Macworld Expo dominates this issue, with Adam’s analysis of Apple’s vision for the Mac as a hub for the "digital lifestyle," and its new media software, iTunes and iDVD. Jeff Carlson then looks at the star of the Expo, the fast and sleek PowerBook G4 Titanium. We also round up details of Apple’s forthcoming Mac OS X 1.0, note the release of Mac OS 9.1, apologize for our mailing list server dying last week, and welcome our latest sponsor, Bare Bones Software.
TidBITS Mail Server Woes — Last week, our primary mailing list server suffered severe drive failure approximately four hours after we started distribution of last week’s issue, TidBITS-562. Unfortunately, the problems started at about 2 A.M. here, and while Adam and Jeff were away at Macworld Expo. By the time we isolated the problem the next day, the damage had already been done: a few thousand TidBITS subscribers were sent multiple copies of empty or partial issues, and nearly a thousand more received no issue (it’s still available on our Web site, of course). We’ve swapped in another machine, restored from backup, and will be keeping a careful eye on this week’s distribution. Our apologies to those of you who were inconvenienced, and we’d like to thank you for your patience and nearly universal good manners while we sorted out the problems. Also a big thanks to the fine folks at our host digital.forest, who went substantially beyond the call of duty on short notice to help us resolve these problems. [GD]
Bare Bones Software Sponsoring TidBITS — We’re happy to announce our latest sponsor, the well-known Bare Bones Software. For those vacationing without satellite Internet connections in Outer Mongolia for the last few years, Bare Bones is best known for BBEdit, their powerful text editor, and Mailsmith, which brings BBEdit’s text-editing and searching power to email. Originally, Bare Bones aimed BBEdit squarely at the programmer market, and it’s still considered the best programmer’s editor by many developers. But in a bit of inspired genius, when HTML became popular, Bare Bones added support for HTML into BBEdit, turning it into the HTML editor of choice for people who care what their HTML code looks like (such as our Technical Editor, Geoff Duncan, who relies on BBEdit to tweak every tag in our database-generated pages). Even as the visual HTML editors became more powerful and popular, BBEdit’s power user fans continue to swear by the program, and Macromedia even integrates BBEdit with Dreamweaver to give Web developers access to both visual and code approaches. BBEdit also supports a wide variety of other languages, even including a browser for setext, the implicit markup language we use for the email edition of TidBITS. Finally, on the human side, the Bare Bones crew, led by Rich Siegel, have long been strong boosters of the Macintosh community with their regular presence at (and support of) the MacHack developers conference, participation in mailing lists like TidBITS Talk, and now their sponsorship of TidBITS. We couldn’t be happier to have Bare Bones on board. [ACE]
Mac OS 9.1 Available Online at Nearly 70 MB — Apple has quietly released Mac OS 9.1, the latest version of its shipping operating system. Mac OS 9.1 improves support for Multiple Users and iTools, and offers a number of under the hood enhancements including AppleScript 1.5.5, AppleShare Client 3.8.8, OpenGL 1.2, revised FireWire software, a new process manager (enabling faster task switching and better performance for some background applications), and a substantially revised nanokernel. Mac OS 9.1 also improves the Finder’s Get Info functionality, adds a Window menu to the Finder, and simplifies the top-level folder structure of a newly set up drive to match that of Mac OS X more closely – installing only System, Documents, Apple Extras, and Applications (where Utilities and Assistants now reside). Mac OS 9.1’s system requirements are unchanged from Mac OS 9: an Apple original PowerPC-based system with at least 32 MB of RAM (64 MB of RAM or more recommended). Apple does not support third party PowerPC upgrades; although Mac OS 9.1 may work with them, you may wish to let more-ambitious users test the waters first. Also, Mac OS 9.1 and the Mac OS X Public Beta are incompatible; Mac OS 9.1 breaks Mac OS X Public Beta’s Classic environment.
