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Macworld Boston

By David Ayers
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #7, 1994.

What happened at Macworld Boston
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Dr. David Ayers

Imagine yourself in a town on the East Coast. You are surrounded by men with gray-streaked beards, pony-tails, and sandals. They are chatting amicably with forty-somethings in business suits, young dudes wearing earrings, and dowdy public school administrators about reconstructing society based on new thought paradigms. Women with spiked hair and triple-pierced ears, talking with each other about using Internet to access nightclub schedules from Paris, strut past ladies with expensive perms and fake nails. Buddhist programmers debating the merits of fractal visual-reconceptualization line up at salad bars alongside Rush Limbaugh conservative dittoheads.

So try a guess: where are you? Certainly not at the Dallas Homeschool Convention—but where?

Macintosh children’s exhibit
Why, at the MacWorld Expo in Boston! It was a four-day extravaganza of floor shows and exhibits for every type of Macintosh application imaginable, from interactive comic books on CD-ROM to accounting software. Most of the excitement centered on graphics products—video production software, desktop publishing, art and computer animation—you name it. Plus informative training workshops, seminars, and lectures. And of course, lots of floor prizes.

Several times a year in different cities around the country, tens of thousands of Apple loyalists converge on exhibit halls to revel in the delights of their beloved Mac. They come to see its latest offerings, and to explore the marvels of its creative power. They come to examine new Macintosh software and peripherals that push back every conceivable technological boundary. They come to be dazzled. And they come to express and reinforce their loyalty to this most amazing of all computers and its pleasing, highly-integrated GUI (graphical user interface).

The Boston MacWorld Exposition from August 2–5 was no different. At least 50,000 participants came to hear scores of presentations and look over products from about 450 exhibitors.

We’ve heard complaints about the paucity of software and support for the Mac. But there was certainly too much to look at thoroughly in four days. And no type of application, from spreadsheets and word processors to high-end graphics packages, was missing.

Many of us have heard rumors about the imminent demise of Apple. Maybe—but there was certainly plenty of excitement, loyalty, and buying power in evidence at Boston MacWorld. After all, this was the year of the new System 7.5, an operating system full of neat features. These include drag-and-drop printing (you drag a document icon over to a printer icon, and there it goes!), enhanced manipulation of graphical images, and a “coaching” style Help system called “Apple Guide.”

Brederbund”s exhibit
Most especially, this was the year of the RISC-processor and the new PowerMac computer built around it. Power Macs were everywhere, stimulating awe and fascination in everyone who stopped to play with them. The RISC promises to handle complex operations more quickly than the processors used to build PCs and old-style Macs. And it promises to do this with a far simpler design that ought to sell cheaper, run cooler, and upgrade further. Even sympathizers of the “other” guys—the familiar 386 to 586 Intel processors—admit that by the end of the millennium RISC will be dominant over standard Mac or PC processors. As leaders in putting RISC on the desktop, Apple clearly has an opportunity to expand its market, and reshape personal computing.

Software company leaders made it clear that they were rushing to provide so-called “native RISC” versions of their products, applications which will be designed to take advantage of RISCs’ unique capacities. These will have more features, speed, and power than current versions. Some companies, such as WordPerfect, already had them for sale. Other RISC upgrades, such as PhotoShop and Excel, will be shipping soon.

One interesting application for RISC that impressed everyone was a so-called “intelligent agent.” This software lives inside your computer, gets to know you, and learns to do things on its own. One such agent being demonstrated, called Open Sesame, could learn a user’s habits and modify his computer to conform to them. Let’s say that when you turn on your computer in the morning, you usually check your email and then open your calendar. After observing you doing this for awhile, Open Sesame will verbalize (using sound) what sequence it “thinks” you like to execute at the beginning of each day, and suggest you let it automate that. If you tell it “OK,” it will then go through that sequence of events each time you turn on your computer. Open Sesame’s developer said that someday he hopes to make his “agent” capable of observing and adjusting external environments as well. This could mean controlling your stereo to play the type of music you prefer to accompany various times or tasks. Imagine—automatic Bach to accompany your letter-writing, and something with more of a beat to speed-up your data entry!

In addition to getting to look at all this “gee-whiz” stuff, for the $120 full-registration fee you had your choice of a lot of fine workshops. Registrees enjoyed real training bargains over the costs of taking the same classes elsewhere. The best were MacAcademy’s, which ran beginner’s to intermediate-level workshops for such applications as PageMaker, Word, Excel, and System 7. Other expert trainers had classes on subjects such as desktop publishing, video production, animation, and Mac programming.

