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April 2006

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Tracks of the Tiger

by Glen Emerson Morris
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Note: Since this article was written, Apple has released software that will allow Windows XP to run on its Intel based computers. The software, called Boot Camp, will let Intel Mac owners create a dual partition hard drive, and have the option of booting with either the Mas OS or XP.

Over the past year Apple has made several changes to its product line that make Macs more attractive as business systems than ever before. Its latest operating system Tiger is far superior to Windows in most respects, the new Mac mini line is highly affordable, and now Apple is shifting its entire product line to run on Intel chips, making them both Mac OS and Windows compatible.

Previously, prospective computer buyers were faced with a choice of buying either a Mac or a Windows system. Now, one computer can offer the best of both worlds.

Apple's remarkable reinvention of itself began when Apple acquired Next (along with Steve Jobs) back in 1997. The Mac OS was reaching the end of its lifetime, and the Next operating system was chosen to be its replacement. This had far reaching consequences because OS X was originally developed as NextStep/OpenStep, an operating system designed to run on multiple platforms, including Intel systems.

Apple's newest version of OS X 10.4 operating system, dubbed Tiger, is a significant development over previous versions of OS X. According to Apple there are over 200 new features in Tiger, some obvious, some subtle. While many of the new features are useful to home users, a significant number are designed to help business users increase productivity, and they work very well.

One of Tiger's major features is Spotlight, a search engine designed to make finding files and applications fast and easy. Just click on the blue magnifying glass icon in the upper right menu, start typing and results begin to appear. Another Tiger feature, Smart Folders, takes the results of Spotlight searches, creates a folder based on those results, and automatically updates as documents are added and removed from the Mac.

Another major new feature is Dashboard, which is a customizable screen full of mini applications called Widgets. These include headline grabbers, calculators, spell checkers, and many other useful mini-applications. So far, over 1500 different widgets have been created. Some are free, others are commercial software.

Tiger also includes Apples latest version of its Web browser, Safari 2.0, which integrates with RSS in a number of ways. Safari RSS automatically detects feeds on a Web page, and can easily add them to an RSS list for automatic downloading. It's also possible to aggregate and filter news feeds to create topical bookmarks. Speed is also improved, as Safari 2.0 on Tiger loads pages 1.8 times faster than Safari 1.2 on Panther.

Tiger also includes a feature called Automator that lets users create a work flow based on a set of actions. This can save time with repetitive tasks, like renaming a large group of files or resizing multiple images to fit an iPhoto slideshow. Automator comes with a library of hundreds of actions that can be used as building blocks to create a wide variety of work flows.

As impressive as Tiger is, the premium prices of Apple computers have limited Mac market share. However, that's changing.

Apple's Mac mini systems have made Macs competitively priced for the first time. Initially priced as low as $499, the PowerPC Mac minis proved to be a hit not only for their price, but their small size as well.

The Intel Mac mini now starts at $599 (or $799 for a dual core version), but the feature set has significantly improved. The new $599 Mac mini comes with 512MB of ram versus 256MB in the earlier version, and the hard drive has gone up to 60GB from 40GB. Also, the Mac mini comes with a DVD burner now. These upgrades more than justify the price increase. In addition, the new Mac mini comes with a remote control and an application called Front Row that makes the Mac work as an entertainment center (an S-video jack has also been added to let the Mac mini plug directly into your TV set).

The Intel Macs also come with Apple's new 2006 iLife application set which includes a new version of GarageBand optimized for making podcasts. Also included is an innovative new application called iWeb for creating web pages, blogs and podcasts.

Still, the most compelling reason to consider a new Mac is the "Intel inside" feature. Apple has announced that it will do nothing to prevent Windows operating systems from being loaded and running in its Intel Macs. At the very minimum, Windows XP could be installed on an Intel Mac as a dual boot system, giving users the option of running the system with either the Mac or Windows operating systems. It may be possible to have both systems running simultaneously, though that's not certain at this point.

However, running the Mac OS on a Dell or Compaq Intel system won't be an option. Apple has announced that it will prevent the Mac OS from being loaded on any Intel systems other than those Apple sells, so an Apple Mac will still be required to run the Mac OS.

The downside to Apple's move to Intel is that applications written for Mac PowerPCs won't run natively on Intel Macs. To handle this issue, Apple has developed a technology called Rosetta, which translates PowerPC code into code compatible with Intel processors on the fly. However, Rosetta won't work with code designed for Apple's earlier 680x0 processors, or code specifically requiring G4 or G5 processors.

To minimize the transition to Intel processors, Apple has encouraged software developers use Apple's new "Universal Binary" approach. Software written this way will run on both Mac PowerPC systems and Mac Intel systems. It may take some time before all Mac OS X applications are written to run natively on Mac Intel systems. Until they are, there may be problems, but these will pass, just as the problems passed when Apple migrated from the Motorola 680x0 processor to the PowerPC processor.

There is little doubt Apple's strategy will significantly increase the sales of Mac systems. Whether Apple's success with its new computers will match the success its had with the iPod isn't certain, but it's at least possible. What is certain is that business users have a lot of reasons to buy Macs now, and computer manufacturers like Dell and HP should take notice.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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