Good News For Modern Macs

Before it falls too far beyond the event horizon, I thought I'd use this week's column to revisit last week's Macworld Expo/New York.

Before it falls too far beyond the event horizon, I thought Id use this weeks column to revisit last weeks Macworld Expo/New York.

Since I share the rest of the medias longstanding sweet tooth for Apple eye candy and its stamina for the P.T. Barnum exploits of Steve Jobs, the last installment in this series focused squarely on the Apple CEOs keynote presentation.

Like most of my counterparts in the Fourth Estate - and many of my fellow travelers in the Mac community - I was disappointed by the relative lack of product pyrotechnics during Jobs two-hour performance.

At the same time, I opined that the crowds high expectations reflect the Macs continued vitality and Apples overall ability to keep turning out innovative new products - most recently on the laptop side of its product grid.

And as far as I could see during my days on the show floor, this years East Coast Mac gathering amply bore out that argument. While few of the attendees I encountered were arguing that Jobs opening remarks represented an epiphany, Macworld Expo/New York demonstrated that the Mac community doesnt live by Apples CEO alone.

I was especially struck by the contrast between this show and PC Expo, a venerable gathering spot for the Windows majority, which happened to occupy about the same square footage at Javits Center just a few weeks earlier. Now that Im a local, I had the opportunity to see how the other half - or nine-tenths - lives with a leisurely visit to PC Expo on its last day.

To paraphrase immortal ska balladeers The Specials, this town was coming like a ghost town. The show floor was lightly populated, to say the least, and the muted tone of the event was an eloquent testimonial to the general malaise of the PC market during this generally awful economic downturn.

By contrast, Macworld Expo hosted a full house throughout its three-day run; I was especially heartened to note that attendance didnt drop off noticeably in the days following Jobs appearance.

Apple just informed me that the show broke local records, blowing past both PC Expo and Internet World to become the largest annual technology event in New York. While Macworld, unlike PC Expo, is the only game in town for diehard Mac heads, the inability for a major metropolitan Windows show to beat a Mac event for foot traffic is intriguing indeed.

Clearly, the boisterous Macworld Expo crowd was interested in far more than an opportunity to see Apples strongman bench-pressing the latest hardware.

That was a good call on their part: Macworld Expo offered plenty of promising news about the prospects for the platform in the brave new world of Mac OS X.

As Id predicted, the first substantive revision of the new OS - Mac OS X 10.1, aka Puma - wasnt ready to ship at the show. Nevertheless, the performance enhancements and notable interface tweaks it will bring to the table in September promise to make Mac OS X a far more viable working environment for the bulk of late adopters who actually need to accomplish tasks on their Macs.

(Insert inevitable criticism here: I am disturbed by reports that Apple plans to charge a $20 shipping-and-handling fee for the upgrade CD to those brave souls who already ponied up $130 to play test pilot on the current, less-than-adequate Mac OS X release. If this scheme does indeed come to pass, rest assured Ill call Apple on the carpet in a future installment; for now, however, Ill keep the proverbial powder dry.)

Ive dinged Adobe Systems in recent columns for a lack of clarity about its Mac OS X plans - and its absence from the show floor. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see the company demonstrate from the keynote stage that Carbonized versions of InDesign, Illustrator and GoLive are as close to prime time as my sources have indicated. Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised to see DTP heavyweight Quark join Jobs onstage to demonstrate a far more developed Mac OS X pre-release of QuarkXPress 5 than Id believed existed.

Tech demos most assuredly do not a viable work flow make. Nevertheless, the show floor was also carpeted with wall-to-wall products, many of which sample the candy-coated Unix goodness of Mac OS X. Corel unveiled a reconstituted graphics line dubbed Procreate and focused on the professional use of Mac OS X; Connectix unveiled a "test drive" of its Virtual PC Windows emulator for Mac OS X; and Mac stalwarts such as 4D, CE Software, Aladdin Systems, MYOB, Thursby Software Systems, and VR Toolbox, just to name a few, rolled out public betas or full shipping versions of Mac OS X software. Meanwhile, scores of developers were demonstrating Mac OS X-native software due to disembark within the next couple of months. A browsing tip for the casual Mac shopper: Take a look at the Macworld Expo announcements lined up at for a better sense of the range of last weeks Mac OS X-related announcements.

Indeed, I was bemused by a news story on another tech site that claimed the most interesting third-party Macworld Expo offerings were Mac chassis dolled up with paint or converted into aquaria. I dont know whether the author simply got off on the wrong subway stop, but I saw plenty of worthy Mac OS X wares already available.

Im going to end this column with another caveat: Apple is the beneficiary of tremendous goodwill from a user base whose devotion any other box maker would give its eyeteeth to earn, but its in no position to take that goodwill for granted.

As MacUser UK reports, key developers remain underwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the companys technical support in making the Mac OS X switch, and some are disturbed by the perception that Apple is planning to extend its own reach into the applications market to their detriment. Meanwhile, longtime dealers are similarly concerned about Apples plans to enter their retail turf by opening its own national chain of brick-and-mortar boutiques.

These business people are astute enough to understand that the energy evinced at Macworld Expo can translate into a pile of potential profits from the indefatigable Mac minority. Apple, however, must go the extra mile to prove that it knows when to help them accomplish this task - and when to get out of the way.

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is managing editor of Ziff Davis Internet.