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January 6, 2004—MacWorld SF 2004

¶ MacWorld SF 2004: Apple offerings ahoy. Welcome to the new year.

iLife and mini iPods topped Apple's offerings this go-round, and while both have their charms, I don't see either as a surefire hit. In the former case it's mainly because most of the software was previously free; in the latter instance I'm just uncertain there's a market for a $250 4-GB music player.

iLife '04 is composed of iTunes, iPhoto, iMove, iDVD, and GarageBand. iTunes, still freely available for download since Apple's using it as part of their online music sales loss leader to sell iPods, remains at the version 4.2 released in the last week or so. As virtually every reviewer has said, it's brilliant software for managing your digital music collection.

iPhoto 4, which has been massively overhauled for the better, now offers acceptable speed when dealing with image libraries numbering in the thousands (like mine). You can share images from your computer across a LAN much like you can stream music via iTunes, and there is tighter integration in terms of being able to use images easily in other iApps. The batch command to apply text comments or keywords to multiple images is also very cool. But the real deal is speed, and here, at least in my limited testing, iPhoto 4 doesn't disappoint.

I didn't play much with either iMovie or iDVD since I don't use them personally, but I understand that iMovie no longer does destructive editing and many of the annoyances formerly present in both programs have been eliminated.

As an aspiring musician, I found GarageBand very interesting. It will enable a lot of people to churn out some relatively good sounding music. The learning curve is a bit steep, and to really make full use of the program you need a USB or MIDI music keyboard (Apple will sell one for $99) and a mic. Since I'm used to MOTU's Digital Performer it was quickly apparent that GarageBand isn't serious competition to replace DP. But I don't mean to sell GarageBand short. It will prove very cool and very fun for a whole lot of people, and I'm big fan of anything that helps people express themselves creatively. It's certainly true that nothing in the $50-range exists with GarageBand's music creation powers.

Is this collection worth the $50 price tag ($30 education price)? I think so, and I'll be purchasing, but I can appreciate that a number of folks will find it difficult psychologically to pony up for software that they used to get for free. Even at $50, I think it'll be awhile before Apple convinces most people to spend the money.

Before MacWorld I predicted, as did many others, that Apple would not release mini iPods because they would cannabilize sales of their existing blockbuster product. Why release a lower margined product to compete to steal sales with your hit product? I shouldn't have worried. At $250 for the mini, Apple's margins might be higher on that music player than on the full blown iPods. Of course, the flip side of that is this: Who's gonna spend $250 for a 4 GB player when you can spend $300 and get a 15 GB player? Maybe I don't understand this market very well, but I'm unconvinced these minis will sell at this price point. Other than high price and limited storage, they're cute, rugged, and just as user friendly as the regular iPods. I'll be interested to see how the sales go.

We saw Apple's relatively new 20" iMac. Magnificent screen. Dave raised the point that if one needed a 20" screen then perhaps the iMac was the wrong computer with a desktop machine being more appropriate. This strikes me as a valid point although sales figures will tell the final tale. Suffice to say, though, that it's a nifty beast and that neither Dave nor I would mind owning one.

Reviews of various third-party products on display at the show coming up.

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November 21, 2003

¶ Massive Mac missive part 3: iMac offers 20" of screen goodness. G5s revved already. Panther runs wild.

Does anyone really need a 20" LCD iMac screen? This strikes me similar to the 17" PowerBook screen. Is there such a thing as "too big" when it comes to screen size? Admittedly, if I were in the market for an iMac, the 20" screen version would be very tempting. But so then again would the $799 eMac with a 17" CRT screen. Basically the same machine except you save $1200 or so. So the 20" iMac strikes me as a tough sell for those in the consumer market. Nonetheless, I'm sure there's profit to be had at the high end or Apple wouldn't be making them. And, truth be told, I'll bet they're gorgeous machines.

Apple surprised lot of industry pundits (me included) with the quick revision to the G5 line. The price drop at the low end wasn't a stunner, but adding a 1.8-GHz dual G5 in the midrange ($2500) sure was. This will undoubtedly canabalize sales at the dual 2-GHz G5 level. I trust that Apple knows what they're doing here. Perhaps the early adopters already have their 2-GHz models and Apple saw a slackening of demand. To me, the dual 1.8-GHz G5 is alluring. I'm heading there as soon as cash flow permits, which is likely to be next fall, sadly.

I'm now running Panther, Mac OS 10.3.1, and I have a brief initial report. On the whole, it is a nice OS. It's is noticeably faster than Jaguar at a great many tasks (on my G3/500 PowerBook), and many programs—like Adobe GoLive, for example—run substantially faster than under 10.2. I've noticed odd moments of stall, but that is primarily because most things are so much snappier that any delay feels like an affront. Under Jaguar, everything moved slowly so one never had the chance to be offended. Panther has good points beyond speed, and I'll talk about those, highlight some negatives (for there are a few), then wrap up.

In my daily workflow, nothing has proved sweeter than the revised Mail application. It is now lightening fast, and since I receive over 100 emails a day (virtually all of which is spam—die, spammers, die), the ability to download messages quickly is a huge time saver. I don't exactly how much faster Mail is now, but I would guess it is on the order of 3 or 4 times.

The junk mail has, theoretically, been improved, but you'll need to retrain it. Make sure to look carefully at the Junk Mail folder in the first week or so. Stuff that you used to get filtered correctly may not be so until after you tell it. I almost trashed some very important email because I assumed that the Panther Mail filter kept the Jaguar Mail filter prefs.

The Finder, despite some hype from Apple, is not substantially changed. Oh, the windows look differently than Jaguar—there's some easy-access row along the left—but it's more or less the icons that used to be along the top. In essentials I'd call it the same. They have, however, made the text much more readable and the highlighting of icons is vastly improved. These are small be immediately noticeable touches.

One thing that may not be readily obvious is the improvement to the open/save dialog boxes. They're so much better, you'll find yourself saving documents just to go through the process. OK, I'm kidding about that, but they are much improved.

The much-touted Exposé has not made its way into my workflow yet. I'm sure that it shall soon—it seems like a very handy little application/window switcher—but I'm not ready for it yet. I can see, however, that for the right person Exposé could be terrific.

iChat AV looks alright. I don't have a video camera, but it tells me that I can use the internal mic and speakers to do Internet audio. I'm eager to try.

The bad news is this: Panther feels like another 10.2.x release. A lot of its improvements are under the hood, and although the speed increase probably does make it worth the upgrade price, if you're contented with the speed you're getting out of Jaguar, a Panther upgrade isn't a slam dunk. Perhaps I'll change my tune as I further investigate the OS, but right now, I'm not sure I'd advise most people to upgrade. Presumably Apple will release some 10.3-only software that will make an upgrade more compelling. Right now Pather is very nice but not essential.

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October 24, 2003

¶ Massive Mac missive part 2: Quicktime upped to 6.4. iCal revised to 1.5. iSync does 1.3. Props to .Mac.

One might think that yesterday's Massive Mac missive was enough, but Apple's been extraordinarily busy of late, so I neglected a few products that are really worth mentioning (thanks to Kurt for the reminder): QuickTime, iCal, and iSync. Note that all of these products are free from Apple. All you have to do is download.

QuickTime 6.4 is the latest incarnation of Apple's multimedia software. It plays dozens of different formats (called CODECs). The best way to conceptualize QuickTime is as a container of other media types. I could list a whole bunch of reasons why QuickTime is absolutely one of the best technologies that Apple has ever created, but I don't think I will. Apple's already done it. Go download QuickTime—also available for Windows!—today.

As some of you may remember, I was unhappy with the original incarnation of iCal. Although the concept of sharing calendars was and is brilliant, the program operated much too slowly on my G3/500 and the text colors were fixed for whatever reason in virtually unreadable hues. Both of those objections have been overcome with new version 1.5. I don't know if I prefer it over the also freely available Palm Desktop software (formerly Claris Organizer), but certainly iCal's potential is much greater. One brief example: Email alarms. Say you have an item on your "to do" list that you really want to remember. You can have the program email a reminder to you. Sweet! It also doesn't hurt that it integrates so successfully with Apple Address Book (which in turn integrates with Mail and iChat). I'll be doing some iCal testing in the next few weeks. I'll let you know what I think of version 1.5, and if I make the switch from Palm Desktop.

iSync is another free product from Apple. It allows the synchronization of your Mac and various devices like Palm Pilots, iPods, and cell phones. It's a conduit for the transfer of address books, contacts, notes, and such. With iSync if you add a contact to your Palm Pilot when you're on the road, you can immediately sync the contact in the Address Book on your Mac. iSync can also sync wirelessly via Bluetooth. Finally, you can even sync the information on different Macs (via .Mac) so that you keep a uniform set of data. Indeed, the iSync software package adds enormous value to an already value-laden $99 a year service.

