Crystal-gazing into Macworld Expo

In what has become a semi-annual tradition, the Macworld Expo has sparked a round of speculation about the Mac wares Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs will unveil at his keynote.

In what has become a semi-annual tradition, the Macworld Expo has sparked a round of speculation about the Mac wares Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs will unveil at his keynote.

And while Expo reports generally reveal as much about the personalities behind the Mac Web as they do about Apple's future plans, this summer's crop of predictions seem even more contentious than usual.

Jobs' Apple has been notoriously close-mouthed about the company's plans for new products and services. Mac-centric Web sites have risen to the company's challenge, ushering in each Macworld Expo with a spate of rumours about Apple's announcements.

This time around, the stories are flying faster and more furiously than ever, although the sites have yet to reach any real consensus about what's in store.

Hardware: Cube redux?
Despite their differences, most Mac handicappers seem to agree that Apple will offer some sort of revised desktop computers--most certainly in the professional-level Power Mac G4 line but also likely in the consumer-oriented iMac family.

Last week, the MacOSX.org Web site posted what it claimed were spy photos of the new Power Mac G4 enclosure. It resembled the current form factor with modified, rounded removable drive bays; a new speaker; and perhaps a slight colour change, although that apparent difference could be the result of photographic glitches.

The pictures soon disappeared from the site; MacOSX.org said their removal was prompted by Apple's legal department, although an Apple representative was not available to confirm or deny that assertion to eWEEK.

MacOSX.org's report seemed to dovetail with the physical characteristics of a Power Mac G4 system that one long-time Mac rumourologist--writing for MacEdition.com as The Gay Blade--described as a project code-named Titan.

By contrast, the venerable MacOSRumors.com Web site predicted that Macworld Expo/New York will see the advent of a Power Mac G4 with a casing that will be "slimmer, sharper-angled, and quite likely bare metal or metal-styled plastics", taking its design cue from the recently discontinued Power Mac G4 Cube.

MOSR also reported that it had hints that all new Power Mac G4 models will feature dual processors in order to boost the performance of Mac OS X, which can take better advantage of the extra PowerPC chip than Mac OS 9 can.

As for clock speeds, few oracles agree. While Ziff Davis Internet's Matthew Rothenberg said he expects to see 733 MHz, 800 MHz and 867MHz models and ThinkSecret.com's Nick dePlume has uncovered reseller Early Order Shipment forms that also suggest a 733MHz model, other sites have predicted that models running at up to 1GHz will be announced, if not shipped, this week.

But perhaps the wildest range of rumours are those swirling around the next (or not) incarnation of the iMac.

At the centre of the not-quite-controversy is the question of whether Expo will see the introduction of an LCD-based iMac or whether the new quartet of consumer desktops will retain the current, CRT-based form factor. (There will probably be four new iMac configurations; dePlume also uncovered four new iMac model numbers.)

The Register's Tony Smith in June set off a flurry of speculation when he published an alleged image of a next-generation iMac with a removable LCD screen that can also be used as a pen-driven "Webpad".

Although some sites, such as MacMinute.com and MacUser UK, state that Apple does not have ready flat-panel iMacs, others, such as Rothenberg and MacOSRumors, express the belief that, indeed, LCD iMacs will see the light of day at Macworld Expo/New York.

And while Go2Mac's Jason O'Grady has speculated that the iMac code name Tessera (Greek for "four") hints at a G4 processor, most sources agree that the new iMacs will retain the PowerPC G3 processors rather than upgrading to the PowerPC G4.

Mac OS X: The missing-man formation
Ironically, for an Expo that's been billed as the "coming-out party" for Mac OS X and a wealth of Mac OS X-native applications, there's little buzz about new twists on Apple's next-generation OS.

According to Rothenberg's sources, the next major revision to Mac OS X--10.1 or "Puma"--will not be ready in time for Macworld Expo/New York. Meanwhile, however, dePlume and other observers report that Mac OS 9.2 (code-named Moonlight) will be launched quietly at the show.

Apple stores
As reported by Nick dePlume for eWEEK, many believe that one item on Jobs' keynote agenda will be to announce the opening of additional brick-and-mortar Apple stores.

When Jobs announced the first company-branded outlets in May, he said that the next stores would open in eight to 10 weeks, and others would follow at a rate of one approximately every 10 days.

Since then, dePlume noted, work on various outlets has continued, from hiring to site preparation.

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