After spending four days at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, it’s time to examine what we’ve seen: Steve Jobs announced a $45 million profit for Apple, but not much else; Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg searched for removable storage systems; Adam looked for trends in this year’s show; Managing Editor Jeff Carlson’s attention was grabbed by graphics tools; and this year’s Superlatives article includes the question, "What’s with the latex body suits?"
Jobs Announces $45 Million Profit — Although Steve Jobs’s keynote address at San Francisco’s Macworld Expo didn’t include much of his trademark showmanship – or news on Apple’s ongoing search for a new CEO – he did end the presentation with a surprise: Apple expects to post a quarterly profit of $45 million on a total revenue of $1.575 billion. Rather than coming from creative number-juggling, Apple’s statement claims the income represents a true operational profit, based in part on strong sales of new Power Macintosh G3 systems (more than 130,000 units during 1997) and retail sales through CompUSA, which is setting up Mac-specific areas in its outlets. Apple also credited its new online store and build-to-order manufacturing capabilities. Whether Apple can sustain profitability during 1998 remains open for debate; however, posting a profit now certainly gives Apple partners, shareholders, and customers a much-needed morale boost. [GD]
Storage Wars — Looking for a gigabyte-sized removable drive for backup or file storage? TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg was, so we spent time at Macworld Expo comparing Iomega’s Jaz (1 GB now with a 2 GB drive coming soon), SyQuest’s SyJet 1.5 GB drive, and the forthcoming 2.1 GB Orb drive from newcomer Castlewood Systems. After conversations with company representatives, we realized that the differences boiled down to price and popularity, as well as – potentially – speed and reliability. The SyJet 1.5 currently costs the least, particularly with the $249 show special that included two cartridges. The 1 GB Jaz drive is the most ubiquitous, with over one million units sold, making it the best choice for compatibility and trading files. And, the new Orb drive (when it ships) will be the cheapest, fastest, and roomiest, and it may have the best reliability due to a simpler mechanism (though early units of removable drives often have problems).
So, for individual backup, the SyJet 1.5 GB appears to be the drive of choice, and the 1 GB Jaz drive looks ideal for those who work with service bureaus. The Orb drive, if it lives up to its promises, may compete seriously with the SyJet 1.5 for individual use (especially because the Orb’s $30 cartridges are significantly cheaper than cartridges for the other two), though it could take time to become popular in service bureaus. [ACE]
I approached this year’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco with trepidation. 1997 was a tumultuous year for the Macintosh community – we saw the beginning of the end for Macintosh clones, renewed emphasis on the Macintosh platform from Microsoft, the resignation of CEO Gil Amelio and other executives, and the return of Steve Jobs to the post of Apple CEO-in-all-but-name.
The first day of the show was concerning. Although Jobs’s keynote was generally well-received, especially Apple’s report of a $45 million profit for the first quarter of 1998, the keynote bore no news about a new CEO and focused primarily on the past and present, with little about Apple’s plans for the future. The aisles of the show, though not deserted, were easy navigated the first day, perhaps due to the absence of the people attending conference sessions.
After the first day’s worries, walking around became far more difficult as the crowds increased. Most exhibitors I spoke with were happy with how the show was going, and products flew off the shelves. One company reported that it sold more copies of its product at Macworld than during Comdex, a much larger show, and on the final day, the line to buy Connectix’s products routinely held 30 or 40 people.
So, although there’s no question that the show was slightly smaller and more subdued than in previous years, it was neither a significant downturn nor a desperate last hurrah.
No Cloning Around — One of the major reasons the show seemed smaller and quieter was that it was smaller – by about 10 percent. In many ways, the smaller size was welcome, since it meant more room for eating the overpriced food on the show floor, along with more places devoted to sitting, an activity that’s always welcome at Macworld.