When I call .Mac value-laden it merits further explanation because .Mac initially impressed me with its lack of value. One year later, I'd say Apple's done an incredible job in making .Mac worth the $99 fee. (First year fee was actually $49 for former iTools members.) Beside the aforementioned iSync synchronization of bookmarks, contacts, iCal calendars, etc. among multiple Macs, .Mac offers a bevy of features: free email address, 100 MB of web storage space which is also accessible as an iDisk on your desktop, iPhoto integration for posting pictures (all of the Jonah Galleries are hosting on .Mac), free anti-Virus software (not really needed on a Mac, but still...), free backup software, personalized iCards, publish-able screen savers, publish-able iCal calendars, and more....

In this first year of .Mac service, that "more" has been: 110 free 6"x4" iPhoto images printed by Kodak; StickyBrain, an information manager (which I'll talk more about in a few days), by Chronos; free iBlog software (in case you want to run a weblog on your .Mac home page); free games like Marble Blast and Solitaire; discounts on a variety of hardware and software (none of which I personally found useful, but someone might); and a series of QuickTime-based training programs for various Apple programs like iTunes and iPhoto. Apple even gave me a free copy of The Sims just for renewing for a second year.

I wasn't sure I'd be saying this after a year of .Mac, but .Mac is absolutely worth $99 annually. The give-aways alone hold that much value, and while there's no telling if Apple will sprinkle year two with such nifty goodies, the magnificence of the core services makes it minor point. An Internet-connected Mac dramatically elevates its feature-set when coupled with a .Mac account.

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October 23, 2003

¶ Massive Mac missive: iTunes goes 4.1 and runs on Windows. iPods get new gadgets. eMacs drop prices. iBooks go G4. Apple announces a profit. Panther begins to prowl.

Apple's iTunes 4.1 is the greatest thing since freely sliced bread. I say freely, of course, because Apple's giving away a music jukebox that's best of class on either Mac or Windows. It supports free burning and encoding of content, auto syncing with iPod, audio books, and more. If you're running Mac OS X, Windows 2000, or Windows XP and have even the slightest interest in music, you owe it to yourself to give iTunes a whirl.

The iTunes music store has been revamped and it continues to be just awesome. $.99 per song or $9.99 per album with no subscription fees. Over 400,000 songs to choose from with more being added. Online gift certificates and a parental allowance feature available.

As part of the introduction of iTunes for Windows, Apple highlighted a couple of iPod attachments from Belkin: A $99 media reader for storing digital photos and a $49 digital voice recorder. The media reader seems extraneous to me, especially given how many photos you can fit on a CompactFlash card these days. Still, after photos are transferred to the iPod through this gizmo, iPhoto will auto-launch and download the images when the iPod is next attached.

The item I've been waiting for—a voice recorder—proved to be the most crushing disappointment. It's OK on the iPod software side of things, but almost useless on the hardware side. Forget that it's an inelegant little dongle of a device that hooks on the top of the iPod. I could live with that if I had to. I also have no issue with it recording in mono, though the 8k bit rate is pretty weak. Hopefully it sounds OK. No, the deal killer for me, and the reason I'll be sans iPod apparently until at least the next generation, is that the recording range of the add-on is a whopping 2 feet. It's a personal voice recorder. I'm a witty guy and all, and I'm certain I could fill 40 GB with some four weeks or my inane rambling. Surely in that time I'd say something worth hearing played back. The reason I want an iPod recorder is, in case you haven't guessed, to record other people. I don't mean surreptitiously. I want to conduct interviews of folks for research, journalist, and genealogical purposes. This crazy piece of plastic does nothing to solve my problems, and what's worse, potentially now Apple thinks they don't have to worry about iPod recording. As I say, I'm totally bummed.

Apple offers a lot of good value propositions, but among the best is their eMac line. The eMac is what the iMac would have been if it hadn't morphed into a sunflower-like LCD machine. If you can tolerate having a fixed CRT display instead of an LCD, you can now get a 1-GHz G4 with SuperDrive for $1000. If a Combo drive will do (reads and writes CDs, reads DVDs), then the price is $800. Both are amazing deals.

Speaking of amazement, the iBooks have been revised. They are now G4-based, for starters. The 12" iBook runs an 800-Mhz G4, comes with Combo drive, and sells for $1100. There are two 14" models both with Combo drive, but one a little faster than the other (and having a bigger hard drive). The prices are $1300 and $1500. There's still no video doubling in the iBooks, unlike the Powerbooks which can drive two screens simultaneously. There's also no PC card support. But if those things don't trouble you, these are some neat portables.

Apple announced profits of $44 million on sales of $1.72 billion for the quarter, selling some 787,000 Macs and 336,000 iPods. Notably, Apple expects $1.9 billion in sales for next quarter. If correct, this could indicate a turnaround in the overall economic picture as the company tends to lead both in and out of dark financial times.

Panther, Mac OS X 10.3, launches on October 24. It is touted as significantly faster than Jaguar on machines of all stripes. Additionally, it has a lot of nifty new features like Exposé (an instant window switcher) and iChat AV (which allows audio/video chats over the Internet). Although I advise everyone to wait a few weeks or more before upgrading, it's not unusual for me to disregard my own advice. So I won't hold it against you if you do too.

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September 17, 2003

¶ Late summer Apple updates: 40 GB on an iPod yet I am unmoved. 15" on a PowerBook yet I refrain. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse yet I question why. At least the OS sounds spiffy.

Apple finally got around to updating the 15" PowerBooks the other day at the MacWorld Expo in Paris, a move that would've been much more impressive about six months ago. A great many PowerBook fans have been waiting on the 15" models since the 12" and 17" Aluminum versions were introduced back in January. I'm surprised that after Apple dubbed this the "Year of the Laptop" it took them this long to get the 15" models out the door.

Nevertheless, they're here now and they look pretty good. In addition to the 15.2" screen (native resolution 1280 x 854), they have 1- or 1.25-GHz G4 processors, 256 MB RAM, 60- or 80-GB HD, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 (that's 64 MB DDR), full size keyboard (with optional backlighting), Gigabit ethernet, FireWire 400 & 800, Airport Extreme ready, and DVI & S-Video out. The lower featured model starts at $2000 and comes with a Combo drive. The upper end version has a SuperDrive and costs $2600. Educational pricing on these is $1800 and $2300 respectively. (Configured as I'd want it, the 15" PowerBook would be $1950 on ed pricing. Of course that's excluding a bigger hard drive and extra RAM which I'd buy cheaper from a third-party source.)

Apple also revved the iPods a week or so ago, giving us now 10-, 20-, and 40-GB models. Sadly, none of them will record a lick of audio as a standard feature (there's a six second record option available via an obscure diagnostic mode) so my campout for the iPod of my dreams continues.

Apple introduced a wireless Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and mouse in Paris, but the jury is still out on these things. The keyboard takes AA batteries (good for around nine months reportedly) which seems like a rather inelegant solution. Why not rechargeables that can draw from FireWire or USB? The mouse requires AAs as well, but it's a one-button(!) which makes it worthless to all but novices. Apple intrangence in this area is confounding. The world has moved beyond one button. They need to get with the program.

Reports on Panther, aka Mac OS X 10.3, are uniformly impressive. Panther sounds stable, fast, and feature-rich. If it works like the rumors indicate, I'll upgrade to it maybe even before it hits 10.3.1 (which is inevitable). That doesn't mean I recommend you do the same, only that the future of the OS is looking bright indeed.

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August 26, 2003

¶ $5 a game from MacPlay: If you're not careful, you'll pay more in shipping than you do for the software.

Honestly, the quality of what we're talking about here might be a little uneven. Has anyone even heard of JinniZeala Pinball? But there is no denying that $5 for Icewind Dale (a Baldur's Gate cousin) or Aliens versus Predator or Hexen II is one heckuva a bargain. Indeed, MacPlay has a whole $5 bargain page, good until August 31.

Now that I'm in charge of Jonah at home during the day I have virtually no time to play video games. I ordered Baldur's Gate II when it first came out a year or so ago. The shrinkwrap isn't even off the package. Nonetheless, even I ordered a couple games. $5 is just too outrageously great of a deal to pass up (and presumably Jonah has to sleep sometime).

One caveat: If you're running Mac OS X, make sure the game(s) you order will run under it. Also, check those video card and system requirements. There are a couple games that need some mojo in order to run.

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August 16, 2003

¶ Quicken for Mac 2004: Once you're past the conversion process from Quicken 2003, it's actually a pretty good upgrade.

Presumably now that the final version is shipping I can now admit to being a beta tester for Quicken for Mac 2004 (aka the "Special 20th Anniversary Edition"). While I'm pretty sure the non-disclosure agreement limits what I can say about the test itself—which is too bad because who knew Intuit would send a Playboy bunny to every tester's house?—I can talk about the product itself now that it's launched.

