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Surfing Silicon Valley: MacWorld 99: Against all odds


January 1, 1999
Web posted at: 6:44 p.m. EST (2344 GMT)

By San Francisco Bureau Chief Greg Lefevere

(CNN) -- It looks like next week's MacWorld Expo happens in the right town: San Francisco.

The "City by the Bay" has as its symbol the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes. That's appropriate, considering so many have thought Apple Computer was toast. Burnt toast.

Steve Jobs, the man who founded Apple, then was fired and returned again to bring it back from the brink, will give the MacWorld keynote on Tuesday.

All should expect thousands of cheering, screaming fans. If Jobs' reception at last fall's meeting near company headquarters in Cupertino is any indication, Jobs will hear long and loud from the Mac faithful. Apple won't confirm what Steve has in mind for his opening act, but most guess he will announce a long-rumored consumer notebook.

The new buzz is it's not quite ready and that Apple has some mileage yet to get out of the iMac before a hardware sequel is unveiled. Apple should worry about any new product diluting its lucrative iMac market. As the No. 1 selling personal computer, it has held an astonishing sales position, keeping its above-market price for so long, with discounts only recently coming into play. Still priced at $1,299 in many venues, the iMac defied convention by debuting at a premium price and withstanding vigorous price competition through the Christmas shopping season.

Apple's plans for the iMac almost certainly include a RAM and hard drive upgrade for the same price and a cut in the price of the current model. That will surely earn another few months of heavy sales.

Jobs is careful to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessor by not keeping too many models in the Apple line of computers. There is a point where the laptop market overlaps the iMac market, and Jobs doesn't want to have one product competing with the other. Since the new laptop targets consumers, it will certainly affect iMac sales.

Beyond the faithful

The real tale of the success of the MacOS is who else is showing up at MacWorld. The Adobes and Macromedias can be counted on, but it's the many other software and hardware makers that had reason to doubt Apple (and Jobs) but have stayed in, or returned to, the Mac tent. (It's been pointed out to me that Adobe and Macromedia owe much of their current success to their PC markets, which have grown even as their Mac markets languished.)

Sega PC is releasing its newest game, "Yoot Tower," on the Mac first. Sega makes no secret that the hot iMac sells to the very audience it wants -- young, hip, exploring -- and it wants a share of that market, too.

At least one other major game maker is seriously thinking of entering the Mac market for the first time.

Alladin (what did we do before StuffIt?) says it's having its hottest year ever and has stayed with the Mac format "through thick and thin."

The MacWorld mood will no doubt be upbeat this year. Last year you could shoot a Canon down some of the aisles and not hit a soul. This year expect throngs of the fanatics, the curious and the converted (iMac users).

Most computer shows are just that -- computer shows. But MacWorld is more. For Mac fanatics, it's an annual rite of homage, defiance, resistance and honor.

Enjoy the show. Enjoy the crowd.

Surf on....

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