A PC user's guide to Macworld

A PC user's guide to Macworld

They may not be waving four-color Windows-logo flags, but it's not a complete wasteland for PC users at the Macworld Expo show in San Francisco this week.

Macworld's aglow with the gleaming detailing of white Apple Computer Inc. monitors and shiny chrome IPods. Everywhere you turn, evangelists at podiums extol the virtues of Mac products, from brushed aluminum ruggedized enclosures for the IBook to esoteric 3D graphics functions that, in slick presentations, draw oohs and aahs from crowds of entranced attendees.

But many exhibitors have products (or product lines) that cater to "the other side"--although some are low-key about their OS-agnostic stance. Sometimes vendors actually whisper in their booths, "yeah, we have a Windows version of that." But in the din of the convention hall, a whisper sounds a lot more like a breathy shout.

Here are some of the coolest things a PC geek could find in a few hours wandering the Macworld show floor.

Wedding PC, stereo

"Free your music" is the motto at the Slim Devices Inc. booth, promoting Squeezebox. Looking a bit like a high-end clock radio, the slick, black audio component is just a slimmed-down, open-source streamed music receiver for your home stereo system.

With gold-plated RCA jacks, you connect the Squeezebox to your stereo's amp, just like any other component. Next, pop it onto your wired Ethernet network (US$250 for this version) or wireless 802.11b or 802.11g LAN (this version costs US$300). You fire up the included SlimServer software on your PC (or Mac, or Linux, or BSD, or Solaris box--remember, it's all open source). Then, you can stream all the music from your computer's hard drive into the living room.

The SlimServer software also acts as a media organizer, and can play virtually every audio format you might have on your hard drive. With the included remote control and a bright, easy to read display, the Squeezebox might be the sleeper hit of the show.

Simplify video editing

Contour Design Inc. Managing Director Chris Charyk calls the company's Shuttle Pro V.2 product "a productivity tool" for amateur and pro digital video creators, but that businessy term belies the simplicity of this handy video editing input device.

The unit is what video editors call a jog and shuttle dial, essentially a tool to move forward and backward through a video clip with ease. But the Shuttle Pro V.2 adds programmable keys to the mix, which can be used to replace hard-to-recall keyboard shortcuts. Or, you can program them with macros, to replace a series of repetitive commands with a single keystroke.

The unit supports a huge list of video, audio, and graphic design applications on both the Mac and PC. If former Talking Heads bandmember Jerry Harrison thought it was cool enough that he picked one up, it's probably good enough for the rest of us too.

Easier radio recording

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, out jumps the RadioShark, an external, USB radio tuner and software package from Griffin Technology Inc.

The company, which makes accessories for the IPod audio player, will start selling the gleaming white, dorsal fin-shaped AM and FM tuner in April for US$70. Best of all, the software that will come with the RadioShark will let you record radio shows on a schedule, "like a TiVo for radio," says Waldo LaTowsky, sales director.

Other utilities

If you have so much fun programming macros on the Shuttle Pro that you can't get enough, you might want to take a look at the $100 QuicKeys from CE Software Inc. With this application, you can create a virtually limitless number of macros for any program, organize them under various tabs, and even assign them keyboard shortcuts. The latest version of this long-running product makes it fully Windows XP-friendly.

If all the news about Mars exploration has you eyeing the night sky, wondering what the heck you're looking at, you may want to pick up a copy of the astronomy programs from Starry Night. The software is the premiere stargazing helper for both the Mac and PC.

The Macworld Expo booth highlights the US$200 Pro Plus version, which offers more features than the Starship Enterprise's stellar cartography lab, but you can pick up a starter Enthusiast version for just US$60. Not only will the program show you a million points of light, but you can use it to aim any of the computer-controlled telescopes on the market, so even a novice can point, click, and marvel at the universe.

Back to business

Other products are aimed squarely at business environments that likely mix Macs and PCs.

Highlights include three new Iogear products. The Wireless USB Print Server, priced at US$110, lets you share a printer with any computer on your wireless 802.11b or 802.11g network.

Another product, the MiniView Extreme, lets you share one keyboard, video display, and mouse across two or four computers of any persuasion. Unlike other KVM switches, it supports the use of wireless keyboards and all their special, programmable keys. The MiniView Extreme is priced at US$130 for a two-port model and US$180 for four ports.

Finally, small or home office networks can look forward to the B.O.S.S., a hardware firewall and 4-port router for wired networks that includes its own network-attached storage inside. Stored data can be shared inside the network privately and used as a secure FTP server for outside connections. Prices are US$400 for a 120GB model or US$500 for the 200GB unit.

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