Mac Notes
Big and Little News from Apple

By Jeffrey Allen


January has become one of my favorite months from a technological perspective as every January brings a new MacWorld as well as a new Consumer Electronics Show. This year’s MacWorld saw the introduction of the biggest and the smallest Powerbooks ever (and, in fact, the first 17" screen laptop). It also brought announcements of new and upgraded software featuring an enhanced interconnectivity.

The New Hardware
Apple addressed the age-old question of whether size really matters by introducing both the “Mini” 12" Powerbook (the smallest laptop it has ever produced) and the “Maxi” 17" Powerbook (the largest laptop it has ever produced). The two computers have many features in common: they both run G4 processors, and both come with built-in Ethernet, two USB ports, a standard FireWire port, and built-in Bluetooth capabilities. Both are AirPort Extreme (see below) ready; but the Maxi comes with the AirPort Extreme card as part of the package; if you buy the Mini, it is a $99 option. Both come with a built-in 56K modem operating on the new V.92 standard (that means that if you use a dial-up connection, you can put the Internet connection on hold to answer a phone call). Both laptops come in a new lightweight and durable aluminum alloy casing that should not have the problems of scratching and damage that plagued the Titanium PowerBooks. The new laptops have a smooth and curvaceous finish, no sharp edges, no doors to break, and no external buttons to push accidentally. Aside from the practical improvements, they just look damned good! If any laptop ever had “sex appeal,” these do.


The Mini. The 4.6 pound Mini runs at 867Mhz. It has a 10.2" x 8.9" footprint and is only 1.2" thick when closed. Apple rates the lithium ion polymer battery for up to 5 hours of use. You can get the unit with 256MB of RAM, a DVD/CDRW, and a 40 GB hard drive for $1,799. Upgrading to a SuperDrive (DVD/CD Burner) costs an additional $200. You can increase the RAM to 640MB. Apple used essentially the same sized keyboard in both the Mini and the Maxi; so the Mini does not suffer by that comparison. The Mini has 10/100 Ethernet built-in. Three of Apple’s decisions concerning which features to cut to keep the computer under the $2,000 level do merit some comment. First, the Mini has no L3 cache. That will have a significantly negative impact on the performance of some programs, like Virtual PC, that require an L3 cache to run efficiently. Second, the Mini has only a mini-VGA video output option (but it does have the ability to drive a nonmirrored external monitor to resolutions of up to 1600 x 1200 pixels). Third, it has no PCMCIA slot.

 

 


The Maxi. Apple’s new 17" Power book comes with the world’s biggest laptop screen to date. Nevertheless, the Maxi is only 1" thick when closed and weighs in at only 6.8 pounds; It has a footprint of 15.4" x 10.2"). The Maxi’s G4 processor runs at 1Ghz. It comes with a 60 GB hard drive, the SuperDrive (CD/DVD read/write), and 512 MB of RAM (upgradeable to 1 Gigabyte). The screen supports a resolution of an amazing 1.3 million pixels (1440 x 900). The Maxi uses a keyboard that is the same size as the Mini, but has fiber optic strands under the keyboard that backlight the keys for easier viewing when ambient lighting sensors (hidden under the speaker grilles) detect lower light situations. The Maxi comes with a 60 Gb hard disk, a full compliment of video outputs (including DVI, S Video, and mini-VGA), an AirPort Extreme card installed, and a 1MB L3 cache. The Maxi comes with Gigabit Ethernet. It lists for $3,299.

 


Wireless: AirPort Extreme and More. Wireless connectivity is here to stay, and Apple is big on wireless connectivity. Apple uses the term “AirPort Extreme” to identify its version of the 802.11g wireless standard. Apple leads the pack with the introduction of 802.11g equipment. The 802.11g wireless runs at about five times the speed of the more common 802.11b and is backwards compatible, so that an 802.11b computer can use an 802.11g network (but at the slower speed only). Expect to see more 802.11g offerings in and out of the Apple world this year. The faster speed, better security, and broader range of the new standard will make it very popular. Additionally, using a second form of wireless technology, Apple has built Bluetooth into both of its newest laptops and will likely build it in to future computers. The Bluetooth capacity will allow the computers to wirelessly interface with a variety of devices including PDAs and cell phones for wireless Internet access.

