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Impressions of a Macworld Newbie

When I began working at my current office (an informal co-op of computer consultants and authors with a sign outside that reads "Galactic Headquarters"), I came from a desktop publishing job where I was both the "Macintosh guy" and the "PageMaker guy." I thought I knew a thing or two until I met these folks, who quite literally know nearly everything about PageMaker, QuarkXPress, Photoshop, FreeHand, and more – they can even write their own PostScript code if necessary. These were real Mac-heads.

Imagine my surprise to hear every excuse in the book for them to avoid attending a Macworld Expo. How could they not want to go to what I envisioned was a great harmonic convergence of the Macintosh faithful? (Perhaps it had something to do with their natural crowd-avoidance instincts, or just that they had been attending for years.) So, when TidBITS wanted to send me to the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, I jumped at the opportunity. Here are some (admittedly random) observations from a Macworld Newbie.

Three Hours Fighting for Floor Space — After an early flight from Seattle to San Francisco, I checked into my hotel and dashed over to the Moscone convention center to register. I was issued a press pass and told to stand in a line – not exactly an exciting start. After waiting about 40 minutes, I typed my name in a computer, made a typo I couldn’t erase (I am now a member of "TidBITS N," our new North office), collected my badge and hurried to meet Tonya for the keynote speech.

My first bit of advice: although only 80,000 people attended Macworld, it’s best to get to the keynote early – say, the day before. When we arrived, about ten minutes before the presentation, we were barely able to sneak into the auditorium through a closing door and an impatient group of security personnel. Inching along the front of the room, we managed to secure two tiny places on the floor near a big video screen to the right of the stage. This is where we would spend the next three hours.

Reality Distortion Field in Action — Seeing Gil Amelio for the first time was interesting (his voice is slightly higher than I expected, and his appearance wearing a tie-less shirt sent murmurs through the audience), and for a while I was interested in what he was saying. Unfortunately, Amelio isn’t a good long-format speaker: I’m sure he must have mentioned the future of Apple and the Mac OS several times, but the words got lost in a small sea of pauses, umms, and ahhhs (I overheard later that Steve Jobs’s flight was delayed, necessitating Amelio’s impromptu performance). Finally, Jobs was introduced and brought on stage.

Now, I’ve heard stories about Jobs – stories which have become legend and are repeated with great weight and gravity over smoldering Lithium Ion PowerBook batteries during engineers’ camping trips. After reading for years about Jobs’s powder-keg personality, I half expected him to launch into an extended rant on stage. Instead, he was smooth and collected. That’s when I knew that the Reality Distortion Field was cranked up to full strength.

There’s no doubt Jobs owns the patent, license, and all future merchandising rights to the Reality Distortion Field. Steve Jobs belongs on stage. He came out, addressed unspoken questions people had about the NeXT OS, and got right to the point. Even if you’re dubious about the merger between Apple and NeXT, Steve Jobs can make you want to go out and start developing for the not-yet-born new OS hybrid even if you wouldn’t know a developer’s release from a press release.

However, when he’s done, he’s done. Watching Apple drag him back on stage to accept a Spartacus Macintosh (the ultra-stylish 20th anniversary model) was like witnessing a bored parent indulge a child’s umpteenth rendition of the same magic trick.

Macworld: Celebrity Central? If you were to ask me about celebrities I would have liked to see at Macworld, my short list would include Jobs, shareware author Peter Lewis, and maybe Guy Kawasaki just to see what he’s like in person. I was able to see Jobs on stage; Lewis stayed in his native Australia; and although Guy appeared at some booths and sessions, I never spotted him.

Instead, thanks to the keynote I was able to see bona-fide celebrities – you know, the Hollywood kind. Here’s a quick rundown:

The only man to stop an invading alien horde with a PowerBook and wireless modem, Jeff Goldblum, has a lot of charm, a good wit, and seems to "get it" about Apple and the Mac. Musician/multimedia artist Peter Gabriel definitely gets it in a big way, and even though his music demo went over my head, I could listen to him talk for days about a transcendent future of enlightenment through technology and education.

Muhammad Ali was a great boxer and great personality, and it’s too bad Parkinson’s disease and years in the ring are taking their toll on his health. But I doubt he’s a rabid Macintosh user, and it offends me that the latest trend seems to be to parade him in front of crowds reminiscing about the Atlanta Olympics torch lighting ceremony.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak by far had the best smile of the show. Can millions of dollars make a man happy? Who cares? He looks happy. I also briefly saw actor/dancer Gregory Hines and actor/comedian Sinbad, who were both shorter than I expected.

Oh Yeah, the Expo Itself — I’ll have to admit the keynote was probably the highlight of the show, at least in terms of solid information about Apple and the Mac OS (which eventually arrived toward the end of the speeches; see Tonya’s article about the subject in TidBITS-361). However, I noticed a few other things walking the floor and checking out the booths.

  • The silent co-star of the Expo didn’t seem to be NeXT, Be, Power Computing, or even the Internet. Instead, one of the most interesting items – and simultaneously one of the most boring items – was OpenDoc. After years of talk and promises, OpenDoc finally looks like a maturing technology. It certainly contributed to one of the coolest demos I saw, which was Apple’s V-Twin search-and-organize technology. However, OpenDoc’s boring because it’s supposed to be: you shouldn’t have to think about what a cool technology it is, because it just works. Nisus Writer 5.0, for example, can now graph and draw and chart without having to resort to the long tradition of bloatware.




  • I saw more 3D software packages than I expected, nearly all with splashy booths and impressive videos showing what the programs could do. The most interesting find, however, was a "splashless" little booth tucked in a corner containing Hash Inc.’s 3D Animation Pro software. Sporting inverse kinematics (which ties sections together that react to one another, like fingers on a hand), lip-sync capabilities, and collision detection, 3D Animation Pro was one of the most powerful-looking programs I saw. Retailing for around $200, it offers many of the features of high-end programs that can run anywhere from $500 to $3,000.


Wise Words from a Macworld Veteran — Now that I’ve been to a Macworld Expo, I’m free to extol advice, right? Here are some random nuggets that caught my attention:

  • If your company is hiring presenters, try to hire people with British, Australian, or Indian accents. I don’t know what it is, but a light accent sounds great over the small microphone/speaker devices that adorned nearly every presenter.

  • For your first Expo, try to have one or more experienced guides lead you around. Tagging along with Adam and Tonya was not only fun, but introduced me to many people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. It’s a cliche, but it is indeed who you know that’s important in many areas. Luckily, Adam and Tonya happen to know practically everybody, which makes for a slow crawl through the booths, but great conversations. (And for those of you who didn’t run into them: yes, their house is fine after the winter storms in Seattle last month. I lost track of how many people asked.)

  • Despite the overpowering urge to grab everything that’s free, don’t pick up every product sheet, button, or demo disk thrust at you. I don’t care how muscular or athletic you are, your shoulders will not be able to handle the load. Take only items that truly interest you. I saw press people carrying stacks of papers and press kits that wobbled well over a foot and a half in their arms. Forget that.

  • Lastly, even though your espresso craving may be intense, don’t even try to get into the Starbucks closest to Moscone Center in the morning.

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