Sep 99 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 9
Column Tag: Viewpoint
by Nick DeMello
Never underestimate Steve Jobs. Frankly, I was a little worried after Macworld. Based on the new product announcements, things seemed to be slowing down at Apple. Then, last week at Seybold, Steve Jobs presented a host of new tools and toys that are going to be appearing on a lot of Christmas lists. Here's what I heard:
Jobs began talking about one of Apple's corner stone technologies: QuickTime. He spoke about the recently released QuickTime 4.0 with QuickTime Streaming, and segued into QuickTime TV. This new broadcast network of QuickTime Streaming channels is expanding to include channels by Rhino Records and Warner Brother Records. Jobs pointed out distinctions that make QuickTime TV different from other streaming systems include the interactivity (for example the ability to click on embedded elements to purchase a CD version of a broadcast album). Also, its adherence to industry standards (RTP and RTSP), and the release of Apple's OpenSource distribution of a QuickTime Streaming server.
Mac OS 9
Next up was Mac OS 9. Jobs announced this would be released in October and stepped through nine key features of the new OS. Two predominant (and interdependent) themes were apparent: Internet integration into the desktop and security. Those nine key new features included:
- Sherlock 2 - The new Sherlock features channels, grouping plug-ins according to categories. Furthermore, there seems to be an API for not just changing how Sherlock parses a web page but letting it connect by different protocols. ODBC from your desktop? With each release Sherlock seems to be blurring the line between network and desktop applications.
- Multi-user Interface - You now login to all the Mac OS flavors (9 and X), with all your Internet preferences, desktop settings, and user files configured for and accessible only to your login. Very similar to NetBoot.
- Login by Voice Recognition - Taking a page directly from the Millinium TV series, Phil Schiller (this guy gives the best demos) demonstrated how you login to the new Mac OS, it recognizes your voice as you speak a key phrase. Time will tell how well this feature fares in a crowded office, but it sure looks impressive.
- KeyChain is Back - Mac OS 9 includes the KeyChain. Save your passwords for your Internet accounts, AppleTalk logins, eMail program, and more on your KeyChain. Then just lock or unlock access to everything with one password - voice recognition protected. If you build software that uses passwords, it's time to look at the KeyChain APIs.
- Auto OS Updating - The new Mac OS can update itself as new releases are posted electronically by Apple. Is there an API for your application to make use of this functionality? Is my Mac going to prompt me for a credit card number when it's time for a major upgrade? How granular is the control for selecting what you want and do not want updated?
- Encryption - Security was definitely a theme with this release. In addition to voice recognition and the KeyChain, encryption is built into the user interface. Encrypt files on the desktop. Expect an API for accessing these encryption tools from within your application as well.
- File Sharing Across the Internet - AppleShare IP at the end user level. This illustrates a trend at Apple that we've seen with the G3, PowerBooks, Mac OS X Server, and across the board. Get it done, get it right, roll it into the main product and look for something new to try. Much better that the old days of installing the latest OS or buying the latest Duo to find out you've just volunteered to be a beta tester.
- AppleScript Over TCP/IP - Did I say security was the theme? You can now run AppleScripts that control remote computers across the Internet. People are going to be looking at the security issues of this feature very closely.
- Network Browsing - with Navigation Services 2.0 and NSL (see MacTech Feb '99) you can now browse and mount remote AppleShare IP volumes on your desktop.
Mac OS 9 looked sharp and provided some very compelling arguments to buy Macintosh hardware. Speaking of which...
iMac & iBook
Happy Birthday iMac. On August 15th Apple introduced the iMac, in that first year they've sold 2 Million units. In July, Apple introduced iBook - over 140,000 orders for those have been taken in just over a month.
Steve highlighted two important (and familiar :-) statistics about these sales: 90% of these users are connected to the Internet, and 33% are first time computer buyers.
The fact that he keeps hammering on these statistics illustrates the two places Apple is putting it's focus.
First, that "i" stands for Internet. Sherlock, File Sharing over IP, personal Web Sharing, AppleScript over TCP/IP, NSL, QuickTime TV, Nav Services 2.0, KeyChain, 100 base T ethernet, AirPort - if anyone hasn't figured it out yet, Apple is trying to make the Macintosh the ultimate Internet access and navigation tool. Not a Thin Client, or a dumb terminal, Apple wants Macintosh to be to the Internet, what a BMW is to the autobahn. You don't need a Mac to check eMail, browse the web, or move files across the Internet, but Macintosh is making it so easy and feature rich that that doing it any other way is starting to feel like a bicycle on the freeway.
Second, easy to use. Jobs reminded attendees that Apple had embraced USB and FireWire and the advantages of each. Hot swappable drives, plug-in play keyboards, mice, and more. As of Seybold, 125 USB devices were shipping for Macintosh, 250 more were announced. Sixty FireWire devices were announced, and 24 were shipping (plus about 7 million FireWire cam corders already out there).
All in all, these G3 based machines have been a big hit. Which brings us to the next point...
Apple introduced its new desktop powerhouse. Dressed up in Apple's "new pro colors" of carbon and clear and based on the blue and white G3 desktop case, Apple's G4 processor made its debut.
A super computer is defined as a machine that does over 1 billion floating point operations per second (1 gigaflop). According to Jobs, the new G4 does 2 gigaflops with a theoretical limit of 4. This incredible speed is largely due to the Velocity Engine (nee AltiVec, see MacTech July '99). The Velocity Engine, is a Vector co-processor, allowing the parallel processing of arrays of data - accelerating graphics, encryption, communication, and many other types of processes.
Immediately, Apple began shipping the first of three configurations, a 400 MHz G4 machine for only $1,500. Two weeks later a 450MHz with optional wireless (ala AirPort) connectivity for $2,300 is scheduled to ship, followed by a 500 HMz with DVD RAM (removable, rewritable 5 GB media) will begin shipping.
Phil brought out a 600 MHz Pentium III - the prize of the wintel world. The usual bout of Pentium thumping demos followed. While we were waiting for the Pentium to finish, Steve announced that (to be fair) Apple had exposed the new G4 system to the battery of performance tests that Intel has on their website. These are the tests that Intel uses to tout the performance of their Pentium III processor, so one would expect them to be a little slanted towards the strengths of that processor. Sure enough, the G4 was reduced to (on average) only 3 times faster than the Pentium III.
Mentioned in passing, the new G4's not only sport an optional wireless card for interfacing with Apple's AirPort wireless base station - they can act as a wireless base station using software emulation of the AirPort system.
As the sale of super computers are still restricted by the US government, it seems the G4 machines will be for sale in the states only - it seems exporting a Macintosh is now a breach of national security. (Pentium based machines are ok to export though, the U.S. Government thinks they are harmless)
Oh, One More Thing...
So after all that Steve thanked us and started walking for the door. Then stopped, snapped his fingers, and said that there was just one more thing. He then unveiled Apple's new Cinema Display. This spectacular display is a 22" 1600 x 1024 letterbox flat LCD display. This is the largest LCD display brought to market and sports a digital connection to the new G4. In extremely limited quantities, this display will be available on October 1st, only from the Apple web store, and only in the 500 MHz G4 bundle above.
Santa's going to be very busy come December.