Along with the numerous cool bits of hardware we saw at the show, plenty of software stood out as well.
Excel-lent Recognition of Reality — Everybody knows Microsoft Excel is a powerful spreadsheet tool with an unimaginable number of features that confound the numerically disinclined. But lots of people continue to use Excel for less taxing tasks, such as averaging a set of numbers or even making grid-based schedule signs. When Microsoft researched how people use Excel, they found that 60 percent of users rely on the program to manage simple lists of information. Even though a database might be a better tool for the job, Excel’s built-in grid of columns and rows maps to the way people think about lists, so Microsoft added and exposed features in Excel 2001 (due in October, with the rest of the Microsoft Office 2001 suite) that make list management much easier (see the Web page below for an interface preview). Like many of the other new features and interfaces that Microsoft showed in Microsoft Office 2001 at Macworld Expo, Excel’s List Manager will appear initially in the Macintosh version of Office – even if the Windows version of Office copies it, it’s great to see the Macintosh design sensibility leading the way. [ACE]
Most Compelling Preview — Power On Software was showing an early version of Rewind, a utility that tracks all changes to your hard disk in the background while you work and enables you to "rewind" your hard disk (or just individual files) to some point in the past, reversing all changes no matter how serious or damaging. Deleting files, overwriting files, virus infection, system corruption – it doesn’t matter. You can even rewind past changes that make the Mac incapable of booting. Power On hopes to ship Rewind in the fourth quarter of 2000, and although it demoed extremely well at the show, a utility that works at such a low level needs extensive reliability testing. [ACE]
Best Head-to-Head Combat — The age of computer speech recognition is upon us, and the thrill of the Expo for me was the competition between IBM and MacSpeech in the realm of dictation software, where the computer types as you speak. IBM released ViaVoice at the previous Expo, and this time the company released the $150 ViaVoice for Macintosh, Enhanced Edition, works with USB microphones, ameliorates a number of interface infelicities, and now lets you dictate directly into a few other applications besides the supplied SpeakPad. Most important, when you correct an error, ViaVoice adjusts its acoustic model (previously, it adjusted only its linguistic model). Meanwhile, although release of their long-anticipated iListen is probably still several months away, MacSpeech was handing out free previews on CD at the show (which you can order online for $10 shipping and handling); there’s no command-and-control or correction yet, but after you train the program you can dictate into any application. Stay tuned for further developments. [MAN]
Most Welcome Transmogrified Upgrade — Speed Doubler fans take note – Connectix has released CopyAgent, a $40 Mac OS 9-compatible program that incorporates the advanced copying and keyboard acceleration features of Speed Doubler, while dropping the alternate 68K emulator and disk caching aspects of the program. Improvements over Speed Doubler include a Smart Replace that copies only changed files and a limited macro feature that types text strings in response to keyboard shortcut hotkeys. [ACE]
Most Fun Combination of Technologies — Believe it or not, the uses of computers have not been exhausted. Now that they’re getting faster, they can also be smarter, and I particularly love when diverse technologies are married in interesting ways. The $400 SmartScore, from Musitek, puts together OCR, graphics, and MIDI. Basically, you put a piece of printed sheet music into your scanner, and SmartScore decodes it before rendering it beautifully on screen. Now you can make adjustments to the score (because SmartScore is also music editing software), print it out, and even have your computer play it. In other words, not only does SmartScore translate between MIDI and printed score formats, it literally reads music! As someone who frequently plays music from score (by hand) into a MIDI sequencer program so I can play duets with myself, this is something I can really use. [MAN]
Catastrophe Waiting to Happen? Micromat is enormously pleased about having added virus protection to version 3 of its popular $100 TechTool Pro (upgrades are $50). We’re alarmed to see, though, that the virus protection ignores the important field of document macro viruses, the pesky viruses that typically travel within Microsoft Word or Excel documents. Although these are far more serious on Windows machines than on Macs, macro viruses are far more common than resource viruses that infect the Mac OS itself, and we feel claiming to offer virus protection without scanning for macro viruses does the user a tremendous disservice. This is the key issue that led Disinfectant developer John Norstad to retire his software, rather than lull users into a false sense of security. Micromat says a later version of TechTool Pro will address macro viruses, but couldn’t say when. [MHA]
Stealth Web Product — Strider Software, Inc. was showing off version 3.5 of the venerable TypeStyler software. The $120 (download) to $150 (boxed) TypeStyler 3 provides a well-implemented set of features for video production, print media, and Web designers, such as automatically creating rollover effects or animated text, along with the necessary HTML markup to display it all on the Web. Strider also added lots of new effects, such as glows, bevels, embossing, and more. [MHA]