TweetFollow Us on Twitter

USENIX != WWDC

Volume Number: #
Issue Number: #
Column Tag: Community

USENIX != WWDC

An impressionistic report on two very different technical conferences

by Rich Morin

Background

Apple (www.apple.com) and USENIX (www.usenix.org) both run excellent technical conferences, but the events are extremely different in approach, scope, size, and general flavor. So, although I can easily recommend their conferences to MacTech readers, the specifics of the recommendations will vary significantly.

Both organizations are both quite experienced at running conferences, having done so for more than two decades. Apple's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) is much larger than USENIX's Annual Conference, but USENIX runs several events each year. So, both organizations do a good job of crafting schedules, picking talks, etc.

USENIX (co-)sponsors more than a dozen events (www.usenix.org/events) each year, covering a wide range of topics. This year's offerings, for example, include gatherings on autonomic computing, distributed systems, electronic voting, mobile computing, virtual execution environments, and several subtopics of system administration (e.g., computer security, large installations).

The Annual Conference is thus a smorgasbord of refereed and invited papers on hot topics in software design. Not accidentally, it is also a gathering place for researchers who want to trade ideas, argue about approaches, etc. A few brief tutorials may slip into the main track, but most are sequestered into intensive "tutorial tracks".

WWDC, in contrast, is Apple's annual opportunity to bring interested techies up to speed on new, Apple-specific technologies. So, WWDC sessions tend to be a mixture of presentations and tutorials. Although there may be an occasional nod in the direction of Unix and/or Open Source, the focus is primarily on Apple products: iPhone, Mac OS X, Safari, etc.

USENIX Impressions

The first USENIX conference I attended was in the early 80's. Many vendors were rushing to create Unix systems. I recall being quite intimidated, as a newbie, by the presence of the operating system's developers and early adopters. However, this was more than balanced by the excitement of hearing them present (and argue about) various design possibilities.

It was also amusing, on occasion, to watch the interactions of the business and technical folks. In one fabled interchange, a "suit" asked a pony-tailed man if he had been using Unix for a while. In a masterpiece of understatement, Dennis Ritchie answered "yes".

This Year's Sessions

Today's Annual Conferences are far less focused on kernel issues than in earlier years, but they are still a great place to hear about new and upcoming technologies. And, because most Open Source projects are developed on Unix-like operating systems, many of these projects get discussed, as well.

Even if you can't get to a specific conference, you can still take advantage of its presentations. Recordings and proceedings are often available from the USENIX web site. Here, by way of example, are some highlights from this year's conference...

Guido van Rossum (Google) gave an update on the "Python Programming Language". Steven C. Johnson (MathWorks) led a discussion about the disconnect between current programming languages and parallel (e.g., multi-core) computing environments. Tom Christiansen's "Advanced Perl" session contained several useful tricks about using regular expressions.

This year featured several sessions on large-scale computing, with presentations from Amazon, Google, Linden Lab, LiveJournal, SiCortex, Tellme, and others. There were also a large number of refereed papers (generally quite specialized) from researchers.

I particularly enjoyed Luis van Ahn's talk on "Human Computation". As one of the folks behind the CAPTCHA puzzles, he felt guilty about the amount of cognitive effort that is being wasted in making humans recognize distorted text. So, he has been devising ways to capture some of this effort (to assist OCR efforts) and writing games (e.g., www.espgame.org) that capture useful work from the players.

One Laptop per Child

My favorite session, however, was "Crossing the Digital Divide: The Latest Efforts from One Laptop per Child". Mary Lou Jepson, a key hardware developer on the project, described some of the tricks she and others have used to produce a truly extraordinary laptop.

The OLPC laptop (laptop.org) has many features that I'd like to see more generally adopted. First, it is amazingly robust and safe. It can be used in the rain or at high temperatures (e.g., 50C!), dropped several feet onto concrete without damage, and fed by a wide range of power sources. If something breaks, it can be repaired in the field (often by children). It contains no mercury and the battery electrolyte burns at 100C, rather than the 1000C of typical laptop fires.

