Andy's Ihnatko's Macworld Wrap Up January 12th, 2003
The freakish aspect about attending San Francisco Macworld Expo is this business of being awake at 7:30 AM. In fact, it's 7:38 right now. I've been tossing and turning in my King Bed/Nonsmoking/Not Too Close To The Elevators, Please hotel room for more than half an hour. Yes, I realize that my body clock thinks it's 10:38,
(Aside: as does the clock on my cellphone. I touched down at San Francisco International on Monday, turned my new Sony Ericsson T616 phone, answered "Yes" when it finished booting and asked me if I'd like to adjust the clock to local time...and then the phone proved something that I had suspected all along: that I am the single most brilliant mind in the entire technology industry.
It's true. The world would be perfect if I were running the whole show. "Did it ever occur to you," I'd say, after gathering the designers of the Sony T616 and countless other makers of electronic doohickeys that sync to your calendar. "This is a Boeing 737," I'd say, pointing to a handsome framed photo on the wall. "These 'Aero-Planes,' as they are known, allow businesspeople to travel all across the country, indeed, halfway across the surface of the very planet if they so choose, and take meetings far, far away from their offices.
"I thought you should be aware of this. Because, I mean, I've looked at your latest prototypes and when I changed the clock from Eastern Time to Pacific Time, it went ahead and re-scheduled twenty or thirty appointments. Look here: 'Lunch With M.R.: 9 AM.' It just makes all you guys look like, I dunno...total, codswalloping mega-nincompoops or something. Was that the effect you were going for?"
I'll go on the record and say that I'm not sure that I'd even take the job of Technology Czar if it were (wisely) offered to me. It sounds like it'd really cut into my TV time, and given that a whole new season of "Babylon 5" came out on DVD last week, I probably shouldn't make any new commitments. At least not until I watch through to the resolution of the Shadow War anyway.
But Good Lord, when I realized that I'd have to keep my new phone set to Boston Time, part of me died. End of aside.)
Continuing. Yes, I realize that my body clock thinks it's 10:38, but there's something jarring about waking up and seeing Katie Couric and Matt Lauer instead of Ellen DeGeneres, a sentiment you'd totally agree with if you understood that the Ellen Show comes on late in the morning back in Boston. I want Hip Affability, not Perky Energy.
But the positive spin on this is that before I get thrown out of my hotel for good, I can share a few notes from the show.
Lessons and Discoveries, and Things I Already Knew Of But Was Reminded Of:
Even in this modern push-button world of the future, software can be exciting and energizing. I'm speaking of GarageBand, of course. I can't remember the last Macworld in which a piece of software created so much energy.
Granted, this was at least partially helped by the near-total lack of new hardware announcements at the keynote. But Apple won big. The keynote ended at 11 AM. I checked my e-mail a little after noon, and I already had a half a dozen e-mails from professional musicians, asking me if GarageBand would work with a Marshall JE-9 stack flanged with a Kelly bar, because the rugbox at their recording studio is ghosted with a bank of H1s in the usual star-buffered array patched through the hall board, and...
(To get an understanding of the upper-end of GarageBand's capabilities, I used some of these during my one-on-one briefing later in the day. "I'm going to mouth a series of questions that have been handed to me, even though I lack the cognitive capacity for understanding the answers," I explained to Apple. "Just pretend I'm Larry King.")
No, I don't have a copy of it yet. The fact that so many people are desperate to get GarageBand only five days ahead of its official release date is another positive sign. And I don't divorce myself from all the excitement. As soon as I get my hands on it, office productivity will pretty much be history.
I will make one prediction, though. There's this rilling sort of guitar loop that was used throughout Steve Jobs' demo and through all of the demos on the show floor. It's clear, catchy, and useful. But I predict that by Valentine's Day, that loop will become the Helvetica of the music world. It's not cheesy or amateurish in its own right, but its presence in any creative project will provoke the thought "So you just used whatever you got free with the OS, right?"
I have lived long enough to write the word "terabyte" in a non-ironic context. Look, I'll do it again: Terabyte. Terabyte, terabyte, terabyte. As in "LaCie is shipping a one terabyte desktop hard drive."
