We’re back from Macworld Expo 2004 San Francisco, with news of software and a bit of hardware. Adam relays his overall impressions of the show, and examines how Apple’s musical forays are a Trojan Horse into the rest of the computing world. We also look at iLife ’04 and its newest application, GarageBand, plus note the releases of the G5 Xserve and the Xserve RAID, Final Cut Express 2, and news of Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac OS X. Lastly, Tristan turns five!
Apple Unveils G5 Xserve, new Xserve RAID — Apple last week lifted the cover on a significant upgrade to the Xserve, its line of 1U (one-unit high) rack-mount Mac OS X-based servers. The Xserve G5 features single or dual 2 GHz G5 processors, a 1 GHz frontside bus for each processor, an 8 GB RAM ceiling, an 80 GB Serial ATA drive with support for up to 750 GB in three drive bays, and an optional slot-loading CD-ROM or DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive. In addition, the Xserve G5 offers two built-in Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, two FireWire 800 ports, one FireWire 400 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and two full-length PCI-X expansion slots on independent buses. (PCI expansion options include video and SCSI support, additional Ethernet interfaces, an Apple Fibre Channel card, or third-party RAID support). Three configurations are available: a stripped-down Cluster Node version (for distributed applications such as video rendering) with dual 2 GHz processors and a 10-client Mac OS X Server license, as well as more traditional Single Processor and Dual Processor configurations with unlimited client versions of Mac OS X Server. Prices start at $3,000.
Apple also revamped the $6,000 Xserve RAID, a 3U (three-unit high) rack-mount system which offers up to 3.5 TB (terabytes) of storage in 14 hot-swappable drive bays. The Xserve RAID connects to Xserves using a 2 Gb Fibre Channel interface. The new Xserve RAID sports throughputs of up to 210 MB/second, and Apple also unveiled support for using the Xserve RAID with Linux and Windows systems. [GD]
Apple Releases Final Cut Express 2 — Apple announced Final Cut Express 2 at Macworld Expo, an updated version of its mid-range video editing software originally introduced in January 2003. Final Cut Express 2 enhances its RT Extreme capability of playing back video layers, transitions, and effects without having to render them first, and is also optimized for the Power Mac G5 and Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Audio improvements include real-time volume and filter adjustment, automated audio keyframe recording, support for Audio Units (the Apple audio plug-in format for Mac OS X applications), and the capability to export markers for Apple’s Soundtrack application. You can now also capture footage across timecode breaks (a common issue encountered with consumer DV camcorders). Since it’s built from the code base of Final Cut Pro 4, Final Cut Express 2 features a customizable interface for creating shortcut buttons to favorite functions and tweaking the appearance of many interface elements. Final Cut Express 2 is available now for $300; upgrades from Final Cut Express 1.0 cost $100. [JLC]
Microsoft Announces Office 2004 for Mac OS X — Microsoft last week announced the upcoming release (sometime in the first half of this year) of Office 2004 for Macintosh. The first major revision to Office since the release of Office X in fall 2001, the new Office suite offers a new Project Center feature in Entourage to link related bits of project data and allow collaboration with shared material on a file server or an iDisk.
Other Mac-first features demonstrated at Macworld Expo included section tabs and a notebook view in Word 2004, and a new page layout view in Excel 2004. Microsoft’s Technology Guarantee Program offers a free upgrade to Office 2004 when it becomes available, to anyone purchasing Office X between 06-Jan-04 and 30-Jun-04. Microsoft says this spring’s release will offer three editions of Office; Office X is currently available in Standard Edition, Professional Edition (which includes Virtual PC), and a discounted Student and Teacher Edition. [MHA]
Tristan Turns Five — At Macworld Expo in San Francisco five years ago, I had to leave a day earlier than planned to make it home in time for Tristan to be born. When we announced the happy event in TidBITS-463, I asked readers to send Tristan email with your thoughts on what the world is like today, what you think of our collective future, the most important lessons you’ve learned, and what you think of Tonya and me and the work we’ve accomplished over the years. More than 600 of you sent truly fabulous notes that I’m sure Tristan will be fascinated to read in ten years (at least if there isn’t a member of the opposite sex in the room). In honor of his fifth birthday, which he enjoyed immensely with my sister Jennifer while we went to Macworld Expo, I’d like to ask that you once again send him email at <[email protected]> with whatever thoughts you feel he’ll find interesting or important later on in life. Who knows, maybe he’ll write a book about the experience some day. Thanks! [ACE]
Before last July’s Macworld Expo in New York City, everyone was wondering what sort of a show it would be without a Steve Jobs keynote and without many of the high-profile exhibitors who pulled out. Although there was no debating that there were many fewer exhibitors and attendees, the overall tenor of the show was positive, both from people manning the booths and those folks walking the floor.
