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Apple touts 'the year of the notebook'

One exhibitor gave away a silver-and-black Mini Cooper. Another held a drawing for a free Hummer. But the attendees swarming through five showrooms at San Francisco's Moscone Center last week for the 2003 MacWorld Conference weren't there for the cars.

More than 300 exhibitors showcased Apple-related wares at this year's event, but the big attention getters were new offerings from Apple itself, which included the company's largest laptop screen, its smallest full-featured laptop and its fastest communications standard. The firm also unveiled several products targeted directly at Microsoft, renewing a bitter rivalry that had waned for some time. (Please see the related story Apple, Microsoft rivalry returns with a bang .)

Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off the conference with a keynote address that included the unveiling of new notebook systems -- a larger PowerBook with a 17-inch screen, and a smaller one just about a foot wide. He dubbed 2003 ''the year of the notebook,'' and promised that Apple would begin shipping the new machines -- which drew awes and cheers from the crowd -- in just a few weeks.

The 12-inch PowerBook is the smallest laptop Apple has ever offered, weighing in at 4.6 pounds, but sporting a 12.1-inch screen and a standard-size keyboard. The machine runs on an 867 MHz PowerPC G4 processor, and comes with built-in Bluetooth and a battery with a life of up to five hours on a single charge. The 17-inch PowerBook is the biggest laptop Apple has ever offered, with a rectangular display with the proportions of a movie screen. It runs on a 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, and includes Bluetooth, the long-life battery, and a slot-loading SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs. Apple is starting pricing for the big PowerBook at $3,299, while pricing for the small one starts at $1,799.

Both notebooks will also be the first to support a new, faster wireless technology Apple calls AirPort Extreme. Significantly, AirPort Extreme uses a draft of the pending 802.11g standard, which allows for higher speed extensions in the 2.4GHz band -- up to 54Mbps -- while implementing all mandatory elements of 802.11b. Apple is the first computer maker to include this standard in its products. Other companies -- most notably Intel -- have been backing 802.11a, which is catching on as the faster alternative. 802.11g is just as fast as 802.11a and has some compatibility advantages with currently available devices.

A new AirPort Extreme Base Station, capable of supporting up to 50 wireless users, also includes bridging to extend the range beyond 50 users, and USB printer sharing. At $199, Apple sells the new base station for less than its predecessor.

One of the highlights of this year's show for true Macolytes was the sight of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who made a rare appearance as part of a panel discussion about the pros and cons of switching from Mac OS 9 to OS X. The bottom line on the issue for Woz: ''The people who are making this decision are smart enough to make it on their own. They don't need us.''

Along with the usual free goody bags of brochures, demo disks, Slinkies and company pens, attendees at this year's show had a chance to take home two high-end vehicles. Macromedia held a drawing for the Mini Cooper, and Intego held one for the Hummer. Intego is a provider of Internet security solutions. Its ContentBarrier product is Web filtering software with the ability to filter keywords from e-mail, Web pages, newsgroups and chat rooms. Macromedia announced the availability of its JRun 4 J2EE app server for Mac OS X.

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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