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ATPM 12.02
February 2006





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by Wes Meltzer,

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

This month was Macworld Expo San Francisco. It was predictably exciting, so I have lots of material this month. Not surprisingly, the big topic of the month was the announcement of the new MacBook Pro, the Intel Core Duo replacement for the PowerBook, and the new iMac with an Intel chip.

They’re beautiful machines. And there’s plenty to say on the topic.

But first, I want to make a public service announcement. If you want to read ATPM unfettered, without any ISP-imposed latency or connection problems, and if you support the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally, then it’s time to take action. It affects all of us, Mac users and PC users alike, and changes in national policy could change the Internet from an egalitarian phenomenon to a very expensive and rigidly controlled medium. I want your help to make sure that doesn’t happen.

What’s going on is that the US Congress is working on updating the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and they’re talking about adding “network neutrality” as a provision. In practice, that would mean that ISPs can’t interfere with traffic carried on their networks. It’s currently the status quo, but some ISPs, notably AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon, have talked about how they want content providers to chip in toward bandwidth costs.

Remember, you and I are already paying for our bandwidth. Even if it’s your landlord paying, or you’re using free WiFi at a café, you’re certainly not freeloading from the ISP’s perspective. But they have the audacity to insist that we pay twice: once for our connection and once for our content. It’s not like this is cable television, with a complex network of middlemen; this is the Internet, where anyone can be a provider and anyone can be a recipient.

So, if you value reading ATPM as-is, or even just using Skype or iChat without your ISP making it difficult or expensive, please call your congressman and insist that he or she include “network neutrality” provisions in the revisions to the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

And now, to Macworld.

A Silver Ghost

So how about that new MacBook Pro? It’s got a new name, and, it looks like, no “Intel Inside” (or whatever they are) stickers on it, either. On the other hand, it looks identical to the aluminum G4 PowerBooks, except for a couple of neat new features and a new name.

It’s also, obviously, one of the first two Intel-based Macs available for purchase. The other is the iMac. This is the big shift, folks, maybe even bigger than switching from 68K to PowerPC, and Apple is trying to do it seamlessly. Or at least that’s my impression: Why else leave the cases identical?

The big question on everybody’s minds is, now that we can compare apples to apples, what are the benchmark and pricing comparisons between the MacBook Pro, the iMac Core Duo, and their PC counterparts? CNet did some parts research and concluded that the MacBook is as much as $475 to $850 more expensive than a Gateway S-7510, with the same parts. But Khan Mark Klatt uses a different Gateway model, the M465-EB, and finds that the price premium is just $86 (another number with numerological significance). To confuse you further, Mike McHargue uses the Dell Inspiron E1705 and finds that they’re only $58 apart, and that if you upgrade to the largest hard drive available, your Mac becomes $224 cheaper. The CNet writer, Michael Kanellos, responded with a follow-up article in which he defends his methods, and I think I see why there’s a problem: Gateway has two models with Core Duo chips (the S-7510 and the M465-EB), but only the M465 is a top-of-line model. Sounds to me like someone at Gateway suggested a particular model to CNet, perhaps…that wouldn’t be all that surprising for the world of journalism.

So are these computers faster than their PowerPC brethren? Can we expect Intel-class performance from these computers? The answer appears to be yes, although Steve’s hyperbole is just that. Craig Wood ran benchmarks on the MacBooks at Macworld and found that a dual 2 GHz G5 tower is faster than the new MacBook, but that otherwise it’s much faster than its siblings. Similarly, Macworld found that the iMac is not double the speed of the iMac G5, but that it is an upgrade of 10 to 25 percent. Why the gap between hyperbole and truth? Tom Yager at Enterprise Mac says that it’s because Apple is using tests specifically designed for dual-core or dual-CPU machines.

