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Jun 01 Viewpoint

Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Viewpoint

by Avi Rappoport

X Here Now

For some odd reason, the keynote at WWDC (Apple World Wide Developer Conference) was supposed to be a "fireside chat". There was amused speculation in the crowd about what that would mean, but it turned into a normal Steve Jobs and Avie Tevanian keynote with a graphic of a fireplace. It was a housewarming party for Mac OS X, partly designed to convince developers to work on native applications but also very much directed at the press. I would have liked to see less flash and more real information about Apple's commitment to fixing OS problems and improving development tools.

The RDF

Those of you who haven't been to a Steve Jobs talk may not believe in the RDF (Reality Distortion Field), but it's a real thing. Think of the best and smartest salesperson you know, selling something they helped build and really love. Jobs is sincere and that makes him hard to resist. I remember walking out of the first presentation of the NeXT machine at BMUG in 1988 going "wow that's cool". And so is Mac OS X, though it's more of an adolescent NeXTStep than anything else. I was pleased to hear Jobs say that they know X 10.0 is not perfect, that they think of it as a "tremendous start", and that they retained the feedback database with over 40,000 items in it. Both end users and developers are demanding better performance and I hope by the time you read this, you'll be seeing major speedups. So the RDF may be a good thing here!

Jobs talked about the power of Unix and the simplicity, elegance and applications of the Mac, and pointed out that Apple will soon become the largest Unix supplier in the world, which got a big hand from the audience. The crowd also liked Jobs's manifesto about why the company is opening stores, and a charming video of the first day a store was open, full of cheerful customers and happy sales people. I was happy to see the realistic approach of installing both X and 9 on shipping machines, but defaulting to 9 — I was worried about my mom and other fragile Mac users being stuck with the unfinished X.

Mac OS X

The main message was that all developers should write X-native applications right away. Jobs and Avie Tevanian both made a big deal about a Macworld Magazine survey of PowerBook owners and their plans to upgrade to X and to native X applications. This culminated in a thinly-veiled threat that customers would migrate quickly from Classic applications to native X applications, perhaps by the end of summer. Maybe they were spooked by developer reluctance, but a lot of folks don't respond well to such negativity.

Apple would only talk about X version 10.0.x, not future changes, which was a big change from previous conferences! There were some nice demos, including a MIDI keyboard program that continued to work without a hitch even when Tevanian was opening other applications such as email. And everyone loved watching the PowerBook wake up instantly, and the company commitment to standards (such as OpenGL) rather than proprietary code. However, the listing of all the features of Mac OS X were not too exciting, I noticed that there was a lot of restlessness in the audience.

The demo of developing a native Cocoa program using Interface Builder was supposed to show how easy it is to wire together an application. Cynics in the audience noticed that the example QuickTime editor requires 1,000 lines of code that we never saw: it was something of an insult to programmers to show them smoke and mirrors like that. PowerPlant and C++ can do the same, though the demo is less whizzy. Again, the general press might be wowed, but not many folks who have tried to write code.

Some of my developer friends really like Interface Builder and Objective C, but most are not interested in learning a new language on a minority platform, even if it's Mac OS X. They'll stick with C++ or Java, but are concerned about speed issues. They want to see more effort put into performance and making all the features of Carbon work properly, especially the low-level drivers. Jobs and Tevanian were intent on convincing people to write native Mac OS X applications, but are they providing enough OS support? The keynote was too overbearing, though the rest of the conference was more positive: time will tell if Apple responds to what developers really need.


Avi Rappoport doesn't write much code any more, now she's an analyst and consultant specializing in web site and intranet search engines at www.searchtools.com. Yes, her name is pronounced like Avie Tevanian, but she was here first and is older anyway.

 
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