That sense of uncertainty was less pointed for this year’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco, though one friend from Seattle decided that he couldn’t justify the cost and time necessary for the trip, writing in email, "Besides, my biggest fear is the show will be such a shadow of its former self that I’ll be sent into a downward nostalgia spiral from which I may never recover. (‘He was found wandering the empty aisles, sobbing quietly, searching in vain for the WordPerfect booth, wearing only a Power Computing vest, a Casady & Greene blinking light, and carrying a Wingz bag.’)"
The good news is that my friend’s worry was unfounded; the bad news is that there’s no question the show was distinctly smaller than in previous years. Most obvious was the reduced floor space. In the old days, Macworld Expo occupied almost all the space in both the South and North halls of Moscone Center. This year, the curtains in the South Hall (which traditionally holds the larger vendors) could have been moved out to accommodate most, if not all, of the North Hall vendors as well. Despite the smaller space, the number of exhibitors, though down from last year, didn’t drop as precipitously. The floor space suffered more than the exhibitor count because many exhibitors opted for small stands in the special interest pavilions in the North Hall (and as usual, they had some of the most interesting products).
The big question remains attendance, and despite the crowded aisles, the general consensus among exhibitors was that traffic was down from last year. We won’t know the real numbers there until IDG World Expo releases them, along with details about how they’ve chosen to count attendees this year. Nevertheless, the mood among attendees was extremely positive, and we saw none of the moroseness that marked the (much larger) Macworld Expos during Apple’s death spiral days of 1996 and 1997. (Unfortunately, Tonya’s impressions of the first Macworld Expo she’s been able to attend in five years were rather limited. In the continuing saga of "Life’s Not Fair," she succumbed to the flu on the second afternoon and has spent the time since then in bed, though she finally recovered enough to brave the flight home today.)
Apple Makes Music — So what was the difference between then and now? Apple’s sense of direction. Apple bought NeXT in 1996 in order to use NeXTstep as the foundation of Mac OS X, but far more valuable than NeXT’s code and engineering talent for Apple’s survival as a company was the addition of Steve Jobs and his vision for what Apple could become. It took some time, but Jobs put Apple back on track, creating innovative products and reestablishing Apple’s role as the computer industry’s design leader. Even the energy from Power Computing’s "Fight Back for the Mac" campaign didn’t amount to much when Apple was in the doldrums.
Now, however, we’re seeing a revitalized Apple that, despite a smaller market share, is once again pushing the industry envelope in technology, design, and focus. That’s why attendees at today’s smaller Macworld Expos tend to be so upbeat and positive. The economy might be weak, causing many companies to question the value of an expensive booth at a trade show, but as long as Apple continues to keep moving forward and other Macintosh developers support that forward momentum, individual attendees will be happy roaming the aisles at Macworld.
What’s interesting about Apple’s recent successes is that many of them are only ancillary to the traditional uses of computers. In particular, with the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, Apple has sidestepped into the music industry, and the release of GarageBand and the iPod mini show that the company plans to keep marching along that path.
Not all Mac users are ecstatic about this direction. Many feel they have no use for an iPod, and don’t buy enough recorded music to care much about the iTunes Music Store. Also, although Steve Jobs claimed that over half of the households in the United States have one person who plays a musical instrument, I can’t but help think that GarageBand’s potential audience is much smaller than the audiences of iTunes, or even the iTunes Music Store. One TidBITS reader wrote to me after the Macworld keynote to say that this is the first time in four years the keynote hasn’t inspired him to buy something from Apple, and another wrote to wonder if Apple would be paying more attention to the traditional publishing market again in the future.
Those Sneaky Greeks — Nevertheless, it’s still worth supporting Apple’s emphasis on the music world, even if it doesn’t seem to benefit you directly, because media attention, revenue, and overall success with the iPod, iTunes Music Store, and even GarageBand will aid Apple’s other efforts, particularly in the longer term. That’s because the iPod and iTunes Music Store are essentially Apple’s Trojan Horse into the Windows world. "Sure," Apple says, "you can use an iPod with your Windows PC, and you can buy music for it from the iTunes Music Store." The iPod and iTunes Music Store are Apple’s foot in the door; Windows users are buying them not because they’re the cheapest, but because they offer the best industrial design, the best user interface, and the best overall user experience. Apple’s happy with selling iPods and songs to Windows users today, but you have to expect that those users will have been infected with the Apple ethos, and when it comes time for their next purchase, a Mac is far more likely to be considered. After all, the Mac has a better industrial design, user interface, and overall user experience too, just like the iPod.
