But so what? As Steve pointed out, we have already seen a new PowerBook G4 and a new iBook this year, both of which have received more rave reviews than almost any Mac that Apple has ever introduced. If Apple wants to take a breather, let's let them. Our guess (and it's only a guess) is that we will still see a radically redesigned iMac by October. One hint to that effect: even though minimally "new" iMacs were announced at the show, they received practically no floor space at the Apple booth. The not-so-new PowerBooks and iBooks got far more space.
Apple's detailed explanation of the megahertz myth (especially as it applies to G4 vs. Pentium processors), showing how the length of the processor's "pipeline" was just as critical as the MHz size for determining processor speed, was informative. It added a new twist to the now-familiar demo showing how Photoshop on a Mac outperforms its Windows brother.
Mac OS X The big news at the keynote centered on software. And, in the long run, it will be far more critical to Apple's success than whether or not new iMacs were released in July. The news is this: Mac OS X is suddenly looking much better.
Personally, our prior reluctance to adopt Mac OS X as our default OS has hinged on two main problems: First, OS X has too many limitations (compared to OS 9) and they were too often too much of a pain to work-around (see our prior comments and this related article). Second, there have been too few productivity applications running in Mac OS X (if, as a work-around, we needed to spend most of our time in Classic, we did not think it was worth the bother to use OS X). Actually, we could add a third, somewhat less compelling "problem": we wanted to see applications that were not just ports of Mac OS 9 versions but were redesigned to take full advantage of Mac OS X's new Aqua interface and would take us where no Mac has gone before.
The keynote address responded to all of these concerns. For starters, Mac OS X 10.1 was announced and it promises to be the first version of OS X that is not really beta software in disguise (see this page for an overview). The performance gains were nothing short of spectacular. Seeing applications launch in just a fraction of the time they now take was probably Steve's best demo of the entire keynote. With the moveable Dock and the new System menus options, Apple continues to show that it is listening to users and designing OS X to work the way users want and not just the way Apple's NeXT programmers believe it should work. The added DVD, CD, printer and networking support (including AFP server support over AppleTalk) promises to at last allow you to use most, if not all, the hardware peripherals in OS X that you can already use in OS 9 (we hope that our Epson 900 may now work).
Mac OS X 10.1 will ship in September, and will only be available by getting the CD. For those that already have Mac OS X, Steve called it a "free" upgrade, but noted that you will still have to pay $20 for shipping. We could have done without the doublespeak. The upgrade is $20. It's not free. And given the hassles that users have had to endure with the 10.0 versions, a reasonable case could be made that the "shipping" costs should have maxed out at $5.00. But this is not a deal-breaker. [Update: A couple of readers speculate that a free downloadable version of the update may yet be available. We consider this unlikely (as the update will likely be too large), but admit that we are not a 100% certain].
By the way, after the keynote, we had a chance to ask Apple staff some questions about 10.1. We were encouraged by their answers. First, they promised that technical developer-level documentation for what's new and different in Mac OS X 10.1 will be forthcoming, unlike for the previous maintenance updates. They also implied (but would not clearly state) that all (not just a premiere few) of Apple's developers would be getting beta seeds of 10.1. More significantly, they were 100% committed to the concept that if fixing an end-user problem in OS X required using Terminal, then something was wrong - and they needed to fix it. As an example, we asked about problems emptying the Trash at times, and the< variety of Unix-based solutions that had been put forth to solve them. They claimed that this has all been fixed in 10.1 and that these work-arounds will no longer be needed. We are only cautiously optimistic this will turn out to be so. But it was still good to know that this is Apple's goal.
Just as important as OS X 10.1 itself were the third party applications that were demoed at the keynote. For starters, Office for OS X looked fantastic! It may be hard to believe, but the maker of the first killer software that gets people to say "I need to have OS X so that I can run that app" could well be...Microsoft! Kevin Browne promised that virtually every single dialog box and toolbar button in Office had been redone to take full advantage of Aqua - not to mention that there were many new features never before seen in Office (such as the adjustable transparency of graphics). And, a definite surprise (considering the publicity Adobe received for not having a booth at the Expo), Adobe stepped up to the plate to show development versions of Illustrator, GoLive and InDesign - all running native in OS X. As with Office, these were not simply ports but completely redesigned applications. In fact, as we recall, Adobe claimed that these would be OS X-only updates, and would not be compromised by the necessity to make trade-offs so they would run in OS 9 as well. The demo of QuarkXPress's new print-to-Web capability showed how easy it could be to take a complex Quark document in OS X and convert it to a Web page. IBM's ViaVoice for OS X was another major makeover; the voice dictation demo came close to getting a standing ovation. Virtual PC for OS X, World Book 2002, Maya - were also all impressive.
We'll reserve final judgment until the OS X update and these supporting applications actually ship. But the bottom line is that these announcements mark OS X's arrival in the mainstream. We certainly plan to shift to using OS X as our default OS before the year is over.
Other stuff In other news from the keynote, Steve provided no hard data on how the Apple Stores were doing, but he reiterated Apple's commitment to have 25 stores open by the end of the year. And, if the video of the Glendale store opening is any indication, the stores will be a success. The crowds looked more like opening day for the new Star Wars movie than for a retail store.
The other software announcement at the keynote was iDVD 2 for Mac OS X. That's right, it will only run in OS X 10.1, not at all in OS 9. We still find it a bit odd that Apple's ads for iDVD clearly target home users - showing how it can be used to convert your home video into a movie - yet the software is only available on Apple's high-end Power Mac G4s, which are not marketed as a consumer model. Given that, we wonder how long before a SuperDrive and iDVD migrates down to the iMac. Again, we would not be surprised to see such iMacs before the year is over.
Saving the iDVD announcement for the end of the keynote was a bit anti-climatic for those hoping for a really big "one more thing" - but it is a key product in Apple's latest "digital hub" marketing campaign.
Steve's final comments were to thank Apple employees and their families for their work and support. This struck us as a tacit acknowledgment that overworked Apple staffers may have seen less of their families in the last six months than if Apple had stationed the staff in Siberia. We offer our thanks to them as well. Mac OS X remains the future of the Mac. With today's keynote, that "future" just got a whole lot closer.
Update: Yesterday, we noted that Apple did not disclose which Mac was used to demo the speed improvements in Mac OS X. (We suspected it was probably a very fast Mac.) Today, MacFixIt reader Fritz Mills offers this observation: "Apple is demonstrating 10.1 on Dual 800's, which appear to exhibit the same speeds with Finder operations as seen in the keynote. The demonstrator, when pressed, said we could expect a 3x to 5x increase from 10.0.4 on our existing hardware."