1998 Editors' Choice Awards

What a year! If 1997 was a year of incredible lows, 1998 gave the Mac community equally breathtaking highs. From the revitalization of the PowerBook to the stunning debut of the iMac, 1998 was the year that Apple, the Macintosh, and the Mac OS came back with a vengeance.

But it wasn't just Apple's doings that made 1998 a banner year for the Macintosh. The year brought innovative new applications, impressive updates to old favorites, and some truly amazing technology advancements conceived far from Cupertino.

Once a year, we at Macworld recognize the products we feel are the best of the best, with our Editors' Choice Awards. If you had any doubt that 1998 was a great year for the Macintosh, you'll need no more evidence than these 31 award winners.


GENERAL MAC
Utility

WINNER: Casady and Greene's Conflict Catcher 8 ($80; 831/484-9228, http://www.casadyg.com ) is the essential troubleshooting tool for Macintosh users. The latest version of the popular extension-management utility offers improved testing for software conflicts, support for Mac OS 8's contextual menus, more file descriptions, and the ability to be controlled by Apple's Location Manager. Most impressive of all is Conflict Catcher's clean-install system-merge function, which lets you easily move old system files you still want into a newly installed System Folder.

RUNNERS-UP: Dantz Development's personal backup program, Retrospect Express 4.0 ($50; 925/253-3000, http://www.dantz.com ), finally brings the power of Retrospect to individual Mac users. Express offers most of Retrospect 4.1's popular features (including incremental backups and CD-R support), at an impressive price. Action Files 1.1, from Power On Software ($50; 612/317-0344, http://www.actionutilities.com ), adds enhanced features to the standard Open and Save dialog boxes to make it easier to access and modify files.


Internet Client Software

WINNER: In just a year, Microsoft Outlook Express 4.01 (free; 425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com ) has become the star of the Mac Internet e-mail scene. Its features–including support for HTML mail, powerful mail filtering, a friendly interface, and (if you use Office 98) a built-in contextual spelling checker–can't be beat, and neither can its price.

RUNNERS-UP: There's no end to the number of shareware Internet clients, and one of the best is Stairways Software's Anarchie Pro 3.0 ($35; http://www.stairways.com ), a powerful FTP client that has a Finder-like interface. Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 (free; 425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com ) is the most friendly and feature-rich Web browser available for the Macintosh, and the version 4.01 update fixed many nagging problems that existed in version 4.0.


Cross-Platform Product

WINNER: When it comes to making Macs and Windows-based PCs play nice, Thursby Software Systems' Dave 2.1 ($149; 817/478-5070, http://www.thursby.com ) is the answer. Once you install Dave on your Macs, they can share files and printers with PCs without a hitch. Windows users on your network can see your Macs and AppleTalk-based printers via the standard Network Neighborhood interface, and Mac users can mount Windows file servers via the Chooser.

RUNNERS-UP: Media4 Productions' MacDrive 98 2.1 ($80; 515/225-7409, http://www.media4.com ) helps Windows speak the Mac's own language fluently. In addition to making Mac file servers and printers available to Windows users, MacDrive automatically converts Mac files' creator and file types to Windows equivalents and lets PCs use Mac-formatted floppies. Mac-to-PC file exchange is easy with DataViz's MacOpener 4.0 ($75; 203/268-0030, http://www.dataviz.com ), which lets PCs use Mac-formatted floppies, CD-ROMs, removable-media drives, and hard drives.


Game

WINNER: Just when we were starting to get tired of the first-person-shooter genre, along comes a game that changes everything. Epic Megagames and Digital Extreme's Unreal ($50; distributed by MacSoft, 612/509-7600, http://www.wizworks.com/macsoft ) offers breathtaking graphics and challenging enemies. You'll use more brain than brawn and enjoy this game's richness of atmosphere, exploration, and plot. Not very many games merit the cost of buying a 3-D- acceleration card and additional RAM. This one does.

RUNNERS-UP: Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo ($30; 310/793-0600, http://www.blizzard.com ) takes all the best elements of role-playing games and puts them into a real-time, addictive adventure that features outstanding graphics and unparalleled network play. Impressive 3-D graphics and outstanding game play make Eidos Interactive and Core Design's Tomb Raider II ($50; distributed by Aspyr Media, 512/708-8100, http://www.aspyr.com ) one of our favorite action/adventure games (Lara Croft's nauseating level of fame notwithstanding).