Quicken 2004 is pretty good with two caveats: (1) 2004 crashes if you rename your converted 2003 file, and (2) if you're upgrading from 2003 and you have a stock portfolio of stock splits and sales, you have to manually enter a bunch of data—potentially a very time-consuming chore (and a real black eye to Intuit, if you ask me).

Once you've got it running, though, Quicken 2004 is pretty nifty. In essentials it's much as it ever was, which is to say indispensible. If you're not using Quicken, I highly recommend you start. It's the best financial tracking/planning tool on the market for individuals. If you're already using Quicken, an upgrade remains something of an iffy proposition, though the older the version you're using, the better the upgrade. Before I was a beta tester, I upgraded every other version since the version-to-version changes weren't enough to justify the cost. That may be the case as well for 2003 users, but for the first time in a long time, 2004 might be worth it even for them.

Banking is more or less the same, though there are some streamlined parts to the online stuff and you can download more things. I don't use those features (yet) so it wasn't big deal to me. The calendar function now integrates with iCal which will be an even nicer touch once Apple comes out with a more usable version of iCal.

The investing section is substantially improved, however, and at long last the program will track PE ratios, PEG ratios, 52 week highs and lows, asset classes, industry ratings, Morningstar rankings, and more. It also handles mergers, stock splits, and cash balances in portfolio accounts. As a guy who does a lot of investing, I was thrilled by these changes. If you're an investor, 2004 is a mighty fine version of Quicken. Indeed, on the Mac, it's the best ever.

The reporting, planning, and loan sections are virtually the same as 2003 though, significantly, the Networth graphs are working again. If it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess, and since the net worth graph was, they did.

In sum, Quicken 2004 for Mac is an upgrade I can recommend to just about everybody. If you're using a version prior to 2003, I'd say it's a no-brainer upgrade so long as you're running Mac OS 9.2.2, 10.1.5 or 10.2.6. If you're already using Quicken 2003, it's a little more debateable, though if you're an investor I'd say there's no question at all: You should upgrade to Quicken for Mac 2004.

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August 8, 2003

¶ New screen saver published: Notes and directions: You have to be running Mac OS 10.2. Connect to the Internet. Open System Preferences/Screen Effects. Select .Mac in the list. Click the Configure button and enter tydavison in the member name box. Click OK. Enjoy!

If someone (Joe? Dennis? Dave?) who's running 10.2 would like to set up the above .Mac screen saver and let me know if it's working, that'd be cool. It appears to work here on Trinity, but then again this is also the machine publishing the screen saver. If this works like it should, I'll publish new images every few weeks and subscribed machines will automatically be updated to use the new photos as a screen saver.

This collection includes the big oak tree in Matt & Ginger's back yard, a shot of the Big Hole National Battlefield, some burned forest from the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, and a bunch of previously unpublished Jonah pictures.

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June 23, 2003

¶ Apple announces the G5: Last week's inadvertant posting of specs wasn't a blunder, says Jobs. Rather it was "premature speculation."

It's time to get plenty excited about Apple Computer, Inc. All the specs for the G5 machines posted last week were accurate. This takes Mac performance to a whole new level. Some will complain that Apple's overstating the case in the benchmarks because their reference point is the GCC compiler which is optimized for PowerPC chips and not so much for Intel's. Whether or not the dual 2-GHz G5 is "the world's fastest personal computer" as Apple claims, it's surely the fastest thing us Mac users have seen, and, as the Photoshop demos attest, one heckuva speed demon on real world applications.

Jobs also showed off iSite, the web cam I predicted (woot!), and did some video conferencing with Paris and an LA-based Al Gore (who told a couple pretty good jokes). At $150, I'm not convinced that iSite will fly off the shelves, but in part that's because any Firewire based camera can be used for video conferencing with the new iChat AV. A $29 application for Jaguar but built-in to Panther, iChat AV adds audio and video conferencing abilities to Apple's instant messenging service. I'm not sure about the video end of things, but the audio will likely be extensively used. (Dave and I have previously tested AOL's AIM audio chat with good results.) An end to many long distance phone calls? For the younger generations, I'd say yes.

The 1.0 version of Safari was released yesterday. My biggest complaint from the betas remains: The CSS on this site is rendered differently than it is by either Netscape or Internet Explorer. If you're running Safari, you see that weird extra line of space at the end of every entry (just below the black line). Yeah, that's not supposed to be there, and it isn't there on Explorer or Navigator. As hard as it might seem to believe (stop snickering) there is a better than even chance that this is something I've screwed up. Neither Netscape nor Explorer run through a CSS2 test suite without doing a lot of grinding, and maybe the solution I hit upon to make them work isn't exactly kosher and Safari is doing it right. It's a project that I'll probably have to save until I have a bigger monitor again. Other than that bug, I'm continuing to love Safari.

The preview of Panther, MacOS 10.3, that Jobs showed off made me want to upgrade immediately. I suspect, however, that most of the features it touts won't be available to any machine incapable of running Quartz Extreme. So have a hefty video card, or if like me you can't add one to your current Mac workhorse, prepare to upgrade. I'm very curious to see what the minimum system requirements are. If your machine will run it, though, I have no doubt that it will prove to be a very worthwhile upgrade.

Now to start saving my pennies....

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June 21, 2003

¶ Blundering into the future: Apple accidently posts G5 specs. Overall market impact? Nada. Except for one more web guy collecting unemployment. A WWDC preview.

It's unclear as to whether the G5 information that got posted on the Apple Store Thursday night was a boneheaded employee mistake (undoubtedly the last of his/her Apple career) or a hacker's prank. I'm inclined to say the former. I happened to be online at the time and saw the Apple Store page firsthand, and it looked realistic enough to me.

The PowerMac G5 specs, for those who haven't seen them, are as follows:

  • 1.6GHz, 1.8GHz or Dual 2GHz PowerPC G5 processors
  • Up to 1GHz processor bus
  • Up to 8GB of DDR SDRAM
  • Fast Serial ATA hard drives
  • AGP 8X Pro graphics options from NVIDIA or ATI
  • Three PCI or PCI-X expansion slots
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • One FireWire 800, two FireWire 400 ports
  • Bluetooth & AirPort Extreme ready
  • Optical and analog audio in and out

No pricing or availability was mentioned because the rest of the site still contained the present G4 materials. This info only appeared in one small but noticeable gif file.

Regardless of whether or not the speeds above turn out to be accurate, the funny thing is that the G5 (aka 970) is a 64-bit chip. Because Mac OS X won't go 64-bit until Panther (10.3) ships in a few months (likely September), we won't even see the G5 at full power for awhile. When we do, though, look out. By all accounts, it's a monster of a chip—and suitable for use in portables as well. I am buying a Power Mac this year!

In addition to the G5 Power Macs and a previously announced beta preview of 10.3, I think we'll see Apple begin building X-11 (a UNIX windowing system) with the Mac OS. This will open a universe of UNIX applications to those Mac-heads who want to access them through a GUI. I expect at least one other hardware announcement as well—I'll take a wild guess and say a web cam. We'll know by Monday afternoon!

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June 4, 2003

¶ Price drops, updates, tricks: PowerBooks look good, QuickTime revs in a hurry, and I've got a couple Mac OS X 10.2 ideas you might find useful.

With the reduction of the Apple's 12" PowerBook to $1600 ($1500 education), anybody who wants one of these should jump on board. If I didn't already have a G3/500 Pismo PowerBook (purchase price three years ago of roughly $3200), I'd be seriously considering this as my portable computer of choice. Even with the slightly smaller screen size, the resolution is the same, and the portability is awesome. Add a 19" CRT and external trackball and keyboard for home office use, and you could be fully set-up for under $2k.

Of course I'd understand if potential PowerBook buyers wanted to wait for the Aluminum 15" models. Given the Apple's price cuts to the line, the 15" Titaniums have to be on their way out the door. I anticipate new mid-range PowerBooks in the next 90 days.

Apple's software guys have been burning the midnight oil apparently. In addition to QuickTime 6.3, they've also released Keynote 1.1 and iSync 1.1. Apple also revved iTunes to 4.01. This squashed a lot of bugs, but disabled Internet music sharing, a sorry loss (unless you, you know, use this 401(ok) hack). Since programs like iLeech and iSlurp let you steal these streams, maybe that lack of Internet music sharing is a good thing. Far be it from me to judge.

Although parenthood has left me with little time for Mac fun and games, I've been trying to put in some time here and there to get fully up to speed on Mac OS X. Here's two tips which may (or may not) prove useful:

The Mac OS X "Find" command is a good deal better than the old Mac OS 9 Find. You access it from the Finder File menu or just press Command + F in the Finder. You can search by File Name or by Content or by multiple criteria. I'm going to talk about the Find by Content.

Find by Content peers within the contents of files and catalogs the text it finds. Say you've written directions to your cousin Bob's house, but have no idea where the file is. In fact, let's say all you remember is that Bob lives on Elm Street. You can do a search by content for "Bob" or "Elm Street" and pull up the correct file. It's pretty nifty.

The Mac OS 9 Sherlock used to have a Find by Content feature, but it stored everything in a massive index and you had to either manually index everything (which could take hours) or set the Mac to automatically index on a schedule, preferrably when you weren't around.

Mac OS X not only indexes in the background so you don't have to deal with it, it stores the indices within the folders they represent. That means if you copy a folder onto a new disk, the index travels with the folder. There's no need to reindex. Spiffy!

If you go to your Finder preferences, you can select the languages for searching file contents. Because Mac OS X is potentially multilingual, you can select the Find by Contents to index by a wide variety of different languages including Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and so forth. Tip: Only choose the languages you actually use since additional languages make for bigger indices and slower searching. I've got English and French selected, but the latter only because Erin speaks French.

I continue to dislike the dock, but if it's going to be there we might as well make the most of it. My recommendation is to put your Applications folder and your Home folder in the dock in addition to the Print Center. You can Control-click any item in the dock to get a contextual menu. In the case of Applications or Home, that nets you a list of enclosed files which makes for easier than normal launching.

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May 6, 2003

¶ Oops, I blinked: Miss a week in the world of Apple Computer, and the backlog can be surprisingly large.

So, anything happen while I was away? New iTunes plus an online music service? New iPods? QuickTime 6.2? New eMacs? Mac OS X 10.2.6 upgrade? I hate it when I miss a week. Well, we'll just take them one at a time.

I've not had much time to play with iTunes 4, but my friend Joe has, and he's a fan. It's hard to say yet if it will be a smash hit, but early returns are promising: Over 1 million songs were downloaded in the first week alone (Joe apparently accounting for 30 of those). I don't know that we're talking Napster-like popularity, but iTunes 4 with its accompanying Music Service is off to a great start.

In my limited testing, I found the Music Service integration with iTunes to be seamless and very easy to use. Even with the five major record companies signed to provide album and song content, there are some gaps. No Beatles or Led Zeppelin, for example. Still, Yes, Pink Floyd, and the Eagles are all on board as are a lot of the other artists I searched for. Most songs are available for 99 cents and albums for $9.99. As I say, I've not had much time to play with it, but I get the feeling that one could very easily spend a lot of money here.

Of course, one might want one of those nifty new iPods first. Now available in 10-, 15-, and 30-GB models, the revamped iPod line priced at $299, $399, and $499 respectively. All iPods are lighter than their predecessors, and the top two models come with remote, carry case with belt clip, and dock. Disappointingly, the battery life has dropped from 12-15 hours to 8 hours, but Apple has included a few extras to help make up for it.

First, the ability to play ACC files. These are the files used by the Apple Music Service, and they offer higher sound quality and smaller file size as identical bit-rate MP3s. In other words, a 128-bit ACC music file will be smaller and sound substantially better than a 128-bit MP3 file. Second, Apple has added extra non-music features to the new iPods. In addition to Breakout (called Brick), Solitaire and Parachute are on the new machines. Whereas before calendar and contact information could be stored on the iPod, the new iPods also handle text notes. There's even a built-in alarm clock.

One thing lacking—and it's a show-stopper for me—is a voice recorder. I absolutely want to have the ability to record long monologues or interviews into the iPod. In mono (versus stereo) is fine. I'm looking to do genealogy and journalism, not record music. So I continue to hope that Apple will put out an iPod with a recording feature. As soon as they do, I'm dropping $500 on a iPod. For those who don't need a voice recorder, the ulimate portable MP3 player just got better.

Quicktime 6.2 adds the ACC codec to the Macintosh. iTunes requires QuickTime 6.2 to download music files from Apple's Music Service. It'll also allow you to rip CDs into ACC format which, frankly, is the way you'll want to go from here on out. It's a free download.

The new eMacs range from 800-Mhz G4 to 1-GHz G4 and price points of $800 to $1300. The high end machine has a SuperDrive and an 80-GB hard drive. If you don't mind (or perhaps prefer) CRT displays and don't need PCI slots, the eMacs remain an incredible value. They're basically the successors to the traditional iMac line, and well-worth consideration under certain circumstances. Notably, they all are still capable of running Mac OS 9 natively in addition to running Mac OS X, so if there's a software package that's not gone X or if you don't want to leave the warm Mac OS 9 nest just yet, here's a machine for you.

Mac OS 10.2.6 is mostly a bug fix release. I never had problems with 10.2.5, but a fair number of folks did. I'll be installing 10.2.6 shortly, and I'll let you know how it goes. If it's stable, it'll probably be the last 10.2.x release before Panther, Mac OS 10.3 (which will debut in beta form at the World Wide Developers Conference in June).

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April 22, 2003

¶ iBooks revised: Speed bump, bigger hard drive, and faster video card for the same low price.

Apple quietly revised the iBook line this morning. Now all machines are 900-MHz G3s except the $999 model which is 800-MHz G3 with a CD-ROM drive. Other models have a Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW). Hard drives are 30 GB at the low-end, mid-range at 40 GB, and high-end at 60 GB. The video card in each is an ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 with 32 MB of DDR SDRAM. Still crippled by Apple to only support video mirroring, though.

All pricing remains the same ranging from $999 to $1778. Not an earth-shaking update, but plenty good if you're in the market for an iBook.

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April 16, 2003

¶ Apple reports on 2Q: Company beats estimates; posts profit of $14. Uh, $14 million. My bad.

Apple shipped 711,000 machines during the quarter, 42 percent of which were laptops. Broken out that's 82,000 12" PowerBooks, 70,000 15" PowerBooks, and 14,000 17" PowerBooks. The 17" model had a delayed introduction and currently has a long order backlog. Including servers, 156,000 units of Power Mac G4s were moved during the quarter. Some 78,000 iPods shipped, half of these being Windows-based.

Apple now has 53 retail stores, deriving $135 million revenue from stores. Traffic records indicate about 4400 visitors per store per week. 50 percent of purchasers at the stores do not own a Mac.

Over all, Apple recorded a profit of $14 million, $.04 per share, which is decent given this economy. Apple has $4.526 billion cash and short-term securities on hand. Projections for the coming quarter are essentially flat, again mirroring the economy as a whole.

* * * * *

¶ Holy Guacamole! A dynamic duo: Pow! Biff! Crunch! Safari beta 2 and Keychain Access kick butt and take names.

I've had a couple of days now to play with Safari beta 2 (v73), and yes, it still rocks. Even though the tabs themselves are strangely upside down—like a bat?—tabbed browsing is right up there with the Bat-a-rang on the cool inventions list. Add to this a rendering speed that is Batmobile-like, and we're talking about a browser that will allow everyday citizens to tear through the streets of cyberspace.

Admittedly, one area of concern was the autofill function. Not that it didn't work well, mind you, because it behaved like a trusty Boy Wonder. The perfect sidekick to an awesome superhero. Enter your name and password info once and Safari remembers it for you, making it a super time saver for secure sites. If Commissioner Gordon had access to technology like this, I'm sure he could have run a much more efficient city government.

No, what worried me was the security of user information if a machine were stolen by a nefarious villain like the Penguin, the Joker, or the Riddler. Indeed, riddle me this: If someone swipes your PowerBook, does Safari now give them full access to all your online banking and such?

I'm relieved to say the answer is no. Safari uses the Apple Keychain to encrypt everything and assuming you set the keychain to lock on sleep and lock after a period of inactivity, you'll have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you don't regularly lock your keychain you're engaging in the cyberspace version of dating Catwoman. Don't say I didn't warn you if that ends badly. can find the Keychain Access application in the Utilities folder. Go to the Keychain Access Edit menu and select the bottom item ("X settings", where X is your user name). Select both check boxes, first deciding how long you want the time out to be (I set mine for 120 minutes). While you're futzing with Keychain Access, you might as well go to the View menu and select "Show status in menu bar." Then you can lock your system down quickly and easily before you walk away from your machine.

Alfred, at your service.

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April 14, 2003

¶ Hallelujah part 2 for Safari: Apple formally releases Safari beta 2. Tabbed browsing for everybody!

Safari beta 2 (v73) was released this morning. If you're running beta 1, it is well-worth the pick-up. It inherits all the nifty features of v71 which I reviewed a few days ago, and presumably, there are a few more bug fixes under the hood. No, the stupid CSS stuff still doesn't display Davison Online pages correctly. Yes, I've filed a bug report with Apple. Yes, Netscape and Explorer both display the pages correctly. Yes, it drives me nuts. Safari is beta, though, so I'm cutting Apple some slack.

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April 11, 2003

¶ Hallelujah! Tabbed browsing rocks: Ty plays with pre-release beta 2 of Safari and gets the religion.

Safari is a neat little web browser. It's open source, it's fast, and it's got some cool built-in features like Google search in the taskbar. Through somewhat questionable sources I got a copy of an unreleased beta 2 (v71), and there are even more reasons, namely autofill and tabbed browsing, to dig Apple's take on the world wide web.

As many of you know, Safari is based on the open source Konqueror HTML rendering engine. Apple takes this code, tweaks with it, and then posts the changes back to the open source community. Rumor has it that the next version of OmniWeb will use Konqueror and incorporate the Apple mods, so kudos to the boys in Cupertino for playing nice with the open source folks.

Kudos also for the speed improvements they've wrung out of v71. It is noticeably faster than v60 (the last public release) and v60 ain't exactly slow, significantly besting just about every other Mac web browser out there. So far v71 (on Mac OS 10.2.5) has proved stable as well. I didn't notice any HTML rendering changes (other than the aforementioned velocity) so stuff that isn't looking all pretty in v60 probably will appear the same in v71. That's right, much to my dismay Davison Online still won't look perfect in beta 2.

All the features of v60 are present in v71. The Google search line in the task bar is still rockin', though I continue to wish there were a way to add other search engines via a plug-in architecture like Sherlock used to do. (One tip with the Google search in Safari: You can highlight text on a page, right click (or control-click) and automatically Google the highlighted text.) The Snapback function gets you back to where you were in a hurry, and I continue to love that. The easy bookmarking system is still the best I've seen. God love any web browser that lets you automatically block pop-up windows.

So far as the new stuff, the autofill function actually seems to work now. Safari can remember user names, passwords, and recall them as needed so users don't have to try to wrack their brains as to what they entered months ago at or whatever. While in practice autofill works fine, it does not appear to use Apple's Keychain technology or any other method of encryption. Although the AutoFill preference only displays your username information (not password) it's not clear to me how fully a thief is prevented from accessing all your data if your computer is stolen. Hopefully, there's something cookin' on that end of things before beta 2 is released for public consumption.

Finally, the biggest deal: Tabbed browsing. I'd not used tabbed browsing before other than a quick fling with Netscape 7, and at the time I didn't really see what all the hubbub was about. I do now. Here's the scoop: If you're like me, you'll go to a web page with a bunch of links and in the course of reading the page, you might see a few that you want to check out. So you click the link, read the new page, hit the back button, and continue reading the original page. Or you maybe you open the link in its own window so you can close the whole window and go back to what you were originally reading. (Hint: If you use this technique with v60, you can hold down Command + Shift and have the window open behind the current window.)

Tabbed browsing changes all of this. With tabbed browsing, you press Command + Shift and click on the links you want to read after you're done with the current article (or before you're done; it doesn't matter). These links will appear in little tabs across the top of your browser window as you click them. They'll load in the background while you're reading the present page. Then you can just click on whatever tab you want to read next. It's almost like a temporary bookmark, and it's definitely going to change the way I access the web. (Think Secret has another explanation of tabbed browsing on Safari in case mine was too convoluted.)

Safari beta 2 looks like it will be a winner when it's released. Now if they could just fix the CSS rendering....

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April 10, 2003

¶ Mac OS 10.2.5 installed: Trinity does 10.2.5 on the same day it's released by Apple. So far no catastrophes.

Trinity, my PowerBook G3/500, revved from 10.2.4 to 10.2.5 this afternoon with no problems whatsoever. At the same time, I'm not sure that there are many advantages either, except for a time/date bug that had bedeviled a few folks. On the whole, a lot is promised in the way of under the hood fixes so there's not much that's immediately obvious about what's changed. Similarly, 10.2.5 contains a number of security patches which aren't obvious either. I do think that the system feels a little snappier, but I could be fooling myself. That wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

For most Mac OS X-based Macintosh systems, I recommend waiting at least a few days before installing an OS revision. Let others beta test is my motto. Why didn't I follow it this time? I dunno. Guess I was feeling lucky. So far no problems for me. MacFixIt, MacInTouch, and MacNN will all have 10.2.5 reports within the next day or two. You can check there and decide when the time is right for your Mac. If I have problems, you know I'll start screaming about them here.

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April 6, 2003

¶ Shake, rattle, and Final Cut Pro: Apple makes a big bet that video is the next wave of publishing. Please God let them be right.

Apple released Final Cut Pro 4, DVD Studio 2, and Shake 3 this afternoon. Those three software packages on a loaded G4 tower bring you a software-based film/video production house. In other words, if you're willing to spend about $10k for Apple stuff, you can do things that would otherwise take you $100k or more. You can also do it faster and better. It's a compelling proposition, I think, and one which we should all be very excited about because technology introduced today will filter down to at home users eventually. (In the same way that Photoshop or other less expensive graphic editing program offer home users incredible power that some years ago was available only for industry players or professionals.)

We're seeing some of this already with Final Cut Express, iMovie, and iDVD, but it's only a glimpse compared to what we'll see at the consumer level in the next few years. The democratization of technology which happened in the '80s for desktop publishing and in the '90s for image manipulation will happen for audio and video—is happening for audio and video—in this decade. Amateur filmmakers and at home videographers can ride the crest of the latest wave courtesy of Apple. They should exalt in the feeling.

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March 19, 2003

¶ Goodbye little gumdrop: The little iMac that could is no more. A small ode to the machine that got people excited about the Macintosh again.

Apple quietly killed off the CRT iMac yesterday, ending a five-year run of a Macintosh model that helped bring the company back into the limelight. The death of the original iMac is being covered by most of the mainstream Apple press corp, and there are a good many testimonials to the power of the little machine.

Deservedly so. For when the iMac first appeared, it was revolutionary. Its classic form and style was perhaps only exceeded by its utility. Finally, an all-in-one Mac that was relatively inexpensive, relatively easy to transport, and relatively easy to use. I remember seeing video of a 7 year old kid setting up an iMac faster than a guy with a computer science degree could a PC. The iMac, at long last, gave Mac fanatics something to cheer about.

No eulogy would be complete with mentioning some of the technology the iMac brought to the masses over the years: USB, FireWire, Airport, and—Jobs be praised—an end to the ridiculously underperforming floppy drive. I remember wanting an iMac from the moment Apple introduced them. Although I never bought one, my consolation is that I've worked on and with dozens of them over the years. Friends, family, and clients have all purchased the little Mac that could, and such is its staying power that even an end to production will not stop it from being a viable work (and play) machine for years to come.

Those looking to pick up a CRT iMac on the cheap can find them at places like PowerMax at prices ranging from about $400 to $900. Apple Education customers can still buy a 600-MHz G3 iMac for as low as $750. As it's always been, a pretty good deal on a solid, stylish machine.

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February 16, 2003

Hey, Apple's released Mac OS X 10.2.4 and a new beta of Safari, and having used both for a day, I'm happy to report that both are worth downloading. It's not universal, but certain parts of Mac OS X are significantly faster under 10.2.4 versus 10.2.3 and earlier. Adobe GoLive, for example, is noticeably quicker when it comes to text entry (like what I'm typing right now). Good stuff.

In the case of Safari, the CSS still isn't fixed (can you tell?), but some of the Secure Socket Layer encryption is improved and there are some other fixes. For what it's worth, if Apple doesn't have the CSS perfectly implemented by the time Safari goes final, I will be fixing these pages to display correctly. I'm using Safari for virtually everything. I'm happy to recommend it.

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February 5, 2003

Apple's been busy, that's for sure: New Power Macs, new iMacs and eMacs, and a shipping iLife suite. My take on all the above:

The new Power Mac specs:

  • $1500. 1-GHz G4, 1 MB L3 cache, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, Combo drive, GeForce 4Mx, FireWire 800, Bluetooth ready.
  • $2000. Dual 1.25-GHz G4, 1 MB L3 cache, 256 MB RAM, 80 GB HD, Combo drive, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro, FireWire 800, Bluetooth ready.
  • $2700. Dual 1.42-GHz G4, 2 MB L3 cache, 512 MB RAM, 120 GB HD, SuperDrive, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro, FireWire 800, Bluetooth ready.

The good news about this upgrade: FireWire 800 inclusion, since that protocol is almost double the speed of the standard FireWire. (All the machines include a couple standard FireWire ports as well.) The Bluetooth capability (a $50 add on in all configurations) is nifty if you've got a Bluetooth PDA or cell phone. All models are Airport Extreme ready, a nice speed increase to that protocol as well. The processor speed bumps are nice, though the low-end model goes from a Dual 867-MHz to a single 1-GHz. I'm not sure that I wouldn't rather have the $200 I'm saving in the price drop to $1500. The most important thing, however, is that Apple has reportedly fixed the high decibel problem of the previous models—a problem which had earned them the nickname "wind tunnel" in the Mac community. These new models are substantially quieter.

