Apple opens MacWorld 1984, er ah, 1999

Tonight we're going to party like it's ... 1984?

The Apple faithful gathered in San Francisco to lap up good news about the iMac and squeal with delight as new G3 desktop systems were unveiled by "iCEO" Steve Jobs. Aside from the dubious speed comparisons of these new Macintosh machines to the latest Pentium IIs (which seem to endlessly fascinate Mac users despite their complete irrelevance), Apple's announcement today of new copper-based G3 machines represents an exciting step forward for the computer maker. Steve Jobs also harped long and hard on the best-selling iMac, which saw a sales resurgence in November after falling sales in September and October threatened to damage the machine's credibility. Apple has sold 800,000 iMacs since the product was released in August.

And for the bondi-blue averse, Apple announced that it would soon be releasing the iMac in five new color schemes: blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape, and lime (that's blue, red, orange, purple, and green for the rest of the planet). The new iMacs feature a 266 MHz G3 processor, not the rumored 300 MHz part, while still including only 32 MB of RAM.

These announcements and more came during the first day of MacWorld San Francisco, where the Steve Jobs keynote address was the real event-du-jour. Jobs gave his most elaborate and irritating presentation since rejoining Apple, an address that was rife with childish demos straight out of the 1980's. The pro-Mac crowd eats this stuff up (much in the same way that Scott McNealy's top-10 lists draw easy laughter from anti-Microsoft crowds). I've really gotten a kick out of Jobs' recent speeches, but this one was too custom-tailored for tunnel-visioned Mac users: It's a great example of what Apple needs to avoid. In any event, the company did have some exciting news once you got past the way it was delivered.

Apple's new G3 desktops feature speeds up to 400 MHz while finally moving the Mac into PC territory with half-speed L2 cache and 100 MHz buses. In another effort to play catch-up with the PC world, Apple has licensed OpenGL from Silicon Graphics and decided to use the standard array of PC compatible ports and devices, including 100 Mb Ethernet, USB, and (perhaps most surprisingly) EIDE hard drives rather than SCSI. Apple is also including the high-speed FireWire interface with all new G3's (think of FireWire as USB on steroids: It runs at 400 Mbs, supports 63 devices, is hot-pluggable, and uses no terminators or dip switches). Sadly, the new G3s only include 4 PCI slots (new PCs feature 6, for example, and Jobs oddly pointed out the number of slots as a benefit).

Of course, the big news with the new G3s is the design, which resembles the translucent plastic in the iMac. It features a one-button, easy-open side lid. And for once, price may not be a huge issue: Apple is pricing the tower-only systems in the $1599-2999 range. For more information please visit the G3 page on Apple's Web site.

Apple also unveiled 21" and 17" monitors that have the same look and feel as the new desktop systems. Apple's existing 15" flat panel display has been reskinned to match as well. The company also said that it will be releasing Mac OS X Server in February, several months later than the planned Fall 1998 rollout.

So what do these announcement have to do with Windows? Frankly, not much. But it's always interesting to keep an eye on the competition, especially one that so effectively guides the mainstream media. And Apple's designs have a way of showing up in the PC world fairly quickly. Unfortunately, this time around, there isn't much to work with: Most of the design decisions in the new G3s were taken directly from the PC play book

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