Although it’s easy to read doom and gloom into the 10 percent shrinkage, Neil Ticktin of MacTech Magazine reported that the conference organizers said the clone vendors had taken up about 10 percent of the floor space the previous year. Given only Power Computing’s massive booth area last year (see my report on last year’s show in TidBITS-361), it’s not surprising the show would have shrunk.
This year UMAX and Mactell represented the remnants of the Macintosh clone market, but neither made the splash that Power Computing has made in previous years. The lower clone profile is probably a combination of quieter corporate attitude, fewer marketing funds, and a desire to stay off Apple’s radar. It will be interesting to see how many clone vendors survive 1998.
Squeezably Microsoft — In many ways, the biggest news of the show focused again on Microsoft, as it had at Macworld Boston. This time the news was more than a PR pat on the back and token investment – Microsoft showed the Macintosh versions of Internet Explorer 4.0 and Microsoft Office 98, one of the most important products for the Mac, especially in offices with both Macs and Windows machines. Although the preview release of Internet Explorer 4.0 has been available for several months, this was the first time that many people had seen Office 98, and from reports I heard, the reactions were almost uniformly positive. A friend sitting in the press section during the keynote demo of Office 98 reported that the whispered comments graduated from negative to grudgingly impressed as the demo progressed – not bad for such a tough crowd. My impression of Office 98 primarily concerns Word, and I suspect that although die-hard Word 5.1 users may hold out for a while, users of the poorly received Word 6 will upgrade immediately and appreciate the new features (such as the interactive spell checking that underlines incorrectly spelled words) and the much-improved, Mac-like interface.
Animosity toward the software giant continues, not surprisingly, as evidenced by boos for Internet Explorer during the keynote and individual comments heard throughout the show. A popular item was the biting parody CD-ROM called Winblows from Parroty Interactive. (They have another called PYST, a parody of Myst.) But, Apple continually emphasized the new closer relationship between Apple and Microsoft, and Steve Jobs spoke briefly at the combined Microsoft/Apple party for Internet Explorer 4.0 and Office 98. Perhaps the situation from Apple’s perspective is best summed up by a friend, who jokingly noted while walking by the Microsoft booth, "Oh no, it’s Microsoft! Wait, they’re the good guys now."
Toad the Wet Socket — After the last few years of Internet emphasis at Macworld Expo, I was surprised to see a notable reduction this year. Most of the Internet companies I expected to see, such as StarNine, Blue World Communications, Stalker, Qualcomm, Maxum, ClearWay, Web Broadcasting, EveryWare Development, and Rockstar Studios were present, but I found no surprises. A number of smaller Internet companies did appear in small booths in the Developer Central area, so that’s where we were able to find Bare Bones Software, Tenon Intersystems, Qdea, and Hotline Communications, along with newcomer Omni Development, showing their OmniWeb Web browser for Rhapsody.
I think there are three reasons for this reduced focus on the Internet. First, many of the Internet technologies shown have been around for several years and have started to mature. StarNine announced the public beta of WebSTAR 3.0, Maxum had their Rumpus FTP server, Stalker showed a version of their CommuniGate mail server running under Rhapsody, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with any of these products, but let’s face it, new versions of existing Internet servers aren’t all that exciting on a grand scale.
Second, Apple’s past emphasis on the Internet has seemingly all but disappeared. I saw no mention of the Apple Internet Server Solution bundles, and reports from contacts within Apple indicate that budgets were cut to the bone in 1997. Those budget cuts decidedly hurt Internet marketing and evangelism departments; they were probably equally destructive to development efforts that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. Although there’s no question that Apple had to reduce expenses tremendously to weather the financial crises of 1997, the end result may prove damaging to Rhapsody, which continues to look as though it’s being groomed as a server operating system. If webmasters and network administrators feel they can’t rely on Apple to provide Mac OS servers, it may prove difficult for Apple to convince them to adopt Rhapsody servers.
