TV-PGDecember 10, 2004: Heads up, eBay junkies; the iTunes Music Store now accepts PayPal. Meanwhile, unconfirmed rumors of speed-bumped eMacs and PowerBooks make the rounds, and Microsoft readies its next development kit for Xbox 2 gamesmiths-- and apparently it's going to be a Power Mac G5 again...
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"How Ya Wanna Pay, Pal?" (12/10/04)

Oh happy day! Faithful viewer Richard Tjoa just tipped us off to Apple's latest press release announcing a new addition to the methods of payment accepted at the iTunes Music Store: now tune junkies can feed their legal habit with a steady stream of funds from their PayPal accounts. "PayPal?" you ask, "Isn't that the thing people use to buy junk on eBay?" Well, yes, but not exclusively, see; as Apple's latest move clearly shows, PayPal is an increasingly accepted form of online payment for a variety of non-auction-related goods and services. PayPal: it's not just for Star Wars collectibles and bad costume jewelry anymore! (Or, ahem, AtAT merchandise.)

Now, we haven't exactly done a ton of digging into the matter, but if memory serves, at least here in the U.S., you don't even need a credit card to get a PayPal account; you can hook one right up to a bank account and fund it that way instead. What that implies is that the credit-deficient now have a simple way to siphon their savings dry as they pump up their electronic collection of Connie Francis songs. Previously that would have required, say, trucking down to Target to buy a bright green iTunes prepaid card, or paying an adult to hook you up with the goods. ("Excuse us, sir, but if we give you money, can you go in there and buy us beer and cigarettes? And then go online and get us an iTunes gift certificate?") But now it sounds like all those underage eBay jockeys with PayPal accounts wired into their "college savings" accounts can trade in four years of higher education (c'mon, who were we kidding anyway?) for one slammin'music collection.

Best of all, in that last scenario, this arrangement discourages stealing from the music industry-- and encourages stealing from Mom and Dad instead! You say you really want that new Lindsay Lohan album but your account's clean out of money? Don't illegally download MP3s with KaZaA; just swipe items from around the house, auction them off on eBay, and watch the funds come rolling into your newly iTMS-friendly PayPal account! What could be simpler? And the wrath of your parents is probably a far more palatable alternative to a six-figure RIAA filesharing lawsuit.

Between credit cards, gift certificates, prepaid cards, allowance accounts, and now PayPal, Apple's really working hard to provide as many methods of payment at the iTMS as possible. Next up? Well, it's just a guess, but we're thinking cash-- like, maybe you click "BUY NOW" and a ninja with a cash register swoops silently in through an open window, affixing you with a steely-eyed gaze that says "that'll be $15.93, please, and if you've got any singles, that'd be great, because we're running a little low." Once that system's in place, it's merely a matter of time before Apple accepts payments for iTMS purchases in pints of blood, as well as transplantable human organs (minus a nominal surgical extraction fee). What could possibly be more convenient?

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Geez, You're NEVER Happy (12/10/04)

Look, we know that, drama-wise, we've been a little iPod- and iTunes-heavy for the past few weeks, but that's the risk of adopting a vaguely reality-based plot stream: generally speaking, we go where Apple takes us, and for better or for worse, Apple's paddling in some very musicky waters these days, while the surface of Lake Mac remains still and unbroken. Just to give you a sense of perspective, here, of Apple's last twenty press releases, fully half of them (put away the fingers, Jethro; there are ten) had something to do with music, while only three dealt directly with desktop or portable Macintosh models. What can we say? We go where the drama is. We can't apologize for that-- at least, not without snorting derisively and rolling our eyes, and why be rude?

But you're right; we need more Macs in the mix to restore some semblance of balance, lest those Mac fans who couldn't care less about Apple's little musical meanderings finally ditch this show and go switching the channel to something classier, like My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss. Luckily, faithful viewer Jef Van der Voort points out that with Macworld Expo Speculation Season now in full swing, there's a juicy Page 2 item over at MacRumors describing several new products slated for a Stevenote intro next month. If you happen to be sick to death of the recent music overload, you should definitely pop right over and soak your eyes for a bit, because there's a whole list of rumored Expo releases-- with nary a music-related product in sight. (We know; freaky!)

