Will Macs star at this year's Macworld Expo?

Move over iPod and iPhone and television set-top boxes. In a surprising twist, it looks as if the big stories at this year's Macworld Expo may actually be about the Macintosh.

Will Macs star at this year’s Macworld Expo?
Move over iPod and iPhone and television set-top boxes. In a surprising twist, it looks as if the big stories at this year's Macworld Expo may actually be about the Macintosh.

Last year, the buzz of the Expo was all about the iPhone. However, the story was all about seeing it on the big screens in the Apple booth and no touching allowed. The only iPhone in all of Moscone Center was sealed up in a bulletproof plastic display case that was cleaned on the quarter hour of drool.

Since then, Apple shipped the iPhone and new iPods. And it shipped refreshed lines of iMac, Mac Pro, Xserve, MacBook hardware and lots of software. Oh, and then there was Leopard, the new version of Mac OS X.

Of course, the iPhone will be big at the Expo. But since the iPhone SDK has yet to ship to developers, much of the bits and pieces will come from Apple. (According to a totally-fake, error-ridden "leaked" draft of the keynote address posted on Wikipedia, Jobs will promote a Chess game for the iPhone. Let me tell you, the members of the Apple PR team I sighted at the venue today looked too relaxed for this posting to be real.)

However, it looks to me that the real star of this year's Macworld Expo will be the Macintosh: hardware, operating system and applications. And business and personal productivity software will be the highlights, well outside the usual Mac market comfort zone of content creation applications.

And it's been a long while since the Mac has been center stage — I speak from experience, I've attended every Macworld Expo San Francisco since 1985.

The reason for this change are the switchers from Windows. In fact, this year's show should be called the Switcherworld Expo.

On the eve of the Expo, I talked about enterprise switching with Kent Prows, LANDesk's corporate strategist. The company provides systems, security and process management solutions for enterprises, including Mac clients and servers.

He said the move to the Mac is gaining in the SMB business market and the enterprise. He pointed to a customer that had 200 Macs on site this time last year and plans to end 2008 with 4,000 Macs.

Now, that's switching.

"It used to be that an organization with however-many thousands of Windows boxes might have a tiny, self-sustaining cluster of Macs in the marketing department, a don't-ask, don't-want-to-hear-about-it [IT] thing. But when this number grows to 100 or 200, we get calls about it," Prows said.

He said IT directors want to avoid creating a parallel support and management infrastructure for Macs. So, it appears that LANDesk's decision to support a Mac OS X agent for configuration management and system provisioning technology is paying off.

"We see tremendous growth in the mixed Mac and PC environment and we're putting a lot of resources towards it. The more work VMware and Parallels [SWsoft] can do to entice [Windows] users to their products, it's a winning situation for us."

Prows said LANDesk was looking forward to the release of the iPhone SDK, which will let the company add the iPhone to its list of supported handhelds.

Meanwhile, a number of vendors will present new and refreshed information management applications at the show. The approaches are varied, ranging from Microsoft's new version of Entourage in Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 to Google's application services. Of course, Apple includes a set of PIM tools with the Mac.

Late last week, FileMaker introduced its "personal database" product called Bento. It will be rolled out at the Expo.

I've followed Now Software's cross-platform contact and calendaring tools for a long time. The company is bearing down on its major software release called NightHawk. I spoke to John Wallace, Now Software's president and CEO about the market and the company's prospects.

He said that the market is in a shake-up period and all of the players are taking different approaches and targeting different segments.

"Apple and Google are providing entry-level apps that don't work well with large groups. Outlook remains the dominant Windows corporate player, but it is cumbersome for individuals and small groups. Bento is a stand-alone product for individuals," he said.

"NightHawk lives in the middle and is aimed at individual power users up to groups of hundreds of people. Our first offering concentrates on group calendar and contact management on the desktop for both Macintosh and Windows, but our product architecture will let us add additional integrated modules — project management, CRM, sales management, etc. — and take that functionality to the Web."

He said that with greater support for data sharing standards, consumers will have a lot more choice. Data lock-in will become less of a deterrent to jumping ship, and pricing and feature sets will become a larger factor in product selection.

"For consumers, and Now, that's a good thing," Wallace said.

Of course, some of the same players will be going head-to-head with productivity suites on the show floor. Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google.

Gotta love it.