TV-PGJanuary 10, 2001: It may not be a subnotebook, per se, but the PowerBook G4 comes darn close and is chock full of goodies. Meanwhile, Apple narrows the megahertz gap with its new 733 MHz Power Mac G4-- assuming it really ships next month. Also, Apple's new consumer-targeted "digital hub" applications are most useful (or only available) on the company's professional workstations, and while Mac OS 9.1 was a keynote no-show, it is available and ready for download (assuming you can get through)...
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5.3 Lb. of Raw, Titanium Sex (1/10/01)

Much of the time, the challenge in producing a new episode of AtAT day after day is coming up with enough material. You know how sometimes your nightly news runs stories on shockers like "your bank may be charging you fees for ATM use," or "eating raw pork may be hazardous to your health"? Sometimes the same "slow news day" phenomenon makes it tough to come up with plot twists for AtAT. So you'd think that the first episode after a Stevenote would be easy, right? Not so, McGee. On days like this, we've got precisely the opposite problem: way too much to say and a limited time slot in which to say it. Plus, just about everyone tuning in already knows every minuscule detail about Uncle Steve's performance (we hear there's already a "Steve! 2001" Vegas night club act going into rehearsals), so simply spitting out the facts isn't likely to entertain anyone. You folks have just been bathed in the full Glory of Steve, and the Reality Distortion Field probably won't wear off for days. So how are we supposed to follow that act? The answer: we're not even going to try. That's right, people, today we're phoning it in even more than normal. So let's get right to it, shall we?

So how about that PowerBook G4? Let's give a hand to the Apple designers who made straight lines sexy again. We are positively thrilled to have been wrong to doubt the inclusion of a widescreen display, although it's worth pointing out that it's nowhere near a 16:9 aspect ratio-- with its native 1152x768 resolution, the G4's display is actually 3:2. Nevertheless, it looks absolutely gorgeous, and we'll take an extra 128 pixels of horizontal real estate anytime. Better yet, our concerns that a widescreen display would make the new PowerBook too large and unwieldy were clearly unfounded. The G4 is actually a titanium paradox: it's wider but thinner, and unlike certain celebrity talk show hosts who have a history of bouncing between the two states like a yo-yo, the G4 accomplishes both at the same time. While it packs a 15.2-inch screen, it also manages to be just an inch thick-- thinner than even the Sony VAIO subnotebook.

Of course, thickness isn't everything, and that huge screen made us wonder whether the G4 would be too large for us to tote around comfortably. But faithful viewer Amy Schneider did a little digging and discovered that the Titanium Sex Machine is actually smaller than our iBook in all three dimensions; the iBook is 13.5" x 11.6" x 1.8" (average), while Apple's latest portable is a mere 13.4" x 9.5" x 1". Furthermore, Go2Mac has posted some photos of last week's Pismo model next to the titanium newcomer, and we definitely get the sense that the G4 is smaller where it counts. With the reduced height and front-to-back depth, the G4 looks like it'd be a lot more comfortable to use during a coach flight-- even if the guy in front of you decides to recline his seat back for a little snooze. (Oh, and how about that right-side-up Apple logo, hmmmm? That's reason enough to upgrade right there.)

Needless to say, this might pretty much nix any chance for that "CubeBook" subnotebook that so many of us have been hoping for. At a smidge over five pounds and only one inch thick, the G4 is darn close-- and personally, we'd be very willing to lug around a few extra ounces of weight, since this puppy packs a DVD-ROM drive and a five-hour battery. The only reason we'd still like to see a Cube-analogous portable in Apple's product matrix is this: if Apple could squeeze so much power into such a tiny PowerBook, imagine what they could come up with if they ditched the DVD-ROM, went with a smaller screen, and used a less power-hungry G3 processor. Maybe a four-pound, six-hour, $1799 slab of ultra-portable goodness?

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Talk To Us When It Ships (1/10/01)

Dying of thirst for more megahertz? Well, drink deeply; yesterday saw the end of an eighteen-month-long dry spell in the quest for higher clock speeds. Much to our surprise and delight, CNET's original report that Steve would take the wraps off of a 733 MHz Power Mac G4 turned out to be right on the money-- and that's a really good thing, since we were losing the battle to keep our expectations down to the "dual-processor 600 MHz" level. Finally, our salvation: four new desktop models, with G4s running at 466, 533, 667, and 733 MHz. (That "667" annoys us slightly; clearly this isn't the same Apple who sold its original personal computer for $666 just to raise eyebrows. Where's the love?) Sure, they're all single-processor systems (though you can get a dual-processor 533 MHz model built to order at the Apple Store), but with 733 MHz finally in the picture, we're finding it tough to get bummed about the whole downplayed multiprocessing thing.

We're not at the oasis quite yet, though. You may have noticed from Apple's newly-posted tech specs that both the 667 and the 733 MHz models list 256K of on-chip cache running 1:1 with the chip speed. That's a dead giveaway that those higher models are using Motorola's new G4e chip (or G4+, or whatever you want to call it). No wonder the 466 and 533 MHz models are "available now" while the faster ones are due out "next month." Color us overcautious, but we're going to try to dampen our enthusiasm until the G4e-based Power Macs are actually shipping; we all got burned the last time Steve announced higher-speed configurations shipping "soon." Remember the original Power Mac G4/500? It was announced in, what, August of 1999? And due to lack of availability from Moto, Apple had to scale the whole G4 line back by 50 MHz and much wailing and caterwauling ensued. The 500 MHz G4 didn't actually ship until February of the following year, by which time countless legions of Mac fans had already taken their lives in desperation.

