What’s your favorite flavor? At last week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple surprised us with a handful of iCandy, speed-bumped iMacs in five fruity colors. However, the excitement didn’t end there as Apple introduced a significantly changed Power Macintosh G3 and new displays. In this issue, we have the hard numbers behind the new Macs, plus impressions and observations from one of the more successful Macworld Expos in recent history.
Farallon Sponsoring TidBITS — We’re pleased to welcome our latest sponsor, Farallon Communications. Farallon started out in 1986 and quickly made the PhoneNet LocalTalk connector one of the most ubiquitous networking products for the Macintosh. From there, Farallon branched out into Ethernet, LAN, and Internet products before changing its name to Netopia, Inc. in 1997. But in August of last year, Farallon spun out of Netopia again as a separate company focusing on Ethernet and LAN networking, including Mac-specific items such as EtherMac iPrint adapters, LocalTalk products, and (of course) a variety of Ethernet networking hardware for a wide range of past and present Macintosh models. Perhaps more importantly, however, Farallon focuses on making networking technology simple and easy to understand, in part by publishing "Ask Dr. Farallon" guides to common networking topics, and recently opening a new Home Network Web site covering basic home and small office networking. Farallon’s re-emergence is great for the Macintosh industry, and we’re happy to have them on board. [ACE]
Adobe Acquires GoLive — Adobe Systems, Inc. announced it has purchased GoLive Systems, Inc., makers of the well-regarded GoLive CyberStudio Web authoring package and the server-based GoLive Publishing System. According to Adobe’s press release, CyberStudio rounds out Adobe’s suite of applications commonly used to produce online content, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Adobe’s plans for its existing (and cross-platform) HTML authoring application PageMill are unclear, although PageMill is a less sophisticated application than CyberStudio. The acquisition leads to worries that Adobe will handle CyberStudio as clumsily as PageMill, which was the premiere HTML authoring tool for Macintosh when Adobe purchased it from Ceneca Communications in 1995. [GD]
In his keynote at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple Interim CEO Steve Jobs introduced new Power Macintosh G3 computers aimed at business and high-end users, plus revved-up versions of the iMac in five new colors, all available immediately.
Tutti Frutti — Now that the iMac is the best selling computer in Apple’s history, Apple has introduced a slightly enhanced iMac, available in five new colors – grape, strawberry, lime, blueberry, and tangerine – with matching USB mice and keyboards. The new iMacs retail for $1,200 and feature 266 MHz PowerPC G3 processors and 6 GB internal hard drives, but are otherwise almost functionally identical to the initial iMacs, sporting 32 MB of RAM, two USB ports, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, an internal 56 Kbps modem, and built-in monitors that support 24-bit color at resolutions out to 1024 by 768 pixels. Missing in the new configuration, however, are the predecessor’s built-in infrared port and the undocumented expansion slot. The original Bondi blue iMacs with 233 MHz processors and 4 GB drives are still available for $1,049, which puts Apple closer to the sub-$1,000 computer market.
Reaction from Macworld attendees had little to do with new specifications and everything to do with new colors. Random opinion seemed to indicate grape is the most popular, although all the new hues certainly had adherents. I’m disappointed there’s no bright yellow "banana" flavor (recalling a banana-branded computer in a once-popular comic strip) but there’s little doubt Apple eschewed yellow to avoid having the word "lemon" associated with the iMac. However, since many iMac peripherals are blue and white, no doubt users will soon be criticized by fashion mavens: "I can’t believe you’re using that scanner and that trackball with a tangerine computer! Tsk!"
Yosemite — The iMac wasn’t the only item to become more colorful at Macworld Expo: Apple also introduced new minitower Power Macintosh G3 systems dressed up in iMac-like blue and white cases with four built-in (and fully functional) handles. Informally known by the codename Yosemite, these new Power Mac G3 systems feature PowerPC G3 processors running at speeds up to 400 MHz with 1 MB of backside cache, connected to the rest of the computer via a 100 MHz system bus. The Yosemite systems offer five bays for internal storage devices, two of which can be used for removable-media devices like CD-ROM and Zip drives. Getting inside is elegantly simple: just lift a lever and most of the computer swings down, allowing generous access to RAM, expansion slots, and drive bays. (The Yosemite cases can also be locked, for folks concerned that access is too easy.) Unlike previous Apple systems, the Yosemite machines will run with their cases fully open, although doing so isn’t recommended because it interferes with the air flow cooling the G3 processor.