Third and finally, on the client side, the much-publicized browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft have hurt the rest of the Internet market. As Web browsers improve and incorporate an ever-increasing number of features, it’s more difficult for dedicated programs – whether an FTP client like Fetch or Anarchie or an email program like Emailer or Eudora – to survive, no matter how much better they may be. (Despite this, Bare Bones Software was showing a pre-release version of a new email client, called Mailsmith.)
Of even more concern is where this will all lead, since it’s easier to gain market share than it is to make money with a business model that involves giving away software. Netscape Communications lost money last quarter, and even though Microsoft can afford to pump money into Internet Explorer for the foreseeable future, Microsoft is as interested in the bottom line as any other company and sooner or later, that development will have to pay off in a measurable fashion.
Cache as Cache Can — I shouldn’t imply there were no interesting Internet products at the show. Connectix decidedly walked off with the prize for SurfExpress, which speeds Web browser caching significantly (by redirecting cached Web pages into a high-performance database to avoid the slower Mac OS file system) and enables you to search through cached Web pages. Maxum and ClearWay were together showing WebDoubler, a dedicated caching proxy server (which retrieves pages you request from the Web, then stores them so you or others on your network can retrieve them quickly from the local cache, rather than slowly from the Internet again) for the Mac that would be ideal for improving browser performance and providing content filtering to a school or small office. Tenon’s WebTen, a Macintosh version of the popular Unix Apache Web server and Squid caching proxy server was previously the only caching proxy server available, and WebSTAR 3.0 promises to include one as well.
The Dutch company Neuron Data Systems demoed the $139 MacCoach, a clever ADB device that talks to a control panel on a server to make sure the server is still running; if communication fails due to a crash, MacCoach simulates a Control-Command-Power keystroke to restart the Mac. Although MacCoach isn’t as flexible or powerful as a PowerKey Pro with the Server Restart Option from Sophisticated Circuits, MacCoach is smaller and simpler, but about the same price. Frankly, I wouldn’t run a Macintosh Internet server without a PowerKey Pro, but I may have to try MacCoach.
Finally, I watched a demo of ClearWay’s Web Archer, a utility that simplifies searching with multiple Web search engines and searching for specific types of information. I’d tried the Web Archer demo before, but failed to notice all the clever tricks it has hidden in its interface, many of them contextual to the type of search you’ve performed. It’s worth a closer look.
New York, New York! The Macintosh industry is far from dead, as evidenced by this show and its tens of thousands of attendees. Apple claims to be back on the road to profitability, although it remains to be seen if the company can maintain the upward trend and erase the bad taste of 1997. We’ll have to wait until Macworld Expo New York in July (the 6th through the 10th) for another snapshot of the industry as a whole. Let’s hope it’s clear, in focus, and with everyone smiling.
As has become our custom, we once again present you with the superlatives – the best, worst, and weirdest – of Macworld Expo.
Best Gotcha — Olympus takes home the award for the best gotcha for their fake film canisters. They look real, but the film leader strip says "Pull." Doing so reveals that Olympus doesn’t sell film, and encourages you to visit the Olympus booth to check out their digital cameras. It got us.
Worst Tchotchke — Iomega picks this one up for the tremendously annoying clickers they gave out to advertise their forthcoming Clik! drive (which sounds fairly cool). Everyone we spoke with found it incredibly irritating to have people clicking these things throughout the entire show, and the Iomega booth during a Clik! demonstration sounded like a plague of locusts. My thought was that Iomega’s competitor, SyQuest, should have given out blow guns with tranquilizer darts. In fact, we couldn’t figure out the overall thrust of Iomega’s numerous giveaways and booth decor: in addition to the clickers, Iomega featured the yellow buttons with often-pointless sayings (they were fun the first time, several years ago), temporary tattoos, and latex-suited models (see below).
Best Costumes — Human Computing, makers of the ComicBase Encyclopedia of Comics CD-ROM (reviewed in TidBITS-266), didn’t have to leap over a tall building for this award, but the company did dress up some booth staff as superheroes, including Batman (who needed a slightly smaller costume), Batgirl, and Supergirl.
