Today’s Macworld Expo keynote arrived on a wave of hype that was high even by Apple’s standards, cresting with the introduction of a 15-inch LCD iMac, iPhoto, and an iBook with a 14.1-inch screen. Did reality measure up? Jeff and Adam report from the scene. Also, we note the releases of Mac OS X 10.1.2, BBEdit 6.5.1, Nisus Writer 6.5, a Classic-only Internet Explorer 5.1, plus the availability of Combo drives in PowerBook G4s and the Microsoft Office X Test Drive.
PowerBook G4 Combo Upgrades Start 14-Jan-02 — Consistent with our coverage of the PowerBook G4 Titanium’s new Combo drive, Apple has announced the PowerBook G4 Combo Upgrade Program. Under this program, owners of PowerBook G4 Titaniums with either 550 MHz or 667 MHz processors (check Apple System Profiler if you’re not sure) can swap their existing DVD-ROM or CD-RW drives for a DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive for $300. The program, full details of which will become available on 14-Jan-02 on Apple’s Web site, will involve sending your PowerBook in to Apple or taking it to an Apple Store. The program lasts only until 30-Mar-02, so get your order in quickly if you want to upgrade. [ACE]
Internet Explorer 5.1 Goes Classic — In a welcome, though slightly unusual move, Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 5.1 – previously available only for Mac OS X – for Mac OS 8.1 through 9.2 as well, adding a few minor features and enhancing reliability. The feature set of Internet Explorer 5.1 is largely unchanged from 5.0, adding the few new features that appeared in Internet Explorer 5.1 under Mac OS X. A new Interface Extras preferences panel gives you control over a few cosmetic options: whether clicking the Address field selects the text or places the insertion point, whether Internet Explorer opens new windows or uses the front browser window when asked to go to a URL by another application, and whether new browser windows open with the toolbar expanded or use the current default setting. Another useful feature is the Command-Shift-click shortcut that opens the clicked-on link in a new window behind the current one. Also new is support for NTLMv2 authentication in addition to the previous NTLMv1 support. Internet Explorer 5.1 for Mac OS 8.1 through 9.2 requires at least 16 MB of RAM with virtual memory turned on and 12 MB of disk space. It’s a 5.3 MB download. [ACE]
Mac OS X 10.1.2 Rolls in Fixes — Shortly before the new year, Apple released an update to Mac OS X 10.1.2 via Software Update, building in a number of useful enhancements and fixes (and providing better release notes than for previous updates). The update improves USB and FireWire support (including support for FireWire-based digital cameras), adds support for PC Card storage devices and media readers, updates Mail with CRAM-MD5 authentication support, builds in AirPort 2.0, updates Apache to 1.3.22, and provides AppleScript 1.8, which is necessary for the forthcoming AppleScript Studio. The release also includes unspecified bug fixes in the areas of audio, display, speech, networking, the File Manager, and printing. Also just released via Software Update were a number of printer drivers – if you want to avoid continually seeing ones that you’ll never use, select them and choose Make Inactive from the Update menu. [ACE]
Free Microsoft Office X Test Drive — Following up on its recent Test Drive version of Microsoft Word X for Mac OS X, Microsoft has announced a free Test Drive version of the complete Microsoft Office X suite of applications for Mac OS X, including Mac OS X versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage. The Test Drive runs for 30 days and lets users get hands-on experience with Office X’s features and capabilities – nearly all the features of the retail version of Office X are available in the Test Drive. The Test Drive is available now as an enormous 122 MB download, or – after 14-Jan-02 – users in the U.S. and Canada can order the Test Drive on CD-ROM for a small shipping and handling fee. Office X requires a Mac running Mac OS X 10.1 or later.