Yosemite systems bear other similarities to the iMac. They use iMac-style PC100 SDRAM DIMMS, although they offer four sockets that can accommodate as much as 1 GB of RAM. They lack floppy drives, serial ports, and SCSI, instead offering two USB ports and two new high-speed FireWire ports. USB first appeared on the iMac, so it’s new to high-end Macintosh systems. However, Yosemite systems are the first Macs to feature FireWire. Originally developed by Apple years ago as an inexpensive, easy-to-use high speed serial bus for computers and digital consumer devices, FireWire supports transfer speeds of up to 400 megabits per second, making it suited to high bandwidth data like audio and video. By way of comparison, FireWire offers up to ten times the bandwidth of external SCSI buses on earlier Power Mac G3 systems, although it doesn’t match high-end SCSI systems.
Like USB, FireWire devices can be hot-swapped, so you don’t have to shut down the computer to connect or disconnect FireWire devices – and you can even connect a FireWire device to more than one computer at a time. Further, a single FireWire chain can handle up to 63 devices, and devices can draw power off the FireWire chain, so some FireWire peripherals won’t need a separate power supply. Although FireWire technology has been around for a while, the main items with FireWire ports at the moment are camcorders. According to Apple, other products like hard drives, scanners, and audio mixers are in the works and should available by March or April, although some vendors indicated June or July might be more realistic. Apple has Web pages highlighting selected USB and FireWire products; expect the FireWire section to grow in coming months.
Yosemite systems also feature built-in 10/100Base-T Ethernet, an optional internal 56 Kbps modem, and three standard PCI slots. Yosemite systems also have a fourth, proprietary double-speed PCI slot pre-equipped with a high-performance ATI RAGE 128 video card. Apple also offers several build-to-order options, including inexpensive SCSI PCI cards, gigabit Ethernet, and DVD-ROM and Zip drives. Yosemite systems ship with the same USB space-saving keyboard and round mouse that debuted with the iMac. If you don’t like the new mouse and keyboard, the Yosemite systems still sport a single ADB port for old-style input devices and compatibility with Apple displays – only the 21-inch Apple Studio Display has been updated to support USB. Power Macintosh G3 systems range from $1,600 to $3,500 without displays.
Apple’s new Power Mac G3 systems are intriguing, but audio and video production people are chagrined Apple isn’t offering a model with more PCI slots. Even though Apple is saying SCSI and serial are things of the past, many people still need these devices to get their work done. Installing a SCSI card and a USB-to-serial converter can leave only one expansion slot available; add a second monitor and you’ve hit Yosemite’s expansion limits. Something to think about.
What’s in a Name? One troubling aspect to Apple’s new systems is that they don’t have unique names. No one wants Apple to return to the days of randomly numbered Performas, but I’m concerned that Apple semi-officially refers to the new G3 minitowers as "blue and white" (or just "blue") Power Macintosh G3s. What happens if Apple introduces new colors, or a different machine in the same case? Similarly, Apple is correct to position the iMac as a singular, easily recognized entity, but we now have three iMacs – revision A, then revision B, and now a rainbow of new machines – which might lead to confusion among iMac customers and long-time Macintosh users.
Mac OS X Server — Apple also announced that Mac OS X Server will be available in the U.S. beginning in February for $1,000. Billed as Apple’s first modern server operating system, Mac OS X Server was until recently known as Rhapsody, and is built on the Mach microkernel, BSD Unix 4.4, the Yellow Box application layer derived from NeXTStep, plus the Blue Box, a separate application layer that can run existing Mac OS software. (See "Mac OS X: Rhapsody a Mac Developer Could Love" in TidBITS-430 for more information on Mac OS X.) Mac OS X Server will also ship with WebObjects 4, Apple’s Web and e-commerce development environment also acquired from NeXT, and the well-regarded Apache Web server.
