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The Northern Spy
July 2003

On the Silver Apple Road

Rick Sutcliffe

Apple's 2003 version of the World Wide Developers Conference, held this year in San Francisco the week of June 23 (after being moved one month and away from San Jose, no doubt at considerable expense), is proving to be one of the most interesting ever. Although Apple normally saves big announcements for more public venues such as the Expos, there is nearly frenzied anticipation of Steve Jobs' Monday morning keynote. Apple fed the anticipation in recent days by announcing the keynote as a major event in Apple stores and by reportedly shipping new computers and promotional literature to stores under non disclosure.

Last month's Northern Spy apparently touched the mother lode, for the weeks since have seen the rumours fly fast and furious. New IBM 970-based (derived from Power4) Apple machines were or were not being manufactured, would or would not be announced/shown, might or might not come running the Panther OS in a full 64-bit incarnation, could or could not include desktops, portables and/or servers.

For the record, here is a rumour list, along with my own predictions on the probabilities:

Desktop machines with 970 chips will be

- announced : HIGH

- demonstrated: HIGH to MEDIUM

- available for sale within two weeks of WWDC: HIGH

A new fifteen inch (or slightly larger) laptop will be

- announced : near certainty

- demonstrated : near certainty

- available for sale within two weeks of WWDC: HIGH

- produced immediately with a 970 chip: HIGH

64-bit version of Panther

- announced : near certainty

- demonstrated : near certainty

- copies of an early version distributed : check under your seat

- available for retail sale within two weeks of WWDC: LOW

A new XServe line

- announced : near certainty

- demonstrated : near certainty

- available for sale within two weeks of WWDC: MEDIUM

- have a 64-bit Panther OS installed immediately: LOW

Price cuts on monitors and some other existing hardware

- yes, of course.

The iPod as an electronic book reader and PDA

- sigh. Wouldn't the Spy like it, but probably this won't happen yet. Too many other things.


At this point, the Spy is of the view that when the new machines are introduced the chip will be called G5, though it will not be Motorola's but IBM's 970, and that it will initially come with a modified Jaguar OS, with production Panther being delayed as much as another couple of months to ensure tools are ready. This is a more believable scenario than new desktops with a new OS ready to roll out the door next Monday. The lateness of software is directly proportional to its complexity, and an OS is very complex indeed. Thus, even though Apple delayed WWDC for this very purpose, anything beyond a beta, a demo, and an early CD seems to be reaching. More power if Steve can do it, though.

Note that although Apple is obviously on the verge of replacing the midsize TiBook with a slightly larger AlBook, and given that this new line was so recently introduced, many think it quite a stretch to expect 970s in a PowerBook for some months. But Steve Jobs is fond of the flamboyant gesture, and knows the market trend is away from desktops. So I expect he will give his talk using KeyNote running on just such a machine, even if none of us can buy it with Panther just yet. And, why go through another portable iteration with the G4 when it seems apparent the chip's days are finished and it would be replaced again when the twelve and seventeen inch models are upgraded?

As for the XServe, the 970 and its relatives are well-suited to multiple processor high-end servers. It may be premature to expect production boxes for some months, but on the other hand, it would be a waste of silicon not to do this. As a technology direction, this is too obvious not to announce, but production may not come for a few months.

So, although there are going to be some interesting announcements and demonstrations, let's take it a little easy on the hype and not expect too much, roughly what the Spy forecast in last month's column, with a few extras thrown in.

Also, by the time Call A.P.P.L.E. readers get this, predictions will be moot. However, actual outcomes will be reported on the Northern Spy's own web site in the meanwhile for special reports. Next month's column will have a summary.

Oh, and one more thing. The Spy predicts Steve Jobs will make an announcement no one has predicted, not even himself. (A delightfully ambiguous sentence that, but as Wirth once said "if it is ambiguous it is because I intended it to be.)

Turning to Microsoft's latest bombshell,

the elephant rolled over last Friday, announcing no further development work would be done on Internet Explorer for Mac OS, except for security bug fixes and the like. The company trumpeted the utility of Apple's own (still beta) Safari browser, and simultaneously lathered on assurances that the next version of Office and Virtual PC were still active projects.

Old hands (anyone who's been around more than three years, or a tithe of the Spy's stay) might recall that the production of MS products for the Mac was part of the five year deal reached in settlement of Apple's look and feel lawsuit--a settlement that also saw MS purchase some $150 million in Apple shares. In return, Apple dropped claims that the software giant had pirated the user interface and functionality of the Mac OS. What was the MS defence again? That identical procedures in the interface and remarkably similar functionality were coincidental? No doubt the choice of colours when versions of Windows began sporting an Aqua look were also coincidental.

But we digress. The five years are up, and a major component of the deal is being dropped. We'll have to place the ostensible reasons for this in the "Oh, really" file. Since when has Microsoft ever exited from a software sector citing the superiority of a competitors's product? Were that true, they'd have to cease development on the entire grossly inferior line of Windows operating systems, and cede to other third parties on all their other products with the single exception of Excel. But would they phase out even the lowly Access, arguably the worst database product on the market? We think not. (We are not Descartes, so can say that and continue to exist.)

Another reason given was the MS lack of access to the OS code, the argument being that Apple could develop in such a way that MS could not compete. This one gets a fat raspberry, as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, MS projecting their own behaviour onto others. The existence of several other OS X browsers, all faster and at least as attractive as IE, ought to put this bit of evasive prevarication to rest.

