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Report on the 1st O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference

Volume Number: 18 (2002)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Mac OS X Con 2002

Report on the 1st O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference

by Vicki Brown


Imagine the introductory session of a technical conference. Approximately seven hundred developers and users watch and listen as the speaker welcomes them to four days of interesting talks given by experts in the field. The room is softly lit by the screens of hundreds of laptop computers, about one for every two attendees. The majority of the laptops are white iBooks and Titanium Powerbooks, with a sprinkling of older Powerbooks and iBooks here and there. Every screen you see is running Mac OS X.

The session rooms and the break area are provided with open wireless connectivity, both between systems at the conference and to the Internet. Every session room is outfitted with Macintosh hardware and a Cinema display, but most of the speakers bring their own Powerbooks. Connecting the Powerbooks to the projection facilities is easily done; the tech crew all understand Macintosh.

Attendees scan the program. Sessions this week include keynote sessions by David Pogue (NY Times Technology Columnist and Mac Author/Publisher), James Gosling (V.P. and Fellow at Sun, co-inventor of Java, etc.), Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News Technology Columnist, Jordan Hubbard (Manager of BSD Technologies, Apple Computer), Wilfredo Sanchez Vega (Darwin Developer) and Mark Fruenfelder (writer and illustrator).

Technical sessions cover Cocoa programming, Aqua, Quartz, QuickTime, Open Source and Darwin, Java, WebObjects, Mac OS X Server, iPhoto, Rendezvous, Apple Help, and AppleScript. Less technical sessions discuss end-user troubleshooting, what's new in Jaguar, an overview of Mac OS X for Mac OS 9 users, and a Mac OS X "report card" (presented by Adam Engst, editor of TidBITs).

This isn't Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, but it is definitely a developer-oriented conference. Nor is it MacHack; there is hackery, to be sure, but it mostly happens during the daylight hours. And, of course, this isn't MacWorld; the tiny exhibit space and strong technical focus both emphasize that fact.

In short, this is the first annual Mac OS X Conference, held by O'Reilly & Associates from Sept. 30 - Oct. 3, 2002 in Santa Clara, CA. O'Reilly & Associates, a well-known publisher of books on Unix and open source topics such as Perl, Python, Linux, Apache, and many others, has also become known as a presenter of excellent technical conferences. Notable O'Reilly offerings have included several Open Source conventions, the Emerging Technologies conference, as well as conferences on Bioinformatics, Java, and Peer-to-Peer services.

Although Tim O'Reilly (founder and president of O'Reilly & Associates) is not a developer himself, he is an avid follower of technology and technologists. In fact, he claims that much of his business model is based on following the activities of "Alpha Geeks", the techies who always seem to "get there first" on any new and interesting technology.

Originally focusing on Unix-specific topics, O'Reilly & Associates has published a number of books on cross-platform technologies (such as Bioinformatics, Java and XML) as well as publications on the Windows and Macintosh platforms. Mac OS X brings many of O'Reilly's areas of interest together; the first Mac OS X conference was an opportunity for O'Reilly to bring practitioners of those interest areas together to share knowledge and expertise.


The conference program provided this introduction:

    Welcome to our first conference focusing on Mac OS X, one of the most visionary yet practical things happening in the industry today. ... Just as programming tools and applications now share common ground in Mac OS X, this conference brings Mac, Unix/open source, Java, and other practitioners into the same space... It's an event designed to speed your transition or introduction to the 21st century operating system.

Tim O'Reilly is also quoted (on the program cover) as saying:

    Mac OS X is the first true 21st century platform. The BSD Unix underpinnings bring stability and a rich open source heritage; the Aqua interface brings Apple's longstanding expertise in user experience. The iApps, 802.11 wireless support, and peer-to-peer features like Rendezvous show that Apple hasn't lost its touch when it comes to putting the future of computing into a 'sleek, insanely great' package.

Any developer who isn't tracking Mac OS X ought to have his head examined.

The Sessions

O'Reilly called this a conference for developers, power users, hackers and network administrators, and it definitely was. There was something for each of these groups, and several other categories besides.

Mac OS X In the Large

For users new to Mac OS X, there were several talks to choose from, including David Pogue's "Welcome to Mac OS X", based on his book "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual" (published by O'Reilly). This session was part of a track entitled "Mac OS X in the Large".

Other sessions in this track included Adam Engst's "Mac OS X Report Card", a session entitled "End-user Troubleshooting for Fun and Profit" (based on the book, "Mac OS X Disaster Relief" by Ted Landau and Dan Frakes), and the "Cult of the Mac", presented by Leander Kahney (journalist for Wired News and former senior writer for MacWeek). Two well-attended tips and tricks talks: "Tricked-out X: How do Alpha MacGeeks Arrange Their OS X Workspace" and "Mac OS X Hacks" proved popular both with audience members and multiple panelists showing off their favorite tricks.

User Interface; Programming

Developers could attend their choice of two dozen sessions on user interface design or Mac OS X programming, as well as six different programming tutorial choices on Monday. Tutorials covered AppleScript, Objective-C, Java, Perl, and Programming Cocoa (in Objective-C or Perl).

Conference sessions included "Adopting the Mac OS X User Experience in your Application", a 45-minute run-through of the Aqua Human Interface Guidelines presented by John Geleynse, Apple's user experience evangelist in Worldwide Developer Relations. This was immediately followed by a related talk, "Mac User Interface Design for New Developers" presented by Brook Conner, author of the forthcoming book "Programming Quartz: Advanced 2D Graphics on the Macintosh".

Other sessions covered Java Media, RealBasic, Objective-C, Quartz, and using AppleScript (or Perl) to automate workflow. Cocoa was presented in several sessions, ranging from "An Introduction to the Cocoa Document Architecture" to "API Techniques" to "Getting Data Onscreen with Cocoa".

Servers and Networking; Multimedia

Two complementary tracks included over a dozen presentations, including sessions on Open Directory/LDAP, NetInfo, Rendezvous, and the Open Source databases available for Mac OS X. Several sessions addressed the creation of web sites. Derrick Story and Rael Dornfest's session, "Building a Mac-Based Web Site", discussed secrets for QuickTime video, online iPhoto slide shows, and the best ways to make large files available to others without FTP access. This was followed by Dori Smith's "Serving Your Site from a Mac", which discussed the use of Apache and numerous additional free tools attendees could use to build a web site on Mac OS X.

Several sessions were available for users of WebObjects, including a half-day tutorial introduction to WebObjects Tools and Techniques, a 45-minute WebObjects technical overview, and a discussion of Rapid Application Development using WebObjects. Finally, for those who wanted a bit more fun, Damien Stolarz presented "How to Put up your Own TV Station on the Internet with Mac OS X".


Several playful sessions focused on hardware. Dori Smith discussed how to build a Mac clone that will run Mac OS X for "a fraction of both the price and the looks" of Apple hardware; the session was appropriately entitled "Building a Cheap, Ugly Mac". Ted Stevko provided two ways to create robots using a Macintosh in "Frankentosh: Creating Robots on the Mac".

Kent Salas shared his heavily modified G4 (with an LCD light-show panel, blue interior lights, and firewire/USB ports on the front panel; in "Mac Mechanical Mayhem, or How to Completely Void Your Mac's Warranty". The talk was well attended and quite a few attendees stayed into the break to talk about mods with Kent.


Perhaps unusual for a Mac OS conference (but less unusual for either O'Reilly or Mac OS X), one track was simply called Unix. Sessions in this track ranged from "Mac OS X for the Common Unix Folk" to "Migrating from Linux to Mac OS X" to "Mac OS X is Just Another Unix: Writing Portable Applications". The session entitled "From Unix to Aqua: Porting Large Unix Applications to Mac OS X" could just as easily have listed in the User Interface track as this one.

The Unix track addressed one of the newest (but steadily growing) groups of users adopting Mac OS X - the traditional Unix (Sun, Linux, BSD, etc.) users. Tim O'Reilly has commented that "Apple's 'Switch' ad campaign focuses on people making the switch from Windows, but it may be the case that there's an even larger wave of switchers from Linux and other Unix platforms." While it is the case that many UNIX users have used the Mac in the past, they have previously needed to keep two computers on their desks in order to work with both Mac OS and Unix. With Mac OS X, this is no longer the case; long-time UNIX users are trying out Mac OS X and discovering that they like it.

The panel session, "Introducing the Mac User Community to Unix Developers" (part of the "In the Large" track) was meant to bring Unix developers together with traditional Mac OS developers. The session focused on what Mac OS X developers coming from Unix backgrounds need to know about the philosophy of the Mac and the orientation of the Mac community. Panelists discussed similarities and differences between the Unix and Mac OS user communities and talked about what each group can do for the other.

Closing Thoughts

I enjoyed this conference. I've been to many technical conferences, but this was the first where everyone was like me, in that everyone used a Mac and everyone, even the presenters, used Mac OS X. I admit that WWDC is certainly Mac-oriented in its presentations, but those sessions are given by Apple. This conference was by and for developers and power users, again, people like me.

The only drawback I can mention is that I often couldn't decide which session to attend! Multiple tracks can cause that sort of difficulty. But as the week drew to a close, I was already wondering what interesting talks, tutorials, presentations, and panels will be in store next year. I'll be there. You should be sure to attend too.


Tim O'Reilly's "Mac OS X Switcher Stories" article is available online at:

Information on past and future O'Reilly conferences is available at:

Information on O'Reilly's products and news for the Macintosh platform can be found at:

Vicki Brown has been using Unix systems since 1983 and Mac OS since 1986. She is delighted that Mac OS X gives her the opportunity to use both at the same time.


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