Crossing My Fingers for an Insanely Great Macworld 2008

This week, the Macworld Conference and Expo returns to San Francisco, and, for the first time since the 2002 show in which Apple’s pre-show boast of, “Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond” turned out to refer to a flat-panel iMac, I’m feeling excited about the announcements that the Black Mock-Turtlenecked One might hand down in his annual Expo keynote.

It’s not that I expect Apple to confirm my June 2005 prediction that the firm would unbind OS X from Apple-only hardware and take on Microsoft in earnest in the client and server operating system space.

While such an announcement would certainly be exciting, it seems that Apple’s 2007 iPhone success has confirmed the belief of Steve and Co. that as long your hardware is sufficiently insanely great, you don’t have to play by the same rules as rest of the computer OEM crowd.

However, after watching Apple succeed at coaxing some actual innovation out of the molasses-slow cell phone industry last year, and after receiving one of my all-time favorite Christmas presents last month–a slim, shiny iPod Touch–I’m ready to believe that Apple is capable of shaking up the client OS world on its own terms.

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I haven’t thought in the past–and I still don’t–that the iMacs and PowerBooks and Xserves that have headlined previous Macworld Expos were great enough to prompt individuals and organizations to surrender the privilege of choosing from a variety of vendors in order to purchase their desktops, notebooks and servers.

Unlike those systems, which really aren’t much different from the systems that Dell, Hewlett-Packard or your friendly neighborhood white-box purveyor offer, the iPhone and the iPod Touch (once hacked to admit the installation of third-party applications) blow competing smart phones and PDAs out of the water.

For Macworld 2008, most of the rumor buzz is centered around a new sub-notebook form factor, possibly featuring a version of the iPhone’s multitouch user interface and solid state storage for long battery life.

Given a display broad enough to render full-sized Web pages, and a keyboard large enough for an adult to type with, such an Apple sub-notebook could fill the mobile writing and browsing device gap that I’d hoped Palm might fill with its short-lived Foleo.

I’m still rooting for Apple to make OS X a first-class citizen of the operating system world, but if the folks from Cupertino are too busy prepping the devices of my dreams to set their big cats free, I’m ready to forgive them.

If, on the other hand, I were a loyal Mac ISV developing software for an OS X market artificially constrained by Apple’s hardware protectionism, or an OS X Server admin looking to dip into the forbidden-by-Apple realm of server virtualization, I wouldn’t feel so forgiving.

What are your Macworld hopes and dreams?