The Mac OS 9.1 Update for U.S. English systems is available online for free, but it’s a substantial download: nearly 70 MB for 15 segments or a single file (available shortly). A better option may be to order a CD; Mac OS 9 owners in the U.S. can order a full Mac OS 9.1 installation CD for $20 from Apple if they can provide one of Apple’s proof of purchase coupons or a copy of a dated sales receipt. Please note that owners of early NuBus Power Macs and Workgroup Servers must use a complete install CD to upgrade to Mac OS 9.1. Similarly, if you use a language kit with Mac OS 9, you must have the full Mac OS 9.1 CD to update your language kit. Localized versions of the Mac OS 9.1 Update are available online for several languages; more should be available shortly. As with any system software update, be sure to perform a complete backup before installation. [GD]
Apple has often been accused of lacking direction or being unable to explain how Macs are different from PCs – perhaps the most valuable thing Steve Jobs brought to Apple has been focus, particularly with the iMacs and iBooks. But although the success of those machines silenced naysayers temporarily, the criticism returned with Apple’s recent financial difficulties. So it was incumbent on Jobs to re-establish control over Apple’s direction with his keynote address at last week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, and for the most part, he didn’t disappoint.
He started out with details about the forthcoming Mac OS X 1.0, segued into the specifications of the latest generation of Power Mac G4s, and finished off with the drool-inducing PowerBook G4 Titanium. You’ll read all about those announcements below and in next week’s issue, but Jobs paused in the middle to explain Apple’s vision for the future, saying "I’d like to tell you where we’re going…"
The PC Is Dead, Long Live the PC — Jobs begged to differ with quotes from PC maker executives about how the personal computer was dead. He then provided a timeline that labeled the years between 1986 and 1994 as the Productivity Age, when we were entranced by word processors and spreadsheets. From 1995 to 2000, he said, we were ensconced in the Internet Age, where the browser and email ruled. But now, Jobs feels that we’re entering what he calls the Digital Lifestyle Age, which is marked by the electronic devices we carry around with us such as cell phones, PDAs, CD players, MP3 players, and digital cameras, along with consumer-level devices like DVD players. Sitting in the audience with my Palm V in my left pocket and my Samsung cell phone and Canon PowerShot S100 digital camera in my right pocket, I couldn’t help but agree.
Apple’s vision, then, is to make the Macintosh into the "digital hub" of our digital lifestyle, adding value and interconnecting all of these disparate devices. Because of the size and single-mindedness of these devices, Jobs argued that the personal computer offers compelling advantages as the glue tying everything together. In contrast with these tiny bits of consumer electronics, computers have large screens, connect to fast Internet connections, run complex applications, feature inexpensive mass storage devices, and write to cheap and standardized removable media. By inserting a computer into that web of devices, you can, for instance, move audio tracks from a music CD to your hard disk, arrange them as desired, and then burn them to CD-R for playing in your car. Or you could send a slew of photographs from a digital camera to your hard disk, perform minimal image editing, post some to a Web site for public display, and burn the whole bunch to CD-R or DVD for archiving.
Jobs claimed that the success of Apple’s simple video editing software iMovie provided the hint that putting the Macintosh at the center of the digital lifestyle was where Apple should go. The success of iMovie relies on a popular piece of consumer electronics (a digital video camcorder) working with Apple’s combination of hardware (the Mac, with FireWire), operating system (Mac OS 9, with QuickTime), an application (iMovie), and an Internet service (iTools’ HomePage, for posting movies on a streaming QuickTime server), along with Apple’s marketing and advertising support to get the word out to people who might not have otherwise considered a Macintosh. With that lesson under its belt, Apple has moved to connect other gaps in the digital lifestyle with the combination of the new CD-RW-equipped Power Macs and new software: iTunes and iDVD.
