moving ahead too; enough so as to have color displays and color photos online.
Basically, the Minitel service was introduced by France Telecom to replace the phone book, so they gave the terminals away. Taking an idea from Yellow Pages, Minitel soon offered all sorts of services and access to databases as well. Early on, somebody dreamed up the idea of making a lot of money from these services, and France Telecom has made a bundle.
All this wonderful but somewhat clutzy stuff has a downside. Although France Telecom gives away the basic Minitel terminals (which are plug-and-play, with no configuration and no software), their keyboards are terrible and they are slow – line charges! – and the search engine was designed to keep you online. But aside from those faults, they are free. So, why buy a Mac and go online when there is a Minitel alternative? Despite the fact that Apple’s eWorld-France considers Minitel to be its main competitor rather than the Internet or CompuServe, there they are, France Telecom and Apple France going down the road together, sexy but slow with AppleDjinn and very sexy and fast with the ISDN-GeoPort-based Meet-Me video-computer/telephone. With cheap ISDN lines available to household users, a Macintosh offers considerably more online potential – and more advanced multimedia – than Minitel, giving you the best of both worlds. If you live in France, maybe it is the future.
Nomai Removable Cartridges — A small French company, Nomai, located near Mont St. Michel in Brittany, presented its new removable hard disk cartridge drive, the MCD 540, and corresponding 540 MB cartridge. MCD stands for Multimedia Cartridge Drive.
Nomai, a French cloner of SyQuest cartridges, settled last spring whatever beef (patent infringement) it had with SyQuest, allowing it to manufacture and sell SyQuest-technology cartridges with the SyQuest logo. This has resulted in a general drop in prices of cartridges made by both SyQuest and Nomai.
While SyQuest has been concentrating on the smaller capacity EZ135 format, Nomai, with some aid from IBM, has developed a fairly inexpensive removable cartridge drive that takes 540 MB cartridges. The Nomai drives are put together at the IBM-Xyratex factory in England, and IBM had a hand in the development of the entire system. Nomai’s version works with both the Macintosh and the PC. The cartridge is the same size as – but not compatible with – a SyQuest 270 cartridge. Nomai uses its own technology for tighter sealing and higher rotational speeds. The cartridge life is estimated at 10,000 in/out cycles, an the high-speed SCSI-2 drive has a 512K cache, average seek time of 10 milliseconds and a burst transfer rate of 10 MB per second. Nomai said there was a compatible 270 MB cartridge available and plans to have a 680 or 720 MB cartridge by year’s end. I also heard hints about an upcoming 1.3 GB cartridge.
Launch price in France is about the same as for a SyQuest drive and cartridge a year ago; so on a U.S. scale, without French value-added tax, this system will be very competitively priced. As it is, this will be a useful tool for multimedia producers.
[Richard Erickson is a freelance journalist in Paris, France, and is a regular (practically real-time) contributor to Norman Barth’s Paris Pages. More material on the Apple Expo in Paris (with photos) is at the URL below. -Geoff]
Nomai in France — (33) 33 89 16 00 — (33) 33 89 16 01 (fax)
Nomai in the U.S. — 1-800-55NOMAI — 407/367-1216
407/391-8675 (fax) — <[email protected]>
SAT-Sagem in Europe — 33-1-40-77-12-11
33-1-40-77-14-41 (fax) — [email protected]>
SAT-Sagem in the U.S. — 408/446-8690 — 408/446-9766 (fax)