For a self-described software company, Apple Computer sure does know how to make a pretty PC. The company unleashed several new pieces of hardware this week at MacWorld New York, including new PowerPC systems, multiprocessor systems, and iMacs. Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who continues to obfuscate the truth with bizarre performance claims, says that Apple's new systems are more than twice as fast as a 1 GHz Pentium III, a statement that's as ludicrous as it is provocative. But the guy knows how to get press--heck, I'm writing about this in WinInfo--and the new systems are indeed worth discussing. And though the company's UNIX-based Mac OS X is still way behind schedule, its release in early 2001 will usher in a new era of competition between Apple and Microsoft. Nonetheless, Microsoft also had a big presence at the show, with some serious Macintosh-related announcements about its next version of Office and a slew of games that the company will port to the Mac.

The most exciting--and confusing--announcement yesterday was a new 8-inch square G4-based "cube" that will be sold alongside the company's iMac and desktop G4 systems. The G4 cube seems to fall somewhere between those two other products, though it's pricey at $1800 to $2200 without a monitor and virtually unexpandable like an iMac. The G4 cube runs without a fan and takes up very little space. It's a compelling little box, at least in looks, and it will be available in August. For the older Power Mac G4 systems, Jobs announced that new versions will be available with dual processors, a first for Apple. Best of all--unless you bought a G4 system recently, I suppose--the dual processor systems will be priced identically to the old single processor models.

The new iMacs aren't really new per se, instead, the company has reduced the number of available colors dramatically. "This is the first time we've changed the iMac colors since January of 1999 when we introduced them,'' Jobs said. "\[The new colors\] are much more refined. The graphite \[version\] was a really big seller so we took our cues off of that.'' New iMacs sport colors such as blue ("indigo"), red ("ruby"), sage ("green"), and white ("snow"). The iMacs start at $800 and run up to about $2000, depending on configuration. Expected improvements, such as G4 processors or bigger screens, where not made.

Apple finally replaced its laughable "hockey puck" mouse with an optical version that's more ergonomic and seems to mimic Microsoft's line of optical pointing devices, which have been out for approximately a year. The company also replaced its tiny stock keyboard with a slightly larger model and introduced a new version of its iMovie software. Apple says that its flagship Mac OS X product, originally due this summer, will ship sometime in the spring. A public beta will be made available in September.

Microsoft has a strong presence at MacWorld this year and seems to be increasing its Macintosh product line dramatically. The company announced that it would ship the new Macintosh version of its Office productivity suite, dubbed Office:Mac 2001, in October. Mac Office includes a new application, Entourage 2001, which integrates a personal information manager with email. Also, the company plans to introduce a number of "Mac-first features" that offer a preview of sorts to the next Office for Windows ("Office 10"): "These include List Manager; Flag for Follow-up; the Project Gallery; Word-like editing tools while composing e-mail; and the Data Merge Manager, a simplified process for merging data between applications," says Irving Kwong, the product manager in the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit. Mac:Office 2001 will ship in a stylish Mac-like CD case instead of a standard shrink-wrapped box.

But the most exciting announcement from Microsoft this week regarded Mac gaming. The company recently purchased Bungie, a company famous for its Macintosh entertainment products. Mac fans were nervous that the purchase would effectively kill off a leading Mac game company, but Microsoft revealed that this would not be the case: The company will continue to make Mac versions of Bungie's upcoming products and will actually start porting its most popular PC titles--such as Flight Simulator and the Age of Empires--to the Mac as well. So the end result is that the Mac will see more game development, not less, because of this sale