Feb 01 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Viewpoint
By John C. Welch
Geeks In Toyland
Well, MacWorld Expo in San Francisco is the traditional way for Mac users of all stripes to start the year off right, and this year's was exceptionally good. From the plethora of OSX announcements to the amazing attendance figures, (over 93,000, a record for any MacWorld anywhere), this was a show to remember. There were hardware and software announcements galore, and products to meet any Mac user's needs, including those of the network administrator. So let's start where any MacWorld starts; the Keynote.
A Steve Jobs keynote is something that we all look forward to, and this one was easily the equal of any expectations. Although the entire computer industry was eviscerated by one of the worst holiday quarters on record, as always, bad news from Apple is looked at with particular emphasis. Ignoring the industry downturns, and the first bad quarter in years, the familiar 'Will Apple survive' refrain was starting to show up again, requiring an exceptional keynote from Jobs to combat it, and that is what we got.
First of all, there was the contriteness regarding missing the boat on CD-R/W drives. No excuses, just an admission that Apple had messed up, but that they were going to fix that. Dovetailing in with the announcement that CD-R drives were going to be standard on almost all model of G4 tower was the announcements of the new G4 towers themselves. The new towers have CPU speeds of 466MHz, 533MHz, 667MHz, and 733MHz. So now, the slowest G4 will be almost as fast as the previous high end model. But as we will see, other non - CPU related improvements may actually make this model faster than the 500MHz previous high end. However, the changes to the CPUs in the towers are significant by themselves.
The two lower end models of G4 tower appear to be using the MPC7410 from Motorola. The 7410 is almost identical to the previously used 7400, but with changes designed to allow it to be used in low heat/embedded situations. The 7410 drops the 7400's support for 3.3V interface voltage, for example. The 7410 is built on a .18µm CMOS process, an improvement on the .20µm that the 7400 is built on. The die size on the 7410 is smaller, 52mm2 down from the 83mm2 size of the 7410. The result of this is a chip that is capable of operating cooler than the 7400. But in most other ways, the 7410 is simply a 7400 that needs less power and emits less heat.
The two high end G4 towers are using the MPC7450, also from Motorola, and this is the chip that Mac users have been waiting quite some time for. Improvements to the 7450 include a pipeline increase from four to seven stages, allowing for the higher clock speeds, the addition of four new execution units, support for 4 instructions per clock cycle, up from the 7410's three, on-die 256K L2 cache, increasing the L1 cache bus from 128 to 256 bits, support for a faster system bus, and support for up to 2MB of L3 cache. The 7450 sports two more AltiVec units, making the total 4, and can fill two of them every clock cycle, again, an improvement from previous G4 implementations. (This is where things get tricky. For example, I can fill 256 bits worth of AltiVec unit every clock cycle. Each of those 128 bit instructions can be four 32 bit integer values in a packed data type. So, in a sense, I can actually run 8 integer ops per clock cycle. There's more to it than that, but things like this really make MHz comparisons quite simplistic.) In addition to the new AltiVec units the number of integer units has gone from 2 to 4, and this will give almost all applications better performance, not just the AltiVec - enabled ones. In short, the 7450 is a much more powerful chip than its predecessors, and with the new design, and an improved process, hopefully, we'll be seeing regular speed improvements from now on.
But there is more than just the CPU improvements to the new G4s. The system bus speed has been improved by a third, up to 133MHz from the previous 100MHz. The PCI subsystem, in addition to gaining a slot, for a total of four, also gets PCI Write Combining. This allows sequential write transactions, either Memory Write, or Memory Write and Invalidate commands, to be combined into a single PCI transaction. This give the G4 towers some long awaited PCI performance gains. The AGP bus goes from 2X to 4X, and we get nVidia GeForce 2 MX cards on all but the lowest end G4s, which will use the ATI Radeons. Finally, for those who need or want, the 533MHz model comes in an optional dual CPU multiprocessor model. According to Jobs, had Apple tried to initially offer the higher end models in MP configurations, he would have been introducing them in April. This candid admission that supplies of the new toys are going to be strained at first is unusual, but refreshing, and shows that Apple is trying to sooth its customers, and by extension, its investors that while the news this quarter may not be good, that's not a permanent feature.
