We’re finally catching up on sleep we lost at Macworld Expo, and now we’re looking at trends and notable products that will make this year interesting. Along with the explosion in wireless networking, Adam samples photo-cataloging software, Jeff Carlson gets the Palm market in hand, and the rest of the TidBITS staff weighs in with our traditional list of superlatives. In this week’s news, Proxim reunites separated siblings Netopia and Farallon.
Proxim Reunites Farallon and Netopia — The convoluted history of the company which began as Farallon Communications continues to loop back on itself. In 1997, Farallon changed its name to Netopia and began to focus less on the Macintosh and more on the Internet. Then in 1998, Farallon spun back out of Netopia to concentrate on Macintosh networking hardware, leaving the popular remote control software Timbuktu Pro behind. In June of 2000, the wireless networking company Proxim purchased Farallon, and now Proxim has announced that it is also acquiring Netopia, bringing Farallon’s other half back into the fold. Each share of Netopia stock will be converted to 0.3 shares of Proxim common stock, which works out to a purchase price of about $223 million, well above the $14 million in stock and cash Proxim paid for Farallon last year. Along with Timbuktu Pro, the acquisition provides Proxim with DSL and other broadband technologies, plus access to Netopia’s distribution network. [ACE]
Back in 1999, Apple started the ball rolling on wireless networking by releasing the inexpensive AirPort Base Station and providing an AirPort option for all Macs. Wireless networking is clearly here to stay – in addition to the increasingly common individual and corporate use of wireless networks, there were tons of AirPort Base Stations on the floor at Macworld. And, for the first time ever, Jeff Carlson and I managed to maintain Internet connectivity for the entire show without once dialing a hotel phone. Jeff has a Ricochet wireless modem that provides roughly 28.8 Kbps of bandwidth (a different device will get the newer and more expensive Ricochet 128 Kbps service in San Francisco, but we couldn’t acquire one in time), and he also has a Lucent WaveLAN PC Card that works with Apple’s Software Base Station. Put the two together, and my PowerBook’s Farallon SkyLINE Wireless PC card could connect to Jeff’s PowerBook, then access the Internet via Jeff’s Ricochet. Most interestingly, a few times when I was fiddling with the settings I ended up connecting to other nearby AirPort Base Stations. They had generic names ("Apple AirPort" and "Macworld") so I had no idea whose they were; perhaps people who don’t mind sharing some bandwidth in such a situation could put their email address in the name so people who connect can thank them for the connectivity.
Proxim’s Farallon division was at Macworld with a three-room "house" (it turns out you really can walk into an IKEA store and buy an entire room of furniture) set up to show off wireless networking. In addition to their existing SkyLINE 11Mb Wireless PC Card, Farallon was showing an extremely welcome addition: a SkyLINE PCI Card for older non-AirPort-capable PCI-based Power Macs (it’s basically just a carrier card into which you plug a SkyLINE 11Mb Wireless PC Card, so the SkyLINE PCI Card costs either $70 by itself or $240 complete). Also new from Farallon was the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway, which differentiates itself from Apple’s AirPort Base Station by providing not only 802.11b wireless networking, but also two Ethernet ports, one for a cable/DSL modem and the other for a wired Ethernet. Those ports help make possible basic firewall capabilities, and the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway software adds support for a variety of networking alphabet soup standards, including DHCP, NAT, PPPoE for DSL connections, and VPN with PPTP client and server pass-through. Farallon anticipates shipping the NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway in February for $400.
TechWorks was also showing a variety of differently configured AirStation 802.11b access points, its alternative to Apple’s Airport Base Stations. Although the price of an AirStation is comparable to Apple’s AirPort Base Station, the AirStation requires a Windows-based PC if you want to set it up from a machine on a wired Ethernet network. Also, although the AirStation line has four different models, only the $340 Local Router model offers anything unusual – in this case, an integrated 4-port 10/100 Ethernet hub.
