Last week, Macintosh faithful gathered in San Francisco for the Macworld Expo; this week, TidBITS brings you highlights from the show, including an analysis of Apple’s operating system strategy, the companies and products that stood out from the crowd, and our traditional listing of booths, items, and events that caught our eye. Also this week, info on Internet Explorer 3.0 and Macromedia’s acquisition of FutureWave.
Internet Explorer 3.0 — Microsoft released the final version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for Power Macs at Macworld Expo last week. In addition to support for HTML style sheets and the (debatable) RSAC Internet Ratings system, Explorer 3.0 includes support for ActiveX and Java. Users can choose between Apple’s Java VM or Microsoft/Metrowerks Java favors, including the first Just in Time (JIT) Java compiler for the Mac. Although ActiveX and Java capabilities require extra memory, Explorer will still run fairly comfortably in 4 MB of RAM, in part because Microsoft broke email and Usenet news capabilities into a separate application (see TidBITS-355). Various Internet Explorer 3.0 packages can be downloaded from Microsoft, with the full, Java-enabled version coming in over 7 MB in size. Internet Explorer 3.0 is not currently available for 68K Macs due to troubles with Apple’s CFM-68K (see TidBITS-356). [GD]
Macromedia Acquires FutureWave — Last week, Macromedia made a play for dominating the online multimedia market by announcing it had acquired FutureWave Software, makers of the FutureSplash software family which (among other things) creates compact vector-based animations that are viewable through Web browser plug-ins. Macromedia is re-christening FutureSplash products as Macromedia Flash and plans to integrate them into the Shockwave lineup. FutureSplash is currently being used by a number of high-end Web sites (like Microsoft’s "new" MSN) because it’s small and fast compared to other Web animation technologies, including Macromedia’s own Director. One can only hope Macromedia Flash doesn’t acquire Director’s less-attractive features, including stratospheric pricing. [GD]
After every Macworld Expo, I write an article expressing my thoughts about the show. For the most part, those articles haven’t been particularly positive in recent years. There weren’t many interesting products, and Internet support fell primarily into the "wanna-be" category. This year, however, I left Macworld Expo with a renewed sense of optimism (along with some exotic form of the flu).
The NeXT Big Thing — The big news, of course, was Apple’s acquisition of NeXT. More details on the merger were available from Apple at the show, but they only lay out in relatively rough strokes the path Apple believes it will take over the next few years. I won’t delve into those details here – check Tonya’s article about Gil Amelio’s overly long keynote for more information.
Attitudes about the acquisition were generally upbeat, although a number of people agreed with me that Apple simply had to do something, and the specifics mattered somewhat less. A number of elderly NeXT machines were in evidence on the floor, having been pulled from the closet to show support for future operating systems directions. The main negative opinion I heard came from an ex-Apple employee who felt that purchasing NeXT was all fine and nice, but didn’t solve any of Apple’s real problems (mainly management, in his view).
Ex-NeXT employees and developers were coming out of the woodwork, lending an air of surrealism to some of the late night parties. An interesting level of support came from current NeXT developers, who were ecstatic about the promise of a mainstream market for their products, many of which have been on the shelf for years. One person estimated that Apple sells more Macs in a month than copies of NeXTstep (on or off NeXT hardware) have ever been sold, so it’s easy to see why NeXT developers would be happy about having access to a larger market.
The Power to Be — Despite the positive reception of the NeXT deal, the Be booth was one of the busiest; it was almost impossible to squeeze in for a look at Power Macs running Macintosh applications under the BeOS. Other companies made big splashes, including Iomega, which gave out enough big, yellow buttons for serious button geeks to armor-plate themselves.
In terms of pure showmanship though, no one even came close to Macintosh clone maker Power Computing. Continuing its "Fight Back for the Mac!" theme, Power took over an entire corner of a hall, decorating their booth in camouflage netting and other survivalist accoutrements. All of Power’s staff wore black T-shirts and camouflage pants, which made for easy identification and probably more comfort than other companies’ booth uniforms. Head-shots of Power Computing CEO Steve Kahng adorned posters, T-shirts, and a huge banner outside one of the two exhibition halls. Underneath Steve’s visage were "Steve says" slogans about fighting back for the Mac – they were enough to unnerve a few people who thought the slogans Maoist. Power also rented an entire fleet of Hummers, U.S. Army transport vehicles, mounted loudspeakers on them, and drove them around San Francisco blaring the "Steve says" slogans.