 

 

 


The Software

On the software front, Apple expanded and improved its digital hub concept with upgrades to iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, and iDVD, all of which are available on an iLife disk for $49.00 (iPhoto and iTunes can also be downloaded from the Apple web site). The new iterations of these programs share a theme of interconectability. The programs easily interface with each other allowing your creative juices to flow freely. You can grab songs from your iTunes 3 play list to use as background music for your iPhoto 2 slide show or include your slide show as part of the DVD you are creating.

Apple also announced a scaled-down version of Final Cut, its heavyweight DVD editing software. The new version Final Cut Express ($300) offers the average user all the necessary functionality, but at a substantially reduced cost. The Express version lacks some of the more sophisticated features of the original, but those who want those features have the option of spending the additional money to acquire it.

Apple introduced Keynote (a presentation program that will challenge PowerPoint) and a new browser named Safari. With Safari and Keynote, Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, taking on the Borg in two areas where Microsoft has achieved dominance in the market. Steve Jobs is apparently convinced that resistance may not be futile.

 


iPhoto 2.
Apple updated its iPhoto software to version 2. The new version introduces new photo-retouching tools, including an automatic picture enhancer that corrects exposure errors and lighting problems and a brush that retouches photos to remove flaws such as scratches, marks, dirt, etc.


iTunes 3.
In iTunes 3 Apple has adopted a standard of “any tune, anytime, anywhere.” The program organizes, lists, stores, and plays your music for you in the order you choose. It allows you to assemble CDs, import music into iMovie and iPhoto creations, and, of course, interface with your iPod to give you music on the go. You can access the iTunes library directly from any of the iLife applications.

 


iMovie 3. The new iteration interfaces with its “iSiblings” from the Mac software world, allowing you to add slides or music to your movie. Apple has added new visual effects for more creative muscle and better audio control than earlier versions offered.


iDVD3.
Apple has substantially upgraded its proprietary DVD burning software. In keeping with its iLife theme, Apple has integrated iDVD with iTunes, iMovie, and iPhoto so that you can now take output from any of those programs and include it in your DVD, without leaving iDVD. This makes the process of DVD creation simpler and faster. The new version includes two dozen new themes for you to use in your creation. The program still does not support third-party DVD drives. It works with Apple Superdrive.

 


Final Cut Express.
If you have visions of creating the great American movie, but don’t think you are ready for the advanced features of Final Cut Pro (or the advanced $999 cost), Final Cut Express is the program for you. The Express program sells for $299. It provides most of the basic functionality of the full version, but does not include some of the most advanced features such as advanced key framing, support for some formats, and on- and offline workflow. Express works with the DV and Mini DV formats. It provides far more precision and control over both the video and the audio tracks in the final product than you can get from iMovie 3. The program includes over 200 filters, special effects and transitions. Express lets you export the assembled movie back to your video camera or into QuickTime or MPEG-4 formats. You can also import the movie into iDVD to burn it into your own DVD.

 


Safari.
With Safari, Apple tried to create a fast, smooth, efficient, and easily usable browser. So far, it looks like Apple succeeded. As with most of the software that Apple has created, Safari is very cost effective: it is free (at least for now). Technically, the program has not been released. What Apple has done is create and distribute a public Beta version of Safari. This technique has the advantage of allowing Apple to put the product out in an “unfinished” but almost ready to go state. What that means is, on the bad side, it may be buggy (if a problem crops up: “Hey, it’s only the Beta version, we will fix it in the release version”). On the good side, it creates an opportunity for users to try it and suggest features that might improve it in the final release version. The best news is that, Beta or not, it already works quite well and often appears to work faster than Internet Explorer 5.2.

 

 

 


Keynote.
Apple’s Keynote presentation software is, in a word, excellent. The program, which sells for $99, comes with 12 background themes; however, others have already become available for download at no cost or a relatively nominal one. Expect more to come. Not surprisingly, Keynote interfaces with the iLife programs, and you can import pictures from your iPhoto library and music from your iTunes play list into your presentations. Keynote works well with QuickTime, and adding QuickTime movies to your presentations is easily accomplished. The program includes both two and three dimensional slide transitions. If you are sending your work to people who do not have Keynote, you can export from Keynote to PDF, to Quicktime, and even to PowerPoint.
Apple is working hard to make it a wonderful iLife!

 



Jeffrey Allen (jallenlawtek@aol.com) has a general practice in Oakland, California. His firm, Graves & Allen, emphasizes real estate and business transactions and litigation. He is a frequent speaker and author on technology topics and the Editor-in-Chief of the
GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide and the Technology eReport.

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