Feb 00 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Viewpoint
Macworld SF 2000 Show Report
by Jordan Dea-Mattson and John C. Welch
Once a year, tens of thousands of Macintosh enthusiasts descend on San Francisco to hear Steve Job's state-of-the-Mac address, to see the latest technologies in action, and play with the wonderful new solutions provided by third party supporters of the Macintosh platform. This year was no exception, as show management announced over 85,000 enthusiasts attended MACWORLD Expo 2000 and hundreds of great new products and technologies were there to meet them.
To give our readers the most complete show report, MacTech has asked two reporters to provide us with show reviews based on their individual and very different experiences and perspectives. The first show report is by Jordan Dea-Mattson, a former Apple insider and long time supporter of Macintosh development. The second is by John C. Welch, an experienced system administrator and IS professional. Their combined report presents a summary of MACWORLD Expo for those of us behind the box, a view of MACWORLD Expo from the perspectives of developers and system administrators.
What a Difference a Year Makes
A year ago, I was the consummate insider, fully plugged into what Apple and many developers were doing at MacWorld due to my position as a Technology and Relationship Manager (Evangelist for all of you old timers) in Apple Worldwide Developer Relations.
Its a year later, and I am now "just another developer" and member of the press, reading the news and rumor sites on the web and waiting anxiously for MacWorld San Francisco to roll around, so that I can catch the latest and greatest.
And I wasn't the only one with a different perspective this year. Despite the successful launch of the iMac, a year ago, many members of the press still felt that "beleaguered" and "Apple" belonged together like "ham" and "eggs". A year later, only the most fringe analysts and pundits are painting a picture of an Apple that will be going away any time in the near future.
In addition to the analysts, press, and pundits, many in the developer community had a difference in perspective this year. While there is still some justifiable level of skepticism about Apple's ability to stick to a strategy and deliver the goods over the long run, no one was seen fleeing for the exits as many were in recent years.
The Fun is Back!
This MacWorld was the most fun of any in a long time. It wasn't that the show itself was overwhelmingly fun - though it had its moments, but rather that it pointed to a future for Apple and the Mac that was fun.
Just looking at the user interface for Mac OS X or playing with the new apple.com web site - more on these two later - demonstrates the renewed sense of playfulness and whimsy that has been missing for far too long.
Like a Pixar movie, which can be watched and thoroughly enjoyed by anyone from age 2 to 100, the new Mac experience is best expressed as serious and powerful tools that are fun to use. Tools that capture that childhood sense of discovery and play that is what drives so many of us. It was these attributes that attracted many of us to Apple and the Mac in the first place. And it was the memory of them that sustained many of us during the darkest moments of the last-half decade.
For this reason, it is with all respect that I shout: "the fun is back!"
Mac OS X - In Our Lifetime
Mac OS X has had a difficult and painful gestation to date. From its genesis as Rhapsody it has been - often rightfully so - greeted with skepticism and even - if we most be honest - a little ridicule.
These attitudes seem to be changing. And changing for good reason. Apple has shipped two developer releases of Mac OS X and in Steve Jobs' keynote at MacWorld demonstrated a compelling pre-release of Mac OS X and its new user experience.
In his keynote demonstrations of Mac OS X, Steve Jobs demonstrated a number of features of Mac OS X. The two demos that caught my eye most intensely, were the various demonstrations of the Quartz graphics engine and of the Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa APIs.
Working on Quartz are some of the hottest and smartest graphics programmers in the software industry, and it shows. The Quartz demos that we saw showed a graphics engine that isn't just "What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get", but rather, "What-You-See-Is-What-You-Want." With its snappy on-the-fly rendering, anti-aliasing, and transparency, it showed that Apple is definitely going to set a new standard in personal computer graphics when Mac OS X ships.
The quality and fidelity of the graphics experience delivered by Quartz is outstanding. How far it is ahead of today's personal computer graphics reminds me of how far ahead the original QuickDraw or Color QuickDraw were when they were first introduced. This is definitely going to be fertile ground for developers to build fun new software upon.
Giving a demo of an API isn't an easy task, but it was done convincingly by Steve Jobs by showing off a Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa application one after the other.
To demonstrate Classic, he double-clicked on an unmodified version of Microsoft Excel and it launched quickly and painlessly. What was most stunning was what wasn't there: the Blue Box, rather the application was running in the Mac OS X Finder along with any other applications that were there. If the lack of any kind of "compatibility box" was the cake, the icing on the cake was how quickly the application launched: it was faster than Mac OS 9.
Now, I am very skeptical - having been burned more than a few times in my younger and naive days - when anyone says, "This is a better X than X!" No one from Apple said that, but what they demonstrated was a new operating system, with totally new plumbing, that launched today's Mac applications faster than Mac OS 9. If Apple's goal is to make this transition as gentle and painless as possible, then they are on the right track.
Next up was the Carbon API, which was built around a demo of Internet Explorer 5. What made this demo very interesting is that the Internet Explorer team, according to Steve Jobs, has been working with CarbonLib on Mac OS 9. They hadn't seen this release of Mac OS X or the new Mac OS X user interface, yet when double-clicked; Internet Explorer launched and was sporting the new Aqua user interface.
If this behavior holds true through to final, it means we can start "carbonizing" our applications today as part of the development of our latest release and our users will be able to run them on Mac OS X. A CarbonLib that truly works this way will be, for the Mac OS X transition, the moral equivalent of the 68K emulator in the Power Mac.
Finally we got to see the Cocoa API in action when Steve Jobs demonstrated an improved NeXT MailViewer running on Mac OS X. There are two interesting facts to note about this demo. First, at last report, only one developer is working on MailViewer, but it definitely demonstrated substantial new functionality as well as the Aqua interface. Second, also at last report, MailViewer is still developed in Objective-C. This means that those that would rather "fight than switch" to Java will be able to continue using their OOP language of choice for quite some time.
One point stressed throughout the API demos was that Apple views the move from Classic to Carbon and from there to Cocoa as a migration. Unlike all of last year when it was "Carbon, Carbon, Carbon!" and Cocoa was a footnote, if that, in order to reassure the existing Mac developer base, Steve Jobs was up-front that Apple is in the process of making an API transition and that the future that he sees is Cocoa-flavored.
Steve Jobs also outlined a schedule for Mac OS X with the following major milestones:
Final beta release to developers - spring of 2000, you can bet that this will probably be at WWDC.
Mac OS X available in stores - summer of 2000, which I believe gives them until mid-September to ship it!
Mac OS X Pre-Loaded on All Systems - January 2001
So, why should we believe this schedule, when we have been burned in the past? Unlike those in the past, this schedule was backed up not just by hand waving, but by meat in the forms of solid demos and two earlier "Developer Previews". The general tone of developers in contact with Mac OS X, upon hearing this schedule, was not skepticism and rampant cynicism, but rather guarded optimism.
Bottom line, if I had to place a bet, I would predict the following:
We will see and be seeded with the final beta of Mac OS X at WWDC.
Apple will ship Mac OS X, release 1 late this summer. It will be gobbled up by early adopters who will shake it out. The early adopters - and I plan to be among them - will act as an unpaid QA department and will help Apple to identify the areas in Mac OS X in need of improvement before it goes into wide circulation.
We will at least one interim release of Mac OS X - incorporating a fair amount of bug killing - before Apple starts pre-loading it on all systems in January 2001.
The iMac of User Interfaces
Also in his keynote, Steve Jobs introduced the next generation of the Mac user interface called Aqua. Like they iMac, which shattered our preconceptions of what a computer should look like, Aqua shatters our preconceptions of what a computer interface should look like and how it should behave.
Many Mac users and developers were anxious about Mac OS X's user interface, as they imagined a NeXT-like workspace or QuickTime 4 user interface being foisted upon them. Well, this isn't the case and it shows the newfound maturity of Apple in terms of listening to its customers. We can only hope that this
Like the iMac before it, Aqua is the kind of industrial design whose introduction will reverberate through out entire industries. It will reinforce the trends, started by the iMac, towards mixing power, ease-of-use, and fun in a single package. As I said earlier, "The fun is back!" and Aqua is just one example of this reality.
Beyond the Box & the Mac Portal
The theme of Steve Jobs' keynote was "Beyond the Box", by which he was communicating that Apple is more than just a make of hardware. Rather they are working to create products that create a top-notch experience for their customers starting with the hardware and moving out onto the Internet.