More interesting for the future was Farallon’s release of a Macintosh driver for Proxim’s $130 Symphony PC Card, one of the products in the Symphony-HRF wireless networking suite. Symphony doesn’t use 802.11b – the technology behind Apple’s AirPort – but instead relies on a different 2.4 GHz wireless networking standard called HomeRF. HomeRF is currently slower than 802.11b (1.6 Mbps versus 11 Mbps), though Farallon noted that difference should go away by the middle of this year with the next revision of HomeRF. However, the main difference is that HomeRF is designed for applications other than data networking that require specific quality of service assurances, so later this year Farallon expects that we should start seeing consumer electronics devices that support HomeRF, such as cordless phones, stereos, video cameras, and more. Until that point, it’s probably worth just keeping an eye on HomeRF, but it has the potential to become quite interesting as a way of providing wireless connectivity to a range of devices. And if that happens, Apple may be forced to pay close attention, since wireless technology is definitely a key component of the new digital lifestyle focus.
Missing from Apple’s statement of support for the digital lifestyle was an emphasis on digital photographs. I could easily see an iPhoto or iPicture from Apple at the next Macworld Expo – something to categorize and organize digital photographs, print and export them in useful ways, and easily create Web pages with your photos for viewing by your friends and family. Luckily, there were a number of photo cataloging applications at Macworld Expo, including iView Multimedia’s $45 iView MediaPro, Canto’s $90 Cumulus Single User Edition, the $100 Extensis Portfolio Desktop Edition, and ACD’s $40 ACDSee.
These programs are perhaps more similar than different – here’s my current take on them, although I haven’t had time to do a detailed comparison:
ACDSee 1.5 is the cheapest at $40 and perhaps the most consumer-oriented, but it comes up lacking in a number of ways. You can’t modify the page design for HTML exports, you can’t easily categorize images other than via the Finder, and its interface combination of panes and windows is clumsy. ACDSee is more of an image browser than a photo cataloger, and I worry that it wouldn’t stand up to frequent use with many photographs.
iView MediaPro 1.0 is the best combination of a fast, svelte image cataloger that’s easy to use, sports a true Macintosh feel with a well-designed single-window interface, and offers all the features anyone is likely to want. You may need to refer to the documentation for some of its more obscure details, but overall, I’ve been extremely impressed with the program. It does well at exporting to HTML, and you can edit its templates to achieve the look you want. At $45, it’s a good deal.
Cumulus 5 is a big, complex application that’s clearly aimed more at the professional than the consumer. Although it seems to have all the features you could want, finding them proved somewhat daunting. It also relies on a number of integrated applications for its functions, which adds to the confusion, since some menu commands launch separate applications. Cumulus can export to HTML, and it appears to support templates. At $90 to $100 (download versus boxed), it’s a bit expensive, but will clearly do the job.
Extensis Portfolio started life many years ago as Aldus Fetch, and is also aimed more at the professional user than the consumer, with features like password protection, sophisticated cataloging options, flexible keywords and categories, and more. It can export HTML with template control, though it’s not clear at first blush if you can export full-size images as well as thumbnails. At $100 it’s on the high-end for these programs, but it looks fully functional and has a strong Macintosh feel.
There are other photo cataloging applications out there that I didn’t see at Macworld; a few have been mentioned in TidBITS Talk. I’ll be looking at this space more in the future, so if you want to make sure I don’t miss your favorite, be sure to send it in to TidBITS Talk.
Computer sales may have dipped industry-wide, but the popularity of Palm handhelds is looking up – two stories up, to be precise. At Macworld Expo 2001 in San Francisco, Palm’s booth featured not only a contingent of Palm OS developers and Palm’s lineup of devices, but also a two-tiered presentation stage with balconies that inspired at least one attendee to exclaim, "But, soft! what backlight through yonder window breaks?"
Not to be outdone, Palm OS licensee Handspring dazzled attendees with a large main screen and video displays set behind huge mock Visor handhelds. In addition, there was a color Visor which – if it were functional – could have been dubbed the organizer that fits in the back of your pickup truck.