The benefits of this musical Trojan Horse don’t stop there. With the iPod and iTunes Music Store and some of Steve Jobs’s patented Reality Distortion Field making him as close to a rock star as a computer industry CEO can be, Apple has achieved something that may be unique: the company’s products are equally as hip to teenagers and their parents. A kid may have nothing but teenage contempt for her parents’ choice of music, but you don’t see teens avoiding the iPod just because adults like it too. And just look at the Apple Stores for a near-perfect example of adult hip; everything about the stores says they’re patronized only by the most fashionable. I can’t think of another company that has attained such cross-generational coolness, even when their products (such as Sony’s) are used by people of different ages.
Now you have to think really long term – the kids who are lusting after iPods today are the Mac users of tomorrow. Apple may no longer have the stronghold in education they once had, but this emphasis on music makes Apple products desirable to the young, who then grow up to be the next generation of consumers. It’s a brilliant move, and one that only a company with a strong vision for the future, the distant future, could execute. Nothing Apple could do would increase the Mac’s market share significantly in the near term, so Steve Jobs has set the company’s sights a bit further out.
Other Musings — With this realization in mind, other things start to make more sense. Apple’s recent licensing of the iPod to HP, for instance, might seem odd, but if you consider the level to which Apple wants to bring Windows users into the fold for later conversion to Mac users, it’s a big win. That’s especially true because the iPod is iconic; it doesn’t need the Apple logo or be white (HP’s will be light blue) for people to know it’s really an Apple product. The licensing also makes sense from HP’s standpoint, since Apple and HP don’t really compete directly, thus making that alliance a powerful one against the companies HP does worry about, like Dell and Sony (both of whom are trying to take on the iPod and iTunes Music Store with homegrown products).
Apple’s desire to focus on this musical Trojan Horse also explains why we haven’t seen an Apple-designed cell phone or PDA or tablet computer or television. As Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of Marketing, said in our press briefing, Apple realized they had a chance to rethink the entire way music was sold, and at the same time invent the next Walkman. That’s changing the world, which remains at the heart of everything Steve Jobs does. Apple could create any given product, but without a clear vision of how the product would both be enough more compelling than the competition and would help the fortunes of Apple’s core products – in short, how it would change the world – it won’t happen.
Lastly, think about the iPod mini. Some have been confused by its $250 price point, only $50 less than the low-end 15 GB iPod. Why not price the iPod mini at $100 so there’s no competition with the iPod? Apple doesn’t like to compete with commodity products, since the only differentiation between manufacturers is on price, but everything that Apple is known for – ease of use and industrial design – adds to the price. Apple could create a $100 MP3 player, but it wouldn’t be enough better than the competition to sell well, and without being better, it wouldn’t help attract customers to Apple’s other products. In the end, the $250 price point makes sense. If you’re thinking about buying a $200 MP3 player with 256 MB of RAM, an extra $50 for 4 GB of storage is an easy upsell. And as far as the choice between the iPod mini and the low-end iPod… Apple doesn’t care which you find more attractive at all, since either way it’s a sale for Apple. Also remember that everyone balked at the original 5 GB iPod’s $400 price tag, which didn’t appear to be a major deterrent to actual sales.
So, with another Macworld Expo under our belts, it’s time to get back to the day-to-day work (or entertainment, depending on your perspective) of watching the Macintosh world, and even if you’re not a music aficionado, I encourage you to keep an eye on the large wooden horse with Apple logo emblazoned on its side that was just wheeled into the center of the computer industry.
For the first time in recent memory, Apple’s announcements at the latest Macworld Expo didn’t involve any new consumer Mac hardware, instead focusing primarily on software improvements and the iPod mini. The star of the show was iLife ’04, an upgrade to Apple’s iLife suite of digital hub applications, which now includes the music-creation tool GarageBand as well as improvements to iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iTunes.
Attendees were able to get only a taste of iLife ’04 on the show floor. In contrast with the initial version of iLife released at last year’s San Francisco expo, iLife ’04’s individual applications, other than iTunes 4, are not available for free download. Until last week, you could download iPhoto 2 and iMovie 3 for free, but you had to buy the suite to get iDVD 3, which was too large to download. This change, designed to make the iApps into a revenue center rather than a significant financial drain, is likely to engender significant grousing among existing Mac owners.