While a desire to get some of an "Internet" valuation for Apple's stock and the fact there wasn't any new hardware to intro may have played a factor in the focus on "Beyond the Box", the fact is that Apple needs to be more than a maker of cool hardware. The heart and soul of the Mac has always been more about software than about hardware. It is good that Apple and Steve Jobs understand this and are clearly communicating it to the world.
Moving beyond QuickTime, Mac OS 9, and Mac OS X - which it can be argued are part of the "box experience" - Steve Jobs unveiled the revamped apple.com, as the first concrete example of Apple's focus "Beyond the Box".
What Apple has created with the new Apple.com is both a destination for non-Mac users on the Internet - with its iCards and iReviews - that will give them as foretaste of the quality of the "Macintosh Way", as well as creating a unique experience for Mac users (at least those with Mac OS 9) that leverages the Mac OS to deliver services with a level of integration that isn't available anywhere else through their iTools.
If the iMac is about getting on the Internet in three easy steps, then a Mac plus iTools is about getting on the Internet and using with a level of sophestication and power that isn't possible for the average user on any platform.
If this generation of iTools is the foreshadowing of what it means for Apple to move "Beyond the Box" then the future of Apple and the Mac on the Internet is going to be very interesting and provide a many opportunities for the competition to copy.
Cool that fits in your palm
If Mac OS X is going to be the place innovate on the desktop going forward, then it finds true handheld counterpart in the Handspring Visor.
The Handspring Visor was the most have hit of the show. Everywhere you went, you saw people using them or lining up to buy them. Why? Because it delivers all of the functionality of the Palm Computing handheld in a cooler looking, cheaper package which packs the Springboard expansion slot.
Building on the Springboard expansion slot a developer can add a modem, a game, a GPS device, or any number of other additions, to a Visor. It provides an easy and clearly defined way to expand the Handspring, so that it can be more than a "Daytimer on steroids".
The Springboard expansion slot provides the opportunity for "system hacking" that Extensions do on today's Mac OS. I expect over the next year that we will see an incredible amount of useful and useless expansion modules that will make the Visor the most fun handheld on the market. This fact - along with it being cheaper and cooler looking - points to control of the Palm hardware platform passing from Palm Computing to Handspring.
Metrowerks U for You?
For its humble beginning as a vendor of Pascal and Modula-2 compilers for the educational market, Metrowerks has always seen the key to selling more developer tools as getting more people programming. For this reason they have always focused on creating a version of CodeWarrior and various supporting products that help non-programmers get a solid start writing software.
MetrowerksU - www.metrowerksu.com - is their latest thrust in this area. It is a web site that provides free courses in using CodeWarrior, programming in C++ for Mac and Windows, and Java development. Of course, to take these classes you will want to buy the latest and greatest version of CodeWarrior. But maybe that was what they were thinking?
Problems & Opportunities?
Walking the floor of MacWorld Expo it was easy to come across a couple of signs that at first blush point to things not being perfect in the land of Mac, but when flipped on its is a big opportunity for the Mac market.
First, was the number of open spaces one came across walking through the North Hall. While the MacWorld Expo staff did a yeomen job of filling them in and hiding them well, in the process providing a much more comfortable environment for those with tired feet, it is clear that the number of companies with a "big tent" presence was down from previous years. This was in part offset by the shear number of companies that one found in the various pavilions scattered over the show floor.
One can only hope that many of the companies that are entering for the first time or renewing their presence in the Mac market via one the MacWorld pavilions will graduate to a "big tent" presence at future Expo. There is a definite opportunity for MacWorld Expo and Apple to work together to up-sell these companies into a bigger presence at future Expo.
Next was the visible lack of free Mac programming talent. In contrast to a few years ago, when you would see experienced Mac programmers trolling the aisles of MacWorld Expo unsuccessfully searching for jobs, this year companies were actively trolling for talent. It was not unusual to hear from a fellow developer that they were considering multiple offers.
If you are a company with a presence in or trying to enter the Mac market, this is bad news. But if you are looking at the overall health of the Mac market, this is a very positive sign. It means that a lot of companies are developing a lot of products for the Mac market.
