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Apple preps snazzy new desktops

With much attention on the iMac and WebMate, the company will instead emphasis its new Power Macintosh desktop computers at Macworld.

    Forget the iMac, snazzy business desktops are on the way from Apple.

    While much attention has been paid to the iMac, and more recently to Apple Computer's upcoming consumer portable, the emphasis of the upcoming Macworld Expo trade show will be Apple's bread and butter desktop computers, due to be replaced by new systems with faster processors and an iMac-like curvy case design.

    Following in the path blazed by the iMac, Apple's new Power Macintosh desktops will feature a curvy design with colorful, translucent plastic case.

    "It's almost a certainty that they will announce the replacement for the G3 desktops [at Macworld]," said Lou Mazzucchelli, a financial analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.

    Adding credence to the prediction: Apple's direct sales operation, called The Apple Store, has sold out of its inventory of desktop computers.

    "Due to extremely strong Q1 sales, Apple has sold all Power Mac G3 systems available [except for the 266-MHz systems], including servers and displays, through the quarter end," the company said in a message on its Web site. "Not to worry, in early January there will be plenty of Power Mac G3 systems," in what can be interpreted as an oblique reference to the new systems on the way.

    The new systems will replace the aging (and beige) Power Macintosh G3 systems introduced in November of 1997. The systems were a big hit with customers, many of whom who had long been pining for an upgrade to their original Power Macintosh systems introduced in early 1994. The G3s went on to become Apple's best selling systems of all time--that is, until the iMac hit store shelves this August.

    Now Apple is applying some of the same formula for success to its business desktops in the hopes of maintaining its forward momentum into 1999.

    The new Power Macintosh desktops, code-named Yosemite, will have faster new PowerPC processors, running at speeds of between 333 and 400 MHz, Mazzucchelli speculated. Sources close to Apple confirm the speed boost, which compares to the current G3 systems with up to a 333-MHz PowerPC chips.

    Like 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 graphics accelerator add-in circuit boards, boards for external drives, and the like--but they won't be getting their wish this time around.

    Instead, the professional users the systems are aimed at will be encouraged to hook up peripherals and other components through the Universal Serial Bus (USB) and, for the first time, standard high-speed FireWire (IEEE 1394) connectors.

    Several Mac resellers, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Apple has told them to deplete their inventory of current G3 systems in anticipation of the January product launch. A variety of systems are already in short supply, making resellers nervous about whether or not Apple will be able to deliver enough systems to them at the time of introduction.

    One reseller noted that he basically wouldn't have any products to sell at the beginning of January, and compounding his worries, he reported that Apple is implementing a new production control system right before the launch. "If something goes wrong with that, we're screwed," he stated.

    Apple did manage its inventory in a similar fashion before the introduction of new systems in August and made the transition without difficulty.

    Joining the new desktop systems will be a new version of the company's QuickTime multimedia software, which will for the first time incorporate the ability to do live streaming playback of multimedia content. (See related story).

    So far, though, it's a product that Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs said wouldn't be introduced at Macworld that has dominated the headlines. Details of Apple's new consumer portable rose to the surface this week, but the devices aren't expected to appear until sometime later in the first half of 1999.

    Apple has declined to comment on unannounced products.

    Reuters contributed to this report.