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New Hardware, Software Punctuate Advances in Apple's Product Line (Analysis)

Changes address professional and consumer needs; is it enough? By Dave Nagel
At the Macworld Expo in New York this morning, Steve Jobs announced several significant developments in the Apple product lineup, many of them targeted toward creative professionals. Are the product announcements enough to satisfy users who have become frustrated over the apparent stall in chip development over at Motorola? Users have had mixed reactions to the announcements in forums all over the Internet.

For some, any advance in processor speed is welcome relief. The G4 desktop line, as previously reported, now tops out at 867 MHz, the high-end model will sport a dual-processor 800 MHz configuration (along with a 2 MB level-3 cache). Not a terribly big leap from the previous high-end model, which ran at 733 MHz. (The 733 MHz model is now at the entry level, selling for $1,699. See below for details on all the new products announced.)

The most significant development in the desktop line, however, is the fact that you can get an 867 MHz Mac with a DVD SuperDrive for $2,499. The DVD SuperDrive, when sold alone, goes for about $1,000. This means, essentially, that you're getting Apple's fastest machine ever (in terms of clock speed) for $1,499, plus the cost of the SuperDrive. And this blows away anything on the Windows side for creative professionals working in production or post production.

The second most significant announcement today was Mac OS X 10.1, which, when it's released, will represent the first truly useable version of OS X. It includes "thousands" of new features, according to Jobs, including support for digital devices and, finally, the ability to handle DVDs and CD-RWs properly. Unfortunately, it won't be available until September. But fortunately, it will be a free update, at least according to Jobs. It also includes several performance enhancements requested by users, including an improved Finder, faster menus, faster window redraws and an enhanced interface. (See below for more.)

For the corporate user and presentation professionals, the other significant development was the announcement of iDVD 2 for OS X. The new version not only supports the latest Mac OS, but it offers 90 minutes of encoding, background encoding and the ability to create motion menus. Unfortunately, iDVD 2 requires Mac OS X 10.1, which won't be available until September.

Apple's other announcement included a revamped iMac line, still with a G3 processor but now topping out at 700 MHz. (The high-end model doesn't ship until next month.)

For some, the changes announced today represent solid advances in the product lineup. But for those looking for a 2 GHz Mac to compete with AMD and, to a lesser extent, Intel for raw power, it looks like we're in for a long wait. Details on Apple's announcements follow.

Faster G4 desktops
Most significant and immediate is the new lineup of desktop G4s, which now top out at 867 MHz, delivering 12 gigaflops of sustained throughput. Both the mid-range 867 MHz model and the top-end dual-processor 800 MHz model now feature the SuperDrive, a combination DVD-R/CD-RW drive. The drive alone sells for $999 retail, yet the mid-range, 867 MHz G4 is selling for only $2,499, including the SuperDrive. The top-end, dual-processor model sells for $3,499.

Apple also reintroduced the 733 MHz G4, which will now be Apple's entry-level model selling for $1,699. (It comes standard with a regular CD-RW drive.)

The two higher-end models also include 256K on chip level 2 backside cache, as well as 2 MB of level 3 cache.

All three of the desktop G4s now have a new look, which Apple calls "QuickSilver." The look is essentially the same as the previous G4 models, but with a silver finish and slightly different treatments for the drive bays on the front face.

The 733 MHz, 867 MHz and dual-processor 800 MHz models will include 40 GB, 60 GB and 80 GB hard drives, respectively. The 733 MHz and 867 MHz models are available today. The dual-processor 800 MHz model will ship in August.

Mac OS X update
Jobs also announced Mac OS X version 10.1, what he called "the first major update to OS X." The new update focuses on performance: faster menus, faster window resizing, faster application launches and faster launches.

It also offers new features, such as an improved interface, DVD playback, CD burning, "dramatically enhanced" support for digital devices and better printing support. According to Jobs, the new release includes "thousands" of improvements.

Mac OS X 10.1 is a free upgrade that's expected to ship in September.

New version of iDVD
Jobs also announced a new version 2.0 of iDVD, citing the expected explosion in DVD players worldwide, as well as a need for users to create DVD content. The new version includes the ability to use motion menus and includes new themes, as well as the ability to encode in the background as you're working.

He also announced that iDVD 2 will support up to 90 minutes of encoding, up from the previous 60 minute limit (owing to the single compression rate). The new version is a free update.

Vendor announcements
Also during the Jobs keynote, several representatives from third-party vendors got up to speak. Among them, Alias|Wavefront, Connectix Corp., Filemaker, Quark and Adobe. Alias|Wavefront said it is now taking orders for Maya for OS X. Connectix announced a download version of Virtual PC for OS X. The new version is free for registered users of VPC 4.0. Adobe and Quark reiterated their support for OS X and showed off the latest builds of their software for OS X, nothing that hasn't been shown before. Filemaker announced a new server version of Filemaker Pro for OS X.

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Related Keywords:apple, macintosh, quicksilver, osx, mac os x, quicksilver, idvd, g4

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