In addition, Apple and Microsoft have announced mail-in rebate programs for customers buying Mac OS X and Office X. Buying a new Mac with Office X makes a user eligible for a $150 rebate; a new Mac with the an Office X upgrade qualifies for a $75 rebate, and purchasing Mac OS X and either Office X or the Office X upgrade qualifies for a $50 rebate. The rebates all run through 31-Mar-02. [GD]
BBEdit 6.5.1 Fixes Bugs, Adds Minor Features — Bare Bones Software has released BBEdit 6.5.1, adding a number of small features such as support for JSP (Java Server Pages), modified keyboard navigation, interface tweaks, and minor scripting improvements. The list of minor bug fixes is extensive (and is a model of how product release notes should be written!). If you use BBEdit 6.5 at all seriously, you’ll want this free update; it’s a 7.3 MB download. [ACE]
Nisus Writer 6.5 Adds Outlining, Document Manager — Nisus Software joined in the holiday tradition of pushing big releases out just before the end of the year with Nisus Writer 6.5, a significant revision to the company’s powerful word processor. The new outlining feature has been requested for several years; it appears to have the necessary basic outlining features, although some use will be required to see how fluid they really are. Also new is a Document Manager that’s accessible from a new hierarchical Documents menu, providing fast access to your documents. Other minor changes include a slight modification in how copied paragraphs are pasted, a fix for a crashing bug that occurred when typing more than 32 characters in the Catalog window, and fixed import and export of footnotes, plus a modified Plain Text command that doesn’t remove user-defined styles to be compatible with the new outline feature. For a limited time, the upgrade costs $40 for registered users of Nisus Writer (normally $50); the limited time discount also applies to new purchases ($80 versus $100) and competitive upgrades ($55 versus $70). Nisus Writer 6.5 requires a PowerPC-based Mac running Mac OS 8.5 or later (it works under Classic in Mac OS X) with at least 2 MB of available RAM. A 30-day demo is available as a 23.1 MB download. [ACE]
I hope the noodles are soaking in preparation for a serious flogging of the people in Apple’s PR machine. This keynote was perhaps the most hyped event Apple has ever done, making it sound as if the reports on the rumor sites were nothing compared with what Apple would announce. (The Crazy Apple Rumor Site took up the challenge, deciding in the end that the only thing Apple could do that would top the wild rumors swirling about was to introduce anatomically correct sexbots.)
But let’s face it, the only people who didn’t expect Apple to release an LCD iMac are those for whom news is the winners at Saturday night’s Bingo tournament. There’s no question the new iMac design is cool-looking, and numerous people have said they’re not sure quite whether they like it or not – which is probably a good omen for what could be called an edgy design if it weren’t so rounded.
Overall, for a keynote as heavily hyped as this one, the actual presentation was bland. Aside from the iMacs, iPhoto generated the most talk, but it too has been expected for a year, at least in these pages (see "iPhoto Joins the iFold" in this issue for more details). And the enhancements to the iBook are mostly just larger numbers in the spec sheet, including a model with a larger screen. Are we expecting too much from a Macworld keynote? Yes, but although that’s always been the case, this time Apple deserves blame for overheated expectations.
Mac OS X — The biggest news about Mac OS X is that all new Macs will ship with Mac OS X as the default operating system, starting with the new Macs introduced today and extending to the entire product line (well, not the iPod, we assume) by the end of January. That’s sooner than we had expected, and frankly, sooner than we feel is warranted. Apple deserves credit for improving Mac OS X so significantly during 2001, but it’s nowhere near the maturity level of Mac OS 9, as Adam and I just found out when trying to share files and an Internet connection using Mac OS X. For those using their Macs merely to browse the Web, read email, listen to MP3s, and manage their digital photo collection, Mac OS X is fine, but it’s still easy to find things that Mac OS X simply can’t do. And that’s despite Apple’s claim of 2,500 shipping Mac OS X applications.
Nonetheless, the parade of developers during the keynote was welcome. Adobe’s After Effects 5.5 is now shipping, and GoLive 6.0 and LiveMotion 2.0 were announced (with no expected ship dates yet). But the most eagerly awaited application, Photoshop, remains a distant promise. Adobe did show it off, though, including a built-in spelling checker, a feature that was greeted with much applause, presumably from the people who do all their writing in Photoshop.
The highlight of the Mac OS X portion of the keynote – dare I say the entire keynote? – was Theodore Gray of Wolfram Research. Demonstrating Mathematica for Mac OS X, he engaged the audience by saying, "Okay, it’s math… but look at the typography!" To round out his appearance, Gray demonstrated modeling a complex formula with the quip, "This would have been incredibly useful for people designing vacuum tubes."
