Make no mistake about it: Apple Computers decision to cancel this weeks Apple Expo in Paris was a disappointment to Europes Mac fans and an upsetting echo of current uneasiness about air travel in the wake of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center tragedy.
This tiny ripple of the current global crisis was certainly not a happy choice for Apple, which had been working for months to focus the attention of European Mac users on CEO Steve Jobs annual keynote appearance.
Nevertheless, it did resolve the puzzling issue of how the Mac maker could effectively be in two places at once during a week that also featured an Apple keynote appearance at Seybold Seminars/San Francisco.
Instead of leaving the Seybold duties to Apple Vice President for Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller as originally scheduled, Jobs joined his faithful Sancho Panza on the Seybold stage.
And while the PC industrys trickster prince held fast to his warning that hed bring no new hardware to the festivities, Jobs presence lent gravitas to Apples centerpiece announcement: this weeks arrival of Mac OS X 10.1, the first significant upgrade to the Unix-based OS since its official debut in March.
Whats more, the switch to Seybold compelled Jobs and Apple to direct a concerted Mac OS X pitch to the constituency that still forms the hardest and most demanding core of Mac power users: publishing professionals.
Apple can pretty much count on Mac enthusiasts and its coveted consumer market to make the switch to Mac OS X sooner or later, especially if its the default system on all new models.
Creative pros whove spent a decade plus tuning their workflows for the Mac, however, need to see some real progress in the new OS performance and high-end features before making a significant capital investment in Apples gambit - especially under current, woeful economic conditions.
Apple rose to the challenge on Tuesday morning, announcing the imminent arrival of an upgrade that brings the client and server versions of the industrial-strength OS within striking distance, performance-wise, of the classic Mac OS.
Meanwhile, Jobs team showcased a battery of enhanced features aimed squarely at publishing and multimedia professionals - support for Adobe Systems Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.3 standard, complete with 128-bit encryption; enhanced printing capabilities; Version 4 of ColorSync, Apples trailblazing color-management system, which supports the ICC 4 spec; an enhanced version of AppleScript that plays nice with SML-RC and SOAP standards; and support for the SMB/CIFS server communication protocol, WebDAV and NFS.
AppleScript product marketing manager Sal Soghoian also provided a "sneak peek" at AppleScript Studio, which will let scripters add custom interfaces to their creations. (While the company declined to name a release date, Im betting AppleScript Studio will arrive alongside the Jaguar Mac OS X upgrade, reportedly due to debut at Januarys Macworld Expo/San Francisco.)
Kick in the Apps
Seybold also brought a spate of much-needed new announcements on the third-party software front, most notably from graphics heavyweight Adobe Systems.
No matter how much Jobs Apple may seek to control every aspect of its user experience and customer appeal, the Mac - like any other platform - lives and dies by the willingness of applications developers to support it. Nowhere is this truism more manifest than among publishing professionals whose businesses depend on the seamless integration of multiple complex software applications to handle everything from image creation to layout to multipurpose publishing.
Adobe took a couple of symbolic but significant steps this week: It officially announced that forthcoming, Mac OS X-native upgrades to Illustrator, its vector-based drawing program, and InDesign, its page-layout application, will reach users in the fourth quarter of 2001 and first quarter of 2002, respectively. The absence of native Adobe apps has been a source of profound consternation to Mac veterans (including Yours Truly), and tangible delivery dates for these two important packages provide professional users important milestones when plotting their Mac OS X migrations.
Now, if Adobe would only divulge its timetable for Photoshop ...
One final note on the state of the Mac at Seybold: While many pro users have voiced concerns that Apple is neglecting them while it chases the chimera of consumer sales, this customer base has remained steadfast in its overall support for the companys wares.
Thats not simply thanks to Apples superior publishing savvy, but to Microsofts unusual fecklessness when it comes to proving its chops. After rattling the saber of Windows NT at Seybold gatherings a few years ago, Microsoft has apparently ceded primacy in this market to Apple. Its presence at this years event was limited to touting Microsoft reader, and its Wednesday-morning presentation on digital rights management had users running for the exits.
Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is best practices editor for Ziff Davis Medias forthcoming Baseline magazine.