SAN FRANCISCO—Although many attendees of this weeks Macworld Expo San Francisco found something to like about Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs opening keynote, some viewed it as a tasting menu compared with the buffets of new product introductions and surprises at Expo keynotes past.
Aside from the iPod mini MP3 player and a PowerPC G5-equipped revision of the companys Xserve hardware, pickings were slim for those looking for "just one more thing." Several Mac users streaming out of Jobs keynote gave their biggest thumbs up to the new GarageBand music production application, a part of the $49 iLife suite of products. Those looking for speed-bumped Power Macs, new iMacs or laptops, or something more surprising were left unfulfilled.
Neil Davis, a network administrator from Washington, D.C., described the keynote as "probably better for business people than for anyone else. Xserve RAID is a no-brainer, although its a shame that theres no certification for Solaris." Nevertheless, he highlighted the broad range of certification as a potential winner for Apple. "Really, at the price, I cant see much that can compete with it," he added.
Dave Maxwell, an IT support technician from San Francisco, also pointed to Xserve and Xserve RAID as the highlights of the keynote. "RAID Set Expansion is a big deal at this price," he claimed, adding that "it means more chance of zero downtime." He also added that Windows XP and Linux support would make the platform attractive in a corporate or academic environment, but cautioned that "a lot depends on the admin tools. If Apple could let you administer an Xserve RAID or Xserve from Windows or Linux, it would be much more interesting."
Fred Evans, a manager with Minneapolis Mac reseller First Tech, said that the Xserve and RAID represent "definitely an area where a dealer has an edge over Apple Stores." He noted that the selling cycle for server-based solutions is "way too long" and that Apple Stores cant offer the kind of on-site installation and continued support required by such a sale.
In the past year, Evans said, his store has sold 15 to 20 of the G4-based Xserves per month, although the rate dropped off markedly when the Power Mac G5 desktops were announced.
His customers are primarily creative shops, he said, ranging from small ad agencies that purchase one server to larger print houses and Mac-based IS departments that buy four or five at a time. The Xserve RAID was also a popular accessory and, he said, was "the price leader in the market" when it was first released.
The Xserve RAIDs certification for Windows and Linux environments "is a big deal for us," the dealer said. He noted that other, non-Mac IS departments had often expressed an interest in the product. "Weve made them work," he said, "but this certainly helps."
The fact that both the Xserve and Xserve RAID are not yet available for pre-order isnt much of an issue, he said, as "95 percent of our sales are custom orders," which couldnt be pre-ordered anyway.
He said both new revisions "remain very price-competitive," but "the biggest feature is bringing them up to the G5." He also approved of PCI-X support for high-speed interconnects.
Evans said his store planned to organize an Xserve event to introduce the new model to its customers.
In addition, Evans said that his store placed a large order for the new iLife suite. He also agreed with many on the floor that the new iPod Mini would sell better at a lower price point, but he still placed an order for over a dozen, expecting that the "more compact" size and style will find an audience.
Jovanny Basilio, a system administrator for Live365.com, an Internet radio company that hosts user-uploaded playlists, said that although his company had been an early buyer of Xserves, they put buying plans on hold after the G5 desktop announcement.
He said that Live365.com also runs Xserve RAIDs as hosts with Linux heads, mostly using the RAID for NFS storage. The Xserve was "fairly buggy" with NFS systems, Basilio said, although he added that he was hopeful recent updates to Mac OS X Server would change that.
"Now, with a G5 in the Xserve," he said, "we can use that as a head."
The company runs 10 racks currently, mostly comprising Solaris servers; Basilio said that he was looking to replace their NetApp servers with Xserve G5s. High on his list of selling points was integration with both the Mac OS X and Windows desktops in use at the company. He said Apples hardware has proven more reliable than others hes seen and that Mac OS X is "easy for us to manage." Basilio also noted security issues with Windows; on Mac OS X, SSH exploits are "all we have to care about."
Next page: How did consumer wares fare with the keynote crowd?