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Kool Tools

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: Programming

Kool Tools

by Michael R. Harvey

Round-Up of a Big Show!

Trying to distill big time onto small pages

Oh my, where to begin? This installment of the San Francisco gathering is unlike one we have seen in several years. There was just more of everything. More announcements, more new product releases from all kinds of companies. More from Apple in any one presentation than I can remember. More exhibitors. More attendees. More more more. Bear with me here.

People, people, everywhere

In my soapbox article in the December issue, I talked about how it's the people who show up to Expo that make the difference, and boy, did they ever.

IDG chose this year to put the entire show floor into the South Hall of the Moscone Center. It was a smart idea. In years past, the exhibits area was split between the north and south halls, with each side having a lot of extra space curtained off. It was tradition, but as the show got smaller, made little practical sense. Everyone could fit in the south hall, letting attendees avoid having to hike between the two halls. With the change to all exhibitors in south, and with 20 more exhibitors this year than last, the south hall was packed, wall to wall, with hardly an empty booth to be seen. It worked great. MacTech Central, and the other areas of the Special Interest Pavilion (SIP), were bigger than I have ever seen (the SIP is run by MacTech's parent, Xplain Corp.). Sci-tech, education, business, digital media, and just plain cool, were all represented in the SIP. Bare Bones, Tolis Group, Blinkx, plus too many others to name, made the SIP the best it has been.

Attendance went through the roof this year, too. The registered numbers were way up over last year, and while IDG won't release the official attendance numbers until March, mostly likely, they will be up, too. The aisles were packed from the moment the show floor opened on Tuesday, until the last moments as 4 PM ticked near on Friday. The usual daily thinning occurred, as it always does, but you still got stuck over and over again trying to move around. People were stacked four or more deep at booths, day after day, waiting to get a glimpse of what the exhibitor had to show. I think for everyone there, exhibitor and attendee alike, this show was a resounding success.

The keynote address was, of course, packed. The other feature presentations were also big hits. David Pogue (New York Times columnist), and Wil Wheaton (actor, author, geek) put on great feature presentations, entertaining the big crowds in attendance.

Who had what

There was so much shown at Expo, it's hard to pick and choose what to mention here. But, here goes:

Apple

By now, you probably know all about the announcements. We'll just cover a few bits here. The iPod shuffle is very cool, and cheap. A great extension of the iPod line. The Mac Mini is brilliant. Think of the possibilities, as a co-lo server, or the perfect little box to put useful desktops in to service in the office using all those extra monitors laying around. There is a great deal of potential there. It is wireless capable, both Airport and Bluetooth.


The updated software is great on the consumer end, except for one thing. The almost total lack of AppleScript support. It's ludicrous that Apple's own software lines would not support the very technology they devised to make automation, and programming something everyone can do. There's no excuse. Microsoft has really outstanding support for it. Why can't Apple?

Tiger was demonstrated again, this time with more of the consumer focus. The forthcoming Automator is going to make it even easier to create functioning scripts to help automate processes. That is going to be a nice touch. On the admin side, ACL's and local software update server capability are just a few of the many enhancements that are going to be boondoggles, saving much sanity in the kingdom.

Dantz and backing up

Among all the iPod accessory exhibitors were some booths both useful and work related to see. EMC/Dantz was one of the first I visited. And, after having talked with them, I feel a lot better about the EMC merger. When it first occurred, there was a lot of concern in the community, and rightfully so. Mergers of that kind tend to result in the smaller company being absorbed, and the products killed. That does not seem to be the case. EMC wanted an SMB solution for back up, and Dantz was the logical way to get it. Dantz remains an independent entity, they just have more paperwork and reporting to do. Ultimately, only time will tell, but for now, you can use Retrospect without fear of it disappearing tomorrow.


Of course, Retrospect is not the only option anymore. Not by any means. A few others were at the show. BakBone is an enterprise level back up solution that is new to OS X. It's been a leader in the Unix space for some time, and as we live in the BSD world now, they see us as a growing market. Today, the interface runs under X11, but they are rebuilding it in Cocoa, and it will be available shortly.

Atempo was another exhibitor at the show demonstrating their enterprise level back up and disaster recovery solutions. They had their Time Navigator Enterprise Edition for Mac OS X out front, touting it as the fastest way to recover files from back up. They are definitely worth a look.

It takes more than software to back up your network. Exabyte is producing some good solutions, and highly competitive prices. They were showing several of the LTO drives at the show, as well as their VXA-2 drives, including the 10 tape auto loader. We'll run a review of that soon.

Networking

At the show, ATTO, the only choice for truly reliable adapter cards since OS X as well as top end networking products, was joined at Expo by the new kid. Small Tree Communications exhibited for the first time at this San Francisco show. These are the guys who developed the Infiniband technology used to link all the XServes in the Virginia Tech super computer cluster. ATTO has never sat on it's laurels, but they've got competition now, and it looks like that will be good for both them, Small Tree, and those of us looking for serious high speed networking.

