by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
At a trade show with thousands of products, it's impossible to see everything, or even all the important things. If you missed some of these products, or if you missed the Expo entirely, please contact the companies mentioned below and tell them you read about their products in TidBITS. Some of these products will receive more in-depth coverage later on, but we wanted to get some of the juicy details to you right away.
Best CD-ROM -- In an age where CD-ROM drives are becoming less and less expensive, and may even become standard equipment on future Macs, it's not easy to produce a CD-ROM that stands out. Macworld had many impressive CD-ROMs, but in my opinion the Macintosh Product Registry, by Redgate Communications, rates as the most impressive. Redgate publishes a useful periodical catalog containing categorized lists of Mac products and vendors, and they've outdone themselves by putting this information on CD. Volume 2 is up to date through mid-July. The combination of a well-designed stack to access the information and an invaluable compendium of data make for a great product that should be on every Mac manager's or reseller's desk.
Redgate -- 800/333-8760 -- 407/231-6904
Snazzy, if Simple -- Okay, so having a computer phone another computer and pass along a short text message is nothing new. Combine that with the latest in 1990's pager technology, though, and you've got Notify! from Ex Machina. Notify! allows users to send messages to personal pagers by calling a central computer offering paging services, such as SkyTel and MobileComm. In addition to the basic software, Ex Machina showed pre-release versions of a network package that allows users to send pages through a single modem, a QuickMail gateway for sending pages from a QuickMail window, and a Microsoft Mail add-on that can forward email to a pager based on urgency or even key words within the message.
Ex Machina -- 718/965-0309
Biggest Disappointment -- I don't like to say negative things when I can avoid it, but I've been looking forward to seeing a revamped Microsoft Works 3.0, and it just ain't there. Rumors that Microsoft scrapped an early version of 3.0 and reworked it from the ground up in response to other integrated offerings are clearly untrue, as Works 3.0, which Microsoft exhibited in "late beta" form, is merely an incremental upgrade to their existing product. Don't get me wrong; Works 3.0 includes a vast number of good improvements in feature set and interface, but it just doesn't take the quantum leap in concept that's required of any serious player in the current integrated software market. ClarisWorks and BeagleWorks, unless Claris and Beagle Bros. do something foolish, will undoubtedly walk away with the ever-growing market.
Microsoft -- 206/882-8080
Silliest Costume -- Without a doubt the silliest costume award goes to SuperMac Technology for its yellow-clad superhero, who stood outside the booth the entire duration of the Expo, handing out literature and drawing in customers. Another company had people dressed all in black wearing face paint, but these folks looked so uninterested in being there that I wasn't even curious enough to go see which company they represented.
SuperMac -- 408/245-2202
Most Musical -- Macworld Expos have often been graced with an assortment of would-be musicians, electronic instruments, and sound compilation products, but it took Prosonus to do it right. They offer collections of great sounds that work with SoundMaster and other sound utilities, but most importantly, they now have a CD-ROM called MusicBytes that gives the budding multimedia mogul a collection of "clip music" and sound effects for use in presentations, QuickTime movies, etc. The material on the disc is license-free, and features music performed by artists such as Pink Floyd's Scott Page and Steely Dan's Jeff Baxter, who were both on hand to perform live for attendees. The disc includes Media Librarian, a HyperCard stack that makes selecting and using the clips a breeze.
Prosonus -- 800/999-6191 -- 818/766-5221
Handiest Handout -- Giveaways were fewer and farther between each year, it seems, but vendors were still creative when it came to deciding what to give attendees. The best by far was an Expo guide from Portfolio Systems, publisher of the Dynodex contact management software. The guide, sized just right for the average pocket, contained a complete list of exhibiting companies and their booth numbers, along with a map of Boston and a brief list of local service businesses, restaurants, and hotels. If Portfolio doesn't elect to provide this service again, Mitch Hall and Associates (Macworld Expo's organizers) would do well to provide something similar as a companion to the standard bulky program guide.
