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Feb 99 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Viewpoint

Macworld '99 Trip Report

by Marshall Clow

Guess what? It didn't rain!

This January, 68,000 Macintosh fanatics, fans, developers, retailers, friends and others descended upon San Francisco's Moscone center for the annual Macworld Expo. Compared to the last few Macworlds that I have attended (New York 1998, Boston 1997, and San Francisco 1997) this was an "upbeat" Macworld. There were no sideways looks between the exhibitors, no quiet conversations about Apple's possible demise. It clear that their were a lot of exhibitors who had never been seen at a Macworld, even before and show management announced that both attendance and the number of exhibitors had increased from last January's show.

Apple announced new desktop hardware. The new G3s are faster, and can hold more memory than before. They are styled differently, too. [From now on, I'll call the new Macintoshes the "blue Macs".] The blue Macs are visually striking, and are very easy to take apart. However, like the iMac, the blue Macs have different I/O ports than previous Macs. They still have an ADB port (although you should expect that to go away fairly soon). There are IEEE-1394 (FireWire) and USB ports on the motherboard. There are no serial ports, and there is no SCSI port. You can add a third party SCSI card to a Blue Mac, and, in fact, the Apple Store has one as a "build-to-order" option. If you do order a SCSI card (and I'm guessing most developers will) be sure to make sure you can boot from it.

To match the blue Macs, Apple introduced new monitors, styled to match the blue Macs. There is a new 20" monitor, a 17" monitor, and the flat screen. A small nit: It appears that the 20" monitor requires a blue Mac, because all the controls for the monitor are USB-based, and Apple has stated that these monitors require a computer with USB on the motherboard.

It was also announced that iMacs would now be available in different colors. There was a lot of speculation as to whether Apple's choice of colors came from LifeSavers or Jello. In any case, the new iMacs are faster (266 vs. 233 MHz) and cheaper ($1199 vs. $1299) than the old iMacs. Apple had a beautiful display in their booth, with all the different color iMacs in a row, on a table that was lit from below. In my opinion, this was a great move by Apple. If computers are now commodity items (as I keep reading), then they should be distinguishable by style as well as features. All over the show floor, people were talking about what color iMac they were going to get.

SGI was showing (in a room off the show floor) their new flat panel display. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful computer screen that I have ever seen. It is about 18" diagonally, and has a resolution of 1900 x 1024 pixels. The picture is sharp, colorful, and there is no flicker at all. The screen weighs only 8 pounds (the stand it comes with weighs another 8 pounds). The screen comes with a video card with 32 MB of RAM. What's the bad news? The screen and card together cost $2895. Maybe if I don't eat for a year or so...

USB hardware was everywhere. See the section "USB hardware" for a laundry list.

Connectix shipped "Virtual Game Station", an emulator for the Sony PlayStation. This was the most talked-about piece of software at the show. One of the really cool parts of this product (in my opinion) is that they used Apple's Input Sprockets for their game controller support. That means that any joystick/game controller/whatever that is Input Sprocket-aware can be used with VGS (those of you writing drivers, take note!)

Apple announced Mac OS X server. This will ship in February and cost about $1000. Apple announced after the show that Select partners would be able to purchase the server at a reduced cost (cost to be determined).

Apple announced "NetBoot", a facility for booting Macintoshes over the network. This feature, which school lab administrators have been wishing for since 1986, will allow them to ensure that every system in the lab has the same configuration. Unfortunately, this feature will only work with the iMacs and the blue Macs.

There were four different pavilions for small or first-time exhibitors. The "Net Innovators" pavilion was for exhibitors showing network tools, while the "Web Objects" pavilion showcased products built with WebObjects. "Sci-Tech" pavilion was the place to be for people seeking scientific software and of course Developer Central was filled with people showing developer tools. Apple also had a large area devoted to game manufacturers, and held game-playing contests during the show.

USB Hardware

Clearly USB was a central theme at the show. I was amazed at the number of companies that were building/developing/showing USB hardware at the conference. Apple has been working hard to evangelize hardware manufacturers to support USB (of course, the success of the iMac helped, too!) I counted over 30 companies with USB products (and I'm sure I missed some).

I saw mice (at least 6), "scrolling mice" (these have wheels on the side to help you scroll), trackballs, keyboards, keypads and graphics tablets. I also saw lots of game controllers, and joysticks. There were USB devices to read SmartMedia cards and Compact Flash cards (both used in digital cameras). There were several USB cameras, both the single-shot kind, as well as the "frame every few seconds" kind. There were USB hubs everywhere (I counted at least nine different manufactures with hubs).

There were floppy disk drives, Zip/Zip250 drives, and iMation drives. A company called CastleWood was showing a drive called the ORB. The drive holds 2.2 GB, and the cartridges will retail at about $30. They were not shipping the drive at the show, so I can't tell you much more about the drive, but they claim that they will have EIDE and SCSI models as well as USB.

Epson and HP were showing printers connected via USB, albeit through a USB -> serial or USB -> parallel adapter. Brother showed a laser printer that connected directly via USB. Epson, Alps, Afga and Avision showed USB scanners. There were USB-connected hard disks, CD drives, and even a CD-R writer.

Adapters were everywhere. USB -> serial, USB -> parallel, and USB -> SCSI seemed to be the most popular, but there were also USB -> PCMCI and USB -> Ethernet adapters. I saw at least two USB smartcard readers. PCI cards for adding USB to your current Mac were also common. I counted 5 different companies showing them.

At this point the iMac (and the blue Macs) are better connected than my current Mac!

As a developer, I am greatly encouraged by this flood of new hardware. I have a couple of ideas for products that use some of this hardware. I'm confident that if you think about it, you will come up with some cool product ideas too.

Many attendees were surprised that there were no PowerBook announcements from Apple. All the attention was on the blue Macs and the iMacs. Guess that leaves something for next quarter.

Besides the wave of USB hardware, the best thing about the show was the atmosphere. People were happy again about being in the Macintosh business. Customers at the show were buying both hardware and software, and that bodes well for the future of Macintosh developers.

I hope too see you all in Boston, when Macworld happens again (east coast style).


Marshall Clow is a programmer. He has worked for Palomar Software, Hewlett-Packard, and Aladdin Systems. Among other things, he has written PICT Detective, Aladdin's Resource Compression Toolkit, and way too many resource-processing tools. He currently works for Adobe Systems, where his title is "Bad Influence". When he's not coding, he can be found mountain biking with his kids or checking out microbreweries. He can be reached at mclow@mailhost2.csusm.edu.

 
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