TV-PGApril 19, 1999: QuickTime 4 is here-- sort of-- and it's pretty cool, rough edges and all. Meanwhile, Best Buy continues its stubborn refusal to stock iMacs if they have to stock all five flavors, and Apple gets slapped with a $35 million charge, payable to the Beatles' Apple Corps, for the use of the Apple trademark...
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Beta or Not... (4/19/99)
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...Here we come. It was a four-press-release day for Apple, as they stormed NAB with 1) Final Cut Pro, a new $999 video editing application that aims higher than Premiere; 2) the QuickTime 4 public beta, which is now available for download; 3) the new open-source QuickTime Streaming Server; and 4) a revamped Public Source License, which addresses concerns some members of the Open Source community had with Apple's original document. Whew. Our cup runneth over. We might come back to Final Cut Pro and the open-source stuff, but what we were really waiting for was the chance-- finally-- to put QuickTime 4 through its paces, beta be damned.

The download went smoothly enough, with the "active installer" only being a couple hundred K or so. Personally, we are not fans of this whole "the installer downloads what it needs as it goes" paradigm; sure, it means people don't have to download stuff they don't plan on installing, but there are still those of us who just feel a lot more comfortable with one big honkin' download that contains everything anyone would ever need and which can be installed without a live Internet connection. Call us traditionalists, call us old fogeys, that's just the way we did things in our day and we liked it. We loved it. Still, we made do. After installing and restarting, we ooohed and aaahed over the spiffy new icons and started screwing around with the new QuickTime Player. Yes, MP3's sound very nice indeed, and yes, the new player looks all futuristic and shiny and stuff, but we have to say, the "Favorites" implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Like, perhaps we're getting senile in our old age, but getting the player to play through a full playlist of favorites seems impossible without manually starting each one as the previous one ends. We just want to cue up a batch of songs and let it run-- it didn't seem like such a strange desire to us at the time, but apparently Apple would classify us as some kind of twisted freaks for wanting such a thing. Oh, well.

The real feature of QuickTime 4, though, is the live streaming. Finally, QuickTime content can be broadcast live over the 'net to any application that supports QuickTime. Apple's got a few demo sites set up so you can give it a whirl yourself. We did-- and, well, we were a tad underwhelmed. Don't get us wrong-- it works, and it works about as well as we could possibly expect given our piddly little 28.8 connection. In fact, it seems to yield slightly less heinous results than when we try to pull in RealVideo, but the symptoms are the same: a postage-stamp-sized smudge of color that occasionally coalesces into something nearly recognizable as a talking head, and sound that starts out mildly intelligible and quickly degenerates into something that sounds like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica reciting the Gettysburg address while it holds its head upside-down in a bucket of piranha-infested Grape Nehi. Guess we'll have to wait for our cable modem connection before we'll really be blown away by QuickTime Streaming; trying to get video through a 28.8 modem is like trying to suck a 1981 Mercury Bobcat Villager through a soda straw.


 
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Best Buy, Worst Attitude (4/19/99)
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So much for an almost-timely happy-ending resolution to the whole Best Buy-Apple fracas... Sounds like the peace talks have broken down and things are at a standstill. The history of the relationship between these two is rocky, to say the least; remember, Best Buy was the first national retail chain to be stripped of its Apple-authorized reseller status back during the Great Purge of the Incompetent. Strangely enough, they were also the first to come back on board when the iMac was making little cartoon dollar signs pop up in retailers' eyes, but it wasn't exactly a triumphant return. Clueless salespeople, poor displays, uncompelling deals, and pig-headed management all conspired together to do the impossible: they actually made the iMac difficult to sell. (Someone call Mr. Ripley...)

The last nonsense we'd heard was that back in January Best Buy was refusing to carry the fruit-flavored iMacs because they were opposed to stocking so many different colors; consequently, as far as we can tell, the only iMacs ever to grace the Best Buy warehouses have been Bondi Blue. We thought all that rigamarole got ironed out and fruit-flavored models were due in the stores shortly, but according to an Associated Press article, it just wasn't meant to be; Best Buy is still saying "no deal" and refusing to stock the new 333 MHz models. "We're very meticulous about our inventory," says Best Buy spokeswoman Joy Harris, but "there's no dispute" (!) and the two companies are "still in negotiations." Oh, brother...

The truly sad thing is, iMacs really do practically sell themselves-- Best Buy is the only chain on the planet that could actually be having a tough time moving the year's hottest computer. That said, they really don't have to do much to turn themselves into lean, mean selling machines... in fact, we can pretty much narrow the list of necessary actions down to two. First of all, it's tough to sell iMacs when you don't actually stock them. Ditch this silly paranoia about not being able to sell all five colors, bite the bullet, jump in, and make it work. CompUSA seemed to do okay when it came to selling every flavor, and it's even easier now that Apple's providing iMacs in eight-packs instead of five-packs-- given that Blueberry is so much more popular than the other flavors, resellers now get four times as many blue jobbies as every other color. C'mon, guys, you're not selling any iMacs in any flavor because of this irrational stubbornness. Secondly, ditch those salespeople that are not just Mac-ignorant, but also Mac-bigoted. We've heard far too many stories of people walking into a Best Buy asking to buy an iMac only to be ridiculed and then steered towards the Wintels. Not exactly a great way to sell iMacs, hmmm? But it's not too late. If Best Buy starts acting just a little like they actually want to sell iMacs instead of having them magically turn into money, well, we really think they can do it. We just don't understand the 'tude, is all.


 
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And Your Bird Can Sing (4/19/99)
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You can't win 'em all, and neither can Apple. A California state appeals court ruled last week that in the astoundingly long dispute between Apple Computer and Apple Corps (the company founded by the Beatles to distribute their music-- does anyone else remember the halved green apples on the labels of many of John Lennon's records? Uh, does anyone else remember records?), not only is Apple liable to pony up $35 million for using the Apple name, but they also can't just stick their insurance companies with the bill. A San Jose Mercury News article has the grisly details.

See, it was almost ten years ago that Apple (our Apple) finally agreed to pay the other Apple thirty-five million dollars for the right to use the Apple trademark. Originally, Apple Corps was cool with Apple Computer sharing the trademark, provided that Apple (again, our Apple-- this is harder than it looks) stayed in the computer business and kept away from the music and recording industries. Unfortunately, eventually Macs turned into some great little musicmakers, and Apple Corps took that to be a breach of contract. But when the 1990 agreement was hammered out, it looked like Apple could just tell its insurance companies to foot the bill; last Friday's ruling changes that, and it looks like there might be a $35 million one-time charge in Apple's quarterly results sometime in the future. Apple plans to appeal the ruling, taking the case to the California Supreme Court, so the twenty-year battle continues; it ain't over until the Japanese conceptual artist, er, sings.

Personally, we're just fine with Apple losing a $35 million court case-- we're hoping the Trial Gods are taking note, so that they'll be more inclined to smile upon our poor court-bound heroes when the real money's on the line. Specifically, we're talking about that billion-dollar-lawsuit hanging over Apple's collective head like the Sword of Damocles. Or like a big stone bowling ball about to konk Fred Flintstone on the head so hard Barney won't be able to revive him in time to win the lodge tournament. (Take your pick of similes, we're flexible.) When this whole Imatec/ColorSync thing goes to court, we're hoping that Apple's trial karma weighs heavily in their favor, because nothing would put a damper on the comeback festivities like having to cut a check with eleven zeroes to some guy angling for a handout.


 
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