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What's In Store For 1994?

Apple Notes
Published January 1994

Kendall Wrightson signs off as your Mac correspondent with a look at what's in store for '94.

Ever since John Sculley took over Apple in 1983, the computer press have claimed that "this will be make or break year for Apple". Ten years later, Apple has evolved into an $8 billion multi‑national, so I guess we can assume that the "make" scenario won out. However, despite such massive success the doom and gloom merchants continue their refrain, adding for good measure that "the bigger they come, the harder they fall".

Power PC

1994's big risk is the introduction of the Power PC which, unless you're new to the Mac or you've just returned from a lengthy sabbatical, you'll know is a Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) microprocessor that Apple intend to use in a new range of Macs to be launched this Spring. The 66MHz PC 601 is the first of this new generation of RISC processors and beta tests have confirmed the designer's claims (IBM and Motorola) that the chip will deliver a massive increase in raw computing power.

Inevitably, the advantages of the new architecture will be accompanied by a fair amount of puzzlement and a liberal helping of incompatibility during a transition period that could last up to three years. The next 12 months promise to be particularly confusing, since Apple will begin the year by launching three PowerPC Macs, then launch a new generation of '040 PowerBooks and Duos in the summer. However, Apple have stated that these new portables will be designed to accommodate plug‑in PowerPC modules.

Apple intend to provide an upgrade path for most recent Macs too — the IIvi/vx plus all Centris and Quadra models — but upgrade kit delivery dates for both old Macs and the new portables have yet to be specified. (The portables will utilise a second generation low power PowerPC chip, called the PC 603.) To keep upgrade costs low, it's likely that many, if not all, of Apple's non‑portable upgrade kits will require the addition of a NuBus card rather than a total motherboard replacement. While low‑cost upgrades should ensure earlier take up of PowerPC, those of you with no spare NuBus slots will need to buy a new machine.

Fat Binaries

Software‑wise, the first PowerPC Macs will be supplied with a PowerPC version of System 7 (now well into its beta test stage). Present 680x0 Mac applications will run under emulation, ie. System 7 will convert 680x0 code into PowerPC instructions — a process that takes time and therefore slows down program execution speed. However, such is the raw speed advantage of the PowerPC that, despite the emulation process, Apple's latest prototypes run 680x0 applications at speeds comparable with a Centris 650.

In order to exploit the full potential of the PC 601 chip, software developers are busy 'porting' their applications to PowerPC (ie. rewriting their software in the PowerPC's native code). The first batch of PowerPC machines will be midrange models costing around £1500, yet native applications will run up to twice as fast as the Quadra 840AV. The latter is currently Apple's fastest and, at around £3000, its most expensive machine.

Thus the introduction of the first PowerPC Macs will cause a major price restructuring, with plenty of special deals on old models no doubt. Secondhand prices will plummet in sympathy, so those of you who have been prohibited from entering the Mac world up to now stand a very good chance of picking up a real bargain.

Offering cheap upgrade paths is one way of encouraging a speedy transition period from 680x0 to PowerPC. However, Apple will also be encouraging early adoption by ensuring that native versions of the Mac's most popular applications are available from day one. Thus all Apple's key software developers — Claris, Microsoft, Aldus, Adobe, etc — have been busy porting away for months. To ease the confusion over which version to buy, some vendors will release 'Fat Binaries' — applications that contain both 680x0 and PowerPC code, while others may offer two sets of program disks in one box.

It will also be possible to run Windows applications on Mac PowerPCs thanks to Insignia Solutions, who will be offering a Windows 3.1 interpreter. Microsoft has, as yet, no stated plans to write a PowerPC native version of Windows 3.1, though it will offer Windows NT — a server version of Windows for heavy duty workstations. However, if Microsoft do take up the challenge, there is concern that Windows could become the PowerPC user interface of choice. From this time/space locus it seems unlikely that 10 million Mac users could be persuaded to dump System 7 for anything other than Apple's System 7 successor, codenamed 'Pink', which will not appear until 1995 or 1996.

Power PC & Music

Though top‑selling applications like PageMaker, Microsoft Office, ClarisWorks, etc will be native from day one, it's likely that PowerPC native MIDI and digital audio software will be thin on the ground, if past experience is anything to go by. When the Mac II arrived it was four months before a MIDI sequencer could run on it. The AV Macs — the 660AV and 840AV — were introduced last September, yet there are still mainstream music applications that won't work with them.

Apple have stated that they hope to offer the AV architecture in all PowerPC Macs, but it's known that non‑AV Macs will be included in the first batch of PowerPCs. For this reason, most music developers (OSC's Deck 2.02 being the main exception) have decided to hold back on supporting AV technology. Only Opcode have definite plans — Studio Vision AV should arrive later this month, five months after the AV Macs made their public debut. Music software designed around NuBus cards may require hardware tweaking, if not a complete redesign, which will increase development time even further. Manufacturers of external hardware devices, such as Yamaha's CBX‑D5, will no doubt exploit this time lag. However, when Digidesign decide to launch a PPC native version of AudioMedia II or Pro Tools, it should be rather spectacular.

New Trends

So what else can we look forward to in the Mac world in 1994? Apart from the communications revolution described in November's column, audio‑for‑video studios may well find it impossible to ignore desktop video editing systems such as SuperMac 's Digital Film and Digidesign's PostView. The latter is an option for Pro Tools that, in addition to random access video recording/ editing, also supports integrated video transport control via Sony 9‑pin or V‑LAN protocols. Thus it's possible to slave a VTR or DAT (even if no video is recorded or replaying from the Mac).

Mac AV technology and systems like PostView offer studios the option of providing the video equivalent of the MIDI programming room, and therefore the chance to break into a new and expanding market. There's an ever‑increasing amount of software that will work with these systems; applications that add titling, video effects, etc. No doubt a new generation of multimedia sequencers will appear that will integrate the editing of audio, video and MIDI in a single application.

Apple Computer starts 1994 with a new Chairman, John Sculley having left to seek new challenges. His replacement — Mike Markkula — was one of Apple's founders and its first Chairman (reigning from 1977 to 1981). In addition to the PowerPC, Markkula will preside over a company making a big‑time bid for success in the consumer electronics market. We're not just talking about Performas here or even Newton PDAs. No, Apple wants to sell 'tellys'. Not your normal telly, of course, but Macintosh TV.

Mac TV

The Macintosh TV now being test marketed in the US is a 14" cable ready, remote controllable, colour TV with an input port for VCR playback or, if you're that way inclined, Sega/Nintendo generated cyberspace kick‑boxing contests. However, the Mac TV is also a 32MHz, '030 5/160 Mac with SCSI, ADB and AppleTalk (though RAM expansion is limited to a paltry 8Mb). An integral CD‑ROM doubles as an audio CD player, offering stereo sound via the system's stereo speakers. Applications‑wise, Apple are bundling ClarisWorks 2.0 plus special video frame‑grabbing and captioning software.

It's a neat idea, ideal for a transient population and destined to find its way into millions of bedrooms, thousands of school dormitories and copious halls of residence. No doubt music retailers will add a GM tone module, a MIDI interface and Cubase Lite to make the ultimate music student consumer goods.

Apropos of students, I've become one myself recently. Far more significantly, I got married. The bottom line here is that I want to free up some time, so after 20 Apple Notes columns and about thirty thousand words I hand you over to my colleague Martin Russ — SOS's new Mac evangelist and a man more qualified than most to keep you in touch throughout Apple's latest make or break year. I wish Martin, Apple and you a very happy, successful and peaceful 1994. Goodbye.

Mac Developments In Brief

  • Opcode are offering an upgrade to their Studio 5 multi‑port MIDI patchbay/processor/synchroniser that enables up to six Studio 5s to be connected to a single Mac. Known as the LX upgrade, the update allows the connection of up to three Studio 5LXs per Mac serial port, giving 90 MIDI In and Out ports — a staggering 1440 MIDI channels. Other LX features include more patches, patch chaining, and patch changing from external MIDI source via OMS.
  • Despite dropping the licensing fee for their Open MIDI System, Opcode have been thwarted in their attempt to establish a single standard for a Mac MIDI operating system. While the likes of Steinberg and Emagic are prepared to drop their competing systems — M‑ROS and SoftLink respectively — Mark Of The Unicorn wanted to press ahead with their own Mac MIDI OS — the Free MIDI System. In an ideal world, Apple would incorporate one of these MIDI Operating Systems into MIDI Manager; unfortunately, it now seems unlikely that this will ever happen.
  • Apple and Texas Instruments (TI) have announced a joint project that allows Macs to exchange information at very high speeds with a variety of electronic equipment, via miniaturised connectors and low‑cost cables. Under the agreement, TI will make integrated circuits using an Apple‑developed technique known as FireWire technology. The latter is based on an emerging ANSI standard for information exchange that will enable a dramatic reduction in the number of connectors required to hook up peripherals. Apple claim the FireWire ICs will improve overall performance and allow 'plug‑and‑play' addition of peripherals — including audio equipment.
  • Back in October I wondered if Sony's MiniDisc format might eventually find its way into computers as a mass storage medium. It turns out that Sony have indeed been working away developing a MiniDisc storage format called 'MD‑Data'. The new specification offers up to 140Mb on the 68mm x 27mm x 5mm disk.

Unlike the audio industry's other gift to the computer industry — CD‑ROM — MD Data disks are read/write devices. However, Sony have also specified MD‑ROM: pre‑mastered MD‑Data disks for software distribution, and Hybrid MD‑Data for disks that contain both erasable and pre‑mastered sections. The latter is intended for interactive applications.

Another rather fab feature of the MD‑Data format is that the specification includes a protocol for how data is written to disk. Such specs are usually the domain of the Operating System and therefore disk exchangeability is typically poor. However, with MD‑Data's filing system, information can be retrieved regardless of differences in CPU or OS. No release date has been announced.