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ATPM 2.08
August 1996





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The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

Highlights of Macworld Expo Boston

The Macintosh world has never been larger. Just take a look at this month's MacWorld Exposition in Boston for evidence of this. More than 62,000 people flocked to the World Trade Center and to the Bayside Exposition Center in Boston, leaving the conference halls continuously packed. And from the plethora of new products and the upgrades to old ones on display, one would never have guessed that Apple, the company that started it all, had lost three-quarters of a billion dollars only a few months ago. No, the days that the exposition lasted brought back memories of the way things used to be; and they gave some glimpses of what was to come. No doubt, you've already read news reports about the expo, so I'll just concentrate on some of its less-reported highlights.

AIMing For Cooperation

It's been several years since Apple, IBM, and Motorola announced that they would join together to develop the next generation of microprocessors. Of course, Apple likes to talk about it as a risk that paid off, neglecting to mention that the 680x0 series of processors would have been rendered obsolete by the folks at Intel even if the PowerPC hadn't come along.

Regardless of the motives or wisdom involved in creating the alliance, what matters is its existence today. And despite the fact that numerous joint ventures, mostly with IBM, have been cancelled or postponed, the triumvirate looks healthy.

Motorola demonstrated a prototype PowerPC Platform machine. This machine represents the future of Mac hardware. By 1998, Apple has said that all its machines will be based on the PowerPC Platform, and will therefore be able to run multiple operating systems such as the Mac OS, Windows NT, and others.

IBM's Microelectronics division gave away cardboard suitcases for attendees to carry their product literature in. They were a welcome improvement to the handled bags that most of the other companies were giving away, and the large, stripped logo didn't seem to phase Mac users in the slightest. I guess they've placed Microsoft in the enemy's role, and finally recognize IBM as a friend. We've come a long way since the "1984" commerical.

Power Leaves a Lasting Impression

If I had to choose the one company that made the largest impression at the show, it would have to be Power Computing Corp. Not only did they display and demonstrate the fastest personal computer ever, the PowerTower Pro 225, but they also added some vigor to the proceedings. Power's booth, containing an interesting 3D rendition of their logo, was the host of a Macintosh trivia contest. Gathered around a large screen, participants had their chance to show what they knew about the Mac's founding fathers, internal Apple codenames, and other interesting trivia. To experience these questions for yourself, download MacUser's "You Don't Know Mac" from

But the things that really made Power Computing stand out, were its "We're fighting back for Mac" T-shirts, and its 225 ft. bungee crane overlooking Boston harbour. Despite the fact that Power only ships a fraction of the machines that Apple does, it seemed that there were almost as many PowerTowers and PowerCenters as there were PowerMacs running the various booths.

MacWorld magazine had a display of the models they photographed for their recent "Mac Reborn" article. The display cases they were in were constantly surrounded, despite the fact that the models were empty of components. But Power Computing once again stole the show by announcing that it was talking with Frog Design to examine the feasibility of actually building them. They're certainly not resting on their laurels.

All Quiet on the Copland Front

Apple had several machines running early builds of MacOS 8, or Copland. And for some unknown reason, very few people seemed to be interested in them. The only apparent changes that I noticed were with the user interface. It seemed much snappier than system 7.5.3 running on the PowerTower Pro, even though the machine I saw it running on was a 9500/120. Three "themes" were installed: the Apple default theme (Aaron), the "k" theme, and the "p" theme. In the kids theme, menu items spin into the selected position. The effect was quite interesting, prompting me to pull down several other menus just to see it. The power users theme is every bit as hideous as in the pictures I'd seen, but it was nonetheless interesting to see the entire look of the machine change with a click of the mouse. And when I shut down the machine, a dialog box appeared asking if I wanted to log on as a different person (and therefore with a different desktop and set of preferences). All in all, the demo machine confirmed my belief that a properly executed MacOS 8 could look and feel like a completely different machine.

Mac + Unix + Ex Apple Exec. = Be

I had an opportunity to try out a PowerTower Pro 225, the fastest single processor personal compter ever. And it was speedy. While I didn't have a chance to test it with any processor intensive tasks, it was possible to "feel the speed" by noticing how fast the menus pulled down, and the dialogs popped up. However, the real speed king of the show was the BeBox. As you may have already heard, the BeBox is a completely new computer with its own operating system. It's not a Mac at all, though it shares such technologies with the Mac world as the PowerPC chip, and QuickTime.

The machine I saw contained two 133Mhz PowerPC 603s. Everything about the machine, including the display code is threaded, so two processors really does mean twice as fast. And although the two processors combined are not as powerful as the 225Mhz 604e that the PowerTower Pro uses, the machine was much faster because it didn't have 12 years of compatibility layers to deal with. It represents a fresh start for the computing industry, and whether or not it will become the next Mac, or fade from existence like the NeXT, has yet to be determined.

