22 February 2005

MacWorld Conference and Expo 2005

The world’s Number One Macintosh trade show, conference and exhibition.

IT and Media Services Manager was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship from the Apple University Consortium to attend the MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco in January 2005. The Division also contributed to the trip. He attended the PowerTools Conference on AppleScript, the Keynote address from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, the MacIT Conference aimed at IT Managers using Apple technology for clients, servers and management, and the Expo itself.

This is the year of HDV (High Definition Video), or at least according to Steve Jobs. He is putting Apple behind the push, with support for editing the HDV format available in Apple's high-end video editing software Final Cut Pro HD announced last year. At the MacWorld Keynote, Steve announced that the cheaper Final Cut Express video editing software will also support editing HDV video, and incredibly so will iMovie, the 'consumer' video editing package that comes free with every new Macintosh, or can be purchased as a part of Apple's iLife suite of media products which retails in Australia for AU$119 a copy (for the whole suite, which also includes iPhoto, iTunes, IDVD and Garageband).

Steve demonstrated Sony's new "prosumer" HDV camcorder, the HDR-FX1, that is available in Australia to the University for about AU$5,500. He then invited then Sony President and CEO Kunitake Ando onto the stage, where Mr Ando told us that Sony would be releasing even smaller and cheaper consumer HDV cameras onto the market later this year. A professional version of the FX1, the Z1, has also be released: about AU$7,500 to the University.

The Division has 40 computers in student labs capable of editing the new format, but we face challenges with storing the large video files required on the computers (most of the hard disks are just not big enough, and the networks aren't up to transferring the files around even if storage were available somewhere on the network). These issues can be solved, and if the demand is there a proposal to purchase some HDV cameras and to overcome the storage and network problems will be put to the Division's IT & Infrastructure Committee later this year for funding in 2006.

Why HDV? Superb quality at a low price.

Mac Mini
Of greatest interest to the University among Steve's other announcements during the Keynote is the Mac Mini: at well under AU$800 to the University (without keyboard, mouse or display), it is by far the cheapest Macintosh ever. While not suitable for high end tasks (like editing HDV, for example, although the machine is capable of it), as a desktop computer for Office and internet use it's hard to beat the price.

A standard Dell (with keyboard, mouse and display) in the Division's current configuration is priced just under AU$2,000. A similarly configured Mac Mini (with keyboard, mouse and display) would cost us less than AU$1,200: less than 2/3rd the price of the PC.

PowerTools Conference
The two-day PowerTools Conference on AppleScript was useful in exploring using the technology to help manage the various aspects of the video servers. While not all of the components can be controlled through AppleScript, AppleScript can also control unix shell scripts. The Conference showed how a solution can be built through the use of a number of processes integrated together through the AppleScript environment (if only we had the skills, experience and most of all time).

MacIT Conference
Sessions at the MacIT of particular interest included:

  • Macintosh in the enterprise
    What some larger corporations are doing to support the Macintosh.
  • Managing a disparate computing environment
    University experiences in integrating the Macintosh.
  • Using the UNIX shell
    A couple of sessions covering the use of the command line in OS X (useful for automating the video servers).
  • Tiger Server in Depth
    A look at the next release of the Macintosh server software.
  • Xsan
    Apple has just released Xsan: Storage Area Network technology allowing networked computers fast access to large central storage (particularly useful for video editing labs).
  • Shell scripting
    Automating the management of recurring activities required to keep services running on Macinsh servers.
  • Remote Desktop
    Apple software for managing users' computers at a distance.
  • K2 (formerly known as KeyServer)
    Software asset management (making sure the software we install and use is legal) is a challenge for the University: K2 (an upgrade to a product the University already owns) can solve the problem for us for PCs and Macintosh computers.

Expo: the Show Floor
While not as large a previous MacWorld Expos in San Francisco (all trade fairs in the US are apparently down post 9/11), there was a positive feel on the floor of the Expo. The Mac Mini and iPod Shuffle (a merging of the iPod and USB key technologies at a bargain price) were the stars of the show.

There were a lot of iPod third party product exhibitors on the floor, which sometimes made the show fell a bit like iPod World rather than MacWorld, but it did demonstrate what a success the iPod has been for Apple. One particularly interesting piece of software for the iPod is iLingo: a language translator for the iPod. The English Euro pack contains over 450 translations from English in each of French, German, Spanish and Italian. Designed more as a companion for travellers, iLingo allows the user to display translations written on the iPod screen, and play a native speaker speaking the phrase out load in the chosen language. The content is intuitively organised into categories that make it simple to find the necessary phrase quickly and easily.

It was also good to be able to catch up with the latest from vendors like:

  • El Gato (makers of the EyeTV hardware and software that forms the basis of the current live video streaming of local terrestrial television content around the University network)
  • FileMaker (version 7 of FileMaker Pro has now been released that has great support for internet access to data: something there is a need for in the Division).
  • Belkin, Kensington, Dr Bott and Griffin (all producers of a range of third-party products that provide additional functionality to the Macintosh, especially in video and audio capture, storage and peripherals).
  • Printer manufacturers with good Macintosh support, including Canon, HP, Epson, Xerox and Brother.
  • Camera producers Kodak, Nikon, Olympus and Canon, for digital still and movie camera, and scanners.
  • Large software vendors including Macromedia, Adobe and Microsoft.
  • Publishers O'Reilly and Peachpit Press
  • Sorenson Media (producers of the software used here to prepare video for on-demand streaming).