It also runs on a measly two (!) watts, provides opportunistic "mesh" networking, and has a screen that can be read in direct sunlight. Finally, of course, it costs less than $200. Where do I sign up?

Where's Apple?

Apple is arguably the world's largest Unix vendor. However, aside from the prevalence of Apple laptops, the company was completely invisible at this event. They provided no speakers, held no BOFs (Birds Of a Feather meetings), and were not listed as sponsors. [Ed. note: Apple has sent speakers to Usenix in the past.]

I can understand why Apple might not wish to discuss unannounced or proprietary technologies, but why not present some of their shipping, Open Source innovations? Apple has introduced a substantial number of these, in areas ranging from device driver design through dynamic configuration to power management and web standards. Someone is missing a bet...

WWDC Impressions

Due to the restrictions of Apple's WWDC Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), I'm unable to talk about unannounced information, let alone the specifics of the presentations. However, I can (and will) talk about the presentation style, amenities, etc. I hope this gives you a useful idea of the "flavor" of the event. Speaking of which...

Noxious Noshes

In previous years, one of the benefits of attending WWDC was the presence of plentiful, high-quality food. Hot lunches were provided, generally with a selection of entrees. Tasty snacks were available between sessions and free "espresso bars" were on hand to provide hot drinks. Unfortunately, the food service this year was considerably degraded from that of previous years.

I tried one "mocha" at the espresso bar; it was made up from a packet of pre-mixed powder, much of which was still present in the drink. It was so unpalatable that I discarded it after two sips. The lunches were better, but over-cooked chicken and refrigerated sandwiches are not to my taste; I opted to pay for food at a nearby restaurant. I realize that complaining about the food may sound petty, but given the substantial cost of the event, Apple really should do better.

Solid Sessions

Apple's annual WWDC conference is a mix of overview and tutorial talks, generally presented by Apple employees (primarily engineers, with some managers and "evangelists"). As you might expect, the production values are solid, if sometimes a bit monotonous. All of the presenters use Keynote, most of the demonstrations work, and presentations follow a rather predictable pattern.

Because Apple publishes the WWDC session titles (at developer.apple.com/wwdc), I can tell you which topics I particularly enjoyed. In many cases, a bit of Googling will bring you to sites that give more details than I can (safely) disclose here.

The "State of the Union" talks are always worthwhile. Even if I'm not planning to work with a particular technology, attending its SotU session will give me a good overview of where it is headed. SotU sessions also serve as useful road maps to more detailed sessions.

I'm not a big fan of Objective-C; as a scripter, I think it makes the programmer write way too much code. So, I was happy to see that Apple is moving forward with its "new and improved" version, "Objective-C 2.0". Careful borrowing from scripting languages could make ObjC code easier to write and less subject to programming oversights.

Xcode 3.0 also looks very interesting as a scripting environment. I've been using TextMate and Terminal to develop Rails applications. Xcode's support for Ruby and the Xcode Organizer will provide an interesting, GUI-based alternative. And, of course, I'm delighted to see official support for Cocoa programming in Python and Ruby.

I've been a fan of DTrace (www.sun.com/bigadmin/content/dtrace) since Sun first announced it. Having a scriptable way to monitor kernel, library, and application activities is immensely useful. So, having Apple add DTrace to Leopard is a big win for Mac OS X developers.

However, Apple didn't stop there. Borrowing extensively from GarageBand, they produced XRay, a really slick GUI-based front end to DTrace. XRay provides dozens of "instruments" that can be attached (via DTrace) to various parts of the system. It then allows the developer to view the results, drill down for more information, etc.

I dislike the fact that widgets don't live in the same "space" as normal Cocoa apps, because this keeps me from cutting and pasting, etc. However, many folks find widgets to be extremely useful. Apple's new development tools (DashCode, WebClip) will allow many more (and better) widgets to be created.

For advance information on Xcode, XRay, and DashCode, see Apple's "teaser" page (www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/developer) and/or fire up your favorite search engine...

Pernicious Privacy

Apple's well-known penchant for privacy makes the sessions less useful than they might otherwise be. