by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh
Living at the end of the twentieth century is much like cliff
diving: the view rushes past very quickly, you find yourself anxious and
short of breath, and there is a nagging feeling it will come to either a
glorious finish or an abrupt end. We all love change and excitement, but
change is coming faster every day, and the excitement sometimes threatens to
turn to panic.
Which usually means you need to stop a moment and reflect on where
you are, and how you got here. In February, a large number of us were at
Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, enthralled by the Pi's
Second Annual QuickTime Festival and by Power Computing, the world's largest
manufacturer of Macintosh compatibles. In one meeting, we got to see the
past, the present, and a view of the future, and it was a blast.
Speaking of blasts, we opened the meeting with a QuickTime clip
from a newscast showing the Oregon Department of Highways attempting to
remove a dead whale from a beach, with dynamite. It was hilarious ‹
both the news clip and the puzzled, then uncertain, then disbelieving looks
of those in the audience. This was followed by a lengthy, professionally
amateur music video parody by engineers at Apple called "I'm A Clone Now,"
shown in honor of Power Computing's visit to the Pi. The whale clip is
currently on the TCS, the Pi's bulletin board, and the music video will join
it as soon as I feel like uploading all 65 megabytes.
A third short clip, starring one of the TCS's penguins in a
stirring dance number, is on the Pi's Explorer World Wide Web page. It is in
an obvious place, though the place is not, itself, obvious. Explore.
Frames, Stages, and Sound
The Pi's QuickTime SIG (Special Interest Group) has always been a
study in extremes: extremely talented people, doing extremely difficult
things, often for no reason beyond the extreme joy of doing so. A year ago,
in an effort to showcase this talent and energy, the General Meeting hosted
what was grandly called the "First Washington Apple Pi QuickTime Festival,"
featuring splendid clips created by Pi members using Apple's revolutionary
(and free) QuickTime technology.
Many things called "First Annual" never survive to "Second Annual,"
but the QuickTime Festival did not fade away. In fact, SIG members
aggressively, persistently, and regularly pressed for time at the General
Meeting to host a second Festival. And with good reason: they've been
Stuart Bonwit showed a clip he created to promote the QuickTime
Festival, plus a videotape showing part of a live performance of Swan
Lake followed by Stuart's own version, created on his Macintosh.
Stuart's version included no clipart: the ballerina was created entirely
from polygons formed in Macromedia's Swivel 3D, carefully melded
together, then animated frame by frame in Adobe Premiere, then saved
as a QuickTime clip, and finally transferred to videotape. A stellar
Dennis Dimick showed two clips, one a tour of the Pi office and TCS
room, created from stills captured with a video camera. The second, an
impressive clip called "Fresh Farms," was created as a demonstration of
QuickTime technology for National Geographic. Dennis credits Adobe
Photoshop and Adobe Premiere for the crisp, elegant look of
his work, but nobody believes him; talent does not come from good tools.
Bruce O'Leary's contribution was in many ways the most remarkable:
a clip showing a three-dimensional Christmas tree, rotating in space with
Christmas presents and a greeting to Pi members. It was his very first
effort at animation, created the very first time he opened up his copy of
Specular's LogoMotion and took it for a spin.
Tom Witte fielded questions from the audience and it soon became
clear that many, maybe even most, Macintosh owners don't know their
computers can run QuickTime, or that all Macs for the last several years
have come with QuickTime pre-installed. If you'd like to see what your Mac
can do already, even if you didn't know it, check out the QuickTime file
area on the TCS (Area 35); many of the clips shown during the Festival can
be found there.
I'm A Clone Now
As for the future, noted author Bob LeVitus (email@example.com) gave us an
extended peek. A little more than a year ago, anything that ran Mac programs
had an Apple logo, but much has changed. In addition to writing books and
magazine columns, Bob is now Director of Evangelism for Power Computing
the largest manufacturer of Macintosh compatible computers in the world. In
fact, it sells more Mac compatibles than all the other Mac clone
manufacturers, combined; only Apple itself sells more computers running
Power Computing may be a "new" company, but they aren't starting
out small. They don't produce just any Mac compatible; they produce Power
Mac compatibles. They don't make just a couple dozen boxes a week, either;
in their first year, they shipped thousands of machines every month. Bob
didn't volunteer any precise figures, but MacWeek reported that
12,000 PowerWave 120 computers had been sold by February 1996, and this is
just one of a wide array of models available.
