Macworld Expo coverage continues in force this week, with Jeff Carlson’s look at the new Power Mac G4s and three short articles about trends we noticed. Plus, reader Jim Carr encourages California users participating in [email protected] to sit it out for a while. In the news, we look at Apple’s first quarter financial results, report on your opinions of Apple’s digital lifestyle thrust, and note the passing of Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett.
Apple Announces Less of a Loss
Apple Announces Less of a Loss — Apple released its financial results covering the company’s first fiscal quarter of 2001, posting a better-than-expected net loss of $195 million. This is Apple’s first quarterly loss in three years. As expected, the company gained $49 million by dipping into the seemingly bottomless barrel of ARM Holdings, plc. shares, selling 3.8 million, and by selling 1 million shares of Akamai Technologies stock. Excluding the investment gains and adjustments made to Apple’s bottom line through accounting moves, the net loss would have been $247 million, in line with the company’s earnings pre-announcement in December. The company shipped 659,000 Macs during the quarter, a significant drop compared to the 1.12 million units sold in the previous quarter and nearly 1.4 million systems sold in the first quarter of 2000. On a positive note, CEO Steve Jobs and CFO Fred Anderson reiterated Apple’s strong cash position of more than $4 billion and reported that channel inventories have been improved to about five and a half weeks. Anderson also said that Apple expects revenues for 2001 to be about $6 billion, in line with 1999’s $6.1 billion, but well below 2000’s $7.98 billion. [JLC]
The Other Garage
The Other Garage — Although the Macintosh industry reveres the Silicon Valley garage in which Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple I computers, it was the other Palo Alto garage duo, William Hewlett and David Packard, who are credited with much of the modern computing revolution. In 1939, the two founded Hewlett-Packard in a one-car garage in Palo Alto, making the foundation of Apple possible for the Steves nearly four decades later. In fact, Hewlett-Packard’s role in the creation of Apple was more specific than just helping in the evolution of modern computing. After all, Steve Wozniak was employed at HP when he created the prototype of the Apple I in his spare time, and HP explicitly passed on the opportunity he gave them to develop the Apple I before giving him a release letter. Fast-forwarding to the present, on 12-Jan-01, as tens of thousands of Macintosh fans gathered for the final day of the Macworld Expo, William Hewlett died at home in his sleep. He was 87 years old. (David Packard died in 1996.) [MHA]
Poll Results: Embracing the Digital Lifestyle?
Poll Results: Embracing the Digital Lifestyle? Following Steve Jobs’s Macworld Expo keynote outlining Apple’s vision of the "digital lifestyle," we wanted to hear from readers who may not have been in the glow of Jobs’s patented reality distortion field. Do you think Apple is on target with their new emphasis on making the Macintosh the "digital hub" for a "digital lifestyle?" Of the 500-plus respondents, 72 percent believe the strategy makes sense, echoing our thoughts that Apple is putting its spin on what’s already happening in the real world. However, 21 percent think it’s too early to say whether Apple is on target – the enthusiasm of early adopters can sometimes be misleading over the long run. Six percent of respondents think Apple is clueless and chasing a phantom market. Only the fullness of time will reveal the brilliance or cluelessness of Apple’s current vision, so keep watching this space for our impressions of how it all unfolds and pass on your thoughts in the TidBITS Talk discussion. [JLC]
German Translators Needed
German Translators Needed — Some turnover among the energetic translators of TidBITS into German has revealed a need for a few more people to help out. If you can spend a little time each week translating a small portion of TidBITS from English to German or helping put together and distribute the finished product (for those who are fluent German editors but aren’t as comfortable with translation), the German-speaking Macintosh community will thank you. For more information, see the page below. Thanks for helping out! [ACE]
SETI Sucks Power
The entire point of the [email protected] project is to exploit the massive computing power of millions of unused personal computers, and the project has broken new ground in processing radio signals from outer space. But as much as the [email protected] project is attempting to advance human knowledge in a low-impact, collaborative, cost-effective manner, there is a side-effect that some people may not consider – the electrical power consumption necessary to run the computers participating in the [email protected] project.
