Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    New features, devices add lustre to Apple's shine

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,? Issue #693? February 4- 10, 2003, High Tech Office column

    Apple's share of public and media attention always outweighs its share of the computer market. Some of that comes from the company's long and colourful history, some from the showmanship and charisma of Apple's deposed and returned leader, Steve Jobs and some from the loyalty of customers. A lot, though, is because of the company's products, which stand out from the pack in terms of design, features and usability. Even non-Apple users pay attention to the company's product releases, knowing they give a glimpse of what will eventually appear watered-down in mass-market PCs, music players and other digital devices.

    The semi-annual MacWorld trade show is one of the prime times for the Mac faithful, especially the keynote address in which chairman Jobs shows off the company's latest and greatest. Defying predictions of a low-key event, Jobs recently kept things hopping for more than two hours. New products included a pair of new notebooks, including one with the largest screen available on any portable. Features include faster-than-ever wireless networking (Apple calls the industry-standard 802.11g "Airport Extreme"), ultra-fast Firewire connections and built-in Bluetooth for wireless connections to printers, cell phones and more.

    A new, free Web browser and a presentation graphics program challenge Microsoft's Internet Explorer and PowerPoint, while a lower-priced version of Apple's Final Cut Pro video editor aims at customers who have outgrown Apple's free iMovie. Updates to Apple's iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes and iDVD further the company's strategy to make its computers the easiest way for consumers to connect to digital cameras, music players and camcorders. Apple's vision for the home market is that a personal computer (preferably one of theirs) will be the "digital hub" at the centre of a growing number of consumer devices.

    There was even a high-end winter coat, aimed at skiers, using the company's iPod music player.

    Also noteworthy, though less flashy, is the company's increased credibility as the maker of real business products.

    The Mac has long been the computer of choice of graphics and publishing professionals and has been popular with scientists, in schools and universities and in the home market.

    But it hasn't had much presence with either small business or large corporations. The original Mac lacked expandability and features that made it seem user-friendly to home users were just too cute to appeal to corporate IT departments.

    OS X changed a lot of minds about Macs. While offering a slick, colourful front end, behind-the-scenes Apple's new generation operating system is built on top of industrial strength Unix, the same reliable system that powers most network servers. Knowledgeable Unix users can pop up a terminal window and have access to the arcane and powerful command line that lets them work their magic. Macs can now run a wide range of powerful Unix programs, while offering Microsoft Office, Quickbooks and other tools for everyday business use.

    At the same time, Apple's new Xserve rack-mount network server has been gathering good reviews for that hidden-away network closet.

    The company's TV ads, well designed products, useful bundled software and new-found credibility with the IT department are all aiming to convince home and business users that it is possible to switch from Windows to Mac. A few barriers remain, however. Generic PCs cost less than stylish, fully equipped Macs, though when you compare a Mac and PC with equivalent features, the price-differential tends to vanish. And while current Macs are powerful, they haven't been keeping pace with the speed enhancements in Intel-styled PC processors. Master-showman Jobs no longer demos Macs outpacing high-end PCs.

    Nevertheless, many users are considering making the switch. Next week, some tools to help.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan