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ATPM 4.08
August 1998




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The Personal Computing Paradigm

by Michael Tsai,

Macworld Expo New York

This year, for the first time, the east-coast Macworld trade show was held in New York instead of Boston. Apparently, New York is closer to the center of the "creative world" the show's revised focus intended to target.

Overall, the show's atmosphere was upbeat, but this year's Macworld was probably the most boring I have attended. Unlike last year, there were no big announcements, no major product introductions, and few surprises. Unlike previous years, there was hardly any free stuff. Gone are the days of receiving free t-shirts for listening to a Dantz sales pitch. In fact, there were hardly even any free magazines. (Although, MacToday magazine did have its biggest Expo appearance to date.)

Though the show floor was full of people, there just didn't seem to be many places for them to be. Last year, for instance, there were a plethora of huge booths that people tended to congregate at. Motorola and Power Computing had elaborate booths to display their speed-demon clones, with competitions that invited audience participation. Not this year. In the aftermath of the cloning debacle the only mega-booths left standing were Apple and Microsoft—whose booths were next to one another, incidentally.

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Apple's booth was full of Think Different banners.

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Microsoft wowed show goers with its Office 98 demos.

Overall, the show seemed small and empty. Many companies simply were not there: Macromedia, Quark, Be, Netscape, and UMAX were conspicuously absent. In the past, Macworld Expo was a great place to scope out different monitor and printer options—not so this year, since only a few such companies were present. Some developers who used to have large booths were not present because they no longer exist as separate entities: Claris and Fractal Design, for instance.

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Symantec's booth: as small as they get

Other, large, companies had small booths in the back. When the MetaCreations and Symantec's booths together are about the size of the Bare Bones Software booth, something must be awry. Even Adobe, who one would expect to be at the forefront of the "Creative World" was overshadowed by the nearby GoLive Systems, who inherited Power Computing's unofficial award for the coolest place to hang out at. With the possible exception of Apple, no company seemed as enthusiastic about its products as GoLive.


Without a doubt, the hottest product at the show was the iMac. Although it was not yet shipping, Apple manufactured a hundred or so—enough so that iMacs could be found all over the show from HP's booth to Microsoft's to, of course, Apple's. I was a bit skeptical of the iMac's look at first, my impression of it having been based solely on photos. In real life, the iMac is much nicer and not quite as bold-looking. It's smooth and sculpted, but not as shiny as I'd been led to believe. The keyboard, though smaller than normal, has all the usual keys; though F1..15, the arrows, and the page up/page down keys are about half their usual sizes. The keyboard has a wonderful feel; it's not slippery like so many of the newer PC keyboards. The mouse is the most comfortable I've ever used, though a bit small (presumably because it's designed for kids). It's circular, and, since it's translucent, you can see the ball roll as you track the mouse. I was relieved to learn that the mouse doesn't light up after all.

The screen is bright and quite sharp for an entry-level machine—a big step up from some of Apple's previous small-monitor offerings. The iMac appears to be exceptionally well-designed—from the cable routes that reduce clutter to the little stand that hinges out of the front to elevate the monitor (much like the "keyboard feet" on the early PowerBooks). The only part of it that doesn't look and feel futuristic is the CD-ROM drive, which lacks a motorized loading tray.

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This iMac at Apple's booth was running a QuickTime movie showing how long it took a seven-year-old boy (and his dog) to set up an iMac vs. college-graduate computer professional setting up a Compaq Armada. The video is available for downloading at:

The people in the photo are acting as most people I saw did when they first saw an iMac. They're much more fascinated by the machine's case than by what's on its screen—examining it (even the back!) almost as if it were a museum piece. Amazing.

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An iMac at C & G's booth displays "Origami: The Secret Life of Paper"

All over the show, vendors were showing iMac peripherals—often designed with the iMac's color scheme in mind. From Zip drives, SparQ drives (so far unavailable for the Mac), and SuperDisk drives, to joystick and printer adapters, USB peripherals will not be lacking. Unfortunately, many will not be shipping until late this fall.

[pcp5 graphic] The iMac hype wasn't limited to hardware, though. All over the Javits convention center, and a bit in the city, were banners and posters touting Apple's stylish new computer. Outside a New York subway stop was an ad that read: "Chic. Not geek." At Apple's booth show goers could pick up free "I think, therefore iMac" posters. And the banner atop the entrance to the show stated: "You are entering a beige-free zone."

Best of all were the two large banners—one inside, one outside.
I have never seen Apple hype a product so much at Macworld.

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Other Highlights

More so than in the past, this Macworld Expo was segregated: games, graphics software, utilities, and developer tools each had their own areas on the show floor. Right at the entrance to the show was the gaming section. Shareware publisher Ambrosia Software demonstrated games from its new CD on a pair of Twentieth Anniversary Macs.

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Ambrosia Software

Palm Computing made a big splash this year showing off its Palm III organizer. (With the Newton's demise, the Pilot seems to have become the PDA of choice for Mac users.) The original HotSync desktop connectivity kit was a sluggish and bloated PC port. This year, Palm promised an improved "MacPac" derived from Claris Organizer, which it purchased from Apple. Unfortunately, the improved software isn't likely to be shipping until fall, according to the Palm representative to whom I spoke. Since Organizer is already written, the delay is in the conduits—the bits of code the control the data flow from Pilot applications to their desktop equivalents. Hopefully the delay will not be as long as that for the original Pilot Mac connection kit. I remember having to backup my Pilot's databases using the CodeWarrior debugger!

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Connectix RAM Doubler made the jump from version 2 to 8. The new version features additional status displays that give details about how efficiently RAM Doubler is working. Apparently, it is also optimized for Microsoft Office 98. RAM Doubler 8 is a free update for RAM Doubler 2 owners, which is good because the changes from version 2 seem to be mainly cosmetic.

Also making the jump to 8 is the Casady and Greene's Conflict Catcher. The new version gains the capabilities to scan for damaged files, rebuild desktop files, and "merge" System Folders. The latter is intended to ease upgrades to later versions of Mac OS by letting you do a "clean" install of the new system, then reinstall your old extensions and control panels using "merge." An improved interface and the ability to get information about icons during startup by clicking on them are also welcome additions.

Coolness Points

Although the iMac certainly was neat—and I think it's a great machine for many purposes—what really amazed me were the new PowerBook G3s. In the short time I was able to play with them, I was convinced that they are some of the best-designed machine's Apple has made yet. For more on the G3 PowerBooks see the Segments sections of ATPM 4.07 and this issue.

Just ahead of Apple's DVD kit as my favorite PowerBook enhancement was the ixMicro RoadRocket. Similar to the company's PCI video cards, the RoadRocket lets you hook up an external monitor to your Mac. The difference is that it works with a PowerBook. The rather thick CardBus card plugs into the PCMCIA slot of your PowerBook G3 and lets you drive monitors at resolutions up to 1280 by 1024, complete with 2D and 3D acceleration.

Last Word

Overall, this Macworld was disappointing. Attendance was down to about 35,000, more than 10,000 less than last year's Boston show. Still, it seemed just as crowded as in the past because the aisles were narrower and there were far fewer booths. I do not know whether the lack of exhibitors was due to the higher cost of floor space in New York, or whether it reflects less
interest in the Macintosh platform. Hopefully next year when Macworld returns to Boston everything will be back to "normal."

[apple graphic]"The Personal Computing Paradigm" is copyright © 1998 by Michael Tsai, Digital photographs taken with an Apple QuickTake 200.

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