The Personal Computing Paradigm
Macworld Expo Boston
Early this month Evan Trent, ATPM’s Webzinger, and I attended the annual Macworld Expo in Boston. About 50,000 Mac users came from near and far to visit many exhibiter booths housed in the World Trade Center and Bayside Exposition Center buildings. One great thing about Macworld Expos is that when you’re milling around amongst thousands of fellow Mac users, you feel reassured that Apple isn’t dead. There are still real-life people who use Macs. You see the whole spectrum of users: corporate types, elementary-school students, artists, engineers, teachers, teenagers, programmers, and senior citizens. This year, I noticed several differences from previous Expos. They alerted me to the fact that Apple is no longer the strong, vibrant company it once was; but the enthusiasm of the attendees proved that, contrary to press reports, not everyone is abandoning the Mac.
You already know the biggest news of the show: Steve Jobs’ Keynote Address. Rather than rehashing things that have been widely reported in the mainstream media, I’ll just skip to my analysis. Several sources I’ve read say that Apple discovered a crucial piece of evidence for its QuickTime suit against Microsoft. Rather than fighting it out for months (years?) in court, Job’s tried to use it as an opportunity to revive Apple’s credibility. I think he made the right decision. It seems that Apple has very little to lose and quite a bit to gain from the deal. Technologies, such as QuickTime, in which Microsoft has an interest are already cross-platform, so the patent-swapping portion of the deal doesn’t really hurt Apple. Internet Explorer becomes the default browser for the Mac, but Netscape will still be on the Mac OS CD. I personally feel that IE is a better browser, so I think it’s a good deal for Mac users. Microsoft Office for the Mac is now guaranteed for the next five years. Microsoft would probably have developed it anyway, but now it’s official. The next release of Office will be a full Mac version, not a mere port of Office for Windows to the Macintosh environment. Microsoft used to make excellent Mac business software, maybe they still can. Finally, Microsoft invests a small amount of money (for Microsoft) in Apple. This has already generated some good press for Apple.
So it seems that every point in the deal is either good for Apple or doesn’t hurt it. Of course, it’s also a win-win deal for Microsoft. If Apple lives, they’ll sell us Office. If not, we’ll buy Windows 98/NT and Office for Windows.
My historical side tells me that this deal is awfully similar to the office-bluff Bill Gates used to convince John Sculley to let him build Windows in the first place. However, this time around Apple is less likely to lose and has more to gain. Additionally, Netscape and Sun, both of whom dislike Microsoft and claim to support Apple, are feeling left out of the deal for the moment. Look for Steve Jobs to go knocking on their doors in the near future. If they choose not to deal with Apple, Microsoft and Apple could pull the browser and Java markets right out from under them.
Before Microsoft, IBM was the enemy. We never expected Apple to deal with IBM, but the PowerPC saved Apple. I think some good will come of Microsoft and Apple being pals.
A is for Arthur
The second biggest news at the show was the announcement of Power Computing and Motorola machines using the PowerPC 750 chip, also known as G3 or Arthur. Power Computing’s PowerTower Pro G3 and Motorola’s StarMax 6000 each won Macworld Best of Show awards, and for good reason. Each system is about twice as fast as current high-end (single processor) machines. They’re also much faster than anything Wintel has to offer. A Power Computing rep demonstrated the PowerTower Pro G3 for us, using Director to rapidly flash pictures in succession. The Power machine did this at about 50 frames per second (fps). He said the fastest speed for a Pentium II was only 13 fps.
Motorola’s StarMax 6000 is also the first Mac based on the Common Hardware Reference Platform. The unit at the show was running a special CHRP-enabled version of Mac OS 7.6.1. It appears that the StarMax will actually ship with Mac OS 8.0.1, which supports RAM-loadable ROM, next month.
Furthermore, even though the G3 is much faster than the 604e, it uses less power and is smaller. Ditto compared to the Pentium Pro and Pentium II. Soon, we’ll see PowerBooks (and hopefully notebook clones) with Arthurs in them. Belinda Wagner, ATPM’s Copy Editor, just got a new PowerBook 3400/240. The ArthurBooks will leave her already-quick PowerBook in the dust. They also promise to be cheaper. Whoooeee.
