SAN FRANCISCO—The buzz is swelling in anticipation of consumer-side announcements from Steve Jobs keynote address that will kick off the annual Macworld Expo here. Will it be the iPod phone or the iTV digital media server (name change is also expected)? Only Jobs and a select cadre of Apple execs know for sure.
However, after the keynote hubbub settles and attendees wander onto the show floor, a revised sense of the Mac market may come into view. Among the booths filled with professional and consumer photo and video content creation tools and iPod gear—all expected and familiar Expo fare—will be an invasion of software and hardware solutions solidly in the small and midsize business camp.
Many industry analysts predict that Jobs will dedicate a large portion of his Jan. 9 keynote address to describing in greater detail the so-called iTV device, which he previewed in September. However, recent postings on some online Mac enthusiast sites warn Jobs may pass on the iTV media server.
A similar bifurcated prediction is seen about the iPhone, or iPod phone. The possibilities of the nature of the iPhone and its revelation keep climbing.
In addition, Mac users hope for more details of Leopard, or Mac OS X 10.5, which was introduced to developers in August at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. At the time, Jobs said the company would wait to reveal a number of its features until closer to its release, which is expected in the first half of 2007.
With Windows Vistas feature SKUs and feature set fixed, perhaps Apple will show off more of Leopard and provide a check list for PC customers who are deciding between a Windows upgrade and switching to OS X and the Macintosh.
In October, Apple disclosed a few more enhancements due for Leopard: Xray, a real-time application performance tool based on Sun Microsytems OpenSolaris DTrace framework; and resolution independence for displays, which decouples the resolution of OS elements, such as windows and menus, from the physical pixel density of computer screens. Neither of these features has been demonstrated to the public.
Apple has also been mum on the Macs support for another interesting Sun technology: ZFS (Zettabye File System), which is included in Solaris 10. In December, a Mac site showed Leopard screen shots showing ZFS running on Leopard.
This pooled storage file system would provide a wide range of useful storage capabilities, such as intelligent management that lets users avoid many problems with partitions, provisioning and wasted bandwidth as well as built-in replication, RAID and self-healing data verification.
According to Think Secret, Apple will announce an new version of iWork, the companys productivity package, including a new spreadsheet application. The site says iWork 2007 will update the Keynote presentation application and Pages word-processing/layout program.
All of these programs follow a sophisticated, templated, style-sheet approach to productivity applications, making it very easy for novice users to quickly create complex, professional and effective documents. The applications are integrated and scriptable.
Ive always felt that the Keynote application is best of class in the presentation field, especially running on one of the Intel-based Mac notebooks. Users can easily animate individual elements to present data in a very powerful and emotional way that resonates with viewers. Its class from the bottom up, and you dont need to be a graphic designer.
Mac is SMB
Apples revised suite lineup will certainly be compared with Office 2007 on Windows, although for Mac users the comparison will be to the next version of Office for the Mac, now due sometime in the spring. Microsoft now offers a 60-day trial version of Office 2007 for download.
However, just as big as these Apple announcements will be for the professional Mac community, the SMB pickings at the Expo will be just as significant. A thorough examination of the Macworld Expo exhibitor list shows introductions of solid business products such as ERP (enterprise resource management) and CRM (customer resource management) apps as well as new multiplatform infrastructure tools.
The list includes authentication security appliances; Mac support on infrastructure IT automation and software distribution servers; a new crop of backup and lifecycle apps; and many more.
Some of these products are ports from Linux market, but many offer full native Cocoa interfaces. Companies that had been Windows-only for a long time, or just Windows and Linux, said they were now adding Mac OS X to the list of supported OSes.
Vendors said the demand for Mac compatibility was coming from a variety of directions, both from businesses needing to connect with the Mac users in creative departments or with consultants who are choosing the Mac as a preferred mobile platform.
For example, Mindjet, the San Francisco-based maker of the information visualization and brainstorming software MindManager, released a Mac version in May. Brook Stein, senior product manager, said some demand for Mac compatibility came from executives needing to pass files with ad agencies and other outside consultants that used Macs.
In addition, demand for the Mac version came from an increasing number of Windows “switchers,” he said.
“The biggest market were seeing growth in are people who use Windows at work (because they have to), but who buy Macs for home. … People want to be able to bring their maps with them, not on a notebook but on thumb-drive. And if they have an idea at night, and they want to map it out real quick, they want to be able to bring it back to work the next day,” he said.
The Macs integration of software and hardware, especially now based on a familiar Intel hardware platform, could prove appealing to a new range of business customers, several vendors suggested.
According to Chris Kleisath, senior director of engineering for Sybase iAnywhere, of Dublin, Calif., his company targets “frontline” applications for its SQL database product. These can be found in mobile environments, remote offices, embedded in other applications (Intuit QuickBooks for example), and in unsupported server environments, such as small businesses without an IT staff.
“The volume of data is exploding, and more and more data is captured locally. iAnywhere is used in those environments where users want quick access to data but theyre not database experts,” he said.
Kleisath observed that this growing segment of users is evolving into a new mission-critical computing environment, but one without the usual DBA or IT support. For this reason, the Mac has appealed to the company, he said. It will make a product announcement Jan. 9 at the Expo, and declined to provide specifics.
Apple addresses the Macintosh to a similar kind of market, he said.
“The Mac is quite a sophisticated technical architecture, but its aimed at people that arent experts in data center [tasks]. But they still will be storing gigabytes of critical data on them,” Kleisath said.
He said iAnywheres OEM partners were starting to target the Mac platform with new business applications. “And the development tools are now there for them to make the applications.”
Ed Tierney, director of marketing for ATTO Technology, agreed with the concept. He pointed to comparisons between the companys experience in the digital audio video market and the SMB market. He said the SMB and professional A/V production customers were similar.
“When you sell to the data center, youre talking to a guy whose life is storage and computers—thats what he does. When you talk to a person in the digital video and audio world, theyre highly technical people, but theyre technical in terms of making a movie. They need storage, and they need it to work right. But its not about the storage,” Tierney said.
He said this is similar to the SMB customer. “Theyre not out to buy storage for its own sake. They need [storage] to run the company and keep the records. They need the performance and reliability but also ease of use. The big storage companies are still cutting their teeth on this idea.”
ATTO, of Amherst, N.Y., will introduce two new high-bandwidth SAS (serial-attached SCSI) HBAs at the Macworld Expo. He said the RAID drivers were tuned for high-performance applications, such as high-def video productions.
At the same time, Tierney saw another trend in the business market that may prove interesting for Apple as well as companies like ATTO that support multiple operating systems, particularly Mac OS X.
He said large site customers such as education and governmental organizations often have multiple groups that make decisions over hardware purchases: One is involved in digital A/V production and another for high-performance computing applications. The third and largest part of the organization is enterprise IT.
For years, Tierney said, these purchasing groups havent talked with one another. But as the support economics “skinny down,” they will be forced together, making an uncomfortable fit.
“One of two things will happen: either the video world will have to accept some IT oversight and processes, which will be a problem since IT world doesnt really understand high-bandwidth computing. Or there will be a solution that floats over all of them,” he said.
That trend could favor the Macintosh, which can run Windows, Linux and OS X natively.
And then, theres Apples long experience with user-centric values, or should we say, experience of success with user-centric values. The latter is the more telling point, one that Windows and Linux developers and users still cant touch.