MacDirectory Magazine

Winter-Spring 2009 (#40)

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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Page 146 of 179

MacDirectory 145 COMMENTARY During the WWDC keynote in May 2002, Steve Jobs announced the death of the highly successful operating system OS9. Some Mac users still run OS9 on their old PowerMacs, but with the 2006 debut of the Intel-based Macs and the end of Classic, it was clearly time to move on. Technologies come and go, and in most cases, such as the transition from ADB to USB, there are few detractors, but the recent introduction of Apple's consumer unibody laptops has caused a huge stir. This is not for its technological advancements but rather for the surprising absence of a FireWire port. FireWire – also known as IEEE1394 or iLink –was developed by Apple and marketed heavily to third parties. It addition to data communication, it provides remote control of video cameras and power for certain low-demand items. While the latter capability did not make an impact, manufacturers of external drives, DV cameras, and musical equipment scrambled to adopt the new technology, as did most Mac users. FireWire first appeared on Mac servers as a build-to-order option in 1997, and was integrated into the entire product line in 1998, including the Pippin game station. The first FireWire laptop was the Pismo PowerBook in early 2000, followed in 2001 by the 2G clamshell consumer laptops. From that point forward FireWire was ubiquitous. While the dropping of FireWire from Apple's consumer laptops this fall came as a surprise to most of us, the migration away from FireWire to USB started with the iPod line five years ago. When the iPod appeared in October 2001, its sole connectors were for audio and FireWire. With the 3G iPods in April 2003, Apple included Windows-only USB support, followed by charge-only FireWire with the video iPod. FireWire sync briefly reappeared with the iPod Mini and then vanished entirely from the iPod line in January 2005. Eight years of FireWire support has fostered an enormous market for FireWire peripherals, particularly for Mac creatives, but the lack of traction on the Windows side positioned USB2 as the dominant technology. While many hard drives use both technologies, FireWire's dominance is generally limited to DV cameras and a range of audio and MIDI interfaces, despite its real-world speed advantage over USB2. The unibody MacBook introduction proclaimed the death of FireWire on Apple's top-selling line of Macintoshes. This has generated a great outcry, particularly for DV users, starving musicians, and others who are need of replacing their aging laptops. While a benighted few would accuse FireWire supporters of being whiners, few are the individuals who welcome the choice of spending twice the price of a MacBook to get a FireWire-enabled MacBook Pro or who are eager buy a new MacBook and simultaneously spend a grand or more to replace their FireWire DV camera and audio/MIDI interfaces. One thousand dollars is an enormous penalty, particularly for a struggling musician or a cash- strapped consumer. There is no doubt that Apple is aware of this, just as it is aware of issues with glossy screens and Spotlight, but this is the way things go in the world of Apple. One may pity the vendors who, for a quarter of a century, have been urged to make enormous investments in Apple's Next Big Thing, and then scrap all that R&D in favor of the subsequent Big Thing. In most cases this is quite profitable, but vendors have unpleasant memories of such heavily promoted Apple technologies as Cyberdog, GX Fonts, Pippin, and HDI-45. USB vendors who decided not to invest in FireWire now have the upper hand and if you need an external hard drive there tons of competing USB2 offerings, but USB2 audio interfaces are darned rare. For example, Mark of the Unicorn converted its popular 828 Mk II audio/MIDI interface from FireWire to USB2 and Tascam has a similar device, but there are few if any others. As stated to MacDirectory by M-Audio's Mark Williams, Apple has a habit of marginalizing investors in earlier technologies. Referring to M-Audio's USB2 line, he says, "All of the good, multi- featured pro-sumer stuff everyone's been coming out with was designed to work with FireWire…. Luckily for us, this time we were ready." We love our Macs and we tend to replace them every two to three years, but when laying out our computing budgets we must make allowances for the huge hidden costs of keeping up with Apple. As for the future of FireWire, the message is clear, but regardless of the appeal of Apple's current Big Thing, we should plan for obsolescence and be ready to use our older hardware longer than we might have expected. WIREFIRED > THE BURNING OF A HARDWARE BRIDGE WORDS BY TREY YANCY

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