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Software helps Macs in role of digital hub

The computer, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs says, is more than a machine. It's the hub of a digital universe. And that's how Juan Fernandez uses his Mac.

The 25-year-old Orlando resident, who was one of the first in line for the opening of the Apple store in Tampa's International Plaza in September, edits still and video images, plays MP3 music files and burns compact discs and DVDs on his Power Mac G4 desktop. "I use it for everything," he says.

"I'm editing video from a wedding on my Mac," Fernandez, a freelance graphic designer and Mac consultant, said recently, "and I'll be burning a DVD of it with iDVD shortly."

Apple, like Microsoft and Intel, wants to position the personal computer as a digital hub in the home, a center for photos, music and other family activities.

And it's as much the free software as it is the hardware that Apple is counting on in that effort with the Mac.

Two years ago, Apple released iMovie, its program that lets you edit near-broadcast-quality digital video on a Mac. At the time, iMovie was available only with two models of the iMac. It now comes standard on all Macs.

At January's Macworld expo when Jobs referred to the digital hub, Apple was introducing iDVD, software that complements iMovie by letting you burn your iMovies onto discs that you can watch in a home DVD player hooked to a TV. IDVD is available only on the two Power Mac G4 desktop computers with the DVD-R SuperDrive installed. No doubt, as happened with iMovie, iDVD will be included on more Mac models as the SuperDrive becomes available as an option.

Also in January, iTunes debuted. ITunes, which comes on all Macs, lets you "rip," or convert, your music CDs to MP3 music files, organize and listen to playlists on your Mac, listen to streaming audio from the Internet and burn customized music CDs to play in your stereo. ITunes 2, which was released this month, adds an equalizer, crossfader to smooth transitions between songs, and synchronization with Apple's new iPod portable music player.

Arlene Cameron of Pinellas Park also uses her iMac for video and image editing. She's head of the art department at Seminole High School and teaches all of the school's digital art classes.

"I do family videos and stuff for the school," says Cameron, who has used Macs for eight years. "I used the Mac to make a slide show for the prom last year, a sentimental thing for the seniors, and to make a video for parents night that introduced them to my curriculum."

One of the most significant changes is the operating system Mac OS X (pronounced "ten"). With its Unix base, Mac OS X gives Mac users an extremely stable operating system and a much improved graphical user interface. With its latest upgrade, to version 10.1, OS X is easily ready to become your primary operating system. Though all Macs are shipping with OS X installed, the older Mac OS 9 is set up as the default operating system.

Some users haven't swapped to OS X as their daily operating system yet.

"I use version 9.2.1 at home," Cameron says. "I haven't tried 10 yet. I'm waiting. I always wait awhile before using a new system."

Likewise, Fernandez, the Orlando graphic designer who has used Macs since high school seven years ago, hasn't completely adopted OS X. The main reason?

"Photoshop," he answers. "Until Photoshop (for OS X) comes out, OS X can't be my default operating system. The fact that I never crash in OS X and that I do in OS 9, that alone has kept me in OS X when I can."

Like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and QuarkXPress aren't yet available for Mac OS X. Though all will run under the included "Classic environment," they don't take advantage of OS X features, such as protected memory, which keeps a program from crashing the whole computer.

Microsoft will release an OS X version of its Office suite of programs _ Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage _ Nov. 19. Meanwhile, Macromedia FreeHand, Quicken 2002, Microsoft Internet Explorer, MSN Messenger and many other programs already run natively in OS X.

Fernandez's father is among those using OS X full time already.

Fernandez set up a Titanium PowerBook G4 as the primary computer for his father's transportation company.

"He has everything he needs: a FileMaker Pro database, billing, invoicing, scheduling the cabs, letter writing, Excel spreadsheets," Fernandez says. "Every aspect of his business is running in OS X, which never crashes. He never calls me anymore for support, which is great."

PC users who shy away from Macs often cite the far bigger choice of software made for the dominant Windows-based computer.

But Mac enthusiasts counter that just about any task you can do on a Windows PC can be done on a Mac, though maybe not with the same software. For instance, Microsoft doesn't offer a Mac version of its NetMeeting video chat software, but a Mac user can link up with a NetMeeting user using software such as iSpQ VideoChat, iVisit or VideoLink Pro.

"Take a look at the core group of applications that you need," Fernandez says, "and the Mac has it _ maybe not every obscure kid title or every obscure gaming title."

Even if software for a specific task was available only for Windows, "I could run it under emulation with Virtual PC, and it flies on my Mac," Fernandez says.