The iApps do remain a reason to buy a Mac, since purchasers of new Macintosh models receive iLife for free. If you bought a qualifying Mac on or after 06-Jan-04 that does not include iLife ’04, you can get it for $20 (see Apple’s iLife Up-To-Date Program page for details). Also, an iLife ’04 Family Pack, which licenses up to five Macintosh computers for household use only, is available for $80.
Apple dubbed iLife ’04 as being "like Microsoft Office for the rest of your life" (which sounds more like a curse if you read it as "until the end of your life" instead of as "the time when you’re not working"). Is the new package worth the upgrade price? Here are details on what’s new based on Apple’s information and our hands-on experience from the show floor.
GarageBand — According to Apple, about half of U.S. households include someone who can play a musical instrument. While several of us attending the keynote tried to determine how all of those people manage to hide their talents, Apple announced GarageBand, a program that enables even the casual musician to play over 50 software-based instruments (such as pianos, drum kits, basses, organs, and UFOs from outer space) using any USB or MIDI keyboard or controller, digitally mix up to 64 tracks, and integrate live audio, whether recorded from a microphone or an electric instrument plugged in to the Macintosh. In traditional Apple fashion, GarageBand’s interface is fairly simple to understand and use. Like iTunes’s playlists or iPhoto’s albums, you click a plus-sign icon to add new instruments, then customize their specific sounds (such as adding distortion or using a British Invasion guitar sound).
The software offers over 1,000 music loops (professionally produced drum beats and backing tracks), 200 pro-quality audio effects (from traditional echoes and phasing to wacky filters), plus a small collection of vintage and modern guitar amplifier emulations to intrigue the Hendrix wanna-be in your household. When you’ve recorded and tweaked your next chart-topping hit to your satisfaction, GarageBand offers one-click export to iTunes; from there, you can share your work with other iTunes users and other iLife applications, transfer it to an iPod, or burn your magnum opus to CD. (During the keynote we were commenting that the only thing missing is a "Sell my song on iTunes" button that would upload it to the iTunes Music Store.)
In addition to GarageBand’s default sounds and tones, Apple also offers the $100 GarageBand Jam Pack with 2,000 additional loops and over 100 additional software instruments. Apple is also selling an M-Audio 49-key USB keyboard (like a piano keyboard, not a typewriter keyboard!) for playing software instruments.
We’re curious to see how GarageBand is embraced. Adam and Jeff, for example, have little musical inclination, but we can easily envision budding 14-year-old musicians adopting it immediately. Apple also pointed out several times that GarageBand is great for practicing one’s guitar or keyboard with background instruments. Your kid’s next Battle of the Bands competition at school may be just a single lad onstage with a guitar, PowerBook, and GarageBand. By the way: Apple licensed use of the name from GarageBand.com, which (with the demise of MP3.com) now claims to be the largest online musicians community. With the debut of the GarageBand application, even more aspiring artists are sure to join GarageBand.com’s ranks.
iPhoto 4 — Apple claims that the latest iPhoto now supports up to 25,000 photos in the browser with no display delays, time-based organization features and "smart" albums (similar to smart playlists in iTunes), and network photo sharing via Rendezvous. The previously U.S.-only photo book and print ordering feature of iPhoto will expand to Japan later this month, and to Europe in March. Unfortunately, Apple said nothing about Australia, New Zealand, or other parts of the world.
Other new features in iPhoto 4 include a keyboard control overlay on slideshows that helps users quickly rotate photos and cull bad ones from the last import, star ratings like those in iTunes, new slideshow transitions, a new Sepia button for making photos look old, and batch processing of photo titles and comments.
Those frustrated with iPhoto 2’s limitations may still have issues. You still can’t create hierarchical albums (Apple feels the new smart albums and time-based albums will "scratch that itch," to quote Phil Schiller). There’s still no provision for sharing photos among multiple users on the same Mac (something we provide instructions for doing in Kirk McElhearn’s "Take Control of Users & Accounts in Panther" ebook). And as far as we know currently, iPhoto still lacks Image Capture’s capability to import selected photos from a camera or memory card.
iMovie 4 — On the surface, iMovie 4 doesn’t seem like much of a change over iMovie 3, but two improvements are particularly welcome. Apple boasts improved performance, specifically when rendering titles, transitions, and effects. Copies running on demo models on the show floor seemed snappier than iMovie 3 (which initially had terrible performance issues; see "iMovie, Take 3" in TidBITS-665), but we won’t know if that was just due to beefy hardware until iLife ’04 ships.