After watching Mike Rosenfelt, Power Computing’s Director of Marketing, whip a crowd into a frenzy as a Power Computing machine easily bested a Compaq 200 MHz Pentium Pro in Adobe Premiere, all I could think was that Apple could use a serious dose of that kind of enthusiasm. Apple’s most significant strength has always been its loyal user base. That allegiance often wavers these days, and displays like Power’s – pure, unadulterated hucksterism though it may be – help people feel there’s still a fire burning in the Macintosh world.
Internet for Real — Internet offerings at the last few Macworld Expos left me with a bad taste in my mouth, since every other company was pretending it was now an Internet company. (Never mind that most products had little or no relationship to the Internet – that was the claim.) This year, however, Internet claims were somewhat lower-key, and more important, when made they were often backed up by reality.
Booth shirts with company URLs on the back were commonplace this year, and we received fewer clueless looks when we asked for the smallest piece of paper with a URL on it, given that a business card or postcard works just as well as a glossy brochure for reminding me that I want to investigate some product further. Despite the effort and expense of printing glossy brochures, they’re next to useless when stacked up against even a mediocre Web site.
Thanks To All the Little People — A significant factor in my overall positive opinion of the show is that there were a lot more small companies. In large part, thanks are due to the people who organized the Developer Central area, the Developer Greenhouse area, and the Component 100 area, all of which gave small bits of space to companies that would never have been able to afford to appear at the Expo otherwise.
Developer Central tried to concentrate on software development tools, though I found a number of interesting products there that had nothing to do with development, including my pick for best new product of the show, 6prime’s Rev, a revision control program for the rest of us (more in our next issue). The Developer Greenhouse apparently chooses the most interesting companies from a pool of applicants – I was pleased to see a number of Internet companies there, lending credence to the opinion that much of what’s interesting on the Mac is on the Internet these days. Component 100 was a tightly packed group of companies showing (and selling) low-priced LiveObjects for those who have adopted OpenDoc. I was impressed with some of the tools and will be investigating them further.
Finally, a quick story. While eating breakfast with friends at the Marriott Hotel (one of the main conference hotels), I had a fascinating discussion with our waiter. He wasn’t technically savvy and knew nothing about the industry other than what was proclaimed by the headlines, and yet he felt that the Mac industry was recovering well from last year. He judged everything by the mood of the people he served, and if you consider the number of people a waiter encounters in several days of a trade show, we’re talking about a fairly large sample size. Last year, apparently, he had people literally crying at their tables, and the overall tenor ranged from glum to downright depressed. This year, though, he said that people seemed brighter and more upbeat, despite Apple’s recently posted $150 million loss. I won’t pretend this is a scientific evaluation of Apple’s future, but I know I’m going to be chatting more with the wait staffs at trade shows in the future. They may prove the best analysts of public opinion yet.
As you might imagine after reading Adam’s and Geoff’s essays in TidBITS-360, last week’s Macworld Expo buzzed with talk about Apple’s acquisition of NeXT Software. Many people attended the keynote, hoping to learn solid details about the new OS, codenamed Rhapsody, which Apple plans to create using NeXT technology. Although I left the three-hour keynote with a pad full of notes and my mind brimming with details, several days later I found that my analysis agreed with that of most others: the keynote didn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know.
The keynote did not fully address several of the more important questions surrounding Rhapsody. Although Gil Amelio emphasized the importance of backwards compatibility, it appears Rhapsody will only run on PowerPC Macs "sold by Apple and its licensees today." Apparently Apple is still figuring out what to do about older Power Macs and 68K Macs. Another big unknown may be resolved more favorably: Apple plans for today’s System 7.x applications to run in Rhapsody natively, not in some sort of emulation mode, though this capability may not be fully present in Rhapsody’s "premier" release. We can also expect Rhapsody to look and feel like a Macintosh, though with interface changes and enhancements.
Apple is sticking to its plan of releasing System 7.x updates every six months, though the keynote revealed few hard facts. Still, between the keynote and Apple’s Web site, I was able to piece together some additional specifics. I’d like to add the caveat that I always take announcements about future software releases with at least a grain (and sometimes a shaker) of salt.