The downside of this shortage of Mac programming talent is that it could - in time - stall development of new Mac products. To keep this from happening, we need to build a "farm system" that will help develop promising Mac programmers that are still in school. Apple took a great first step in this direction by establishing the student developer program a year ago. It would be great to seem take more steps in this direction. Perhaps they could create a "Introduction to Mac Programming" course in collaboration with MetrowerksU?
The Bottom Line
First and foremost, there was a lot happening at MacWorld SF 2000. More than I could do justice to a report twice as long. Be it the bigger and brighter presence of REALSoftware with their latest release of REALBasic, the presence of industrial quality ODBC drivers from Merant - finally! - or the innumerable other things that I have failed to mention.
That said, the bottom line out of MacWorld SF 2000 is that the Mac platform is alive and well. Yes, things aren't perfect - are they ever - but on balance, life is good. We are no longer on life support or in critical care as we were a couple of years ago. And as a bonus, not only is life good, but it is fun.
Jordan Dea-Mattson is an engineering manager for Document & Print Developer Technologies at Adobe Systems. Prior to being hired into this role, he spent close to 13 years working at Apple in various developer related positions, including being responsible for nurturing and managing the Apple-Metrowerks relationship from 1992 to early 1999. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Macworld Expo for Admins
What is there at a consumer show for the IS professional
Obviously, Macworld is a consumer's paradise. With every kind of sparkly imaginable, from the highest - tech non-linear editing system, to the most low - tech plastic letter opener, (AKA, the infamous iShiv), Macworld is a glittering paradise of dazzling toys to entice the eye, an hopefully the wallet. However, although anyone from the consumer, educational, and artistic markets are going to feel right at home, there is a fourth market that feels a bit lost, and maybe even shunned at such an event. I speak of course of my own community, the IS/IT community. Is Macworld just a waste of time for us? Of course not, and hopefully, this article will give MacTech's readers an IS eye's view of the show, and even better, get more IT into future shows (not just in San Francisco, but in New York as well).
I will cover certain parts of the show chronologically, but in general, I will just point out items of interest as I saw them.
The first thing I have found is that a G3 PowerBook is NOT the thing to carry if you want to go through security checkpoints in a hurry. Evidently the design is quite noticeable on the x-ray machines, and I spent about 5 minutes each way having my backpack 'searched', read: My PowerBook ogled by a surprising number of fans. I imagine iBook owners having the same problem.
The pre-show conferences are an odd mix of interests, with everything from novice-level classes on how to be a power user and beginning AppleScript, to using the Apple Network Administration ToolKit, (ANAT). I attended the Beginning AppleScript session, given by the AppleScript Product Manager, Sal Soghoian. Although I have been scripting for quite a few years now, I have found that seven hours with Sal will always give me some new tidbit that I may not have otherwise picked up. Regardless of your scripting experience, Sal is one of the two or three AppleScript 'gods', and any session of his is well worth the effort. (Sal is also one of the more gracious folks I know, giving my session on AppleScripting Networks a few very appreciated plugs.) In this case, the surprise was some very interesting demos of the upcoming QuickTime 4.1's scripting capabilities. Although not immediately apparent to a network admin type, Sal's demo of using QuickTime 4.1's scripting capabilities, and Mac OS 9's improved speech recognition showed how you can create some very impressive help systems. Although the Mac has long had the best online help going, Sal showed how you can link custom QuickTime movies to various 'help me...' phrases to create assistants that show the user how to perform a task in an easy to follow system of movies. Much nicer than even Apple Guide's coach marks, and considering the amount of time spent in showing users the same basic functions repeatedly, one worth looking into.
Sal also demonstrated Mac OS 9's new AppleEvents over TCP/IP capabilities, and again, for a network admin, getting the same scripting functionality from TCP/IP as we have with AppleTalk is a good step in moving your network closer to full TCP/IP usage. This also brought up some security issues, which are well worth considering. While it is true, as Sal, and many audience members pointed out, that AppleScript can destroy a computer's data faster than any other tool, the fact remains that AppleScript is not, BY DEFAULT, enabled to work across a network. If a computer doesn't have filesharing turned on; there is no access. If program linking is not turned on, malicious scripts can't run. If access is needed, then use proper passwords, with random characters. Don't allow guest access. These are all simple things that we must remember as the Mac OS enters the world of TCP/IP networking at a faster pace.
