It was 20 years ago this month that Apple taught the Mac to play, introduced by the now-legendary "1984" Super Bowl commercial. It has been going in and out of style, and it hasn't always raised a smile, but the Mac has survived for nearly a generation.
Back to the future
In fact, to help celebrate the anniversary, Apple showed a new version of the commercial that famously ran only once. This time, though, the svelte young woman running with the hammer down the aisle was wearing an iPod on her belt. Clever.
Since the release of that first small-screen Macintosh, Apple has moved away from focusing on the virtues of its Mac OS X operating system and instead is concentrating on showing Mac users -- and potential Mac users -- how to get the most out of that system. Tuesday's keynote address by CEO Steve Jobs touched only briefly on the new G5 power boxes and Xserve servers, spending much more time on showing glitzy new applications -- and one new piece of hardware -- for people to use at home.
"Panther is the fourth release of OS X in three years," Jobs said. "We now have 9.3 million active OS X users, and that's approaching 40 percent of our entire installed base. We're going to cross 10 million active users this quarter. The last time Apple changed its OS was in 1984, from Apple II to Mac. The transition is over. This is the fastest OS system changeover in history."
Jobs announced several new hardware and software products:
- A PowerPC G5 version of the company's 64-bit Xserve rack-mounted server (all the previous Xserves were G4s);
- an improved Xserve RAID storage system;
- a new, smaller iPod, called the iPod mini;
- a new addition to the iLife suite of products called GarageBand.
"G5 is our future roadmap in processors," Jobs said. "We've been working with IBM on this for a long time, and now it provides the fastest PC performance in the world." He used as an example a recent Virginia Tech University CS project that clustered 1,100 G5 servers to comprise what is now considered the third-fastest supercomputer in the world. Only the Earth Simulator in Japan and the Los Alamos Labs supercomputers are faster, Jobs said.
Facts and figures on new Xserve
Some of the facts and figures on the new Xserve: It's available in single or dual 2.0 GHz G5 processors, has ECC memory, an optical drive, and up to 750GB of storage. Mac shops will be glad to hear that it comes with an unlimited client license -- similar to Linux -- for Mac OS X. The single-processor version is priced at $3K; dual-processor $4K. Jobs said the new models will ship in February.
The Xserve RAID system now will support 3.5 terabytes of online storage, Jobs said, an increase of about 30%. The enhanced storage systems will range from $6K to $11K. "There's tons of redundancy, and dual everything," Jobs said.
The biggest news here, Jobs said, "is that we've pre-qualified a bunch of fiberchannel switches (Brocade, Qlogic, and others) for the G5 XServe. And it supports Red Hat Linux, Yellow Dog Linux, Windows, and Unix."
GarageBand a hit
But what caused the biggest stir at the keynote was the demo of the new iLife addition: GarageBand. This was largely because young pop star John Mayer came out to help demo it.
GarageBand now gives iLife (which currently includes iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iTunes) a do-it-yourself music studio. It allows users to use any of 1,000 re-recorded music loops performed by professional musicians ("Some of them are by real Motown studio musicians," Jobs said), and any of 50 digital musical instruments to create new music. Musicians can plug in their own instruments and record live at any time. An additional feature is a choice of a number of different kinds of "amps" to change the sound quality.
"Guitar players won't have to lug around those big heavy amps anymore," Jobs joked. "Now they can just bring their laptops to the concert to get any sound they want."
Mayer showed how to use both the pre-recorded loops and live guitar in his presentation.
"Guitar has never sounded very well in digital form," Mayer said, "because it's not a static instrument. But this is amazing; you can hear your fingers moving over the frets on this."
Another music-oriented product, the new iPod mini, also proved to be a MacWorld crowd-pleaser.
It features a 4-gigabyte memory, 1,000-song capacity, small, thin body, and improved interface. The little MP3 player, which will sell for $249, is the size of a business card, and only a half-inch thick. It also becomes available in February.