For server administrators, Mac OS X Server’s most compelling capability might be NetBoot, which enables Mac OS client systems to start up over the network. NetBoot could eliminate hundreds of headaches configuring individual systems, restricting access, and defining user privileges; users can also access personal applications, documents, and desktop environments from any Mac on the network. Unfortunately, NetBoot won’t start up just any Mac: only machines utilizing the so-called "New World" ROM-in-RAM design can be booted this way, and right now only the iMac and Apple’s new blue and white Power Mac G3 systems qualify.
Mac OS X Server also offers extensive file and media serving capabilities using AppleTalk or TCP/IP, along with remote administration features. However, Apple’s been careful to mention that even though Mac OS X Server will be able to run current Mac OS applications using the Blue Box, Mac OS X Server isn’t recommended for use as a workstation – that will have to wait for Mac OS X itself, still slated for release in 1999.
One of my main reasons for attending Macworld Expo each year is to gain some sense for the state of health of the Macintosh by feeling out the crowds and the exhibitors. If I had to describe this year’s Expo in just two words, they would be "crowded" and "upbeat." The two go together, of course. I recall last year’s keynote speech, at a gloomy, uncertain time for Apple, as being remarkably (almost frighteningly) well-provided with empty seats. This year’s keynote was full, and as for the show floor, you couldn’t move without jostling or being jostled. The excitement was electric.
Of course, it’s difficult to measure the show’s size in terms of human density, since the show floor is of indeterminate acreage; the Moscone Center simply curtains off unused portions. Thus, one’s sense of the crowd’s size is actually due to a ratio between the number of people present and how much room they’ve been given to move in. That, in turn, depends partly upon the number of exhibitors: a show with fewer exhibitors and more attendees will feel more crowded, but for reasons that should elicit pessimism.
This year’s show didn’t make me feel pessimistic. Far from it. For one thing, the crowds seemed dense even outside the exhibition areas, suggesting that raw numbers were genuinely good. For another, exhibitors were not, as last year, confined mostly to well-known heavy hitters. I saw many small booths occupied by companies I’d never heard of. To me, that suggests a Macintosh on the mend.
Steve Jobs’ keynote address was as notable for what it didn’t say as for what it did. There was, for instance, no mention of HyperCard, QuickTime 4, consumer-level PowerBooks, Carbon, Mac OS 8.6, or breaking the $1,000 barrier. In general, speculation on future directions and future technology, long the bane of Apple’s existence, was stoutly discouraged in favor of a summary of where Apple has been lately, and announcement of products shipping now or in the very near future.
The speech went on too long, in part because it was constantly prey to interruptions by tinseltown production numbers which I found repulsive. For instance, we were shown several advertisements, and Jobs chatted irrelevantly on several occasions with a HAL 9000 look-alike. Also, the keynote was prolonged unnecessarily by a visit from Microsoft demonstrating Internet Explorer 4.5, which was a more effective method of showing Microsoft’s Mac committment than the company’s increasingly repetitive assertions of said committment. Show us, don’t tell us.
Jobs reminded us that Apple has just completed its fifth consecutive profitable quarter. An astonishing 800,000 iMacs have been sold since their introduction 15-Aug-98; the iMac is, by some measures, America’s best-selling computer model, and is certainly the best-selling model in Apple’s history. The December sales figures reveal that 32 percent of iMac sales are to first-time computer buyers, with an additional 13 percent going to PC converts – that means 45 percent of iMac buyers are new to the Macintosh.
Three iMac-like displays were, uh, displayed: a 21-inch Trinitron CRT with a built-in USB hub for $1,500, a 17-inch DiamondTron CRT for an excellent $500, and the repackaged 15-inch flat-panel LCD at a new price of $1,100, far more competitive and realistic than its original $2,000.
As a sort of preview to Mac OS X (definitively pronounced "Oh-Ess-Ten" by Jobs), a subset of its features will be available as Mac OS X Server. This is the only Apple product Jobs mentioned which is not yet shipping. The discussion of Mac OS X Server culminated in a dramatic demonstration in which a huge rack of 50 iMacs was produced; all the iMacs simultaneously proceeded to download and play the same streaming video from a single server machine.
