Take the MacBrainiac Challenge

Of the many things I get to do during the week of Macworld Expo, one of the most entertaining is hosting the annual MacBrainiac Challenge—a battle of wits between two competing teams of Macintosh luminaries. Set in a game show format, these two teams do their best to establish their superior mastery of Mac and Apple trivia.

This year, the MacBrainiac Challenge featured a team of developers versus a team of Mac media personalities. Brute Camp, the developer team, was led by Bare Bones Software’s Founder & CEO, Rich Siegel and included Rogue Amoeba Software’s CEO/Lackey, Paul Kafasis; Google’s Scott Knaster; and NewsGator’s Product Architect, Brent Simmons. The Justice League, captained by the Chicago Sun-Times and Macworld ’s Andy Ihnatko, also included TidBits’ Adam Engst, Macworld ’s Mac Gems columnist Dan Frakes, and founder of MacFixIt and Mac troubleshooting guru, Ted Landau.

As usual, it was a tight contest. Following what has become a typical pattern, the two teams were tied until the final question. Ultimately, the developer team carried the day by cracking a particularly devilish three-point stunt, but it could easily have gone either way.

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Mac superheroes to the rescue

On Thursday afternoon, I delivered my annual Game Room session in the Macworld Live booth on the show floor of the Moscone Center. We had a full house in the booth as representatives of Freeverse Software, Aspyr Media, and AMD (formerly ATI) talked about the state of Mac gaming and how Apple’s transition to Intel microprocessors has changed the playing field.

All the vendors at the show, and even Apple’s own games guy, are brimming with enthusiasm about 2007 and its potential for gaming. But that isn’t what I’m here to talk about—it’s what happened after the event.

We gave away a ton of stuff—loads of boxes of hit games from Freeverse and Aspyr Media, and even a high-end Mac graphics card from AMD. I had run over my allotted time, and some of my Macworld cohorts encouraged me to wrap it up, so we had a bit of a mob scene at the end as attendees rushed the stage for free copies.

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Attention grabbers

As a vendor, when you participate in a trade show, you have to take steps to really make yourself stand out from the crowd. After all, you will be sharing floor space with hundreds of other companies, many of whom may be direct competitors.

There are many ways to attract attention on a crowded floor, of course. You can offer compelling giveaways, such as t-shirts (always popular), blinking buttons, bouncy superballs, and so forth. As one example, the folks in the Code Weavers booth (#S233), makers of CrossOver Mac, were giving out wine bottle resealing caps. It took me a minute to figure out the relationship, but it became obvious when I remembered that CrossOver Mac is built around Wine, which is the technology that makes the product possible.

But even with your best efforts, it’s tough to stand out. That’s because the playing field has been effectively leveled—your booth, and all the rest, open up onto a common aisle through which everyone walks, comparing your offerings with that of your neighbors. You have to work really hard in this environment to get noticed. Unless you’re really creative. Maybe something like this (click either image for a larger version):

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How not to start an Expo presentation

I gave the first of my talks at Macworld Expo Wednesday—my Best of Mac OS X Hints for the Users Conference attendees. The room was full (so much so that I actually gave the talk twice in a row, so thank you to all who attended). I suspect the attendance was strong because, unlike Steve Jobs Tuesday, I actually was going to be talking about OS X!

This year, for the first time, I brought two laptops, as some of the tips I was demonstrating would require logout and login actions. Using a provided A/B switchbox, it’s a simple task to flip from Keynote slides to the demo unit and back. However, given that this was the first time I’ve used such a setup, I was extra paranoid about making sure I packed everything back in Portland—two power adapters, all the monitor adapters to connect the projectors, requisite USB cables for cameras, and so forth. Upon arriving, I unpacked everything and was pleased to find I’d forgotten nothing.

Today, when leaving the hotel for my presentation, I packed everything into my large luggable shoulder bag, and trekked the two and a half blocks down to Moscone. I made it to the room around 10:35 a.m. for an 11:00 a.m. start; more than enough time for setup. I opened my bag, pulled out the two Macs, their power cords, my camera, USB cable, and the monitor adapters. Well, everything except that last bit. Those, it turned out, were resting comfortably back in the hotel room.

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It's a beautiful network

I saw one of the most beautiful pieces of Mac software I’ve ever seen today. Unfortunately, unless I wake up someday changed into a network administrator, it’s not something I’d likely ever use.

Lithium, an Australian software vendor, has one of the booth-ettes in the Developer Pavilion, that out-of-the-way collection of small software companies where there’s always an unusual concentration of interesting stuff. I was strolling past the booths when a widescreen display caught my eye.

In one window, a series of four graphs with beautiful bright blue lines scrolled along smoothly, updating live. In another, there was what looked like the back of a stack of routers and network switches, with all their connecting cables rendered in vivid, fluorescent green. In a third, there was a clickable list of network addresses, rendered on a sleek brushed aluminum backdrop.

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Don't crowd the iPhone

I had my first chance to visit the Apple booth Wednesday afternoon. Intermixed with the displays of last year’s offerings (iWork’06 and iLife’06, to name two), there were also a good number of Apple TV units. But where, oh where, was the iPhone ? I was really expecting to find 50 to 100 of the things, lined up for passersby to play with the user interface, check out the widgets, and try the e-mail. It was quickly apparent, however, that there was no such collection.

Instead, there are just two iPhones for the entire 20,000 square foot Apple booth—one on each side of the entrance to the booth. However, these two phones aren’t accessible—the phones are in display in a circular glass case, situated on a slowly-rotating pedestal. There won’t be any touching these phones, nor playing with its interface. Instead, it’s more like visiting a museum: “Ah look honey, there’s an iPhone, circa 2007. They used to roam freely in large packs in North America, from what I understand.”

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Point-of-sale with an iTunes flavor

Keeping tabs on sales, inventory, and orders is serious business. And the tasks that a good point-of-sale system gets called on to perform—everything from processing orders to maintain e-commerce sites—can be terribly complex. But that doesn’t mean using the software should be equally as complex—or that the interface for such an application can’t contain a bit of style.

Take LightSpeed 2. The next version of the point-of-sale software won’t ship until February. But LightSpeed maker Xsilva Systems is showing off the upcoming release at Macworld Expo (booth #S2638).

Take a gander at the browser view in LightSpeed 2. (Xsilva’s Web site has a larger view.)

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