The new iMac and iPhoto dominated last week’s Macworld Expo, but those weren’t the only interesting things at the show. In this issue we offer an overview of the show, plus our superlatives for products and companies that caught our attention. Also, Adam peers into his crystal ball (well, actually, the liquid crystal display of his iBook) to prognosticate on what 2002 will likely bring. Finally, Judge Motz rejects the proposed Microsoft civil settlement.
iMac, iPhoto Corrections — Last week’s issue was a bit unusual for us, which led to a couple of errors in our Macworld Expo coverage. Although I was able to attend the rescheduled keynote address, Adam didn’t arrive from Ithaca until the afternoon. So, the two of us ended up writing the issue over a five-hour period in a Starbucks near Moscone with flaky wireless Internet access (by the time we finished, Adam had been awake for 21 hours and was decidedly wobbly). As such, we didn’t discover until the next day that the new iMac does in fact contain a fan, rather than relying on convection cooling as we reported. However, we were pleased to learn that it isn’t an ordinary fan. It’s temperature-activated, like a PowerBook G4’s fan, and works at variable speeds depending on the iMac’s temperature (so it’s likely to turn off shortly after an iMac goes to sleep). What’s more impressive is that it was specifically designed to minimize noise, so that the fan is quieter than the hard disk, producing a maximum of 25 decibels. (By comparison, a whisper is usually 20 to 30 decibels at a distance between 3 and 15 feet, and the typical background noise in even a quiet room will be louder than the iMac’s fan.) Also, another difference between the iMac and the Power Mac G4 is the Power Mac’s L3 cache, which will improve performance over iMacs with similar clock speeds.
We also erroneously reported that iPhoto wasn’t capable of printing books on your own printer. In fact, when you’re in the Book view, you can simply select Print from the File menu; we were looking for the option in the Share and Book toolbars. [JLC]
Proposed Microsoft Settlement Rejected — U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz agreed with critics that the proposed $1 billion settlement of the combined private class-action suits against Microsoft appeared to "provide a means for flooding a part of the kindergarten through high school market, in which Microsoft has not traditionally been the strongest player (particularly in relation to Apple), with Microsoft software and refurbished hardware." (See "Into the Briar Patch: Microsoft’s Self-Serving Settlement" in TidBITS-607.) In rejecting the settlement, Judge Motz also commented that the proposal for Microsoft to give away software "could be viewed as constituting ‘court approved predatory pricing.’" Despite these harsh words, Judge Motz was not unsympathetic the basic idea behind the settlement, but he suggested that Microsoft should pay the settlement amount in cash into a special fund, from which schools could purchase whatever hardware and software they chose. Lawyers for both sides said they would continue to work on a revised settlement, and failing that, go to trial. [ACE]
I’ve been analyzing Macworld Expos for a long time now, and never have I been quite so at a loss for what to say. It wasn’t that this year’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco was a bad show, because it wasn’t. But it wasn’t a stunning show either, and more to the point, there simply wasn’t a lot about it that stood out one way or another after the great new iMac and iPhoto.
The number of exhibitors was down quite a bit from last year, with notable absences such as Macromedia, Palm, and Handspring, and even those that were present occupied less space than before. There were bright spots – MacTech Central, which hosts interesting small developers, represented about 10 percent of the companies at the show and was larger than any of the other special interest pavilions, a nice achievement to mark MacTech Magazine’s 200th issue and Neil Ticktin’s 10th anniversary as publisher of the magazine. Plus, attendance estimates put it at least comparable to last year’s figures, which is downright amazing in this weak economic climate. Other information technology shows have suffered significant attendance drops, and while I’m sure IDG World Expo worked hard to get attendees in the door, I see no reason to assume that other show organizers wouldn’t be doing the same.
Most interestingly, just like the previous Macworld Expo in New York, both attendees and exhibitors were upbeat. MacAcademy reportedly sold a lot more of their training products this year than last, and Peachpit Press was doing banner business selling books. Other booths, like the CoolMacStuff.com booth and the folks selling old software at cut-rate prices, were constantly mobbed. Retailers weren’t the only ones were happy – Jim Rea of ProVUE Development (the Panorama folks) said it was a great show for them, and others echoed the sentiment.
Although there were numerous exhibitors showing Mac OS X-native applications, most of those were ports of previous versions and didn’t add much in the way of new functionality or showcase Mac OS X’s capabilities. In fact, a number of them suffered from performance problems under Mac OS X because an application doesn’t seem to be able to take over nearly 100 percent of the Mac’s CPU power under Mac OS X, as is possible in Mac OS 9, making it difficult to provide peak performance on the same hardware. As a friend put it, when a company proudly told you they’d ported their program to Mac OS X, you felt like patting them on the head and saying, "Here’s a cookie."
Don’t take this as criticism of the developers – just getting programs ported to Mac OS X has been a Herculean task for many. Despite what Apple claimed when Mac OS X was first announced, the process of carbonizing an application isn’t trivial, and a number of developers were griping about having to pay their programmers to debug Apple’s code. Especially notable was the lack of a Carbon version of Adobe Photoshop, partially because it’s such a necessity for the graphic design market and partially because Apple had trotted Adobe out at the WWDC announcement of Mac OS X nearly three years back to show how they’d ported much of Photoshop in a week. Ouch.
It also shouldn’t be taken as more than constructive criticism of Apple. Apple doesn’t want to make things difficult for developers – that’s a losing strategy if ever there was one – but merging NeXTstep and the Mac OS and moving it forward in new ways has simply proved more difficult than Apple imagined. There have certainly been stupid decisions and ill-advised bits of inattention to important areas, but that’s often just the cost of doing business in a project as large as Mac OS X. One ray of hope is the return of Bud Tribble as a vice president of Software Technology, reporting to Avie Tevanian. Bud Tribble is well known as the manager of the original Macintosh Software team, after which he helped found NeXT Computer, worked as chief technology officer for the Sun-Netscape Alliance, and was most recently vice president of Engineering for Eazel, Andy Hertzfeld’s attempt to create an open source graphical interface for Linux.
In fact, all this is in large part why iPhoto is so important. It’s not just a Mac-only application, it’s a full-fledged Cocoa application that runs only under Mac OS X. In essence, you have Apple saying, "Well, if no one else is going to show off just how easy it is to write a Cocoa application that does new stuff, we’ll just have to do it ourselves." iPhoto isn’t just a decent little application with a few neat tricks, it’s a good-enough-to-ship proof of concept, where the concept is that Mac developers will bring new functionality to the platform thanks to the wonders of Mac OS X. That’s what I’m looking forward to for Macworld Expo New York next July.
Perhaps what I’m trying to tease out is the level to which Macworld Expo has become a networking event as much as a showcase of the latest technology. Numerous private parties supplanted the costly corporate events, resulting in smaller gatherings held in venues where conversation didn’t require screaming to be heard over the band. Although we all go to Macworld Expo to see the latest new thing, this year’s show gave us – and hopefully many others – the opportunity to look beyond the obvious and see where the full range of Mac companies is headed.
Although the pre-show hype always centers on Steve Jobs’s keynote and Apple’s announcements, Macworld Expo offers much more. We spend the rest of the week walking the show floor, talking to vendors and attendees, and generally keeping an eye out for what’s exciting in the Mac world. Here’s what we found this year.
Knob and a Button, Two Bits — Everyone at Macworld Expo goes around asking others what they think is cool, and the award for the coolest product of the show has to go to the PowerMate, from Griffin Technologies. Also known as "that shiny knob," the $45 PowerMate is a round brushed aluminum USB device that you can turn (the knob part) and also press down (the button bit, just like a mouse button). What might you do with such a device? Just about anything you can imagine doing with a knob and a button, since you can configure them independently for different applications. In iTunes, for instance, you might turn the knob to adjust the volume and click the button to mute the sound when the phone rings. In iMovie, you could have the knob scrub the playhead left and right and have the button act like a normal mouse click. The PowerMate is just cool, and the coolness factor is enhanced by LEDs that make the base of the PowerMate glow blue. The software even has a checkbox to pulse the LEDs; when someone asked Griffin’s Jason Litchford why it did that, he just grinned and said, "Because we could." (Also falling into the "Because we could" category was Griffin’s bit of hacked hardware that plugged into an iPod’s headphone jack and turned the iPod into an infrared remote control.) [ACE]
Got Any Spare Charge? A constant undercurrent of every Macworld is power: who has it, who needs it, and where you can get it. I’m not talking about Steve Jobs’s here, but the battery life of portable electronics. With the Palm charger forgotten at home and the phone’s bulky brick back in my hotel room, I ended up purchasing a $25 combination from ND Dimension, Inc. that included a USB charging cable and interchangeable adapters to feed power to my two devices from my PowerBook’s battery. In addition to being a handy thing to carry around, a USB charging cable dramatically cuts down on the bulk of transporting power bricks. [JLC]
AirPorts Without Security — Kudos to the Macworld Expo conference organizers for making it easy to open an iBook or PowerBook in numerous locations and hop on a public wireless network with high speed Internet access. AirPort Base Stations have been present at Macworld Expos before, but never with the near ubiquity of this year. And with the light weight of Apple’s current portables, carrying a laptop all day at the show isn’t the shoulder-breaking task it once was. None of the wireless networks Jeff and I found from the hotel room allowed access (though one network was gleefully named "Bring beer to room 1162 for password"). Instead, being able to connect to Jeff’s MobileStar account using the wireless Internet access at a nearby Starbucks came close to making up for the loss of Metricom’s wireless Ricochet network, which we’ve used at previous shows but which hasn’t yet been restarted by Aerie Networks. [ACE]
No Need for a Peeler — Perhaps you really liked Apple’s bright splashes of color from a few years back and bemoan the current graphite, snow, and silver cases. Well, if you’re a Power Mac G3 (Blue & White) or G4 owner, you don’t have to look any further than AppleSkinz, which are airbrushed (for now, silk screening coming in the future) plastic panels that fit over the sides of your Power Mac to give it back some color (there’s also a clear skin you can paint yourself). Numerous designs are available for $50 until the end of January; $70 after that (prices also vary based on design). The AppleSkinz require no modification of your Power Mac or tape that will mark the original sides. The latch is covered, but it’s easy to pull the AppleSkinz cover off to access it when necessary. [ACE]
It’s Backup Time! This award goes jointly to Apple Computer and Dantz Development for finally making it possible to back up and restore a Mac running Mac OS X. Until Mac OS X 10.1.2 came out, a variety of bugs and limitations in Mac OS X prevented Dantz from releasing a version of Retrospect that could completely restore a Mac OS X-based Mac to a bootable state (the same was reportedly true of the other Mac OS X backup programs, but 10.1.2 made it possible for them to restore completely as well). Retrospect 5.0 Preview is required – previous versions of Retrospect will never work properly with Mac OS X – but you can download it for free (the final version will be a paid upgrade due by March). Although the Retrospect 5.0 Preview runs only on Mac OS X 10.1.2, the final version will also run under Mac OS 9, so you won’t have to upgrade backup servers to Mac OS X. [ACE]
Quick, Easy Backup — The main backup news of the show may have been Dantz’s Retrospect 5.0 Preview, but the backup product that demoed best was the Automatic Backup System (ABS) from CMS Peripherals. ABS is a small piece of software that watches your Mac’s FireWire bus for the connection of the ABS hardware – essentially a standard 3.5-inch FireWire hard disk. Once the drive is connected, the ABS software kicks in and copies files from the internal hard disk to the ABS drive. You specify which files should be copied, and ABS is smart about copying only changed files, so it runs quickly. Restoration (which is the point of backup, remember) must be done manually in the Finder, although if you’re backing up from Mac OS 9, you can also boot from the ABS drive. Restoration in Mac OS X is trickier – user-created files restore fine, but you can’t restore an entire Mac OS X hard disk to a bootable state. Our take is that the ABS (and the ABSplus, which uses a 2.5-inch laptop hard disk and thus doesn’t need external power) would be great for making quick copies of important files on a number of Macs, but they’re not really suitable for a complete backup strategy. Prices vary depending on the size of the hard disk you buy, and unfortunately, you can’t use the ABS software separately from the ABS drive even though there’s no technical reason such a requirement should exist. [ACE]
Biggest Threat to Excel — Mesa, from P & L Systems, is a $50 spreadsheet for Mac OS X, written in Cocoa. It’s not a feature-complete clone of Excel, but it does imitate a good-sized chunk of Excel’s core, and can import and export Excel documents; it even adds some formula functions that improve upon Excel. Now that Cocoa lets anyone write an application, perhaps we’ll see a bit more competition for the ensconced industry behemoths. [MAN]
Is That a Mouse in Your Pocket? Although the trackpad on an iBook or PowerBook is perfectly adequate for manipulating your Mac, sometimes it’s easier to use a mouse when you’re on the go. For a while I toted Apple’s thankfully banished puck-style mouse because it didn’t take up much space in my bag. Now, however, I’m looking forward to carrying Kensington’s Pocket Mouse Pro. It not only boasts a smaller overall size than most mice, it has two buttons, a scroll wheel, and optical tracking. I’d be happy with that combination, but a retractable USB cable (which fits inside the mouse body for storage) makes the Pocket Mouse Pro an essential addition to my PowerBook’s carrying bag. [JLC]
Best New Utility — WorkStrip, from Softchaos, is a $40 Control Strip replacement. It’s a hierarchical menu that lets you navigate your hard drive, and a launcher which, for any application, lets you access recently opened documents. You can also construct "workspaces," sets of applications and documents to be launched together. WorkStrip is reminiscent of Now Menus and Action Menus, and there’s not much here that couldn’t be done with OneClick, but WorkStrip will soon do something none of those can do – run on Mac OS X (a preview release is already available). I can’t wait. [MAN]
iPods Galore — When Apple first introduced the iPod, we wondered whether the $400 price tag would keep people away from the extremely cool MP3 player (see "iPod Makes Music More Attractive" in TidBITS-603). Apparently not. In addition to the company’s announcement of 125,000 units sold in its first 60 days, iPods were in generous supply among attendees at the show. The identifiable white earbuds seemed to be everywhere, much the way PalmPilots seemed to appear all at once several years ago. Vendors were conscious of this fact too. XtremeMac, MCE, and Other World Computing all offered a variety of iPod cases and adapters. iPods were also being sold at the show, if you could find them. When I inquired at one of the few retail companies in attendance, Unitek, I was told that a shipment of 72 iPods was due any minute via FedEx – which apparently sold out within an hour or so. Perhaps creating the best device in its class really does make a difference. [JLC]
Most Brilliantly Sneaky Hack – Jim Rea of ProVUE was demonstrating the Panorama iPod Organizer, which lets you use your iPod as a sort of lightweight read-only PDA. It exports a Panorama database as MP3 files. These contain no music; what’s important is their names and ID3 tag information. The result is that after you sync your iPod, your database entries show up organized hierarchically within the Artists folder (e.g. Artists -> Family -> Sister, and within that are the actual music files whose names are my sister’s phone number and address). For $20, it’s a cheap way to look cool and reduce the number of digital devices you carry. [MAN]
Before You Ask… Working a booth at Macworld Expo is a grueling haul, and is made worse when you’re one of those folks who is asked the same question constantly. Joe Kissell of Kensington added some levity to his booth shift by taping a piece of paper to his back which read, "YES! We are working on Keystroke Emulation for Mac OS X." Below that, in smaller letters, read, "YES! I know I have a sign taped to my back," and at the bottom, "(Yes, I know it looks silly.)" [JLC]
Best Toy – Remember how the old SuperPaint let you paint with really weird brushes, such as bubbles? The $40 GroBoto, from Braid Media Arts, propels that idea into the third dimension. As you move the mouse, elaborate abstract 3D drawings spring up like tentacles and fill the screen. Unlike traditional 3D programs, GroBoto is neither difficult nor slow; you make freeform 3D drawings instantly. That’s because GroBoto’s objects are made of pre-rendered elements, so the computer’s chief worry is merely what’s in front of what. At a higher level, you can assemble variations of a number of built-in 3D objects, animate them, and even construct little games and simulations using a Logo-like programming language. Enchanting, intriguing, and educational for kids of all ages – you simply must give the demo a try. [MAN]
This time of year it’s traditional either to look back at the events of the past year or to offer predictions for the upcoming one. 2001 was a bit grim in many ways, so let’s instead look forward to a few of the top stories for 2002, remembering at all times the lessons we learned in the past.
Battle Over Digital Content — As Dan Kohn’s essays in TidBITS over the last few months have shown, we’re at a point in history where views surrounding traditional concepts of intellectual property are changing. Millions of people share music in MP3 format every day, and video is becoming increasingly common on the peer-to-peer file sharing services that have grown in popularity after the recording industry managed to hamstring Napster. This genie will never be stuffed back into the bottle, despite consumer-angering moves like copy-protected CDs that can’t be played back in computer CD drives.
I don’t give the music downloading services started by the record labels – PressPlay and MusicNet – much of a chance. Few people know or care which labels (and thus which of the services) distribute their favorite artists, the usage limitations are significant, and did I mention that neither one works on the Macintosh or Unix?
Movies and books will increasingly start to pop up on the file sharing services in 2002. Neither is likely to be as significant a concern as music, since movies and books are produced and consumed differently than music. I haven’t worked out of all of the variables, but consider the fact that you can listen to a song hundreds of times in a year, but few people over the age of 10 would watch the same movie more than a few times in a year. And how many adults re-read books? In addition, movies can require a vast number of people and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, whereas a single author can produce a camera-ready book in only a few months.
I don’t have any answers here, but if you’re either a creator or consumer of digital content, pay close attention in 2002, because things will be changing and it’s better to change with the times than stick your head in the sand.
Go Fast, Go Wireless — It’s ironic that the most prominent magazine of geek chic – Wired – is in danger of having its name end up sounding outdated. Wires aren’t going away, but it’s clear that 2002 will be another step on the ascendence of 802.11 wireless networking.
More people will be jumping on the wireless home networking bandwagon in 2002 as they replace older Macs with current ones that can accept Apple’s AirPort cards. PC laptops are finally starting to include antennas so they can compete with Macs in range and elegance. Apple’s recent addition of support for sharing an AOL Internet connection via the AirPort Base Station will also help, given the many millions of AOL users.
Most people believe that 802.11b wireless networks are limited to a 50 meter range, but in fact that limit is related only to antenna size and power. Thanks to this flexibility, long-range wireless networking will become much more common in 2002. Free metropolitan area wireless networks are leading the charge in numerous communities around the world. Also coming soon will be EarthLink founder Sky Dayton’s new service, Boingo, which will provide wireless Internet access in over 750 locations in the U.S. by overlaying existing local wireless networks with a single access and billing system. And if you want to wing it on your own, check out WiFinder.com for a map of wireless access points around the United States.
Also look for penetration of faster variants on the 802.11 standard, including 802.11a and the recently approved 802.11g. 802.11a promises data rates up to 54 Mbps, but uses radio frequencies between 5 GHz and 6 GHz, so it’s not compatible with current 802.11b hardware. 802.11g also promises data rates up to 54 Mbps over relatively short distances but stays in the 2.4 GHz frequency band for compatibility.
Wireless network security is likely to remain an issue, given that several high-profile cracks last year made it clear that intercepting wireless traffic wasn’t difficult. Much work is being done to secure wireless networks – I expect to see solutions start appearing in 2002, although older hardware may not be able to take advantage of these advances, leaving some networks open to eavesdropping.
TidBITS will cover the highlights of the wireless networking space, but if you’re really interested in the topic, be sure to check out our friend Glenn Fleishman’s 802.11b Networking News site.
Fall and Rise of Broadband — Some of the biggest stories of 2001 were the troubles of major broadband ISPs, first the large DSL providers and then one of the most prominent cable providers, Excite@Home. Also caught in the net was Metricom’s wireless Ricochet service, along with numerous other ISPs that suffered when a larger upstream ISP went under.
And yet, it’s clear from the angst that fills the email of those affected that the loss of broadband Internet access is felt deeply. Once you’ve experienced having the Internet available instantly without dialing and at generally good data rates, it’s hard to go back to modem access. It’s difficult to say if broadband will recover fully in 2002, but if the companies still providing it can’t figure out a way to make it profitable given the significant interest shown by customers, there’s something wrong, especially given the amount of infrastructure already in place.
Perhaps broadband companies could succeed in 2002 by implementing more sensible pricing and eliminating unnecessary restrictions on the number of machines and use of servers. The first restriction is so easily circumvented with a gateway it isn’t funny, and the second shows a lack of understanding of the Internet. ISPs sell bandwidth, nothing more, and it makes more sense to charge for bandwidth used than to make arbitrary distinctions about the number of machines or the type of programs running. Neither approach is likely to be as popular as flat-rate pricing, but that’s proven problematic, and I’ll bet those missing high-speed connections would be happy to get them back under terms that are clear about the costs of the system.
PDAs Stay Put — I really wanted to say that we’ll see something stunning from the PDA world in 2002, but frankly, I just can’t see much of interest happening, which is news in itself. Some new handhelds like the Handspring Treo will ship, and they’ll be smaller, cheaper, and include a few more functions. But the PDA industry has a number of problems that add up to 2002 being a year of recovery and stabilization.
I’m not sure people want much more from a PDA than they can get now. That was one main reason Palm succeeded where Apple’s Newton and others failed previously – the original PalmPilot didn’t attempt to do everything. The various PocketPC devices offer more functionality, but from what I’ve seen, it’s primarily for demonstration purposes ("Look, you can even watch videos!")
Form factor also limits where PDAs can go. There’s not much room to change the PDA form factor while maintaining screen size and still fitting it in a pocket. Plus, the traditional large-screen form factor makes for an uncomfortable match when mimicking devices with different form factors, such as thin cell phones or diminutive RAM-based MP3 players. Innovative engineering, such as that which produced the folding PDA keyboard, could overcome some of these problems, but great industrial design doesn’t happen every day.
Finally, the major PDA hardware players – Palm, Handspring, Sony, Compaq, HP – fall into two categories: relatively small and unprofitable companies without strong capitalization, or large companies that focus primarily on other products. Designing and manufacturing new hardware is risky for Palm and Handspring, given the costs of ramping up production lines and holding inventory, and although the larger companies have less exposure to financial problems, PDAs simply aren’t a significant part of their product mix. Add it all up, and you get more of the same PDAs to which we’ve become accustomed.
Jokers Wild — I’m sure I’ve failed to anticipate some of the major stories that will be coming up in 2002, and I hope that Apple will be a major force in surprising me. Not all of Apple’s attempts to change the face of computing succeed – as we’ve seen most recently with the Cube – but no other company tries as hard to push the envelope of what’s technically possible with products that elegantly meld technology into our lives.