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MAC SMART / CHARLES PILLER

Powerfully Good News at Latest Expo

August 12, 1996|CHARLES PILLER | Charles Piller is senior editor at Macworld magazine

BOSTON — The semiannual Macworld Expo always offers an opportunity to take stock of how the Macintosh is doing, and at last week's show here there was a healthy dose of good news for a change.

On the hardware side, attendees witnessed the largest introduction of new machines ever at the expo--22 computers from Apple, DayStar, Umax and Power Computing. Among them was Power Computing's PowerTower Pro 225, equipped with a 225-megahertz PowerPC 604e central processor, now the fastest PC on the planet.

On the software side, the picture was more mixed: Apple Computer Inc. executives indicated the company had essentially abandoned the long-awaited OS 8 operating system, known as Copeland, and will instead release components of what was to have been OS 8 as they are completed.

This is a big setback, and Apple's operating system strategy in general is a mess right at the moment. But the OS 8 announcement was a welcome acknowledgment that the software was nowhere near completion, and Apple users can now look forward to some significant upgrades in the not-too-distant future.

The power of the new computers had many on the show floor buzzing that the Mac is back. And even faster machines will be coming soon. Umax demonstrated a system with a prototype 250-MHz chip. Still not satisfied? DayStar Digital announced its Genesis MP 800+, a sizzling workstation designed for photo retouching, modeling and audiovisual work, which deploys four 200-MHz processors.

At long last, promises are coming true that the PowerPC family of chips are more "scalable"--that their performance can be improved further and faster than that of Intel's competing Pentiums, the standard for Windows PCs. And with IBM and Motorola's announcement last week of the next two generations of much faster PowerPC chips, to be released beginning in 1997, the end of Intel's performance superiority might really be at hand. Mark the moment.

At $4,995, the PowerTower Pro 225 is a bit pricey for most of us. Fortunately, there's no shortage of reasonable alternatives--most notably Apple's first tower-style Performa, the 6400. This home multimedia center comes loaded with a 200-MHz PowerPC 603e chip (about as fast as its 132-MHz 604 sibling), 16 megabytes of memory, a 2.4-gigabyte hard drive, an 8X CD-ROM drive, a 28.8 modem and a 256-kilobyte memory cache (which speeds up power-hungry operations, such as image-editing), plus software, all for $2,799. The unit offers crisp multimedia performance, including video-editing capabilities, and superb built-in audio.

Meanwhile, Umax and Power Computing filled out the lower ends of their product lines with a number of 603e-based bargains starting at about $1,500.

The computers shared the spotlight with a couple of hot printers that should transform standards for home users: Canon's $500 BJC-4550 color inkjet prints on 11-by-17-inch paper. Even better, Epson's Stylus Color 500 offers the best image quality in its class for less than $300.

Given Apple's ongoing efforts to be a player on the Internet--and Mac users do go online in numbers wildly out of proportion to the Mac's market share--it was also encouraging to see some innovative Mac-only Web page software.

Specular's $149 3-D Web Workshop makes creation of complex Web pages with embedded 3-D graphics and animations a relatively simple task. Terry Morse Software (www.terrymorse.com) also caught my eye with its oddly named Myrmidon. With a single command, this $50 utility turns any document into a Web page that retains all original formatting.

Of course, no Macworld Expo would be complete without new creative tools. Fractal Design showed what may soon become a standard for digital artists. Called Detailer, the program lets you paint the surface of any 3-D object with complex textures, shading and an unlimited range of patterns--in real time. Previously, you'd have to render the objects painfully slowly (often overnight) to create realistic surfaces and lighting effects.

In short, in spite of the operating system troubles, the Mac icon has ample reason to smile.

Charles Piller, senior editor at Macworld magazine, can be reached via e-mail at cpiller@macworld.com

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