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Apple Updates the iMac Lineup

This morning, in a surprise announcement from Apple, a new 24” iMac was released.  According to Apple, the new display is 40% brighter than the display used in the previous 20” iMac.  In addition to the new display size, Apple updated the entire iMac line to include Intel’s new Core 2 Duo processors.  Dual core, just as the previous generation, but these new chips yield a significant increase in performance… up to 50%!

The current line of iMacs offer screen sizes of 17”, 20”, and 24”.  The low end 17” iMac sells for as little as $999.  But for $200 more, shoppers get a faster processor (2.0GHz, up from 1.83GHz), twice the L2 cache, twice the RAM (1GB, up from 512MB), Bluetooth, a SuperDrive, and a discrete graphics chip replaces the integrated chip.  All in all, a lot of upgrades for the money!  Its worth noting that the base 17” model is the only iMac that does not offer an Apple remote control.

All things considered, the specs of the new 24” model are nothing short of impressive.  It comes standard with a 24” screen (1920×1200 resolution), 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4MB of L2 cache, 1GB or RAM (2x512MB SO-DIMMs), 250GB hard drive, 8x double layer SuperDrive, a discrete video chip (NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT with 128MB GDDR3 memory), Airport, Bluetooth, and remote control.  All for $1999.  For $250 more, the processor can be upgraded to 2.33GHz.  RAM is expandable to 3GB, and the hard drive can be upgraded to 500GB.  For $125 more, the video processor can be upgraded to a NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT with 256MB SDRAM.

The iMac product line has come a long way since the days of the toxic blue 233MHz 15” CRT!


OS X 10.5 Leopard’s Complete Package

When Steve Jobs gave the keynote address at this years World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2006), he gave the public its first look at some of the many new features found in Apple’s forthcoming OS X 10.5 Leopard.  Jobs was careful to point out that the limited list of features he was showcasing was only the beginning.  Even the Preview release of Leopard that was provided to the WWDC attendees was limited in its functionality.  Many key features of the operating system would not be shown publicly, and were actually removed from the preview version of the OS that was released that day.  Watching a downloaded copy of the keynote address, I found an interesting point that appears to have been widely overlooked by the news media.  This is something that Jobs referred to as the “Complete Package.”

Leopard will ship with a number of applications that previously had only been available in a limited way.  For example, Photo Booth had only shipped on machines that came equipped with an iSight camera.  Front Row is only available on the latest generation of Mac systems that ship with an infrared remote control.  And Boot Camp, currently in beta, is only available to users who opt to download the hefty installer from Apple’s website.  With the release of Leopard, all of these applications will be a part of the operating system and thereby finally available to all users.

In the past, Front Row has been hacked to allow the installer to run on machines that Apple considered unsupported.  And, while installing Front Row is possible on most machines now, it is a complicated and difficult process.  Many users would love to use Front Row’s graphical goodness, but simply don’t have the wherewithal to install an unsupported version.  For those people, Apple has finally announced that this will no longer be a problem with the release of Leopard.

For those choosing to read between the lines of Jobs keynote address, consider this.  He was very specific in explaining that Leopard would contain the next generation of Front Row.  He only showed a screenshot of the current release as reference.  It seems likely that the update included as part of Leopard will be a significant one… hopefully including DVR functionality.  Until Leopard ships in the Spring of 2007, we can only hope.

Boot Camp is currently in beta.  But with the release of Leopard, Boot Camp will leave beta and include features not found in the current release.  Any Intel based Mac will be able to easily run Windows, and the installer will ship on the Leopard DVD.  Users will still need to acquire a copy of Microsoft Windows on their own.  Apple has no intention of selling Microsoft’s OS to Mac users.

While other features like Spaces and Time Machine have stolen the spotlight, many users will be excited to know that they finally have easy access to software like Photo Booth, Front Row, and Boot Camp.