The new iMacs:

  • $1300. 15" LCD, 800-MHz G4, GeForce 2Mx, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, Combo drive, Airport ready, Bluetooth ready.
  • $1800. 17" LCD, 1-GHz G4, GeForce 4Mx, 256 MB RAM, 80 GB HD, SuperDrive, Airport Extreme ready, Bluetooth ready.

What's notable here, besides the $200 price reduction, is that FireWire 800 is not included in the consumer machines. That must mean that Apple intends for it to be a distinguishing factor between the consumer and pro models. (iMacs being consumer; Power Macs being pro.) For what it's worth, I think the 17" iMac is easily worth the extra $500 if you're iMac shopping. The faster processor, SuperDrive, bigger hard drive, and bigger screen size make up a terrific value for an extra $500.

The new eMacs:

  • $1000. 700-MHz G4, 128 MB RAM, 40 GB HD, Combo drive.
  • $1300. 800-MHz G4, 256 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, SuperDrive.

Although the price drops are terrific, it is a terrible shame that Apple seems to be treating the eMac is the bastard child. Not only are the speeds below the iMacs, but none of the new technology (FireWire 800, Airport Extreme, Bluetooth) made it into these models. Couple this with a scary number of recalled units, and I do not recommend the eMac at this time if you're looking for reliable leading edge technology from Apple.

Apple did educators a solid, allowing them to order the complete iLife suite (iMove, iDVD, iPhoto, iTunes) plus Keynote for $15. If you're an educator using a Mac OS X-capable machine, buy this. Erin's copy of this has not arrived yet, but I'll have a report when it does. In the meantime, I've played briefly with iPhoto 2, and it's a nice upgrade to an already very nice program. Worth the free download if you're using Mac OS X with a digital camera or scanner.

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January 26, 2003

I could have sworn that Feral's new F1 Championship Season 2002 racing game was beyond Trinity's video card capabilities, but Dennis pointed me to the download site that showed otherwise, and sure enough it runs just fine. I need to explore whether or not F1's multiplayer will work over the Internet. If so, it might prove to be just the ticket!

* * * * *

Various Apple notes:

  • Rumor has it that Apple will at long last be opening a retail store in Portland, Oregon. Those of us long-suffering with The Computer Store are today singing anticipatory songs of praise. Now if Apple would just put an outlet in Salem, I could quit my day job.
  • It's not even out of beta yet, but Safari has easily displaced Microsoft's pokey-by-comparison Internet Explorer. I can't wait until the final version of Safari is released (and it better display this site correctly, or I'll be cheezed.)
  • I was showing off iCal (the much-improved version 1.02) to Mom last night, and it dawned on me that in many respects it worked better than Palm Desktop. I don't have time this week, but come February I'm going to be reevaluating my choice of contact manager/datebook. I'm not sure that, while my head was turned, Apple didn't just go and make iCal and Address Book a winning combination. If so, it'll be in large measure because they integrate so well with iChat and Mail, but they've merits all their own. Stay tuned.
  • Rumor has it that the delay in the iLife software suite (iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, iTunes) is because Apple wanted to pre-load them on a bunch of new iMacs which will be introduced on or about January 31. If you're considering buying an iMac, you might want to wait a couple of days.
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January 24, 2003

And now, the Napster of comic strips. As many of you know, the comics you read in the newspaper are also published online by their authors or syndicates. You can go to these various sites (King Features, Ucomics, etc.) and view virtually all the stuff you read regularly as well as, potentially, discover new comics that you find particularly humorous. (The rest of us think you're weird.)

Comictastic is a freeware Mac OS X-only comic viewer. It allows you to subscribe to these various comics without having to open the newspaper or go to the comic sites. It takes some set up work to subscribe to all the comics you're interested in, but it's not too hard if you follow the help instructions. One stop viewing of Foxtrot, Dilbert, Overboard, Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes, This Modern World, and so on, is extraordinarily convenient.

The comic syndicates aren't at all pleased with this turn of events since they want you to visit their web site so they can throw ads at you. And I'm sure if they've not already, they will be crying about lost ad revenue, failing to grasp (just like the record companies with Napster) that the ad revenue lost is more than made up for by the enthusiasm generated by the new technology.

In Napster's case, it meant that for the first time ever individuals controlled their music and were exposed to more and different kinds of music than ever before. CD sales correspondingly skyrocketed. As soon as the record companies killed Napster, enthusiam waned, and CD sales tanked. If the comic syndicates are smart (don't put money on this), they'll support comic viewers like Comictastic for the same reasons that the record companies should have supported Napster. Thanks to Comictastic I've already found several comics I'd never heard of before, and I'm eager to at least add to my wish list books featuring those strips. Maybe I'll buy them outright. Either way, I'm an interested party, and you certainly couldn't say that before.

It's just my opinion, but I believe what we are seeing in this debate over who controls what and how you see and hear what you do—you or the corporation—is perhaps the defining argument of the early 21st century. If individuals lose this one, Big Brother (in the form of multinationals and government) will have arrived.

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January 18, 2003

Played a little Tomb Raider Chronicles last night and got my first Mac OS X system freeze. No Force Quit possible. Just restart and that's all you can do. I only mention it because it's never happened before. I've not been able to duplicate it, so who knows what the problem was.

Mac OS X continues to be extraordinarily stable, but obviously it doesn't have perfect reliability. Six months of use (and several system upgrades) and only one unduplicateable system freeze? That works for me.

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January 16, 2003

Apple announced a first fiscal quarter loss of $8 million including some $19 million in non-recurring items. Excluding those, Apple actually posted an $11 million profit—an amazing result in this economic climate. In addition to shipping roughly 743,000 Mac systems of all stripes during the quarter, I thought the big news was the addition of another $100 million to their cash pile. In cash and short-term securities, Apple now holds $4.4 billion.

* * * * *

I switched to Safari upon my return from MacWorld, and I've been using it full-time. For a beta, it's an amazingly good web browser, and I've not yet seen need to fire up Microsoft's Internet Explorer since. It is true that Safari does not yet render correctly Cascading Style Sheets (like those found on my web site). I'm confident this will be fixed by the time Apple makes it a "final" piece of software.

Otherwise, there's a lot to like. Safari is considerably faster than Explorer; the bookmarks are easier to make, edit, and use; and the program's snapback function (and built-in Google search) save lots o' time. In one shot Apple has bypassed Explorer, Netscape, and, somewhat sadly, iCab to become the best browser on the Mac.

One important note: If you're using the original beta, be sure to download the updated beta from Apple. The original beta of Safari contained a bug that could potentially erase important info from your hard drive. And of course if you don't feel comfortable with beta software in general, it's no crime to wait. Rest assured that Safari will be worth it.

* * * * *

I've started playing a little bit of Tomb Raider: Chronicles. Although it's graphically advanced (not to mention Carbonized) compared to Tomb Raider II, the storyline is much weaker and the game play is not signficantly improved. Worse, on many levels the camera angles make game play a very frustrating endeavor, and coupled with the tedious nature of some puzzles, what we have it not something worth $49.95. Happily, it is probably worth the $9.95 I paid, so that's a plus. And it is, in a general sense, a lot of fun to control a character and to run around shooting things and solving puzzles. Occasionally the level design just isn't up to snuff. I should also note that I've had no time yet to play with the included level editor on Disc 2. If it's relatively easy to create your adventure, the value proposition here may improve dramatically.

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January 9, 2002—MacWorld SF 2003

After a much-needed day off yesterday, I returned to the show this morning. I'll comment first on Apple's products then on some of the various third-party hardware and software I missed last time.

Apple introduced two new PowerBooks with radical differences in features, utility, and size. The 17"(!) model seems to me to be Apple's answer to the question, "Is it possible to build a laptop with a screen that's too big?" The screen real estate is to die for, and the machine is surprisingly light given its necessarily mammoth size. The keyboard feel is terrific, and the illuminated keys are just another one of those classy touches that make you glad Apple exists. The FireWire 800 should provide a nice speed boost for peripherial communication once said peripherials are built to take advantage of it. (Right now there are a few hard drive enclosures and that's about it.) It's backward-compatible with regular FireWire given the proper adaptor (since the ports are different). I like that Airport Extreme and Bluetooth are both built-in.

What didn't I like? The placement of the trackpad and (ahem) single button are awkward. Maybe I'm just used to my Pismo, but I found it very difficult to use the trackpad and button without looking down at it first. It remains a very clunky hardware interface. (I dislike trackpads to begin with, so perhaps mine is an overly biased view.) The machine runs painfully hot, and I'm not kidding when I say that I think you could iron clothes with this thing. You will not want to put this on your lap.