Consumer Hardware Product

WINNER: With Epson America's Stylus Color 740 ($279; 310/782-0770, http://www.epson.com ), you can create photo-realistic prints without breaking the bank. This low-cost alternative to color-laser printers offers high-quality output, built-in serial and USB ports, and easy-to-use software. The software driver also includes three color-management options: ColorSync, PhotoEnhance3, and user-defined custom settings.

RUNNERS-UP: Realism is a must when players are immersed in their favorite game. Micro Conversions' Game Wizard ($349; 817/468-9922, http://www.microconversions.com ), based on the Voodoo 2 chip set, is the fastest 3-D accelerator available for the Mac and offers beautiful rendering to boot. Good quality and an affordable price are only two of the perks of Umax Technologies' Astra 1220U ($149; 510/651-4000, http://www.umax.com ). This low-cost scanner is the first to offer Mac USB support, making it the best option for iMac owners.


Education/Children's Software

WINNER: Brøderbund's Kid Pix Studio Deluxe ($30; 415/382-4400, http://www.broderbund.com ) continues to set the standard for children's software. This painting program features all the basic tools you'd expect, plus a variety of wacky brush effects, lots of colorful backgrounds, and a gallery of fun stamps and clip art. It doesn't stop there–you can even produce multimedia presentations, such as a puppet show featuring a cast of characters and silly sounds. Kid Pix is pure fun–for kids of any age.

RUNNERS-UP: You can take a fun-filled road trip through the Mexican countryside and the Spanish language in Knowledge Adventure's Spanish for the Real World ($30; 310/793-0600, http://www.knowledgeadventure.com ), the challenging puzzle game that makes learning Spanish fun. And if you've ever wanted to learn how sound, light, and electricity work, just take a tour of Edmark's Zap! ($30; 425/556-8400; http://www.edmark.com ), which offers fun labs that are full of challenging games and puzzles.


Reference Software

WINNER: Anything you've ever wanted to know can probably be found in the Encyclopædia Britannica CD: 1998 Standard Edition ($85; 800/747-8503, http://www.eb.com ). Unlike other multimedia encyclopedias, this CD-ROM eschews QuickTime movies and heavy use of multimedia elements to delve more deeply into topics. The result is an authoritative powerhouse. A single CD-ROM holds 72,000 articles (including 5,000 not in the printed set), 4,000 photos and graphics, 1,200 maps, and 15,000 links to related Web sites.

RUNNERS-UP: Advanced as well as budding astronomers will find Maris Multimedia's Redshift 3 ($50; distributed by Piranha Interactive, 602/491-0500, http://www.redshift3.com ) a potent guide to the night skies, which are accurately mapped here for every moment between January 1, 4713 B.C., and A.D. December 31, 9999. Every page of every single issue of National Geographic magazine published between 1888 and 1997 is contained in The Complete National Geographic ($180; distributed by Mindscape, 415/895-2000, http://www.mindscape.com ). National Geographic Interactive created this definitive 31-disc CD-ROM set.


BUSINESS
Business Productivity Software

WINNER: Microsoft Word 98 ($390; 425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com ) is smooth, stable, and full of pleasant surprises. Our favorite? As you type, subtle colored underlines flag spelling and gram-matical errors; control-click on a flagged word to view a pop-up menu of correction suggestions. In short, Microsoft has done an excellent job of packing vast power into a comprehensive, modern (and Mac-like) interface. After several years in the wilderness, Microsoft Word reigns supreme again.

RUNNERS-UP: It's all the little things in Microsoft Excel 98 ($399; 425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com ) that are likely to please most people. For many, the multilevel Undo command will be worth the price of the upgrade all by itself. Overall, this version of the venerable spreadsheet program has a solid, polished feel. Adrenaline Software's Charts Pro ($400; 418/658-9909, http://www.adrenaline.ca ) is an intuitive, uncluttered application that is able to transform even the most-mundane sales figures into dazzling presentations.


