This week “Ask Dr. Mac” turns 60. That’s right folks, this is my 60th column for MacCentral and in commemoration, I’m going to try something a little bit different. Since most of the questions I’ve received in the past few weeks have concerned Macworld Expo and stuff announced there, I’m going to dedicate this entire column to the Expo and its aftermath. Furthermore, rather than answering specific questions about the expo and new Apple products, I’m going to provide a first-person gonzo account of my week in San Francisco that I think will answer most of your queries. I’ve always wanted to review a Macworld Expo. Now I have.
And so, without further ado, here is
Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus’s Macworld Expo SF 2001 Show Report
Tuesday, January 9, 2001
The expo kicked off with Jobs’s keynote, but you’ve no doubt heard all about that already here on MacCentral and elsewhere. (If you haven’t heard about it, you might check out the
streaming video. It’s the next best thing to having been there.)
Don’t worry. I’ll be talking about specific Apple announcements in a second …
Immediately after the keynote came one of my favorite parts of Macworld Expo — my “face-to-face meeting with an Apple executive.”
Here’s how it works: About a month before the show someone from Edelman Worlwide, Apple’s PR agency, calls me up and says, “Are you going to Macworld Expo? Would you like to schedule a one-on-one meeting with an Apple exec?”
I say, “Sure. Can I meet with Steve Jobs?”
They say, “No.”
I say, “OK. Who will I be meeting with?”
They say, “We can’t tell you.”
Sigh. Welcome to the Apple way. Anyway, I never turn down a chance for face time with an Apple exec, even if it’s never Steve, so I scheduled it for the first possible moment after the keynote. When I arrived at the (massively mobbed) Apple booth, a polite PR person escorted me to the posh Apple briefing rooms on the mezzanine of Moscone center.
I was thrilled to learn my Apple execs would be none other than Jon Rubinstein, Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering and Avie Tevanian, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering. Heh. These are the guys that make stuff happen at Apple day-to-day. Between you and me, I’d rather talk to them than Steve anyway.
So I go into the briefing room where they’ve thoughtfully set up all the new products for me to peruse. Having met both Rubinstein and Tevanian previously, we dispensed with the formalities and got right to it. My half-hour passed quickly but two moments stand out for me.
The first was when Jon asked me if I wanted to hold the Titanium PowerBook. It was lust at first sight. After I finished drooling, I asked the question that led to my second favorite moment: Having noticed that iTunes — and its visual module — bear a striking resemblance to SoundJam, I had to ask, “Did Jeffrey Robbin and Bill Kincaid (developers of SoundJam) write iTunes?” The look on their faces was priceless. Jon said to Avie, “Can we talk about it?” Avie said he didn’t know. Ultimately they wouldn’t comment for the record but their faces told the story …
Aside: I ran into Jeff Robbin on the show floor the next day and asked him the same thing. He smiled like the cat that ate the canary and said, “no comment.” I ran into Terry Kunysz, the president of Casady & Greene (publisher of SoundJam) who pretty much told me the same thing. Though nobody would confirm or deny it for the record, I am willing to bet that Jeff and Bill had a hand in iTunes. <grin>
Anyway I had a great briefing and left feeling better about Apple and the Mac than I had in a long time.
From 1 to 7 Tuesday I taught a seminar entitled “My First Mac OS X Seminar,” at the Marriott hotel across the street from Moscone Center. Since OS X is still in beta, I didn’t expect a huge crowd. Boy was I wrong. It was standing room only, with latecomers (waving cash in their hands) being turned away at the door.
It turned out to be a fun session. My students seemed to enjoy themselves and I think some of them even learned a thing or two.
Aside: The OS X sessions were so popular that Rob Scheschareg, vice president of events for IDG World Expo, said in a press release: “The Mac OS X conference sessions were literally overflowing. Interest in the Mac OS X was so high, we plan to offer even more conference sessions for the OS X in New York.”
I’ll be doing some of those, so look for me there.
