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Conference Report

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Programming

Conference Report

WWDC, Steve, and Tiger

by Dave Mark

The date: June 28th-July 2nd, 2004. The place: The fabulous Moscone Center in San Francisco. Of course, I'm talking about the yearly World Wide Developer's Conference. More than 200 sessions, a tremendous keynote and, most importantly, the moment we've been waiting for - the sneak peak at Tiger as only Steve Jobs can give it.

The Keynote

Before he opened the kimono on Tiger, Steve gave his traditional product overview. He showed some nice pictures of some of the newest Apple stores (80 stores worldwide, a cool new 6 story store in the midst of Tokyo's Ginza district, more than 20 million visitors a year, $250M in third party product sales).

Next came a discussion of Apple's music story, including the iTunes Music Store (more than 100M songs sold), Airport Express, and AirTunes. One nice thing was the deal Apple made with BMW, integrating the iPod into the glove compartment and steering wheel of BMW's 3 Series, X5, X3, Z4, and mini-Cooper. The adapter cable dangles from the middle of the glove compartment and plugs into the bottom of the iPod, providing power, and the ability to control the iPod directly from the steering wheel. Jobs even brought some of BMW's finest into the Moscone lobby so the WWDC crowd could play. Not sure I've got a BMW in my future, but it is nice to see this level of integration between iPod and auto. I'm guessing we'll see more of these partnerships in the near future.

Next up was the announcement that all new Power Macs will ship with dual processors. The new G5 machines top out at 2.5 GHz with a 1.25 GHz front-side bus and an 8X SuperDrive, all starting at $1999. Sweet.

If you were at last year's keynote, you might remember Steve promising a 3 GHz processor by this year's WWDC. He did a nice job explaining why this didn't happen and also showed an interesting statistic to compare the G5's processor speed growth to that of Intel's fastest. According to Steve, Intel's fastest processor this time last year clocked in at 3.2 GHz and their fastest processor right now runs at 3.6 GHz. That's a real increase of .4 GHz and a percentage increase of 12.5%.

The G5 has increased from 2.0 GHz to 2.5GHz. That's a real increase of .5 GHz and a percentage gain of 25%. Either way you slice it, Apple has done well when compared with the rest of the industry.

Steve also introduced a slick new series of Cinema Displays. 20", 23" and (get ready for it!) 30" models. Unbelievable. 30 inches. Terrific aluminum enclosure with a single base stand (compare to the 3 points of contact with the current model). Two FireWire ports, two USB-2 ports. The bezel is much trimmer and there's a single cable coming out of the display, splitting into 4 cables on the computer end (DVI, USB, FireWire, Power). Nice.

The 30" story is pretty interesting. Apple worked with nVidia to develop a custom graphics card to drive the displays (the G-force 6800 Ultra). Requires 2 DVI connectors. The card will drive 8 Megapixels, which means it will drive two 30" displays with a single card, though the card is currently only supported by the Power Macs.

Software Transitions

Before he introduced Tiger, Steve spoke a bit about the adoption of OS X. There are currently 12 million OS X users, which represents about half the installed base of Mac users. There are more than 12,000 native Mac OS X applications. He made an interesting point, comparing the transition from the Apple II to the original Mac OS to the transition from DOS to Win 95. That was the first wave of OS transitions. The second wave was Mac OS to Mac OS X and the eventual transition from Win 95, et al, to Longhorn.

He spoke about software transitions to OS X, going out of his way to mention a dinner he had with Bill Gates and the great love the two companies have for each other. Hmm. Borland has announced a port of their Java dev tools to Mac OS X. That's interesting. Quark released QPS (the Quark Publishing System). Oracle announced Mac OS X support for 10g, their grid computing DBMS. PeopleSoft is certifying all their apps for Mac OS X. Sun announced OS X support for their Java tools as well. Bob Bennet, the GM of SGI spinoff Alias announced the release of Maya Unlimited for Mac OS X. Maya is a darling of the film industry, rendering special effects in films such as the Lord of the Rings. Very cool stuff.

The demo part of the program started off with Karen Conroe from Ubisoft demoing Myst IV, Revelation, which is being simultaneously released this fall on the Mac and Windows. This new Myst was written using OpenGL.

Guitar Rig is an Audio Units plugin from Native Instruments in Berlin. GarageBand is compatible with Audio Units plugins and Guitar Rig was developed specifically with GarageBand in mind. Daniel Haver, CEO of Native Instruments, and Joe Gore (formerly of Guitar Player magazine and a heckuva guitarist) showed off a wide range of guitar synthesis, though there is way more to Guitar Rig than the small amount of stage time they had allowed them to show. If you are a guitarist, Guitar Rig is as big a leap forward as GarageBand was when it first came out.