Apple’s Mac Pro Finally Sees the Light of Day

Today’s World Wide Developers Conference keynote address was conducted, as always, by Steve Jobs.  There was a lot to talk about.  Most notably was the completion of Apple’s transition to Intel based systems.  Confirming a great deal of speculation, Apple has finally released the Mac Pro system.  Rather than a line of systems with differing specs, Apple has made a single system available.  Every component is simply available for custom configuration.

Apple’s stock version of the Mac Pro contains a pair of dual core 2.66GHz 64-bit processors (that’s right, 4 cores total).  Each processor is a Dual-Core Intel Xeon Woodcrest chipset with 4MB of L2 cache.  1GB of 667MHz DDR2 fully-buffered ECC RAM is standard, though the machine supports up to 16GB in total.  A single 250GB SATA drive is also standard, though the system supports up to 4 drives, or 2TB of storage.  And, one of the most welcome additions to the mix is the second optical drive bay.  The standard configuration ships with a  single 16x double-layer SuperDrive, but there is finally room for a second mechanism.  For video, Apple provides the NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT graphics card with 256MB of memory. An ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB card is also a customizable option, as are as many as four NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT cards.

Apple is using Intel’s newest Woodcrest processors.  They range in speed from 2.0GHz to 3.0GHz, once again, all dual-core, dual processor.  This makes the new Mac Pro up to 2.1x faster than the quad processor G5 that it replaces.

Though externally the case resembles the previous G5 system (with the exception of the second optical bay), the cases insides have been completely revamped.  The case now sports 4 internal hard drive bays.  Each bay is designed to allow users to add drives without the need for so much as a screwdriver.  The hard drives literally snap into drive carriers and the carriers simply latches into the drive bay.  There are 3 full-length PCI Express card slots in addition to 1 double wide PCI Express graphics card slot.

All in all, Apple has provided the machine that its professional users have been waiting for.  The machine might look like the previous generation of G5’s, but inside it’s an entirely different creature.  The new Mac Pro has the power and expandability that Mac power-users have been waiting for.  Check out Apple’s site for more information and custom configurable options.


Update: 8/7/06 3:45PM
One reader pointed out that Apple’s use of ECC memory is not without some catches.  Most importantly, each memory module will use its own proprietary heat sink.  This aids in the case’s overall cooling design.  It’s likely that Apple will be the only source of this part, at least for the time being.  Additionally, ECC memory is priced at a premium, so goosing a Mac Pro with multiple Gigabytes of memory will be a costly undertaking.

Apple found a way to encourage Apple direct sales by making every Mac Pro option built-to-order.  This makes it much more difficult for Apple resellers to offer anything but the Mac Pro’s base configuration.  The addition of individual memory heat sinks seems another effort from Apple to force customers to buy Apple’s memory.  Though we can expect third party memory in the not so distant future, it remains to be seen whether the new machines will run well (or at all) without the memory heat sinks.

Another user pointed out that Apple has apparently not included for a Front Row compatible remote control.  This seems especially odd, given Jobs’ reports that Front Row will be a key feature of the upcoming OS X 10.5!


Picasa Exporter for iPhoto

Google photo software, Picasa, is hands down the best photo album software for Windows.  In many ways, it’s the Windows equivalent of Apple’s iPhoto.  But when Google released its beta of the Picasa Web Albums service last month, it left Mac users out in the cold.  Picasa is only for Windows users, and only Picasa users could upload content to the web based photo site.  But today, that has finally changed.

Unfortunately Google has not released a Mac version of Picasa, but they it did the next best thing.  Google has released a beta of its Picasa plug-in for Apple’s iPhoto.  Once the plug-in is installed and an application has been placed in the computer’s Applications folder, iPhoto will have a new export option.  If the user already has a Gmail account, they already have a Picasa Web Album account.  When the Picasa export option is selected, the user simply enters their Gmail login and iPhoto has instant access to the web service.  Users can instantly create new albums on Picasa or add content to existing albums.

The Picasa export tool is powerful, and very easy to use.  It works with OS X 10.4 or later, and iPhoto 4, 5, and 6.  Picasa Web Album accounts are free, and offer 250MB of storage per user.  Download the iPhoto plug-in here, and try it out today!


AOL For Free?

In a press release from AOL/Time Warner Inc. published yesterday, AOL is providing its proprietary software, email, and other services for free.  Though the transition to a free service is still ongoing, potential new users to AOL can signup for free @AOL.com email right now.  For users whom have cancelled AOL subscriptions in the last 2 years, AOL claims to have reserved your user name for you.  Users looking to reclaim long abandoned usernames may have to wait until the transition is complete in September as, so far, there is no way to reactivate discarded accounts.  Cancelled your account half a decade ago?  Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

AOL for free?  So what’s the catch?  Well, there is a small catch.  AOL’s service is only free to broadband users as they are essentially bringing their own access to the content.  AOL will continue to offer dial-up access to paid subscribers, though AOL’s press release indicates that marketing of the dial-up service will be dramatically scaled back.  Simply put, those trying to access AOL services via a broadband connection will soon have access for free.

On top of this, AOL will soon be offering additional free software in the form of security tools for Windows.  A new video service is also slated to be rolled out.  Additionally, AOL will be offering a personalized email service that allows users to have username@mydomain.com style email addresses.  This means that users will be able to own their own domain, but use the AOL’s webmail interface and AOL mail servers to host the accounts.

Why is AOL doing this?  It’s an attempt to move away from the less profitable Internet Service Provider business model and move into online advertising.  Users will have free access to AOL’s services and AOL, in turn, will sell advertising space on those services to cover costs and generate a profit.  It’s a proven business model, if AOL can only survive the transition.  But some say this is AOL’s attempt to break even on all of the bad karma they have brought with recent attempts to stem the mass exodus of users dumping their service.  You decide.


Flip4Mac 2.1 Goes Universal

Telestream, makers of Flip4Mac, have released the first Universal Binary version of its Windows Media compatible software.  Version 2.1 adds a number of features, not the least of which is native support on Apple’s new Intel based Macintosh systems.  Other features include export optimizations for PPC based Macs, and the ability for authors to disable the “save as” feature in web browsers.

Earlier this year, Microsoft officially abandoned Macintosh support for its antiquated Windows Media Player for Mac.  While this was the first time Microsoft made that official announcement, the companies intent had been clear to Mac users for some time.  The Mac version of the media player had lagged far behind its Windows counterpart and had already started falling into obscurity by the time Microsoft made the announcement detailing the products official demise.

At the same time, Telestream was selling Flip4Mac as a standalone product.  After Microsoft abandoned Windows Medial Player for Mac, the Flip4Mac player product was made free to anyone who wanted to download it. Telestream continues to charge for the version of the product the actually encodes Windows Media compatible content.

Since Telestream essentially took over this are of the market, Flip4Mac has continued to evolve and had become an increasingly useful product.  With 2.1’s addition of Universal Binary support, all Mac users once again have access to Windows Media content (though many still play Windows Media content reluctantly).

If you have yet to install the Flip4Mac player, download it from Flip4Mac.com now for free.  It’s one software package that no Mac user should surf the web without.


Skype for Mac with Video… Preview Release

This morning, Skype announce a new version of its audio and text based chat client for the Mac.  The Mac version has lagged behind its Windows based brother for some time.  This new release is the first with two way video support.  The update is also Universal Binary, so it is optimized for new Intel based Mac systems.

This new version of Skype is considered a preview release because it has not completely stable, nor is it ready for mass consumption.  Instead, it has been released in its beta form to allow early adopters a chance to test the software ahead of time.  Skype is very clean is its recommendation that users not install this version on production system as it is still a pre-release version.

Several weeks ago, a very earlier version of the Skype beta was released on pirate sites.  Some of the users who installed it paid a price for their ill-gotten acquisition of the software.  It seems there were some serious problems with the software and those issues resulted in the corruption of Skype users preferences and some accounts.

That being said, the software that was circulated some time back was never considered ready for consumer use and was actually leaked to the public before the developers ever intended.  Today’s release of the Skype update carries a warning for early adopters, but it is legitimate.  It is actually a sanctioned public beta release that has been approved by the Skype developers.

Any users who are not put off my the standard beta warnings can head over to this link at Skype.com and grab the first public beta that supports video based chat.  It includes support for Apple’s iSight camera as well as others, and requires a 800MHz G4 or better.


Democracy Player Gets an Update

GetDemocracy.com has released an update to the Democracy Player.  The update is substantially more stable than previous releases and is now available in two Mac versions.  Rather than release a Universal Binary version of the player, the developers have opted to provide two separate versions, one for PPC machines and one for Intel based systems.

The current release is 0.8.5 and it is a welcome upgrade.  The software performs much more efficiently on new Intel based systems.

For the uninitiated, Democracy Player is a vidcast aggregator.  It makes it easy to keep up to date with the growing number of video podcasts available on the web.  Some compare it to the vidcast functionality currently built into Apple’s iTunes, but Democracy actually includes some powerful features not offered by Apple.  For one, the Democracy Player includes a bittorrent client.  This offers a powerful alternate means of content acquisition that benefits the content creator as much as it does the viewer.  Additionally, Democracy makes it much easier to subscribe to any available RSS based vidcast.  iTunes favors content listed in Apple’s iTunes Music Store indexes while Democracy makes it easy to simply specify the RSS feed address of any content and lets users sit back and wait for content.

At a time when so called IPTV based content is growing in popularity, the Democracy Player is leading the way in content aggregation.  It is simple and powerful software that plays just about any media format currently available.  It’s easy for a beginner to learn, and powerful enough to keep advanced users interested.  And now it’s been optimized for Apple’s powerful new line of Intel based Macs.

It’s worth noting that the Democracy Player is available on multiple platforms including the Mac, Windows, and Linux.  Visit GetDemocracy.com and download your copy today.  The software is donationware, so users only pay if they feel it’s worth the investment.


FileMaker Pro Goes Universal

FileMaker Inc. today announced the availability of Universal Binary versions of both FileMaker Pro 8.5 and FileMaker Server 8.0v4.  The updates boast massive speed increases of up to 91% on the client side and 116% on the server side when run on Apple’s new Intel based Macs.  Since the speed increase and the porting to Universal Binary might not be enough to entice the average user to upgrade, FileMaker has also been updated to include a couple of new features as well.

FileMaker Web Viewer is a feature that makes it possible to include live web information in a FileMaker database.  This could be useful to anyone looking to include map information in their database.  For example, in addition to static contact information, it is now possible to include mapping information as well.  Or, reference a page from Wikipedia when it pertains to your database record.  The FileMaker record will always be up to date with the latest information available from Wikipedia as the information is not captured, but instead referenced live from the web.  This insures that the latest information is constantly available.

Another new feature is the ability to do what FileMaker refers to as Web Scraping.  Specifics on the functionality are not yet fully documented, but the concept is intriguing.  Web Scraping would allow FileMaker Pro users to essentially capture miscellaneous information from web sites.  Normally the only way to import information is through an ODBC connection or by pulling information from some sort of delaminated file.  Web Scraping seems to imply that it will be possible to write scripts that will capture information from more random web based sources.

FileMaker.com has a great QuickTime movie that demos the usefulness of some of FileMaker 8.5’s new features.

While the new features of FileMaker Pro might be a touch on the light side, I’m glad to see the release of a Universal Binary version of the software.  The new Intel based Macs have proven themselves to be real powerhouses and now we can take full advantage of the product.  Now if we could just get Microsoft and Adobe to release their updates…


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