In many parts of the world, people have made the individual choices that they in essence wish to subsidize [email protected] by paying their power bill, but given the significant electrical problems faced by the State of California right now, decisions to use power for non-essential activities like [email protected] have become more complex. There are many reasons – both good and bad – people don’t turn off devices which consume electricity, and I’d like to encourage everyone to step back for a moment and remember that unrestrained use of electricity can have negative consequences. Perhaps California’s woes can help us all take the extra few moments to revaluate our power usage habits and reduce them when appropriate.
Recent Power Mac G3s and G4s consume between 200 and 250 watts (that’s without a monitor), while a typical 27-inch television consumes less than 150 watts. So, in general terms, running a computer 24 hours a day can consume between 33 and 66 percent more power than leaving a television on all day long – something few people would do in a power crisis. (Current iMacs consume 150 watts, but earlier models used as little as 80 watts.) Of course, judicious use of Apple’s Energy Saver control panel or St. Clair Software’s Sleeper control panel can significantly reduce power consumption without the delay of waiting for the Mac to boot from scratch.
Thanks to Jim Carr <[email protected]> for raising this issue, and kudos to the [email protected] project for explicitly asking California users to shut down their computers to conserve power. Jim wrote:
"I am currently 24th on TidBITS team for the [email protected] project with over 2 years of CPU time and 1319 work units completed. Alas, my unit production will be drastically curtailed for a while.
I live in a part of Southern California that receives power from Edison, which is having financial problems and is unable to pay its bills for more power. Other California utilities are in same situation, and there is just not enough reasonably priced power available to the state grid to meet demand. Rolling blackouts have already begun in California.
I achieved my [email protected] totals by leaving a computer (along with a second one for the last few months) running 24 hours a day, every day, and 90 percent of that time is spent calculating [email protected] work units. I feel that it is no longer socially responsible to do that anymore when the public is being asked to conserve as much power as it can.
I want to urge all users out there who are in a region affected by power shortages to shut down equipment when you aren’t actively using it. I remain a supporter of the [email protected] program and have also supported it via membership in the Planetary Society. I look forward to the day when the power mess is resolved in this state and I can run those computers without feeling guilty."
New Power Mac G4s Debut with SuperDrive
Although the PowerBook G4 Titanium stole the show at this year’s January Macworld Expo (see "PowerBook G4 Titanium Burns Bright" in TidBITS-563), Apple also tantalized the crowds with improvements to the professional Power Mac G4 line, adding faster processors and the capability to create custom CDs and DVDs.
The new machines feature PowerPC G4 chips running at speeds of 466, 533, 667, and 733 MHz, but include only single processor configurations by default. A dual-processor build-to-order option is available for the 533 MHz system for those who use one of the few pre-Mac OS X applications that can take advantage of multiple CPUs. Dual-processor options aren’t currently available for the faster processors due to their limited availability. The new machines also feature a 133 MHz system bus, a faster PCI architecture, and, in a nod to the audio and video professionals desiring more expansion options, four open PCI slots. A fifth slot, a 4x AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) graphics slot, is occupied by either an ATI RAGE 128 graphics card with 16 MB of memory (the 466 MHz configuration) or an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics card with 32 MB of memory. An optional ATI RADEON card with 32 MB of Double Data Rate memory is also available as a build-to-order option. All units include gigabit Ethernet, USB and FireWire ports, optional AirPort wireless networking, and a 10 watt digital amplifier (which can be hooked up to Apple’s $60 Pro Speakers).
Catching the Boat — As the current workhorse of the Macintosh line, the Power Mac G4 is the likeliest candidate to act as the hub of Steve Jobs’s "digital lifestyle" (see "Jobs Aims Apple for the Digital Lifestyle" in TidBITS-563). Macs currently connect to devices like Palm handhelds and portable MP3 players, but Apple is now improving its position in the digital music revolution by including CD-RW (rewritable compact disc) drives in every configuration except the high-end 733 MHz model. Jobs acknowledged that Apple "missed the boat" on CD-RW, which has been standard-issue technology in the Windows world for some time. (To be fair, Apple bet on video and that DVD standards would coalesce sooner than they did, which gave CD-RW an opening it wouldn’t otherwise have had.) Using the included iTunes, users can easily burn their own MP3 tracks to audio CDs. Since the Power Macs run Mac OS 9.1 with Disc Burner built in, users can also burn any data file to a single-session CD simply by dragging and dropping it on the CD in the Finder, and then choosing Burn CD from the Special menu.
