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Cognitive dissonance: MWNY post-keynote first impressions

By Tom Ierna (tomi@macedition.com), July 19, 2001

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We’re a couple of days out from the MWNY’01 keynote, and the RDF has already started to sour.

What was billed as the Macworld for X Applications has shown us several tasty peeks into the future from Quark, Adobe and Microsoft, but peeks are all they were; these giants were keeping mum about the timeline for release of Carbonized versions of Mac publishing stalwarts like XPress, Illustrator and Office. The major apps of the “10 on X” which are already shipping include Filemaker 5.5 Server, World Book 2002, Tony Hawk (Aspyr) and Alias Maya. Connectix also offered up a “technology preview” of VirtualPC on X. All of this is good news – the engineering feat known as Classic is straining under the load, because of the dearth of native X versions of some of the more popular “Mac Vanilla” applications.

The Apple Stores were given some stage time by Jobs, and he showed some RDF-laden videos, both of which were seen at the last WWDC. One was a Jobsian preview of the Glendale store before it opened. The other was the opening day of Glendale. Jobs seemed pleased that they had edited them in only a few hours hours before WWDC. The latter video was well-produced, and it tugged at the heartstrings of the Mac faithful. Jobs held the cards close on the success of the two open stores, but as noted in the quarterly report conference call from the day before the convention, Apple is not required to divulge that information until next quarter.

An interesting statistic about Mac OS X: There have been 300,000 downloads of the 10.0.4 software update. There were 200,000 retail boxes of X sold since its release on March 24. Extrapolating, it would seem that there are 100,000 rogue installations of X, though some of them are likely to be reinstalls and developer seeds.

Probably the most interesting part of the keynote was all of the changes in 10.1 that the Mac community has been clamoring for over the last four months.

Performance seems to have grown by leaps, and shrunk bounces in a way that hearkens to Classic Mac OS. It’s still not as fast as native 9, but it won’t feel like swimming in a lake of molasses in midwinter. If Apple could only make X feel as snappy as Windows 2000 does on a 733MHz Celeron – after all, according to the Media 100 Cleaner and Adobe Photoshop showdowns, Apple hardware should be twice as fast as the fastest Pentium 4 available.

The hardware lineup changed, but didn’t pack the punch of Macworlds past. Ho-hum speed bumps of the G3 in the iMac line will likely help it fall further into the sales slump it saw last quarter. The prices for the new iMacs don’t help much either, since you can get a 1.7GHz P4 from Gateway for only a hundred or two more than the fastest iMac. Portables didn’t get so much as a speed hump – Jobs simply trotted out the sales numbers, which were very good for the iBook. What was more interesting was what wasn’t said about the TiBook – its sales were good last quarter, but not outstanding.

The G4 received the most appealing revisions. While the processor speed bumps were fairly pedestrian, the large L3 cache on the top two models should help quite a bit. It’s sad to see that Motorola still isn’t paying attention to Moore’s Law. nVidia's GeForce2 is the standard on all three, with a dual-display card on the top model. While this is a nice addition for multiple monitor support, its implementation leaves something to be desired: One connector is the Apple ADC connector, and the other is a standard VGA port. This means if you have two VGA monitors, you’ll have to get a converter, and if you have two ADC-based monitors, well, you’re out of luck. (Unless you want to get a PCI DVI video card and another converter...)

The processor showdown, as usual, made the P4 look pathetic. What has been suspiciously absent from these bake-offs, and also from the school-marm approach of Jon Rubenstein’s “Megahertz Myth” pep talk, was any mention of AMD’s Athlon. In addition, if more detailed specs were available for the Intel box they used, PC fans might be more apt to believe the comparisons. It’s all well and good to talk about pipeline bubbles and drains, but unless it’s shown what OS the PC was running and that the PC had the same or better hard drive, memory and bus speed, nobody is going to – or should – swallow the hype. However, the fact that the new dual G4 is capable of converting video to MPEG2 in less than one times the media length is a more worthy yardstick to show the power of the Velocity Engine and the PowerPC.

The rest of the keynote saw a master showman struggling to hold his audience. While it is tremendous that the folks at Apple are working overtime and, as a result, don’t get to see their families, it seemed to be a last ditch effort by Jobs to get a rise out of a nonplussed audience. The “one last thing” of the last few Macworlds never happened, and the keynote seemed to fizzle instead of pop.

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