Prognosis mixed after 'Macworld' Both good, bad news comes from latest Apple conference

Company is struggling

Event was crowded, but the absence of new Macs noticeable



SAN FRANCISCO -- For Mac users and Mac developers, the twice-yearly Macworld conference and convention is a celebration -- a preview of what's going to keep the Mac different and a reminder that most of those differences are good ones.

But in a year such as this, with Apple Computers struggling, Macworld takes on a different cast.

Think of it as a public visit to the doctor, a complete physical examination that offers the chance to learn what this year's illness means for the Mac's future.

L The prognosis from last week's show in San Francisco: mixed.

Here's the good news from the show.

Lots of people. Plenty of eager Mac lovers crowded around everything from Apple's own demonstration booths to flashy multimedia demos and itty-bitty stations with recordable-CD labeling equipment.

Accelerator fever. People couldn't stop talking about the fast new G3 processor in the latest Macs. And companies such as Sonnet and Newer Technology were putting the latest microprocessors and bigger memory caches into lots of older Macs. Both firms' booths were busy with people hungrily eyeing upgrade boards and swapping stories on compatibility problems.

Umax, one of the few Mac-compatible computer makers at the show, has new models and accelerator cards for its own Mac clones.

Recordable CDs. Yamaha and Ricoh have CD-R and CD-RW drives. Optima offered the CDWriter for CD-R and CD-RW recording. Cedar has the Desktop CD-R Publisher machine for those who need to automate making 50 or so CD-R copies of a single CD. Charismac Engineering makes Discribe, a program for managing CD-R recording. And ProSource had a variety of inexpensive blank discs from TDK and Verbatim for as little as $1.71 each.

PC compatibility. Insignia has a new version 5.0 of its Soft-Windows95 program, that lets the user run Windows 95 programs on a Mac. They continue to sell RealPC, which makes the Mac pretend to be a DOS PC, complete with SoundBlaster and joystick support, for running DOS games. Connectix continues to promote its VirtualPC that lets the user run Windows 95, 3.11 or DOS on a Mac. Orange Micro is still selling its PCs-on-a-card, plug-in circuit boards that put a PC inside the Mac.

Truly odd is Emulators Inc. with its Gemulator 98, a combination of hardware and software that lets the user run not just some Macintosh software -- up through System 7.01 -- but Atari ST programs right on a PC.

Microsoft. Apple's newest ally was on hand showing the latest version of Office for the Mac, which catches up with the Windows version. Internet Explorer was at Macworld, too. Some found this baffling. Why does Microsoft insist it is an integral part of Windows 98? They've just got to put Explorer in there and in the process force Netscape Navigator out of many PCs. If it works independently on the Mac, why can't it work independently on Windows?

Lots of developers. The largest number seemed to be offering Web site development tools and professional photography and video material.

Apple's QuickTime Virtual Reality software, released early last year, looks to be a big hit. For example, the Phase One company sells complete camera kits to capture QTVR scenes that might appear one day on a Web site. Onyx showed off Tree Professional -- a program for creating graphically realistic trees on the computer screen, complete with individual leaves that reproduce real examples that have been scanned in, visible roots, Bonsai curvings and motion.

Adobe announced Adobe Studios, an online store selling fonts, photography, illustrations, video clips, clip art and Web art, though this isn't limited to Mac owners. Nor is the art from ArtVille or the photos from PhotoDisc, though they're designed to be as easy to reach on Mac as PC.

Extensis has a long line of software utilities that add to the power of Photoshop and other professional publishing programs. Chroma Graphics makes similar add-on tools with names such as ChromaColor, ChromaPalette and Chromatica. MetaCreations has Bryce 3D and Final Effects Complete for the Mac, continuing their dominance of the special-graphics-effects software domain. But Xaos Tools is challenging with its own utilities, including Paint Alchemy and FlashBox.

Here's what there wasn't much of:

No new Macs from Apple. Maybe the G3 models were introduced early because Apple so badly needed good news last year. They are impressive machines. But not having any new Macs at Macworld faster than before, or cheaper, isn't encouraging.

Almost no clones. Umax was there, but Power Computing and others gave last year's Macworld a lot of its oomph. It isn't only their computers missing now, it's their energy.

Few games. People were exclaiming at the beautiful and realistic course images of the Links golf games from Access. But why isn't the Mac, the graphics-rich computer that had built-in sound when PCs could only beep, the place for most new good games?

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