Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Review
by Michael R. Harvey
Round-up of what we saw this year
Announcements, Announcements, Announcements
This MacWorld Expo saw no earth shattering releases, but a whole pile of new and updated releases form companies across the spectrum of Mac-dom. Some of those announcing, or releasing, new and updated products included Microsoft, with their Office 2004 for Mac, and Timbuk2, with two new cases added to their line of packs and laptop cases. There was also news from Oxford Semiconductor, showing off their OXFW912 FireWire 800 to IDE bridge chipset. LANDesk Software demonstrated their latest LANDesk Management Suite 8, while ATTO Technology announced that their host bus adapters fully support both the G5 processor and Panther. What else? Read on.
Serious iron for the rest of us
The G5 processor finally made it in to the Xserve. With two 2.0 GHz processors packed in, the new Xserve is capable of ever greater processing performance. You can check out Apple's website to see all the pretty graphs showing off the horsepower of this revision. Not so widely known about the new Xserve G5 is that it now has a hardware RAID built in, which gets you hardware RAID level 5, 150Mbps serial ATA drives, and set rebuilding in the background. Very good news.
Almost more important for network administrators is the updated Xserve RAID. With capacity up to 3.5 Terabytes, fourteen hot swappable drive bays giving you a $3.14 per gigabyte price point, this updated unit places itself in a very attractive position for any network or server administrator looking to expand their storage. There is also hardware set rebuilding in the background, just like the Xserve G5. This ability in the Xserve RAID is a firmware update, and should be updateable on older Xserve RAID units.
The G5 desktop system has been around for a few months now, so where do software developers stand on updating their applications for the 64-bit architecture? I decided to get a sample answer by talking to folks whose programs really beat the snot out of hardware. Alias, the makers of Maya, and Discreet, makers of Combustion (who just released version 3 at the expo). Both companies said that they saw tremendous improvements in performance running their current versions on G5 hardware, without any patches to take advantage of the new hardware advancements. Each also ran into a few compatibility issues, none deal breakers, and all fully documented on their web sites. Last, both Alias and Discreet said they currently have no official plans to update their applications to take full advantage of the G5 architecture, citing the already significant speed boost they currently have. It is something they are always looking at however, so don't expect them to let the advantages of the G5 wait for too long.
1-800-440-1904. The one phone number every admin has handy, and prays they never have to call. These folks were at the show, showing off some of the more extreme recovery jobs they've received. Their enterprise business is growing. They are more and more able to handle really big recovery jobs. Don't worry, if you ever need them , they will be there.
The big announcement from Dantz this time around was version 6.0 of Retrospect for Macintosh. A multitude of improvements have been rolled into the new version. High on the list is the removal of the 1 TB limit present in previous version. You can now back up data sets and volumes up to 1,000 TB. Fibre channel support has been added, as well as the ability for backups to span multiple FireWire and USB disks. Obviously, the latest Macs and operating systems are now supported, and Dantz also includes a disaster recovery CD with Mac OS X 10.3.1.
Timbuktu Pro 7.0
Timbuktu Pro has been the gold standard for remote computer control for years. Version 7.0 only improves on an already great product. Released in December, version 7.0 adds Panther support, including the ability to handle the fast user switching feature of 10.3. You can also now control how much color information is being sent to the controlling computer from the controlling computer. Pop up tip balloons are now part of the program to help you figure out the functions of the not always clear icons. Additionally, some features that in past versions were controlled with AppleScripts are now part of the preferences, making set up and control easier overall.
Netopia previewed version 5.1 of netOctopus at the show. The main new feature of this will be the Software Delivery System (SDS). It will be added to what Netopia is calling their netOctopus Enterprise Systems Manager. There is a long list of features that this system will over. One new feature that will certainly take a load off your network is the ability to resume interrupted downloads without having the re-download the package from the staging server. The new version will be released by the end of the first quarter.
