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Apple goes soft

Jobs keynote at Macworld NY focuses on software, but brings iPod to Windows

The major announcement for Mac users at the Macworld New York show this week is the launch of Mac OS 10.2, or Jaguar if you are in the US. But those of us who work with Windows will be more interested in Apple's decision to ship its iPod music player for the PC.

When the company originally launched the iPod it left Windows users out, but it has finally seen the error of its ways — and how much larger the PC-based market is — and has come out with three iPod models for the PC. These will launch on 15 August, two weeks after their Mac counterparts.

There is a standard 5GB version, priced £259; a 10GB version with new remote control, case and solid-state scrollwheel control, priced £329; and a 20GB version at £399. These prices are identical to those of the Mac iPods, however the cabling is adapted to Windows PCs and the software is MusicMatch, instead of Apple's Mac-only iTunes. The iTunes software has been updated, and version 3.0 offers automatic generation of 'smart playlists', whereby it collects tunes determined by preselected criteria, such as your top 25 songs, and puts them into a playlist.

The only other new hardware announcement was an iMac sporting a 17in landscape flat-panel display. It is priced £1,649 and is capable of displaying a maximum resolution of 1440x900 pixels, has GeForce4 MX-based graphics, 256MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. It ships in two weeks.

The rest of Apple CEO, Steve Jobs' keynote was taken up with unveiling new software products, focusing on Mac OS 10.2, which will ship on 24 August priced £99. An upgrade package priced £14 is offered to those who buy a new Mac or OS 10.1 after 14 July.

Dollar a feature

Jobs says the updated operating system has over 150 additional features making "less than a dollar a feature". Among these extras are improved support for mixed networks and spring-loaded folders which open when you drag and hover a file or other folder above them, making it easier to move documents around.

Desktop pictures are now more flexible, allowing you to create a desktop slideshow of personal images; you can even make windows transparent so you can view these images while working.

Apple maintains its reputation for championing new technologies by embracing the wireless network with Rendezvous, a software tool that automatically finds other devices on the network, with no need for extra configuration.

For example, it can detect and load other computer's iTunes playlists, and allow all users on the network access to them via Airport wireless streaming. Rendezvous has also been built into network printers from HP, Epson and Lexmark to allow users to automatically detect and access them. Apple's employed an open standard, so any manufacturer can build it into their device.

Boost for wireless

Another boost for wireless connectivity is built-in Bluetooth support, and the introduction of iSync, which allows you to synchronise data between your Mac and mobile phone, PDA or iPod. The new iCal software backs this up by providing calendaring on the Mac, allowing you to view multiple calendars in the same window, to subscribe to online calendars and to share your diary online.

The latest edition of QuickTime — version 6.0 — is also built into 10.2. This is the first Mpeg-4 based solution to hit the market, and Jobs was keen to promote this standard in the face of Microsoft's announcement that it will push its proprietary standard the next release of its Media Player, Corona.

Other enhancements include Sherlock 3, which Jobs says provides "internet services for the rest of us", by providing a simple way to collect up-to-date information online. Inkwell, its handwriting recognition tool, has been built into the text system, allowing users to 'write' in any application. Jobs didn't demo this, however, so we can't vouch for its effectiveness.

Crack at Microsoft

Jobs had a crack at Microsoft's mysterious .Net strategy, with the launch of Apple's .Mac service, which replaces iTools. "Microsoft has .Net… [so we thought] let's jump on the boat, as we are actually delivering stuff and we know what it means," said Jobs. This paid-for service costs $99 for an annual subscription and provides users with 100MB of online storage, email addresses, backup software and antivirus tools.

Despite poor profit showings this quarter Jobs ended his keynote on an upbeat tone. "The PC is undergoing a rapid evolution to become the centre of our digital lives. We intend to innovate through this downturn." But he warned that companies which saw the PC as simply a device for spreadsheets and word processing have cause for despair.


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