Of course by now you've all read about the MacWorld Expo, and the fun, the show, and the products. Lots of neat new stuff, like 5 flavors (Colors) of iMacs (Blueberry, Grape, Lime, Strawberry, Tangerine), lower price, speed-bump, larger hard drive, different software bundle and so on. Nice improvement, mostly (1). Of course the iMac is better, and Jobs did a great job of selling the vision -- as usual.
(1) I'm a little annoyed that they eliminated the Mezzanine port from the iMac, which was a good thing (it allows some add-ins and specialization for iMacs for the companies that need it). Typical Steve Jobs, "I'll tell you what you'll like", and then removing all other choices -- if he wasn't so good for Apple, and right so often, he'd be a real pain-in-the-ass.
Last year (and the year before) MacWorld Expo was a pretty drab place -- there were lots of open places where companies had bailed out, and the attitude was more "one last show for the road", or "the ending of an era" and that the Mac might not be around much longer. Everyone had their pet gripe, Apple Killing Cloning, not enough advertising, the lousy press, and so on. The mood could be described as "somber". Of course things weren't nearly as bad as people acted, but it is hard to get people to "get over it" -- negativity feeds on itself, and people feed on each others emotions... it wasn't a fun or enthusiastic place to be.
This year was a different show completely -- with a different atmosphere. People were so excited about the Keynote, and "what is Apple going to do next?" Everyone knew that new hardware was coming, but what did it look like? People are coming to expect Steve-aganza's. Apple didn't disappoint. Everyone was excited about the new machines, new products, new energy. People were getting the significance of Steve's announcements, and the excitement was back in the Mac. The products and directions are correct -- for a change, and that makes people happy. So despite the fact that the show floor was still a bit emptier than some years (and the curtains were blocking off more dead space than a few years ago) the attitude is that the Mac and Apple are still doing great things.
Part of the reason for less space was not that fewer people were there, actually some said there were far more companies than last year, it was just that many were taking smaller booths or sharing areas -- but that will likely change, and a Mac only show still pretty much fills Moscone (the largest venue on the West Coast) and has to overflow into surrounding Hotel Conference centers.
Not only did we get colored iMacs, but we got the redesigned G3's (Yosemite). Apple needed that, the older G3 (Gossamer) was getting long-in-the-tooth. Yosemite is very nice looking (to most people). The gasps when it was released were worth all the hype. The case is very functional, and more people like it than don't. I like the functionality, the G3 silk-screen, the general look, and the handles and door are very nice additions. It also gives Apple a whole product-line "look". However, I didn't find the front of the box's plain blue plastic all that appealing -- but I'll get used to it.
Of course the box screams (performance) -- it is more functional, more expandable, and has a more reliable design. I like 4 slots, especially when all of them are twice as fast -- with FireWire, USB and better graphics, the likelihood that I'll use as many slots also goes down. The fan on it is huge and the Power Supply seems over-engineered, so it should be able to handle being fully populated without any heat issues. The graphics card is greased lightening. FireWire works great, and I'm very glad to have USB (2). This will be a very nice addition to the product line. I won't miss the old serial and SCSI (but I can add them in if I'm one of the few that need them) -- and I know that removing those technologies will increase reliability and performance.
(2) I was NDA'd (non-disclosure agreement) on Yosemite for months and so I couldn't talk about them. Apple finally figured out how to shut me up on speculating -- just give me one of the things and I couldn't talk about it. It was actually my company that had them, and we had great need for them, but the day I get seed units is the day I shut my trap. My impression from informal testing has been that the machine is better in every way (measurable and subjective).