Dan Gregoire of Lucasfilm began his presentation with a video clip of director George Lucas welcoming the Macworld audience and explaining how Macs have been used extensively to build around 4,000 animatics (low-resolution pre-visualizations of scenes) for the upcoming movie Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones. Judging from the circles under Lucas’s eyes, using the Macs hasn’t helped so much that he’s gotten a lot of sleep of late, but it’s no doubt an improvement from earlier methods of creating effects. Gregoire then briefly showed how the animatics designers use Maya for Mac OS X and After Effects to build the shots.
iBook’s Big Brother — Until today, the iBook’s bigger sibling has been the PowerBook G4 Titanium – little did anyone know there was a half brother lingering on the family tree. Available now, the 14.1-inch iBook sports the same design as the existing iBook, but expanded slightly to accommodate a 14-inch screen. The new machine includes a larger battery, which Apple says offers a six hour charge. The 14.1-inch model, which also has a 600 MHz G3 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a Combo drive, sells for $1,800 and weighs about a pound more than the existing model. Hopefully it won’t suffer the fate of the Cube, orphaned as that machine was between the iMac and Power Mac lines, but this larger iBook fits more neatly into the price gap. More the question is if it will seriously damage sales for the Titanium, given that screen size was a primary difference between the PowerBook and iBook lines before.
The other iBooks received some attention, too: the entry-level model with CD-ROM is now $100 cheaper at $1,200, and the previous high-end 600 MHz iBook with Combo drive now sells for $1,500.
Flat-Panel iMac — Based on the semi-exuberant reception to the new iBook, it was clear that the audience was itching for new hardware announcements, specifically the rumored flat-panel iMac. Jobs teased the crowd, noting that Apple has sold six million iMacs since its introduction in 1998, and running a succession of iMac commercials, allegedly to demonstrate the model’s progression (conspicuously absent was any mention of the Flower Power and Dalmatian models). He even started quickly running down the impressive list of specifications before unveiling what we really wanted to see: the design.
On a platform rising from the middle of the stage was the most amazing table lamp you’ve ever seen. Okay, that’s not a fair description, but it’s the comparison I’ve heard most since the keynote. Retaining the iMac’s all-in-one design, the new model has a 10.6-inch diameter white hemispheric base that contains all the components, including the power supply, which in the G4 Cube existed as a bulky external power brick. Despite that, the iMac still doesn’t have a fan, making it near silent. The 15-inch flat screen sits on an adjustable metal neck that rotates 180 degrees left-to-right and 90 degrees top-to-bottom; the screen itself also tilts up and down, and even retains its angle when you move the neck (in other words, a screen that’s vertical remains vertical when you adjust the neck). A lip around the screen’s front face makes it easy to move the armature around – no doubt the models in the Apple booth will undergo massive user testing over the next four days. The screen’s viewable area is the same as a 17-inch CRT monitor, running at resolutions of 1,024 by 768 or 800 by 600 interpolated (you can also choose 640 by 480 if you’ve attached an external monitor).
The base appears rather ordinary at first, but a peek around the back reveals a host of ports: two FireWire connections, Pro speaker jack, headphone jack, Ethernet, power, modem, three USB ports, and an iBook-style video-out port (video mirroring only). The machine’s sole power switch is a button on the back left side, which seems somewhat awkward, especially now that Apple’s keyboards no longer feature a power button. On the front, looking like a white-on-white smiley face, the media bay houses either a tray-loading CD-ROM, Combo drive, or SuperDrive, depending on configuration.
Looks aside, what about the iMac’s power? Here, the iMac’s designation as a consumer model is purely a side effect of its marketing. The low-end configuration, priced at $1,300, includes a 700 MHz PowerPC G4 processor with Velocity Engine, 128 MB of RAM, a 40 GB hard disk, and the CD-ROM drive. The mid-range model, for $100 more, has the same processor and hard disk, but includes 256 MB of RAM and the Combo drive. The $1,800 high-end iMac sports an 800 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 60 GB hard disk, and a SuperDrive. Each model also comes with an Nvidia GeForce2 MX graphics card, can support up to 1 GB of RAM, and is AirPort-ready. The AirPort antenna goes around the outside of the monitor, so range should be good, and the RAM and AirPort slots are easily available by removing the base’s bottom plate. It’s unclear how easy it will be to perform other upgrades such as swapping in a new hard disk.
Anticipating high demand for what is now an inexpensive SuperDrive-equipped Mac, the 800 MHz iMac will be available at the end of January, with the middle-tier model arriving in February and the entry-level machine showing up in March as the company ramps up production.
