Macworld Expo has blossomed. The combination of a bully pulpit for Apple to announce its latest and greatest, a trade show with hundreds...

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SAN FRANCISCO — Macworld Expo has blossomed. The combination of a bully pulpit for Apple to announce its latest and greatest, a trade show with hundreds of exhibitors and a conference for professionals and consumers has become rather diverse.

The number of languages overheard throughout the week in San Francisco is far higher than in previous shows, and the kinds of hardware, software and services have multiplied beyond a simple summary.

Of the new items shown at Macworld or announced just before the show, five stood out as particularly interesting.

Axiotron Modbook

Price: $2,279 (combo drive, 1GB RAM, 80 GB drive, 2.0 GHz); $2,479 (SuperDrive, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB drive, 2.2 GHz)

The Axiotron Modbook has landed. The tablet version of a Macintosh laptop originally was demonstrated at the previous Macworld and featured on the cover of Macworld magazine, but its makers had been conspicuously quiet since. At the show, however, they had dozens of Modbooks for hands-on demonstrations at the show and are shipping units through partners who assemble the final product.

The Modbook turns a normal clamshell MacBook into a tablet PC by removing the keyboard and replacing the display with a top-facing screen that works with an included pressure-sensitive pen. It takes about an hour for an experienced technician to convert the stock Apple gear into a Modbook. An external keyboard can be added via USB or over Bluetooth.

The company says this first release is targeted at creative professionals, including designers, architects and illustrators.

You can draw with the pen, which also can be used to make selections. You can type on a virtual on-screen keyboard, and the unit recognizes handwriting through Apple’s built-in Ink technology.

Ink isn’t marvelous — it works fine, but it’s not very clever. However, an Axiotron partner that’s developed more sophisticated software for cellphones demonstrated an early version of what it’s planning for the Modbook. It’s far, far better at recognizing my chicken scratches.

The Modbook includes a GPS receiver that can add location information and mapping to other software. Photographers could use the Modbook to “geo-tag” their photos, adding latitude and longitude to the extra data stored with the images.

The Modbook’s two models have the same specifications as the $1,099 and $1,299 MacBooks from which they are adapted. The firm’s first U.S. builder, Other World Computing (, provides warranty service.

Griffin PowerDock

Price: $59.95, $69.95

Many iPod owners have two or more players, and some also own an iPhone. And most of us — my wife and I own at least five such devices — find all the docks, USB cables and power adapters a pain to manage. That means our devices are often undercharged.

Griffin Technology has a nifty solution: A $69.95 four-slot, AC-powered charging dock that works with all modern iPods and all iPhones.

Apple switched to a universal dock connector for its iPods a few years ago that interfaces with plastic adapters included with iPods and iPhones; Griffin includes an assortment with this new device. A two-slot dock is also available for $10 less. Both ship in March.

BusyMac’s BusySync

Price: $19.95 until February; $24.95 thereafter

People who work in companies use calendar servers to maintain their schedules in coordination with colleagues, assistants and bosses. Those of us who work independently or in small offices are sort of on our own.

Apple tried to provide some manner of calendar synchronization and transfer among multiple computers we each may own and with friends, colleagues and family. But the approach is inflexible, especially where other people are involved.

This is where Seattle-based BusyMac comes in. Its BusySync software, out for a few months, lets multiple iCal users and multiple computers used by the same person make and receive changes live across a local network or the Internet.

The system allows each calendar to be set among a gradation where others can view but not change events; make changes with a password; or have permission to add, remove and change events.

At Macworld, the company demonstrated a new option that synchronizes with Google Calendar, both as a useful feature in itself and also as a tool to get around problems in updating calendars stored on computers that can’t be directly reached from the rest of the Internet.

A calendar can be published to Google, and then others can subscribe to that Google calendar. Changes pass through the Google calendar with some delay, which you can set to as little as a few minutes.

The update is due in February.

NetNewsWire 3.1

Price: Free as of last week

The week before Macworld, news-aggregation powerhouse NewsGator decided not only to provide minor updates to its set of packages but also to release all of its reader software for free. This included NetNewsWire, acquired in 2006 by Seattle developer Brent Simmons, who was hired by the firm at the same time.

Newsreaders, also called RSS readers, link to special files on Web sites that the software checks regularly for updates. When an update appears, the reader displays the item as a new entry. It’s a bit like receiving e-mail from Web sites every time they change, but without the overhead and extra effort of dealing with e-mail. (The Seattle Times, for instance, offers news feeds in many categories at

NewsGator explained the move as helping to promote its corporate server software by increasing the use of several programs and Web sites it offers.

Where some may have been reluctant to pay for a newsreader they aren’t sure they would use regularly, a free program lowers the bar for using this form of news aggregation. NetNewsWire is among the best newsreading programs, and its for-fee competitors will now have a harder time selling themselves — which might spur innovation.

Netgear Powerline HD Plus (HDXB111)

Price: Not set, but probably $160 each; ships in first quarter

One of the most frequent questions I get about Wi-Fi networking is how to extend a network when a brick wall or other obstruction prevents a strong signal from passing through a home. Or, how to avoid Wi-Fi altogether in bringing network access across a house.

I’ve always recommended power-line networking, in which the home’s electrical system is tapped by special Ethernet adapters that plug into standard power outlets. The original HomePlug standard offered speeds of just 11 megabits per second (Mbps), but times have changed. Speeds from HomePlug and other proprietary offerings are now at 200 Mbps, far faster than Wi-Fi in all its flavors.

While the 200-Mbps gear has been shipping for months, Netgear and equipment supplier DS2 showed an offering that will appeal to Mac, Windows and other users alike. Mac users have long complained to me that for a few years, no power-line system had Mac software for configuring network encryption.

(Because signals reach back only to the circuit box with this form of networking, encryption is hardly needed except in shared housing or some apartment buildings that don’t meter separately. But people will go on about security.)

The new Powerline HD Plus system has a button at the front that, when pressed on one unit and then another, allows the two adapters to pair in a secure fashion, and then you’re done.

While pricey at an estimated $160 each, the adapters can let you avoid buying a new 802.11n gateway ($100 to $260) and new 802.11n adapters for each computer ($50 to $160). Or, the adapters let you quite easily punch through a brick wall by using existing wiring.

Glenn Fleishman, along with Jeff Carlson, writes the Practical Mac column in the Personal Technology section.