Late July and early August are the dog days of the Mac social calendar.
Mays Worldwide Developers Conference, Junes MacHack and Julys Macworld Expo/New York are history. Those of us who make it our business to track Apple Computer and the Mac now find ourselves with a bit of time on our hands until September, when the company makes its next round of pitches (to publishing professionals at Seybold Seminars/San Francisco and to an international gaggle of consumers at Apple Expo in Paris).
But even if Apple eschews any out-of-category press conferences in the interim, theres still plenty of Mac news to chase out there. Striking a balance between the thrill of the hunt and the drowsy summer weather outside, this weeks column will comprise a quick, refreshing gazpacho of the most interesting items floating around the Mac Web.
Getting the Jump on Puma
Any Mac reporter with an inquisitive bone in his or her body is diving into the promised Mac OS 10.1 (aka Puma), which Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled at Expo and which promises to bring the new OS far closer to prime time for users with real work to accomplish.
My colleagues at Think Secret and BetaNews are among the intrepid OS spelunkers whove delivered screen shots and additional dish on the coming upgrade. While Apple has been reluctant to specify performance numbers, nine out of 10 clandestine taste testers agree that the pre-release already executes many tasks markedly faster than the original release of Mac OS X, albeit still not as perkily as Mac OS 9.1.
Promised interface tweaks - including a configurable dock and data-CD burning - are already in place in current betas. However, the long-awaited DVD playback capability (whose absence from Mac OS X Dan Turner and I first noted way back before Xs initial March 24 debut) still hasnt made it into pre-releases wending their way along the underground railroad.
Ive said it before, and I have a feeling Ill be saying it again: When Mac OS X 10.1 is soup (presumably in time for a big coming-out party at Apple Expo), it will be a boon for users like me whove hesitated about embracing the slow, feature-incomplete initial release.
In light of the obvious shortcomings of the current rev, I hope Apple decides to forego a rumored $20 shipping-and-handling fee for the upgrade. This sum is small potatoes, to be sure, and the symbolism of providing Mac OS X 10.1 gratis to the early adopters who helped troubleshoot the point-oh release strikes me as far more valuable to Apple in this time of transition.
On other fronts, Mac newshounds are busily tracking the steady advance of third-party products for Mac OS X. Apples support for these developers - and their respective support for the new Mac platform - should crystallize for end users in the next couple of months, as heavyweights such as Adobe Systems and Microsoft shore up the Mac OS X ranks.
Quark, another key company in the Mac pantheon, recently recanted its arms-length stance toward Mac OS X and demonstrated a Carbonized version of QuarkXPress 5 (the next rev of its flagship page-layout application) during Jobs Expo keynote speech. This week, Quark spokesman Glen Turpin told MacCentral that the company experienced a change of heart since January, when he told the site that Quark had no timetable for porting XPress 5 to Mac OS X.
"While the comments I made with respect to Quark and Mac OS X back in January were true at the time, they do not reflect the current state of affairs," Turpin told MacCentral. "Quark stands strongly behind Mac OS X. We are hard at work Carbonizing QuarkXPress, and the version of QuarkXPress immediately after 5.0 ... will be a Carbon-native application."
Im excited about the prospect of this venerable publishing tool making the leap to Apples new platform; Ive also recently gained a new appreciation for the complexities of this move.
One major stumbling block that I hadnt fully understood until an Expo conversation with the always-insightful Leonard Rosenthol, a longtime Mac developers currently lending his considerable energies to Appligent.
Rosenthol pointed out a simple fact that made Adobes and Quarks reticence about Mac OS X far easier to understand: While software plug-ins tailored to Mac OS Xs Carbon Application Programming Interfaces can function alongside Classic Mac applications that are not, Carbonized versions of these core applications cant handle plug-ins that havent made the switch.
Considering that most content professionals rely on a complex web of plug-ins that extend the potential of XPress, Adobe Photoshop and other applications that form the centerpieces of publishing workflows, porting the big apps before the plug-ins strips them of much of the functionality users have come to expect. In this light, the Mac OS X roadmap becomes much more complicated, since it relies on the ability of myriad small plug-in developers to make the migration.
Heres hoping that Apple, Adobe, Quark and the other big guns give the little guys the support and encouragement plug-in vendors need to make some order of this potential crazy quilt.
Finally, a note on Apples retail efforts, which are poised to produce a new quartet of brick-and-mortar outlets in August and generate a total of 25 stores nationwide by years end.
One interesting ancillary benefit of the effort was hinted at this week by MacMinute.com, which reports that Apple will be posting its own employees in 70 to 90 CompUSA outlets in an effort to raise Mac consciousness throughout the titanic PC chain.
If Im right in assuming that the training and deployment of this new squad of Apple retail staffers is part and parcel of the Mac makers efforts to groom Mac-savvy employees for its own stores, the report is heartening evidence that Apples new focus on the Mac shopping experience may extend beyond the walls of its own outlets and help to bolster the platforms credibility on neutral territory.
Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is vendor analyst for Ziff Davis Medias forthcoming Baseline magazine.