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Microsoft’w Windows XP, Apple’s new iMacs

Get ready, because it’s just about time for another Microsoft operating system.

Microsoft announced that the next desktop OS will hit the streets sometime in the second half of 2001.

And it seems the old software giant has finally given computer users a real incentive to upgrade–no more DOS. Windows XP, based on Windows NT, has not only scrapped the old command-line system, but has expanded the system’s networking and multimedia capabilities, and has the most significant interface enhancements since Windows 95. The final release will be available in two versions, Windows XP Professional for business users and Windows XP Home Edition for home users.

Taking IM out of AOL’s hands

It never fails. The moment Microsoft sees another company enjoying the fruits of its labor, it starts to resemble a starving saber-tooth tiger gazing on the first feed it’s seen in months. Take AOL for example, and all its Instant Messaging (IM) customers.

Microsoft has announced an entire development platform it hopes will take IM to the next generation, and out of AOL’s hands. Code-named HailStorm, the new platform would transform the idea of IM from its current model-a simple application that allows its members to chat by simple-text messaging-to an actual infrastructure for Web services that would include not only messaging but also e-mail, real-time stock quotations, and calendar functions. At the time of this writing, Microsoft was expected to preview the platform in front of select developers and content providers in mid-March.

Microsoft has also joined forces with Yahoo!, Odigo, [email protected], and other AOL competitors in hopes of establishing industry-wide standards for IM. The group will also work to develop technology that would allow different IM services to communicate with one another.

In the meantime, Microsoft’s temporary IM weapon will have to be MSN Messenger 4, slated for release by the end of April. The first phase of the release will allow text exchanges with users of Yahoo! Messenger. Later phases should include file sharing and advanced transfer capabilities.

Wireless hype alert

Microsoft will test its upcoming smart phone-code-named Stinger-this summer. And as usual, the software giant is making attempts to include any and every feature possible in a wireless device.

The phone will include standard handheld-organizer features, a bigger screen for e-mail, datebook functions, and more. Samsung Electronics was the first to sign on to the MS wireless bandwagon, and Vodafone and Mitsubishi didn’t lag far behind. Microsoft maintains it will do its best to keep the four-ounce phone under $400, the average price for such a high-end device. -Christy Mulligan

Mac News

Apple has now made getting on to the Net easier and more fashionable, even for the neophyte.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company’s overhauled–albeit kitschy–iMacs at February’s Macworld Expo in Tokyo, and a handful of new features may get the Mac-faithful and newbies alike wandering over to the nearest Apple vendor.

Reason numero uno? Bye-bye DVD player, hello CD-RW drive. Although some users will miss the luxury of a built-in DVD-ROM drive, Jobs stated in his keynote address that the proliferation of inexpensive DVD players and users’ frequent requests for a CD-RW drive pushed Apple to make the change. Apple plans to replace them with combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drives when they become available in sufficient quantity.

The overhauled iMacs also include an updated version of iTunes (1.1), which supports more than 35 third-party external CD-RW drives (Mac OS 9.1 users also can download the Disc Burner OS extension to burn Mac data CD-ROMs); pre-installed iMovie and digital editing software; two FireWire ports; Apple’s Optical Mouse; and the ApplePro keyboard.

The two high-end iMacs include a new version of the ATI graphics controller, ATI Rage 128 Ultra, which gives users 16MB of video memory-8MB more than with the previous model. And, if the only thing you’re looking for is an Internet device that will match your Blue Dalmation or Flower Powerpatterned workstation, then look no further than your nearest Apple vendor. Users with more subdued dŽcor can still opt for indigo or sage.

The iMacs run $899 for 400MHz G3 processors and CD-RW drive, $1,199 with 500MHz G3 processor, and the 600MHz iMac SE runs $1,499.

A better look

But perhaps the most significant release at the Macworld Expo was the new nVidia graphics processing unit (GPU) for the Mac. More powerful than anything Mac users have seen yet (according to Apple and nVidia), the card will definitely score Apple some big points with hard-core gamers.

The unit gives users the ability to manipulate photorealistic objects and backgrounds, as well as render and animate 3D scenes in real time. Just to prove to attendees of the expo how capable the unit is, Jobs revisited an old favorite, the 1986 animation Luxo Jr. rendering, and animated it onstage, in real time, using a G4 equipped with the GeForce3. The card boasts 56 million transistors, 64MB of DDR RAM, a 230MHz 128-bit crossbar memory controller, and the ability to perform at 76 gigaflops.

Apple plans to offer the card as a $350 built-in option for new PowerMac G4s or as a $600 separate unit. At the time of this writing, Apple thought the units would be available to owners of earlier G4s by the end of April. -Christy Mulligan

Linux Digest

Linux’s multimedia capabilities still trail those of Windows, especially in the area of proprietary formats. This is especially true for movie files and closed-source codecs (the encoding and decoding of algorithms). These codecs tend to take a long time to get ported to Linux. Even so, Linux still has a lot to offer.

XMMS www.xmms.org, the X Window Multimedia System, provides mostly a player for MP3 and other audio files. XMMS is very similar in concept to WinAmp, a major MP3 player for Windows. Like WinAmp, XMMS supports skins, which give players a customizable look. Through plug-in modules, though, you can add support for AVI and DivX files, for example, along with a number of ways to visualize the music output.

The AVI support comes from an avi-file, effort to support AVI and DivX movies on Linux http://divx.euro.ru/. This effort is interesting in that it attempts to use Windows dynamic-link libraries, DLLs, on Intel-based Linux systems as a means to get access to libraries for various codecs such as Cinepak and Indeo Video, two formats not available with many other Linux tools.

XMovie http://heroinewarrior, now supports more codecs. Produced by Heroine Virtual, an effort to create motion picture solutions for Linux, you can also download Quicktime and MPEG-2 libraries from the same site, along with a package called Broadcast 2000, which provides a non-linear real-time audio and video editor for Linux.

Xanim http://xanim.va.pubnix.com/ provides one of the longest-available movie-playing programs for Linux and UNIX systems that use the X Window System for graphics.

MpegTV www.mpegtv.com, provides the classic Linux movie player, but it’s not an open-source package. LAMP, the Linux Animation and Movie Player http://pauillac.inria.fr/lamp/ provides another movie-file player, as does XTheater http://xtheater.sourceforge.net/. The XTheater site also provides a very good list of other movie-playing software http://xtheater.sourceforge.net/competitors.html

The Simple DirectMedia Layer, or SDL http://www.devolution.com/~slouken/projects/SDL/index.html, aims to provide a cross-platform programming library for media-rich applications such as games. Many movie players and Linux games, such as “Civilization: Call to Power” and the free “Maelstrom” www.devolution.com use this library. What OpenGL does for 3D graphics, OpenAL www.openal.org/home/, is attempting to do for audio. Designed as a audio programming library, OpenAL available at offers a vendor-neutral, cross-platform programming library for high-end interactive audio. – Eric Foster-Johnson

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