by Mark H. Anbinder -- TidBITS Contributing Editor
Once again Apple has shown they mean business with their plans to offer a steady stream of new products. Just today, the company introduced its new series of commercial system enhancement software, and replaced the Quadra 900, only seven months old, with the new Quadra 950.
A few months ago, Apple revealed its plan to offer certain kinds of system software, such as enhancements that only some users will need, as separate commercial products. The first two offerings in this series are Macintosh PC Exchange and the QuickTime Starter Kit, each of which, like the $99 System 7 Personal Upgrade Kit, comes with a few months of free telephone tech support via Apple's 800 support line.
Macintosh PC Exchange is a $79 package that, like Insignia's AccessPC and Dayna's DOS Mounter, allows users to mount DOS-formatted diskettes on the desktop of Macs equipped with Apple's SuperDrive or compatible high-density floppy drives. In addition, the utility will automatically launch appropriate applications from a user-configurable list when the user double-clicks on a DOS file in the Finder. For example, double-clicking on a Lotus 1-2-3 DOS file will automatically open either Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 for Mac, whichever you specify. The utility also allows users to format diskettes for use in DOS machines later on.
The new QuickTime Starter Kit, selling for $169, allows users with 68020, '030, or '040 Macs to take full advantage of Apple's video, sound, and animation system software. In addition to the extension itself, this starter kit includes several utilities (MoviePlayer, Movie Recorder, Movie Converter, and Picture Compressor), and a CD-ROM containing a wealth of video clips, animation, and still images.
Last, but certainly not least, of Apple's new offerings, the Quadra 950 replaces the 900. The 950 has a faster processor (a 33 MHz 68040 instead of the 900's 25 MHz CPU), and provides faster video, Ethernet, and I/O bus performance as well, thanks to faster VRAM SIMMs and a new, faster 25 MHz I/O bus. The new Quadra joins the Macintosh lineup at the same price as the 900, so power-hungry Mac users can now get more bang for the buck.
For a short time, Apple will even offer a very low price for Quadra 900 owners who want to upgrade. The $1,499 price lasts until 27-Dec-92, after which the upgrade price will be $3,000. This upgrade should actually be available in June or July.
Apple's new software products will be included in the company's new software distribution plans. They have signed a contract with Ingram Micro, a large distributor of computer-related products, to make Apple's software products available to software resellers as well as Apple's existing dealer base. This should dramatically improve software availability from a wide variety of vendors and dealers. Macintosh PC Exchange and the QuickTime Starter Kit join the System 7 Personal and Group Upgrade Kits, AppleTalk Remote Access, and AppleShare 3.0 in this new program. Interestingly, the deal with Ingram Micro also means that some mail order vendors, including MacWarehouse, will now be able to sell Apple software products. In fact, MacWarehouse has wasted no time in advertising this fact in the latest MacWEEK.
While some users might prefer that Apple include Macintosh PC Exchange in the system software itself, and provide it free of charge to end users, the commercial distribution is actually consistent with past policies. Such things as the AppleShare server software, which only some users will actually need, have always been sold as separate products. This allows Apple to recover the costs of developing such software without forcing Apple's entire user base to pay for it through increased system software prices. Apple has long considered changing its policy of offering free system software upgrades to users who don't require the manuals that come with the purchasable upgrade packages. We feel that given the choice between forcing all Macintosh users to pay for system software upgrades, and asking users who need specialized extensions to pay for those separately, Apple has done the right thing.
In the meantime, the QuickTime software that was released a few months ago is still being distributed free of charge by user groups, dealers, and some online services, as well as by some software companies whose software takes advantage of QuickTime. In effect, the "run-time" software for viewing QuickTime movies is free, and users who want more power for themselves may purchase either the (admittedly limited) QuickTime Starter Kit or go for one of the commercial animation packages. This is similar to the current Claris approach with HyperCard. All users receive HyperCard free when they purchase a new Mac, but the Developer's Kit, which contains lots of sample stacks and HyperTalk code, as well as developer's utilities, is a commercial product.