iTunes — Apple’s next push toward making the Macintosh into a digital hub focuses on audio with a new free program called iTunes. It’s by no means revolutionary, combining MP3 encoding and playing along with the capability to work with portable MP3 players and burn audio CDs (though initially only with the CD-RW drives in the latest Power Mac G4s). Those functions are available today in other programs, but iTunes goes the farthest in integrating them in an extremely usable interface. (Jobs compared it with the MP3 software included by PC makers; needless to say, against those motley interfaces, iTunes fared extremely well.) This isn’t the place for a full review, but it was common knowledge at the show that iTunes was written by Apple’s Jeff Robbin, previously the developer of Casady & Greene’s SoundJam (which remains available, though Casady & Greene president Terry Kunysz merely said that SoundJam offers flexibility not present in iTunes and that it remained to be seen how SoundJam would compete). Plus, a bit of investigation with ResEdit shows that iTunes is heavily based on SoundJam. The rewrite seems to have given Jeff a chance to rethink the decisions he made with SoundJam, and iTunes addresses some of the criticisms we’ve leveled at SoundJam over the years.
Nevertheless, releasing iTunes for free and bundling it with all new Macs makes sense from Apple’s standpoint, since it brings home the digital hub role Apple wants the Mac to play by connecting pre-recorded audio CDs with MP3 playback, portable MP3 players, and audio CD creation, all of which are becoming increasingly popular. iTunes does further complicate an already-tough market for MP3 software, much as Apple’s anointing of Outlook Express made the email client business even harder for the many other developers of email programs. However, the situation with iTunes isn’t quite as troubling as with email, since there wasn’t as much variability in MP3 players, no one spends as much time in their MP3 player as in their email program, and few people would argue that listening to MP3s is more important than email. Plus, a case could be made for iTunes introducing people to digital music who would not otherwise have tried it, thus possibly increasing the market for products that go beyond iTunes, offer alternate interfaces, or provide ancillary services.
Apple has also left the older Mac market to other developers. iTunes requires at least Mac OS 9.0.4, with Mac OS 9.1 recommended, and instead of saying which Macintosh models do or do not work, Apple merely says that iTunes "works with all Apple systems released in August 1998 or later" – though our limited tests on older machines running appropriate system software have been successful. iTunes is a 2.8 MB download – if you’re into MP3s, it’s worth a look.
iDVD — While iTunes is entering an already crowded market, iDVD stands alone. Working in conjunction with the so-called "SuperDrive" DVD-R drive in the $3,500 733 MHz Power Mac G4, iDVD provides a simple interface for creating graphical, hierarchical interfaces to movies and still images written to DVDs; those discs can then be played in consumer DVD players that support DVD-Video, which is reportedly most recent ones. iDVD is free, but it comes only with appropriately equipped Power Mac G4s. (Jobs also quickly introduced the $1,000 DVD Studio Pro, which complements iDVD much as the professional-level Final Cut Pro complements iMovie.)
What’s impressive about iDVD is that it takes a set of tasks that require significant design skill or are computationally difficult and builds them into a truly simple interface. You use drag & drop to add QuickTime movies to your DVD, picking an individual frame for each to act as the thumbnail. Similarly, you can drag folders of images into iDVD to create slide shows. Modifying the background image and choosing different fonts and colors can be as simple as choosing different themes, but it’s also easy to add your own images and choose specific fonts and colors instead. Then, once you’ve set up the entire disc, iDVD does the compression and encoding necessary to convert the files to the format necessary for DVD-Video drives.
Apple claimed a software breakthrough in making that process take only twice as long as the video being recorded instead of 25 times as long (so a 1 hour movie takes only 2 hours to encode, rather than 25 hours); though I haven’t been able to verify the truth of that breakthrough claim. Jobs’s other claim, that the hardware and software necessary to create DVDs that would play in consumer DVD players cost about $5,000, is on target. Needless to say, going from a peripheral and program combination that costs $5,000 to building the same capability into the fastest Macintosh available (the 733 MHz Power Mac G4) and selling the entire package for $3,500 is brilliant work. Plus, Apple is also selling DVD-R blanks for $10 each, significantly less than the $30 to $40 the discs currently cost.
Thinking Digital — So what do I think of Apple’s new vision? It’s compelling, in large part because it’s a recognition of reality on Apple’s part. Apple has been known for pushing the boundaries to provide new capabilities, as they did with iMovie, but I think the company has often looked too far out, rather than concentrating on the present. The fact is that vast numbers of people are living the so-called "digital lifestyle" right now, and by concentrating on that market, Apple could improve our lives in very real ways.
