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As other tech industry trade shows see attendance slump or disappear from the scene entirely, the U.S.-based Macworld Expo conferences forge on.

When the San Francisco edition of the biannual trade show kicks off at Moscone Center on Tuesday, event organizers expect roughly the same number of exhibitors -- between 325 and 350 -- that were last year's gathering. As for attendance, mid-December pre-registration figures were actually ahead of last year's pace, particularly among conference attendees.

"From our position here, we're very upbeat about it. Our exhibitors are upbeat about the crowd we can expect," says Rob Scheschareg, vice president of expo organizer IDG World Expo (which, like Mac Publishing, is owned by IDG). "The economy may be difficult, but the feeling is these are still great products."

Maybe that explains why news out of Macworld Expo typically resonates far beyond the Mac universe. Witness last year's Time magazine cover story on the flat-panel iMac introduction. As Mac detractors are fond of pointing out, Apple's market share may hover at around 5 percent, "but how many people pay attention to what happens at Macworld?" asks Scheschareg, who attributes the interest in the event to developer innovation and Mac users' knack for finding and sharing new ways of using technology.

The Keynote

For many Mac users, the Tuesday morning keynote speech by Apple CEO Steve Jobs remains the highlight of the weeklong trade show. Typically, Jobs uses the keynotes to recount recent Apple accomplishments, outline the company's strategy for the coming months, and -- most importantly, as far as the majority of Mac users are concerned -- introduce new products.

Unlike a year ago, when Apple spent the weeks preceding Macworld Expo hyping the Jobs keynote, the company has kept quiet about what's in store this year. Mac partisans can be forgiven for assuming that Jobs has a few product releases up his sleeve -- after all the San Francisco keynote has been the site of several major hardware overhauls and software unveilings in recent years. Last year, Jobs introduced the flat-panel iMac and the free iPhoto digital-photo management program. Highlights of the 2001 keynote included the Titanium PowerBook G4 and iTunes. Jobs used his 2000 keynote in San Francisco to give the first public showing of OS X's Aqua interface.

Jobs delivers his keynote at 9 a.m. Tuesday. If you're not attending the Expo -- or if you can't get into Moscone Center's Esplanade Ballroom for the presentation -- Apple plans a webcast of the keynote.

Jobs won't be the only Apple founder speaking on Tuesday. Steve Wozniak joins a panel including authors Bob LeVitus and Robin Williams and Neil Ticktin to discuss the migration to OS X. On Wednesday, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, delivers his own presentation on OS X.

This could be the last Macworld Expo with a Steve Jobs keynote this year. In October, IDG World Expo announced plans to move the summer trade show from New York to Boston starting in 2004 -- a move that didn't sit well with Apple. Though talks continue between IDG World Expo and Apple over future events, the computer maker has indicated it won't attend July's final Macworld Expo in New York. The show will go on, Scheschareg insists: "There's no question, there will be a Macworld New York event in July."

The Conferences

Regardless of which companies attend this and future expos, Scheschareg says the event will remain primarily focused on educating Mac users. That, he adds, is what's helped the trade show retain its audience while similar events flounder.

"Macworld is an event that tries to tell people what to buy, how to buy, and how to use what they buy," Scheschareg says. "It's as much about learning from your peers as it is learning from vendors."

To that end, organizers have tripled the number of Power Tools conferences -- two-day intensive training sessions first introduced at last year's Macworld Expo San Francisco -- by adding six new topics. Sessions at this year's conference will include Advanced OS X Concepts, Dreamweaver, DVD Studio Pro, FileMaker Pro, Final Cut Pro, Interactive Solutions, OS X 10.2, Photoshop for professionals, and QuarkXPress. One-day sessions covering topics ranging from OS X to making desktop movies are also slated for the conference.

First introduced on a limited basis at Macworld Expo New York last summer, Hands-on MacLabs makes its San Francisco debut. The new offering features hands-on computer training aimed at high-end users in topics including PDF production, Flash 5 ActionScript, and wireless networks. For digital video aficionados, three Final Cut Pro user groups from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston are working with expo organizers to host a Final Cut Pro User Group theater; the exhibit floor offering is open to everyone.

The MacBrainiac Challenge debuts at this Macworld Expo. The game show-style contest, held on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in Moscone Center, pits two teams of Mac luminaries in a test of Mac trivia. Participants include LeVitus, Macworld columnist Andy Ihnatko, Your Mac Life host Shawn King, and Macworld contributing editors Adam Engst, Ted Landau, and Christopher Breen. Two audience members will be selected to participate in the contest.

"W try not to take ourselves too seriously," Scheschareg says. "This isn't your average trade show."

The Exhibitors

While Apple will grab the headlines with whatever news comes out of Jobs' keynote, other Mac developers use the expo as an opportunity to unveil their latest hardware and software. Several major Mac developers have announced their expo plans in advance of this week's show.

Connectix, which announced Virtual PC in December will show demonstrations of the latest version of its Windows emulation software on the show floor. Likewise, financial software maker Intuit plans to use Macworld Expo to debut the previously announced QuickBooks 5, the first Mac update to its accounting application since 1998. Nisus Software will preview an OS X-native version of its popular Nisus Writer word processing program.

Input-device maker Contour A/V has a new jog-and-shuttle controller, the SpaceShuttle A/V, that will make its debut at this week's expo. Gefen is showcasing the latest additions to its ex-tend-it line: the ADC Splitter and DVI Splitter, which let you use multiple displays with a single computer. And Prosoft Engineering plans to release two backup utilities, Data Recycle X and Data Backup, at Macworld Expo.

Adobe and Macromedia -- two major Mac developers who sat out the July trade show in New York -- return as Macworld Expo exhibitors this week. Panic, maker of Audion MP3 software and the Transmit FTP client software, ends a three-year absence from Macworld Expo with an appearance at this week's show. The company plans to give away free CD-ROMs with demos of all its software products to attendees. The game area at Moscone Center figures to be crowded, with space devoted to offerings from Aspyr Media, MacPlay, Feral Interactive, and Bold.

MacCentral will have all the latest product news throughout the week of Macworld Expo.

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