TV-PGJune 21, 2004: Apple keeps up its breakneck product release pace, introducing iPod-on-BMW and Apple Remote Desktop 2. Meanwhile, the Mac-based third-fastest supercomputer vanishes completely from the latest rankings, and Apple fails to secure trademark protection to use its logo on clothing, hats, and shoes in China...
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June Just Keeps On Giving (6/21/04)

Holy feral cats, remember when we said that June was being good to us this year, plotwise? Well, we didn't know the half of it! First Apple sprang AirPort Express and AirTunes on all of us, then it finally released those speed-bumped Power Macs we'd been waiting for since the Cleveland administration, then came the long-awaited European dialect of the iTunes Music Store-- at a Steve-hosted London media event, no less. That's enough Apple-flavored drama-ade to quench even the most demanding thirst. Could we possibly have hoped for more?

Well, whether you asked for it or not, brace yourself, because here it comes: faithful viewer B-Rad notes that Apple has gone public with the details of the previously hinted (and then leaked) iPod Your BMW deal, which is plastered all across Apple's home page like some sort of very stylish rash. We've only glanced over the specs, since we have about as much chance of getting a BMW anytime in the next decade or two as we do of spontaneously sprouting antlers and sprigs of parsley from any of a number of unlikely body parts, but it seems like a pretty decent set-up. Apparently when your car is all tricked out, you get a cable dangling from your glovebox (and we all know how uncomfortable that can be). You plug in your iPod, stow it out of sight, and whammo-- you can control your 'Pod with the steering wheel buttons that have previously been reserved for the 5-disc CD changer.

How, you ask? Well, it's actually pretty clever: you can create "up to five BMW playlists" in iTunes and slap 'em on your iPod, and those playlists are accessed as if they were the 5 discs in your changer. Nifty! Granted, it's not total control, but that would require, say, displaying the iPod screen output on a dashboard display and mapping the steering wheel itself to the scrollwheel-- and we figure that neither Apple nor BMW much liked the idea of their customers spinning themselves into doughnuts at 55 MPH every time they wanted to switch to a Sammy Hagar song while driving along the highway. Given the limitations inherent in the standard CD controls on your average luxury-car steering wheel, we think it sounds like a pretty decent solution. Oh, and by the way-- in addition to the previously reported BMW3, X3, and Z4 models, X5s are also supported-- as are MINI Coopers.

But wait, there's more! Just to stuff June full to bursting, today Apple also announced Apple Remote Desktop 2, the sequel to its screen-sharing and remote Mac management software. ARD2-- wasn't that a droid in one of the Star Wars movies?-- now reportedly boasts "dramatic improvements in screen sharing performance" and "more than 50 new features" to make lab managers and IT professionals sit up and take notice. Okay, so maybe it's a little less mass-appeal than the BMW announcement, but it's still a new product. (You can always tell the second-tier product intros by scoping out the media-friendly "we rule" quote in the press releases-- the heavy hitters get a bona fide Steve Jobs soundbite, while the second-stringers get a Phil Schiller. Nothing against Phil, of course.)

The seriously crazy thing about all these June announcements so far is that we still have the Worldwide Developers Conference to look forward to, with its first public glimpse of Tiger and whatever other knowledge Uncle Steve sees fit to bestow upon his drooling acolytes-- and you just know that that's gonna be a rockin' good time. Really, the only drawback to all this great June material is that, more likely than not, July is going to be bone-dry. After all, it's not like Apple's going to introduce any new stuff at Macworld Expo, right? So get into Camel Mode and suck up the drama while it's here, folks, because we foresee a long, dry trek across the desert next month.

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From 3 To ∞ In 7 Months (6/21/04)

So does everyone remember that oh-so-glorious moment in the sun last year when Virginia Tech showed the world just how much kiester a few hundred Macs could kick, and for how little money? Last November the school's "Big Mac" project (officially dubbed "System X") plowed its way headlong into the deep water of the supercomputing pool, where the big boys play: for roughly $5 million and after a mere few months' worth of work, Virginia Tech's 1,100-Mac cluster officially ranked as the third fastest supercomputer on the planet, beating out dozens of systems that had cost ten times as much and taken five times as long to staple together. Suddenly all those blowhards who insisted that Macs could never do any heavy lifting had to search a little further down the list to find any Intels; the fastest Intel system at the time was a Dell-made Xeon cluster with 300 more processors than System X, each running at a clock speed over 50% faster than the Macs'-- which only placed fourth. Ahhhh, life was sweet.