On the tech side

LANDesk. The LANDesk folks have been showing at Macworld for a few years now, and their product evolution has improved each time. With version 8.x, they are really hitting their stride. In the corporate world, one tool to maintain, secure, and audit all systems has always been important. The Sarbanes Oaxley Act has now made it critically important. LANDesk is one way to accomplish these necessary functions in large, integrated environments. They are very committed to encompassing the Mac, as well.

Kerio. We reviewed their mail server in the November, 2004 issue. Kerio Mail Server is a well integrated suite of mail and groupware tools designed for small to medium businesses. It's pricing is outstanding, as is it's integration with anti-virus and anti-spy tools.

One of those anti-virus solutions is from Sophos. These guys are well worth looking at. They don't, right now, sell single user boxes. They are for the business market. They integrate with mail server solutions, sell multi user packs as small as a few seats up to full enterprise options. They support Windows, and Macs back to OS 8. They are also working out an OEM deal with .mac. Watch out Symantec, these guys are everything you aren't to the Mac market.

iPod, iPod everywhere

I would say that easily nearly half of the exhibitors at the Expo were showing at least one iPod accessory. For many, that's all they were showing. XTremeMac, for example. They are moving their business model to produce only iPod accessories, spinning off their other, non-iPod centric products. They were showing, among other things, the very tiny, button controlled Airplay FM transmitter, as well as iLingo language translation software.


iLingo is really cool, too. It loads into your iPod as notes, and helps you translate common phrases, sorted by category, into the foreign language of choice. It will read the phrase to you, show it to you phonetically, and in the native language, on the screen. Having trouble communicating "What's up?" in Cantonese? Show your victim the screen, or let them listen to iLingo say it. Very clever, and very useful.

There were skinning options left and right, from a multitude of companies, in multiple colors, and multiple designs. Belkin was, as always, showing off their large product line, and offering big on-line deals on purchases.

Altec Lansing was present, and had on display their excellent speaker line. When first released, their original inMotion speakers were the best portable iPod speakers around, and they have since updated, and improved the line. The iMMini is for, of course, the iPod Mini. They've updated the main set, rechristening it the iM3. A bit smaller, and better sounding, to boot, the iM3 will be available in March. The one addition to the line I thought was a really smart move was the iM4. This set is a little larger than it's cousins, but is designed to play music from any portable music source. It's not dock dependant. It also has great cable management, helping to avoid the inevitable cable tangle that occurs in every mobile user's bag.

There were two companies that really caught my attention. The first was Shure. This outfit has been around for about a year, and has made a big splash in the high end audio market, winning a few awards at the CES show in January. They were displaying their E Series line of sound isolating ear bud style head sets. They simply sound incredible. They are nearly weightless, lacking the bulky cans and batteries of active noise canceling systems, while still knocking out nearly all outside noise. Did I mention they sound really good? On the very noisy show floor, putting a set in reduced that to almost nothing allowing you to hear the very good music playing through them. No tinny, high pitched tunes as you get from most ear buds. With these, you get the full spectrum, with great bass response. Be warned, though, there is price tag attached to this quality, and it's a bit large.

The other company is an outfit named Eroch Studios, and the product is the Lilipod. This is, I believe, the first fully waterproof case for the iPod, and iPod Mini. Designed to give you your music in bad weather, snowy conditions, or underwater, it looks extremely cool, and is even useful. We'll be reviewing this one.

Carry your stuff

Several bag and case vendors were on the floor displaying their latest wares. Brenthaven, probably the best of the best, was showing off the recent addition to their line that added some much needed color. It looked great. They also showed the prototype for their next bag. It looks really good, and will be available in the Spring.

Timbuk2 was there as well, with several new items, mostly aimed towards women, with a large purse style bag, and a lovely, quilted, laptop slip case in very bright colors. For the men, they had a briefcase style bag that looked really sharp. They also had a new, smaller case, named the Digital DJ, designed by an intern who won the job through a design contest at her college.

Another bag designer at the show is the fairly new (to the U.S.) STM. They first showed at the Boston Expo last summer. Most of their really good line was here now. They didn't have too much new to show, but they have stuff coming. Keep an eye out, they are definitely worth looking at when you are in need of new gear.

Interesting/useful/cool

Bare Bones. They released Text Wrangler 2.0 the first day of the show. More new features, taking a lot of them from the full BBEdit. They synchronized the code base with BBEdit. Oh, yeah. Now it's free. And, for all of you who bought it previously? You get a credit at the Bare Bones store equal to the amount you paid for the earlier version. Bare Bones doesn't suck.

There were plenty of video tools out there. Lots of hardware from the very high end, like AJA, and their Kona systems, to ADS Tech and their consumer oriented, and priced video in options.

