It’s time to decide – stay flat or go 3D

Sutherland Lyall muses about current structural changes in design practice and the greater need for flexibility and diversity and then unearths the latest Mac object of desire

So after having quite a lot of fun rattling the various bars of Apple’s cage, Larry Ellison has formally abandoned his take-over threat. For the time being. It would be nice to be able to get on with just using the kit and not have to keep a wary eye over one shoulder for corporate raiders riding into the valley brandishing chequebooks.

The consensus seems to be that Apple desperately needs an upgrade to its lacklustre operating system and is suffering from the absence, for 18 months or so, of a robust version of Rhapsody. These will be met by the release of version 8 and a very high-end, probably multi-processor, seriously multimedia Mac, probably running the G3 chip (in the event that the Exponential chip still doesn’t run at the hoped-for 500MHz) in a 9600 box and priced around 15 000. Apple boss Amelio is said to have warned that he was going to squeeze the high-end users’ pips – though not in quite that old Labour language. The Mac press is full of warm hints about OS 8.0 betas, but it would be wouldn’t it?

So who’s interested in Macs in that SGI-style price bracket, some of you ask. The answer is quite a lot of graphic designers: graphic designers driven not by me-too-ism but by the recognition that it may be make your mind up time for traditional flat-image designers. Do they stick with what they know or do they make a fairly small leap and offer a range of multimedia image-producing skills? Usually these are bought in from specialists such as 3D animation wunderkind Christian Hogue at Lost in Space. But do they need to call in the heavy brigade just because they don’t have the capacity to do simple animation or 3D or video editing? This is stuff they could just about do on the office Macs or on cheap, new NT boxes. As the young hot-shots grinding out endless Photoshop work start getting restive for sexier stuff, might it not be a good idea to channel that energy into learning the sexy stuff and making the practice offer a wider one?

If you wanted to see the latest sexy stuff you would have gone along last month to Las Vegas and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show. Digital showed off its forthcoming Alpha 21164 600MHz processor which was running Lightwave3D v5 against a dual processor Pentium Pro. Guess which won. Also showing on the Alpha stand were the fascinating image editing suite Illuminaire, Metatools’ Bryce2, the very nice 3D landscape generator, a new release of Lightwave 3D animation and Side Effects Software’s Houdini.

For the animation people, Macromedia was showing the latest beta of Final Cut on an NT machine. Final Cut, the app formerly known as Key Grip, has the normally unflappable Adobe Radius and Avid off the record in a very grumpy state and pointing out that it won’t be available until the end of the year and how dependent it is on successfully porting Quicktime 3 over to NT if it is to have cross-platform cred. And look at similarly over-hyped Live Picture now languishing down the charts. And so on. All this suggests that Final Cut may actually be as good as my multimedia guru says it is.

Last month we got mildly excited at the new eMate Newton clamshell for schools. Rumour has it Apple has seen the light and may be bringing out a non-schools version.

Meantime, there’s the Newton MessagePad 2000. It’s bigger and chunkier but that means a bigger screen – and you can get a small black keyboard for serious data entry. Both are a bit big for the jacket pocket but you’d have to be a real poser to want to pull out a working keyboard waiting for the train back from Leeds. But it’s the sort of thing you might well want to flaunt in a modest way in the office. With the right (expensive) add-ons like a digital phone and modem you could be booking that Bangkok nightclub before you get into King’s Cross.

The 2000 weighs a surprisingly heavy 1.5 lb, but that’s because of all the goodies inside like a 162 MHz RISC processor, the 130mm x 83mm screen, serial, audio and PC card ports and more. Actually, most of this is over the top for the ordinary being – and for this column the handwriting recognition facility is a lost cause, hence our deep interest in keyboards. I would offer this as the substitute for the deceased Amstrad Notepad, the perfect portable, were it not for the price of around $1000 (625). Dream on.

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