Let me put this in perspective. The last time I used that word in print, it was when I was writing for my local user group's newsletter and spreading the rumor that Bill Atkinson had perished in a fatal zeppelin accident. See, all of a sudden his "official" Mac icon had changed from a bushy-haired guy with glasses to something cleaner and more Max Headroom-ish. It was all because his intelligence and experience had been transferred into a 4-terabyte HyperCard stack and through HyperTalk he continued to contribute to the ongoing success of Apple Computer.
But now I can say that there's a one-terabyte drive available for actual purchase. Killing off legendary programmers and replacing them with enormous...hmm...I suppose today you'd have to replace them with a big FileMaker database for the expert system and then use AppleScript Studio to create a Cocoa front-end to a bunch of SQL and Perl stuff happening in the shell...
Well, anyway, if you're a legendary programmer you need to watch your ass because the infrastructure for all that is nearly in place.
I will also note that LaCie had the most awesome booth tchotchke of the show: an analog wristwatch with an integrated 128-meg USB flash drive. I hadn't scheduled a media briefing with them because my Expo sked was pretty comically full (twice I got a briefing while I walked from one appointment to another)...plus, a new hard drive isn't necessarily something you can't understand without a hands-on demo.
But as soon as a colleague showed me his watch, I headed straight for the LaCie booth and pimped myself out like that pimp from that well-known movie pimped out that hooker from that well-known movie. The name will come to me later, I'm sure. Starred that girl with the hair? You know which one I mean.
And they were out of them. But while the PR manager was distracted by the search for just one more watch, I dropped a couple of 80-gig Mobile Drives in my bag, so it wasn't a total loss.
Oh, Yeah...The New iPod. Well, I'm confident that you've already heard about it and have already formed your own opinions. My own opinion is oracular and prophetic in nature and I don't wish to inflict that sort of thing on you this early in the week so let's just save it for when the thingamabob is actually released.
I seem to have a little extra room in this section, though, so let's award ten points out of ten to Apple for this year's free posters. A Macintosh Twentieth-Anniversary poster of the hammer-wielding blonde from the "1984" commercial. It's a familiar image, except for the iPod that's she now seems to be wearing.
Hot stuff. I predict that it'll soon be covering up the gaping holes in the drywall of high-tech corporate breakrooms all across this great land of ours. And here in the Final Jeopardy round, all points are doubled because for the first time, Apple thoughtfully distributed these posters inside cardboard mailing tubes. Before, there'd just be a well of rubber bands. I'm not one for looking a gift horse in the whatsit, of course, but successfully getting two or three posters home to Boston meant rolling them inside a thick protective cocoon of twelve more posters, a detail which will probably be incredibly amusing to anyone who tried to get a poster on the last day of the show.
People Whom You Wouldn't Trust To Park Your Car Can And Do Create Wonderful Software. It's true today as it was in the dawn of personal computing. A little scruffy and ungroomed, with a vague, faraway note in their speech pattern that suggests a very late night coupled by a very early morning...when this guy approaches your car in the guise of a valet parker, somehow the idea of circling the neighborhood for forty minutes looking for a space doesn't seem so bad anymore.
On a trade-show floor it's absolutely no deterrent whatsoever. If anything, it's a plus, and Rogue Amoeba is a case in point. They do great software. They were already my favorite monocellular protolifeform, thanks to Audio Hijack Pro. Hijack will capture any audio floating through your system bus and save it as an MP3. Taking a two-hour DVD or a radio show streamed from BBC4 and turning it into something you can carry with you on your iPod is a snap. It's one of those utilities where you go from never having heard of it to making an online payment in forty seconds flat.
Their new thing at the show was Nicecast, which can create an MP3 stream out of just about anything. Haven't had a chance to play with it yet but it was a keen demo; there are lots of license-free solutions for streaming audio but I don't think I've seen one that was so user-oriented. For the past few years I've done a live OscarCast from my weblog. Keep refreshing my blog while the Oscars are on and you'll read my "live" commentary. Nicecast seems like enough of a no-hassle streaming solution that I might just do it as a real broadcast.
Clacky-Clacky-Clacky Is Part Of The User Interface. Matias Corp had a new USB keyboard. Yes, a new keyboard, no you can't roll it up and stick it in your back pocket, nor does it have an integrated cupholder or a big orange button marked "Porn."
Boring? No. What the TactilePro keyboard does have are incredibly studly keyswitches. It's hard to appreciate that there was a day when all keyboards were like this. In fact, in the brochure it's claimed that the TactilePro uses the same sort of keyswitches that Apple used in its old ADB Extended Keyboard. Anyone who used one of those remembers it fondly. It felt great under your fingers. There was a soft little springy bounce and a positive clack when the key struck down. The sound isn't a productivity feature but it makes you sound like you're really, really working.
Testing it in the booth, the luxurious feel of the TactilePro was almost distracting. I do nearly all of my writing on Lilith, my TiBook, and I'm used to the stiff, short throw of a notebook keyboard. Even the standard Apple USB keyboards are slightly chintzy.
I made a few typos in my first couple of paragraphs there in the booth, but my fingers quickly adjusted to the difference and we were off and running.
It's affordable (I've just checked the brochure and my notes. I seem to remember $99 but I can't find it written down anywhere) and it sports the same style and features as the Apple USB. So outside of the improvements, you probably won't notice the difference.
Browsers Will Soon Be Relevant Again. Whoops, I mean "competition between browsers will soon..." et cetera. Last month, there were two browsers. You got your Safari, lightning-fast and with a slick interface. You got your Mozilla, which you launch for its aggressive support of every imaginable standard and because it can correctly render pages that Safari can't.
Explorer? Hahahaha. Good one. Hey, why not fire up Mosaic, too?
And of course there were other browsers, many of them quite nice, but none of them presented a compelling argument against Mozilla or Safari.
One of those Others is OmniWeb. Again, it's not that OmniWeb is a bad browser; it's just that with two very good and very free browsers available for download, it had its work cut out for it.
Omni was demoing an alpha of OmniWeb 5, and -- just like Safari did -- it reminded me that there's still plenty of room in the Web browser concept for new and innovative ideas. Why doesn't Safari allow me to save the state of my browser windows? I wrote an AppleScript that records all of my open windows: their sizes, positions, and URLs. When I resume work on a book after a week off, one click restores my research workspace exactly the way it was before.
In Safari, it's something you have to think up and then code on your own. In OmniWeb 5, it's a feature. Good for them.
Real comments will have to wait until I see real product (the public beta will probably happen in February), but I like what I see so far.
Good things come from small companies. In literally the final three minutes of the final day, I saw one of my favorite things of the show: Design Intuition. The developer had a little kiosk at the very back of North Hall (an area which a real-estate broker would be forced to describe as "Trendy" in the listing), so it was easy to miss.
Intuition is a CAD program for woodworking projects. I'm a furniture hacker. The difference between Norm Abram and me (apart from: wealth, fame, skill, a hot wife, and property holdings) is that he doesn't have to build a fake table before he builds a real one. I do. It took me only a day or two to build my aquarium stand but three weeks to design it.
I sketched it on graph paper. Then I went into a fairly expensive 3D modeling program. I built a virtual lumberyard of 2x2 and 1x2 and 1x4 boards, cut them and joined them on my Mac, spit out photorealistic images which I then viewed from all angles and then, filled with self-doubt, I modeled the room it would sit in -- complete with light sources -- so I could see what it would look like from both a standing and seated position.
And when I decided that no, it should be eight inches higher, I had to change lots of stuff in the model to make it happen. And my building plans -- cuts, dimensions, parts -- had to be changed manually, too.
If I'd designed the tank stand in Intuition, I'd just dragged the top of the thing to a new position and everything would have been adjusted automagically. It'll spit out multiple views and full blueprints that outline every detail of your design.
It won't become part of iLife any time soon. But if the real thing is as good as what I saw at 3:57 PM on Friday, I'm going to have a lot of fun with this.
And it's a good explanation of why trade shows are still important, even now that users can get so much news and product info from the Web. Big shows keep getting smaller, and Macworld is no exception. The Moscone Convention Center is a huge space and I think they could have fit the entire show in just one of its two halls.
But it's still a big deal. Little publishers can get attention, bigger publishers can get early feedback on works in progress, and hey, we all have an opportunity to get out of the house for a change.
Being awake at 7:40 in the morning isn't nearly as jarring as having to shave every single morning and actually throw something on over my tee shirt, but it's a small price to pay, all told.
digs the Mac, and has been writing about the Mac for longer than most of us could tell the difference between a bite of Apple Sauce from a byte of Apple code. You can read his monthly column at Macworld magazine, and his blog at the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth.