Martin Russ puts the latest doom and gloom Apple news from the media into context.
It begins to look as if January is a bad month for Apple. In 1995 there were secret negotiations for a proposed takeover by IBM at $40 per share. In 1996 there were persistent rumours of a takeover by Sun Microsystems, with $25 a share offered. Now, after a year with Gil Amelio at the helm, Apple's share price has fallen again, their market share is allegedly shrinking in the face of the Windows/Intel marketing machine, and there has been considerable confusion about which operating system Apple will be using in the future. With reports in newspapers like the Sunday Times virtually writing Apple off, it looks bad again for what was once the fastest‑growing company ever in American history.
Last month it all looked clear. BeOS was set to be the MacOS of the future, although the transition from System 7 looked to be less than straightforward. But then Apple bought NeXT Software for $400 million, and this brought with it ex‑Apple founder Steve Jobs — now probably equally famous for heading up Pixar, of Toy Story fame. Suddenly, Apple had a very different future operating system strategy: Apple bringing the QuickTime multimedia technology and the Mac's look and feel, while NeXT's highly regarded object‑oriented Operating System and WebObjects Internet development system offered integration of the Mac desktop with the Internet.
So Copland is gone forever (that's several years of hard work and allegedly $500 million down the drain!), and the new revised/being specified System 8/Rhapsody will probably look very different indeed when it finally appears. If, like me, you haven't quite got around to going PowerPC yet, then this may well be very good news, because System 7.x.y is likely to last rather longer than Apple probably intended, and so 68K Macs have suddenly got an unexpected extra lease of life. System 6 may only have got to 6.0.71, but System 7 is going to run and run.
Which brings us back to the question that occupied minds almost exactly a year ago: what happens to Apple next? (Not a deliberate pun, but I'm sure that the T‑shirts are about to appear with some variant of this on them!) Despite what some sections of the media might suggest (some coverage has been more like obituary than comment), Apple aren't going to keel over and plunge to the bottom of the ocean tomorrow. Several things are going quite well, thank you. For example, about 62 per cent of Internet servers are MacOS‑machines, mainly because of their outstanding price/performance/reliability quotient. And don't forget the unexpectedly large sales of clones reported by Motorola: 40,000 StarMax machines in the first month of sales. Then there are the 26 million Mac users worldwide (approximately) — many of whom are totally committed to the MacOS platform in a way that Microsoft and Intel can only dream about with Windows/PC users. And then there's Apple's manufacturing position: depending on whose figures and rankings you believe, they are still the third or fourth largest computer manufacturer in the world — although the clones may change this.
As an interesting analogy, consider this. One of the largest‑selling keyboards of all time was the Korg M1. Korg have followed this up with a series of very successful instruments which consolidate the ideas behind the M1. And yet the other manufacturers survive, because not everyone likes a keyboard rig consisting of just Korg equipment — in fact, it's the mixing together of contrasting types of sounds that many people like. So why are computers any different? Why does there have to be a hugely dominant type that squashes all the opposition? If keyboards aren't a natural monopoly, then why should the world go PC‑only? Personally, I've not got any Korg keyboards, and I'm quite happy to make music using a MacOS computer.
How It Works: MMX
A brand new processor from Intel might be thought to be bad news for MacOS users, but not necessarily. Just after Christmas, Intel launched their new MMX (a weird acronym for Multimedia Extensions!) chips, which add 57 extra instructions to the Pentium processor (introduced a couple of years ago) intended to enhance performance in multimedia applications. Applications need to be rewritten to take advantage of the new instructions, and so by now PC users will be seeing 'MMX‑ready' and 'MMX‑upgrade' on multimedia applications.
MMX provides parallel processing of multiple bytes of data that require 'multiply and accumulate' operations, and so speeds up the processing of repetitive tasks. These are the sort of mathematical processes that a DSP might traditionally be used to carry out, and so the MMX chips will improve the performance of audio and video applications. Intel claim that the gain is between 10 and 20 per cent for non‑MMX‑optimised applications, and should be 50 per cent or more for optimised ones.
From a MacOS perspective, this might sound like yet another place where the MacOS is falling behind in multimedia. In fact, the electronic industry newspaper Electronics Times made it front‑page news with the headline "MMX deals first blow to Apple..."
But PowerPC chip manufacturers (and Mac‑clone makers) Motorola have said that the MMX merely brings the Pentium up to PowerPC performance, and this is reinforced by figures published recently in MacWorld magazine, where an MMX‑optimised Photoshop 4.0 on a 200MHz MMX P55C‑powered PC was only marginally faster than an ordinary Photoshop 4.0 on a PowerMac 9500/200. Similar tests carried out by Byte magazine again put a 200MHz 604e‑powered PowerMac ahead overall. For 3D work, the 9500/200 PowerMac was again measured as being faster than the MMX platform by MacWorld. It has also been reported that there are on‑chip delays in context switching from Pentium floating point to MMX operations, which might reduce the effect of any performance increases.