Worst Costumes for No Reason — Iomega cops this award for dressing Kate Moss-thin models in skin-tight latex body suits (complete with black wigs, dark glasses, and high-heeled black boots) and having them pose around the Iomega booth. Tonya asked two of the Iomega folks what the product tie-in was and was told that there was none, but that the models were "attracting attention." Lame, very lame.
Best Performance — Although it was difficult to beat Ms. Day-Glo Green Perky at the ATI booth, the best performance goes to the two Ullanta performance robots that mixed with the crowds and recorded QuickTime VR movies. Attended by Ullanta Performance Robotics director Barry Brian Werger, we met the two robots in the Apple pavilion. The first robot was about six feet tall and had a digital camera for a head. Its camera was connected to a Newton MessagePad 2000, which in turn was connected to a wireless modem. Every so often, it would spin around, taking pictures that the Newton then uploaded to a Web site to be turned into a QuickTime VR movie. The second, smaller robot tried to follow the first robot, making for extremely cute scenes as the pair trundled around, interacting politely with show goers.
Coolest Low-Tech Device — The AlphaSmart keyboard wins this one for being a cheap ($250), hardy (it’s designed for kids), electronic keyboard that can store 64 pages of text in its 128K memory. Ports enable it to connect to either a Mac or a PC and download text by sending it as keystrokes to any application. While connected, it can also act as a normal keyboard. Its LCD screen may be small (4 lines of 40 characters), but at two pounds it’s a great device for kids or note-taking journalists. It can store eight "files," can search for text in any of them, and has basic spell checking features. Battery life is 300 hours on 3 AA batteries, and it’s easy enough to use that the directions fit on the back of the unit.
Best of Show, Sometime Soon — Our developer friends who have pre-releases of Mac OS 8.1 were raving over Alsoft’s PlusMaker utility, which converts an existing hard disk to HFS+, Apple’s new disk format that saves space by reducing block size. PlusMaker received a "Best of Show" award, which seems a wee bit premature, given than Mac OS 8.1 isn’t out yet. We’re looking forward to seeing both HFS+ and PlusMaker soon, along with PlusMaximizer, another utility from Alsoft that changes Mac OS 8.1’s default block size from 4K to 512 bytes, saving even more space in exchange for somewhat increased fragmentation.
Best Business Card — This award goes to Fabian Ramirez, who we ran into randomly at the show. We’d known Fabian years ago from the Info-Mac mailing list. At the time he was working for SuperMac; he subsequently quit to become a police officer, and now he has fabulous baseball card-style cards that picture him looking official on a police bicycle and have a brief biography on the back. Next thing you know, we’ll have Mac trading cards. (I’ll trade you four Gil Amelios, an Ellen Hancock, and my T-Maker Heidi Roizen for a Henry Norr and a Steve Jobs without the beard.)
The "You’ve Got to Be Kidding" Award — Apple’s recruiting desk in the corner of the Apple pavilion wins this one. Given Apple’s history of laying off employees, the "Work Different" slogan over the desk could have been expanded to "Work Fast, Work Different, Work Elsewhere" to comply with truth-in-advertising laws.
Best New Word — Thanks to Mark Kriegsman for telling us that the word for our habit of starting at one end of a hall and systematically working our way up and down aisles so we don’t miss much is "boustrophedon." Extra thanks to TidBITS Contributing Editor Matt Neuburg, (who was Adam’s Classics professor in a previous life) for explaining that the word comes from the Greek words "bou," meaning "ox," and "strophe," meaning "to turn." And at first we thought Mark just was trying to make a yoke.
Although the Internet has stolen most of the thunder at recent Macworld Expos, last week’s show in San Francisco signaled that the graphics and desktop publishing fields are making plenty of noise in the Macintosh world.