Other conferences that were of use to network admins included: Practical Introduction to Mac Networking, Macintosh Network Administration with Apple Network Administrators Toolkit, and Implementing XML. In any event, I found, and I think any network admin would have as well, the pre-show conferences to be well worth the extra expense.
As with any Steve Jobs keynote, anticipation is the overriding emotion. This year was my first keynote that I was able to see live, thanks to the folks at MacTech, I was actually inside the auditorium for the Keynote. As usual, Steve started by showing the state of Apple and the Mac. He thanked all of us, the customers, and all of Apple's employees for making it possible. He then reviewed the various sales numbers. Again, these are very important for Mac IS/IT managers to know, unfortunately, too much of our jobs are taken up by platform advocacy. So, when the "Macs must go" cry starts up, these sales numbers are critically important in getting the non-technically oriented company officers to see that Apple is a growing part of the computer market, and therefore, a safe company to spend company assets on. The basic numbers are very good, with Apple's Q4 the biggest in the company's history, almost 1.4 million Macs sold. Various breakdowns of the numbers are available at a number of web sites, including Apple's. Again, the important thing is that Apple is now pushing product at volumes that are respectable regardless of which Wintel company they are measured against.
The new features of the Apple web site redesign are well greeted by this writer, as now, ALL of Apple's support programs are easily located. I found programs I didn't know existed, and without the usual blind searches and trolling the site map. (Note to other companies: EASILY located maintenance information is a good thing!) I also found the possibilities of iDisk, Apple's free 20MB Internet accessible storage area of interest. Not from an Internet point of view, but because by using AppleShareIP, (in this case, Xinet's Ka-Share product), Apple is giving Mac users decent online storage that does not require me to teach users FTP, or any such other silliness. A little AppleScript in Internet Explorer, and viola, a remote storage area is on your desktop. I can also see this as a nice way of demonstrating that Apple, and AppleShareIP can indeed be a valuable part of the Internet.
Of course, the biggest part of the keynote was the Mac OS X announcement. Jobs gave a schedule of a third beta release at the end of January, a final beta in the spring of 2000, In stores by summer, and pre-loaded by January 2001. Although an ambitious schedule, given Apple's ability to get OS releases out on time of late, I think it is an achievable schedule. Jobs also went over the basic structure of OSX, which was interesting to me for a number of reasons. By basing the lowest - level of the OS on Darwin, Apple's open-source effort, as well as BSD Unix, there are some very neat possibilities. One of the biggest headaches for network admins is the toil and grind of security, and the fact that much of our efforts are based on working around operating systems that are inherently insecure. However, OpenBSD is a version of that Unix that has been reworked from the kernel up to be the most secure OS in the world. By basing the Unix levels of the OS on an open - source effort centered on BSD Unix, then the possibility of integrating OpenBSD's security features into Mac OS X looks bright indeed. In addition to the security issues, having a BSD underpinning raises the possibility of giving the Mac admin access to all the functionality of Unix's remote administration capabilities. However, much of this will depend on how far up from the kernel things like Remote Shell, (rsh), Remote Login, (rlogin), and other tools will reach. There are equally valid arguments for keeping the reach short (security), and long (capability and convenience), so only time will tell. I will however encourage any admin who can, to join the developer program. This gives you, among other things, advance copies of the latest Mac OS, and a more direct line for bug reports. By giving yourself months to use a product, and affect it's development, you can help ensure that your critical features stay in the product, and get a serious heads up on upgrade issues.
The second layer of Mac OS X is the graphics layer, made up of a 3-D API, which is OpenGL, and a 2-D API, currently known as Quartz. Quartz is similar to Display PDF, as it is based on Adobe's Portable Document Format, (PDF). This allows Mac OS X to do some fairly nifty things such as faster antialiasing, and rotations. The better part of Quartz is that this is all available at the system level, so any program can take advantage of these features with much less work than is currently required. As well, by including PDF as a system - level graphics capability, that means that, hopefully, things like the display features of Adobe Type Manager et al will be a thing of the past, as ALL fonts in ALL applications will be correctly rendered regardless of size or font type. The interesting thing to me about this is the status of TrueType fonts in the new OS. If PostScript fonts become as easy to use and display as TrueType, and the OS is based around a PDF as its display and text engine, then why do we need TrueType at all? Sounds like the beginning of the end of the "Which kind of font is this/Which kind of font do I need?" argument. I imagine that admins for the larger print houses and pre-press shops won't be broken hearted here.