The biggest thing coming from LaCie this show was what they very modestly call the Bigger Disk. It should be available by the time you need this. What it is is a box stuffed with four drives, and the necessary hardware to make it look like a single one terabyte volume. The internal hardware uses RAID 0 and spanning to present the host computer with one logical drive. Hence, the host machine requires no drivers to make use of the disk. It's got three interfaces, FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 1.1/2.0. It is also equipped with a temperature sensing fan to help keep it cool, as well as running quieter. It'll have a price of $1199 when available.
Prosoft was showing off the updates to two of their products, Data Rescue, and Data Backup. Data Backup is a completely new program, built from the ground up by Prosoft. Previously, they had licensed Tri-Backup from Tri-Edre Software. When that agreement ended, they engineered their own version. The other application updated was Data Rescue. This update added the capability to do content based recovery, as well as recover images from digital cameras. These two utilities, along with Data Recycler, are now also bundled into the Data Safety Suite.
The folks from Now Software showed their latest update to Now Up-To-Date and Contact, bringing the version to 4.5.1. They added Panther compatibility, as well as stability enhancements and other refinements. They also talked a bit about the next major revision, version 5.0, due later this year. There's nothing official, yet, but it's going to be the biggest, most complete update to the program ever. Keep an eye out for it.
Just plain cool
MacWorld always has a lot of consumer oriented products on display. These are some of the absolutely coolest gadgets I came across at the show.
Back in November, I reviewed Digital Lifestyle Outfitters Transpod all-in-one FM transmitter and car charger. I loved it. I also had two complaints. One, it didn't swivel left and right. Two, they hadn't yet come out with one for the 3G iPods. Well, I can complain no more. They had on display, and available for sale, the Transpod FM. Not only is it designed for the latest iPods, it has the ability, on the extender arm, to swivel left to right. Add to that a digital tuner, and auxiliary output, and you have the best of in car iPod accessories. They also have a wide variety of other accessories, including some very interesting cases. Check them out at www.everythingipod.com.
These guys are great. They had on display their latest offering, the SST-659 Family remote. Designed to be easier for everyone in the house to use, with separate direction and activity keys, making it easier for the younger ones in the family to get things going. It also has a great price point. The one thing you sacrifice on this remote is the included TV listings in the remote. You get the service for two months, then must pay a yearly fee. Still, this device is by far, one of the nicest remotes you can get to feed your need to channel surf. www.harmonyremote.com.
As always, MacAlly had a wide variety of offerings on display. New to their clan of products were a line of backpacks and laptop cases, all quite nice looking. The one thing that caught my eye, however, was their retractable cable kit with multi-function tips. I wasn't able to find out too much about it, and it's not yet even on their website. I am very interested to see something like this that can reduce the cable clutter in my bag, and will be following up on this one.
The inMotion portable iPod speaker set was far and away the coolest offering the folks from Altec Lansing had on display at MacWorld. Compact, and well designed, these speakers were specifically designed to support the iPod, and give you room filling sound from a very small form. These speakers run off either A/C power or from four AA batteries. When plugged in, the inMotion will also charge your iPod, while the batteries can run for 24 hours straight. These are an absolute must of the traveling iPod user. www.alteclansing.com
That name should be known far and wide in the tech community. O'Reilly has, almost literally, a ton of well received tech focused books in publication. At the show, they had them al there, as well as one new title that doesn't quite fall into the techie category (perhaps). The Best of The Joy of Tech is a presentation of the online comic series by Nitrozac and Snaggy. Anyone who has been involved in the Mac community for any amount of time will get a big laugh out of these panels. They also had an excerpt from David Pogues new book, iLife '04, The Missing Manual, on the floor practically moments after the suite was announced during the keynote address. First impression is that this new addition to the Missing Manual series will up hold the good reputation these books have.
"The show floor is closed."
Those are some of the sweetest words you can hear on Friday after a long week of Expo. This years edition had a lot going for it. There were no really big, gee whiz announcements, but there was a lot going on. What we covered above was only a fraction of all that was written and talked about that week. As for the show itself, the floor, as well as the conference sessions, were well attended. Most everyone, exhibitor, and attendee alike, seemed to feel they got their moneys worth out of San Francisco this year.
Michael R. Harvey