Coming Soon to a Mac Near You — Apple plans to release Mac OS 7.6, codenamed Harmony, on 31-Jan-97. This release has a new installer and integrates a number of currently-existing components with a few new ones. A quick rundown of the highlights includes QuickTime 2.5, QuickDraw 3D 1.0.6 (PowerPC only), QuickDraw GX 1.1.5, LaserWriter 8.4.2, and a more sophisticated Extensions Manager. I’m looking forward to checking out the OpenDoc Essentials kit, which includes a number of OpenDoc parts. Mac OS 7.6 will run on most modern Macintoshes, but not on 68020- or 68000-based machines, nor on the SE/30, IIx, or IIcx. However, owners of 68K-based Macs have less incentive to upgrade due to the now-infamous CFM-68K bug (see TidBITS-356), which sidelines OpenDoc, Cyberdog, and LaserWriter 8.4 on 68K machines. Apple has not yet indicated when the CFM-68K problem might be fixed.
It seems that Apple is using this release as a revenue generator. Look to pay an estimated retail price of $99 for Mac OS 7.6; $69 if you can prove you already own System 7.5 or 7.5.x . (Add $30 to either price to purchase the floppy disk version.) Those who purchased a Mac on or after 07-Dec-96 should check out the Mac OS Up-To-Date program to see if they qualify for an even deeper discount.
No doubt there will be many ways to acquire the update; to purchase it from within the United States, call Apple at 800/742-1926.
Increasing the Tempo — Mac OS 7.6 strikes me as somewhat dull, mostly because much of it is already available separately. Tempo, due out in about six months, should be more exciting in that it will include many elements of the Copland Finder, which will run native on the PowerPC (Copland was the codename of Apple’s formerly planned Mac OS 8). Folders will be "springloaded" in such a way that it’s easy to file items multiple levels deep within a folder. The Finder will offer new views such as one where files sort by creation date and one where files and folders look and act like Launcher buttons.
The keynote demonstration also made note of a change in the upper right hand corner of the window. Today, the zoom box is the only control at the upper right; in Tempo, the upper right will also sport a "window shade" box that can be clicked in order to roll up the window so only the title bar shows. (You can get a sneak peak of this feature with Aaron and Kaleidoscope; one new addition in Tempo will be the ability to Option-click the window shade box to roll up all open windows.) If you don’t need to upgrade to 7.6 and operate on a limited budget, you may wish to wait for Tempo, which is likely to have similar pricing.
Singing Apple’s Song — In mid-1997, Apple plans to ship a developer’s release of Rhapsody, and Apple says you can look for a premier release to general Macintosh users in time for the new year, although many industry observers find this timetable unrealistically ambitious. Apple also plans to ship another version of System 7 by the beginning of 1998, codenamed Allegro. By mid-1998, there will be another version of System 7, codenamed Sonata, and a more solidified version of Rhapsody. There’s currently little information about what technologies might appear in Sonata and Allegro.
I expect that most users will not take advantage of Rhapsody’s world of protected memory and pre-emptive multi-tasking until mid-1998, and that world still has some big unknowns. According to Apple’s Web site, Rhapsody will incorporate Display PostScript, though with the addition of some of Apple’s display technologies like ColorSync and QuickDraw GX typography (though not necessarily all of QuickDraw GX). This may mean – at least in part – that Macs running Rhapsody will generate their screen displays using PostScript, giving PostScript-dependent designers better WYSIWYG than the Mac offered previously. Apple has always emphasized multimedia, and they plan to enhance that position by placing optimized versions of QTML (QuickTime Multimedia Layer) technology in Rhapsody. Perhaps the biggest unknown is what kernel the operating system will center on, a decision that Apple must make in the near future.
Salting the Future — For Apple to ship Rhapsody as promised depends on Apple and NeXT employees efficiently joining forces. In addition, NeXT developers (of which a number attended Macworld Expo to check out the latest Mac software) must be brought into the fold, and all developers will require significant technical information and assistance. Finally, Mac users and the general public must get so excited about Rhapsody that they are practically drooling for it. Not only must Rhapsody provide the "relevant compelling solutions" promised by Steve Jobs at the keynote, but for Rhapsody to succeed, people must understand these solutions and believe in them.