It’s rare to hear Jobs admit that Apple isn’t at the forefront of innovation, so it’s no surprise that the company is adding a wrinkle to burning discs beyond even integrating it into the Finder. The top-of-the-line 733 MHz Power Mac G4 includes a SuperDrive: no, not the 1.4 MB floppy drive of the same name which originally appeared on the Mac IIx back in 1988, but rather a Pioneer device that reads and writes CDs and DVDs. More importantly, the SuperDrive can write data in the DVD-Video format, which means anyone can use Apple’s bundled iDVD software to burn digital movies and still images onto the disc and play them in most consumer DVD players. With the SuperDrive, for example, graphics or video professionals could easily create DVD-based demo reels and self-promotion materials. In the case of still images, iDVD automatically creates a slide show, so friends and relatives can use their DVD remote control to scan through your photos. Apple will also begin selling "Apple authorized" blank DVD discs for approximately $10 each, well below the standard $30 to $40 price for such discs.
Time to Burn — As with any new hardware announcement from Apple, the big question becomes: when can I get one? The 466 and 533 MHz models are available now for $1,700 and $2,200; the 667 and 733 MHz models, which use a newer version of the PowerPC G4 chip, are expected to arrive in limited quantities starting in February priced at $2,800 and $3,500. Availability is limited in part by the CPUs, but the SuperDrives reportedly aren’t available in significant quantities yet either. Compaq also has a machine that includes the Pioneer mechanism; between Apple and Compaq, supply is likely to be tight for the next six months. Similar mechanisms from other manufacturers will likely appear soon as well, so those with earlier Power Mac G4s (other Macs would work for most tasks, of course, but for DVD-Video, the MPEG encoding is done in software and probably relies heavily on the PowerPC G4’s Velocity Engine) should be able to hop on the bandwagon then.
The SuperDrive repositions Apple at the head of the computing pack, but it’s going to be something of a tough sell at first when machines are in short supply. Bundling the SuperDrive into Apple’s $3,500 machine is remarkable considering that similar stand-alone DVD-writing drives by themselves cost several thousand dollars. But the high end of the Power Mac line excludes most consumer buyers, the audience Apple seems to be targeting with the SuperDrive. When Apple manages to shoehorn SuperDrives into the iMac line and its consumer price tag, DVD burning will truly have a chance at becoming part of the digital lifestyle.
Macworld SF 2001 Trend: User Groups Hold On
Traditionally, TidBITS publishes a "superlatives" article covering things at Macworld Expo that we find compelling or, at the very least, amusing. Although we can’t resist offering a few superlatives (see next week’s issue), we found our impressions from this show centering more on existing and emerging trends in the Macintosh ecosystem than on specific products. Read on for more trends in this issue and the next.
One of the first trends worth mentioning involves Macintosh user groups, the Mac community at the grass roots level (or would that be the "massively parallel organic processing" level?). I was fascinated to see that despite the challenges presented by the Internet as an information source, a number of user groups have survived and continue to thrive to the point where they even had booths at Macworld Expo. Most user groups are of course focused on a specific geographical area, but that’s not true of the International HyperCard Users Group (iHUG), who were showing off a few HyperCard-built applications (including one that mimicked much of the Mac OS X dock’s functionality). Apple certainly hasn’t done anything to support HyperCard in ages, though the HyperCard Web page at Apple is still up and it recently re-appeared in the Apple Store.
Also, on the first night of the show, Bob LeVitus and I helped hand out awards at the 2001 User Group Soiree awards ceremony (pictures on the page below). Representatives of numerous groups were present, many of whom Bob and I have met over the years while doing presentations to their groups. A dinner conversation afterwards with Dan Sailers, Executive Director of the User Group Academy, revealed an interesting agenda: he’s trying to help user groups focus their efforts outward rather than inward. It makes sense – Macs have become sufficiently common, inexpensive, and supported that those of us who own them are no longer the people who can most benefit from Macintosh-based assistance.