Regardless, I have yet to see a personal computer that can best it in speed. The demonstration I saw had it playing 4 320x240 QuickTime movies simultaneously without one of them skipping. However, as the Be spokesman was quick to point out, it wasn't really stressing the machine. This was easy to see because the processor gauges on the front of the tower were only reading about 3/4 processor usage. So, he added a rotating QuickDraw3D-like Be logo, an audio CD, and several tracks of MIDI. The processor gauges indicated that there wasn't much processor power left, but everything continued to play without a single bit of jerkiness.

When you drag or resize windows in the BeOS, the content is dragged and resized in real time. Thus, if you drag a (playing) QuickTime movie, the content continues to play, but follows the cursor. Likewise, if you resize a file-view window, new content appears before you even release the mouse button. This, and the fact that windows pop up wihtout any perceptible delay, combine to give the BeBox the most responsive user interface that I have ever seen. And it rekindles my hope that Apple can bring this sort of interactivity to the MacOS during its rewrite. I cannot adequately express what it's like to use a computer that responds instantly to just about everything.

Don't Worry, Be Mac

Be also demonstrated the BeOS running on a Power Computing PowerCenter machine. It has stated that it will ship official versions of BeOS that run on a variety of Apple and Power Computing Macs early next year. Unfortunately, owners of 601 based PowerMacs are out of luck as Be has no plans for supporting them. In addition, the BeOS will run on PowerPC Platform machines when they are finally released. This is probably where it will be most attractive to everyday users, as they'll be able to use BeOS for its strong multimedia capabilities, but switch to the MacOS or to Windows NT for productivity applications that are only available on those platforms. I don't think the BeOS will ever replace the MacOS or Windows, but it will likely develop a strong niche following.


In addition to the ones I've mentioned, there were several other intriguing hardware introductions. Wacom introduced a new pen for its tablets, that has a "DuoSwitch" in addition to an eraser. I tried it out, and was very impressed, but was disappointed to learn that it would not work with my ArtPad. It does work with all Wacom tablets that came with Erasing UltraPens though, and is certainly worth a look.

Iomega's booth seemed to be very popular, and while they didn't introduce a new removable drive, they did demonstrate a clip on battery pack for the Zip drive. The battery pack is about one quarter the size of the drive, clips onto the top, and lasts for about 3 hours. In addition, VST showed a prototype for a Zip drive that will fit in a PowerBook's expansion bay. This drive, which uses an entirely different mechanism, will be available this fall.

Apple showed a Pippin running Netscape, which to my surprise included a pen input device in addition to the game controller and keyboard. The machine, while usable, seemed very slow, especially considering that it was not using a dialup internet connection. Unfortunately, the pointer was very difficult to control with the game controller, so much so, that I wonder why they didn't include a mouse.

Finally, I saw a booth selling framed Apple stock certificates. The price, $89.99 (a show special), was surprising considering that Apple stock was hovering around $20 per share.


Connectix introduced RAM Doubler 2, which while popular, didn't seem to wow attendees as much as the original did several years ago. I guess even tripling RAM can't top the initial excitment of doubling it.

Fractal Design demonstrated a beta version of Detailer, an amazing program that lets users paint 3D models with natural media tools. With Detailer, it is possible to paint onto a 2D image, and have it map in real-time onto a 3D model, or to paint directly onto the 3D model. The tool set seems to be inherited from Painter.

NisusWriter, a powerful word processor, seemed to be much more popular this year than last, despite the fact that the core software remained the same. Perhaps this was due to the large whiteboard provided, where people could write down their gripes about Word 6. Version 5.0 is supposed to ship sometime this fall, and will be an OpenDoc container.

Casady and Greene demonstrated and sold its newly acquired universal spelling checker: SpellCatcher. Formerly called Thunder 7, and marketed by Baseline, this control panel can check the spelling of any text that can be copied to the clipboard. I find it indispensable, and most of our other editors do as well.

OpenDoc had a large presence at the show, especially in Apple's Component Software area. People there were handing out LiveObjects business cards, with little containers of Mexican jumping beans. Unfortunately, Cyberdog 1.1 was not ready to ship, though I'm pleased to report that my jumping beans are still jumping.

MetaTools demonstrated its consumer special effects package titled Kai's PowerGoo. This amazing software, which produces results similar to Flo and Morph, works in real time, and has an extremely simple user interface. Don't let that fool you though, this software can create effects and animations faster than any other of its kind, and for $49, it's an excellent value too.

The Future

More than anything else, this summer's MacWorld Expo demonstrated that despite rumors that "Apple is dying," the Mac software and hardware companies are just as busy as ever. They are continuing to innovate, improve, and refine their flagship products, while at the same time developing new and entirely original pieces that are both useful and fun to have on the desktop.

"The Personal Computing Paradigm" is ©1996 by Michael Tsai, [apple graphic]

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