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August 2001
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Mac Corner

MacWorld NY 2001

By Anthony Paonita

MacWorld NY 2001 IT COULD HAVE been Woodstock. The fans lined up for hours, some since dawn. The crowd was a mixture of '60s-leftover hippies and the multiple-piercing crowd, along with, inexplicably, smartly tailored Italians barking into cell phones and scribbling on PDAs.

Yup -- It's MacWorld time again, this time at New York's Javits Center. Everyone was on hand to bask in the semi-annual Reality Distortion Field of Apple Computer Inc., to listen to C.E.O. Steve Jobs' opening keynote address.

The Mac faithful and the industrial design community look forward to MacWorld the same way people used to anticipate a new Beatles album. Jobs' speeches almost always leave you lusting after some new 'ware, hard or soft.

Not this time. We'll be polite: the keynote was -- underwhelming. The New York crowd was cool, if not totally unresponsive -- a far contrast from January's San Francisco MacWorld crowd, where revised save-as dialog boxes got standing ovations.

Thankfully, Jobs' often-tedious two-and-a-quarter-hour New York address was only about half as long as the typical Fidel Castro rant.

But even if you're a Windows user, Apple's semi-annual tribal gathering is always useful, if for no other reason than just to see what you'll get on your PC in a year or two. Think about it: Apple popularized point-and-click menus; the small floppy diskette; widespread USB use; and wireless networking.

But nothing on that order was to be found this year. This was a time for "maintenance" releases. Jobs touted refinements of existing hardware and software. Cool stuff, to be sure, but not drop-dead-I've-gotta-have-it moments, like last year's introduction of OS X and its fluid, seductive Aqua interface.

Maybe Jobs got burned last year when he introduced the beautiful, but doomed Cube to almost unanimous acclaim. Problem was, hardly anyone bought one once the applause faded.

But look past the paucity of the spanking new releases, and you can see some solid developments for Mac users. Apple's UNIX-based OS X continues to evolve.

Jobs debuted OS 10.1, its first major upgrade (four minor releases have been issued since OS X launched in March.) Available next month, it boasts blazing speed and a more customizable look. Perhaps the most exciting news: OS X users can log onto a Windows network natively, and not stand out as a disruptive, bad network citizen.

But an operating system is useless without software to run on it, so Jobs trotted out 10 software developers who talked about their new products. The legal community may be excited about Microsoft's Office X, an updated version of the currect 2001 that will only run on Macs with OS X. It's pretty interesting that Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit continues to make nice software that, in some ways, betters what MS produces for its Windows customers. Office X featured tear-off dialog boxes; save and formatting dialogs that did that OS X "genie" effect; a nice use of transparency and graphics; and in general, a spiffy, OS X-friendly look and feel. Most welcome is the fact that dialog boxes and save prompts don't stop you from working--they've become suggestions rather than commands.

Last January, the most exciting news for legal (esp. litigation) was Apple's new G4 towers, all with CD-RW drives and/or "Superdrives" that facilitate DVD authoring. (See Feb. 2001 LTN for discussion of trial use.)

Jobs' July update: Even faster versions of the towers, including a new dual 800 MHz Power Mac G4.

So while the July show was, overall, a snoozer in the drama department, Apple's strategies seem to be solid. The company's sexy new iBook laptops are flying off the shelves faster than Cupertino can make them; and Apple posted a net profit of $61 million for its third quarter.

Rumors are floating around that Apple's got a flat-panel rethink of the iMac in the wings, but monitor prices, still high, are holding it back. Next year, in San Francisco?

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