To help refocus the power of user groups, the User Group Academy has made several $5,000 grants to groups that submitted proposals for public school outreach projects (check out last year’s winning projects at the link below). This approach would undoubtedly involve a major change for many user groups, but given that many of the original reasons for user groups to exist have become less relevant over the years, it could be a great way to put that tremendous volunteer energy to work improving society – and to do so with Macintosh flair. I’d encourage representatives from all user groups to have a chat with Dan, Fred Showker, and the other User Group Academy folks about the User Group Academy Grant program.
Macworld SF 2001 Trend: Cool Utilities
No utility made the kind of big splash that, for example, Connectix’s RAM Doubler made when it was introduced back in 1994. However, there were a number of worthy entries that made this Macworld Expo a showcase for innovative utilities rather than high-end applications.
Aladdin Transporter — Aladdin Systems was showing the $150 Aladdin Transporter, an interesting program that falls somewhere between a macro utility and a scripting language. Transporter provides 26 actions that you can link together in a simple drag & drop interface, including things like compressing, binhexing, copying, FTP uploading, sending email, and more (the Run AppleScript action provides additional flexibility not present in the interface). Once you’ve put together your steps, you create a "transporter" – a drop-box application that you can send to anyone. For instance, I plan to make a submission transporter for Info-Mac, so shareware authors can just drop a folder on the Info-Mac transporter to have their submission stuffed, binhexed, uploaded via FTP, and registered with the archivists via an email form. Anyone who regularly needs to perform repetitive actions with files should take a look at the demo.
Rewind — Power On Software’s $90 Rewind may seem like part of booth presenter Joel Bauer’s magic act, but it’s really a collection of techniques for tracking what you do on your Mac and making it possible to revert to previous incarnations of files or the entire system. I don’t want people to think Rewind should stand in for a real backup strategy, but if it helps reduce the down time when you delete or overwrite a file accidentally, or when you install new software that prevents your Mac from starting up properly, it’s worth it. As with all seemingly magical software that operates at a low level, it’s worth watching for Rewind updates whenever Apple updates the Mac OS (such as the just-released Rewind 1.1, which supports Mac OS 9.1 and is available from Power On’s updates page). Also make sure you have plenty of disk space free, since Rewind uses free disk space to store the information it uses to take you back to a previous time.
DoubleTalk — Connectix presented a new utility that will be just the ticket for some people forced to live in a Windows-centric network. Like Thursby Systems’ DAVE, Connectix’s $100 DoubleTalk enables a Macintosh on an Ethernet network with PCs to access shared folders and printers just like any other PC. Unlike DAVE, DoubleTalk does not let your Mac share its own files and printers, but Connectix hopes that DoubleTalk’s interface will make up for that difference. Where DAVE offers its own interface, DoubleTalk closely mimics the AppleTalk and TCP/IP control panels and wiggles its way into the standard AppleShare and LaserWriter Chooser interfaces (though it doesn’t work with the Network Browser at the moment), so there’s essentially nothing new to learn. Plus, you can even see the print queue on shared PC printers via Macintosh desktop printers; sadly, Connectix’s engineers resisted the temptation to make all Macintosh print jobs go to the top of the queue automatically or let Mac users manipulate the queue to get their jobs out sooner ("Yeah, Macs just print faster. Bummer, isn’t it?"). For fun, turn on Caps Lock and try opening the DoubleTalk control panel while holding down Control-P-L, Control-J-M, and Control-L-S.