Why so much size for products that fit into your hand? We’ve seen large booths before – for example, Power Computing’s 1996 massive military outpost was a study in brilliant last-minute exterior decorating (after Apple bought NeXT instead of Be, the choice Power Computing had anticipated) as well as being a promotional tool – but this year the spaces occupied by Palm and Handspring were clearly built to accommodate the crush of curious attendees. Standing room only during presentations was the norm, with Handspring’s crowds completely blocking a side aisle at times.
Seeing Palm devices in use is now commonplace at Macworld; I was privy to a few spontaneous "pick-up beams," or small knots of people swapping their favorite games and utilities (one new treasure is PicChat, a collaborative drawing program for multiple IR-enabled devices). Of course, folks were also beaming their business cards back and forth; I even created a Zoos Software E-Card with some general information and tips from my Palm Organizers Visual QuickStart Guide.
The large booths held more than eager attendees: both companies featured pods where a number of developers could showcase their Palm-related products.
Talk to the Hand(spring) — Probably the most notable trend on Handspring’s side of the floor was the fact that Springboard modules – expansion devices that snap into a slot on the Visor – are actually shipping. A year ago, modules were just a promise. The showcase module was Handspring’s VisorPhone, an attachment that turns your Visor into a GSM-compatible cellular phone. Folks who typically carry multiple electronic devices finally have the chance to merge the handheld and phone.
The VisorPhone does everything a cellular phone does, but with a usable interface. Say goodbye to using a numeric keypad to choose letters: just add new phone numbers by writing them in Graffiti. Having an actual interface also means some tasks are much easier. At a Handspring user group breakfast, Handspring CEO Donna Dubinksy demonstrated how to set up a three-way call: call one person, tap his name to put him on hold, call the other person, then tap the 3-Way Call button. All the contacts in your Address Book are available for dialing, and when you receive a call the Caller ID feature searches your records to display the caller’s name and number. And of course, you can use your Visor normally while talking to someone when you plug in a hands-free microphone or earphone.
The VisorPhone is also capable of transferring email and accessing the Web, though Handspring isn’t emphasizing these features given the data speeds of cellular networks. Handspring did promote SMS text messaging, a quick way to send short text messages to other GSM-enabled phones that becomes a lot easier when you can write messages in Graffiti. Also, since GSM is far more widespread outside the United States (where GSM coverage is unfortunately spotty), Handspring will soon be pushing VisorPhone use around the world. The device costs $300 when you sign up for a calling plan, or $500 without a plan (if you’re migrating your existing GSM service).
You Are (Always) Here — Another Palm trend picks up on the ever-shrinking technology of GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers (see "Feeling Lost? An Overview of Global Positioning Systems" in TidBITS-388). The most promising (though largest) device was GeoDiscovery’s $290 Geode Springboard module. It includes two "MultiMedia Card" slots for adding memory to the unit, allowing you to store more map data than will fit in the Visor’s memory. As the cost of expansion memory comes down, you could keep chips containing your favorite locations and swap the appropriate one in when you arrive at your destination. A future update to the software will also let you use the cards as regular memory for other Palm data.
Nexian demonstrated its less expensive HandyGPS device, which at $150 provides basic GPS service in a smaller Springboard profile. Magellan was also showing off its forthcoming GPS Companion for Visor.
Wireless Internet Access — Of course, no self-respecting handheld developer in 2001 would fail to have some type of wireless Internet access on display. OmniSky showed off the Springboard version of its wireless device, which feels less bulky than the Palm V modem that’s been available for the last year. The OmniSky modem so far seems to be the best wireless method of getting onto the Internet from a Palm, offering decent speed and a slew of Palm applications for accessing email and the Web. (The Palm VII, conversely, only offers features mediated through the Palm.net service.)
Taking a slightly different approach, Palm was demoing its Palm Mobile Internet Kit, a software package that enables any current Palm device to get onto the Internet by connecting through a cellular phone. Be sure to check out Palm’s list of supported phones, however, since some phones can set up an infrared connection to the Palm, while others require a separate cable to work. Also on the software front, Palm showcased its recently acquired MultiMail email client.