Over the years, I’ve written plenty in TidBITS about integrating Macs into everyday life, concentrating in large part on the "kitchen Mac" PowerBook Tonya and I have set up; it handles our calendar, lets us access the Web for activities like ordering groceries, and plays MP3s from a server in the basement over an AirPort-enabled wireless network. And since May of 2000, I’ve been writing columns for Macworld.com about living the wired life. Apple may be a little late to the party many of us been having for some time, but it’s good to have them here at last. I look forward to seeing how Apple tackles the problems presented by some of the other common digital devices that litter our lives, such as digital cameras, cell phones, and PDAs.
Some of Apple’s past and present moves in this digital lifestyle direction may feel gimmicky to those who can’t imagine using them. We’ve been somewhat dismissive of iMovie in the past, and I’m sure many people have utterly no interest in burning DVDs with iDVD. But as Shawn King of The Mac Show reminded me while we were chatting at the Expo, sales and use aren’t necessarily related. Apple is interested in selling products, and although they would like to see us using those products all the time, that’s not necessary. So if iMovie helps convince someone to buy an iMac, Apple doesn’t really care if that person makes only a couple of movies with it. Indeed, out of 160 people at this year’s Netters Dinner (a geek-laden crowd if there ever was one), only about 10 or 15 had ever made a movie with iMovie, and only a handful had made more than two or three. Similarly, I’m sure that many people who get the top-of-the-line Power Mac G4 with the DVD-R drive will happily burn only a few DVDs for friends and relatives to watch; even if it doesn’t happen on a daily basis, iDVD will still have been a success in helping drive a sale for Apple. In short, it’s important to remember that just because people may not make movies at the rate they send email, there’s no reason to assume that video products aren’t successful or important to Apple or to those who do use them.
Let me leave you with one final thought. Jobs may be right about moving from the Productivity Age to the Internet Age and on into the Digital Lifestyle Age. But even though productivity applications and Internet clients have improved and become faster and easier to use, we’re all still faced with a finite amount of time, and we haven’t stopped using word processors or browsing the Web. Participating in the digital lifestyle doesn’t necessarily come for free, as you’ve undoubtedly discovered while spending hours ripping audio CDs to MP3 files, shopping for a cellular phone, editing video tracks, or trying to manage a collection of thousands of digital photographs. The time necessary to participate in these digital activities has to come from somewhere, and I’d hate to see analog activities like cooking, exercising, or simply enjoying human companionship be pushed to the wayside. Or perhaps Apple will help us figure out how to integrate our Macs into those activities as well.
Cast Your Vote — So what do you think? Is Apple on to something here? Or is the company just blowing smoke to cover the cracks in its strategy and execution that resulted in the recent disappointing financial results. Cast your vote in this week’s poll on our home page, and let us know your opinion of Apple’s new emphasis in TidBITS Talk at <[email protected]>.
Despite Steve Jobs’s talk of ripping CDs and burning DVDs, the real heat of his Macworld Expo keynote address came at the end when he unveiled the PowerBook G4 Titanium, a svelte portable that promises to blaze through your data, roast your lap, and burn a hole in your pocket.
The buzz before the Expo suggested Apple had a new laptop in the works, and the question before the keynote became: would it be a jaw-dropping reinvention or just a speed-bump upgrade with improved specs? Make room on the floor for your jaw.
Mercury Rising — The PowerBook G4 is certainly faster and more powerful than its predecessors. The first Apple portable to feature the PowerPC G4 processor, the laptop is available in two standard configurations (both can be customized at the Apple Store): a 400 MHz model with 128 MB of RAM and a 10 GB hard disk, or a 500 MHz model with 256 MB of RAM and a 20 GB hard disk (a 30 GB hard disk is also available). Both configurations feature a 100 MHz system bus, 1 MB of L2 cache, an ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics processor, 10/100Base-T Ethernet, a DVD-ROM drive capable of playing DVD video and CD audio, a 56K internal modem, an infrared port, room for an optional AirPort card, and a lithium-ion battery that can provide up to five hours of battery life.
The PowerBook sports two USB ports and one FireWire port for expansion (apparently there was room enough for only three ports, which is why Apple dropped one FireWire port), one PC Card/CardBus slot, a stereo minijack, a VGA video output port, and an S-video output port. In short, almost everything a mobile Mac user would want from a modern laptop.
Thin Different — It isn’t necessarily hardware specs that will drive PowerBook G4 sales, however. The new machine is constructed of commercially pure titanium, the strong but lightweight metal used in surgical implants and aircraft engines. As such, the PowerBook is bright and shiny, almost making the brushed-metal QuickTime interface look attractive. (I said "almost.") The titanium shell also accounts for the PowerBook G4’s light weight: a mere 5.3 pounds, compared to 6.1 pounds for the current PowerBook G3 (FireWire) model. The difference may not look like much, but anyone who travels with a laptop will appreciate the lightened load. But here’s the best part: the PowerBook G4 Titanium is one inch thick, and that’s with the lid closed. Apple has been making PowerBooks thinner and lighter since introducing the PowerBook G3 Series, but the G4 makes everything else seem positively bulky.
Overall, the case is a bit shallower (9.5 inches) and wider (13.5 inches) than existing designs. The good news is that the thinner body lowers the top edge of the screen, so the PowerBook G4 is likely to be more comfortable to use on an airplane. Oh, and Apple even changed the logo on the case so it is right-side up when other people see you using such a nifty device – or when it gets a cameo on television.
How did Apple’s engineers achieve this flattening feat? In addition to ever-shrinking components, they made some design decisions that capitalize on space savings. The DVD drive, for example, is a slot-loading device built into the front-right side of the unit and there are no expansion bays. The battery is slim and square, and fits into a compartment in the bottom. The keyboard is also thinner, though it uses the same layout of existing PowerBooks (including the annoyingly placed Fn key), with the addition of an Eject function on the F12 key. And the lid latch is a small magnetic clasp at the front (unfortunately, the G4 doesn’t have the elegant latch-less closing mechanism of the iBook).
The Widening Inferno — Impressed yet? How about the last big departure from the PowerBook lineage (and I mean big): the PowerBook G4’s screen measures 15.2 inches in a "wide-screen" format (a 3:2 aspect ratio), which accounts for the machine’s added width. The default resolution is 1,152 by 768 pixels, though the screen can also display more common resolutions (such as 1,024 by 768 pixels) at a 4:3 aspect ratio. The included 8 MB of video memory displays millions of colors on external displays, plus supports mirrored and extended desktops on multiple monitors. Apple predictably touts the capability to use the larger screen to better edit video using iMovie or Final Cut Pro, but I’ll be happy to make more room for the increasing number of palettes in programs like Microsoft Word 2001 and Adobe GoLive 5.
Burn Rate — All this power does herald another hot aspect of the PowerBook G4: its temperature. Models on the Expo floor were definitely toasty on the bottom, even after accounting for them having been on lighted display tables. Considering that the titanium case must act as a heat sink, a lot of the heat generated by the G4 processor is bound to end up in your lap.
Apple is selling the 400 MHz configuration for $2,600, and the 500 MHz configuration for $3,500. Although not cheap, these prices are in line with new PowerBook models of the past. For many people at the Expo, the temptation to buy a PowerBook G4 drove conversations and comparisons. Some even gave in to their burning desires and placed orders at the Apple Store using the AirPort-equipped PowerBook G4 models on display.
However, therein lies the biggest potential problem of the PowerBook G4 Titanium: can Apple keep up with demand? Jobs announced that the new machines would start to be available in limited quantities at the end of January. Given the company’s history of announcing products before manufacturing is fully ramped up – especially with a complex and detailed product like a one-inch thick portable – it will be interesting to see how well Apple can keep up. Still, it’s a flame worth tending: my order is already placed.
