As business slows in the pre-Christmas rush and pre-Macworld Expo San Francisco hush, it's open season on rumour and speculation.

In the spirit of the times, Macworld UK Online asked visitors: "What will be the highlight of Steve Jobs' keynote at Macworld Expo?".

The results: hardware over software

A grand total of 1,101 votes were cast - with the largest block (41 per cent, 448 votes) favouring the notion of an Intel-powered Mac mini media centre.

An Intel-powered laptop is seen as a potential show highlight by 326 voters (30 per cent). A "totally new Mac" was the third place leader with 84 votes, or 8 per cent. This was closely followed by "Totally new gadget" - perhaps an AirPort for video using recently-ratified WiFi standards - which attracted 72 votes (7 per cent).

Strangely, just 54 voters (5 per cent) saw the next iteration of iLife - Apple's suite of digital lifestyle applications for music, movies, images and DVD-authoring on a Mac - as a potential show highlight. iWork 06 fared worse, with only 24 voters (2 per cent) favouring that option.

Other results (in order of preference) follow: "80GB iPod", 31 votes, 3 per cent; "Cancelled keynote", 23 votes, 2 per cent; "Slightly updated .Mac", 12 votes, 1 per cent.

A final "Other" category (also known by Apple watchers as "just one more thing") attracted 27 votes, or 2 per cent.

Reader reaction

Reader comments favoured the Mac mini option, though a laptop release remains a popular option.

"It seems most likely the Mac mini will be introduced as the digital hub for the living room with an Intel based processor. And I wouldn't be surprised as a close second to the mini that possibly we will see an Intel-based PowerBook," one reader wrote.

"I was hoping for an Intel-based iBook but I can't really see it as it would out-power the PowerBooks unless they do something based on the current chip," another explained. "Maybe Apple CEO Steve Jobs will go all the way and show Intel-based Powerbooks," the writer imagined.

'Just one more thing'

Another reader chose the "just one thing" button, on the strength of rumours that Apple plans a movie distribution system.

"The essence of it is that you buy the right to have a movie streamed to you. Your iDisk (or maybe a new minimal storage account which is available to PC users too) will contain a small file which effectively allows you to view Apple's main file of that film, or to download it to an appropriate iPod.

Because the purported system stores no assets locally on a user's hard drive, it offers a level of protection against piracy. "My take is that the video service should be the highlight and will be the most important announcement, but the headlines will go to hardware," the reader wrote.