The inclusion of OpenGL at the system level is again, allowing programs to take greater advantage of 3-D capabilities much easier than in the past. Although primarily considered a gaming technology, more and more programs are using 3-D for generic, mundane things, like text styling for presentations, 3-D graphs of Excel spreadsheets, etc. Including a system-level 3-D API makes it easier for programs to use 3-D. To render an object is now a system call, instead of creating and deploying your own 3-D libraries, writing your own APIs, etc. For the admin, this is much nicer because it means that less low-level third party libraries/extensions need to be installed, and troubleshot. Both of these become extremely useful in the new User Interface scheme for Mac OS X, as we will see.
The third layer of Mac OS X is the actual APIs the programs run under, being Classic, (current Mac OS applications), Carbon, ('ported' Classic Apps that now run almost natively, with access to all the new features, without completely rewriting the code, and run under Mac OS 9 with the CarbonLib extension.), and Cocoa, (completely new apps, that will only run under Mac OS X). Apple is doing it's best to make the migration gentle, and without violating NDAs and other agreements, they are doing it with as much grace as I have ever seen. For admins, this migration path is critical, because if critical older applications can't run, and custom - built applications have to be completely re-written, corporate acceptance of this OS will be worse than nil.
Although the concept of Classic is nothing new, (Win-OS/2, or NT's own WOW, (Windows on Windows)), the inclusion of a transparent environment, (seamless Win-OS/2), shown at the 1999 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, (WWDC), means that users won't need to worry about what type of application they are running. They double - click on the icon, and the program runs. That's all the normal user cares about in general, and that's what Apple is trying to do. Do I, or anyone else really think that 100% of current applications will run under Classic? Hardly, but if Apple can keep compatibility with 90+ percent of what's out there now, I think they will have a lot of grateful admins, yours truly included.
Carbon is the in between step for Mac OS X, and it's for people who need to run on the current Mac OS and Mac OS X, and want to be as close to a 'native' program in both environments. This will probably be, initially, the most common type of application for Mac OS X for at least a year or so, much like there were mostly 'Fat' applications during the early years of the PowerPC changeover. The details of what Carbon does, and how it works are interesting, and have been gone over dozens of times in other articles, both in MacTech, and other publications, so I won't go into the details here. The important thing is the speed, and relative ease of making current code Carbon-Compliant. Apple has done an excellent job of this, as demonstrated at the 1999 WWDC. By providing things like the Carbon Dater, (which points out areas in which your current code is not Carbon Compliant), and providing updated SDKs for Carbon, Apple is giving the corporate developer all the tools needed to take care of and shepherd in-house applications into the brave new world of Mac OS X. Before this is poo-pooed by some saying that Microsoft did the same thing, understand that in a sense, no they didn't. There is an analogue to both Carbon and Cocoa, ( a poor one, but if you squint hard, you can see it) in Windows with Win32 and Win16. But in general, if your Windows 3.1 or DOS app didn't work under NT, you had to pretty much rewrite it for Win32. There was no middle ground such as Carbon, and it was sorely missed. (No, Win32s does NOT count.)
Finally, we have Cocoa, which supports the native Mac OS X APIs. One of the nicer things Apple has done for admins in multi-platform, and enterprise corporations is to make Java a native player in this environment. This allows more companies to consolidate n-tier applications into a language that is runnable on almost everything. This also allows companies to leverage Java expertise onto a platform that has not been seriously considered as a 'serious' platform for that language. All of this is good news for Mac admins being subjected to the "You can't run Java well on the Mac" line.