A new technology was showcased at this show. LightScribe is a technology developed by HP that allows you to burn your label to the top of the disc. The process involves putting the specific type disc up side down in a LightScribe capable burner, and it will burn your label on the disc. They look spectacular. Right now, only LaCie has a burner able to do LightScribe. Two of their d2 line have the capability built-in. LaCie provides the application to design the labels.


Speaking of LaCie, they showed off their line. The one thing that caught my attention was a set of Ethernet disks. They have an Ethernet Disk mini with sizes up to 500 GB, designed for a home LAN set up. It uses a Linux web interface to configure. The Ethernet Disk runs up to 1 TB in size, uses Windows Embedded, and is targeted at a SOHO environment, although I can see small workgroups within a larger organization finding it useful.

And, speaking of HP, they were out showing off everything. The main thing I found very cool was that almost every printer in their line, from the bottom up, has wireless Ethernet built in. That makes it dead simple to put a printer anywhere. No new cable run, no nothing. Power, ZeroConf, boom, print. The next two things from these guys that I thought were cool were , one, their Photosmart 707 camera. This very light weight, 5 MP camera is tiny, but with a solid feel, easy to use interface, and takes great pictures. Two, the Scanjet 4670. This is their scanner that looks more like an art-deco piece. It's cool because the scan plate is removable, allowing you to place it on anything you might want to scan.

Intelliscanner. These folks made their first appearance last year with a great USB bar code scanner, inventory application combination for keeping track of your book, DVD, and games collections. It was a great product. This year, they have expanded on it, adding a battery powered Bluetooth scanner that is small, easy to use, and unhooks you from a computer, plus a wine collection program, and an asset management application for keeping track of your personal belongings (it includes bar code stickers to attach to your stuff). They've also updated the original Collector application. It was really good before, but now it's a great set of useful, and fun, utilities.

Solio. Need a tan? This gadget, that won a well deserved Macworld Best of Show award, is just too cool to be useful, but is. It's a charger for your small electronics. Your cell phone, GPS receiver, and iPod. It charges itself via a tri-leaf designed solar collector set up. It is a beautiful piece of technology, holds it's charge for months, and can keep you going with nothing but the sun. My favorite pick of the show.

I lernt Mac gud

As always, the educational tracks were outstanding. Users, Power Tools, MacIT, MacLabs, all were well attended, showing that this portion of Macworld is a very important component of the event.

The MacIT sessions were especially good. There was a lot of coverage of OS X server, as well as cross platform issues, among others. I was most impressed with the ARD and K2 session. I think this product combination has the potential to be indispensable for admins in both large and small installations. I advise all admins and IT managers to take a serious look at this combination, and learn more.

These weren't the only offerings, however. There was a lot of free education offered at the Live On Stage theater every day of the show. Lots of iPod sessions, iLife, AppleScript, and interviews of newsmakers in our community by those such as Shawn King, host of the Your Mac Life internet radio show. Live On Stage gave everyone a chance to see and hear something new, as well as sit down for a spell, and give their feet a break.

What I didn't see (Bluetooth)

I have been telling anyone who would listen for months that I thought Bluetooth would explode at this Expo. I felt it was due. I was wrong. Bluetooth is still emerging, and more and more products are including it. It's just taking a bit longer than I expected. I guess I'm impatient.


That is not to say no one had Bluetooth on display. For example, HP was showing off an adapter that let you send images from your Bluetooth enabled camera phone directly to any number of their crop of printers. The Macintosh Mini is Bluetooth capable, even though it wasn't mentioned in the keynote. A company named AirLogic was displaying a Bluetooth headset that linked to your iPod and cell phone. I reviewed a similar product last year from BlueTake, and I think the AirLogic guys have seriously upped the ante. I will be reviewing this in an upcoming issue.

Bluetooth is definitely growing, and someday it will be huge. That day just did not come last week.

One more thing...

Look for us in the next several issues to provide more in depth coverage of some of what was mentioned herein, as well as stuff we just couldn't make room for in this one article. We'll have product reviews of a lot of this stuff, not just the ones I noted above, as well as some how-to articles that will give you a blueprint of the best ways to utilize some of these great new tools and products. If there is a product you are especially interested in reading about in MacTech, drop either me, or David Sobsey a line, and we will see about making that happen.

One last thing. All of the staff at MacTech cannot express how thrilled we are at the wonderful feedback we got at Macworld Expo on the magazine redesign. All of us, especially Jessica Stubblefield, poured our hearts into remaking this publication, and we are very happy to know we hit the mark. Thanks.


Michael R. Harvey is the reviews editor here at MacTech. He's only almost died twice while diving, and while he is bent, that's more a mental health issue than poor dive planning. Questions, comments, and directions to good Southern California dive sites can be sent to him at reviews@mactech.com.

 
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