The one annoyance is that while Macs perform better than PC's, the specs don't reflect it clearly. So while I know that nice 400 MHz Yosemite will outperform a PC with a 450 MHz Pentium II (with a 100 MHz BX chip set), the reality is that the public doesn't know this, and PC people don't want to learn. Intel will release the Pentium III (Katmai) with KNI (Intel's rip off of 3D-Now and a poor shaddow of AltiVec) using their "new" buggy support chip set (if history is any guide) -- and the PC people will see it as staying ahead, instead of just trying to keep up. Apple's monitors are better as well -- nice, clear, best color, scan rates, ergonomics and quality -- but again, plain specs don't always tell the whole story. People will ignorantly look at price. It is like convincing the ignorant that a BMW 328is with only 198 horsepower will outperform, and out handle, an SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle) that has 220 horsepower. Some get it, some don't. <sigh>
It was a little annoying working Demo Days over Christmas and having to fight all the misinformation. The facts are that a cheap PC with a 450 MHz processor, 128 Meg of RAM, DVD, and a cheapo 17" monitor will be $2,000'ish -- and while the same performing Yosemite based Mac (say a 300 or 350), with a cheapo monitor, wouldn't be much more. A top-of-the-line Yosemite (that most people would be comparing that PC against) would cost quite a bit more, but offer more features and performance. Sadly, most PC-people only understand specs -- and that bugs me a bit.
I think the problems with image will be helped later in the year with faster MHz -- first the G3's in the 600 MHz range with IBM's SOI (Silicon on Insulator). Hopefully with the G4's will help as well -- certainly they perform a lot better at the same MHz, but the PC buyers only seem to understand absolute MHz and not relative performance -- so that could get tricky. I love the Application shoot-offs that Apple does, showing one Mac Application (or suite of Applications) against faster MHz PC's -- I think it is starting to drive the message home (3). I'm hoping Apple continues to help buyers learn, and keeps driving the cost of Macs down -- Apple is doing well, but the lower they can go (price), the more market and attention they should capture.
(3) Steve Jobs did some side-by-side comparisons again, and it was once again impressive and fun. They showed games and compared frame-rates. As usual the Macs do great -- but more people need to see these things. I'm hoping for some more of this specific information -- maybe I'll just add to the website.
The big deal of the show was games, games, games! Apple (and Steve Jobs) realize that Games are important to hardware sales -- and they are doing what they can to make sure the Mac has the best games. OpenGL will make a big difference to Mac Games. This 3D library, which frankly is pretty mediocre technology (from what I've seen), is THE standard in 3D games. Bringing it to the Mac, and making it standard, means that PC games can be ported to the Mac much faster, and with lower cost. This increases the chances of even more games.
John Carmak speaking and showing Quake III is a very big deal -- not because I care that much about that one game (though it looks very cool), but because of the trend. If Apple can attract cutting edge development (companies like ID), and get more simultaneous releases (or close), then it can gain mindshare in the game space, and break down one more barrier against Macs in homes.
Apple also focused on giving the G3 a great video chip (the ATI Rage 128), and what incredible performance it offers. Technologically, I find ATI's solution to be far superior to the hacky solution that 3DFX (Voodoo) is -- and having it bundled with the Mac is great. The ATI Rage PRO in the iMacs is pretty good as well -- but this kind of cutting edge "standard" solution like the Rage 128 will make the Mac a SERIOUS gaming platform. Jobs mentioned something about exclusivity, so I assume he cut a deal that Macs are the only platform to have the Rage128 built-in -- which is good -- there will have to be a $200 extra to get PC's up to the Macs level of performance. Jobs did some shoot-offs to prove how good the Mac is compared to PC's -- just to drive the message home. Good trend!
Note: While Voodoo is a hacky design, in practice the implementation is still pretty good, and offers some stunning results. So I wouldn't mind having one if I didn't have a Rage128... but architecturally, the ATI is a much better design.
Connectix Virtual Game Station is a big coup! Frankly, I have plenty of games native on the Mac -- more than I can play. But there are some genres that are a little sparse (like Sports games). The Virtual Game Station brings 1500 Games to the Mac. I got a copy, installed it, and borrowed a few games from a friend, and started playing -- it worked great. The quality, over all, looked better than a real PlayStation, primarily because my monitor is better than the average TV, but there was some skipping on one game yet it was still playable (the other couple games worked great)! This is another big deal for gamers -- being able to go to Blockbuster or the Warehouse and rent games for the Mac! This probably brings the amount of games you can run on the Mac to more than the PC.