Bob proved to be an excellent, impassioned speaker, constantly
moving around on the stage, giving quick, direct answers to questions, and
demonstrating both diplomacy and humor. He diplomatically mentioned, for
example, that Apple insists on calling Power Computing's offerings
"Macintosh compatibles," and that he was forbidden to call them "Mac
clones." Naturally, the audience responded by using the word "clone" or
"cloning" in the vast majority of questions.
Bob didn't really seem interested in doing a demo, explaining that
his monitor had been damaged during shipment. I insisted, and the audience
agreed, that he'd be lynched if he didn't boot up the PowerWave 150 he
brought to the meeting, and offered the use of the Pi's monitor. He agreed,
booted the machine, ran a nice computer slide show talking about Power
Computing's history, finances, engineering team, and future plans, and then
noted that "it runs just like a Mac, doesn't it?" In this particular case, a
really, really fast Mac.
The most remarkable thing about a Power Computing machine, Bob
insisted, is that they are unremarkable. They are solidly designed, easy to
set up and configure, run the same version of MacOS that Apple's machines
do, and do everything you'd expect of a Macintosh. Power Computing's
differences are both subtle and profound:
They are not Apple Computer Corporation;
The computers are sold over the phone, and through some select catalog
Like Apple's Performa line, Power Computer's machines come with an
extensive collection of bundled software. Unlike the Performa line, the
software is usually ranked "best in its class," and tends to be more
Power Computer is willing to sell you a "standard" configuration, but
equally willing to sell you a "made to order" machine that comes with
multiple hard drives, an internal Zip drive, virtually any amount of RAM you
can imagine, and a large assortment of monitors and other peripherals, all
from one source, and one phone call;
Power Computing (thus far) tends to bring out machines with faster
processors, more memory, and more varied peripherals than Apple. At the time
of the meeting, for example, Apple did not offer a machine as fast as the
PowerWave 150 sitting on stage.
Naturally, many people wanted to know if Power Computing was in it for
the long haul, especially in light of Apple's recent mugging on Wall Street.
Bob offered a few salient points, starting with the deep pockets of Power
Computing's financing partners, the strength of their sales (making them one
of the largest computer firms in the U.S. in less than a year), and the
solid talent of their engineering team, filled with Apple refugees plus
others from IBM, Compaq, and similar backgrounds.
More specifically, Power Computing intends to release an
open-architecture PowerPC Platform machine (PPCP, formerly known as CHRP),
capable of running MacOS, AIX, Solaris, Windows/NT and other operating
systems, as soon as Apple provides the necessary software. Apple has already
demonstrated the new software running on an IBM-labeled prototype, and both
Apple and Power Computing intend to be selling their respective versions
before the end of the year.
Until then, Power Computing intends to sell Mac clones that are
faster than Apple's, with a wider array of options, and a first-class bundle
of software. Based on evidence so far (see the review in the Journal,
Jan./Feb. 1996, pp. 55-59), they are off to a great start.
If you'd like to know more about Power Computing, check out their
excellent Web site (http://www.powercc.com/), which has an
ingenious "build your own box" section in which you can configure your own
personal machine, and see immediately how much it will cost. More
conventional contacts are available by calling their sales number at
800-370-7693, or using their fax back service at 800-788-3783.
We ‹ everyone in attendance ‹ tried to convince Power
Computing that it would be a Good Idea to donate a PowerWave computer or
twenty to the drawing. We were unsuccessful. But Power Computing did give
away several hundred copies of The Disc 2, a CD-ROM filled with all
kinds of stuff: a customized version of Marathon which allows you to
shoot at Bob LeVitus, plus working demos of A-10 Attack,CodeWarrior, Descent, Diamonds, PegLeg,
SoftWindows 2.0, and a full application to help you ship stuff via
Federal Express, plus lots of other things, including a Windows (!) version
of QuickTime. The discs were a big hit: I had to beg Bob for a copy, as the
thundering hordes had cleared out all those not hidden away in his