Macworld Expo brings out not just the best and the worst in the Macintosh industry, but also the strangest. Besides, after four days of walking around the cavernous Moscone Center, surrounded by 70,000 Macintosh fans, it’s hard to keep a firm grip on reality. Here then are some of the products, booths, announcements, and miscellany that particularly caught our attention.
Best Kids’ Software — Apple’s Cocoa, a wonderful tool for kids of all ages for creating game and simulation worlds (written with Prograph, no less) has gone into free DR1 release and is available for download. It makes stand-alone applications or can be played on the Internet using a Netscape plug-in. Already some kids calling themselves Tenadar Software have marketed a game written with it; being shown a demo by munchkins is somewhat unnerving, but I guess I will have to have to get used to it. [MN]
Most Expensive Giveaway — Symantec gave a free copy of the $99 Visual Page to anyone who sat through a demo of any of their products. It’s yet another WYSIWYG Web page builder, but I didn’t own one and it works just fine. I suspect they gave it away because (a) there were minor errors with the CD pressing, (b) the program has slightly rough edges, (c) HTML has evolved somewhat beyond the program, and (d) they needed to get into step with Adobe PageMill which is being given away left, right, and center. Symantec won’t lose out because they’ll hook a lot of users and then be able to charge them for future updates. [MN]
Get Thee to REI — This award goes to Adaptec, a company that makes relatively dull-looking SCSI and network adapter cards. They increased the visual appeal of their booth by including of a 25-foot high fake mountain, reminiscent of the much larger indoor climbing wall (reportedly the world’s largest) that Seattle’s Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) recently installed in their flagship store. Apparently someone came by the Adaptec booth and offered to install a climbing wall – too bad the rock-colored foam wouldn’t have supported crampons. [ACE]
Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen — "PowerPC Only." This increasingly popular mantra was especially prominent with visual Java creation tools, including Symantec Visual Cafe and RandomNoise Coda (the exception was WebBurst, from Power Production Software). I knew this was going to happen but my 68K Mac and I are having trouble accepting it. [MN]
Coolest External Technology — My vote for coolest external technology goes to SMART Board, from SMART Technologies Inc. It’s a whiteboard which you attach to your computer through the serial port. You can write on it with colored markers, and whatever you write can be captured into the computer as a graphic; or (this part is even cooler) you can project your computer’s screen onto the whiteboard, and then touching the whiteboard with your finger is just like mousing there to control the computer. Plus, you can "write" on the picture with virtual colored markers whose traces are actually projected. How I wish I’d had this when I was teaching! [MN]
Runner-up for Coolest External Technology — The Wireless Modem, from Metricom. Already, I picture myself with my PowerBook, sitting in a yuppie cafe, connected to the Internet through the antenna of this cool-looking black box. Now if only Metricom would complete their receiver infrastructure; they have to attach receivers to streetlight poles all over your city before you can use the modem, and so far they’ve only done a few major cities. Besides, I can’t afford a seat at a yuppie cafe. [MN]
Neatest Utility — PreFab Text Machine, an ingenious program by the same folks who brought us PreFab Player, is a search-and-replace engine using an English-like GREP which in some ways is even better than Nisus Writer’s! This could bring powerful text-manipulation to any program that can interact with TextMachine via AppleScript or Frontier, or that can use TextMachine as an OpenDoc part. So far it’s in alpha only, but, as someone once prophesied of the Wright brothers, "These boys will bear watching." [MN]
Safest Email — Belgian developer Highware showed a beta version of Pretty Safe Mail, which uses PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) to encrypt and decrypt files, folders, email messages, or even parts of email messages, all by choosing a command from a system-wide menu. Pretty Safe Mail also supports digital signatures and is the simple implementation of strong cryptography software that I’ve been waiting for. [ACE]
Most Boring Vaporware — Apple takes this prize, with Mac OS 7.6. It hasn’t even appeared yet and already everyone’s wondering what all the fuss is about. [MN]
People That Most Closely Resemble Their Software — The employees of Alien Skin Software, makers of the Photoshop filter package Eye Candy 3.0 (formerly known as Black Box), dyed their hair fluorescent colors, presumably to show off their Hairdresser plug-in for Photoshop. [ACE]