Data-Management Product

WINNER: Blurring the line between shareware and commercial software, Chronos's Consultant 2.53 ($60; 801/957-1774, http://www.chronosnet.com ) is sold only via the Internet. But its features are purely professional, including integrated calendar, address-book, to-do-list, and note-taking environments (not to mention connectivity with Palm handheld organizers). Consultant is probably the best all-purpose personal information manager that's available on the Macintosh today.

RUNNERS-UP: Support for importing from ODBC databases is yet another of the countless features that make FileMaker Pro 4.1 ($199; 408/987-7000, http://www.filemaker.com ) a powerful, easy-to-use database application. Simple, lightweight, and kind to batteries, 3Com's Palm III ($369; 801/431-1536, http://www.palm.com ) is the handheld organizer of choice for Mac users, despite 3Com's inexplicable delay in releasing the long-awaited update to its MacPac software.


Server Software

WINNER: The powerful and innovative WebTen 2.1 ($495; 805/963-6983, http://www.tenon.com ), Tenon Intersystems' adaptation of the popular Apache Web server, offers the fastest way yet to serve a Web site from your Mac. With its Unix-based Mach kernel, WebTen trounces the competition–and holds its own against Windows NT, helping dispel rumors that the Mac isn't a viable Web-serving platform. This industrial-strength server software combines compatibility with scripts designed for Unix servers and support for the wide variety of WebStar plug-ins.

RUNNERS-UP: Apple Computer's AppleShare IP 6.0 ($999; 408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com ) reinvents the face of file serving, boasting faster performance, better compatibility with Windows clients, and a revamped mail engine. The most popular Web server for the Mac isn't the fastest, but StarNine Technologies' WebStar 3.0 ($499; 510/649-4949, http://www.starnine.com ) earns points for ease of use, polish, and respectable performance.


Storage Product

WINNER: APS Technologies takes home the gold this year with the CD-RW Pro 4 x 2 x 6 ($499; 816/483-1600, http://www.apstech.com ) CD recorder. Given their multitude of uses, CD recorders have truly come of age. In addition to writing to CD-R media, the CD-RW Pro also works with the less-compatible–but rewritable–CD-RW media. And it's all housed in a well-designed case that includes built-in active termination.

RUNNERS-UP: LaCie's DVD-RAM ($799; 503/844-4500, http://www.lacie.com ) drive is both a DVD-ROM drive and a high-capacity backup device. There are competing rewritable DVD formats, but the DVD-RAM drive beat them all out of the gate. ATTO Technology's FibreBridge ($3,295; 716/691-1999, http://www.attotech.com ) links SCSI devices to the high-speed Fibre Channel architecture. The FibreBridge offers as much as 64MB of buffer memory as well as remote-management features.


Display

WINNER: We were blown away by the image quality, features, and price of Mitsubishi Electronics America's Diamond Pro 900u ($799; 714/220-2500, http://www.mitsubishi-display.com ). With dual USB and video inputs, the 900u is the perfect monitor for a dual-computer setup. You can transfer your monitor (and all USB peripherals, if you've got a USB card or a new USB-capable Mac) from one computer to the other just by pressing a single button on the front of the 900u. But the key to this monitor is its screen: Mitsubishi's new 19-inch, DiamondTron NF (Natural Flat) tube offers impressive image quality and reduced glare.

RUNNERS-UP: It's never been easier to impress when you're on the go. Epson America's PowerLite 5500C ($7,499; 310/782-0770, http://www.epson.com ) weighs less than ten pounds, sets up easily, and offers best-of-class image quality. Apple Computer's Studio Display ($1,299; 408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com ) is a great 15-inch LCD monitor at an affordable price, and its stylish design is sure to turn heads.


Science/Engineering Software

WINNER: SAS Institute's StatView 5.0 ($695; 919/677-8000, http://www.statview.com ) is a powerful and easy-to-manage statistics application perfect for even nonstatisticians. Sporting well-designed templates and documentation, StatView allows you to create authoritative, high-impact charts quickly. And it imports and exports Microsoft Excel and Word files flawlessly–a must for most businesspeople.

RUNNERS-UP: National Instruments' LabView 5.0 ($995; 512/794-0100, http://www.natinst.com ) reigns supreme in the areas of data acquisition and instrument control. LabView 5.0 adds wizards for data acquisition and voltage conversion. A powerful modeling tool for designers and architects, Ashlar's Vellum Solids 98 ($2,995; 408/615-6840, http://www.ashlar.com ) is blessedly easy to navigate, with strong import capabilities and great online support.