After my seminar I had the extreme pleasure of being the master of ceremonies for the User Group Academy Awards, held at Planet Hollywood. It was a delightful evening spent feting user groups from all over the country for their work promoting the Macintosh way. In this day and age — with the Internet and all — it’s a tribute that User Groups even exist. My hat is off to them — user groups are way cool.
Wednesday, January 10, 2001
I started Wednesday with the second-day keynote featuring Kevin Browne, general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit. It began with a hysterical and very un-Microsoft-like video. The big news here was a real Outlook (NOT Outlook Express) client for the Mac. If you work in an enterprise that uses Windows Exchange Server (I think that’s what it’s called), you know what this means. If you don’t (like me), it’s a big yawn. If you’re interested, I think there’s a beta on the Microsoft Web site.
Since I spent no time on the floor Tuesday, I hit the floor right as it opened and spent a couple of hours wandering around and taking the show in. As I wandered I asked a few people, “What’s the ‘must see’ item here?” Nobody had any suggestions. I did get some unusual tchotchkes for the kids — a light-up keychain from Dantz, a toothpaste tube roller-upper from Anthro, superballs from several places, and more. But so far I haven’t seen any hardware or software that knocked my socks off.
I gave an abbreviated version of my OS X seminar at 12:30, then ran across the street to the W hotel for a one-on-one meeting with the Microsoft Mac team. The W hotel is a piece of work. It’s dark, expensive, and oh so trendy. I loved it. Anyway, I met with a bunch of MicroSoft honchos in a suite on the top floor. It was a good meeting. The view of San Francisco wasn’t too shabby either.
Other than the news about Outlook, I learned two things at this meeting. First, Office will run native on OS X. They wouldn’t commit to a ship date, but they did promise it would happen in my lifetime.
But the coolest thing I learned was that the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro for Windows works with the Mac and that keyboard drivers could be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site. Yes, the Command key is labeled “Alt” and the Option key sports a Windows logo. But the excellent tactile feedback, comfortable split keyboard design, oversized Control, Option, and Command keys, and customizable multimedia control buttons (volume, mute, play, pause, etc.) make this one of the greatest keyboards I’ve ever used. It may well be the greatest thing I discovered at the show.
But I digress. Meeting over, I ran back to Moscone to present the Mysteries of the System Folder Revealed seminar, with my talented co-presenter Dan Frakes of InformInit fame. We gave a pretty good show, but attendance was light (go figure). We decided that the market for seminars about the OS 9 System Folder was pretty much tapped out. Needless to say, we probably won’t be presenting that particular seminar in New York.
From there I bolted back to the W hotel, where I was a guest on The Mac Show Live with Shawn King and Hilary Percy. They asked about the Expo; I told them. (You can hear it
on the Mac Show Live Web site.)
Aside: I said a bad word but Shawn assured me that there was no such thing at the ICC (Internet Communication Commission) and that I probably wouldn’t be fined.
Twelve minutes after I began, they gave me a piece of salmon (they’re Canadian) and sent me on my way.
I hit a couple of the legendary Macworld parties, then had dinner with some friends. For a change, I was in bed before midnight.
Sigh. I’d spent a total of 2 hours on the show floor in two days. Worse than that, I didn’t manage to visit any of the booths I had on my “must see” list. I vowed to do better tomorrow. And I did…
Thursday, January 11, 2001
OK. This was my day to “do the show floor.” I had very few commitments and appointments and I had a plan — there were at least five things I wanted to see today and I wasn’t leaving the floor until they’d been seen.
The first thing I wanted to check out was the Apple booth, and the theatre presentations on iTunes and iDVD. I did. My reaction is: I’m totally stoked about Apple’s new positioning as the “digital hub” for the “digital lifestyle era.” Sometimes this stuff comes off as more of Steve Jobs’s famous “reality distortion field.” But this time I think he’s on to something. All of the “i” programs — iMovie, iTunes, and iDVD — enable you to do something on a Mac, in a way that is far more elegant and easy than on any other type of computer. Bundling the “i” applications is one of Apple’s smartest moves ever.
