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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Episode 2001: A Sneak Peek at Upgrades

January 04, 2001|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Happy New Year! The country is politically divided, the economy is slowing down, technology stocks have tanked and I've gained weight.

But forget all that. The Macworld Expo takes place next week in San Francisco, and with it will come another action-packed keynote address from Apple iCEO Steve Jobs. And with that will probably come some new products.

Indeed, 2001 promises to be one of the more interesting episodes of "As the Apple Turns." Here's what we're likely to see as the year unfolds:

Speed bumps. On the surface, the Mac's G3 and G4 processors seem dramatically slower than Intel's Pentium processors: The latter are available in speeds exceeding 1 gigahertz, while the fastest G4 Apple currently offers runs at 500 megahertz.

But clock rate isn't the only factor that determines processor speed, just as horsepower isn't the only factor behind a car's performance. Mac gurus have memorized this mantra, having repeated it often to computer-shopping friends and family members. But the word hasn't spread to everyone, and the misperception that Macs are slower than Windows PCs is hurting Apple. Expect to see Jobs announce a range of improvements throughout the Mac line. We won't see PowerPC speeds approaching 1 GHz next week, but we might see speedier iMacs and iBooks with G3 chips running in the 700 MHz ballpark. We might also see a new G4 PowerBook and more multiprocessor Macs.

CD burners. In a conference call with financial analysts last month, Jobs said, "Apple completely missed the boat on CD read/write drives." He was right. Apple has yet to offer a built-in CD burner--ironic, considering it was the first company to build CD-ROM drives into its computers.

Apple will atone next week by joining the CD-burning barbecue in a big way. If the rumors are right, we'll see some G4 Power Macs shipping with combination DVD and CD-R/W drives. There's also talk of new Apple software that will simplify making CDs--much as iMovie has simplified video editing.

Mac OS 9.1. A likely Expo debutante, this tweaked version of the current Mac operating system will bring some bug fixes, speed improvements and new features. The Finder will add a Windows menu to make it easier to shuffle through open directory windows. Other enhancements will simplify importing images from digital cameras and connecting to Apple's Internet-based iDisk free storage service. Mac OS 9.1 will also work better with the heir to the OS throne, Mac OS X.

Mac OS X. The Expo won't see the final release of the Mac's next major operating system upgrade, but Jobs will undoubtedly demonstrate the latest version, which is reportedly faster and more polished than the public beta that went on sale last year. And there's good news for Mac veterans: Apple is refining Mac OS X to incorporate some elements of the current OS. Some have speculated that Apple might release an updated pre-release version at the Expo--a better beta--but the final software won't be out until at least February or March.

QuickTime 5. The final version of Apple's multimedia streaming software won't be out for a few months either, but a new preview version shipped a few weeks ago. And besides fixing bugs and some interface flaws, it's also now available for Windows. Get it at http://www.apple.com/quicktime.

A portable portable? A colleague of mine claims the reason Apple doesn't make a lightweight laptop is that Jobs never has to fly coach. It's true that at about 7 pounds Apple's PowerBooks and iBooks strain the limits of portability and seat-back tray tables. But Apple has been rumored to be working on a 4-pound sub-notebook that would go up against multimedia-savvy ultralights such as the Sony Vaio. Such a machine is a key missing piece in Apple's product line, and although we aren't likely to see it next week, I hope we'll see it by midyear.

You can watch a live Webcast of Steve Jobs' Jan. 9 keynote at http://www.apple.com/quicktime/qtv/mwsf01. And if you'll be at the Macworld Expo, look for me at the keynote. I'll be the one wearing the badge.

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Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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