The thrust of Steve Jobs’s keynote at Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco may have been to position the Macintosh as the hub for today’s digital lifestyle, but equally important in the speech were the details Jobs provided about Mac OS X 1.0.
Jobs first gave a brief demo of a few of the already-known features of Mac OS X, after which he showed the changes Apple has made since the public beta, based on feedback from the user community. He claimed, although I can’t quite believe this, that Apple estimated that only 10,000 people would buy the Mac OS X Public Beta, and that they would receive only 3,000 to 4,000 comments. Those estimates turned out to be wildly incorrect, with over 100,000 people buying the public beta and submitting over 75,000 pieces of feedback.
Distinct Improvements — Sounding humble, Jobs then worked through some of the major changes. Mac OS X now has a left-hand functional Apple menu (rather than a useless badge in the center of the menu bar) containing commands like Sleep, Restart, Logout, and others that you might want to access at any time. In response to comments about the lack of functionality in the Dock, Apple added contextual hierarchical menus to icons in the Dock – click and hold for menus that let you navigate folder hierarchies from docked folders, access recently used documents from applications in the Dock, and so on. To address complaints about the size of the Font panel, Apple made it resizable in a variety of flexible ways. And finally, to reduce the wasteful use of screen real estate in Mac OS X, Apple reduced the size of the toolbar in Finder windows, made it highly customizable, and provided a control for turning it off entirely. And, when the toolbar is turned off, Mac OS X switches from its all-in-one-window approach to a more familiar Mac OS 9-like style of each folder appearing in its own window when opened.
Although all of these changes are excellent steps in the right direction, and I don’t doubt that many more have been made as well thanks to user feedback, I hesitate to draw any hard and fast conclusions. For instance, the application menu remained to the immediate right of the Apple menu, and since that’s the name of the application, it will continually change the position of the File and Edit menus that follow on to the right, harming usability by eliminating static targets for common usages. And although word has it that AppleScript is in Mac OS X, it remains to be seen if users will be able to script networking, printing, and other functions which are currently scriptable in Mac OS 9.
Line in the Sand — Even if we don’t know exactly what Mac OS X 1.0 will look like, we do now have a firm price and release date – you’ll be able to buy Mac OS X 1.0 for $129 on 24-Mar-01. Jobs also announced that Apple would start pre-loading Mac OS X on all Macs by default in July of 2001. Mac OS 9.x will continue to run on new hardware for some time, so it should be possible to revert a Mac OS X machine to Mac OS 9, perhaps even with a dual-boot approach such as is used in the Mac OS X Public Beta. That’s important, because otherwise some existing users may delay hardware purchases until they’re ready to deal with Mac OS X. That would likely be especially true of schools and businesses that don’t want to support multiple operating systems or that won’t have approved it for release to their users yet.
Jobs also reported on the number of developers committed to developing for Mac OS X; the details are immaterial and unverifiable, but Apple believes that developer support will follow a bell curve starting this March, peaking in July, and finishing off toward the end of the year. Although I expect Apple’s expectations are accurate, some developers were disappointed that Apple is implicitly shouldering them with responsibility for releasing sooner when Apple’s developer materials for Mac OS X still have notable holes, such as driver support for a variety of peripherals.
With the release of Mac OS X, Apple is not so much walking a tightrope as playing a three-dimensional game of Twister while suspended above a pool of cohabiting alligators and piranhas. Snapping at Apple’s heels are developers with programs that can’t easily be carbonized or who require as-yet unavailable features in Mac OS X, and long-time Macintosh loyalists who fear losing significant investments in software, hardware, and knowledge. Standing by with safety nets to rescue Mac OS X 1.0 from these dangers are new users who face no transition troubles, Unix users excited about running Unix and mainstream productivity applications side-by-side, and developers creating new programs in Cocoa’s fast development environment. Apple has worked miracles before, as with the transition from 68K to PowerPC, but it will be insanely difficult to meet the very real needs of all these groups by July, if not with the initial March release.