No, it's more likely that this is a shot across the bows, a warning that MS, now freed from further constraints against illegal business practices, will play dirty by dropping their products in any area in which Apple decides to compete directly. The best response? Apple should sit tight and say nothing further about software until they have their own killer office suite ready to go (and it would at least passing strange, at most suicidal, if they were not working on one). When it's ready, (too late for "if") port it to the PC and compete head on with guns-a-blazin.

The Spy as Road Warrior

The Spy recently had occasion to be travelling in Washington and Oregon, so to stay connected investigated a number of roving options. First up were data phones using the 1X network option. Several of these are available and the hardware selection expands all the time, but the network coverage on the Oregon coast is spotty (or hard to figure out using clumsy and obscure provider web site tools). Moreover, the interesting models (mostly from Sony) that had Blackberry and some PDA functionality seemed too expensive for such limited use. Put this on the shelf until the iPhone comes out.

The next option was a continental ISP. (Some call them "national", but which nation? After all, the national in NHL refers to Canada). Juno advertises on some of the sites we visit and seemed inexpensive, so they were first up for a try. However, several attempts to work through the registration process failed due to errors on their web site, and in the end we gave up.

Next, was the more costly EarthLink. This time the registration process worked smoothly, the software they sent appeared to operate correctly, and after looking up access numbers and setting up locations for the places we were to visit, all seemed well.

At the first stop, the Pacific National Laboratory in Richland, the UHF (User Housing Facility for visiting scientists, and yes, they have acronyms for everything) there were Ethernet jacks in the room. Plug in and you're on. Nice touch, and no need for EarthLink. Figures. The place drips with big time research money. Who's going to stint communications? Very slick.

At Canon Beach Christian Conference Center (rots my socks to spell "centre" that way, but can't change their name), there were no phones in the room, but the one in the hall sported a data jack, so I connected my TiBook modem port to that, selected the Seaside location and told EarthLink to connect. It worked flawlessly, the way you expect such things to go on a Mac. Nice clean high speed connection, web pages loaded quickly, and my email was all accessible, no problem.

Then I read the email. One was a message from EarthLink telling me my new account had been cancelled because the credit card was no good (wrong). So I went back to their web site, opened my account and carefully re-entered the information on the same card I had just used the day before to buy gas. Then I sent them a message, answered a few others, and clicked "send". Whoops. EarthLink wouldn't allow this. So, I signed on to one of my web sites (good time to be in the hosting business) set up a webmail page on one of my accounts and sent all the messages that way.

Further thought over the next few days led me to suspect that EarthLink might be blocking the Sendmail port to all but their own server. So I set up a Eudora personality and tried sending through their server with the EarthLink return address. Bingo. It worked. This is not a nice policy for someone like me, who has multiple email accounts on many servers, especially not when the documentation makes no mention of such a restriction.

Next stop was the Liberty Inn at Lincoln City. A conventional motel, they had data ports on their phones, so I changed the location to Newport and again everything worked, though it took some time, and several reboots to get the EarthLink software to recognize the location change after I changed the phone number to include a "9" at the beginning.

Next was at Cape Cod Cottages right on the beach just south of Waldport. This was more of a challenge because the phone had no data port. I thought to disconnect the hand set and plug my modem cable into its receptacle on the wall unit, but the connector is different. Then inspiration struck. I disconnected the coiled handset cord, pulled it down to the laptop and plugged it into the (wider) modem port. The standards mavens were with me. It worked. Had to check mail early in the morning as all the units were on a single line, but didn't have to change locations as we were still in the Newport calling area. Great place. Of course, I spent only the minimum necessary time on line as the beach beckoned.

The last stop was at a motel in Vancouver WA. Nice looking place and nearly brand new, but with some systems difficulties. The RJ45 ports in the rooms appeared not to be connected to anything, and it was hard to understand why anyone would want phone jacks in the bathrooms. The ventilation system was blowing smoke from smoking rooms into the common hallways, making the walk to the elevator a lung searing eye watering dash. Let's not mention the name and assume teething problems. But EarthLink came through here, too, with yet another location setting.

The moral of the story: True road warriors need lots of tricks up their sleeves to stay connected. Perhaps wireless will be a better option next time when prices are lower and coverage improves. Perhaps more hotels will create Ethernet connections that work.

Oh, and one more thing. When I arrived home EarthLink sent me another message saying the account was cancelled because the credit card was no good. And, no, they never have answered any of my messages. Sigh.

Big News (Shameless Plug)

Arjay Books and Writers Exchange E-Publishing International announce the publication of The Friends, Rick Sutcliffe's second novel in the Irish Christian science fiction/alternate history series The Interregnum and a sequel to The Peace. Both can be bought through links on the Arjay Books site at http://www.arjaybooks.com/ or by going directly to WEE at http://www.writers-exchange.com/epublishing/sutcliffe.htm. An excerpt and other information from The Exile (Volume 3) is on the Arjay Books site. It should also be available shortly, as final editing is finished.

The Friends tells the story of two sets of friends. One are the royals of the second generation following the deposition of James (chronicled in Volume I The Peace). They become Kilkarney's most famous (and then most infamous) graduating class, participating on both sides of the battle of Glenmorgan. The others are the graduates of Mara's New schools in the following generation. Can either group save Hibernia from despots, chaos, or civil war? Not if clan MacCarthy and their allies have anything to say about it. Perhaps deposed King James IV can lend his relatives and descendents a helping hand in the background.

Relevance? Well, the half million words that comprise the two published and one yet to appear novel were all written on a Mac using NisusWriter.

-- The Northern Spy

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Last Updated: 2006 11 08