So, given that little slice of History Heaven, we're trying really, really hard to remain stoic about the possibility of replacing our four-year-old PowerTower Pro with a G4/733 next month. So far, so good: adrenaline levels are low, heart rates are normal, and we're only drooling slightly more than usual. If we can keep this up, in the unhappy eventuality that Apple is forced to admit that the 733 won't actually ship until, say, July, we'll remain cool as a cucumber, with nary a myocardial infarction in sight. And with all the other, far-less-relaxed customers dropping like flies of strokes and embolisms and the like when told they'll have to wait another five months, we bet we'll have a much easier time getting our Zen-steadied hands on a system. As for a delayed ship date affecting Apple's standing in the Megahertz Wars, fear not-- as we all know, in that game it's not what you ship, but what you announce.

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Digital Hubs And Killer Apps (1/10/01)

How about Apple's new goal of evolving the personal computer into the hub of our increasingly digital lifestyle? iMovie was a big step in that direction, with its ability to transform a simple digital camcorder into a tool of unbounded creativity and purpose. (Hey, we didn't really believe the hype either, until we started using it-- but trust us, it really is as good as they say.) Steve's got a point: look around, and everyone's got PDAs and digital cameras and mobile phones and portable MP3 players and... well, you get the idea. Why not make the Mac the perfect personal computer that can link and augment all those gadgets with power and ease of use? Sounds good to us. (Unfortunately, judging by Apple's stock price, Wall Street doesn't necessarily agree-- and that was obviously Steve's real audience.)

All that aside, though, at least Apple's "vision" means we get some cool toys to play with. Specifically, iMusic-- er, iTunes. Hey, c'mon, even Steve slipped up and called it "iMusic" once or twice; we suspect a last-minute name change just to make the rumors sites look bad. Whatever. In any case, we get an Internet radio-playing, portable MP3 player-loading, custom audio CD-burning, crazy trippy light show-producing, MP3-playing and -encoding app... and it's 100% free. With that feature set and at that price, they can call it "iMucus" for all we care; just give us the download link and get out of our way. The only catch is that you have to be running Mac OS 9 to install and use it, but hey, that doesn't seem too much to ask.

Now, iDVD, on the other hand, is a whole different story altogether. In a manner of speaking, it's free, too-- assuming you're willing to shell out $3499 for a high-end Power Mac G4 capable of burning DVDs. While the notion of an easy-to-use DVD authoring tool that can encode video data over twelve times faster than other systems is indeed an attractive one, and while the AtAT staff is absolutely still salivating over the prospect of making our own DVDs, it's not exactly an activity "for the rest of us." Have you seen iDVD in action? It's so easy to use, it's obviously targeted at consumers... heck, that'd be clear even if Apple didn't have a professional app called DVD Studio Pro selling for $995. So how come iDVD is only available in the highest-end of Apple's high-end professional workstations? (Yes, we know it's because that's the only model with the DVD-recording SuperDrive, but you get our drift, right?)

In fact, come to think of it, currently the audio CD-burning component of iTunes is only supposed to work with the CD-RW drives available in Apple's new Power Macs-- yet another example of a consumer-oriented product that requires professionally-targeted hardware, at least for one use. Weird, huh? And while we're dead certain that Apple will add CD-RW drives to the iMac in the not-too-distant future, we can't help but feel that this first push into Apple's destiny of digital hubdom has some ragged edges that need to be smoothed out. That's okay, though; there has to be something left for next month's Tokyo keynote, right?

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Oh Yeah, One More Thing... (1/10/01)

Lastly, if you were as blown away by the Stevenote as we were, you may not have noticed a certain omission from the list of expected new developments. It wasn't until much later (when faithful viewer Chris Frank wrote in to remind us) that we came to a startling realization: Mac OS 9.1, widely considered an absolute lock as a candidate for an Expo announcement, was nowhere to be seen. Geez, first Mac OS X gets held back until March 24th (albeit with some spiffy interface enhancements that make us feel a lot better about Aqua), and now Mac OS 9.1 is MIA as well? It's almost enough to make us fear for the health and well-being of the operating system development team. Perhaps the flu is rampant?

But no-- fear not, because as faithful viewer Ryan James first pointed out, Mac OS 9.1 is done and available both on CD-ROM and as a free download from Apple's web site. It appeared mere hours after the end of Steve's keynote address, which makes us think that either it still wasn't quite finished when Steve took the stage, or Steve just had way too much other stuff to talk about to bother mentioning an operating system update that's rather short on the "gee whiz" bells and whistles. Or maybe he just didn't want to have things thrown at him for mentioning that the 72 MB download is split into fifteen chunks, for reasons we have yet to unearth.

In any event, our repeated attempts to grab even one part of the 9.1 updater have yet to bear fruit; usually we can't even load the download page, and the one time we managed to get that far, we still couldn't get an actual file transfer going. Odds are that most of us are going to have to wait until the demand cools off a little before we can grab the update-- all fifteen parts and 72 MB of it. Hmmm, suppose that Apple's slowed down its servers on purpose to get people to pay for the CD-ROM version instead? We notice that the upgrade order form sure loads quickly enough...

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