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The Apple Road Show

by Scott Tirrell

Recently, the Apple Computer Road Show came to town (well, a town within my driving distance, anyway) so I decided to stop by and see what they had to say. To be honest, I have no idea why Apple decided to come to Auburn, Maine. Small state, small town. Interestingly, there is not even a CompUSA nearby, so any converted users would have to find their Apples over the Internet or through mail order. Apple's distribution of late seems to be about as well thought out as Atari's decision not to allow mail order purchases of the Atari Falcon030.

Despite this, I went to the Apple Road Show with an open mind and ready to be floored by the new G3 Macs and, perhaps, I hoped, the iMac. I had little idea of what was on Apple's agenda and just decided to go along for the show with a friend from work, a Mac devotee. We drove off to Auburn from Portland (consult your DeLorme maps for the distance) and arrived at Fairview Middle School, one of the thirty stops of the show.

Fairview Middle School, for those who haven't visited it, is a nice little school but there isn't, to my knowledge, anything special about it. Maybe it is a member of Apple's program schools that they uphold as an example of fine use of technology in education. I'm not sure, to be honest, and it wasn't made clear why this location was chosen through the presentation. Perhaps the first disappointment to me, though, was the fact that there were little to no kids there to witness Apple's offerings but a crowd of what seemed to be diehard Macintosh fanatics with Apple t-shirts. The turnout was respectable but certainly not earth-shattering. I'd say that there were about 50-60 people there.

The first thing I saw when I entered the building was a beautiful all-in-one Mac. Stylish case, nice 15-inch monitor, and ports populating the back to make it a nice expandable unit. Of course, it was one of those wonderful machines that Apple only offered the people in education. To be honest, I've always loved the idea of cute little all-in-one cases for computers. I know that the 15-inch monitor is limiting for some, but it is what I use daily and I have no problem with it. Besides, I cannot afford a 17-inch monitor financially, or space-wise. Of course, if someone were to give me a 17-inch monitor, I'd make room.

The stage in the auditorium was displaying some Apple banners including one of the "Think Different" campaign which had Albert Einstein on it. Apple had also set up a table up front with Apple literature and a couple of G3 machines. One of those G3 machines just happened to be a laptop. What an amazing machine! It is a little unwieldy for a portable computer but I'd be willing to lug it around for the speed and beautiful screen.

To be honest, I was very unimpressed with the Apple representatives themselves. I was expecting dynamic speakers, people with charisma who would instill excitement and faith into the Apple fans present. That isn't what I got. Instead, the speakers stumbled over their words, read what they displayed on the projection screen, and really told the crowd very little that we couldn't have picked up by reading Macworld.

One interesting point was the simplification of the Apple product line. Just a few years ago, there were tons of models with numbers affixed to them that seemingly meant nothing. Now the company has four major products - the G3 desktop and laptop for professional markets and the iMac and a future consumer laptop. That's it. The only differences will be in the components and processor speed.

Also interesting was the new Mac OS plan. Instead of having two separate products, Rhapsody and Mac OS, Apple has decided to merge the two products into Mac OS X. The OS will still run on Intel machines, as Apple intended for Rhapsody, but will include the traditional Mac interface. Current software will be run through emulation. Apple also said that they recommended a G3 for those wanting to run this new OS. Representatives said that their plan is to support hardware with System releases for at least five years. So, a five year old machine should be able to run the System software being released. We'll see. This has been the case on the Wintel side.

Of course, many people were interested about the iMac. Unfortunately, there was no iMac to see first hand which is what I was hoping for. The attitude of those in the crowd was disappointment toward the iMac, mostly because its lack of a floppy and reliance on USB. However, in my mind, these points are more important for those with existing peripherals than new buyers. Apple is targeting those people who want a nice little home computer. They are really targeting first-time computer purchases which is what they need to do. Selling new G3s to existing customers can only keep Apple going for so long. I'm more concerned about the asking price of $1,299. Many Pentiums and other clones could look more attractive. Especially since they are more easily obtainable and run the admitted standard in OSs. It is important for computer users. This machine could be very well received by the educational market. This is another market that Apple needs to secure.

In the end, the Apple Road Show disappointed me. It told me little new, I didn't get to see an iMac, and the people from Apple were far from dynamic presenters. On the bright side, I did win a free t-shirt with a picture of the iMac on it. Still, the unprofessionalism of Apple's representatives gave me very little confidence. I got the feeling they really were excited about the Macintosh but that they were not incredibly prepared. The show could have been much more interesting.

Please tell me what your thoughts are on the future of Apple and the iMac.