Aran Anderson, President of Advanced Analytic Systems Design, gave a quick demo of Orbit, a very cool satellite simulator. Written in OpenGL, Java, and Cocoa, Orbit has to be seen to be believed. In a nutshell, Orbit renders the predicted position of about 650 satellites using data publicly available from Norad, Nasa, and the UN. The satellite paths are rendered at about 200 times real time, so this thing really moves. Orbit was written using Xcode in about 3 months. Aran, if you are reading this, brilliant job!

Tiger

As you all undoubtedly know, the real highlight of the show was the official announcement of Tiger, the next version of Mac OS X. It is scheduled for release in the first half of 2005.

Tiger is a 64-bit operating system, with a full 64-bit system library. It'll run 32-bit processes right alongside 64-bit processes. Tiger offers LP64 support in GCC, which means that longs and pointers are both 64-bit. Another feature of a 64-bit architecture is a vastly larger address space. A 32-bit pointer can point to 232 possible addresses. A 64-bit pointer can point to 264 possible addresses. This really comes in handy if you are dealing with massive imagery.

Tiger added better fine grain locking for better SMP performance. SMP is symmetric multi-processing which basically means multi-processing where all processors are equal in capability. For example, you might have two processors, each of which can run kernel code. Locking is pretty standard in the database world where you have to guard against two different processes trying to write to the same data object at the same time. Fine grain locking, as its name implies, gives programmers the ability to lock at a more granular level. Fine grain locking is good.

Tiger also added access control lists so you can assign file/folder/network services access permissions in a much more sophisticated way.

Tiger also features a new version of Xgrid technology. The first version of Xgrid is what allowed Virginia Tech to tie together 1,100 Power Mac G5s into the second largest supercomputer in the world. Here's a link to the Virginia Tech Terascale Cluster:

http://www.computing.vt.edu/ research_computing/terascale/

Apple has also invested in making Tiger a much better citizen in the Windows universe. Better SMB performance (something that will surely help Mac OS X adoptions in the defense community), SMB home directories, incorporation of MIT's Kerberos network authentication protocol, support for NTLMv2 (the NT LAN Manager), HTML email composition and Word table support in TextEdit.

Spotlight Search Technology

OK, now things really start to get interesting. Tiger's Spotlight search technology is really something new. And it's something every single Mac user will make use of. Basically, Spotlight is a metadata search engine, but one where all of the tagging work is done for you. Spotlight is an API, so you can use it in your own apps, and most of the apps that ship with Tiger, including the Finder, Address Book, Mail, and System Preferences will have Spotlight searching built in. Spotlight will search all your existing documents. You don't need new versions of your apps, though you'll definitely want to add Spotlight searching to your apps. Spotlight supports all current file extensions and all metadata formats and it is extensible. It's powerful stuff.

It is hard to really grok Spotlight until you've actually seen it demoed. As you might expect, Steve did a great job. He sat down at a machine that had more than 100,000 files loaded on it. He opened a Finder window, then typed the word pixar in the search field. Boom. Instantly, a list of 48 items appeared. So far, this is pretty similar to the way the Finder works now, but the results retrieved by Spotlight are far more comprehensive because the search methodology is much more sophisticated. As an example, Steve did a search on half dome and one of the items returned was a PDF document of a Yosemite map with the words half dome embedded in the map. I mean, think about that. Spotlight found a text label on an image embedded in a PDF document. This is not your father's search technology.

In Steve's demo search for pixar, most of the items the Finder returned did not have pixar anywhere in the title. Instead, Spotlight picked up the term in places like a file's copyright notice. Since the files are reverse indexed, you can search a large domain instantly. When Steve changed pixar to pixar 2002 the results appeared as soon as he hit the last 2.

The interface implementation is elegant. To refine a search, click on a + button and a series of popup menus appear that let you refine your search. For example, you could select Kind from a popup, then a second popup appears so you can select for a canned list of file kinds (like Movies, for example).

Once you have the search just the way you like it, you can click the Save button and a smart folder is created in the Finder window's sidebar. This is an important feature. Suppose you were preparing a comprehensive report on the mating habits of the 17-year cicada and you were constantly accumulating cicada imagery from around the world. You could do a search for cicada images where color space is CMYK, then save the search to the sidebar. Anytime you wanted to review your current collection, just press the saved search in the sidebar and the images appear instantly. You get the idea. Steve also showed off smart mailboxes in Mail and smart groups in Address Book, as well as a Spotlight in System Preferences and a Spotlight menu icon in the right corner of the menu bar. Right on!