The second major improvement is that iMovie has implemented non-destructive editing. Previously, trimming away a section of a clip threw it in the Trash, and the only ways to get those frames back were by using Undo or restoring the entire clip. Now, you can simply drag the edges of a clip to hide the frames you don’t want to use; dragging them back makes the frames reappear. This is the method used by professional video editing programs such as Final Cut Pro, and promises to make the editing process much easier for iMovie editors. Other improvements include a keyboard shortcut (Command-E) for switching between the Clip Viewer and Timeline Viewer, bookmarks for marking spots you want to return to easily (and which are separate from iDVD Chapter Markers), and the capability to insert Color Clips, which are the same as earlier versions’ black placeholder clips but with the option of choosing solid colors.
iMovie 4 also offers new and enhanced title options, such as clipped image or video showing through a title, and an angled vertical scroll that drew cheers from the Star Wars fans in the Macworld keynote audience. The new version can also import video directly from Apple’s iSight camera, easily share movies (either full movies or single clips) to a .Mac account’s Web space, and scrub audio (i.e., hear the sound as you scroll) by Option-dragging the playhead. To bone up on some of the new features, in addition to some existing ones, check out Apple’s new iMovie 4 Hot Tips page.
iDVD 4 — Like iMovie 4, iDVD 4 appears unchanged at first viewing, but several things have changed in the latest incarnation. In addition to adding 20 new "Hollywood-quality" themes, iDVD 4 adds a navigation map and enhanced menu capabilities (including one of Jeff’s favorites, the capability to create multi-line chapter titles). iDVD 4 runs on Macs without built-in SuperDrive DVD burners, so owners of older Macs can work on an iDVD project and archive it to be burned later on another Mac (this feature was quietly added to iDVD 3.0.1; see "Using iDVD 3.0.1 on Non-SuperDrive Macs" in TidBITS-690).
Most exciting for iDVD users is the capability to create projects up to two hours in length. Previous versions were limited to 60 minutes at good quality, or 90 minutes with added compression and decreased visual quality. We don’t know yet what a two-hour project will look like, but Apple’s implementation – the same used in Final Cut Pro, according to Steve Jobs in his keynote – sounds smart. By default, projects are still set to 60 minutes and can be rendered in the background. If you switch to a manual mode, you lose the capability to render projects in the background, but iDVD determines the amount of compression to use based on the length of your project; so, a 30-minute project will be rendered at very high quality, while a 100-minute project will be rendered at lower quality – but both occupy the same amount of disc space.
iTunes 4 — iTunes 4 didn’t receive an update in iLife ’04, but Apple did improve the iTunes Music Store slightly by adding Billboard charts from 1946 to the present, collections of classic songs labeled iTunes Essentials, 12,000 new classical music tracks. Apple now boasts that the iTunes Music Store contains a total of 500,000 tracks, including an increasing number of independent musicians, although Apple executives said they’re still working on the necessary infrastructure for the indie labels to submit songs and metadata to the iTunes Music Store.
Apple claims that the iTunes Music Store, which has now topped 30 million tracks sold, currently has a 70 percent market share of the online music market, prompting Steve Jobs to note drily, "Feels great to get above that 5 percent, doesn’t it?" Apple also announced that one person, whose identity wasn’t revealed, has spent $29,500 on the iTunes Music Store – now that’s pent-up demand.
Add It Up — As with nearly every Apple software release, some people were annoyed that Apple would charge for the iLife ’04 update, while others were quick to point out that single improvements – such as iDVD’s capability to store two-hour projects, or GarageBand’s 1,000 professional musical loops – were more than enough to justify the $50 upgrade price. Steve Jobs illustrated in his keynote that buying Windows applications that approximated the same features of iLife ’04 would cost $306. We prefer to think of iLife as a collection of five $10 programs, making the bundle worthwhile even if you don’t end up using one or two.
GarageBand impressions — TidBITS Talk readers voice their initial opinions of GarageBand and its user interface, and also clear up differences between it and Apple’s Soundtrack. (9 messages)
Macworld SF 2004 keynote notes — Adam, Tonya, and Jeff took notes on the Macworld Expo keynote in a collaborative SubEthaEdit document (along with some Mac friends who joined in via Rendezvous), then posted it to TidBITS Talk. Read the notes here, as well as other people’s responses to them and the keynote in general. (18 messages)
One-ear headphones — Dan Frakes’s article on iPod headphones in December prompts the question of how to pipe stereo audio into one headphone. (3 messages)