In second place behind the newsiness of the G3 machines was the licensing turmoil between Power Computing and Apple. The two companies have been negotiating a new contract for months. Not knowing the specifics of Power’s licensing deal with Apple, I cannot judge who is right. However, Power Computing worked very hard to promote the view that Apple was against clone makers and against choice. Inside and outside the World Trade Center, Power Computing employees handed out 11x17 posters with the text “We Demand Choice.” Power COO Joel Kocher tried to rally showgoers to put some pressure on Apple, but Apple was virtually silent on the licensing issue. Since everyone agrees that clones are good for Apple and the Mac, I think most people left with the idea that Apple was haggling over price.
This year, more than previous ones, Power Computing and Apple seemed to be opposites. Apple reps wore standard, white Polo, show attire. Power reps wore black flight-suits. (Last year, they wore army fatigues). Power Computing gave free software and hardware to showgoers who correctly answered questions in its “This is not Jeopardy” trivia game. Apple, on the other hand, gave out free Mac OS 8 t-shirts to anyone who could tell them Apple’s current stock price. Power made a nasty swipe at Apple, saying “Mac OS 8 is nice,” when they gave one of these shirts away. They like Mac OS 8, but they’d rather have a licensing deal.
The highlight of Apple’s self-promotion campaign exploded high over Boston Harbor. On Wednesday night, Apple treated the city to a half-hour display of fireworks launched from a barge in the middle of the harbor. Not wanting to read too much into the exploding displays of color, I’ll simply say that a large number of the fireworks towards the beginning of the show looked distinctly 8-shaped (in reference to OS 8). These were followed by blue-within-yellow spheres (possibly symbolizing Rhapsody’s Blue Box) and yellow-within-blue spheres (Yellow Box for Mac OS).
Though on a tighter budget, Power Computing was more present than Apple. They, not Apple seemed to be the ones, “Fighting back for the Mac.” Their Expo ad campaign, Beat the Machine, stated:
Beating the machine means overcoming the system. A system that says the status quo is good enough....It means beating the odds. Defying the norm. Refusing to accept the unacceptable. Power Computing beats the machine. We are the first to offer the fastest. We simplify what is complicated. And we deliver what we promise.
It’s bold, it catches my attention. Further, it captures the essence of Macintosh as well as representing Power Computing. While Power was energizing the Expo with “Beat the Machine,” Apple distributed bumper stickers saying “I brake for 8! Mac OS 8.” By contrast, that seemed rather lame. “No wonder Apple’s going downhill,” I heard someone say.
Enough about the Apple/Power rivalry. The real reason people go to Macworld is to see products, cools things, to find out what’s going to be released before it actually is. Here’s the list of products that I, personally, found the most exciting at this year’s Macworld Expo.
One of the neatest things I saw at Macworld was the Wacom PL-300 Display Tablet. I use a Wacom ArtPad with my Mac, and like it very much. The Display Tablet works just like an ordinary Wacom. You can draw on it with the special stylus, and it has 256 levels of pressure-sensitivity. The Display Tablet differs from the ArtPad in its built-in, active-matrix LCD screen. The screen has a 10.4 inch diagonal and look fabulous. It’s crisp, sharp, and the whole thing is only a little bigger than Wacom’s ArtZ 6x8 tablet. I’m not much of an artist, but I can see the value of painting, with full pressure sensitivity, directly onto the display screen. The catch, of course, is the $2700 price. For that amount, you could buy a nice PowerMac. Still, the coolness factor of this tablet is sky-high.
20th Anniversary Mac
At one of the booths, I saw a 20th anniversary Mac in a display case. It looks very cool. The sub-woofer is huge, the case is elegant, and it’s obvious that someone spent a long time fine-tuning the design. The LCD is very nice, but then, I guess all active-matrix color ones are. The most processor-intensive application on the hard disk was DukeNukem, so we fired that up. The machine crashed before the game had even loaded. I felt embarrassed for Apple. Here we were, trying out a cool, new, exceedingly expensive, product that’s rife with design innovations, and it crashes. I knew it was supposed to be stable, and I really wanted it to be stable. So I blamed the crash on DukeNukem. Sort of an Apple-pride thing.
