The Desktop Critic: www.BogusMacRumors.com

Life sure would be easier if we could see into the Mac future. We'd get rich anticipating Apple stock prices, we'd sell our old equipment at peak resale value, and we'd never buy a Mac that was about to be discontinued. Too bad there isn't some Web site that reveals what's behind Steve Jobs's lead-lined cloak of corporate secrecy.

Welcome to the world of Mac rumor sites. Every week, "sources" provide these sites with "leaks" concerning Apple's secret plans. The entertainment value is high, especially now that, in the Jobs era, you can't pry info out of Apple with a crowbar. But how accurate are these sites?

Over the last year, I've been tracking these Web pages, with the express intent of checking their hits-to-misses ratio. Apart from discovering that these Webmasters haven't a clue about when to use an apostrophe, I've learned four things:

Any source is good enough. One provocative rumor concerns an Apple-branded palmtop. It began last April, when a Web site called MacintoshMagic.com (now out of the rumor biz) published a report by a "disgruntled Apple employee" about Apple's plans. (Why would an Apple employee violate his nondisclosure agreement? Because "he's tired of keeping the best-kept secrets in the world." Sure, that's plausible.)

Anyway, this fellow described a "Palm OS/Newton hybrid" that was to be manufactured by Palm Computing.

The news turned out to be a not-very-clever April Fool's hoax. But Mac rumor sites are in the business of selling ads. And ads sell only if the sites have visitors. And visitors come only if the rumors are juicy–and never-ending. As a result, that completely illogical Apple-Palm rumor got repeated all over the Web, where it still circulates today.

Logic still applies. Apple said it was working on a consumer laptop but wouldn't release a single further detail. Still, O'Grady's PowerPage ( http://www.ogrady.com ) reported that the iBook would be available in two lines: a consumer model (in blueberry or grape) and an executive model (in mocha or cranberry). The suggestion that Apple would release a translucent brown laptop should have set off bogosity alarms immediately; but if you had read on, you'd have learned that this laptop was to cost $999, weigh 2.9 pounds with two batteries, and run for nine hours on a charge. And talk about compact: the iBook was supposed to be "almost 1 inch narrower . . . than the PowerBook 2400." Anyone who's ever seen a PowerBook 2400 knows that it's already the size of a walnut; if you planned to include keys at all on a narrower laptop, you'd have to leave out the consonants.

Rumors rise to the top. One of the silliest rumors of the summer was that, because of technical glitches, Apple had decided to cancel the iBook only 30 days before its release. The news made it all the way to MacWeek.com, which wrote that Apple was discussing "whether the product should be delayed or scrapped altogether."

Survey says: Bzzzzt! Less than 30 days later, Apple showed 100 fully working iBooks at Macworld Expo, to great acclaim. Now, would Apple scrap a finished computer line that had been two years in the making? You'd think that Macworld's own sister publication would be smart enough to smell a rat. But MacWeek.com didn't come up with this story. It was passed along wholesale from MSNBC, who got it from ZDNN, who got it from–O'Grady's PowerPage. In the world of the Internet, consider the source . . . of the source of the source of the source.

Imminence is bliss. I don't mean to imply that every Mac rumor is bogus. The rumor sites have scored some impressive hits, especially as real announcements have drawn near. The Mac Observer ( http://www.macobserver.com ), for example, accurately predicted the release of the iBook, new iMac, and G4 models–but only a few weeks before each was actually announced. Mac OS Rumors ( http://www.macosrumors.com ) predicted the Dragon dictation-software news, but only a week before the public Apple announcement. And AppleInsider ( http://www.appleinsider.com ) got the Sears distribution deal right (two weeks in advance). MacInTouch ( http://www.macintouch.com ) only rarely plays the advance-notice game, but when it does, it's accurate.

By all means, track the rumor sites; as pure entertainment, they're unmatched. But don't get your knickers in knots over some Apple decision or product spec if your source for such information is a Mac rumor site. The accuracy of those sites is about 20 percent–at least that's what my sources say.

http://www.davidpogue.comPalmPilot: The Ultimate Guide

February 2000 page: 184

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