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Roundup?Macworld Expo SF 2005, Part 2

New tools for pros introduced By Dave Nagel
As has been the case for the last four years, Apple once again chose not to use the Macworld Expo in San Francisco as a launching point for its professional products, focusing instead on consumer offerings like iLife '05, the iPod and the new Mac Mini. The creative professional market was represented at the show though by several third-party vendors showing off their latest wares, but not in the kind of force seen at previous Macworld events.

In fact, the bulk of the truly gigantic developments for creative professionals at this year's expo are, to put it bluntly, secret. Several developers met with reporters behind closed doors to give us previews of what lies ahead for the Mac platform, and what we were able to see will simply astound you. To quote Roy Batty, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." And it pains me not to be able to reveal them yet. Not even to hint at them. But I can tell you that if you were to make a software wish list, you would be able to anticipate just about everything on it coming true before the year's out.

Apple: begging the question
As for the developments that were made public, there weren't all that many affecting creative professionals. As discussed in Part 1 of my Macworld roundup, Apple did unveil a new version of Final Cut Express called Final Cut Express HD. Now, FCE has never been targeted squarely at the pro market, but rather at semi-professionals and consumers looking for more than what the free video editing applications offer. But FCE, at $299, has always been a well appointed NLE, offering perhaps 80 percent of the functionality found inside Final Cut Pro. Now with the release of FCE HD, the gap has been narrowed further. Not only does it handle HD, but it also comes bundled with LiveType (a system for generating animated titles) and Soundtrack (a loop-based soundtrack creation system).

All of which begs a significant question: What does this mean for the next release of Final Cut Pro? In order to force users teetering between FCE and FCP into the more expensive Pro version, Apple's going to have to introduce something pretty significant, and soon ... say along the timeframe of the NAB convention in April at the latest. Historically--at least in terms of recent history--Apple has indeed used the NAB convention as the launching pad for its new pro applications, including last year's announcements of new versions of Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro and Shake, along with the revelation of Motion. So we'll just have to wait to see what they have in store for us this time around.

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Third-party software
The list of third-party software developers making a showing at this year's expo is a small one, but we did get to see some important new applications making their way into the realm of public consumption.

Wondertouch has been tantalizing Mac OS X users practically forever with ParticleIllusion. While the full version still isn't available on the Mac platform, the company did release ParticleIllusion SE, an introductory version of the pro-level software, for Mac OS X. ParticleIllusion is a standalone particle generation system, one that will be familiar to users of Discreet Combustion, into which ParticleIllusion is integrated. The SE version includes 750 presets for things like smoke, fire, explosions and other types of particle-based effects. Perhaps not all that significant in itself, ParticleIllusion SE for Mac OS X does bode well for the long-anticipated ParticleIllusion 3 for Mac OS X, which is now slated for an April release. As somebody who's been holding his breath since last summer, when ParticleIllusion 3 was originally supposed to be released, I'm looking forward to that very much.

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Auto.des.sys offered its first public exhibition of Form.Z 5.0, the new version of its solid and surface 3D modeler (actually announced back in December). The new version, fully native for Mac OS X, includes an open architecture (for both plugins and scripts), new workflow tools, additional modeling tools (accurate gears, ruled parametric surfaces, solid stars and others), new cloning capabilities, new tools for repairing data in imported files, a sketch renderer and various other enhancements. The release of Form.Z 5.0 marks the end of the company's support for the Classic version of the software.

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