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Macworld Vendors Show Off Mac OS X Apps

by Nan Barber, coauthor of Office 2001 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual

New iMac: Talk of the Show

The talk at this January's Macworld show has been about the new iMac, except people don't know quite what to say about it. Apple's Web site advised us to "Count on being blown away," but there was a feeling that the product didn't quite match the hype. The new iMac is elegant, but lacked the impact of the striking, colorful iMacs of years past. There are no oohs and aahs, just oh.

I think people really are blown away. They just don't know it yet. The new iMac is a quiet revolution, or, should I say, an invisible one. With the computer itself disguised as a half-volleyball-size base for the screen, the emphasis isn't on the computer--it's on you, the user. Position the screen where you can look at it without stress or strain, and you quickly forget you're at a computer. It's just you and whatever you're doing. People don't often get blown away by function, but that's part of the revolution, too. If the iMac's neck didn't work so effortlessly when you repositioned it--boom, you'd be aware of the computer again.

Attendees getting their hands on the new iMac's screen Attendees getting their hands on the new iMac's screen   Attendees getting their hands on the new iMac's screen  

Attendees getting their hands on the new iMac's screen. Photos by Derrick Story.

Another thing I overheard a lot is, "But what can I do with it?" And the manufacturers and developers are happy to show us. This year's Macworld is very hands-on.

Exhibitors Demos and Booths Expanded

More than ever, exhibitors have expanded the demo classroom areas of their booths. Want to know how a program works? It's not "Here's a brochure that talks about it," it's "Sit down and we'll show you." Procreate is teaching actual digital art classes, where every student gets an easel and a tablet. Pretty good for the cost of an "exhibits-only" pass. You do have to register for these classes, and they fill up, as do the demonstrations at the Adobe booth's theater, where each participant gets a Macintosh with a Studio Display to work on.

  Attendees at Procrate's Tutorial

Conference attendees taking part in Procreate's digital art class. Photo by Derrick Story.


Sitting down in one of these theaters is a great way to give your feet a break after a couple of hours of booth hopping. But if you're really tired, eovia is showing off its modeling programs before a theater full of beanbag chairs.

All this atmosphere has come at the expense of T-shirts. My friends back home specifically asked me to return bearing souvenirs, and I'm going to end up buying them $10 discontinued T-shirts at the Macworld store. Speaking of T-shirts, I saw Steve Jobs sneak into the Apple booth to spy on a presentation about the new iMac. No one seemed to recognize him, perhaps because instead of his uniform black turtleneck, he was incognito in a white Apple T-shirt with some nondescript dark jacket over it.

New Versions of Mac OS X Apps Announced

Many companies are announcing or promoting their new Mac OS X versions, either Carbonized or native in Cocoa. Microsoft Office 10 and FileMaker 5.5 are among the most visible; Adobe Photoshop is a noticeable omission. (But maybe later this year.)

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But smaller developers and alternative applications abound. OmniWeb, an outstanding Cocoa Web browser, is here with a CD and a box, although it's still available by download. If you're a true renegade, you can avoid the Internet altogether and use SnapMail, which lets people on an office network send email, share files, chat, and post bulletin-board messages without ever going online. Of course, it works with standard Internet email too, but the beauty of SnapMail is that you can still email, instant message, and chat within the network even if the Internet connection goes down.

The new program that intrigued me the most is called Six Degrees, as in "six degrees of separation." This program is able to create and remember the relationships between the documents you work with and the contacts and messages in your email program. For instance, if you create a document and email it to someone, Six Degrees remembers both the document and the recipient's name and considers them part of the same project, just as you do. If someone else emails you another document with a lot of the same keywords as the first one, that document and that person also show up in the project list. It's as if Six Degrees is watching what you do and keeping track of what you need.

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And the program continually searches new documents you create and new emails you receive, so that you can watch the project list change in real time. When you need to see a document or contact someone, chances are you can find it right there in the window on your desktop, rather than launching Sherlock or scrolling through all your email.

Things that perform more than one function are big this year: like a heated wrist rest from Hoodman. And Imation's RipGo, a mini-CD music player that also burns mini CD's. The RipGo fits in the palm of your hand, in keeping with another trend, miniaturization. (Did you know that the footprint of the new iMac is half the size of the original one's?) The new models of Olympus's Eye-Trek, an eyeglass-size video display, are 60 percent lighter than their predecessors. I tried one on. There was Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in a high-speed "Rush Hour" chase on the inside of the lenses. I'm not sure that's the way I want to watch a DVD movie, but the stereo sound coming through the little ear buds was fabulous.

"Wednesday morning's Feature Presentation ("This Ain't Your Parents' Mac") was worth the cross-country trip itself."

Wednesday's highlight

Things are sure to change again between now and July's Macworld in New York City, but I hope they keep one thing the same. Wednesday morning's Feature Presentation ("This Ain't Your Parents' Mac: The Present and Future of the Mac Platform") was worth the cross-country trip itself. It was a panel of four Macintosh mega-experts (Rick LePage, Macworld's editor in chief, plus writers Bob Levitus, Henry Norr, and David Pogue) discussing the pros and cons of Mac OS X, arguing about whether to love or hate the new iMac, and speculating on what Apple's next strategic marketing move might be.

It was the perfect counterpart to the keynote speech: "Now that we've all heard the official line, here's what's really going on." The panelists sat and chatted comfortably (needling each other only occasionally), as if they were in someone's living room. But when was the last time you had four people in your living room, all of whom knew what they were talking about?

Nan Barber is the coauthor of Office 2001: The Missing Manual as well as the Missing Manual series copy editor, having edited the Missing Manual titles on Mac OS 9, AppleWorks 6, iMovie, Windows Millennium, Dreamweaver 4, and Mac OS X.

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