July 01 Network Management
Volume Number: 17 (2001)
Issue Number: 07
Column Tag: Network Management
by John C. Welch
A peek inside the Apple
Welcome to the Show
The 2001 Apple World Wide Developer Conference is finished, and for those of us who were there, it was quite the whirlwind of activity and information. Like any other WWDC, this is the best chance for developers and technical people on the Mac to get a look inside the OS and the hardware, and to talk to the folks who make both. What was different about this session was the focus. No longer were the sessions about things that were about to ship, things that hadn't happened yet. No great charts about proposed shipping schedules. This was about the present, not the future, and it was almost all about Mac OS X.
When I say almost, I mean that discounting feedback forums, there were perhaps a handful of sessions that didn't explicitly talk about Mac OS X. It was a refreshing change of pace too. No ‘maybe', ‘will', or ‘may'. Just ‘are' and ‘has'. So, from that point of view, there were no earth shattering surprises. Which is just as well, as the last thing a programmer, or an IS manager wants to hear is ‘surprise'. That's not to say the conference was dull as dirt, but that you could pretty much anticipate what you were going to be seeing. My only real regret was that I had to miss all of Friday's sessions, and that I couldn't temporarily duplicate myself.
As all of you have seen and heard by now, the WWDC 2001 keynote was less of a revelatory one, and more of a lecture. Steve said it point blank, if you don't have your applications running native in Mac OS X, then your customers will find applications that are. This was not exactly taken well by some, but then again, harsh news rarely is. Now, some say Steve may have gone overboard with the finger shaking on this point, but maybe not. There are some folks, namely Adobe that have not only barely released a Carbon product, (Acrobat Reader is the best they can do?), but have been completely silent on even a vague schedule for when we can expect anything else. I understand about things like Acrobat and Photoshop that need scanner support, but things like GoLive and Illustrator should be almost done, or if Macromedia is any example, at least one of them should be done by now. But the point was made. The time is now to get product out there into the hands of the folks who write the checks, or someone else will come along and take your money. Apple understands painfully well how fickle loyalty can be in the computer market.
Not all was lecture and doom and gloom though. Jobs announced that the next version of Mac OS X Server was shipping, now sporting the Aqua interface, and taking its place as the server version of Apple's OS family. This version is also the product that marries the best of both the previous Mac OS X Server, and AppleShareIP. The other announcement was that as of May 21st, all Apple computers will ship with both Mac OS X, and Mac OS 9.1 installed, although Mac OS 9.1 will be the default boot OS.
This decision has been greeted by a curious range of emotions, ranging from those who think it is a complete mistake, to those who thing that it's an excellent idea. For myself, I'm somewhere in the middle. I think that Mac OS X still needs a lot of work in areas that haven't received as much press as the popular, yet somewhat inconsequential CD - burning/DVD Playback. Things like the fact that if you put your PowerBook to sleep without an external monitor or keyboard, when you wake it up, it doesn't recognize those things until you reboot, or that PC Card support is still ridiculously spotty. The lack of AppleScript support in the OS seems to not get a notice either.
Still, I think that Apple needed to do this. It allows Mac OS X to truly be a shipping OS, and it says that Apple has enough confidence in the OS as it stands to really put it out in the world. By making the default boot OS Mac OS 9.1, it also allows the period between the WWDC and MacWorld Expo New York, to be a transitional one, giving folks time to get used to the fact that Mac OS X really is the future, and that it really is going to be the shipping OS for Apple. If Apple can get Mac OS X updated enough by July for MacWorld, then making it the default OS for all Macs shipping after that event will not be as traumatic, or new.
A third keynote announcement was that WebObjects 5, now 100% Java was shipping. While of more interest to commerce, and large database web site developers, it still has implications for all technical users, developer or other. This is Apple saying that Java is not only a peer language with Objective C, but that it is the only language for Apple's biggest application server. It is, for Apple, a commitment to Java as a language and a platform for getting work done, that in its own way, rivals the Java commitment of such companies as IBM. It's also an example of Apple ‘eating its own dog food'. They have been saying since the first introduction of Mac OS X, that the OS will be one of, if not the premiere Java platform. By making WebObjects a Java - only environment, they are betting a huge part of Mac OS X on their ability to pull that off. Having played with some various Java applications that either ran terribly, or not at all in Mac OS 9.X, I don't think it's going to be hard to pull off.
The final announcement was that Apple would no longer be shipping CRT monitors. This was not a real surprise, although the 17" LCD display that Steve introduced was greeted with great enthusiasm. Apple has been heading towards LCDs faster than any other computer company, and by elminating all external CRT monitors, (leaving the iMac as the sole CRT product in the lineup), Apple has managed to simplify their inventory a bit. This also will save them some overhead on shipping, as a 21" CRT is neither light, nor cheap to ship.