PUBLISHING AND DESIGN
Printing/Image-Editing Software

WINNER: Adobe Photoshop 5.0.2 ($649; 408/536-6000, http://www.adobe.com ) is an outstanding upgrade to what has long been the strongest image-editing program for the Mac. The new History palette permits nearly unlimited undos, and the Text tool is now much more flexible than in previous versions. Photoshop's new color-management features aroused controversy, but despite this, the program still makes it easier than ever to ensure consistent colors in your artwork.

RUNNERS-UP: With MetaCreations Painter 5.5 Web Edition ($449; 805/566-6200, http://www.metacreations.com ), the leading natural-media painting tool now has several enhancements for Web graphics, including the ability to create JavaScript rollovers. Corel Photo-Paint 8 for Power Macintosh ($495; 613/728-8200, http://www.corel.com ) has quite a few rough edges but offers an impressive set of image-editing features, including some you won't find in Adobe Photoshop.


Drawing Software

WINNER: The competition was stiff, but Adobe Illustrator 8.0 ($375; 408/536-6000, http://www.adobe.com ) gets the nod for its slew of new features and its streamlined interface. Among the most noteworthy additions: live blends, blends on a path, natural-media brush effects, and enhanced distortion controls. If that's not enough, Adobe Photoshop users will rejoice at the ease with which Illustrator interacts with the image-editing package. The software that brought professional illustration capabilities to the Mac has retaken its throne.

RUNNERS-UP: Macromedia FreeHand 8.0.1 ($399; 415/252-2000, http://www.macromedia.com ) holds its own, with its superior text, autotracing, and search-and-replace functions. It's also the best drawing program for creating Web animations. CorelDraw 8 for Power Macintosh ($695; 613/728-8200, http://www.corel.com ) is an impressive upgrade, offering well-designed tools for transparency, interactive enveloping, and 3-D effects.


Digital Camera

WINNER: For those looking for the best in overall performance and quality, Olympus America's D-620L ($1,199; 516/844-5000, http://www.olympus.com ) is hard to beat. Olympus's latest point-and-shoot camera features a high-resolution CCD capable of capturing up to 1.4 million pixels per image, a continuous 3 x optical zoom lens, a six-mode flash system, 8MB of memory, and improved speed and power management. For the optimal shots, the D-620L includes manual spot-metering compensation, white-balance override, and the ability to accept a variety of lenses.

RUNNERS-UP: Eastman Kodak's DC260 ($899; 716/724-4000, http://www.kodak.com ) can capture up to 1.6 million pixels per image–a first for digital cameras in its class. It also features a continuous 3 x optical zoom and USB connectivity. Improving on Nikon's popular CoolPix 900, the CoolPix 900s ($799; 516/547-4315, http://www.nikonusa.com ) adds more memory (from 4MB to 8MB), a hot shoe for an external flash, and a bevy of refined features.


Scanner

WINNER: A perfect fit for prepress houses, Umax Technologies' PowerLook 3000 ($7,295; 510/651-4000, http://www.umax.com ) is a true workhorse. The PowerLook features a two-lens system that extends the scanner's effective range of optical resolution, allowing it to be used for scanning 35mm transparencies as well as normal reflective materials. A stationary pick-up element and moving scan bed also contribute to its ability to deliver accurate 3,048-dpi scans with excellent image quality.

RUNNERS-UP: Versatility is the strong suit of the Dimâge Scan Multi ($2,499; 201/825-4000, http://www.minoltausa.com ), from Minolta. This film scanner touts compatibility with a variety of formats, from 16mm to Kodak's Advanced Photo System and even all the way up to 6 by 9 centimeters. With its advanced LinoColor software, Heidelberg CPS's LinoColor Saphir Ultra 2 ($3,695; 516/753-4770, http://www.linocolor.com ) features professional capabilities found in the LinoColor high-end drum-scanner line but delivers them at a desktop price.


