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Apple beats Microsoft to the punch; Woz comes to Macworld

In what was widely seen as an attempt to upstage an expected Microsoft software unveiling, Apple Computer last week launched the commercial version of its much anticipated multi-device synchronization software, iSync, ahead of its scheduled introduction days later at the Macworld trade show. The new iSync 1.0 can synchronize calendar and contact data with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, PalmOS devices and Apple's iPod portable digital music player, according to Apple execs.

Microsoft had long planned to bring out its own synchronization software, dubbed the Plus Digital Media Edition (PDME) for Windows XP, tomorrow. Insiders say PDME allows users of devices running Microsoft's Pocket PC software to synch digital music, news clips and other content to a PC.

Apple made available a beta version of iSync in September, and industry watchers were expecting the commercial version to ship sometime after this week's Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Some analysts are speculating that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company stepped up its development and introduction schedule to beat its rival in Redmond to the shelves and the spotlight.

Basically, the iSync platform adds mobile phones to Apple's digital hub strategy. It works with the Mac OS X Jaguar Address Book and iCal (Apple's calendar program) to synchronize contacts and calendars among Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, PalmOS devices, Apple's iPod portable digital music player and other Macs using Apple's .Mac service. With iSync 1.0, users can sync their Jaguar Address Book with the new .Mac Address Book, making it possible to access contacts while using .Mac Web Mail from virtually any computer, the company said in a statement. iSync 1.0 also includes a feature that allows for regularly scheduled Mac-to-Mac synchronization.

At the same time, Apple brought out Version 1.0.1 of iCal, an update to Apple's calendar program that lets users manage multiple calendars and share them over the Internet. Apple officials claim that the Internet publish-and-subscribe capability in the initial version beat its calendaring rivals to the punch. Users can 'publish' individual iCal calendars on the Internet, and other Mac users can 'subscribe' to them and view them in iCal on their own Macs. The subscribed-to calendars can automatically update whenever the original published calendars are updated.

Apple introduced the first release of iCal in September, and the company claims that more than 1 million copies have been distributed and more than 200,000 calendars have been published online. Both iCal and iSync require Mac OS X Version 10.2.3.

Apple has partnered with U.S. carrier Cingular Wireless, through the carrier's Internet Express Network, and phone manufacturer Sony Ericsson. Several Sony Ericsson devices, including the T68i, support the ''Mac to Mobile'' platform. It also works with Palm's Tungsten, Zire and M-series PDAs; the Handspring Treo and Visor handhelds; and Sony's Clie.

These early product announcements are a prelude to what promises to be an interesting Macworld conference, if only for one of its featured speakers: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion on ''The Move to Mac OS X'' (Tuesday, January 7 at 2 p.m.). Woz, who left Apple in 1985, hasn't made an appearance at one of these events since 1997.

Wozniak started a commercial venture last January called Wheels of Zeus, or WOZ, a play on his nickname. The start-up company is developing global positioning systems for consumers.

His former partner and co-founder and current Apple CEO Steve Jobs is slated to give the opening conference keynote early on the same day (Tuesday, January 7 at 9 a.m.). The two founded Apple in 1977.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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