San Francisco 2003 Keynote Winners and Losers

Well, now that's more like it.

Steve Jobs kicked off the biannual Macworld Expo Tuesday morning with a two-hour parade of products, progress, and promise. He unveiled an eye-catching widescreen PowerBook, and, after eliciting an appropriate amount of oohs and aahs, pulled back the curtain on a snazzy compact version of the laptop for an ooh-and-aah encore. He announced some impressive-looking updates to Apple's well-regarded iApps that will have the programs working together like an a cappella jazz quartet. And, at a time when other industry players are making like ChickenLittleCo. and waiting for the sky to stop falling, Jobs established Apple as a leader, not some sort of timorous me-tooer. "What's driving us is one simple thing," Jobs said at the conclusion of his speech. "Innovation."

That's how you give a keynote.

Not to dwell on the past, but comparing and contrasting Tuesday's keynote to the one Jobs gave six months ago at Macworld Expo New York would be like stacking up the bright, warm weather that greeted Expo attendees this week against the overcast and gloom one normally associates with winter 'round these parts. The July 2002 Expo, you may recall, started off with Microsoft and Apple making boo-boo-kitty faces at each other over OS X adoption. Then, during the keynote, Apple took those iTools you'd been enjoying for free, added some features, changed the name to .Mac, and presented subscribers with the bill. Then -- since, apparently, all the air hadn't been sucked out of the room -- the company announced it would charge $129 for its Jaguar update to OS X.

Were the moves necessary? It seems so. Was Apple perfectly within its rights? Undoubtedly. And it all worked out for Apple -- Jaguar was a stellar upgrade, and the company can boast of having 250,000 paid .Mac subscribers and 5 million active OS X users. But that doesn't change the fact that last July's keynote was a little bit of a bring-down, even for the most ardent Mac partisan, and that the resulting hue and cry -- "a bit of noise," Jobs called it on Tuesday -- seemed to cast a Schleprock-like rain cloud over the rest of the year.

Maybe that was why Mac users appeared to be heading into this week's Expo with low expectations for whatever announcements Jobs had in store. And certainly, the music playing at Moscone Center just Jobs took the stage -- Joni Mitchell followed by Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" -- weren't exactly putting the crowd in a partying mood. Say what you will about Joni Mitchell, her influence as a songwriter, and her place in the musical pantheon, "whipping the crowd into a frenzy" really isn't on her resume. (And as for "What a Wonderful World" -- a popular selection at these Apple events -- if the idea is to pep the crowd up, why not something from Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens years? "Muskrat Ramble," "Tiger Rag," "Mahognany Hall Stomp," anything. Surely I'm not the only person to think about this).

So what happens amid all this burgeoning sturm und drang? Oh... nothing much. Steve Jobs just comes out and promises two Macworld Expos' worth of announcements, the crowd goes wild, and everyone leaves the keynote excited about what's ahead for the Mac platform in the coming months.

Now, that's more like it. Here are some other winners and losers from Tuesday's keynote:

Winners

* Apple: Probably the biggest winner Tuesday -- the company simply didn't make one misstep during the keynote. It delivered an impressive pair of additions to its laptop line that should cement its place among the top notebook makers. With the release of Final Cut Express, it's meeting of Mac users who wanted pro-level digital-video editing tools at a more affordable price than what the company charges for Final Cut Pro. The updates to Apple's iApps make iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iTunes even more compelling. And at first glance, newcomer applications Safari and Keynote appear to be promising. Shorter of stumbling upon a faster PowerPC processor on the drive up from Cupertino, the morning couldn't have gone better for Jobs and Company.

* KHTML: Speaking of Safari, let's say you're one of the folks at KDE.org. One day, you're working on an open-source version of a promising though relatively obscure Linux Web browser. Then, you wake up Tuesday morning to discover that Apple Computer has thrown the weight and expertise of its programmers behind an OS X-native Web browser that's based on your Konqueror open-source project. Oh, and Apple's just sent you a list of the improvements it's made to your code.

Bet the morning coffee and danish seemed to taste much better after that.

* iApps users: iTunes will integrate more smoothly into the other three programs. It will be easier to add iPhoto images to your iMovie and burn those movies using iDVD. And you don't have to pay one red cent to upgrade if you don't want to (except for the iDVD update, but then again, you always had to pay for that). There's a bunch of iTools users who probably wish they could say the same thing.

* Chiat/Day: Apple will tout the merits of its latest PowerBooks with the help of "Austin Powers" star Verne Troyer and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. Once you've seen the ad -- and if you haven't, click here; we'll wait for you until you get back -- you'll understand why it may be the best commercial for Apple since that blonde hammer-thrower took a shot at Big Brother.

Losers

* Non OS X-switchers: If you're among the crowd that steadfastly refuses to dangle so much as a toe in the OS X waters, this wasn't the keynote for you. Then again, Apple has made it perfectly clear for some time now that earlier OSes really aren't in its plans. The new PowerBooks only boot into OS X. Keynote, Safari, and all the iApps upgrades require the new operating system. Apple continues to give users more of a reason to try OS X and less incentive to remain with a rapidly aging OS.

* Quark: Keeping with a long-standing tradition of dinging developers who haven't come out with OS X-native products during the keynote, Jobs took time out of his busy schedule Tuesday to throw an elbow in the general direction of the Denver-based publishing software giant. "The OS X migration is basically over," Jobs said in the OS X overview portion of his keynote. "We've got one or two laggard applications we still have to get out. We all know which one we're talking about."

Judging by the crowd's reaction, it appeared that we all did.

* Microsoft: The software giant insists it's on good terms with Apple, pointing to its "Office Romance" promotion and the fact that the Office v. X Test Drive will come installed on all new Macs as signs of co-operation between the once-bitter rivals. So up in Redmond, they're probably wondering why Apple is coming out with a $99 presentation application that seems like it would compete against Microsoft PowerPoint. And Microsoft probably can't help but feel that the introduction of Safari is a pretty good indication that Internet Explorer -- the only non-Mac app to come preinstalled in the Dock -- might be getting its walking papers soon.

* Apple naysayers: Every couple of Expos, a simple truism becomes clear -- it is very unwise to question whether Steve Jobs has anything up his sleeve. Just before leaving the Moscone Center stage, Jobs noted that several Mac rumor sites in their pre-keynote forecasts were predicting one of the most boring Macworld Expos in history.

"It just goes to show, don't believe everything you read," Jobs said.

You also shouldn't put too much stock in the music Apple plays just before the keynote, but that's a tale for another time.

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