H.264

The H.264 AVC (Advanced Video Codec) has been ratified to be included in the next generation hi-def DVD format and Apple has adopted it for Tiger QuickTime. One of the most important features of H.264 is its scalability. It scales from HD DVD down to 3G cell phones. This is one of those technologies that really needs to be experienced firsthand to truly appreciate it. But the quality truly is amazing.

Safari RSS

The big addition to Safari is the integration of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) right in the browser. Tiger Safari will support RSS and Atom protocols and will automatically detect RSS feeds. Safari's new Personal Clipping Service allows you to automatically accumulate articles culled from a variety of RSS feeds into a single page. Safari also adds the ability to store RSS queries as bookmarks.

During this part of the demo, Steve stepped through a variety of web sites with RSS feeds, including Apple's site and the New York Times. There's an RSS button to the right of the address bar. When you want to view a site's RSS feed, navigate to the site, then push the RSS button. The RSS feed appears as a scrolling list of article links, similar to a Google results page.

There's an RSS control panel built into the Safari RSS display page that allows you to customize the feed display. There's a slider to set the length of each article displayed in each summary, you can sort by date, title or article source, or select the length of time to go back to retrieve articles.

Since RSS feeds tend to be behind-the-scenes, they can show up in some surprising places. Like in iTunes, for example. Yes, there is an iTunes RSS feed, showing the top 10 for that particular moment. Not sure how particularly useful this is, but it is interesting!

There's also an RSS search field so you can do a search across all your current RSS feeds. Far more focused results than Google and very fast. More timely, too, as RSS feeds tend to be updated more quickly than Google.

Core Image and Core Video

This is like Code Audio for the image processing and video crowd. In a nutshell, image and video processing is now offloaded to the GPU (graphics processing unit), which is designed for that. This adds floating point precision and eases the load on the main processor. Core Image adds in more than a hundred high-quality real time image filters. Image Units and Video Units are extensible plugins, along the lines of Audio Units. Developers can combine filters and effects and apply them in real time, with all the work being done by the GPU. Core Video provides a bridge between QuickTime and the GPU.

Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior VP, gave a demo of both Core Image and Core Video. He brought up an app that displayed a picture of a tiger as well as a control panel that gave him access to some of the Core Image filters and effects. The app was simple, but the power was very clear. There are focus filters (like Gaussian, motion, and zoom blur), color adjustment filters, color, compositing, distortion and geometry filters, to name a few. There's even a set of awesome transition filters. The point is, you can now easily add all this power to your own apps.

These same filters and effects work on video as well, also in real time. Truly amazing.

Dashboard

Remember the fun of building Control Panels? Not the hassle part, but the coolness of creating a little app that was available anywhere, no matter what app the user was using. Combine that concept with Expose, and you have the essence of Dashboard. Dashboard was built with WebKit, primarily with JavaScript. Like Expose, it provides a layer that appears and disappears instantly. Instead of a set of your app's windows, Dashboard reveals a customizable set of tiny applications, called widgets. Examples of widgets might be a calculator, a sticky note organizer, a stock ticker, or weather tracker.

Apple will ship a set of widgets with Tiger, but I have no doubt this is going to create a brand new market, much like the market for tiny control panels back in the day. This one looks like a lot of fun.

Automator

Automator is a visual scripting tool. Sal Soghoian, the AppleScript Product Manager, gave a demo. Basically, Automator is a visual front end for your apps that allows you to create a workflow based on the capabilities of the app you are scripting. Sal's demo took a series of web sites from .Mac, sucked in all the images, imported the images to iPhoto, then created a slide show for iDVD. He then made the workflow a bit more generic and showed how he could use the same script across applications. This is a nice solution for folks who do not want to tackle the prose of AppleScript.

iChat AV

With the addition of H.264, iChat AV just got much, much cooler. The image resolution is cleaner. But more importantly, you can now iChat with multiple people at the same time. An audio iChat can contain up to ten people. Ten! And a video iChat can contain four people. That is awesome, baby!!!

Till We Meet Again...

The only downside of Tiger is that it is not out yet. There are a lot of fun things to play with, and I am really looking forward to playing with this some more. I think the first thing I'm going to write about is Dashboard. A great idea.

Oh, if you haven't done so already, be sure to head over to http://www.spiderworks.com and sign up. By the time you read this, we should be pretty close to opening the doors!


Dave Mark is a long-time Mac developer and author and has written a number of books on Macintosh development. Dave has been writing for MacTech since its birth! Be sure to check out the new Learn C on the Macintosh, Mac OS X Edition at http://www.spiderworks.com.

 
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