But as we said at the time, we should have enjoyed it while we could, "since it's probably not going to last for long." Little did we know how painfully right we'd be; faithful viewer Mitchell Elliott informs us that the TOP500 list has just been updated again, and System X is no longer in third place. With all the new systems being built all the time, we certainly didn't expect System X to hold its ground, but it's not ranked fourth, either. Or fifth, tenth, or fiftieth. In fact, it didn't score high enough to make it onto the list at all. No, it's not because 498 faster supercomputers went online in the past six months or so; it's because, at the time of the required speed score submissions, Virginia Tech's stack-o'-Macs was cranking out slightly fewer GFlops than your average microwave oven with a smart-defrost feature. Because it's in pieces, G, remember?

Sure, you know the drill: Virginia Tech announced that it was going to replace all 1,100 dual-processor 2.0 GHz Power Macs with 1,100 dual-processor 2.0 GHz Xserve G5s, which would save a lot of space and chew through less power. With the Xserve order placed, the school figured it'd be a good time to start scraping together some cash with the supercomputer equivalent of a yard sale, so it began unloading those "limited edition" Power Macs through catalog resellers in anticipation of receiving their new rack-mountable goodies. And then, suddenly, bam-- Apple admitted the existence of massive Xserve G5 shipping delays that cast Virginia Tech's third-place cluster into a G5-less limbo of nonviability. Hence, no GFlops come ranking time, and no ranking.

It's not the end of the world, of course, since System X will jump back onto the charts in six months when the next list gets published-- assuming the Xserves show up by then. We know that Apple delivery times cultivate a certain defensive pessimism, but we're actually pretty confident that Virginia Tech will be back online in plenty of time; Think Secret recently reported that Apple is finally close to filling all of its Xserve G5 backorders, so barring some sort of ruinous catastrophe like a giant asteroid colliding with earth and starting another ice age, we oughta be in business.

If System X were currently online, and assuming that it hadn't gotten any faster or slower since November, it'd currently rank fifth, which is perfectly respectable given its low cost and chip count-- and the fact that it'd still be faster than that Dell-built Xeon cluster. Every supercomputer ranked higher than System X would have at least 86% more processors and probably cost a bundle more. Still, it's a bit disappointing to see that the number two slot has been taken over by a new Intel Itanium 2 cluster, while the PowerPC only slots in at fourth. But next time, baby-- next time...

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It's Just Gotta Be The Shoes (6/21/04)

Oh, for the glory days of Apple court theatrics! Whether it was a winner-takes-all billion-dollar tussle over ColorSync patents, a lawsuit against an unknown defendant, or a guest appearance on another hit show like "Redmond Justice," there was always some rib-stickin' entertainment simmering on Apple's legal stove. These days things seem a lot quieter; sure, there's the Eminem lawsuit, the Beatles lawsuit, the resellers lawsuit... but nothing ever seems to happen in any of them. In fact, these days, whenever anything does happen in an Apple-related lawsuit, we're slavering all over it, no matter how trivial. It's sort of pathetic, really.

For instance, how 'bout that trademark lawsuit in China?! Wooooo-hooooooooo!

If you've been following this harrowing tale of overseas courtroom intrigue, you know that... well, there really isn't that much intrigue and what there is isn't all that harrowing. Guangdong Apples Industrial Co., Ltd. has registered, as its trademarked logo, an image of an apple with a stem and a leaf. This turned out to be a problem when Apple (our Apple) tried to register its own logo as a protected trademark; the authorities refused to register Apple's design, insisting that it was too similar to Guangdong Apples's logo, which had been registered first. Apple took the issue to court, pleading that its own logo was internationally recognized and that it should therefore be granted legal protection for its distinctive mark, but the court ruled that its mark wasn't distinctive enough, and therefore Guangdong Apples got to keep its trademark despite Apple's allegations that the company is making "illegal profits" by copying its logo.

Incidentally, if you know anything about how trademarks work, you're probably wondering why this is an issue at all, since trademark protection generally doesn't apply outside of the specific market for which a logo is registered, and while Apple makes computer hardware, software, and consumer electronics, Guangdong Apples makes leather goods. Well, here's the freaky bit: this all came to a head because Apple was trying to register its logo as a trademark for "clothing, hats, and shoes." Apple-branded apparel? We'd make the "softwear" pun again, but we're pretty sure that twice in a twelve-month period constitutes some sort of obscure felony.

Anyway, the latest word in this case is presumably also the last: according to an AFP story, Apple's appeal of the original verdict has been struck down, and therefore "Apple cannot claim that its logo is protected under law" for clothes, hats, or shoes. And thus does Apple's Great Chinese Logo Apparel experiment grind to a disappointing halt; and here we were hoping to score a kickin' pair of Apple shoes that don't cost $400. Ah, well... shirts and hats it will remain, then...

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