The rise of the Mac

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While iPods and iPhones have been garnering all the newspaper headlines, the untold story is that the Mac itself is on a roll.

In Apple’s most recent financial quarter, the company sold more Macs than it ever has before (see Mac Beat , “Apple’s Record Sales,” page 18.) And more than half the Macs Apple sells in its retail stores are going to first-time Mac users. The good times kept rolling in early August, when Apple announced more new hardware and software than you could shake a very large stick at.

The new iMac arrives

The new, faster iMac (see our review, page 54) comes in the shape we’ve known since 2004, but now it’s clad in silver aluminum and black glass instead of shiny white plastic. But it’s not just about looks: inside, the processors are faster, the video circuitry is better, and the maximum RAM and hard-drive size are larger.

While a video editor or 3-D renderer might demur, the rest of us habitual buyers of professional-level Mac desktops should give the iMac some serious consideration. Apple now considers the iMac line the right Mac for (as Steve Jobs himself said) “consumers [and] prosumers, but a lot of our pro customers as well.” As someone with a Power Mac G5 and an Apple Cinema Display sitting in my home office, I’m sorely tempted to keep the monitor, but attach it to one of these new iMacs.

However, a couple aspects of the new iMac will give some iMac buyers pause. One of them is the new glossy screen. I’ve come to love the glossy screen on my MacBook, but it’s easier to reposition a laptop if glare makes the screen hard to read. The new iMac screen looks gorgeous, but glare is a pretty serious problem.

Then there’s the new keyboard, which is essentially a deskbound version of the one built into the MacBook. On my laptop, I like that feel. But at my desk, it feels strange. At the very least, it will take some getting used to.

Enter iLife and iWork ’08

After 20 months of waiting, it’s exciting to finally have new versions of iLife and iWork to kick around (see page 60). As is de rigueur for iLife these days, the primary focus is on iPhoto. After incrementally improving the program’s speed over the past few years, Apple has now turned its attention to managing the large numbers of photos that users have collected since the advent of digital photography. Out go the so-very-analog Rolls, and in come Events. iPhoto’s editing tools keep getting more powerful, letting users get better results without having to learn Photoshop. And the new .Mac Web Gallery feature might finally make .Mac worth the money.

But for me, the big news in this release is iMovie. The first two versions of iMovie were groundbreaking, brilliant, and speedy. Then something bad happened: someone at Apple mandated that iMovie be rewritten, and the “upgrade” from iMovie 2 to iMovie 3 was a disaster. I have largely refrained from editing my home movies for the past few years because my iMovie experience has been so frustrating.

With iMovie ’08, I might have to get back to the editing grind. This new version of iMovie is truly the third iMovie. It’s so radically different that advanced iMovie users may want to keep using iMovie HD 6 or upgrade to Final Cut Express. But for basic, superfast video production—which is what iMovie was supposed to be designed for—the new iMovie appears to be a bold step forward.

Then there’s iWork ’08. More than four years after the introduction of Keynote, the addition of the Numbers spreadsheet program to iWork ’08 means that Apple’s alternative office suite is now complete. I can’t imagine cross-platform workgroups abandoning Office for iWork. But if you’re an all-Mac shop, the promise of using Numbers and maybe even the word-processing features of Pages is pretty intriguing.

I use Keynote for almost every presentation I give. I love it. But I do keep PowerPoint around, because twice a year I need to create a portion of a larger corporate presentation that is created mostly by Windows users. Keynote’s not an option for them, and though I could investigate using Keynote and then exporting my files to PowerPoint format, it’s easier for me to keep a copy of Office around.

But Keynote’s definitely gotten a foothold in my life. And if I had to choose between PowerPoint and Keynote (and painful Keynote-to-PowerPoint conversions), I’d choose Keynote in a heartbeat. If Mac users embrace Numbers and Pages the same way, this could get really interesting.

[ Got a comment about the new iMacs, iLife ’08, iWork ’08, or the new Mac mini? Join the discussion in the Macworld Forums, or drop me a note. ]

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