With news of the 250MHz PowerPC chips and the forthcoming Philips TriMedia multimedia co‑processor chip, it looks as though Intel are still behind the MacOS platform.
If you've not been following the ongoing 'slim your Mac' series in Apple Notes, you may well have one of the many 'Copland' lookalikes. These are sets of icons, fonts and other bits of screen furniture (left) that convert the familiar Mac Desktop and Finder into something resembling the appearance of the long‑awaited Copland/System 8. With Copland now defunct, the likelihood is that these will become negative status‑symbols — rather like satellite dishes, gold medallions around the neck, and platform shoes. My bet is that after the laboured non‑arrival of Copland, Apple's user‑interface designers will take a long hard look at what was planned, and will make sure that Rhapsody looks different again. Personally, I think that they might well take a cue from the 3D look that many MIDI/digital audio applications now have, particularly Mark of the Unicorn's Performer or Steinberg's VST.
So this month's tip is to abandon any attempt to look like Copland, and to wait for the 'Rhapsody' emulations that will surely follow!
Apple News In Brief
- MAKING TRACKS
Mark of the Unicorn's UK Distributor has moved: MusicTrack are now at 19a High Street, Shefford, Bedfordshire SG17 5DD. Telephone: 01462 812010. Fax: 01462 814010. E‑mail: 100415.2665 @compuserve.com Web site: www.motu.com
For a free FreeStyle or Composer's MOSAIC demo disk, send them a high‑density disk and a stamped addressed envelope.
The current versions of MOTU software are: Performer 5.5; Digital Performer 1.71; Freestyle (Mac) 1.04, (Windows/PC) 1.05, Unisyn (Mac) 1.14, (Windows/PC) 1.2; Composer's MOSAIC 1.43; FreeMIDI 1.28
- POWER CRAZY
With 225MHz 604e‑based Power Computing Mac clones already available, and a 250MHz version shown at the San Francisco MacWorld show, the news of a prototype 300MHz machine with a 60MHz internal buss from Power Computing comes as no surprise. Processing‑wise, a machine like that would be about 10 times faster than my current humble Centris 610!
And as if 250MHz PowerPC‑equipped Macs weren't fast enough, we should soon see 533MHz chips from Exponential!
- FOREIGN FILE ACCESS. Useful only if you intend putting non‑Mac CD‑ROMs into your MacOS computer. The associated extensions ISO 9660 File Access and High Sierra File Access provide additional non‑Mac CD‑ROM compatibility.
- NETWORK EXTENSION. Unless your MacOS computer is connected to a network (AppleTalk, EtherTalk and so on), then you don't need this. MIDI networks don't count in this context, by the way!
- OPEN TRANSPORT. The modern replacement for MacTCP and all the rest of the mnemonic‑rich Internet software is called Open Transport. It's recommended for PowerPC‑based MacOS computers, but the advantages for 68K users are less clear‑cut. Installing an Operating System upgrade may well result in the installation of lots of Open Transport files, plus the 'Network Software Selector' application, which lets you choose the old (MacTCP and so on) or new (Open Transport) networking software. If you're happy with MacTCP et al, then all of the Open Transport stuff can be consigned to the 'Non‑System Folder'.
- QUICKTIME. If you use lots of multimedia CD‑ROMs, or use QuickTime's Music Architecture for playing back MIDI movies, then you need the QuickTime extension. But if you have a 68K‑based (non Power‑PC) MacOS computer, you do not need the QuickTime Power Plug extension.
- MIDI SYNTHESIZER. If you've played with the QuickTime Musical Architecture, you may well find several of these 'synthesizer components' in your Extensions folder. They include: Oberheim Matrix 1000, Yamaha FB01 and TG100, Roland CM500 and MT32, plus the generic 'MIDI synthesizer'. Unless you're actually using QuickTime to talk to your MIDI equipment, these may well be superfluous.
- APPLE PHOTO ACCESS. Support for Kodak's PhotoCD format. Do you look at photos on your MacOS computer?
- FINDER HELP. You could try reading the manual instead! Save 68K.
- MIDI MANAGER & APPLE MIDI DRIVER. You should only need these old and obsolete Apple precursors if you use software that insists on them. OMS and FreeMIDI are both much better.
But there are hidden traps to removing too many Extensions. For example, some of the more advanced (and useful) features of Apple's Find File application (as found in the Finder's 'File' pull‑down menu) will only work if you have the Finder Scripting Extension installed...
The closely related AppleScript scripting system may also be another Extension that is not worth removing. Some applications use AppleScript to carry out some tasks, but so far I've not come across a music or MIDI related program that needs it — though I would love to hear from anyone who finds one!