Based on these numbers, most reviewers are encouraging Mac users to switch sooner or later. Even with Rosetta, for instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg found that the iMac Core Duo performed every bit as fast as the iMac G5, and that gap should grow greater as the need for emulation decreases. (He calls it a “successful brain transplant.”) PC Magazine suggests more caution for anyone using non-Apple software, and Ars Technica likes it because it’s basically identical. (One interesting thing to note from the Ars posting is that, probably for the first time in Apple’s history, essentially the entire computer is built from commodity PC parts. Have a look-see in Japanese.) Based on this, Julio Ojeda-Zapata is cautioning his readers to sit on buying an iBook until the new Intel model is announced.

The only question that remains is whether Intel Macs will boot Windows. On the one hand, the Intel Macs use the Extensible Firmware Interface rather than the BIOS that Windows is expecting, and there’s no obvious way to make the XP installer boot—but, on the other hand, Intel says the motherboards the iMacs are based on already support legacy booting. At any rate, it seems a sure thing that they’ll boot Windows Vista, since Vista will support EFI natively.

On the day of the product announcement, curiously, Apple’s stock closed at $80.86. Isn’t that awesome numerology? During the course of the week, their stock went up 12 percent, which means that Apple passed Dell’s market capitalization. Steve Jobs called Michael Dell out: In 1997, Dell had said that if he were CEO of Apple, he’d just shut the company down and sell it off. Steve wrote, in a company e-mail, “Team, it turned out that Michael Dell wasn’t perfect at predicting the future. Based on today’s stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell.” Savor those words. And thank the media, if Business Week is right.

Speaking of Steve, I thought you might enjoy The Guardian’s hilarious first-person narrative on preparing his keynote addresses for Mac conventions. Apparently, he is at least as details-oriented as we all thought, and then some. And as secretive. It’s a great read.

Now, after every Macworld, the parlor game is to guess about what Steve didn’t announce but might in the future. There are two guesses that I see floating around after this Macworld: the something much cooler unsubstantiated claim, and, apparently, the Apple-going-MVNO rumor, this time in the Chicago Tribune. Can we please lay that one to rest? Haven’t we been over the MVNO problem before? There’s no way Apple is ever going to compromise its customer experience to the disastrous level of American cell providers, just so it can nearly lose money on every customer.

And that, as far as I can tell, is Macworld 2006. Hello Intel, we love you, let us jump in your game…

Burnt Ends

  • Would you believe that Karelia got struck by lightning twice? First, they release Watson, which is shut out by Sherlock 3 after much controversy; then, they come up with a new product, Sandvox, and Apple includes an application that does exactly the same thing before they ship—iWeb. Poor guys. The experience led to a really great corporate logo, at least.
  • Is the iTunes Mini Store, included in iTunes 6, malware or spyware? For about 48 hours, there was an endless brouhaha—begun by our very own Kirk McElhearn—over whether the Mini Store was sending data about your iTunes library to Apple, what caused it, and whether Apple was keeping it. The answers are, in order: yes, clicking on songs, and no. An update to the iTunes update leaves the Mini Store disabled by default, in response. John Gruber (who I have not mentioned yet!) thinks this is the best course of action anyway; why not be opt-in?
  • John Siracusa still wants a Finder that makes sense. I concur. Pity Path Finder isn’t the way to go, either, after I tried using it and gave up on its complexity, but I think he’s right. The Finder is a train wreck. Will Leopard fix it? Maybe…Apple is hiring a Finder Software Engineer!
  • Leander Kahney writes for Wired News that it’s disorienting that Steve Jobs, rather than Bill Gates, commands star power. Much head-scratching ensues: Why does philanthropy have to be the only guide? Jobs is a star because of his mystique and aura; Gates is a star because he gives away huge sums of money. They’re just very different stars. Nothing to see here.
  • Apparently iWork is now outselling every office suite other than Microsoft Office. Caveats: This does not include AbiWord and iWork is nice enough, I guess, but reading statistics like these really makes me miss WordPerfect.
  • Yes, Pixar, Steve Jobs’ other company, is now owned by Disney. It’s not Steve’s anymore. I’m not sure what to make of this, but it’s news.
  • Jason Kottke’s open letter to Apple Support will ring true for many of you. Why must this be so difficult with every new product announcement?

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