And what was that server machine, you ask? It was the new Power Macintosh G3, heretofore dubbed "Yosemite," the star of the keynote and, I think most attendees will agree, of the entire Expo. You can read Geoff Duncan’s overview of new Power Macintosh G3 hardware elsewhere in this issue, so I won’t repeat the specifications here. During the keynote address, Jobs made much of the fact that the machine comes with 3D graphics support – the ATI Rage 128, with 16 MB of SDRAM and support for QuickDraw 3D. Apple also announced it has licensed the OpenGL 3D graphics software from Silicon Graphics and plans to integrate it into Mac OS X and the next release of Mac OS 8. This caused a claque of gamers in the audience to cheer wildly, so I take it to be a good thing. Jobs also demonstrated the new Power Mac G3’s FireWire capabilities by downloading video from a digital camcorder to two computers at once, and, most dramatically, he pulled the wires out of the computers in the middle of the download and nothing crashed.
Jobs saved the best part for last: how do you get into the machine to insert cards or drives? As he said, it’s called a door. Seen from the side, the new machine is a square (except for the four plastic handles at each corner, the bottom two serving as stabilizing feet, the top two serving as handles). Jobs pulled a knob at the center of the top edge of this square, and the computer’s entire side swung down, hinging along the bottom, to rest on the table. The whole works turned out to be attached to this side of the computer, so cards and memory that previously had projected sideways into the box now projected upwards from the door resting on the table. I do not believe access could be made more trivially easy.
Apple is taking risks with its new Power Macintosh G3s, breaking definitively with its SCSI and serial past and concentrating on the mid- to high-end range (with, amazingly, a maximum of three free slots) while the Intel-based world abounds with sub-$1,000 systems. Time will show whether these are the right risks, as well as what else Jobs may have up his sleeve. I’m not one to predict the future – and if this keynote has taught me one thing, it’s to believe no rumors – but surely, with Steve Jobs at the nominal helm, Apple’s moves will be focused and deliberate. The feeling radiating from every corner of this Expo is that Apple is back, that Apple is solid, and that Apple has a future. Let’s hope those feelings count for something.
While ordering lunch at a restaurant in San Francisco last week, I asked our waiter what he thought of the Expo. The last time I’d done that in 1997, I received a thoughtful perspective from the outside the Macintosh community. This year, despite the waiter’s limited English, I got an equally accurate, if less grammatical, response. "The people who come in, they are pretty happy. Things were not good, but they are getting better. [Mumble mumble] iMac, [mumble] iMac, [mumble mumble] iMac."
I think the waiter pegged it. This was a good show, and almost everyone was happy. And, amazingly, we can chalk it up to the excitement caused by a Macintosh whose only real claim to fame is a curvy case and a splash of Bondi blue.
Apple in the Center — To be sure, giving that much credit to the iMac is an oversimplification. Apple has done many things right during this second reign of Steve Jobs, the interim CEO, termed "iCEO" by the wags. Marketing has improved greatly, the chaotic excess of even attractive programs has been trimmed, and by slashing employees and expenses, Jobs is pulling consecutive quarterly profits out of Apple’s hat.
In short, just as Jobs has taken charge of Apple and brought order to chaos in occasionally draconian ways, Apple returned to the center of the Macintosh world. The best symbol of this was Apple’s prominent position smack dab in the middle of one of Moscone Center’s two halls. In previous years, Apple had almost secreted itself in alcoves off the main floor or in a smaller supplementary hall. Now, Apple is back in charge.
TidBITS Managing Editor Jeff Carlson and I missed the keynote address due to a delayed flight, but our consolation prize was walking into the almost-deserted South Hall of Moscone Center, where we strolled down an empty aisle flanked by a long series of iMacs in the new colors on light tables (which show off the translucent plastics to their best). The walls were covered with quotes from people like Picasso ("Bad artists copy. Good artists steal."), and enormous banners from the Think Different ad campaign hung from the cavernous rafters. When an Apple rep said the iMac colors were named for flavors – tangerine, lime, strawberry, grape, and blueberry (which is different from Bondi blue) – I couldn’t help thinking that these machines give new meaning to the term "Cupertino Kool-Aid."
