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Desktops, new OS due from Apple

At San Francisco's Macworld trade show, the company will kick off 1999 with a cavalcade of new products and a promise to start raking in the dough.

SAN FRANCISCO--How will Apple Computer top 1998?

The maverick Cupertino, California, computer maker will get started by releasing new iMac-style Power Macintosh desktop computers and the Mac OS X Server at this week's Macworld Expo show, according to sources.

The San Francisco trade show opens with a keynote speech tomorrow from interim chief executive Steve Jobs. In addition, news about upgrades to the iMac are expected at the weeklong event.

Rumors are again cropping up about Apple's new consumer portable, the WebMate, but an Apple spokesman said it would not be announced at Macworld.

"Apple's policy is to not comment on future products, but in this case we are confirming that Apple will not announce its consumer portable at Macworld Expo SF," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Apple hopes to build on the positive momentum generated by strong sales of the iMac as well as build on the earnings it generated in 1998. The goal for the upcoming year: set a course for revenue growth in addition to profitability.

Financial analysts say Apple needs to drive and sustain revenue growth to propel its stock price to a level similar to those of comparable companies in the PC industry. The new products to be unveiled in January will set the tone for the company's potential in 1999.

Hardware: Snappy design and faster chips
Following in the path blazed by the iMac, Apple will roll out new desktops in its bread-and-butter Power Macintosh line that feature a curvy design with a colorful, translucent plastic case.

The new Power Macintosh desktops, code-named Yosemite, will have faster PowerPC processors, running at speeds of between 333 and 400 MHz, said sources close to Apple.

As with the iMac, the new desktops will forgo the floppy disk drive. Graphics and video professionals have been clamoring for a system with more PCI expansion slots than the current systems have because of their use of large add-in circuit boards for graphics acceleration, external drives, and the like.

Instead of more slots, which make a computer more expensive for Apple to make, professional users will for the first time hook up peripherals and other components through the standard high-speed FireWire (IEEE 1394), as well as the slower Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectors.

Consumers could have some good news, too. Sources have said that the company may introduce new iMacs with a faster processor and larger hard disk drive at Macworld, although the company is well known for changing plans at the last minute. Supporting this speculation, Best Buy last month cut the price on its iMacs to clear out existing inventories.

By pricing systems well below Apple's list price of $1,299, Best Buy may have been betting on an industry standard practice known as "price protection," meaning that Apple would make up the difference between the current list price and the $999 that the older iMac's are eventually expected to sell for. The updated iMacs, in turn, will reportedly be priced at $1,299 and contain a 266-MHz or faster PowerPC processor.

Software: A niche OS and Real competition
As for software announcements, Apple is expected to release Mac OS X Server, according to Lou Mazzuchelli, an analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison. Mac OS X Server is the operating system that is intended for use mainly in the more limited market for Mac servers and workstations, unlike the current Mac OS 8.5, which is intended for use by all Mac hardware customers.

Mac OS X Server is the renamed Rhapsody, which was to use software technology acquired from NeXT to enable software to run on Mac and Windows platforms. Mac OS X--a separate product from Mac OS X Server--will contain some of the technology in Rhapsody but be better able to run current Mac programs.

Although Mac OS X is not slated for widespread release until at least the third quarter of 1999, Apple has apparently decided to give its corporate customers an early crack at the product. Such features in both OS products include preemptive multitasking and protected memory, which allow for efficient and reliable software performance.

One cat that Steve Jobs already let out of the bag: QuickTime 4.0 will be formally introduced. Apple has been working for some time on a new version of multimedia software that will offer "streaming" technology for live playback of audio and video.

Streaming allows content to be played while it is being downloaded, instead of making users wait until the download has finished. But Apple is up against some stiff competition from rivals RealNetworks and Microsoft, which already have widely used streaming products on the market.

While many of Apple's plans for the show have been found out beforehand, surprises remain a possibility: Jobs has used the convention to pull rabbits out of hats before. In 1997, he stunned the crowd when he announced that Microsoft would invest $150 million in Apple.