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Prodigal Mac: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Which Apple is going to show up in the next twelve months? By Kevin Schmitt
Folks, I'm tanned, I'm rested, and I'm ready. (Translation: my usually butt-white Irish skin is a lovely late-summer pink, I've been lazy, and Dave Nagel was about to hand me my rear end on a shiny silver platter garnished with a lovely sprig of parsley if I didn't get him something to publish soon.) I hope everyone out there in Mac-land is doing about the same, because if this summer has been any indication, the next year or so should be a very interesting one for the professional end of the Mac market.

Now, we know Steve Jobs has been all over the consumer market like stink on a goat, and if you happen to fall into this segment, the iTimes are pretty iSweet for you right about iNow, what with the iMac, the iPod, and all 'dem cute little iApps. Alas, this article is not for you. While the times are great for Mac consumer users, it's hard to tell which way the wind is blowing these days for those of us that make up the professional segment, which leads me to oh-so-smoothly work in the title of this article:

It was the best of times
If the mid-nineties were the "poop age" of Apple software, the early zips may come to be known as the decidedly "anti-poop age" of Apple software. As I write this, I have just spent a bleary-eyed weekend with Jaguar, which, in case you've been living under a rock for the last month or so, is Apple's code-cum-marketing name for the eagerly-awaited and much-ballyhooed Mac OS X 10.2. Folks, I am more impressed than I thought I was going to be. I'm not going to go as far as saying that "this is the operating system OS X 10.0 should have been," as I've heard many utter in the last few days, but this is definitely the version that finally delivers on pretty much everything we were promised OS X would eventually be. Oh, sure, I have some minor issues with it, like an enormous system slowdown whenever I try to install a TrueType font and the police state ushered in with the new Dock with regards to third-party application switchers. But, as Fred Sanford would put it, this is the big one: Quartz Extreme, Inkwell, the return of Spring-loaded Folders, native Samba serving, yadda yadda yadda. You've probably heard all the buzzwords by now. The bar has definitely been raised, and unless you're a Director developer or Quark designer, Jaguar is definitely right for the vast majority of the creative marketplace (especially those stuck in the middle of a sea of Windows). Maybe when word gets around about what you actually get for the money folks will stop complaining about the $129 price tag, because it's definitely worth the jack. And yes, before the cynical amongst you break out the torches and pitchforks, I paid for my copy like every other schmoe out there.

And it's not just the OS that's benefitting from the software renaissance going on there in Cupertino. Apple's Napoleonic streak of creative software acquisitions has already borne fruit in the form of the first release of Apple Shake (sounds like the flavor of the month over at the DQ). Sure, Windows users can still buy Shake (for now, anyway), but it's going to cost you double what the Mac version does. Only time will tell what will become of Apple's purchase of Silicon Grail and Emagic, but if the Shake model is any indication, it won't be long before Apple could conceivably have a low-cost, turnkey software/hardware solution for any number of creative markets. Stay tuned on this one, but it's not a stretch to say that the future is very bright in the professional-grade creative production department.

Another sign that this is, indeed, the best of times for Apple was provided to me over the weekend, when I saw Gateway's iMac rip-off commercial. How cute! The little gateway machine was bouncing over an iMac and sticking out it's "tongue" at it, all while the Billy Bigvoice announcer is spewing the same FUD about no applications being available on the Mac. This is, quite frankly, something I never thought I would see: a PC maker trying direct competition with Apple. Wasn't Apple's puny 5 percent market share not worth going after? I thought Apple was irrelevant. Guess not. If you see these ads, after the initial bad taste in your mouth goes away, you'll likely come 'round to realizing that the direct competition route is great for Apple. I'd like to see more PC makers jump on board this train, actually.

OK, enough fun. Time to leave a big, stinky you-know-what in the punchbowl:

It was the worst of times
While the software side of the Mac equation is pretty freaking excellent, I'm really beginning to worry about where the hardware is going. Take the new towers Apple just released. At first glance, everything looks pretty good. Dual processors across the board, DDR RAM (finally), spankin' new Radeon cards, decent pricing. However, at least for me, after a couple of days I realized I was doing the toolie version of beergoggling with the new towers. Dual processors are nice and all, but combining the clock speeds of two top-of-the-line G4's just about equals the latest offerings of single CPUs from AMD and Intel. Supposedly, megaHertz doesn't matter, but when you're only halfway to where other chipmakers are, with no signs of things getting any faster, then that's cause for concern. There has to be some serious catching up, and soon.

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