I drooled on the Titanium PowerBooks one more time before moving along to find my second “must-see,” Rewind, from PowerOn Software.
Rewind is a miraculous new utility that provides continuous protection for your Mac. Unlike backups, which only let you recover from your last backup (yesterday, last week, last month), Rewind protects everything, all the time. With Rewind, they say, you’ll never lose a document again. I watched the demo and was quite impressed.
Aside: I got a copy and installed it as soon as I got home from the show. So far it’s working as promised and I’m still impressed. But I’ll let you know for sure after I’ve used it a few more weeks.
My third “must-see” was the gaming pavilion. I checked out Aspyr, MacSoft, MacPlay, GraphSim, and all the rest. Since I’m an avid gamer, there wasn’t much here that I didn’t already know about. The high point, for me, was when Ron Dimant, CEO of MacPlay, confirmed that a new game development studio he’s founded called Mumbo Jumbo would be producing Myth III: The Wolf Age later this year. Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soulblighter are, by far, my favorite games of all time. So I’m tickled that the Myth franchise will live on, given how Bungie Software has been assimilated by the Redmond X-Borg.
I had a slice of pizza (it was after noon by now), then headed over to the Handspring booth to investigate my fourth “must-see,” VisorPhone, the attachment that turns your handheld Visor into a full-blown cell phone. It looks great, albeit a little bulky, and I think it may be a winner. Alas, the cellular service it runs on is not available here in Texas yet. When it becomes available I’ll probably get one.
Things were working out nicely. It was not even 2PM and I had only one more “must see” on my list. That was Alias|Wavefront’s Maya, the 3-D animation package popular on the SGI platform, which is coming to OS X this summer. Maya is used to create the graphics for tons of 3D console games (i.e. PlayStation, PS2, DreamCast, etc.) and has been used to create special effects in hundreds of movies. This is some awesome software; the demo I watched was a mind-blower. Go to
their Web site
and check out some of the stuff that’s been done in Maya. It’s amazing.
Aside: You’d think a Web site for 3-D animation software would have a gallery of “cool stuff that’s been done with our software.” If Alias|Wavefront’s site has one, I couldn’t find it. Still, if you click around a bit you’ll get to see a bunch of remarkable works done in Maya.
Sigh. At $7,500 a copy, Maya is not for most of us. Still, it shows that Mac OS X may be becoming a serious platform for professional 3-D work. And the stuff it does is soooo cool.
So there I was. Only 3PM Thursday and I’d seen everything on my list. I spent the rest of the day walking around looking for something I’d never seen before. About the closest I came was when I saw TechWorks selling 6GB FireWire hard drives for $105 and 12GB drives for $120. That’s cheap. Not surprisingly, they sold out of both models by the end of the show.
I had dinner, took a long and much needed hot bath, then headed over to Ilene Hoffman’s NOT The Knife party, where Matthew Rothenberg’s (nee MacWEEK) band played late into the night. It was fun, fun, fun, just like the old days. I got to bed very, very late.
Friday, January 12, 2001
Slept in. Had a leisurely power lunch with my agent and got to the show floor around 1:30. Since the show was closing at 4, I spent my remaining time asking show-goers, “What should I not miss?”
Amazingly, after the Titanium PowerBook, very few attendees could name even one thing that blew them away.
And that pretty much sums up this year’s Macworld SF.
On the way home I decided that it was a good show, but not a great one. I thought the Apple announcements were hot, but there wasn’t much cool new stuff being shown. Yet. For what it’s worth, I think the July expo in New York will be a lot better. And I predict we’ll see LOTS of new products we’ve never seen before.
I can’t wait.
I’ll be back in two weeks with an all-new column chock full of titillating Q & A fun, tips, hints, and advice. In the meantime, please keep those e-mails coming to
Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on the Mac OS and the author of 36 books including “Mac OS 9 For Dummies,” “Macworld Microsoft Office 2001 Bible,” and “Mac Answers: Second Edition.” E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.