On the Edge, Looking In

One geek’s look at Macworld Expo and the state of the Mac.

Next week, I’ll be heading to Macworld Expo in San Francisco, mostly to do a presentation at the Peachpit Press booth.

For a 10-year period starting in 1992, I went to every Macworld: San Francisco, Boston (and then New York), and even the little-known Toronto shows in the mid 1990s. I was part of the Macworld Expo Conference Faculty and did a presentation in the Conference hall. One year, I did a solo panel and was on two other panels, too.

Those were the good old days of Macworld, when the speaker lounge was hopping with lots of friendly Mac “experts” and the attendees really did want to hear what we had to say about using Macs or specific applications. Everything was new and cool and even a writer who writes about something as ho-hum as operating systems and productivity applications for “end users” could put together a dynamic, interesting presentation in a room that was filled to standing room only.

Things change. Changes in show management and theme a bunch of years ago have left me feeling a little out of it. As Apple’s market share shrunk, only the Mac faithful and the Mac core user base — designers — came to Macworld in significant numbers. Productivity software and topics were out; design software and topics were in. I’m not a designer and I had little of value to share with conference attendees. I couldn’t come up with good ideas for conference sessions, so I just dropped out of the conference faculty.

Then, after a while, I just stopped coming to Macworld Expo. It didn’t seem worth the bother. I’d settled into a routine, writing revisions of a relatively large collection of books — mostly Visual QuickStart Guides — and that kept me busy. I didn’t need to go to the show to see what was new.

Instead, I’d tune into the live Webcast of the keynote address and learn about all the new products and features as Steve announced them while sitting at my desk, working on a book or another project.

Then Apple stopped doing the live Webcasts. I’d visit the Home page of Apple’s Web site after Steve’s gig and learn about the new stuff there. A while later, I’d download the Webcast and watch the show.

Things change. Apple’s introduction of innovative new products — starting with the original Bondi blue iMac all those years ago and the iPod much more recently — has gotten the Mac faithful excited about using Apple products again. Tiger was great; Leopard is pretty darn good, too. The ability of Intel-based Macs to run Windows effectively — either booted to Windows or while Mac OS X is running, as is possible with Parallels desktop — has gotten the attention of Windows users who are pretty unimpressed with the long-awaited Vista operating system. (Can you blame them?) Now Macs can run their Windows software. People are switching from Windows PCs to Macs. The Mac market share is growing.

This is great news for me. Although I write about Windows topics, I much prefer working with and writing about Macs. And with more Mac users comes more Mac-compatible products. In fact, there are more than a few software products that I use daily — TextWrangler, Scrivener, ecto 3 (in beta), EvoCam, iShowU, and Time Palette come to mind — that are only available for Mac OS. This not only gives me more great software to to choose from, but it gives me more Mac software to write about.

And that’s a good thing. Back in the early 90s, there were still lots of new computer users, people who needed step-by-step instructions for using software like Microsoft Word and Excel. Nowadays, these programs are old hat. Kids use them in school, for heaven’s sake! They don’t need books. And many of my old productivity titles are starting a slow spiral down to the backlist, never to be revised again.

So I’m going to Macworld. And I’m speaking at the Peachpit booth (on Wednesday, January 16, at 2 PM) about my new Leopard book and the cool things I’ve done with Leopard and Mac OS X.

But I’ll also be looking around at what’s new and exciting, ready to grab on to something different, something that’ll drag me deeper into the Mac community again.

It’s good to be a Mac user.

What do you think?