Apple grows PowerBook from G3
- By Margret Johnston
- May 17, 1998
Apple Computer Inc. recently introduced a new PowerBook portable computer aimed at mobile professionals and discussed the shifting road map for its Macintosh operating system.
The new PowerBook released this month is totally redesigned around the G3 processor and includes features that are designed to position the notebook as a true desktop replacement. The almost 7.7-pound machine, with battery and CD-ROM drive installed, is deeper and wider than previous PowerBooks, but it is only 2 inches thick when its contoured black case is closed.
At Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference last week in San Jose, Calif., Apple interim chief executive officer and co-founder Steve Jobs told loyalists that the G3-based systems performed twice as fast as comparable Intel Corp. Pentium II-based systems in recent benchmark tests. He described the G3 chip as "screaming" and able to "smoke" the Intel processors.
The chip also gives off very little heat, making it ideal for use in a notebook said Barry Bittner, federal account manager for Apple. "We can say that we can squeeze the fastest thing we have into our laptop. [Intel] can't say that," he said.Apple is gearing up to pitch the new PowerBook G3 to the small base of loyal customers the company has maintained in the federal government. The company plans a particular emphasis on Apple-friendly users at the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the Navy, the CIA, the FBI and the Peace Corps, Bittner said.
NASA has remained one of Apple's best government customers, observers said. For example, the agency has included a provision for Apple products on the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN) program, said Payton Smith, a research analyst at International Data Corp.'s government division. ODIN is expected to be awarded this summer.But Apple's share of the governmentwide market sank to 2 percent in 1996, which is the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to IDC. Apple holds 4 percent of the U.S. market, based on factory shipments for the first quarter of this year, said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC, Framingham, Mass.
James Staten, an analyst at Dataquest, San Jose, Calif., said the G3 processor will be Apple's No. 1 selling point, thanks to the chip's incredible performance, but this does not mean Apple will win new customers. "For people getting ready to replace an Intel laptop or buy [a laptop] for the first time, they are probably already wedded to the idea of an Intel," Staten said.
And the speed advantage is "ephemeral at best," Kay said, because Intel already has announced plans to begin shipping within months chips faster than the 266 MHz Pentium II, which is the fastest Intel processor now shipping for notebooks.
Staten said, however, that the new notebook addresses a lot of configuration shortcomings. "This is a complete redesign of the notebook, so they could make the motherboard more effective," Staten said. He also noted the seven-hour battery life and such options as a 14.1-inch monitor and a Digital Video Disc drive. "People, I think, are going to like the design externally," he added.
The new notebook can be configured with a G3 chip running at 233 MHz, 250 MHz or 292 MHz. The latter two processors include system buses with speeds of 85 MHz, giving the PowerBook the fastest system buses available on any Macintosh. Apple also has made available 512K Level 2 backside cache, which allows the computer to react faster by storing commonly accessed data instructions.
The General Services Administration schedule price for the PowerBook has not been released, but street prices start at $2,299.
At the developers conference, Apple also set out what appears to be another strategy for its operating system.Jobs announced Mac OS X, the new advanced version of the operating system, scheduled to be delivered in the third quarter of 1999.
Rhapsody, which was supposed to be Apple's operating system for the future, now appears to be headed for repositioning as a server platform.
Developers had largely balked at rewriting applications for Rhapsody, which is due to ship in a customer release version in the third quarter, because of its poor support for legacy code, observers said.
But Mac OS X will be backward-compatible, supporting Mac OS 8.x-based applications as well as future applications and will run all of Apple's hardware devices.
Mac OS X also will offer a lot of features that Macintosh developers had expected with Rhapsody, such as pre-emptive multitasking, which forces applications to share processor power, virtual memory and protected memory, thereby keeping the system from crashing when an application fails.
Before Mac OS X appears on the market, Apple plans to offer a new release of its existing operating system about every six months starting with OS 8.5— code-named Allegro— in the third quarter this year, Jobs said.
New features in Mac OS 8.5 include fast file transfers optimized for 100 megabits/sec Ethernet and a full PowerPC implementation of AppleScript, which automates various systems tasks. The next upgrade will be 8.6, due out in the first quarter of 1999, Jobs said
While Apple attempts to improve its standing in the market with new technology, some government personnel are concerned about attempts by some agencies to push Macintosh users to other platforms.
David C. Moore, virus protection administrator in the Weapons Division of the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, Calif., said more than 5,000 Apple computers are installed at China Lake to carry out a range of computing tasks, from flight simulation to mapping terrain.
Moore said a systems administrator might think his job would be made easier by standardizing on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT or any other operating system, but Moore disagrees. He opposes any moves toward standardizing on an operating system, saying standardization should be done at the application level.