Macworld Expo 2008 is almost upon us (it runs Jan. 14-18 in San Francisco), and the products that Steve Jobs will announce look spectacular...

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Macworld Expo 2008 is almost upon us (it runs Jan. 14-18 in San Francisco), and the products that Steve Jobs will announce look spectacular. I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Of course, I don’t know what will be introduced. And neither does anyone else who isn’t employed by Apple or bound by strict nondisclosure agreements.

But you wouldn’t know it at this time of year judging by rumors floating on the Web: Will a tablet Mac finally appear? Is an ultraportable laptop on its way?

Sometimes the rumors pan out, or news is leaked by other companies: The Canadian edition of Time magazine published its cover story of the new iMac the night before the 2002 Macworld Expo keynote, for example, and it’s likely that recent reports of Fox Studios signing a deal with Apple to offer video rentals through iTunes are true.

Rumors abound

Sometimes, though, the rumors are just rumors: People have been predicting an Apple personal digital assistant (PDA) for years with nothing to show for it — unless you count the iPhone, which lacks many features found on most Palm devices. .

In the absence of solid information on what will be announced, we can look to the past for some solid advice to counter the hype that’s building.

For one thing, right now is not a good time to buy a new Mac, because you don’t know what will be announced at Macworld Expo. That shiny MacBook Pro you’re eyeing might suddenly end up as Apple’s low-end performer.

(You should also avoid buying new Apple hardware in the weeks leading up to the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June and Apple Expo Paris in September. There are no guarantees that new hardware will appear, but they provide visible jumping-off points to generate media interest.)

Old axiom applies

Of course, the old axiom of computer purchases still applies: If you need a new computer now, get it. My wife’s parents bought a Power Mac G4 a few weeks before Apple introduced better models at Macworld Expo in January 2002 because they wanted to expense the purchase on their 2001 taxes. That machine is still running strong.

Keep in mind that Macworld Expo might offer only a new product’s announcement, with the device itself arriving much later. Professional machines like the MacBook Pro or Mac Pro may not arrive for several weeks, even if you order one on the day it’s made public. (I enjoy watching people at the Expo head straight to the show floor after the keynote and place Web orders on the demo machines of what they’re purchasing.)

Last year, Apple threw us for a loop by introducing the iPhone and making us wait six months for it to arrive. The only new hardware was an updated AirPort Extreme wireless base station.

More quick looks: It’s not fair for me to leave you with, “Just wait and see” when there’s more practical to put into Practical Mac.

Since switching to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard shortly after its release, I’ve found one feature that has climbed the echelon of invaluable technologies I can’t now live without. This development is amusing considering that I initially pooh-poohed it as a gimmick.

I use Quick Look all the time. (I wrote about it initially on Nov 10, 2007.) Select a file in the Finder and press the space bar to display a preview of the file’s contents.

It’s a great way to preview images, like those occasionally funny picture attachments my dad sends via e-mail, or photos from a digital camera that are all named something like “DSC_1138.JPG”.

However, Quick Look doesn’t extend to all items, such as .zip archives; pressing space bar only gives you a larger version of the file’s icon.

A number of third-party Quick Look plug-ins alleviate that shortcoming.

To preview those .zip files without extracting their contents, I downloaded the free BetterZip Quick Look Generator (macitbetter.com/BetterZipQL-1.0). For peeking inside folders with one button press, I turned to Folder.qlgenerator (homepage.mac.com/xdd/software/folder/).

I copied the plug-ins to a specific folder used by Mac OS X (/Library/Quick Look) and relaunched the Finder (hold Option and click the Finder icon in the Dock, and then choose Relaunch).

Many other Quick Look plug-ins are available; see www.quicklookplugins.com for a list that includes plug-ins for looking inside Adobe Illustrator files, AppleScript scripts, and even image file formats common to the late, great, Commodore 64 computer.

Alas, there’s no Quick Look plug-in that will reveal what Apple will announce at Macworld Expo.

But my co-columnist Glenn Fleishman will be reporting from the show, so check back here on Jan. 15!

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.