That aside, I'm concerned that Apple may have seriously overestimated the market for these things. Much of what I heard on the show floor was a mix of admiration for the screen size coupled with heavy doubt that the machine would be nearly portable enough. So would I spend $3200 on a 17" PowerBook? I would not. Though if somebody gave me one I wouldn't turn it down, either. (Whaddya think, that I eat soup with a fork?)

On the other end of the size scale is Apple's mini-iron, the 12.1" PowerBook G4. It also runs very hot. That's what putting a G4 867-MHz in a 12" enclosure gets you, I guess. The speed is good, as is the portability. At 4.6 lbs, you can easy pick this baby up with one hand (wearing a kitchen mitten or using a hot pad) and tote it. Truth be told, the 12" PowerBook's heat output wasn't nearly as bad as the 17" model, and given that it offers most of the features of big Mr. 17, it's worthy of serious consideration for purchase at $2200. In some ways this is a souped up iBook with a G4, but there's nothing wrong with that. Plus it will drive a dual display setup, which an iBook will not (because Apple intentionally cripples them).

I think the model that will really hit the sweet spot, though, is an upgraded 15" PowerBook. Were I in the market, that's what I'd be most interested in, and although Apple's still selling the 15" Titaniums, they don't have any of the new features (Airport Extreme, Bluetooth, etc.). I'd look for new 15" PowerBooks in a few months.

Speaking of Airport Extreme (802.11g), initially I'd say that it's another winner. The 802.11g spec has not been fully ratified by the standards group, but Apple's forging ahead anyway. Good for them, I say. It works well enough right now and they can always zap some firmware to update anything they need to. The best thing about Airport Extreme is probably the cost. The Airport Extreme Base Station is now $200, and though it's not a compelling value proposition for guys like me who already own an old Airport Base Station (802.11b), anyone else who's interested in getting a wireless network going can do it for $200-$300. That's excellent.

The 54 Mbit speed is a nice boost from the older 11 Mbit 802.11b, but it drops down as you move further away from the Base Station. And unless you're passing big files back and forth, you're unlikely to saturate the pipeline. Fast cable modem connections are only 1-3 Mbits, so even the old 802.11b has bandwidth to spare. On the whole, a good upgrade from Apple—one that drives the computer industry forward—but not what I'd call spectacular.

The integrated Bluetooth communications allows for short-range sychronization with mobile devices like certain cell phones and PDAs. I used iSync to connect with a Sony Ericson phone, and the process seemed slower than I expected. True, it's a heckuva a lot quicker than typing it, but syncing calendar, to do list, and contacts took several minutes. I don't know if that was Bluetooth's fault or the phone's. Or maybe that's just how long it takes. Either way, it's a neat technology, and I'm glad that Apple's pushing it even if I don't have a use for it yet myself.

I almost feel like I should recuse myself from talking about Keynote ($99), Apple's new presentation software. Yeah, it's better than Microsoft's PowerPoint. Heck, it's so much better that you can import PowerPoint presentations, fix them up in Keynote, and export them back to PowerPoint if you want. It's like Apple decided to tell Microsoft, "Let us show you how your presentation software should be working." If you're doing up slides and stuff, don't let anybody tell you that Keynote isn't da bomb, 'cause it's really, really good.

My problem is that I hate presentation software. I find most slide shows to be a monumental waste of time and energy, and 90 percent of the time I end up wishing that the presenter would've thought more about the content and less about which nifty Power Point transition to use. Note to presenters: Your spiffy wipe effect has in no way obscured the fact that the content of your presentation is wanting. My first thought when I start seeing Power Point slides is usually, "So you didn't have enough content for a hand-out, huh?" Keynote does nothing to solve these problems; if your content stunk before, it will still stink after Keynote gets done with it. It'll just look very pretty while stinking.

Apple's new iLife suite (iDVD, iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie) doesn't stink at all. In fact, the growing integration of these applications is a terrific thing. Want an iTunes song for your iPhoto slide show? Click, there it is. iPhoto stills for your iMovie? Click, there it is. iMovie clip for your iDVD menu? Click, there it is. Software integration is an incredibly powerful concept, and iLife is getting it right. Further, Apple's making everything but iDVD ($49) available for free download. Great, great stuff.

One step up the chain lies the semi-professional level of software. Here, Apple introduced Final Cut Pro Express ($300). I didn't have too much of a chance to play with it, but it's a huge step beyond iMovie and a lot less expensive than Final Cut Pro ($1000). Kudos to Apple on this as well.

Apple's new web browser, Safari, also has the potential for greatness. It's in beta and doesn't display all CSS stuff correctly yet (notably this site!), but it's incredibly fast, it's open-source, it can automatically kill pop-ups, and Apple's got a full development team working on making it better. It also handles bookmarks/favorites better than any browser that I've tried. Plus it has a built-in Google search function which saves me a lot of time. I probably won't jump on board until after it leaves beta, but I'm very excited about what Safari could be: The beginning of the end of Microsoft products in my life.

* * * * *

I looked at a lot of third-party products. As I noted previously, the number of vendors seemed fewer this year, but some companies were showing off some great stuff:

  • DVForge had a bunch of stainless steel PowerBook and iPod stands and holders that were very attractive.
  • I spoke with the president of Kagi, the internet eCommerce site. I will undoubtedly be selling my CDs through his service when the time comes. If you've got something to sell and don't want to held the order processing, Kagi is a great service by all accounts. (A lot of folks stopped by just to thank him, which speaks volumes.)
  • The International QuickTime VR Association guy turned me onto a place where you can find freeware QuickTime VR creation tools:
  • The woman at the Lingo Systems booth gave me a $15 book on web site localization. Lingo Systems provides translation services for 51 different languages. If your web site is in English and you'd also like it in French, call Lingo for the translation. Don't know what the cost is, but it's always good to have options.
  • Primera Technology showed off a $1500 CD printer/burner device that provides an integrated solution for CD production. With visions of producing my own music CD, I found this very interesting indeed. (There is also a $2500 DVD printer/burner available.)
  • Pacific Software Publishing, Inc. had a biometric ID system that would recognize users by fingerprint. To log on, you supply the user name as usual then press your finger against a small scan pad and it determines if you are who you say you are. I asked how many points of comparison were used for matching fingerprints and they said that the system used a proprietary algorhythm instead of points. That left me a little skeptical, since law enforcement world-wide uses a point system, but the ID system worked flawlessly in my limited testing, so it's hard to complain about that. Easier to complain about the $200 sticker price.
  • I would be totally remiss if I didn't give a major shout-out to MySQL, the open-source database guys (downloadable copy will run in the Unix layer of Mac OS X). I know almost nothing about them, but they did give me a free tee-shirt, and such swag was difficult to come by this MacWorld. In these economic times companies have simply cut back on the freebies.
  • Another shout-out to the guys at Sustainable Softworks who were able to explain exactly how little I have to fear about the security of my home Airport setup. Given my setup, none of the software Sustainable makes would be useful to me, but even knowing this, the company was willing to answer all my questions. Pretty cool.
  • My favorite third-party software of the day may have been Revolution, a cross-platform development environment. It looks easy to learn, powerful in implementation, and, importantly, the type of thing that I could actually create something useful in. A free downloadable demo is available.

I got good answers from FileMaker guys; formally met Jonathan, a QA guy I've spent hours on the phone with as part of various Intuit beta projects; received a long and detailed personal demo of Mac OS X Server and came away very impressed; I spoke directly with the Apple Project Managers for iCal, Safari, and Sherlock—I hope my numerous suggestions were helpful, guys.

* * * * *

I swung by the Apple campus on 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino yesterday to see the selection in their retail store. Lots of good apparel but a little weak on the software and hardware side of things. I ended up purchasing Tomb Raider: Chronicles ($10) and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force + expansion pack ($20). Both are carbonized and will run fine with Trin's older video card. Neat!

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January 7, 2003—MacWorld SF 2003

Once again I fought the crowds and endured the torturous experience of playing with Apple's new toys before most of the world, all so you wouldn't have to. Whatta guy, I know.

Apple released a ton of stuff today, only one of which I actually predicted, and most of it was really cool. Subjectively, both attendence and vendor participation were down again from previous years, but certain areas—notably gaming—showed huge increases in coverage. What follows won't be an exhaustive report, because I'm heading back again on Thursday, January 9 and I'll have more to see and to say then. But hopefully this will be a good starter.

I arrived at the Moscone Center from the CalTrain station after hoofing it several blocks. On the way, I passed a couple guys going other direction and overheard the amusing quote, "The 21st century is the biggest letdown." Obviously, he'd not seen the new PowerBooks. Weather was very nice, but I continue to loathe MacWorld organizer IDG for dispensing with the free shuttle bus service. Two years ago we got dropped off at the doorstep of the show, and it was a lot more fun than walking six blocks. We get enough walking on cement in Moscone.