Disappointing exception: the workshops on educational applications. Every educators’ workshop yours truly attended was terrible. The speakers were plodding. Everything they discussed could have been learned by reading newspaper ads, looking at software boxes, or stopping by an exhibitors’ booth. And nothing was Mac-specific! Except for Hypercard—which is old news—nothing was described that would not have been done just the same on PCs.

Apple has made the educational niche a major target for two decades. It is hard to believe that they could not have found more educational applications and ideas unique to “Mac-educating.”

There were a few other “downers” as well.

First, in spite of all the excitement, hope and new technology, there was real apprehension among many of the experts at the MacWorld Expo regarding the future of Apple. The problem is this: years of high Apple prices have driven away willing buyers, and Apple’s closed architecture has made it impossible for competitors to produce low-cost versions of the Mac, as clone-manufacturers have done with IBM’s PC. This has reduced the size of the installed base of Mac machines, making developers less eager to create products for it. Many people now have to be convinced to switch to Apple, even as current and future Windows offerings narrow the ease-of-use gap between PC and Mac. This is a tall order. But if Apple can not lure these folks away from the PC, industry expert Pieter Hartsook says, “Apple’s going to wind up being a niche player,” selling mainly to educators, artists, and desktop publishers. Graphics and publishing are fun. But they are not the meat-and-potatoes of business or home computing, and PCs can do them pretty well.

During the conference a respected Apple analyst admitted to a small gathering of industry invitees that this fear was widespread at Apple. The die would be cast within 60 days. Apple’s only hope for increasing market share was to find some major companies willing to manufacturing PowerMac “clones” soon. Imagine—Apple Computers reduced to begging developers to make RISC clones to compete with their own system and drive down costs!

TOO MUCH was “expo”sed at MacWorld Expo!
There was a second “downer”—pornography and lewdness. Planning on attending a future MacWorld Expo? Thinking of taking your children? Than you better exercise some caution, if not reconsider.

In the first official presentation of the Expo, a star panel of industry experts and executives degenerated into bestiality jokes which, once started, appeared on and off for about a half hour. Poor taste, to say the least.

There was also plenty of “interactive erotica.” Computer porn was kept in a separate area of the expo hall. But huge, explicit signs hanging from the ceiling made sure that all interested parties would find their way there without difficulty. MacWorld’s reasons for segregating the smut, instead of keeping it on the main floor as in years past? Officials said that other exhibitors complained that the erotica distracted their customers and harmed sales! Come on MacWorld—just get rid of this filth!

The Digital Queers booth, representing a “national organization that provides the queer community with technology tools for greater communication and productivity,” and openly frequented by homosexual couples, was also quite a sight. Just what we need—promotions for a group whose mission is to increase the effectiveness of homosexual activists. This reminded yours truly of the strong resistance launched by Apple in Austin, Texas, to anti-sodomy laws. Their reason? Apple policy gives homosexual couples all the benefits enjoyed by legitimate marriage partners.

The last downer was that the worldview promoted at MacWorld, where evident, was decidedly humanistic. This was most glaringly obvious in the keynote speech, delivered to a packed hall by physicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, bound to a wheel chair, and can only speak by aid of a computer and voice synthesizer. He has concentrated on proving that the “God-hypothesis” is unnecessary to account for the development of life.

Hawking recited his “history and future of the universe,” starting with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, and ending with total breakdown of the natural order about 15 billion years from now.

Then, he delivered the crux of his “hope for the future.” Mankind would improve itself into a super race through aggressive genetic engineering— “self-designed evolution.” Those who do not submit will “die out or become unimportant.” The new homo sapiens will then colonize space. But given time constraints such as the 100,000 light-year distance from Earth to the center of our Milky Way, even supermen will not get far. His solution: create mechanical life forms with consciousness and the ability to reproduce. This will make us like gods—since this would be “real” life—though man will die out before these androids. They would, however, be immortal, capable of colonizing the whole universe, and even of surviving its breakdown 15 billion years hence.

Hawking’s plan for human destiny finished with a presentation of his Brief History of Time CD-ROM, and a standing ovation.

Given all the good things that were to be learned and seen at MacWorld, as well as the quality of the computers themselves, we are presented with a quandary. Do we go to events like MacWorld Expo to partake of the good while avoiding the wretched garbage sprinkled here and there? Or should we avoid these events altogether? Obviously many Christians have taken this last approach—the only explicitly Christian products out of about 450 exhibitors were Zondervan’s MacBibles!

But perhaps avoiding such events is not the answer. Maybe Christians, and the homeschooling community, should be at places like these in strength. Maybe we should be promoting our products in effective, family-friendly, attractive booths at shows such as MacWorld. Perhaps we should be developing and presenting new software, great ideas, and compelling visions for the future, based on God’s Word. Let’s think about it.

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