Portfolio Systems -- 800/729-3966 -- 408/252-0420
Best PowerBook Product -- Considering the number of PowerBook notebook computers Apple has sold since the product's introduction last October, it's little wonder that just about every other booth had something for PowerBook owners. These ranged from external display solutions to alternative battery chargers (and other power options), but among the specialized software offerings we found one clear winner. Connectix PowerBook Utilities, or CPU, is a compact collection of utilities and controls that no PowerBook user should miss. As they did with Virtual and MODE32, Connectix has created a product that should have come from Apple's engineers but didn't. Among the features are improved power management, security mode, larger cursor, screen saver, and keyboard shortcuts.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100
Most Evident -- If you stopped by the World Trade Center half of the Expo you couldn't help but notice Focus, a new company that ensured exposure by hiring a battalion of local kids to hand out plastic bags, catalogs, and brochures at the doors to the exhibit hall. My first guess was that this company wasn't actually exhibiting, but a closer look proved that they in fact had a large booth over at the Bayside Expo Center. Focus formed last fall as a direct-sales vendor that promises quality, service, support, and value to customers. Focus avoids going through dealers that president Thomas Massie feels are overloaded and can't support today's vast range of products. While I know some dealers who do just fine supporting their product lines, I can certainly see the value of direct vendor support and a strong line of products. Focus offers a growing line of networking and storage hardware products, including network connectors and hubs acquired from NuvoTech late last year. If their products and support are as good as Massie suggests, then not just dealers, but run-of-the-mill mail order suppliers will need to watch out.
Focus -- 617/938-8088
For the Wealthy -- Speaking of products for PowerBooks, a couple of vendors had users drooling over color LCD flat-panel displays for the user on the move. Unfortunately, this technology isn't ready for the mainstream - Envisio's display, for example, retails for $5495. Apple is rumored to be working on color versions of the PowerBook line as well, and it's likely that someone offer a color product closer to most users' pocketbooks within the next couple of Macworld Expos. In the meantime, the technology is available to those who really need it and have lots of money to spare.
Envisio -- 612/339-1008
Most Daring -- Electronic pornography has come a long way since the days not so long ago when bored college students would print out dirty pictures made up of line after line of text characters on mainframe printers across campus. MacPaint and inexpensive digitizers popularized the distribution of scanned pictures, both R- and X-rated, and the last few years have seen an explosion of adult GIF collections, thanks to the popular universal graphics file format invented by CompuServe. Well, electroporn has entered the '90s, with a series of CD-ROM products from Romulus Entertainment and other vendors. Their latest products are full-length QuickTime feature films, digitized from video tape for your computing pleasure. "House of Dreams" is one of the most popular; it's a 76-minute X-rated film from Caballero Home Video that's simply been digitized in 16-bit color and stereo sound. The included Digital Ecstasy QuickTime viewer seems well designed, if no more functional than Apple's Simple Player, and prospective purchasers should note that, like all high-resolution high-depth QuickTime movies, this one works best in 16-bit or 24-bit color modes, on as fast a machine as possible. On an '020 machine like the LC or Mac II, or a slow '030 machine, QuickTime is unlikely to keep up all of the time.
Romulus Entertainment -- 310/453-5068
You Were Saying? -- For a while now, industry journalists have seen automatic compression software as a bad idea and have said that we should wait until compression is implemented in the hardware or the device drivers. I disagree that automatic compression software is a bad idea (utilities like AutoDoubler and StuffIt SpaceSaver seem to do just fine), but Golden Triangle is about to enter the compression market with Times Two, a driver that can be installed on almost any storage device and does the compression and decompression work at a level where conflicts theoretically can't occur. The driver replaces the standard driver from Apple or your third-party drive's manufacturer, much the way Silverlining and HDToolkit do. Golden Triangle has been in the storage market for a while, and undoubtedly has the expertise required to create such a universal driver. Some storage experts remain skeptics, but if Golden Triangle's shipping product is stable, it would be a boon to storage-poor computer users.
Golden Triangle -- 619/279-2100
The Final Frontier -- Last in our gathering of notables from the Expo is the Star Trek Collection of After Dark screen-saver modules from Berkeley Systems, Inc. Berkeley, who last summer introduced the More After Dark add-on for their popular screen-saver software, has now teamed up with Paramount to offer a group of fun modules that range from animated scenes (complete with stereotypical Trek dialog) to USS Enterprise schematics that match the ones seen on viewscreens in the episodes and movies. As a Mac user, I can't help but think that's silly -- but as a Star Trek fan, I can't wait to see the final product! :-)
Berkeley Systems -- 510/540-5535