|Column Tag:||From the Field
MacHack Conference Report
What happened at the techiest of all conferences
By Neil Ticktin, MacTutor Editor-in-Chief
MacHack 92, the Seventh Annual Macintosh Technical Conference, lived up to its reputation - especially, the Best Hax contest and of course, the lightning. This year, the conference was held June 17-19 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
What is MacHack?
For those of you that dont know, MacHack is the annual conference that is put on by Expotech, Inc.. Originally, this conference came about because the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor wanted it so. To date, the University has a part in this conference.
I had never been to MacHack, and frankly did not know what to expect. What I found was a mixture of professionals, Apple employees, and of course, classic hackers. I havent seen such a group since my days in the computer room at UCLA.
There are a number of different things going on at MacHack. First, individuals give presentations of papers on a variety of topics. Next, there are panel discussions that take place each day of the conference. In addition, there are business sessions, roundtables, code clinics, and of course, the machine room.
The machine room holds the heart of the conference. Here you will find Macintoshes and other toys to play with. It is open 24 hours a day for the entire conference. This room has some of the most serious hacking ever to be seen.
This year, MacHack was fortunate enough to have Steve Weyl, the Director of Apples Developer Tools organization as the keynote speaker. Steve said a lot of things, the most important of which were his comments on the future of MacApp. In a nutshell, Steve said that if you develop using MacApp, you will have code that you will be able to port to Windows. MacApp will be available for Windows next year. [See the Editors page regarding the joint efforts of Apple and Symantec in regards to this topic. - Ed.] What Steve said was that MacApp is not yet available for Windows, but that it will be. The idea is that any efforts that you make using MacApp will be portable to Windows next year.
In addition to his MacApp comments, Steve acknowledged that it is too difficult and too time consuming to develop using existing programming tools on the Macintosh. He promised that we would see better tools, reference materials and even support in the future. Given what we now know about Bedrock (see Editors page) and about the new Inside Macintosh about to come out, it looks like Steve (and Apple) will be delivering on at least two out of three promises.
At every show, techie or fuzzy, there is always something buzzing in the air. This year was no different except that the buzz had nothing to do with the conference. At one point, attendees were asked to move to one side of the hotel while waiting for the tornado to pass by. During this time, lightning struck a nearby tree. Several times throughout the conference, sessions were interrupted and equipment had to be turned off because of electrical storm warnings. Something this California boy was not accustomed to.
Microsoft and OLE
Microsoft was the company making the biggest splash. They have now announced Microsofts Object Linking and Embedding protocol, OLE Version 2.0. This protocol will give users the ability to access the full capabilities of one program from within another program. This new version of the protocol will be integrated into future Microsoft products. Microsoft also said that they would make the protocol available to other developers.
To the user, this protocol provides a way to deal with embedded documents and objects. For example, if you had an OLE 2.0 compatible drawing program, and then embedded an object from that program into a Microsoft Word document, you could double click on the object to edit it. This would bring up the drawing programs menus (and floating window palettes if it had them). When this happens, the word processing menus disappear. The user can then edit the image within the word processor as if they were in the drawing program to begin with.
According to Ben Waldman, Manager of Macintosh Technology at Microsoft, the new OLE is supposed to offer new conveniences to Macintosh users. In addition, it is/will be designed to reduce the amount of effort that programmers make adding code to every program to support new technologies. Microsoft declined to say when their applications which integrate OLE 2.0 would be released.
Apple Showing Off
Apple took advantage of the situation at MacHack to show off and talk about some its new technologies under development. Included in this list were QuickDraw GX, and upcoming system software. QuickDraw GX is evidently seen not as a replacement for QuickDraw, but an extension of it. The essential idea behind the package is to bring QuickDraw into the nineties. This includes making QuickDraw do all the things that Apple promised years ago would be in System 7, but to date have not made it. For example, with QuickDraw GX, developers will be able to easily write printer drivers instead of taking 47 man years. In addition, QuickDraw GX will become substantially more competitive with Display PostScript. Most important is that GX will not be a problem for everything youve already coded to date.