Professional/Workgroup Printer

WINNER: Affordable proofing sums up the credentials of Epson America's Stylus Pro 5000 ($9,995; 310/782-0770, http://www.epson.com ). For under $10,000, graphics professionals can enjoy in-house proofing that rivals Matchprint quality. It can simulate SWOP, Du Pont Waterproof, DIC, Chromalin EuroSTD, and any of five custom environments. The bundled RS-5000 Fiery Server has 10/100BaseT, SCSI-2, IEEE 1284 parallel, and serial connectivity for networking.

RUNNERS-UP: The Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet 4500DN ($3,799; 650/857-1501, http://www.hp.com ) offers outstanding output quality and can print duplex color in formats up to legal size. The Xanté Accel-A-Writer 3G ($5,995; 334/342-4840, http://www.xante.com ) offers mirror printing, enhanced line screening, densitometer calibration, and negative-imaging enhancements.


Graphics Utility

WINNERS: Test Strip 2.02 ($149; 805/646-0217, http://www.vividdetails.com ), from Vivid Details, offers sophisticated color-correction functions in an easy-to-use Adobe Photoshop plug-in. The program presents variations of your image with different color settings; just pick the image you want, and the program applies the appropriate color changes. Version 2.02 offers a thumbnail-viewing mode and an Editable Task List that lets you easily review and modify your changes. Extensis PhotoTools 3.0 ($150; 503/274-2020, http://www.extensis.com) bulks up with new Web-graphics features and remains a strong productivity tool for Adobe Photoshop users.

RUNNER-UP: Ultimatte KnockOut ($395; 818/993-8007, http://www.ultimatte.com ) lets you create sophisticated masking effects with a minimum of hassle.


Publishing Utility

WINNER: Altamira Group's Genuine Fractals Print Pro ($299; 818/556-6099, http://www.altamira-group.com ) lets you squeeze large Adobe Photoshop images into much smaller Fractal Image Format files. When you decompress the files, you can make them much bigger than the originals, with minimal loss of image quality. The new Print Pro version works with CMYK files–in addition to RGB–and provides a lossless-compression option.

RUNNERS-UP: Extensis PreFlight Pro 2.1 ($400; 503/274-2020, http://www.extensis.com ) inspects your documents for likely output problems and helps you fix them. Extensis QX-Tools 4.0 ($150; 503/274-2020, http://www.extensis.com ) provides a host of useful productivity enhancements for QuarkXPress 4.x.


Input Device

WINNER: Wacom's Intuos ($510; 360/896-9833, http://www.wacom.com ) is an enhanced tablet/pen combo that features a highly sensitive tip and 1,024 pressure levels. The system also includes three new input devices: the Lens Cursor, which features a rotating crosshair lens; the Airbrush, which includes a finger wheel for controlling ink flow; and the 4D Mouse, which offers a thumbwheel control for zooming in on images or navigating 3-D spaces.

RUNNERS-UP: AnimaX International ASA's Anir Ergonomic Mouse Pro ($70; 818/713-9933, http://www.animax.no ) is an ergonomic pointing device that looks like a pilot's control stick. The mouse encourages a natural vertical hand position, with the cursor being controlled by your thumb in a natural resting position. CalComp's Creation Station Pro ($289-$599; 714/821-2000, http://www.calcomp.com ) features a pressure-sensitive stylus along with a cordless, batteryless, five-button mouse–the first one designed to work with a digital tablet.


DYNAMIC MEDIA
Web Authoring Software

WINNER: GoLive CyberStudio 3 Professional Edition ($549; 650/463-1580, http://www.golive.com ), with its easy-to-use interface and its powerful collection of HTML authoring features, is simply the best visual HTML editing tool available on any platform. Version 3 adds excellent support for Dynamic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets and offers a dramatically improved site-management view.

RUNNERS-UP: Macromedia Dreamweaver 1.2 ($299; 415/252-2000, http://www.macromedia.com ) can't be surpassed when it comes to the sheer number of HTML features it supports. Its corresponding Windows version also makes the program a good choice for cross-platform Web design teams. After many years of hype, NetObjects Fusion 3.0 ($200; 650/482-3200, http://www.netobjects.com ) finally emerges as a powerful, flexible tool for business users who need to design and update their Web sites in a flash.


