There was excitement and enthusiasm in the air of MacExpo 2001, and there was a reason. Perhaps because Apple was exhibiting at a UK show for the first time in five years, or perhaps because Mac users currently have a lot to celebrate, there was one of the largest turnouts of visitors and exhibitors in the history of the show. In a time of economic downturn (especially in the computing market), Apple is one of the very few IT companies currently running at a profit. A major upgrade to an amazing new OS has been released, developers are flocking back to the Mac in droves, machines are increasing in power but decreasing in price, and now Apple has once again starting manufacturing non-Mac products. To top all that you can't move without seeing Macs featured in adverts, TV programs, or films, so there really is a lot to celebrate.

The major product releases aside, trade shows like MacExpo are an excellent place for smaller companies to flaunt their wares, so it was encouraging to see lesser known companies' equally competent software and hardware. It's almost impossible to detail every single product and manufacturer, but here are the products that appealed most to me, whether due to merit or the looks of their presentation stands.

Apple had two major products to promote on the day: firstly iPod, which had its official launch on the first day of the Expo. iPod is Apple's first non-PC or monitor product for a few years, and while I was disappointed to see something rather unoriginal like an MP3 player, it has the company's usual panache and flair. Primarily designed to complement Macs and iTunes (though a Wintel version will ship shortly), iPod has a 1,000 CD-quality song capacity, a 10-hour battery life, a crisp LCD screen, and it weighs only 6.5 ounces. It will sell for approximately £350 ($399) including VAT and specially designed headphones, although some would say the price puts iPod out of the reach of a large portion of the consumer public.

Apple's software releases include OS X 10.1, which, along with an increasing number of applications and games for the new OS, shows OS X finally becoming a viable option for many Mac users. Other, less-publicized, releases included iTunes 2 and the second generation of AirPort, Apple's wireless networking standard.

Stalwarts of computer shows, Macromedia, whilst having no major new products to promote and a slightly unimpressive stand, were demonstrating their software through a series of seminars. Items of note to Mac users from Macromedia are of a support bent and include the launch of a certification program for Dreamweaver, Flash, and ColdFusion, creating recognized qualification for proficient users of the applications. The release of a series of online video tutorials for Director 8.5, a new volume licensing program, and the launch of a worldwide-authorized training center network were among other announcements from Macromedia.

Adobe, possibly Macromedia's largest rival, was once again out in force, launching the latest version of their layout and design software, InDesign 2.0. Available in early 2002, it will be compatible with OS X and include a host of new features (such as transparency) never seen in similar programs from its competitors. With Quark increasingly slow and unreliable when it comes to delivering what users want and when they want it, InDesign could easily become the layout package of choice within a few years. Illustrator 10 is out now, again with support for OS X, and adds many new features like data-driven graphics, symbol libraries, and Web export. However, there is still no news on Photoshop for OS X, which I'm sure was the most popular question to stand staff throughout the show.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated software releases of the year, and indeed the most pleasantly surprising, was the launch of Maya for OS X. Maya has been the 3D graphics industry's most successful and powerful application, so its port to OS X marks a welcome return of powerful 3D applications to the Mac platform. Maya is out now, and its features include QuickTime, OpenGL, and full Carbon support.

First from the smaller developers is a release from Perforce software, which specializes in Software Configuration Management solutions (SCM). SCMs help development teams manage large programming projects by providing a graphical representation of what stages programmers have achieved in projects. The application is available exclusively for OS X and is another sign of life getting easier for Mac OS developers, who, let's face it, haven't had an easy time in recent years.

The launch of OS X and the relative ease of developing for the OS have opened up a gateway for a wealth of new developers, one such being P&L software, better known as developers for Apple's WebObjects. Their first venture into application programming is Mesa, an Excel-like spreadsheet for Mac OS X, including full compatibility with Excel databases.

Finally, Toon Boom Technologies was out in force plugging their new 2D vector animation studio, Toon Boom Studio. The package includes all a budding animator requires to make Web-based animations, with features that include SWF export and LipSync, although I do feel that the Flash file format is sometimes rather limiting, making all animations look startlingly similar; however, in the meantime it's the best around.

One glaring omission from my software roundup is Microsoft Office V.x, but I'm sure that Microsoft won't let you ignore the product over the next few months, and quite frankly its stand at the show was pathetic, being a long, thin table with several bored looking staff seated behind it.

For those users looking to accessorize their Mac, there were plenty of hardware releases to peruse as well. Ammicro specializes in distributing hardware accessories for the Mac, and new to its rosters are, among others, Keyspan's 1cm-thick 4-port USB hub and USB 2.0 PCMCIA card, iRez's FireWire Kritter and StealthFire Web cams, Digicom's USB GSM adapter, and PowerLogix G4 upgrade for Rev A, B, C & D iMacs.

Also on a hardware note, Hermstedt announced the latest version of their popular ISDN adapter, Webshuttle. It allows connection speeds of 128Kbps, does not require a power adaptor, and is available for OS 9 and OS X.

There were obviously many more exhibitors at the show, including, with new product releases, HP, Minolta, Canon, Arbiter, Dantz, Iomega, Macally, Corel, FileMaker and many, many more. MacExpo has always been one of the best (UK) Mac shows, and this year was no exception. With so many high-profile exhibitors attending, it was an encouraging and exciting show, reflecting well the current shape of the Mac market.

Published in www.atpm.com