Apple is selling the new iMac as the ideal digital hub, and it’s clearly more than capable in that regard. In fact, the biggest question seems to be whether potential buyers will accept or reject the new design – an interesting predicament, considering that until Apple introduced the original iMac, design was usually at the bottom of the list of considerations. But given that the "new" iMac will no doubt be the only iMac Apple offers (the two previous low-end models are still available, though I’m guessing only until Apple can clear out its inventory), the machine’s impressive capabilities will win over even the most skeptical eyes – especially if they belong to someone looking to reclaim a fair bit of desk space.
Along with the completely redesigned iMac and inflated iBook, the other big news from Steve Jobs’s keynote today was iPhoto, a highly welcome, if painfully obvious addition to Apple’s suite of free applications that by themselves go a long way toward differentiating Macs from garden variety PCs. And this year, iPhoto will also provide incentive for current Mac users to switch to Mac OS X – it’s designed solely for Apple’s now-default operating system.
How painfully obvious was iPhoto? We even guessed at iPhoto’s name a year ago when it became clear that Apple needed a consumer-level application for managing all the images captured from digital cameras. After all, if Apple intends the Mac to be a digital hub, it needs to do more with digital photos than it has in the past. And as much as the image cataloging programs offer extensive feature sets, they’re all aimed at graphics professionals rather than normal users.
iPhoto, on the other hand, is clearly designed for the average digital camera owner (and considering that six million digital cameras were sold in the U.S. in 2001, that’s a nice market). It provides a three-pane interface reminiscent of iTunes, with the left-hand pane holding user-generated photo albums instead of playlists, along with controls for some common functions (adding photo albums, running a slide show, getting/setting information on an image or album, and rotating images). The large right-hand pane shows either a single image or scalable thumbnails of multiple images. The third pane, which takes up the entire bottom of the iPhoto window, changes to offer additional feedback or commands, depending on the current mode.
Importing and Organizing — You bring photos into iPhoto either by connecting a supported digital camera or card reader (Apple has a list of supported cameras, card readers, and printers on its Web site), or by importing images already on your hard disk. Importing, even from hard disk, isn’t fast, but it’s a one-time operation. iPhoto imposes a somewhat odd Finder filing scheme on you, creating a huge date-based hierarchy of folders in your home directory’s Pictures folder. So, for instance, I have a 2001 folder that contains numbered folders for the months in which I took photos. And inside each of those are numbered folders for each day. Within those folders are the individual files, sequentially numbered. Various other files provide the metadata iPhoto uses to track albums, keywords, and titles. One advantage (or potential gotcha, depending on your images) is that all of iPhoto’s images are automatically available to Mac OS X’s Slide Show screensaver module.
Once you’ve brought your images into iPhoto, you can organize them in a number of ways – click the Organize button to enter that mode. You can make albums and add photos to them, or use the controls at the bottom of the window for assigning keywords. You can change the default keywords or define your own, up to 16, but doing so requires entering keyword editing mode by choosing Edit Keywords from the Edit menu – an ungainly interface that you won’t have to endure often. You can also name images: to see how, select one and click the "info" button in the left pane to reveal information about the image, including date, image size, file size, and user-defined comments. I don’t recommend naming images generally, since it’s a lot of work that I’ve found inherently unhelpful in the end (if you’re like most people, most of your images are likely to have somewhat similar subjects, making coherent names difficult). Two checkboxes let you decide if you want to display titles or keywords next to the thumbnails, and a third adds dividers to your thumbnail view based on "film roll," a method of organizing the pictures into groups based on when they were imported into iPhoto.
It’s a little hard to say when you’ll want to use albums in favor of keywords or vice versa, since once you’ve assigned keywords to images, you can click the keyword controls to display just the images matching those keywords. You can produce exactly the same results using either keywords or albums – what I’d recommend (and keep in mind that as of this writing I have minutes of experience with this program) is that you restrict albums to unique labels that you’re likely to want to use only once, whereas keywords should be the kind of thing you could apply to nearly any photo. Plus, albums are necessary for making books – more on that later.
Editing Images — One problem most photo cataloging programs have is that the only editing they let you do on images is rotation. That’s probably the primary activity you want to do and iPhoto offers a rotate button that works in any view, along with a bigger button when you’re in Edit mode – click either button to rotate an image counter-clockwise; Option-click it to rotate clockwise.