This time around, I didn’t sense that booth presenters were forcing the words Internet or Web into their amplified pitches to prove the hipness of their products. Instead, vendors seemed to be directing their products at their core users; perhaps Apple’s renewed focus on content creators is inspiring other companies to do the same.
As usual, Macworld featured a number of hardware manufacturers with products related to desktop publishing. For example, Tektronix showcased several models of their large-format Phaser color printers, and Linotype CPS showed off scanners and LinoColor technology.
After wandering the show floor and evading gangs of youths plated with Iomega buttons and wielding clickers, here are some items that caught my eye.
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Ahead — Proving again that it doesn’t want to play in the same sandbox as everyone else, Quark failed to appear at this year’s show. Although this comes as no surprise to regular show attendees, I thought that Quark would at least demonstrate QuarkXPress 4.0, the first major revision to their page-layout application in more than three years. Perhaps the skiing in Colorado is just too good this time of year.
Video Tools Move Me — As the power of desktop computers has risen, the bar for entering the field of video editing has lowered, creating a market for video tools that nearly anyone can use. QuickTime 3.0 was a big draw at Apple’s corner of the show, but there were also a few other products worth pointing out.
The people with the multicolored hair at Alien Skin Software demonstrated Eye Candy 3.0 for After Effects, a collection of Photoshop plug-ins that have been adapted and optimized for use with Adobe After Effects. With it, many Eye Candy filters such as Fire, Smoke, and Fur can be used in animations and videos.
Perhaps the most interesting video utility was CineLook, by DigiEffects. At its most basic, this After Effects plug-in makes videotaped images look like they were shot on film stock. I imagine that many independent filmmakers who find themselves shooting to videotape for financial reasons will embrace CineLook. It can also be used to match disparate film stocks by using its emulation library of over 50 preset film types. And if you think your film looks too good, you can apply Film Damage, which makes video look like deteriorated film, complete with scratches, fingerprints, and hairs!
Some Color Purple — I’ve yet to meet a graphics professional who has a complete handle on creating color materials that actually match the final printed colors. The Mac is still the best platform for color management, but that doesn’t mean the process is easy. Two programs I saw go a long way toward making color management a headache-free process.
Equilibrium’s slogan for DeBabelizer 3 is "It’s about time," which refers not only to the product’s time-saving graphics automation features, but also to the delay between Macintosh versions. Web designers in production environments love DeBabelizer because of its batch-processing ability and the Super Palette, which creates a Web-friendly color palette from a collection of images. Print designers use DeBabelizer to open and manipulate nearly every graphic file format in existence. Version 3 adds support for ColorSync and improves on what has traditionally been known as the most confusing interface under the Mac OS.
The other color-management program that impressed me is Vivid Details’s Test Strip 2.0. This Photoshop plug-in creates a color test strip that displays how an image will appear when an assortment of corrections is applied. You can control and preview multiple adjustments of color balance, exposure, saturation, and color additions and subtractions. When you find the ideal combination, you can batch-process groups of images using the same settings. Test Strip also comes with sets of Actions to apply pre-built settings automatically under Photoshop 4.
Give ‘Em a Hand — As a longtime user of Macromedia FreeHand, I have high expectations of this great drawing program. Even so, a FreeHand 8 demo wowed me when I saw the new transparency lens effect in action. Although PostScript doesn’t support transparency, Macromedia has implemented a system for creating, editing, and printing transparent objects without confusing workarounds.
FreeHand 8 also features customization of keyboard shortcuts and toolbars, letting you choose how to use the program. For Adobe Illustrator 6.0 users, an optional setting maps FreeHand’s command keys to Illustrator’s shortcuts.
Internet Isn’t Everything — Yes, the Internet enhances communication – but the fact remains that most published communication these days is still being delivered by the folks who do graphics, desktop publishing, and video. Although, many of the products I’ve highlighted have aligned themselves with the Internet in some fashion, no one is in a hurry to stop the presses.