Again, for me, there are more than enough games on the Mac. The Mac has superior quality games to a PlayStation, and so I won't be buying that many PlayStation games myself -- but for those that care, it is nice that they have the option.
Some people are concerned that being able to run PlayStation games will pirate away attention from the Mac. I personally don't think so. I'm unlikely to buy any PlayStation game if there is a Mac version (in that genre) -- so any executive at a game company with a clue, has to know that (make a Mac version, or I'll buy the competitors product). Only when there isn't anything in that whole genre will people go for the PlayStation version. So the PlayStation won't really pirate the Macs gaming market -- just augment it, and fill in the gaps.
When PC advocates start whining about "not enough titles" on the Mac, I can point out that Apple is getting the hottest titles ported -- and that for the rest, I have a bigger choice than they do (with the PlayStation Emulator or even PC Emulators). As Macs keep getting faster and faster, emulators get better and better -- eat that! Macs are soon to be the best game platforms on the planet.
But wait, there's more. Apple did a great thing by making USB their I/O standard. USB is where the PC is going, and once again the Mac is there first. Now every desktop Mac comes with USB, there are many PCs that do not or do not have the ports outside the box and they all still use Serial, Parallel, Keyboard and Mice connectors as well. So most of the USB connectors in PC's are unused (and are more rare), and most of the ones in Macs ARE used. This makes the Mac market for USB devices bigger than the PC market, and it will likely stay that way for the next 5 years, until the PC gets through its very slow transition to USB.
This all means that everyone who makes PC keyboards, mice, joysticks, pen tables, game controllers, printers, scanners and so on, are making their products available for the Macs. This was evident at the show. I saw dozens of different mice, keyboards, game connectors of all flavors, and a so on. The Mac's future is USB -- and it was obvious that the hardware vendors "get it". No more having to hunt for ADB-based Joysticks -- just buy the PC/USB version and pop it in the Mac.
This is made much easier for Game Programmers and Game Controller Makers with the aide of the Macs GameControllerSprocket. This Game Sprocket (Library) makes it easier for the hardware makers to write drivers to connect joysticks to the Mac, it makes it easier for Game Programmers to make their games support multiple controllers, and it makes it easier for Game Users to connect a new Game Controller and use it with multiple games. Again, the Mac is just better -- but the PC users will never know how -- or they will learn about it in 5 to 10 years when Microsoft makes a cheap rip-off of the Macs library (that's been out for a year or two now).
So why do I think all this is such a big deal, and that Games are so important? Because the Mac becoming more common in homes will cause grass roots pressure for more software titles and for more companies to stop becoming so violently anti-Mac (and reverse some of their exclusionary tactics). Lets face it, if lots more people are using Macs at home, and having the support advantages of Macs, how long are they going to put up with PC's problems all day at work? This was how Macs got into business the first time -- and is likely to happen again. This will be magnified by the future advantages of the Macs in business, including iMacs, Mac OS X Server (net booting), Mac based NC's, and so on.
I had a really good time, and the Mac market seems to be healthy again. One of my gauges of the health of the Mac market is by how much companies are willing to spend on parties at MacWorld, and how many happy drunks there are around MacWorld. I think of it as the fermometer of the Mac market.
I, and about 1500 of my closest friends, managed to crash the "Exclusive" Apple Party that was on Tuesday night, that took over a large Conference Hall, a Skating Rink, Bowling Alley and small Museum -- and garden in between them all. Party and Schmoozing (and mooching free food and drink) seem to be a long tradition at trade-shows -- and make them worth going to. This was a big extravaganza stating "things are well with the market -- have another beer" (3).
(3) One of the bonuses since Steve came back is that he's a vegetarian. My wife is vegetarian and I eat a very low-meat diet (and can't handle most fatty or "meaty" foods). Catering to Steve's culinary tastes has made the food a lot better, and more interesting, at the Apple parties (and in their Cafeteria).
That was only the first night -- there were many others scheduled for the following nights. Things are going good, I'm still a happy Mac user, and I saw many happy and hung-over Mac Users on Wednesday. The party indicator showed that the Mac Market is doing a lot better this year -- and I think a lot better things are still to come!