Talk Back to Me — One surprising trend was the presence of multiple digital voice recorders for Palm devices. LandWare has previously offered the $65 goVox, a recorder whose only connection to the Palm is the fact that it doubles as a screen cover. Targus was showing Digital 5’s $100 Total Recall recorder, a Springboard module for Visor that uses the Palm interface to organize and play back your flashes of brilliance. The nice thing about the Total Recall is that you can use it as a recorder when you don’t have your Visor handy or are using another Springboard module. Shinei International also showed its My-Vox recorder, which plugs into the Visor’s Springboard slot.
Keep Those Pod Bay Doors Open, HAL — Palm is clearly enjoying success in the market, but it’s good to see that Palm recognizes where much of that success comes from: outside developers. Palm’s presentation pods offered space to established companies like AvantGo and DataViz (showing the professional edition of Documents to Go), but also smaller niche developers. For example, Sunburst has developed Learner Profile to Go, a Palm program that enables teachers to evaluate student progress over time, then generate reports on the desktop based on data collected on the handheld. ImagiWorks had more of their intriguing data acquisition devices on display, such as temperature and water probes that replace traditionally bulkier equipment. These are the types of products that give the Palm world variety and depth, much as the education pavilion and developer areas of the Expo remind us that there’s more to the Mac market than image editors and word processors.
We couldn’t conclude our Macworld coverage without our biannual collection of Macworld Expo superlatives, the products that caught our eyes this year in San Francisco. We also have something a little unusual – a set of photographs Adam took with his Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph while wandering around the show. The photo gallery (courtesy of iView MediaPro) is by no means representative, but it might elicit a few giggles.
Widest Screen — Panoram Technologies didn’t have a booth, but another company was using their amazingly large three-panel integrated monitors and providing product literature. Basically, Panoram Technologies builds three LCD panels into a single wrap-around console, combining the cabling as appropriate. You still need three video cards, since the displays are actually separate monitors. The PV290 DSK offers three 18.1" LCD panels that give you 3830 by 1024 pixels for a mere $22,750. For only $10,000, the PV230 DSK uses three 15" LCD panels running at 3072 by 1024. Panoram Technologies also offers some bundles with Macs and appropriate video cards; the new video cards are probably a good idea, since mixing and matching older video cards may produce suboptimal results. [ACE]
Best Background Noise — So once we’re all using our Macs as digital hubs, what if you don’t want to be playing MP3s all the time? Check out MindChimes, which generates the tones of wind chimes, and OceanSongs, which sounds like, well, an ocean. Both are configurable, just in case you’re trying to match the sound on some particular beach or want to design your own chimes. They would both benefit from some interface work, but for $10 for MindChimes and $8 for OceanSongs, or $15 for both, you’re still well below the cost of a single CD of relaxing background sounds. 20-day demos are available as 1 MB (MindChimes) and 1.3 MB (OceanSongs) downloads. [ACE]
Best Background Art — Continuing in the same vein, you can certainly turn your digital hub Mac into a digital picture frame, but thanks to the Onadime Free Player, you can also play music (CDs or MP3s) and watch stunning visuals seeded from and interacting with the music itself (Onadime would say they’re "a dynamic part of the aesthetic experience") and based on compositions created with the $200 Onadime Composer (a free 8.6 MB demo is available). Onadime compositions are roughly akin to visual plug-ins available for various music players but can react not just to the music playing, but also to sound input from the Mac’s microphone, mouse movement, and more (making them popular in performance art and the dance party scene, I imagine). Though fully functional, the Onadime Free Player is mostly a technology demonstration, but here’s hoping we see Onadime’s display technology appear elsewhere or become independent of individual applications. [ACE]
Nocturnal Typists, Rejoice! We think of our USB ports as input, but of course they are also a form of output – for power. This point was brought home by both Kensington and MCE selling $20 flexible gooseneck lamps powered off the USB port (the USB FlexLight and the FlyLight Notebook USB Light). You could use this to illuminate your PowerBook’s keyboard or a book while working in bed, in a darkened airplane, or while using a PowerBook as part of a stage performance. [MAN]
