FireWire could set iMac ablaze

Apple's consumer line may catch FireWire. Apple is keeping mum.

FireWire connectivity has helped ignite sales of Apple's professional desktop Macs and (through third-party PC Cards) PowerBooks. Now sources say the I/O standard will soon spread to the company's consumer line of iMacs and, possibly, iBooks.

Well, maybe.

Despite some hints that FireWire will soon join Universal Serial Bus as a common denominator across Apple's product lines, third-party vendors told ZDNet's sister publication MacWEEK that the company has been slow to provide them with specifics of its I/O plans.

According to sources, Apple will deliver its next-generation iMac by September. Code-named Kihei, the system will include FireWire connectivity as well as DVD hardware. Kihei iMacs also will reportedly ship with a consumer counterpart to Final Cut Pro, Apple's QuickTime 4-based video-editing application. The reports of a new iMac rev got a boost this month when Mac retailer J&R Electronics announced the September arrival of a new iMac model in its mail-order catalogue.

As for the iBook, Apple briefly posted information on its Web site that referred to FireWire capabilities in the forthcoming consumer portable, which the company unveiled at July's Macworld Expo in New York. The mentions of FireWire cropped up in an Apple Developer Note -- a technical white paper to third-party developers -- before being removed from the company's Web site in late July.

The Developer Note, titled simply "Apple iBook Computer", included descriptions of the consumer portable's "Uni-North" (also called "Uni-N") memory controller and bus bridge that can, among other things, function as a controller for FireWire interfaces. The chip could be designed for use in other motherboard designs, however, so it isn't clear proof that Apple has FireWire plans for the iBook.

But in another section of the document devoted to changes in the system software "that have been made to support the iBook", there is mention of "drivers for the FireWire ports" and a "FireWire Interface Module". Furthermore, a section on legacy drivers states that "New applications are expected to use the new I/O channels such as USB and FireWire".

Apple remains mum on the subject. A spokesman for the company said Apple "refuses to comment on unreleased products" and that he does not want to support "unfounded rumours". Third-party board makers told MacWEEK they're as intrigued as anyone about Apple's intentions for FireWire in the consumer market.

Art Scotten, president of Orange Micro of California, said a recent notice on its Web site intimating the imminent arrival of FireWire iMacs was a "mistake by an overly aggressive marketing person". In fact, Scotten said, Apple has been reluctant to disclose details of its I/O plans to third-party vendors, a situation that he said has already led to some hardware conflicts. "With the blue and white Power Mac G3, Apple didn't talk to any developers," Scotten said. As a result, a slight change in the PCI bus spec caused crashes in third-party cards that took four months to address. "This new policy of Apple's hurts developers and Apple, too," Scotten said.

Eric Dahlinger, spokesman for Newer Technology echoed Scotten's sentiments. "It's been published everywhere that Apple is going to USB and FireWire" as core I/O standards, Dahlinger said. However, "they haven't provided a lot of detail about the iMac's direction. That's why USB products were slow onto the market".