To help speed the digital hub along, Apple has added FireWire, a high-speed method of connecting electronic devices such as digital camcorders, hard drives and CD burners, and boosted processor speeds on all Mac models. And the Power Mac and the PowerBook feature ports that support up to 1000Base-T, or gigabit, Ethernet. (See box, page X.)

Apple's upgrades don't stop with what's inside the box. The consumer iBook and professional PowerBook notebook computers have been retooled this year. The iBook has slimmed to 1.35 inches thick and about the dimensions of a spiral notebook; the Titanium PowerBook G4 is now just 1 inch thick and sports an extra-wide 15.2-inch screen.

The cases for the iMac and Power Mac G4 desktop computers got only minor facelifts. For the iMac, it's back to basic colors (Indigo, Graphite and Snow); gone are the short-lived Flower Power and Dalmatian color schemes.

And all around, Apple has boosted processor speeds, hard disk sizes and the standard amount of random access memory.

_ William Lampkin can be reached at lampkinsptimes.com or (727) 893-8260.

The specs on Macs

Apple's Macintosh computers share several common features, including:

_ Wired networking: Builtin 10/100Base-T Ethernet networking port (10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet for Power Mac G4 and Titanium PowerBook G4).

_ Wireless networking: Builtin antenna and support for AirPort wireless networking (a separate AirPort card is required for networking).

_ Modem: 56K V.90 internal modem.

_ Ports: USB ports and FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports.

_ Operating systems: Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X.

Bundled software includes: iMovie 2, iTunes, iDVD (on Power Mac G4s desktop models), Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator, FAXstf and Palm Desktop Software.

Also included with the iMac and iBook: AppleWorks, Quicken Deluxe 2001, Cro-Mag Rally, Bugdom and Nanosaur.

Here are the various Mac models, some of the features available and their price ranges. Machines may be custom built _ additional random access memory, or RAM, larger hard drive, etc. _ when ordered from Apple.

iMac/iMac Special Edition

Prices: $799 to $1,499.

Standard features include: 500-, 600- or 700-megahertz PowerPC G3 chip; 256K Level 2 cache; 64, 128 or 256 megabytes of random access memory, or RAM; 15-inch builtin display; ATI RAGE 128 Ultra graphics card with 16MB of video RAM and AGP 2X support; standard VGA video out port; 20-, 40- or 60-gigabyte hard drive; CD-ROM or CD-RW drive; analog audio input and output minijacks; dual headphone jacks; builtin microphone; builtin speakers; and Apple Pro keyboard and mouse.

Colors: Indigo, Snow and Graphite.

iBook

Prices: $1,299 to $1,699

Standard features include: 500- or 600MHz PowerPC G3 chip; 256K L2 cache; 128MB RAM; 12.1-inch TFT XGA display; ATI RAGE Mobility 128 graphics card with 8MB of RAM and AGP 2X support; VGA video out port; 15- or 20GB hard drive; CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, CD-RW or DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive; analog audio output minijack; builtin microphone; builtin speakers; full-size keyboard; trackpad; and power adapter/charger.

Color: Ice.

Dimensions: 1.35 inches high by 11.2 inches wide by 9.1 inches deep.

Weight: 4.9 pounds with battery installed.

Power Mac G4

Prices: $1,699 to $3,499

Standard features include: 733-, 867- or dual 800MHz PowerPC G4 chip; 256K L2 chip per processor; 128- or 256MB RAM; NVIDIA GeForce2 MX graphics card with 32- or 64MB and AGP 4X support; Apple Display Connector; VGA connector; 40-, 60- or 80GB hard drive; four full-length 64-bit, 33MHz PCI slots; CD-RW or SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW); Apple speaker minijack; headphone jack; builtin speaker; and Apple Pro keyboard and mouse.

Titanium PowerBook G4

Prices: $2,199 to $3,299

Standard features include: 550- or 667MHz PowerPC G4 chip; 256K L2 cache; 128- or 256MB of RAM; 15.2 TFT wide-screen display; ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card with 16MB RAM and AGP 4X support; VGA connector; S-video output; 20- or 48GB hard drive; DVD-ROM or CD-RW drive; stereo minijack output; builtin microphone; two builtin speakers; PC Card and CardBus slot; infrared (IrDA) port; AirPort card (included in two models of the PowerBook); builtin full-size keyboard; trackpad; and power adapter/charger.

Dimensions: 1 inch high by 13.4 inches wide by 9.5 inches deep.

Weighs: 5.3 pounds with battery installed.

SOURCE: Apple Computer Web site

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