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Apple preps for Macworld harvest

Company CEO Steve Jobs is set to take the stage at Macworld Expo to tempt the Mac-faithful with new wares. A good deal of his keynote speech is likely to focus on software.

SAN FRANCISCO--Although a winter chill still lingers in the air, the latest crop of Apples is nearly ready to be harvested.

On Tuesday morning, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs will take the familiar Macworld Expo stage at the Moscone Center convention hall to tempt the Macintosh-faithful with new wares. This year's Macworld comes on the 20th anniversary of the Mac, which was introduced through a Super Bowl ad in 1984.

While much speculation has centered on whether Apple will debut a cheaper, lower-capacity iPod, a good deal of Jobs' keynote speech is likely to focus on software, as has been the case in past years.

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What's new:
Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday will deliver his keynote speech at Macworld in San Francisco. Rumors are swirling around what new gadgets and software the company will debut.

Bottom line:
Apple's product announcements are eagerly anticipated by the company's customers and can often have wider impact on the tech industry, as happened in 2002 with the announcement at Macworld of the flat-panel iMac.

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According to Mac enthusiast site Think Secret, copies of Final Cut Express 2.0 have been arriving at CompUSA stores ahead of the keynote speech. Jobs debuted the original version of the entry-level professional video-editing program during his keynote speech last year. Other Apple sites have discussed rumors of a consumer audio program or even a new word processing program to take on Microsoft.

Music is clearly the major focus at Apple these days, with much of its advertising dollars headed in that direction and a large chunk of the company's sales growth stemming from the iPod digital music player. The company has promised that more is in store for its music efforts, announcing a major promotion with PepsiCo that will kick off in conjunction with the Super Bowl.

Analysts say they are hoping to get an update on how well Apple's music store is doing.

"Though we do not expect a business update on demand trends, Jobs often uses his keynote as a focal point to drop some relevant metrics on the success of certain initiatives, such as a number of iTunes downloads," Bear Stearns analyst Andy Neff said in a research note Monday.

It is unclear which Macs Apple might upgrade at the show, as it fairly recently updated several of its models. The company added a 20-inch screen option for the iMac in November, at the same time adding a dual 1.8GHz-processor version of its Power Mac G5. The iBook was bumped from a G3 processor to a more powerful G4 chip in October, while Apple revamped its PowerBook line through much of last year, adding a 15-inch aluminum PowerBook in September to go along with the 12-inch and 17-inch models it introduced last January.

Neff said in his note that Apple may use the show to introduce new servers that contain the beefier G5 chip that now powers its top-of-the-line desktops. Neff also speculated that Apple may update its line of Cinema Displays, which currently come in 17-inch, 20-inch and 23-inch varieties. "Speculation revolves around a new 30-inch high-definition display and a refresh to the 20-inch and 23-inch display offerings to include USB 2.0 ports, sharper graphics and faster refresh rates," he said in the research note.

Apple, of course, has said little about what it will do Tuesday, although the company did announce that it has added Jim Lawrence, chief financial officer of General Mills, to its board of directors.

"Apple is clearly the most innovative company in its industry," Lawrence said in a statement. "My family and I have been Mac users for many years, so I am really looking forward to working directly with such a talented group of people."

Lawrence becomes the company's seventh director. Former Vice President Al Gore joined Apple's board last March, filling a vacancy created when Oracle CEO Larry Ellison stepped down in September 2002. At about the time Gore joined the board, Apple said it hoped to add another independent director to its board.

Although Apple has shifted from making the twice-yearly Macworld events the focus of its new product introductions, the show remains the company's most visible stage from which to tout its vision and new wares. The flat-screen iMac, as well as both the titanium and aluminum PowerBooks, all made their debuts at San Francisco Macworlds.

Along with whatever Jobs says inside the show, there is the possibility of some protests outside the event, with some Mac users complaining about the iPod's battery life and others complaining of reliability issues with the iBook laptop.

Even as most folks were preparing for the current show, one group was already looking ahead to the next Macworld. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau was on hand trying to drum up interest among exhibitors and attendees for this summer's Macworld Expo in Boston.

"So, is it really going to happen?" asked Jim Raleigh, a longtime Mac user from New Jersey who stuck around for this year's Macworld, after spending the holidays with relatives in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Rest assured, it is really going to happen," said Paul Griffin of the visitors bureau, answering the question, but probably not for the last time.

In October 2002, IDG World Expo announced plans to move the East Coast version of the show to Boston in October 2002. Apple responded the same day that IDG announced its plans, saying it will not make the move to Boston. Both sides have dug their heels in, with IDG pledging to hold the show July 12 to July 15 and Apple insisting that it won't attend. After briefly reconsidering the move last year, IDG said in September that it would go ahead with the move to Beantown.

Raleigh said he is unconvinced that there will be much to see in Boston. "I'm pretty cynical," he said.

As it typically is, Apple is by far the largest exhibitor at the show here, occupying more than 20,000 feet in the heart of the main floor. Although no other company comes close, Microsoft, Canon, Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Macromedia, Olympus and Epson all are slated to have large booths.

Security during set-up for the show is tight, as always, with Apple's booth obscured by a huge black tarp on all sides. Posted at the main entrance are two rather generic banners for the iPod. Tucked neatly behind each of the 15-foot banners, however, is another banner that is rolled up and whose contents are obscured from view, presumably a banner containing details of at least some of what Jobs has up his sleeve.