Lose Your Head

The 2005 edition of Macworld San Francisco is next week, and the Mac-focused Web sites are all worked up, as is their wont, over various, rumored announcements that may or may not come during the keynote address. There’s talk of a “headless Mac” in the US$500 price range, and also murmurs (and circumstantial evidence) of a productivity suite called “iWork.” These completely unqualified murmurings have me a little worked up too.

My Own Private Xserve

From what I can tell, the headless Mac is ostensibly aimed at a new strata of consumer; perhaps at buyers who may already have a Windows machine and want to swap out just the box. The headless configuration would preserve their investment in a monitor, and enterprising consumers (oxymoron alert) might simply invest in a KVM switch like those sold by IOGEAR, among others, to share the monitor between a Mac and a Windows PC.

I probably have a complete misconception of what these rumors are suggesting, but I’d go crazy for a headless Mac that, with attached hard drives, could act as a small office/home office server, perhaps with a limited version of Mac OS X Server’s capabilities. It seems logical to me to assume that there are plenty of individual Macintosh users who have multiple Macs at home, and would like some way to manage passwords, system preferences, software installations/upgrades and file sharing centrally — without having to clear out the space and shell out the money for an Xserve.

A headless Mac that could be controlled from an iMac or a PowerBook via a VNC– or Timbuktu-style connection would be an excellent tool for that. There’s a market for such a machine, I’m sure of it. What I’m not sure of is whether the market is big enough for a niche player like Apple to invest in.

Don’t Tickle the Bear

As for iWork, I’m a little nervous about this. Given my proclivity for gestures that can be easily perceived as anti-Microsoft, I’m certainly not one to talk. But still, I worry about pissing off Redmond if Apple, as rumored, goes ahead and releases a word processing program called “Pages.” Perhaps I’m too naüve a subscriber to the idea that it᾿s the Microsoft Office suite that sustains the Mac’s position as a viable office machine. But it seems true to me, even in our relatively small enterprise, that the ability to swap Word, Excel and PowerPoint files makes the Mac seem like a serious computing partner. I would hate for Microsoft to throw in the towel on Office in the face of an Apple competing product, the way they did when Safari was released to challenge Internet Explorer. That’s a bit paranoid, I know.

Macworld Keynote to Reveal New Keynote?

Actually, I originally felt the same way about Apple’s release of Keynote, worried that a PowerPoint challenger would provoke the ire of Microsoft, but that came to nothing. What’s more, I’ve come to really like Keynote too; I use it for every business presentation that I can, and I couldn’t be more excited about the rumors that a new version will be included in the iWork suite (especially after having practically given up hope for a new version based on Apple’s neglect of the product for so long).

I never expected to feel this way about presentation software, but in the Apple tradition, there’s something special about this program. Perhaps it’s because I have to spend so much time making presentations, or because creating an aesthetically orderly presentation in Keynote is vastly easier than PowerPoint. Either way, the application is such an exemplary of Mac OS X programming bells and whistles that I’m thoroughly enamored by it. So, I’m crossing my fingers for next week.



  1. There is also lots of speculation that a cheaper headless Mac would be low-enough-hanging-fruit for the many (Windows) people enamored of their iPods and Apple products, but reluctant to fork over for a full(priced) Apple system. They’d rather a less pricey way to dip another toe in the Apple water – it’s been called the “halo effect” of the iPod. I think it sounds viable.

    And of course lots of existing Mac users would love it.

    I wonder if they will Apple-ize the lowly KVM switch, make it look iPod/Airport-ish, and bring it into (more) mainstream computing and awareness. In the process ushering in easy multiple-computer management for the masses. Sort of like shipping a computer without a floppy drive.

    Should be interesting. I hope they release an improved Safari for download. I use it all the time, but it still needs some polishing (codewise, not as much UI) and I don’t wanna wait for 10.4!

  2. The headless iMac sounds great, and as you point out, potentially really useful for a small design company who needs a server, but doesn’t want to shell out for an Xserve.

    So, what happened to the rumors about the iPhone?

  3. Mark: The last I heard about the rumored “iPhone” is that it exists, but it’s not all that fancy, being literally just a phone that has some iTunes capabilities. That is, it doesn’t sound like Apple has engineered an Apple-esque user interface for the phone. I hope I’m wrong.

    Todd: An Apple version of a KVM would be great! It would solve (hopefully) the problem I have with my IOGEAR KVM, which works with my Apple keyboard just fine except for the fact that it disables the volume and eject keys. However, talk about niche products: I doubt they’d get into that business because there’s not a heck of a lot of long-term growth for the KVM market, in my opinion.

  4. True enough, maybe an iPod-esque KVM switch will be Macally’s next hit. But it will have some odd Windows-artifact…

    Or perhaps all the headless Mac rumors are bunk. I just can’t quite see Apple releasing a headless box meant to serve as a second computer and expecting Joe Average to figure out a KVM switch. That’s why the iMacs have always been considered such friendly novice computers, no monitor to hook up, all-in-one, etc. And if they expect people to just use their old monitor or buy a new (Apple!) display that would just seem to cannibalize their G5 tower sales. I’m starting to think the whole thing might be BS. Time to break out the magic 8-ball.

  5. iPhone: I think Khoi’s right – it’s a Motorola compatible with iTunes (no pics unfortunately), but they mention “incorporates the iPod interface for navigating and playing digital music”:


    Speaking during a keynote at the International Consumer Electronics Show here, the executive demonstrated the phone, which in many ways mimics the iPod. It syncs with a computer and the iTunes Music Store like an iPod does, and incorporates the iPod interface for navigating and playing digital music, said Ron Garriques, a Motorola executive vice president.

    The phone is the first of many Motorola devices that will support iTunes this year, said Garriques, also president of Motorola’s personal devices business. He didn’t provide product details for the phone or say when it would be available.

  6. I wouldn’t worry about Apple pissing off Microsoft with an Office competitor. AppleWorks has been around for how long? I don’t remember that ruffling any feathers.

  7. Phil: I’m pretty sure you’re right. I was just being skittish.

    Todd: That’s a great link, but actually it proves me wrong, which I’ll happily admit. If the phone “mimics the iPod,” then it may be reasonable to assume that there has been some user interface engineering (and hopefully form factor engineering) on Apple’s part. Or am I reading too much into that? In any case, I can’t wait.

  8. I’ve changed my mind – I think the ‘headless Mac’ is some sort of living room media device. No KVM complications, no competition with iMacs/towers, leverage iPod, iTunes, etc. and whatever new iApps they may be cooking. Built-in or easy setup with Airport and that wireless iTunes thing maybe. Apple’s also always said they didn’t want to make/compete with cheap commodity computers. With all the other consumer media gadgets and stuff at the CES show in Vegas Apple has to step up into the game. Actually I have no idea.

    On the phone, yeah I assume Apple was involved in at least the music interface — their influence could surely be used on a lot of cell phone UIs that’s for sure. Sounds like the industrial design might just be all Moto though.

  9. Motorola went out of house for the industrial design of their Razr phone, which was a success story for them this holiday season just past. You can tell, too, because it looks so much better than anything that’s ever come out of Motorola in the past — including the StarTAC line. Anyway, my point is that it wouldn’t be unusual for this rumored Apple/Moto phone to have been designed in Cupertino, or under Apple’s supervision. Let’s hope.

  10. I think it would be redundant for Apple to release some Office-killer when there are plenty of viable alternatives: Sun’s StarOffice and OpenOffice. All that would need to be done is some tweaking and honing for the Mac platform and Apple would be providing a cheap alternative to Office that’s a whole lot better than Appleworks, which needs to be retired. There’s just no need to try and replace Office, which despite it’s shortcomings, is still the de facto standard for pretty much all of business and most consumer uses. If Apple bundled StarOffice or OpenOffice with it’s eMacs or iMacs, then that would be a huge draw for people who want to switch but are worried about spending more for Macs and then having to spend money on a decent productivity suite.

    As for a headless Mac, I think that’s great if Apple can do it right by being a replacement of or a part of the eMac or iMac line. I immediately think of the Cube, which was a cool product but became the red-headed stepchild of the line because it just couldn’t find it’s niche in the market. If it was the bottom-rung of the iMac line but still had the killer design and was chocked full of software, then I think that would be a great draw for PC users and Mac users alike.

  11. and the winner is: mini

    Get a Mac for Less
    The modular design of Mac mini lets you upgrade your current system to the elegance, simplicity and reliability of Macintosh. If you already own a monitor, keyboard and mouse, you can get up and running in minutes. Or choose any combination of new devices to meet your individual situation. And yes, Mac mini will take advantage of your two-button USB mouse with scroll-wheel and your favorite USB keyboard. Just plug them in.

    So they are going for switchers. Damn that thing is small!

  12. Well, today the Mac mini accessories page advertises the Belkin 2-Port KVM Switch. $129 from the Apple Store:

    Use the same keyboard, mouse and monitor for your Mac mini and PC. This switch saves space while adding a whole new sculpted look to your desktop.

  13. I just posted my reactions to what was actually announced at today’s Macworld Expo keynote address:

    Second Helpings at Macworld

    As for the KVM switch, I want to look at that model a little more closely. The KVM that I’ve got at the office, an IOGEAR, works great excepting the fact that it breaks the volume and eject buttons on Apple’s recent keyboards. It’s a small but annoying bug.

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