Sure, the "Page 2" category is by definition a dumping ground for "uncertain rumors" and all of the Expo release info came via "an anonymous submission," but don't let that stop you from getting excited; after all, there's lots of stuff for Macophiles to obsess about without those pesky iPods hogging all the glory. For one thing, MacRumors's anonymous source claims that eMacs will finally get a long-deserved speed bump to 1.6 GHz-- and a G5, baby! Plus they'll inherit the iMac's 533 MHz bus, gain a 64 MB ATI RADEON 9600 graphics subsystem, and start at just $899 for a combo drive model. Gol-ly.

Not really in the market for a sub-$900 complete G5-based Mac system? No worries; instead you'll be able to lower your sperm count (or the sperm count of someone you love) with a new line of PowerBooks. Well, not "new," exactly, since we're just talking about another speed bump, but it's still a nice revision: reportedly the 12-inch model will get a boost to 1.5 GHz, built-in Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme standard, 33 percent more storage thanks to the new 80 GB hard drive, and a 64 MB Mobility RADEON 9700. The 15-incher, meanwhile, will get bumped from 1.5 GHz up to 1.67 GHz and gain built-in wireless, a 128 MB Mobility RADEON 9800, and a backlit keyboard and 80 GB drive as standard equipment. The 17-incher? Same specs as the 15-inch model except for screen size. And right on top of all that upgradey goodness, Apple will allegedly scoop a nifty $200 price drop across the board.

There's even more, on Keynote 2 and a major new version of QuickTime-- but since those aren't new Macs, we'll leave 'em for some other time. The point is, there is some Expo speculation out there that doesn't obsess about flash-based iPods or the iTunes Music Store finally opening in Burkina Faso. Feeling better?

What's that? You say that the total lack of music products and services in this round of Expo rumors now has you concerned that Apple is about to discontinue the iPod and iTMS? Oh, for crying out loud... you know what? You're on your own on this one, buddy.

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The One-Week Respite (12/10/04)

Sorry, people, but we're not doing Wildly Off-Topic Microsoft-Bashing Day this week. Don't get us wrong, it's not for lack of material; if we felt like it, we could, for example, riff on faithful viewer Lee Dronick's suggestion, which is Information Week's article on how Penn State University just urged all 80,000 of its students to stop using Internet Explorer immediately and switch to a browser at least slightly less likely to compromise the security of their systems and/or transmit the plague. See? Plenty to chew on, there. But in the spirit of the season, we figured we'd cut Microsoft a little break this week-- especially since it's such a good customer of Apple's and IBM's.

That's right, we're talking about the Xbox 2 again. Longtime viewers will recall the various rumors that when Microsoft ships the sequel to its game console, the new unit will have made a daring jump from the x86 chip architecture to the PowerPC. And despite claims by analyst Rob "No One's ALWAYS Wrong, But That Doesn't Stop Me From Trying" Enderle that Microsoft told him personally that the PowerPC Xbox rumors are completely false, it's hard to reconcile that with widespread reports that the company had already shipped its first "early access" development kit for Xbox 2 games-- and that it consisted of custom software loaded onto an otherwise vanilla dual 2.0 GHz Power Mac G5.

Well, as faithful viewer Small Paul, points out, The Inquirer reports that Microsoft is readying a new developer's kit for wider release sometime in the next three or four months. The first kit was apparently just for the company's most important strategic partners to give them a head start on writing games for a whole new hardware platform; this next one should ship for "regular" Xbox developers and will no doubt be a little more fleshed out, with more and better tools and some form of ATI R500 graphics card inside to better match the hardware specs of the Xbox 2 when it finally ships.

But guess what? According to The Inquirer, anyway, while the exact specs of the machine used for the new kit are still up in the air, "yes, it will be a Mac G5... running some kind of Windows OS." And sure, the thought of some creepy Xboxified Windowseque thing running on a Power Mac is a little unsavory (slightly more so than Windows running in Virtual PC-- at least in that situation, Mac OS X is still the boss), but we really have to see the whole situation as a net positive; Apple indirectly sells more Power Macs to all these Xbox2 developers, and IBM gets the street cred and bragging rights for putting PowerPCs into the gazillions of Xbox 2 units that'll eventually ship.

While we're not exactly expecting a big halo effect or anything, we imagine it couldn't hurt Apple for consumers to know that Macs aren't as alien as they might have thought; after all, they use the same general class of chips as the new Xbox 2. As bizarre as the concept may be to us, we can imagine at least a few people in the general populace thinking "if the hardware's good enough for Microsoft, it's good enough for us." Scary, sure-- but if it moves a few Macs, hey, it's a good thing, right? Maybe not good enough to prevent us from putting the boot right back into Microsoft next week, but for this week, anyway, 'tis the season and all that. Ho ho ho.

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