The upside to this was that the 20th anniversary Mac needed to be restarted. Now the chime that my PowerMac makes when it’s restarted is nice, but you’ve haven’t heard a startup chord until you’ve heard the 20th anniversary Mac. It filled the booth with bass and turned more than a few heads. We’ve come a long way since the square startup tone of the first Mac.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with the speed of the machine. It only has a 603e, which is not very impressive considering the latest offerings from Apple and the cloners. I think it symbolizes some of what’s wrong with Apple. They expect people to buy a Mac with mid-range CD-ROM and processor, and a relatively small screen for a huge amount of money because it’s cool. It looks futuristic. It’s from Apple. The Apple of old made industrial design breakthroughs available to the mass-market. I certainly hope this is somewhere in the current plan, because powerful, cheaper machines like the 20th anniversary Mac will sell. And they’ll help revive Apple.
The Be demo this year was even better than the one I wrote about last August. This time, the demo machine was a multiprocessor Mac with dual 200 Mhz 604e’s. The demo began just like last year’s, with multiple movies, audio tracks, and 3D renderers open at once. The difference was that this year, the movies weren’t playing in plain old windows. The demo runner opened some 3D models: a book with turning pages and a water-ripple-like surface. Then he dragged movie files from the browser directly onto the 3D surfaces. The movies stuck to the surfaces and began to play. When he turned the pages of the book, the movies bent along with the book pages. They kept on playing without a skip. Most of the people in the audience had seen Be demos before, but we were all impressed. Just think: in a few months, Rhapsody will bring this kind of power to the Macintosh desktop.
The least flashy, but coolest in my mind, demo I saw at the Expo was of Mailsmith. Mailsmith is the name chosen for Bare Bones Software’s new e-mail client. I’m not crazy about the name (I prefer the Bluto code-name.), but I was very impressed with the product. Bare Bones’ main product is an excellent text editor called BBEdit. There’s a review of it in ATPM 3.07, if you’re interested, and Bare Bones unveiled an updated version, BBEdit 4.5, at the Expo.
Anyway, Mailsmith is an e-mail client which integrates the power and functionality of BBEdit into a first-class (apologies to SoftArc, Inc.) e-mail program. I currently use Claris Emailer, as I feel that it’s the best product on the market. But I’m going to switch to Mailsmith as soon as it’s released.
Mailsmith has a Bare Bones interface. To me, this means that it doesn’t look high-tech, pretty, or modern. It’s just there, simple, powerful, clean, efficient, and lightning-fast. Mailsmith does everything I wish Emailer did. It supports unlimited e-mail accounts (though it won’t support online services, e.g., AOL, until the next release), has an excellent, fast search engine, and powerful address book features. You can be sure that I’ll review Mailsmith in an upcoming issue of ATPM.
Apple showed PowerMacs with the Mach 5 chip, an updated version of the 604e. These machines have clockrates over 300Mhz.
Bungie demonstrated their upcoming game Myth. The graphics and realism are simply amazing, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from the company who made Marathon.
Claris demonstrated ClarisWorks Office, a souped up version of ClarisWorks which will compete with Microsoft Office.
Dantz Development demonstrated Retrospect 4, an even-more-polished version of its excellent backup software.
Newer showed the MAXpowrPro CPU upgrade cards. They let you put a PowerPC 750 (Arthur) in your existing PowerMac or clone.
Vertegri showed their luggable imediaEngine portable, an 11 pound “notebook” that doesn’t have a battery. The imediaEngine sacrifices portability for speed, the reverse of current PowerBooks. It sports a fast 604e processor and a 14-inch active-matrix screen.
A Winner Among Us
Wednesday, Evan and I were at the World Trade Center where Power Computing’s booth was. We got there just in time for a round of “This is not Jeopardy,” a multiple-choice game of Macintosh trivia hosted by Power engineers. The game took place on a huge display screen, visible from booths away, and quickly drew a large crowd. There were so many people watching and trying to participate in the game that one of the hosts would periodically instruct the crowd to “move in from the aisles” with his megaphone.