Well, it's not often you hear the CEO of a major computer company talking about how they want sex as well as power in a new product. It's even rarer to actually see them pull it off. But the PowerBook G4 is just that. Power is the MPC7410 that is running the laptop, and sex is everything else. What's even more amazing is how many segments of the laptop market this product is suited for. You're a CEO who wants something stylish, yet thin enough to fit in that oh-so stylish case? Titanium. You're a traveler who wants something light, with a big screen, yet not so tall that you can't use it on a plane? Titanium. You're a mobile media type who needs FireWire, USB, and a decent aspect ratio on your screen to see your work? Titanium. Really, about the only segments this doesn't appeal to are those who desperately need internal bays, and those who want a laptop not much bigger than a Newton. (Speaking as someone with a plethora of bay devices, I'll trade them in for what I would get out of a Titanium, in a heartbeat.) Judging by the frenzied cell phone orders I heard leaving the keynote, I think this will be a winner for Apple.
Of course, you can't have a MacWorld keynote without a demonstration of the latest versions of OS X. This time was no different. Steve was happily showing off the latest features of the OS, mostly those that had received the most number of comments. The Apple Menu, while not the same Apple Menu from the current Mac OS, is back where we are used to it, and it now has some spiffy new features that are available at all times, regardless of application, such as the Special Menu functions, Location Manager, etc. The Dock has been modified to allow for hierarchal popup menus from folders in the Dock, giving back a couple of missed features missing in the PB. Ctrl-clicking different items in the Dock now works as well, for things such as monitor resolution. So without simply jamming the current Apple Menu and Control Strip in the OS, Apple is still managing to restore much of that functionality in a coherent and integrated way. The speed of OS X seems to have been improved, and reports from other sources indicate that a lot of optimization work is definitely paying off.
In the end, it was a successful keynote, both for product and image. Steve showed that Apple is not just sitting on its keister, and is actively working to answer the criticism its been facing lately.
The second day of the show started with an unusual event: a non-Apple keynote. This was Microsoft's keynote, and although it was held in the Marriott instead of the Moscone, it was well attended and well received. There were two reasons for this. The first being the public unveiling of Outlook 2001, the Mac version of the Exchange client. Looking exactly like its Windows cousin, for once, Mac users on an Exchange server won't be feeling like a bad smell under the couch. Finally the calendaring and scheduling functions on the Mac are feature as feature complete as the Windows version, to the point where a Mac client can even alter a Windows client's calendar. The Mac version sports some UI improvements over the Windows version, most notably in simplifying the sometimes mind-numbing number of dialogues that some tasks can cause. There is also a new wizard that runs when you first install the application, that greatly simplifies the process of connecting to your Exchange server. With the short shrift that Mac users sometimes get from IS in the enterprise, Microsoft was smart to take the lead on this. Finally, in response to my query about how will the Mac version deal with Melissa, and other VBA - created virii, the response from Microsoft, was, "Easy, we don't support Visual Basic in the product, but we are going to try and have an excellent AppleScript implementation." They are quite aware of the AppleScript standard set by such products as Outlook Express and Entourage, and are using them as an idea of where Outlook 2001 should be.
The other half of the keynote was devoted to Office 2001, and specifically, demonstrating Office running as a Carbon application. Although obviously an early alpha, it was Office, it was Carbonized, and it was running. Evidently stung by recent criticism of Microsoft's commitment to the Mac OS, not only did we see the Office on X demo, but also some slides showing just how large an undertaking that Carbonizing Office is. Although, not surprisingly, no hard release date was given, Microsoft is saying Fall of 2001 as a release timeframe.
Like the Apple keynote from the day before, the Microsoft keynote managed to not only introduce new product, but also answer criticism, and show that Microsoft's commitment to the Mac OS continues unabated.
Quiet release and MacWorld Expo go together like Sodium and Water, but this show had at least two rather major products that just sort of showed up, with almost no fanfare. This first of these was Mac OS 9.1, the latest version of the current Mac OS. Although not a radical change, like OS 9.0 was, there are some rather major changes in this release.
The Finder as a number of new features, such as:
- Not protesting bad memory settings in the Get Info window until you close it,
- A context menu that allows you to open OS X packages as folders
- A Window menu, that shows current Finder windows.
- The Desktop folder can now be redirected to volumes other than the startup volume.
- It is also now not possible to copy an alias file over a document file.
