You are here


Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published January 2000


Martin Russ looks back at a bad and good month for Apple, and writes them out a Christmas wish list.

It felt like a return to the gloom and doom of earlier times. Suddenly, after the positive coverage surrounding the initial launch of the G4, things turned distinctly sour for Apple in mid‑Autumn. 400MHz G4s had been promised based on modified G3 main boards, with further 450MHz and 500MHz G4 native‑boarded machines by late 1999 or early 2000. But chip manufacturer Motorola seemed to have some problems ironing out the last few production‑line setup niggles, and as a result, 500MHz G4 processors became hard to get hold of.

Meanwhile, Apple had orders for about 150,000 G4s, and couldn't get enough G4 processors to meet that demand at the sort of chip speeds that were being ordered. This is where a wonky decision rapidly took things out of control. Apple announced that the processor speeds would be downgraded by 50MHz to match the expected G4 chip availability. Initially it seemed as if the prices for the 350MHz machine would be the same as the previous 400MHz machine, and this was followed with an apparent cancellation of existing back orders. This was quickly followed by a reversing of the decision back to honouring the orders. Additionally, discounts were offered for the 450MHz machines which were replacing the 500MHz versions. According to some reports, Apple then apologised, reinstated the back orders, and then modified this to not all back orders... Anyway, eventually Steve Jobs announced that the back orders and the discounted 450MHz machine option for people who ordered 500MHz G4s would all be honoured.

Of course, Motorola are only doing things properly by waiting until they are completely satisfied with their product, and G4 chips will eventually appear at speeds greater than 500MHz. Indeed, Motorola have now increased the manufacture of G4 chips to meet Apple's demands, and the 500MHz problem has apparently been resolved. As a result, 500MHz G4s may be available by the time you read this, or perhaps early in the year 2000. Also IBM have been taken aback by the demand for G4s, and it looks like they will start making G4s for Apple, which gives Apple a second source of G4s! Overall then, what looked like a G4 PR disaster actually turns out to have been only a temporary aberration.

Musically? Well, the G4 has independently driven USB sockets (which might make minor differences to MIDI operation, but you are still better off with a decent serial card) and will eventually have a better graphics card. But perhaps most significantly, it offers the raw speed necessary for the increasingly demanding methods of working that have become popular of late (such as operating a software‑based sampler or synth in real time alongside a MIDI + Audio sequencer running lots of plug‑ins). What's more, some major players in the field have already announced tweaks to their software to allow it to take advantage of the G4's super‑fast Velocity Engine processing technology. Among these are Bitheadz, manufacturers of the software Unity DS1 sampler and Retro AS1 synth, as well as Emagic and MOTU.

Expo No Show


Sadly, given that they now have such a fine‑looking machine to show off to the public (whatever the internal processor speeds may be like), Apple recently decided that they would not, after all, be attending the UK Apple Expo show in March 2000. As well as just denying the public another opportunity to drool over the fine‑looking charcoal G4s, this move got many Mac enthusiasts, dealers and magazines just a little bit wound up. Nevertheless, it's not the case that Apple have been shying away from exhibitions. They had a strong presence at the IBC '99 video convention in Amsterdam, and if you wanted to attend a seminar or see an iMac DV at Digital Media World at Wembley in November, Apple were there as sponsor and exhibitor.

So here we have Apple being very supportive to the digital media and video market, which, with the advent of Firewire cameras, is just entering the same type of connectivity boom that MIDI triggered 15 years ago in the music business. Clearly, Apple reckon that digital video is about to be huge, and are preparing for it big‑time — so why isn't the computer‑based audio market being treated the same way? Given the high esteem in which the Mac is held in the music world, and the central role of the computer in today's modern music production process and thus in the music industry (a global business that still generates vast profits worldwide), then surely the computer‑based audio market ought to be higher on Apple's agenda?

Perhaps most significantly, the G4 offers the raw speed necessary for the increasingly demanding methods of working that have become popular of late.

Dear Apple...

It will be close to Christmas by the time you read this, so here's what I would like Apple to do for me for Christmas: start taking the Mac‑based musician more seriously. They could do this in various ways: for example by releasing an iMac bundle reminiscent of the multimedia Power Mac 6500s of old, designed to appeal to any amateur or aspiring computer musician. Machines with six PCI slots, MIDI‑compatible Quad serial cards as a factory‑fitted option, and a USB implementation optimised for real‑time, low‑latency applications like MIDI would be just wonderful. While I'm in the realms of wishful thinking, I'd love a large QWERTY keyboard with big function and cursor keys for the iMac and G‑series machines. And finally... is there any chance of an oval mouse, instead of a round one?

As with the requests found in many of the letters addressed to the North Pole at this time of year, it's fairly moot whether any of this will become reality on Christmas morning. Nevertheless, if Apple could make my wish come true, I think they would be giving themselves a worthwhile Christmas gift; they'd be getting Mac musicians solidly behind them and helping to convert potential computer musicians who haven't yet made up their minds which platform they'd like to go with.

Apple News In Brief


SOS contributor Derek Johnson has sent me a reminder of an alternative Mac‑based web browser which he mentioned in passing in his Atari column last month. If you are one of those people who runs an ageing Mac for music and MIDI on minimal amounts of RAM, and who thinks that feature‑rich, resource‑hungry 'bigware' like the latest versions of Navigator and Internet Explorer are a high price to pay when all you want is basic web‑browsing facilities, then pop along to

iCab (do I detect an iMac influence here?) is a neat, fast web browser from the guy who developed the Crystal Atari Browser for the ST (ah, now I get it — a backwards reference!). Following the increasingly common trend of 'free betas, full version costs money', iCab is a welcome alternative to the big and hungry monster browsers. There's less than 1Mb to download, and it requires only 4Mb of RAM. If you need a browser to get software updates for your hi‑tech gear, but you don't want to invest in lots of expensive RAM or a new, faster Mac, then consider iCab.


Martin Walker reminded us in last month's SOS article on the Millennium Bug that smug Mac owners who feel secure until the year 29,000 may still need to check their computers come January 1st, and I'd just like to reinforce that here. Whilst the Mac and its operating system are OK for a long, long time to come, there's nothingto stop some errant application programmer from using PC‑style two‑digit dates — so you might want to check that anything you have in a database is OK come the 1st of January (and beyond). Music‑wise, I'd be very surprised if there are any noticable effects at all for Mac users. I fully expect your recording activities to continue completely uninterrupted into the 21st century!