Even the new Power Mac G3 and the landing pod-like monitors sported the design sense and the blue color of the iMac. By making design the most obvious part of Apple’s hardware strategy, Jobs has recast the standard discussion of hardware specs to one of color. About 45 percent of iMac buyers are new to the Mac, and the fact that they’re buying iMacs says that color and design (and price, although the iMacs aren’t much cheaper than some other Macs) can be more important than operating systems, CPU speeds, and RAM configurations.
Although this change may seem artificial or spurious, I think it’s actually quite important. Computers have become sufficiently powerful that the details simply don’t matter the way they used to, and novice users aren’t likely to take them into account when making a purchasing decision. The ease of use and consistency of the Mac OS has always been an advantage over Windows, and it seems that the iMac design is sufficient to trump the lower prices of PCs. Of course, the danger is that PC vendors will also realize this change in the market and will hire equally talented industrial designers to spice up their offerings.
Apple also managed to keep these new machines a secret, which I applaud. Let’s face it, a few new colors don’t make for a big change, and the force of an announcement is eliminated if you know about it ahead of time. By keeping the colors secret (Apple wouldn’t even release the information to publications like Macworld under NDA), Jobs made sure he had a captive audience to wow during his keynote. On a personal level, I like being surprised – it makes official releases much more fun – and Apple benefits from the excited buzz generated by a well-coordinated, clear announcement.
The Macintosh Ecosystem — Apple’s move back to the center of Macworld Expo and the Macintosh industry started me thinking of the entire industry as an ecosystem, with Apple as the dominant life form. Differences in the Macworld shows from year to year revolve around Apple’s changes. Game companies, if not exactly in abundance, were more lively this year, and the product of the show had to be Connectix’s wildly popular Virtual Game Station, which lets any G3 Macintosh run Sony PlayStation games.
The overall space used in Moscone’s two halls seemed smaller this year, but unlike the ill-fated Macworld Expo last July in New York, the convention organizers cleverly moved the walls in with cloth dividers, so you had to look closely to realize the space difference. Despite this, the number of exhibitors may have been higher than in the past, due to all the small companies with small booths. The Net Innovators and Developer Central pavilions also contributed to the exhibitor count, packing numerous small companies into relatively tight spaces.
The largest influx of new companies had to be small peripheral manufacturers, many of whom had gone all out on the Bondi blue plastics for a wide variety of USB devices. Many of these items clash with the new iMac colors, but Apple folks I spoke with said they’d tried to encourage manufacturers to use a white on translucent white color scheme to avoid the color conflict.
Retailers were in short supply due to a new 10 percent tax that the City of San Francisco was adding to all show sales (on top of sales tax), although CompUSA had a large central area simulating their Apple store-within-a-store structure. However, they reportedly carried only products from companies who paid for the privilege of appearing on those shelves.
Ironically, given the "i" in iMac (which nominally stands for "Internet"), there was little emphasis on the Internet aside from the Net Innovators pavilion. In part, I suspect that Internet capabilities are taken for granted now, so companies aren’t trumpeting the basic stuff they were so proud of a few years ago. The de-emphasis may also be due to the elimination of so much Internet client software by the free Web browsers and the difficulty of competing with Microsoft’s free email software Outlook Express, though a number of email companies were present, including Bare Bones Software and CE Software. Internet server software like StarNine’s WebSTAR Web server and Maxum’s caching proxy server and content filter WebDoubler also face an uphill battle as Apple continues to ignore the fact that the Mac OS makes a good Internet server platform.
The number of products for the Palm devices from Palm Computing was also impressive. Although often only peripherally related to the Macintosh, the ethos of the Palm device is similar to that of the Macintosh in earlier years, and users thronged Palm’s booth. A Palm device doesn’t make much sense for me, but I felt behind the times when a friend wanted to beam me his new business card information. At least I was able to point to Jeff and deadpan, "I don’t have a PalmPilot, but I have people who do."
Continued Evolution — I’ll be interested to see how the Macintosh world evolves between now and Macworld Boston next August. Evolution is often marked by spurts of change separated by periods of inactivity. We’re in an active phase now, which is nice after the dark days of Apple’s death spiral and the constant armchair quarterbacking from Macintosh users. Hopefully, Apple will continue making positive changes on an intentional path. It makes watching the industry far more enjoyable, and in the end, if being a Macintosh user isn’t fun, what’s the point?