- Share point names can be no longer than 27 characters
- If you edit a file's name in the Get Info window and the lock it, the name change sticks
- The 'Encrypt' command no longer works on aliases
- You can't bless the Desktop folder by moving the System and Finder there
- More intelligent identification of OS X packages
- Custom Icon support for OS X packages
- Apple Events issues with background windows have been fixed
There are a lot more fixes and features across the entire OS, and those are detailed in Technical Note 2010, available on Apple's developer site.
The second non-announcement was the showing of the Aqua-ized release of OS X Server. The most obvious change is the integration of OS X Server with Aqua, and the more modern underpinnings of OS X. But along with that come some features that network administrators will love just as much:
- Native support for SMB/CIFS Windows networking
- Support for SMB printing
- Improved UI for management tasks
- Better SLP support
- OS X support with NetBoot and Macintosh Manager
- Integrated LDAP support
- A POP/IMAP mail server
- Improved Apache support, such as WebDAV
This is also looking to be the version of OS X Server that acts as the integration between earlier versions of OS X Server and AppleShareIP, which will simplify the task of figuring out which server product to use. If the integration is done as well as Apple says it will be done, then this will be A Good Thing, but only time will tell.
This MacWorld was centered around one thing...OS X. Almost every product of interest to IS or corporate computing was showing off an OS X version, or an early beta of an OS X version, or something having to do with OS X. In fact, there were so many, I couldn't even come close to seeing them all. Among these were products I use as well, such as WebSTAR, FileMaker Pro, and other products, like 4D, Rewind, InterMapper, and QuickKeys.
One of the more heavily hyped products was AccountEdge, by MYOB. This product is MYOB's attempt to not only take care of existing QuickBooks customers abandoned by Intuit, but to bring back some of the small businesses that may have left the Mac because of QuickBooks. Currently available as a Classic Mac OS application, there is a Carbon version being developed, so that users of that OS will have an accounting solution as a native application. AccountEdge also features improved integration with Microsoft Office 2001, and looks to be a winner of a product.
Alsoft was selling the latest update to DiskWarrior, version 2.1, which, although not yet Carbonized, is able to fully repair a Mac OSX HFS+ disk. It also features quite a few upgrades for changes in Mac OS 9.1 as well. The directory comparison feature has been improved, and the report format changed to be more readable. Shortly after the Expo, Alsoft announced that the long awaited update to Disk Express Pro will be released as a native OSX and Classic Mac OS application, and will be free to all customers who owned DiskExpress Pro 3 when Mac OS 8.1 was released.
In addition to Alsoft, MicroMat was demonstrating Drive 10, a Mac OS X native application, that not only checks and repairs volume structures, but also runs other drive hardware diagnostics, and is able to interface with the SMART circuitry on those drives that have it. This allows Drive 10 to monitor issues like the quality of power being delivered to the drive, and other low level problems that can often appear as other errors. Having personally been bitten by a bad power supply, that Drive 10 could have possibly caught, I plan on getting a copy as soon as it is released.
Dantz was showing off the Carbonized version of Retrospect 4.3, along with the OS X - native backup agent. Both run natively under OS X, but the agent is a Cocoa application, and interestingly enough, by using Cocoa, Dantz says they get a 5x speed improvement over both the Windows and Mac OS agents. The first release of Retrospect will be a Carbon version of the current Mac OS server, so that network administrators have a native backup solution as quickly as possible. The next iteration of the server will take the lessons learned in creating the Windows server, and apply them to OS X's superior GUI and feature set, allowing it to leapfrog the Windows server.
Netopia, recently bought by Proxim, was showing the OS X versions of both Timbuktu Pro and netOctopus. Both are being pushed to OS X as fast as possible, although due to the nature of both of these applications, final development has to wait for the GM release of OS X. At the netOctopus User's Luncheon, Netopia presented a very detailed roadmap for netOctopus's future development, talking about the new features being planned for the product, and the integration with other network management products and systems.
Late Night Software was showing off the OS X native version of it's excellent AppleScript IDE, Script Debugger, a major product for those of us who use AppleScript on a daily basis.
Finally, WildPackets, formerly the AG Group, was demonstrating the OS X native version of EtherPeek, which, like many of the products I have talked about, may not be sexy, but is absolutely critical to most network managers.
For network managers, this was a major show indeed. We finally get to actually see the products we care about running in OS X, instead of the usual "Oh we'll have it ready real soon" promises. There is something reassuring about being able to see, and in most cases, actually use the products that we need to move to OS X. If this show was any indication, MacWorld in New York is going to be a network manager's toy store.
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.