Jobs unveils new Mac, talks up apps

Steve Jobs, interim chief executive officer of Apple Computer Inc., spun through his company’s latest product advances in a keynote speech here today, touting the performance of a new line of professional Macintosh computers and the company’s first server software.

As expected, Jobs also announced that Apple will soon report its fifth consecutive profitable quarter. He did not provide specifics.

The new products and initiatives Jobs announced include a new high-end desktop line called the G3/400 series, the Mac OS X Server software and Apple’s work with Microsoft Corp. on applications for the Mac OS.

The G3 uses Motorola Inc.’s PowerPC processor, running at 300MHz, 350MHz, and 400MHz. Jobs said it will also use Intel Corp. processors but an Apple spokeswoman later said Jobs had misspoken and meant to say IBM Corp. instead of Intel. IBM and Motorola both provide processors for the G3.

Jobs touted four key aspects of the new G3: it outperforms the Pentium II running at 450MHz, he said; it has superior 3-D graphics capabilities; it is expandable; and it has a new design that features a door allowing for easy access to expansion slots and memory.

The Apple crowd gave a murmur of disapproval when Ben Waldman, general manager of Microsoft’s Macintosh business unit, walked on stage to announce new versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Outlook Express for the Macintosh platform.

Jobs described Apple’s relationship with Microsoft as a marriage: “It’s terrific 99 per cent of the time and about 1 per cent we argue over stuff…in life that’s not a bad ratio,” he said.

But it was the universe of other software developers that Jobs emphasized most, announcing that in the last eight months 1,355 new applications were written for the Macintosh platform, the result of Apple “working so much more closely with our developers,” he said.

Apple is “re-committed” to making the Macintosh a welcoming platform for high-end games developers, Jobs added. Twelve leading games, including Quake and Tomb Raider III, will soon be released for the new G3 series, he said. In addition, Apple will license Silicon Graphics Inc.’s Open GL graphics library and integrate the technology into future releases of the Mac OS, Jobs said.

“We want to be the best gaming platform in the world,” he said.

Jobs also touched on Apple’s successful iMac desktop line, explaining that since the iMac’s Aug. 15 launch, Apple has shipped 800,000 of the machines, or about one every 15 seconds.

According to Apple’s latest research, Jobs said, 13 per cent of the iMacs were sold to former users of machines based on Intel’s processors and running Microsoft’s Windows. And 32 per cent of iMacs were sold to first-time computer buyers, he said. By comparison, first-time buyers accounted for 29 per cent of iMac sales in Apple’s October research, he said.

“These are the most coveted customers and they are starting off on the Macintosh,” he said of the first-time buyers.

Many in the audience watched Jobs’ speech with the kind of awe that seems to greet the charismatic Apple leader whenever he takes the stage these days.

“It was great to see Steve with so much energy up there. Overall you could tell he was a lot more excited this year than last year,” said Daniel Kees, a print process engineer with CD-ROM maker Metatec in Fremont, Calif.

Kees, who is head of Metatec’s pre-press room, said he was most impressed with the Mac OS X Server announcement. Kees’ firm currently uses mostly Windows systems, but he said he may “break out alone” and set up a Macintosh network in his pre-press room, using a Mac OS server and 10 or 15 iMacs for his staff.

One key feature of the Mac OS X Server is that it enables Macintosh clients to boot-up over a network without having the operating system installed on each client. Jobs demonstrated a network with a server running one copy of the Mac OS feeding video to 50 iMac clients without operating systems. Jobs called the capability “Net Booting.”

“The speed and the ease of administration appeal to me. Plus I don’t feel like I’ll need a course in NT to use it,” Kees said of Mac OS X Server.

The software includes the Apache Web server, Apple’s WebObjects application server, BSD Unix and Java, Jobs said. The server will ship in February at a price of US$990 per server and an unlimited number of clients, he said.

Jobs closed his keynote by showing off the iMac’s expanded colour options, a feature he said is more important to consumers than megabytes and megahertz.

“People don’t care about that stuff,” Jobs said. “What they care about is, ‘I want to express myself and pick the colours I want.'”

Judging from the applause and hollers today, Jobs’ words seemed to at least strike a chord with those in the auditorium.

“I’d have to say that if they keep releasing products, I’ll keep buying them,” said Don Carnahan, who works in business development in Renton, Wash. “I think I owe them that much since I wouldn’t be able to do the types of graphics work I do now without them.”