A la mode: Key Apple add-ons

A few recently introduced products round out the modern Mac user's arsenal.

Apple Computer Inc.'s Xcode programming environment supplants OS X's dated suite of development tools. The editor is enhanced with code-completion and indexing features that adapt themselves to changes in languages and libraries. Two productivity aids speed programmers through edit/debug cycles. Zero Link launches applications without linking delays, while Fix and Continue allows code editing during debugging. Fix and Continue is key to complex projects, especially for analyzing code written by others. And finally, distributed build support reduces compilation time by splitting the work among several machines. With Rendezvous compatibility, the distributed build facility can instantly locate and use all available systems on the local network. One copy of Xcode will produce applications for OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and Panther, and software can be specially optimized for the G5 processor.

OS X ships with two open source database managers, MySQL and PostGresQL. However, for large-scale databases, these free options may not suffice. To fill that gap, Sybase has ported its enterprise-grade DBMS, ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), to OS X. ASE 12.5 delivers the full range of capabilities found in Unix and Windows editions of Sybase's server, including scaling, data protection, graphical management, and a rich SQL command set.

Storage options abound for Mac systems, largely because Apple has made FireWire a standard component of all its systems. In fact, even Xserve is no longer equipped with SCSI. Apple recently introduced FireWire 800, doubling the interface speed of standard FireWire. So far, only a few solutions target the faster interface, but most new devices will support both the standard FireWire and its faster alternative.

LaCie Group SA has some of the first FireWire 800 hard drives on the market, and it has a new multiformat DVD burner that writes DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW media, as well as CD-R and CD-RW. One of LaCie's most popular products is the Pocket Drive, a small and rugged hard drive that requires no external power supply. And finally, Exabyte Corp. has built an external FireWire tape backup unit based on the AIT-2 standard.

The iSight camera looks like a pure consumer product at first glance, but it has solid business potential. The camera is unusually well-made with a metal exterior, a built-in microphone, a FireWire interface, a sharp image, and excellent light sensitivity. iSight ships with three sturdy mounting brackets (including one laptop clip) and a heavy plastic carrier for trouble-free travel. iChat AV is an enhanced version of Apple's instant messaging client. There are two drawbacks. First, iChat AV will not connect to multiple chat partners. Second, Apple has no plans to equip enterprise customers with private chat servers, relying instead on AOL.

Though few are aware of it, Apple recently rolled out an astonishingly powerful digital media production suite. Final Cut Pro 4.0 puts broadcast-level video, audio, and graphics capabilities within reach of corporate producers. While its power can extend to film and high-definition video work, it is geared for standard DV camcorders and decks. Key enhancements are real-time previews of edits and effects, and Soundtrack, a music generator that builds custom music from combinations of audio loops (hundreds of which are included with the package). The learning curve for Final Cut Pro is similar to Photoshop's, but like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro is the deserved standard-bearer in its class.

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