Macworld Expo, My History

Recollections on Macworld Expo.

For years, I religiously attended Macworld Expo in San Francisco and Boston (and later New York). In fact, I recently found Macworld Expo programs dating as far back as 1992. (Anyone want to buy these collector’s items? E-mail me.) I even had a few programs from Macworld Toronto, when I was persuaded to speak there in the 1990s.

In the Macintosh heydays — mid 90s, I guess — Macworld Expo was an incredible experience. The halls were jammed with exhibits and people crammed the aisles to get a good look at the latest and greatest. I remember such innovations as the Digital Toaster (I believe that’s what it was called), which used an Atari box for live advanced video effects; Morph, which converted one image to another as an animation; and PageMill, the first WYSIWYG Web authoring tool. Companies like Aldus, Claris, and countless others that no longer exist erected booths that competed for the attention of conference-goers. Certain Mac gurus — like Guy Kawasaki and Kai Krauss — achieved celebrity status and were occasionally mobbed by the Mac faithful.

I was a conference speaker in those days, a member of the Macworld Expo faculty. The speaker room was like a clubhouse, a place where the folks who made their livings with Macs gathered and chatted, exchanged hugs, bragged, and showed off their latest hardware acquisition. The person with the best PowerBook wins, was the theme in those days. I didn’t play, although I do remember showing off a photo of my helicopter one year as an explanation for why I didn’t come with a PowerBook.

And then there were the parties. After the show floor closed, the parties began. The best parties required invitations to get inside, but certain people could gain access to even the most selective parties without a ticket. I remember being part of the Bob Levitus entourage one evening in San Francisco, when we went party hopping from one incredible party to another. Chris Isaac was the entertainment at one party while the Jefferson Starship (or what remained of it) was the entertainment at another. Claris and Apple always had great parties, but the ones at the Exploratorium were incredible, too. Limos bearing MacWEEK or MacUser magnets on their doors criss-crossed the city. I don’t remember drinking much (maybe I drank too much), but I don’t think I needed alcohol to get high. There was excitement in the air and you could get high just breathing it.

Then, in the late 90s, the good ship Apple started to sink. Macworld Expo suffered for it. (It also suffered, in my opinion, from switching management from Peggy Killburn’s group to IDG.) The speaker room filled with strangers, networking and graphic arts gurus I’d never heard of. I stopped speaking at the shows, but still attended, primarily to put in an appearance at the Peachpit booth. The parties were non-events in those dark days. Instead of spending three days at the show, I’d often come by for just a day. I remember one year when I flew in in the morning and flew out that evening. No reason to stick around.

When Steve Jobs took over and Apple started to thrive again, I half expected those Macworld Expo heydays to return. But they didn’t. The booths got ever smaller and some companies — Quark comes to mind — didn’t even show up half the time. The show floor still filled with people — an interesting mix of Apple loyalists sporting user group labeled clothing and high tech graphics geeks — but there was no rush to see a newly introduced piece of hardware or software. The only highlight was Steve Jobs’ keynote address, which he performed to a packed house every single show. I often watched the keynote via Webcast while I worked, playing it in a QuickTime window on one computer while I worked on another. I took notes on what interested me and ignored the rest.

This year, I’m skipping Macworld Expo again. I have work to do on my Tiger book, as well as an eBook I owe Spiderworks. And there’s a QuickBooks book lined up behind those. I’ve already lost too much time getting my new helicopter settled in my hangar and trying to figure out ways to make money with it. (I would have flown it to the bay area, but I have a paying gig in Aguila on Saturday and I was worried that weather would keep me stranded in California.) I hoped to watch the keynote today, but I just learned that Apple isn’t doing a Webcast. So I’ll be in the dark until the keynote is over and Apple magically transforms its Web site to provide information about all the announced products. As you may have guessed, I don’t read Apple rumor Web pages. I’d rather wait and get the real story.

So as Macworld Expo climaxes today, I’ll be in my office, writing about Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, glad that it’s raining outside so I won’t want to fly.

What do you think?