There were of course, some product demos, such as Adobe Premiere, showing off some of its new features, and how making a movie under Mac OS X means you don't have to kill virtual memory, or networking. When it gets around to shipping, it should be a neat product. Micromat's Drive 10 utility was demonstrated, showing, for the most part, that even a utility can have an elegant, functional interface. There was a really nice demonstration of the native release of Macromedia's Freehand 10. The demo was run by Macromedia's Vice President of Marketing, Tom Hale. He announced that Mac OS X had allowed them to get performance improvements of up to 50% in some operations. The demo also made Job's point about getting the Mac OS X native versions out there, especially to Adobe. Unlike Photoshop, which is still the dominant player in it's space, Illustrator and Freehand have always been close competitors, with Illustrator's main advantage being the close integration it has with Adobe's other products. But between Freehand 10, and the upcoming native version of Canvas 8, Adobe could see Illustrator's market share drop if they can't have it shipping by July. Dominique Goupil, of FileMaker Inc. also ran through a dog and pony show of the newly carbonized FileMaker Pro 5.5. Although a database will get more than most application types from the plumbing in Mac OS X, they added a very neat feature, namely new support for PDF files. By integrating the native PDF support in Mac OS X with the QuickTime capabilities of FileMaker Pro, you can now ‘play' PDF files in a FileMaker database as though they were QuickTime movies. Considering that PDF is now the de facto standard for document exchange and archiving, this ability gives FileMaker quite a feather in its bonnet. The final demo was of Tony Hawk's skateboarding game. It's a neat game, but still seems to resemble Quake with a skateboard. The only thought this left me with is that ever since the rise of Quake, Tomb Raider, and Myth, most computer games seem to be variants on those basic archetypes. Hopefully, this will change soon.
The Meat of the Week
WWDC is hard to talk about sometimes because there is just so much information to handle. Even accepting that I just can't be in all the sessions I want to be in, there is still enough to make one's brain hurt.
Almost all the sessions were packed almost to capacity. No one, it seems, can get enough information on Mac OS X, and Apple was dishing it out in quantity. Some sessions had enough information, that the Q and A periods were held out in the hallways. The only session I was at that wasn't jammed full was the Tech Docs Feedback forum. This was particularly amusing to me, as one of the most consistent complaints about Apple is in this very area, yet the attendance doesn't reflect this. In any case, this was, as were the rest of the sessions, well worth the time taken. The tech docs folks not only were able to show where they had made progress on issues raised in the past, but also had a clear roadmap of where they were going. They said all the right things, but not just pro forma. There was a definite ring of sincerity to what they were saying, and the fact that they could point to definite improvements helped a lot here as well. Many issues surrounding non-developer technical documentation are being handled in what looks like the correct manner, that is, by handing that area over to the iServices folks, who are also in charge of certification and technical training on Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server. Although it may seem odd to praise a ‘passing of the buck' as it were, the fact is, by ensuring that the proper groups are handling the different documentation areas, we, as the users of this documentation, get a better product that is more focused on our needs.
Another perennial capacity forum is the ‘Meet the VPs' feedback forum. This is where attendees get a chance to be in the same room as the folks who head up the major groups at Apple, and talk to them directly. Comparing this year to sessions in past, the responsiveness is getting better each year, and the folks who came in from NeXT seem to be ‘getting' the Mac more each year. Concerns about AppleScript were acknowledged, and for the first time, the NeXT folks were just as emphatic that AppleScript will be receiving the attention it needs to be the same tool as it is in Mac OS 9. This is important to many developers and technical people, as there have been, and still are fears that the NeXT folks don't ‘get' the Mac, and don't want to get the Mac. By having those people take the lead in correcting this, a lot of fears can be calmed down. There are feedback forums at the WWDC for almost every area of the Mac OS, and they are almost all well attended. As one of the forum panel folks told me after a particularly emotional session, Apple values the good and the bad feedback, especially the passionate feedback. Developers only get passionate about an OS they care about, not one they are about to dump. So Apple realizes that they cannot afford to ignore, or not listen to a developer that gets a little carried away in the heat of the moment.
The technical sessions I attended were all well done, and well thought out. The information was presented in an interesting fashion, and considering how dry API explanations can be, the fact that these folks make it interesting shows the amount of care put into the WWDC by Apple. One of the amusing things for me was watching the student and open source developers realize that when Apple says it doesn't discuss unannounced products, it isn't kidding. Although this may seem to be an oxymoron for a developers conference, there's some sense there. Things are always changing, patches are always being released, etc. If Apple spends large amounts of time on what may happen in the future, they aren't spending time talking about what developers need to know for what is shipping now. While finding out tidbits about new sparklies on the horizon is cool, given the choice between talking about soon and now, I'll take now.
This focus was a good thing, especially considering the sheer volume of information presented. Many of the sessions included excellent advice on optimizing application performance, specific code examples, etc. Even better, since all of this information was about shipping products, it was all stuff that we can use here and now, not at some unspecified point in the future, and it might change. When Apple said, this is the API to use for this functionality, and here's where all the details are, it was nice to know that it wasn't all going to change overnight. Which is what we have all needed on Mac OS X for a while now. Reliable, accurate, detailed information. Is Apple 100% of where they need to be for now? No, but they are much closer than they were last year. Progress always beats stagnation, especially when talking about documentation.
I know that I'm not going into excruciating detail about session content, etc. But then, all of what was said at the conference is available from Apple online, or via email. What is different, and what cannot be replicated in any article is the value one gets from bouncing ideas off of Apple engineers, and other developers. You have to be there for that. If you are in a position where you need technical information on the Mac and the Mac OS, then you need to be at the WWDC. It's a lot of work, and a lot of fun.
John Welch firstname.lastname@example.org is Training Specialist for Complete Mac Seminars, the leading MacOS instructional company. 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 helping other folks learn how to do those things for themselves.