If you’re superstitious, Apple’s current turmoil is plainly down to hubris – and hubris as exemplified by the limited edition Mac, known ominously as the 20th Anniversary Mac. During development it was codenamed Spartacus. Wasn’t that a movie about a slave who nearly overthrew the Roman empire? Obviously some internal joke.
Whatever, Sod’s Law says that once you’ve decided to celebrate a major centenary something has to go wrong. So, watching the tea leaves with one cautious eye, I’d be careful about forking out around $9000 (5600) plus VAT and import tax for one of a limited edition of 10 000. Which works out to around a million dollars revenue for Apple dealers. Revenue, not profit.
The mechanicals are these: 12.1in colour flat panel display, speaker system by Bose involving a separate mono bass box which also houses the main power supply. There’s a vertical B&O-like CD-ROM player, a 250MHz PowerPC chip, 32Mb RAM, a 2Gb EIDE hard drive, standard ports, a television tuner and not a lot else because all this is crammed into a slightly curved flattish plate mounted slantingly on a metal frame with a semi-circular base.
The Apple line is that it’s all rather B&O in style terms, but for those with longer memories it’s more like a miniature version of a thin, flat Quad speaker with an LCD panel impacted above a flat CD player. The bits of cloth down each side are actually the left and right speakers, while the floppy drive is mounted vertically in the right-hand edge. Following Apple’s traditional let’s-sprawl-all-over-the-desk design philosophy, the display/mainboard ensemble is supplemented by a surprisingly conventional laptop keyboard and the bass speaker/power supply, which looks like a small version of one of those kickstep stools in your local public library. At the above-mentioned price you’ll naturally want to leave it on top of the desk. With, that is, the printer and scanner and network cable and all the usual. Spaghetti-work is a problem which the 20th Anniversary Mac sensibly does not pretend to set out to solve.
Hey, this is all churlish. God knows we, and even more, Apple, need a bit of lighthearted fun. And the design is not all that bad, certainly quite a bit more imaginative than SGI’s purple blob of last year.
Having obviously been designed for well-heeled fashion-victim Apple worshippers as a working memento of years of faithful adherence, it would have been nice if Apple had actually tried to address the spaghetti issue. My own modest contribution to the solution is to rip everything out, glue the accessible drives under the edge of my desk (along with the keyboard drawer) and bury the gubbins in a box under a disguised access panel away from burglars’ eyes and sit there amid piles of paper trying to peer at the screen and remember which drawer the printer is hidden in.
The serious event this month is the release of version 6 of Macromedia’s Director, the Photoshop and Quark of multimedia authoring. Director’s fellowship has hitherto been pretty hermetic: if you couldn’t write Lingo the guys with ponytails gave you that see-through look every time you volunteered a cautious “hi guys”.
The new version promises some serious improvements – and it also makes it much easier for non-Lingo people to get up and running and participate in team creation of Director presentations. The key to this is the ability to create behaviour sprites with a cursor rather than lines and lines of code. And there are now 120 sprite channels. Other goodies are a brand new score and a button creator. Importantly, it can do note-accurate sound synch and other programs (even from rivals) can be used seamlessly. Like everybody else, Macromedia emphasises the new web capabilities of the app – although much of this is to do with Shockwave’s ability to download Director movies bit by bit rather than you having to wait for hours while the whole thing downloads. Afterburner, incidentally, is now integrated. Finally, it looks as though Director can run very fast indeed – although we’re not sure what computer can actually run images at 500 frames per second. According to UK Macromedia MD Sue Thexton, version 6 will be out on the very last day of this month. We’ll be looking at it after we’ve tried it out on some live projects.