System 7.1 will be the next major release of Macintosh system software. The idea behind 7.1 is to (a) clean up a bunch of things in System 7 and (b) have the first World-Ready Macintosh system software. This version of the operating system will accommodate all users in all languages around the world. To customize an installation with a particular language, extensions will be available to drop in the System Folder. This will give each Macintosh the language the user wants. Unfortunately, during the Apple Bashing section of the conference, we heard a lot of this is not a priority responses to suggestions on the System Software. To be fair, we also heard a lot of it will be done in 7.1 responses as well. Actually, to be completely fair, it did sound like Apple was doing a good deal of user testing and refinements to their system software. We did hear a lot of answers that included such phrases as we tried that, but users couldnt figure that out. This gave me the unusual feeling that Apple was actually listening hmmm well maybe its just a phase they're going through.
6th Annual Hack Contest
Each year at MacHack, The MacHax Group is the proud sponsor of the Hack Contest. This is the heart and soul of MacHack, embodying all that hackers are about. Hackers from around the country come to MacHack to show off their best hack. The deadline for submissions was Thursday at midnight. Hackers started presenting their hacks at 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning and continued until 5:30 a.m. The next day, attendees voted on the Best Hack and awards were given out.
Tips for winning (as published by the infamous Scott and Greg) were as follows: Looking and/or sounding good is the best, but it doesnt hurt to actually have it running at the Hack Show. Useful software also helps to get votes Suck up to everybody in sight because they all get a vote. Show it off, talk it up, offer to hand out source if you win, give away lots of money It wont necessarily help you win, but remember that big prizes await the winners. For example, several past winners are now Blue Meanies, and many are also proud owners of the Victor A-Trap plaque Remember, Scott and Greg make all the rules [so bribing them is a great way to increase votes]. Most important, have fun!
Some of the hacks were quite incredible. The winner was an amazing hack from Mike Neil. His IR Man hack blew me away (and not because his name was Neil either). In essence, this combination of hardware and software allowed one to control his/her Macintosh with a SONY VCR remote. So, for example, you could move windows with the left, down, up and right arrows; you could press eject on the remote and the disk would eject; you could press the power key and the application would quit; and my favorite, the remotes video speed flyweel would control the speed of a QuickTime movie. Ive asked Mike Neil to write us an article about how to do this, if you are interested in such an article, let us know (or bug Mike [nicely] to do it).
Brian Gaeke wrote some great PowerBook utilities that did such things as sensing whether an AppleTalk network was connected and automatically turning on and off the PowerBooks AppleTalk connection as appropriate. Since AppleTalk helps to eat my battery for lunch (especially by keeping the PowerBook on when it should be asleep), I found this to be a godsend.
Marshall Clow wrote a hack called Procedure Call Log which through the debugger made a list of calls as they were made. In other words, if you crashed into MacsBug you would get a history of procedure calls made in MacsBug. Unfortunately, this hack only works under MPW. Eric Shapiro has said that he would work on a THINK version and write an article for MacTutor. For those of you interested in this, let us or Eric know.
There were large numbers of other hacks including QuickTime Movies in Balloon Help by Cameron Esfahani, SloppyCopy 1.0d0, by Steve Falkenburg, which makes the Finder do a background file copy so you can continue to use the Finder; HyperInitMaker by Tom Pittman which evidently allows for debugging at startup time (the Apple people were really worried here); PowerBook Pixels by Jon Watte which made your PowerBook display the minimum number of white pixels to qualify for a warranty replacement of the screen and many, many more.
Weve asked a number of these hackers to write articles for MacTutor. If you are interested in any of these or know of other hacks, encourage them to write an article on the hack. If you would like to write to one of the hackers above, you can send it c/o Xplain.