The final layer to Mac OS X is in a way the most important, the interface. AKA "Aqua", it is the showcase for the new OS, and in the important ways, it succeeds. One of the better user features is the integration of Sherlock into the Next file browser. Although Apple is calling it the Finder, it is a bold step, because it is in many ways a new GUI. Whether or not this is good, bad or indifferent, I leave up to you, I personally like it, but for what may seem to be odd reasons. (NOTE: for a good look at Aqua, check http://www.apple.com/macosx/ ) For one, by applying movement to the default button in a dialog, it is much more instantly obvious that a particular button is special/default. (Anyone who has ever hunted perfectly understands that motion can be seen LONG before color, texture, et al.) This is a boon for teaching new users about dialog boxes. Likewise, since Navigation Services allows save dialog boxes to be hidden when the application is in the background, attaching the Save dialog to the window you are saving a document in is again, a nice touch to allow user training to accelerate, and help desk calls to lessen. (The non-admins out there would be shocked to find out how many of my user support calls are based on basic OS features that really aren't intuitive as they may seem.) Also, since Mac OS X is a multi-user OS, the issue of who was on a machine last gets a lot easier to handle. Finally by making it very easy to make icons and displayed text very large, those of us supporting users with impaired vision can ensure that these folks can see what they are doing without special extensions, keystrokes, etc.
All in all, I am quite enthusiastic for Mac OS X in the enterprise as an admin. There is a lot to like about the OS, and if Apple can keep to their release schedule, Christmas is coming early indeed. So now we have a new OS, but what about vendors, especially the critical ones? Well, again, no disappointments. Apple announced that the top 100 Mac OS developers have committed to Mac OS X versions of their products, and the top 4 of those were trotted out on stage to comment. The folks from Adobe, Macromedia, Quark and Microsoft all seemed to be amazed by Aqua. (not surprising, as a reveler at the Apple party pointed out that until the keynote, only about 6 people in the entire company knew anything about the new look.) Adobe committed to having all of their applications at least Carbonized by the release of Mac OS X, as did Quark and Macromedia. Macromedia also pointed out that they were able to get Flash Carbonized by one engineer in one week. Microsoft managed to go one better, by showing the Carbonized version of Internet Explorer 5, with a spiffy new Aqua-esque interface, and publicly committed to Carbonized versions of Outlook Express and the next version of Office as well. For the corporate admin, Microsoft's support cannot be underestimated, so a public showing of IE Carbon, and a public commitment to a new version of Office on the Mac OS and the new OS is a big deal. For the corporate customer, there was a lot more to like about the keynote than not, and I am not too upset about no new hardware, as it means less email asking me when someone can get the newest toy. No new PowerBook announcement means I still have the fastest for a little while longer, and that's always nice too.
Show Floor and Products
There were a lot of networking and administration products on the show floor. While I can't go into them all here, I will point out the ones that either have a history of making my job (and by extension, my life) easier, or the sparklies that caught my eye. (When wandering a show floor, I highly recommend a Myna bird attitude. Check out everything that catches your eye, and a few things that don't. You never know what's hiding behind the Apple area.)
Of course, the long time admins friends were there, first among these being Netopia. I simply cannot say enough nice things about this company, in particular the netOctopus group. They honestly listen, and take seriously the concerns and needs of their customers. As a result, netOctopus and Timbuktu are an indispensable part of my toolbox. The netOctopus folks were showing off the new SNMP features of their product, which makes an already good application in the Windows/Mac administration area, now start to extend into the overall enterprise. Along the same lines, Neon software was showing off their LanSurveyor product, which uses SNMP and AppleTalk et al to construct logical maps of your network, and alert you to alarm conditions via email, etc. The AG group was showing off Etherpeek, which is now being bundled with netOctopus to give you both high and low-level troubleshooting capabilities for your network. Not to be ignored, Dantz had a very impressive area for their backup products, now running on Windows as well as the Mac.
In the utilities area, the golden child of Mac utilities, Alsoft was showing the latest update to their DiskWarrior utility, version 2.0 This update now has the ability to help prevent directory corruption on the Mac as well as repairing it better than anything else on the market. Symantec was showing off the latest and greatest Norton Utilities and Norton AntiVirus for the Mac. Not to be outdone, MicroMat had a very well located booth and was hyping TechTool Pro 3 fast and furious. Mac stalwart Dataviz was demonstrating the latest versions of their file translation utilities as was FWB.
In general, for both product and quantity, the show floor was simply excellent. From FireWire networking to network management to asset management, every category of software that an admin might care about was well represented. The Mac my be still thought of as a consumer platform, but there are a lot of apps for the corporate admin, and of high enough quality to make the Mac an equal player in almost any situation. My only complaint would have to be organization. After four days of walking the show floor, and between both sides of the Moscone Center, I was tired. Although I understand the desire to get people to walk around as much as possible, setting up a networking area, similar to Developer Central would be a real help to admins for allowing us to figure out how different products relate to each other. Then again, considering my shameful exercise habits, the walking was probably needed.
The final part of the show is of course, the conferences. On both the pro and user tracks, there were enough conferences to easily keep you busy all Expo long, and there were a lot of good, solid, techie conferences that make an admin's day. Besides the conferences I was scheduled to speak at, (which included one on the state of the Mac Manager, and one on AppleScripting your network), there were a lot of other conferences that were of good use to admins including:
- Macintosh Networking Update, Presenting the Facts
- Talking to IS about your Mac Installation
- Multi-User Macintosh
- Kerberizing Logins and Multi Platform File Services
- Emerging Trends in Network Design
- The Mac Manager - Where We Are Today
- On the Trail of Network Problems
- Mac to NT 1
- Comparing AppleShare IP with Windows NT & Windows 2000 Services
- VPN, the Next Generation Remote Access
- Unique Aspects of Macintosh Administrator
- Protecting Your Network with Firewalls
- DSL vs Dedicated Circuit
- Rumble in the Jungle
- Apple Events over the Internet
- The State of Java on the Mac
- Implementing XML
- The Darwin Report
- The Status of Apple's Open Source Initiative
- Mac to NetWare Integration Techniques
- The Second Coming of Broadband, Part Two
- Software License Compliance - Mixing the New Licensing Paradigms with the Old
- Mac OS Update, Mysteries of the System Folder Revealed
- Advanced AppleScripting
- Anywhere Connections with Apple Remote Access
- Why Crashes Happen and What to Do about Them
- Macintosh Telephony
Regardless of which sessions you attend, the point to remember is that most of theses are not given by over-important industry 'experts'. They are given by men and women in the field, who are sharing their experiences and secrets with you and others. For example the VPN session was given by the VPN person from NASA JPL. I have found in the past that one or two good sessions, and 20 minutes of conversation afterwards are worth months of searching through a never-ending flow of computer magazines. When viewed that way, Macworld Expo is an unbelievable time and money saver. When you add to the fact that every conversation I have with these wonderful folks ends with "If you have any questions, here's my card, get a hold of me and we'll figure it out.", well, you literally can't pay for that kind of support network.
After Hours at Macworld
While it may seem strange to recommend to admins that they go to a lot of the company parties and get-togethers, I'm doing just that. When you are on the show floor, you are competing for a vendor's or an engineer's time with hundreds and thousands of people. At some of the after-hours events, you can corner a vendor, especially after a beer or two has relaxed them, and really talk to them at length. I am continually amazed at the nuggets I pick up at these things that have direct bearing on my job. I'm not saying go in there like a hunter, these things are supposed to be FUN too. But understand that they can be a valuable source of intelligence that you aren't getting anywhere else. And it's amazing how someone who is no longer surrounded by hundreds of people screaming questions is willing to sit back and tell you almost anything you need to know. Again, a lot of this is helped by the fact that a lot of these people are just plain decent as heck. They want you to use their product, they want you to be happy with it, and if they see you as John or Bob, instead of faceless support call # 32,987,561, it's even more astounding at how far they will go to help you out. If you want the listing of such events the only place to go is Hess Memorial Macworld Expo Events List, maintained by Ilene Hoffman, at <http://www.xensei.com/users/ileneh/partylist.html>.
Regardless of what you specifically do at any future Macworld, or did at this one, you will find, as I again did this year, that they are an invaluable resource, unique in the industry for the well-tuned in Mac Admin. This year has given me more resources and information on what I need to do my job better than I would have gotten in six months of classes. The contacts, and honestly friends I have made through Macworld are continually excelling as the formerly secret source of my 'ubertech' reputation in my office. I highly urge anyone in the IT field who couldn't make it to San Francisco to go to the New York Expo in July, you won't regret it.
John Welch (email@example.com) is the Mac and PC Administrator for AER Inc., a weather and atmospheric science company in Cambridge, Mass. He has over fifteen years of experience at making computers work. His specialties are figuring out ways to make the Mac do what nobody thinks it can, and showing that the Mac is the superior administrative platform.