DiskWarrior 2.1 — Alsoft was showing DiskWarrior 2.1, which is not so much new as improved. I’ve had good luck with DiskWarrior’s approach to rebuilding directories to eliminate corruption, and in version 2.1, Alsoft added a report listing out the differences between your original directory and the rebuilt one to ease checking. Since I have over 50,000 files on my hard disk, that’s a huge help, otherwise I never know what to look for. Also in 2.1 is the capability to bless the System Folder, rebuild Mac OS X disks, and check for damage in the System and Finder files. DiskWarrior costs $70 (but see the Mac Care Unit deal below), and is a $30 upgrade (plus $5-$8 shipping) for existing owners unless you purchased after 01-Dec-00, at which point you just pay shipping. For a review of DiskWarrior, see "Fighting Corruption with Alsoft’s DiskWarrior" in TidBITS-486.
Mac Care Unit — Last, but certainly not least, Casady & Greene has put together a bundle of utilities to compete with the recently released Norton SystemWorks and Norton Internet Security bundles. Mac Care Unit costs only $130, and includes Casady & Greene’s Conflict Catcher 8 extension manager, Alsoft’s DiskWarrior and PlusOptimizer disk utility and defragmenting software, Connectix’s CopyAgent copy utility, Intego’s NetBarrier and VirusBarrier personal firewall and anti-virus programs, and Radialogic’s Chaos Master, which helps clean up unnecessary files and download updates. All are the latest versions except for NetBarrier, which is version 1.1. The price for the Mac Care Unit bundle is stunning – Conflict Catcher and DiskWarrior alone would cost more, and they’re both worth owning (see "Nice Catch, Conflict Catcher" in TidBITS-446 for more on Conflict Catcher).
Macworld SF 2001 Trend: Personal Firewalls
The rise in permanent Internet connections via cable modems and DSL has raised fears of crackers breaking into individual computers and wreaking havoc. For Windows users, those fears are real, since most of the automated attacks look specifically for security holes in Windows network services. Macs are significantly less vulnerable to such problems, especially if Personal Web Sharing and Personal File Sharing via TCP/IP are turned off or properly secured, but a number of companies are now producing personal firewall products for Mac users who want additional peace of mind or who want to know precisely what’s happening. Intego’s NetBarrier and Open Door Networks’ DoorStop (now the foundation of Norton Personal Firewall) were first on the scene, and they’ve just been joined by IPNetSentry from Sustainable Softworks, the network wizards who brought us IPNetRouter.
IPNetSentry — The $35 IPNetSentry tries to differentiate itself from the others by using a "trigger" approach rather than a "firewall" approach. In short, rather than building a wall and punching holes in it for specific services by default, as with traditional firewalls, IPNetSentry watches for typical sorts of suspicious activity, and when it notices such activities, blocks the attack. Sustainable Softworks explains this approach by noting that firewalls make sense for installations with multiple users, where an administrator is better able than individual users to decide what the firewall should allow or block. But where there’s a single machine, that approach is overkill and may cause more work than is necessary. Peter Sichel of Sustainable Softworks also passed on an interesting side effect of running IPNetSentry or IPNetRouter. Since those programs look at every packet coming in, they can (and do) throw away malformed packets, and it turns out that approach actually eliminates a few seemingly random crashes when something on the Mac fails to deal with a malformed packet correctly.
Who’s There — Also new at the show was the $40 Who’s There from Open Door Networks. Building on the expertise gained in writing the DoorStop product that’s now at the heart of Norton Personal Firewall, Open Door created an application that works in conjunction with DoorStop or Norton Personal Firewall to watch your Internet connection, log all access attempts, and help you understand what’s actually going on. My main worry is that Who’s There and similar utilities may cause some people to obsess unreasonably about possible problems, much as fictional characters who suddenly find themselves with the ability to read the thoughts of others struggle to deal with the previously unknowable information. Put another way, would you really want to know every time someone had an idle thought about your car?
NetBarrier 2.0 — Even though its huge inflatable castle booth at Macworld Expo didn’t sprout a moat, Intego has updated the $60 NetBarrier to version 2.0, adding the capability to control cookies, block banner ads, and filter spam on your POP server. NetBarrier 2.0 can also filter outgoing information to avoid sending identifying information about your computer and browser, plus filter personal information sent via forms. Intego is clearly trying to address a wide variety of security issues with NetBarrier, and although I haven’t had a chance to evaluate the new version, I worry a little about letting a program filter mail before I even download it, since no spam filter is 100 percent accurate.