But iPhoto doesn’t stop there, providing three additional functions that should handle most image editing needs. You can crop images, and it provides a way of constraining your cropping to specific image sizes. You can also select an area and click a button to reduce red-eye – a common problem that can result in some truly demonic pictures. Finally, a Black & White button does exactly what you’d expect, an effect that works especially well with images of people. In Edit mode, the slider that sets thumbnail size in Organize mode instead zooms in or out of the image. And finally, Previous and Next buttons make it easy to move between images without having to switch back to Organize mode. Throughout the process, iPhoto uses ColorSync to maintain accurate color values.
If iPhoto’s image editing capabilities aren’t sufficient, you can also set a helper application to kick in when you double-click an image. That might be useful if you find yourself wanting to do color correction or adjust contrast or brightness on your photos regularly. Personally, I’m not bothered by iPhoto’s lack of those controls – I usually end up botching the job when I try do such things.
Sharing Images — Where iPhoto really shines, however, is in its functions for sharing and presenting your photo collection. Perhaps the most innovative feature iPhoto offers is the capability to create a picture book of your images. You can choose a number of themes, much as you can in iDVD, and within each them, you can customize how many images print on each page and the text that accompanies them. You can’t print books yourself, unfortunately; instead you must upload it to a service that prints the images on high-quality paper and wraps it all up in a classy linen hardcover binding. Books cost $30 for up to 10 pages, and $3 per page after that, plus tax and delivery the following week. As a friend moaned after the keynote, the cost will add up fast by the time you create copies for all the grandparents several times each year (but it may also prove to be an easy and popular holiday gift).
Clicking into Share mode presents you with a number of choices: Print, Slide Show, Order Prints, Order Book, HomePage, and Export. Print offers four styles, Contact Sheet (where you select the number of images to print across and iPhoto does the scaling for you), Full Page, Greeting Card (which prints either single-fold or double-fold cards with the image on one panel), and Standard Prints (which offers 4×6, 5×7, and 8×10 sizes). Slide Show runs a standard slide show with configurable delays and background music. Order Prints connects to a service run by Kodak for printing selected images on photo paper at a variety of sizes (and prices) for shipping to any address you choose. Order Book does much the same thing, but since you’ve arranged the book on your computer, it’s just a matter of how many copies and where to send it. Clicking HomePage offers you the choice of different themes, after which your images are uploaded to your iDisk and displayed via your Mac.com picture page. (These last three options are described from memory – we didn’t have an Internet connection available while writing.) Finally, Export lets you export images as individual files, as custom Web pages for uploading to your own Web server, or as a QuickTime movie slide show you can send to friends or family. Unfortunately, exporting as a Web page isn’t particularly good – iPhoto provides you with one or more thumbnail pages, and clicking a thumbnail expands the image, but it doesn’t even provide navigation to move on to the next expanded image without going back to the thumbnails. I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a program that generates a framed Web page approach that offers easy navigation for thumbnails and expanded images at the same time.
Close Shutter — Perhaps my main criticism of iPhoto right now is that it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that many families are likely to have multiple computers and may wish to share a single photo library. It may be possible to work some magic with aliases, but we weren’t able to figure out any way to fool a copy of iPhoto on one computer into using the photo library on another computer. iTunes isn’t great at this either, but at least you can point iTunes at a Music folder that exists on another Mac and have it load the music over the network. (Unfortunately, iTunes won’t automatically mount a volume when you try to play an MP3 track shared like this).
Although we’ve been able to play with iPhoto for only a short time, it’s clear that it’s going to be a huge win for Apple. Aside from the fact that it provides a reason to choose a Mac over a PC (though, to be fair, Windows XP offers some of these sort of features as well), and Mac OS X over Mac OS 9, iPhoto provides a perfect example of how a free application could actually improve Apple’s bottom line through revenues related to print and book orders. Steve Jobs claimed that Apple had sold one million DVD-R blank disks in the last year (and Apple has just reduced the price to $5 per disk) – I have to believe that there are a lot more people who will want to order prints or picture books than wanted to burn DVDs in 2001. I know I’ll be giving it a try, something I’ve never managed to do with any of the other digital photo printing services.