Prior to the Expo floor opening at 10:30 AM, I hung out with a bunch of guys at a table downstairs. There, I picked up these suggestions:

  • If you have a DVD-equipped Mac, find and use the freeware program DVD Backup. It's on the hackerish side of the fence, so it will take some looking on the Internet to locate (oh, alright, download it here), but it gives you the ability to copy movies from DVD onto your hard drive. In addition, you can remove the region encoding, Macrovision protection, and CSS encryption. According to the geek, you can play two full DVDs on a PowerBook before the battery goes if you use DVD Backup. He was adament about telling everyone to "only use this program for good," meaning, of course, to backup DVDs you own, not to make copies of movies you don't. His contention was that fair use and copyright laws allowed for the time- and media-shift of legitimately purchased products. Unfortunately, that's no longer fully true. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) gave almost all the control to the producer of the media not the owner, and it is, in fact, probably illegal to use DVD Backup as intended. I say "probably" because the matter is still bouncing around in courts. There is, however, little question that removal of the Macrovision protection or CSS encryption is a violation of the law at present. FYI.
  • You can use SSH to securely tunnel into your home network so that you can remotely control your Macs there. You can do this other ways, but you'd do so at your peril. (SSH is part of the Unix underlayer to Mac OS X that most users will never see.)
  • Make life easer for yourself by going to the Utilities folder and dragging Print Center to a place on the dock. That way when you print stuff, you more quickly and easily find out what's going on.

When the Expo opened, the Steve Jobs keynote was still ongoing and the Apple area had huge curtains over all the signage and displays. Yellow caution tape encircled the area. On the big theatre screen we the crowds could glimpe Steve introducing stuff, and if you got close enough you could hear the audio, but I decided to check out other things instead of waiting for Apple's area to open up. The following are some of the non-Apple cool things I saw. I saw plenty more, but these were my favs of the day:

  • PowerKey Pro USB. A six-socket, individually controllable, power strip. You plug in a phone line and connect it to your Mac via USB and you can control the power to whatever you've got plugged into the strip. This would let you, say, turn lights on and off from your keyboard. If you're away, you can even call in, punch in a code on your phone keypad and activate things. Pretty slick, but at $300 it better be.
  • I went to the Mac Help area staffed by various so-called experts for some advice with start up problem I was having with Trin. It wasn't a serious issue (a folder keeps opening on the desktop at start up no matter how many times I close it and shut down or restart), but I hadn't been able to figure it out. Sadly, no luck. The guy I talked to was nice enough, but I'm not sure he knows any more about Macs or the Mac OS than I do. So kudos to MacTank tech support service. I stopped by their booth, they gave me some freebie advice (which, like most Mac problem solutions, was so incredibly obvious I wanted to kick myself after hearing it), and solved Trin's problems. (Go to System Preferences/Login Items and make sure the folder isn't selected. Well, whaddya know.) So props to MacTank, whose regular tech support runs $30 per issue (and if they can't help, you don't pay).
  • Props also the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who, whether you've known it or not, are engaged in a battle to protect your rights.
  • Latest version of Alsoft's Disk Warrier is X-native and looking good. (It'll be shipping soon.) I've got an older, Mac OS 8.x- and 9.x-only version that has served me very, very well. At $70, Disk Warrior is highly recommended.
  • Adobe was out in force, showing all their various X-native apps. I own a number of these already, and I can almost universally give them the thumbs-up. Adobe didn't, as far as I could tell, have anything new at the show, but the buzz in the industry and on the floor is that InDesign 2.0, the long-awaited Quark Xpress-killer, really is. Xpress is something like 6+ months from being X-native and InDesign's been there awhile. Quark has a terrible reputation for customer service, as well. I've only used Quark several times, and always much preferred PageMaker, a program that was, rightly or wrongly, seen as being only for low-end publishing. I use InDesign regularly now, and I like it a great deal.
  • I took a good long look at Timbuktu Pro from Netopia. Timbuktu Pro let's you remotely control computers via LAN or Internet to the extent that you can take over the remote machine entirely with the desktop even appearing on your screen. If I ever get my vision of an at home server going, this $150 product (for 2-licenses) could be just the ticket. It's also cross-platform which is pretty cool.
  • Worth noting: The selection of Mac-oriented books at the show is very impressive. I've never seen more interesting computer reading in one place. That said, the prices stink, and in my experience you can find every title for substantially less on My two favs: Mac OS X Unleashed! by John Ray, William Ray, and Joan Ray, and The Wireless Networking Starter Kit by Adam Engst.
  • On the other hand, if you're a gamer, there are always fantastic show specials, and this year is no exception. Indeed, this year's gaming area is perhaps the biggest I've seen, and certainly if platform health is measured by the number and quality of game titles then the Mac is thriving. There were way, way too many game titles that rocked for me to be able to say this was and good and this wasn't. In fact they were almost all great, and to mention a few is to unnecessarily slight everything else. You can buy almost any Mac game nowadays and have a really great shot at it being a lot of fun. Things to watch for:

    1. Make sure your machine's got the processor speed and video card to handle it. A lot of recent games require monsterous hardware, particularly on the video card end. For example, Trin's G3/500 processor is adequate for most of the stuff out there even now, but the paltry 8 MB video card isn't even close to good enough.
    2. Check that the game is Mac OS X-compatible. If it runs native, that's a huge point in favor of purchase. If it runs under Classic, that's OK but not great. If it won't run under Classic, steer clear.
    3. Force feedback is now included in the Mac OS. There is at least one driving game and controller system that takes advantage of this, and it's a heckuva a lot of fun.

  • Some poor dude was dressed as the MSN butterfly to help(?) promote Microsoft's MSN Internet service. Apparently, MSN software is now Mac OS-X native. Most of the comments I heard about MSN, however, focused on the butterfly guy and were along the lines of "you couldn't pay me enough money to disgrace myself like that" and "seeing that guy reminds me that I don't hate my job as much as I say I do." Seriously, the butterfly guy generates huge pity points. I doubt that's what MS intended though.
  • I sat through a presentation on Extensis Suitcase, a font management utility. If you've lots of fonts, Mac OS X doesn't make life easy so either either need Suitcase or Font Reserve. I prefer Font Reserve, but I'm not sure that you could go wrong either way. Suitcase and Font Reserve both retail for about $100.
  • I also saw a presentation on Extensis Portfolio 6.1, an image cataloging and storage application. Note to speakers: Do not apologize for past versions of your product. Sure, this version's better than the old one. But the moment you tell me the old one had all these problems that you've now fixed, I'm thinking, "Yeah, but that didn't stop you from selling it, did it? I wonder problems this version has." So I'd take Portfolio in that light. I talked to a guy named Jack on the way back to CalTrain and he recommended Canto's Cumulus instead.
  • Canon's digital video cameras continue their hold over me. Both the XLS1 and the GL2 are just da bomb in digital video, and I hope to acquire the latter in the next year or two. The respective $3700 and $2200 price tags are the largest deterents.
  • I had a good long talk with the president of Amazing Controls!, a home automation company. The $15k-$20k installation price cooled my jets considerably, but there's no question it's intriguing technology. I would love to be able to make lighting and temperature adjustments to rooms of my house remotely via Internet. Whether there's much of a practical application in that, I'm not sure, but even if there is it can't possibly be worth $15k. (Note to businesses everywhere: Punctuation other than a period or comma does not belong in your name.)

I will post more information, specifically talking about Apple's announced products, in the next update.

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January 1, 2003

Apple released an updated iCal (version 1.02) and the final version of iSync. I'm willing to give iCal another shot, though I'm not yet convinced it's up to snuff with the freely available Palm Desktop software. We'll see.

* * * * *

We're only a few days away from MacWorld SF 2003 so I thought I'd pony up my annual predictions as to what new Apple products we might see. I'm usually just a hair away from being totally wrong, so don't go expecting that these year's prognistications will be any different.

  1. A $999 15" LCD G4 iMac. Why not? They'd sell well.
  2. Faster (G4 1-GHz), larger (17" LCD) iMacs at the same price points as present.
  3. iPod II with a 20-GB hard drive, color screen, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Same lame $499 price tag.
  4. Original iPod price reductions of $100 on each. That'd be 5 GB for $199, 10 GB for $299, and 20 GB for $399. All iPods (including iPod II) to add ACC and Og Vorbis playback ability.
  5. AppleWorks 7 with full Microsoft Office compatibility.
  6. iBrowse, an Apple-branded version of Netscape's open source browser code. Faster and more elegant than Microsoft's Explorer.

That's all my crystal ball sees at this point, and way too much of the above is probably wishful thinking. We'll know for sure on January 7.

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