There were ten questions in each round of the game, and the prizes got progressively larger. A 12-year-old kid won a copy of the Microsoft Wine Guide. Later on, people won passes to ride Power Computing’s zip-wire outside the World Trade Center. The best prize was an XClaim video card. Unfortunately, though our hands were raised for the questions, neither Evan nor I was called upon to answer.
After a morning at the Bayside Exposition Center, we came back to WTC and the Power booth for a second chance at winning. The prizes started out funny. People correctly answering the first few questions received free stuff that Power had scrounged up from around the expo floor, such as Macworld bags and magazines and a one-dollar bill. Some people got Power Computing t-shirts. Then they started asking for donations. A man in the front row gave up his Apple t-shirt. The winner received it along with a free copy of MintDoubler (DoubleMint gum). A Power employee gave his jump-suit to the person who knew what A/ROSE was for.
The game was humorous and sometimes rousing. One question asked who Mr. Macintosh was. The first person to answer said “Steve Capps.” “You know where he works now?” asked the host. “Microsoft. Someday you’ll all work there.” Of course, the crowd reacted strongly to this statement.
Periodically, the host got the crowd to yell “Power Computing rocks!” at the top of their lungs. Then he’d ask, “Why do you love Power Computing? Because we make cool computers or ‘cause we give away free stuff?”
”Free stuff!” the crowd would shout back.
For the last question, number ten, Power announced it would give away a PowerTower 166, the largest prize yet. Just after this announcement, there was one last call for a “Power Computing rocks.” Just after it, the adjacent crowd at the LinoColor booth yelled their slogan: “We kid you not!” Since the Power crowd was much larger, we were urged to drown out the LinoColor people with a thunderous “We kid you not!” They responded with a rather feeble, but enthusiastic, “Power Computing rocks!”
With the two booth’s turfs thus established, the Power rep. announced “We’re giving away a free computer. Do you want to throw in a free scanner?”
LinoColor responded by adding one of their Jade scanners to the prize for the person who could answer question ten.
The question appeared on the display screen:
What was the first Mac to ship with an 800k floppy drive?
A. Mac 512ke
B. Mac Plus
C. Mac 512k
D. Mac SE
Hands shot up. Everyone wanted a chance at winning the computer and scanner. Evan and I whispered back and forth, agreeing that the answer was the 512ke. The host decided that he’d pick the person to answer by birthday. All the hands went down while we waited for him to choose a day. “Is anyone’s birthday May 3rd,” he asked? The date sounded awfully familiar. Then I saw Evan jumping up and down with his hand raised. He was jumping partially because of excitement and partially to be seen over the crowd of people in front of us. We both knew that he knew the correct answer. They checked his driver’s license to make sure his birthday really was May 3rd, started reading off his height, weight, and residence to the audience, then asked for his answer. Everyone started yelling different letters. Evan announced that he was choosing choice A: the 512ke.
“Do you think he’s right?” asked the host?
“No!” everyone yelled. “It’s C, the 512k,” shouted someone.
“Do you hope he’s wrong?”
The host clicked the mouse on choice A. It was right! Evan won the PowerTower 166, the LinoColor Jade Scanner, a copy of Freehand Graphics Studio, and a pack of Juicy Fruit. Apparently, they were out of MintDoubler.
This year’s Macworld Expo felt distinctly smaller than previous years. Big-name companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Iomega, Macromedia, and Newton were conspicuously absent. Another reason the floor seemed less crowded might have been all the recent company consolidations. Still, the show was far from empty, and there were a number of new booths and new products. The sheer numbers of booths and attendees should convince any Mac doom-sayers that despite Apple’s troubles, the Mac is here to stay. You can bet that I’ll be back next year. Maybe then they’ll be giving away an Arthur machine.
Also in This Series
- How Cool Is Your Mac? · May 2012
- Mac OS X’s Increasing Stability · August 2006
- Coping With Mac OS X’s Font Rendering · January 2006
- E-Mail Archiving with Eudora and Mail.app · January 2003
- Grab Bag · October 2002
- Mac OS X 10.2—First Impressions · September 2002
- Mac OS X 10.1—First Impressions · October 2001
- Mac OS X Tips · June 2001
- Mac OS X—Finally · May 2001
- Complete Archive