Web-Graphics Software

WINNER: Powerful, easy-to-use vector-drawing tools and extremely small output files combine to make Macromedia Flash 3.0 ($299; 415/252-2000, http://www.macromedia.com ) a great application for creating dynamic graphics on the World Wide Web. New transparency and morphing features give a boost to what was already a one-of-its-kind tool that all cutting-edge Web designers ought to have in their design arsenal.

RUNNERS-UP: Macromedia Fireworks 1.0 ($299; 415/252-2000, http://www.macromedia.com ) gives Web designers a powerful way of creating, animating, and optimizing the GIF and JPEG images they place in their Web pages. A flexible, easy-to-use tool that will please business users and high-end designers alike, Adobe ImageStyler 1.0 ($129; 408/536-6000, http://www.adobe.com ) can create attractive buttons, headers, and JavaScript-based rollover effects in nothing flat.


3-D-Graphics Software

WINNER: The blazing-fast renderer in Maxon Computer's Cinema 4D XL 5.2 ($1,995; distributed by 3D Gear, 805/484-5804, http://www.maxon.net ) can ray-trace high-polygon-count scenes faster than any other Mac 3-D software on the market. Couple that with its full complement of professional-quality 3-D-modeling tools; its advanced animation tools, including impressive inverse-kinematics support; and its ability to export a huge variety of file formats, and Cinema 4D XL has all the right ingredients to become the leading 3-D software for the Macintosh.

RUNNERS-UP: Although it lacks an integrated modeler, ElectricImage 2.8 ($2,995-$7,495; 626/577-1627, http://www.electricimage.com ), from Electric Image, is still the state of the art when it comes to 3-D on the Mac. It's also one of the best rendering and animation tools available for any platform. MetaCreations' cleverly designed 3-D-terrain generator, Bryce 3D ($199; 805/566-6200, http://www.metacreations.com ), lets you create and animate spectacular digital scenery, complete with clouds, water, mountains, and even rainbows.


Digital-Video Software

WINNER: Retouching individual frames of a movie is a tedious fact of life in the film industry. Puffin Designs' Commotion 1.6 ($2,495; 415/331-4560, http://www.puffindesigns.com ) brings relief to postproduction pros by letting them use a Mac–rather than an expensive workstation–to do professional-level cleanup and matte generation. Complementing more-full-featured compositing programs, such as Adobe After Effects, Commotion combines paint, rotoscoping, and motion-tracking tools with the ability to preview results in real time.

RUNNERS-UP: Standing out from the crowd of After Effects plug-in packages is MetaCreations' Final Effects Complete ($1,195; now owned by ICE, 781/768-2300, http://www.iced.com ), a collection of more than 60 filters, including particle generators, video-distortion tools, and 3-D-perspective effects. Terran Interactive's Media Cleaner Pro 3.0 ($359; 408/356-7373, http://www.terran.com ) is a must for video and audio production, compressing media files for fast, high-quality playback from a CD-ROM or over a modem.


Audio/MIDI Software

WINNER: A mature, solid digital-audio/MIDI sequencer, Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer 2.4 ($795; 617/576-2760, http://www.motu.com ) is the single most complete audio/MIDI studio available right out of the box. With lots of bundled effects plug-ins, seamless import of samples, and a smooth interface sporting such goodies as the QuickScribe notation window, it's a potent combination of elegance and power for Mac musicians.

RUNNERS-UP: U&I Software's MetaSynth 2.0 ($249; distributed by Arboretum, 650/738-4750, http://www.uisoftware.com ), is an innovative and outrageous tool that converts graphic images into sound, using an image's brightness and color information to generate musical notes. MacSourcery's BarbaBatch 2.4 ($395; 760/747-5995, http://www.macsourcery.com ) is the ultimate Mac sound-file conversion utility, able to batch-process and produce good-sounding files based on your customized parameters.

Senior Editor/Features JASON SNELL managed this year's awards.

World Class Awards

TECHNOLOGY OF THE YEAR

Much maligned and often ignored, especially by Apple, AppleScript finally came into its own in 1998. For years, AppleScript has been a unique tool that allows Mac users to automate repetitive tasks and make their applications work together. Its power and ease of use were one of the Mac's unsung advantages over Windows during Apple's darkest days. It's not an overstatement to say that without AppleScript, many publishing-industry Mac users would've moved to Windows long ago.