Honey, I Shrunk the Keyboard — One size does not fit all when it comes to keyboards, and that’s especially true for children, whose hands simply aren’t large enough to use standard keyboards properly. Datadesk Technologies has picked up on that with their LittleFingers keyboard, a real keyboard shrunk down to fit children’s hands. It has basically the same keys as a PowerBook and includes a right-mounted trackball. ADB versions have been available, and at Macworld Expo Datadesk showed a $70 USB version. Proper ergonomics are hard enough to achieve for adults; it’s even worse for kids, and a LittleFingers keyboard could help. One annoyance – Datadesk quite reasonably located the Control key in the lower left corner, but then put the little-used Fn key to its right, in between the Control and Option keys. [ACE]
Half a Keyboard — Going still smaller, perhaps the most unusual product at Macworld was the $100 Matias Half Keyboard. It’s available in USB, Palm, and Handspring versions, and is a compact text entry device with, appropriately enough, half of a traditional QWERTY keyboard. Daunting though it appeared, I found my left hand figuring out fairly quickly how to substitute for my right, mirroring the right-hand motions to type. Matias claims users can reach up to 88 percent of typing speed. The half space bar doubles as a modifier key; when held down, it makes the left-hand keys act like a mirror image of the (absent) right-hand keys. Although the Half Keyboard might be useful for some graphic designers and people who have problems with one hand, it’s most likely to be popular with Palm users, who could easily type and use the stylus simultaneously. [MHA]
Hottest Network — Gigabit Ethernet was last year’s news. This year, the hottest networking product was Unibrain’s FireNet, software for Mac OS and Windows that lets you do workgroup networking over standard FireWire (IEEE 1394) cabling. In situations where a small group of nearby machines needs very fast networking, this inexpensive (as low as $37 per machine) 400 Mbps solution seems ideal, and a good alternative to the still-costly gigabit option. Such a FireNet network could be linked to an existing Ethernet network using such tools as Sustainable Softworks’ IPNetRouter, which the company confirmed works fine. I can see FireNet as a viable low-cost option for folks moving huge digital image or video files around locally. A 358K demo that works for 15 minutes per restart is available. [MHA]
New Tricks for an Old Dog — It was a thrill to meet Jim Matthews, author of Fetch, the first Internet program I ever used (back when it had an interface like the Font/DA Mover, if you remember that). With the winnings from his recent success on ABC’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Jim has acquired Fetch from his employer, Dartmouth College, and is now developing Fetch 4.0, which sports many cool new features, such as moving files from one remote computer to another without downloading them to your own. Fetch 4.0 looks to be a powerful, attractive FTP client, at the low price of $25. [MAN]
Better Backups — Imation is well known as a media company, but now they’re branching out into hardware. One impressive showing was the Travan FireWire Plus, a tape drive that includes a 30 GB hard disk; the hard disk is larger than the tape, so you can copy your files to the hard disk quickly, and then the hard disk will perform the much slower backup to the tape automatically and at leisure, even with the device disconnected from your computer. Much further down the road, Imation is betting on a new medium, the DataPlay, an optical write-once disk holding nearly as much as a CD-R, but about the size of a quarter and protected inside a plastic cassette (like a tiny floppy); they hope to market a small lightweight portable device that will act as a drive for reading and writing, a transfer point for digital camera data, and perhaps even a music player. Both devices are expected to ship much later this year. [MAN]
Best Tchotchke — What makes a good tchotchke? It should be useful yet nutty, simple, durable, memorable, and unique. Despite a truly disturbing entry from Totally Hip Software that was a clear, syringe-shaped pen with red ink sloshing around in it, the winner this year comes from Anthro, makers of the wonderfully adaptable AnthroCart computer desks. Anthro’s tchotchke was two plastic cylinders with slots in them, one inside the other, and is absolutely incomprehensible until you are told that you’re supposed to insert the end of the toothpaste tube into both slots and wind the inner cylinder as a way of slowly squeezing the toothpaste from the end of the tube, gathering the used tube between the two cylinders. You have to be really truly anal-retentive to like this. But … guess what?! [MAN]