Best Way to Watch the Show at the Show — Rearden Technologies set up several video cameras around the show floor using MacWebCam, which captured either static images every so often or streamed live video. You can even build time-lapse QuickTime movies with MacWebCam. New at the show was a pan/tilt unit that you could control from your Web browser to check out different sights around the camera. [ACE]
Best Potential HyperCard-beater — Despite my desperate loyalty to HyperCard, I was strongly shaken by the demo of Allegiant’s SuperCard 3.0, which looks like HyperCard done right (helpful palettes, true integrated color, vector-based graphics, easier "automatic" scripting) and can already operate across the Internet in Web pages by means of a Netscape plug-in called Roadster. [MN]
Best Program for Sun Worshippers or Cube Dwellers — Sundial, from John Neil & Associates, replaces your desktop pattern with one of ten professionally photographed California landscapes. What’s cool is that the image is actually a 288-frame, 24-hour QuickTime movie that changes slowly during the day to match the progress of the sun. Sundial even synchronizes with sunrise and sunset in your part of the world. Just imagine the non-scenic possibilities for future Sundial movies – "A Day in the Life of Sarajevo," "Living on the Street," or "Hotel Lobby." Sundial can theoretically use any 288-frame QuickTime movie, and John Neil & Associates is sponsoring a contest for new ideas. Imagine what it could be like if they add support (it’s theoretically already there) for the sound track in QuickTime and/or QuickTime VR. [ACE]
Scariest Support — Casady & Greene featured an extremely large man dressed up as a genie at their booth, calling him the Answer Genie (he was reportedly a member of the tech support staff). Unfortunately, he was so imposing that one show-goer, when prompted to direct a technical question to the Answer Genie instead of a more diminutive marketing person, looked quickly at the hulking genie and declared firmly, "No, I don’t think so."
It’s About Time — Long-time Internet developer InterCon Systems has come up with a product that tons of people have wanted for years – MacVPA (VPA stands for Virtual Private AppleTalk). Basically, MacVPA provides AppleTalk access for people who only have a PPP-based Internet connection. So, if you’re travelling, MacVPA enables you to dial any Internet provider and get AppleTalk access to your Internet-connected network back at the office, all without needing to run your own dial-in servers (or make long-distance telephone calls). [ACE]
Neatest Ergonomic Aid — The No Hands Mouse, by Hunter Digital, isn’t a mouse, and it doesn’t even sit on your desk. It’s actually a pair of foot pedals; the right one controls mouse movement with a joystick-like action, while the left pedal controls mouse clicking (rock forward to click, back to double-click). I had trouble moving the cursor around, and found myself unconsciously grabbing for a nonexistent mouse, but others I talked to liked the feel. I assume you’d get used to it fairly quickly. [JLC]
Most Dissonant Booths — This award goes to all the RAM vendors at the show who had large, elaborate booths that stood in stark contrast to the small size of the almost identical products they sell. RAM is small, all SIMMs and DIMMs look the same, and RAM doesn’t exactly provide much demo fodder. On the other hand, you can never have too much of it. [ACE]
Our Favorite Button — "Email Rules", from StarNine. How true.
Coolest Computer Case — Apple’s four pound eMate Newton, which will be available shortly for the education market and for the rest of us in the middle of 1997, features an integral handle and (in the unit we saw) a murky green translucent plastic case. The handle has prompted some to label it the "Power Purse," but overall, I was extremely impressed. The keyboard was obviously designed for small hands, but was usable by adults. The Newton operating system worked well and the applications included a functional word processor, spreadsheet, drawing program, graphing calculator, address book, and calendar. I’ve been waiting for a Newton with a keyboard and larger screen (480 x 320) for a while. One neat feature I haven’t seen before was a tripod mount on the bottom – a tripod would be an excellent way to use the eMate in the field. [ACE]
Best Tchotchkes — Drive Savers, the folks who can recover hard drives from PowerBooks run over by buses or dropped in lakes, gave out Roomerangs, little foam four-pronged boomerang-like toys designed for tossing indoors. If you need to use DriveSavers’ services, you’re definitely going to be up for throwing something, so why not make it a Roomerang? [JLC]