For years, Apple promised that a PowerPC-native version of AppleScript was right around the corner. Subsequently, rumor had it that AppleScript was dead, with no further updates being planned. But in 1998, Apple finally realized that AppleScript was a diamond in the rough.

In Mac OS 8.5, AppleScript steps to the fore, running in native PowerPC code that causes scripts to run as much as ten times as fast as they did in the past. Much more of the Mac OS is scriptable than ever before. AppleScript has been built into the Finder as Folder Actions, a system that allows AppleScripts to be set to run automatically whenever a folder is opened or its contents are altered. And Mac OS 8.5's new HTML-based help system employs AppleScript as its means of interacting with the rest of the Mac OS. Kudos to Apple for finally recognizing what many Macintosh users have known all along–that AppleScript is, in numerous ways, the lifeblood of the Mac OS.

IMPACT AWARD

The best thing about the iMac ($1,299; 408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com ) is not that it has made a lot of noise but that it has created a lot of silence–particularly from all those naysayers who spent most of last year trying to perform last rites over Apple's not-quite-dead carcass. If there is a single reason for Apple's amazing turnaround, it is Jonathan Ive's transparent bondi-blue baby.

Never before have we seen a single product cause such a furor. The iMac has driven peripheral developers into a frenzy to get USB products (particularly transparent turquoise-and-white ones) out the door as fast as possible.

There's no debating that the iMac is the product that had the most impact on the Mac world–and probably the entire computer industry–in 1998. But it's also probably one of the most influential products in the history of the personal computer. In the end, the iMac's beautiful design and two-plug simplicity may spell the end of computers in beige boxes with a spaghetti factory of cables hanging off their backs. For that, every present and future computer user should be grateful.

SOFTWARE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

After the public-relations disaster that was Word 6.0, Microsoft needed a minor miracle to redeem Microsoft Office in the eyes of Mac users. But that's just what happened–Microsoft made up for its past sins with an updated Office that matched the Windows version of Office on almost every front and even surpassed it in several places.

Microsoft Office 98 ($450; 425/882-8080, http://www.microsoft.com )–consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook Express–takes Microsoft's bevy of powerful business features and adds true Mac elegance. Support for Macintosh Drag and Drop, PlainTalk text-to-speech, and QuickTime are all solid, and there's nary a Windows screen shot to be found in the manual.

Throughout this productivity suite, there are wonderful innovations: you can install Office simply by dragging a folder from the CD-ROM to your hard disk. And once you're up and running, the applications launch significantly faster than did their predecessors. Internet-savvy features abound–you can save documents as Web pages or attach a document to a message in your favorite e-mail program. Word can even read Web pages, either from your local hard disk or via the Internet. All three core Office programs let you create links that open live Web pages or files on your hard disk. And Outlook Express has rapidly become one of the most feature-rich and easy-to-use e-mail clients around.

All of this, and more, makes Office 98 a powerful, intelligent, friendly package. In short, for the first time in a long time, Microsoft seems to actually understand what the elegance of the Macintosh is all about.

HARDWARE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

With the release of the sleek new PowerBook G3 series, Apple has proved that it's back at the top of its game when it comes to creating notebook computers. Led by the high-speed PowerBook G3/300 ($3,999; 408/996-1010, http://www.apple.com ), these incredible computers combine a sleek, subtly curved industrial design with power unlike any the laptop world has ever seen.

Although the PowerBook G3 can turn heads on airplanes and in coffeehouses, with its black coloring and its large, white Apple logo, there's much more to this notebook than style. It's actually a full-featured computer that's every bit as powerful as its desktop counterparts. Standard features include a 300MHz G3 PowerPC processor with a 1MB backside cache, 64MB of RAM, an 8GB hard drive, and a 20[infinity] CD-ROM drive–with a DVD-ROM drive as an optional extra. Its 14.1-inch, active-matrix LCD screen is beautiful to behold. Its dual bays can hold either storage peripherals or fast-charging lithium batteries. And a 56-Kbps modem is standard, as are Ethernet and infrared capabilities.

Given such impressive features, great performance, and fabulous industrial design, this portable is so impressive that it threatens the very existence of desktop systems. Why buy a deskbound model when you can take this powerful, stylish Macintosh along, wherever you may roam?

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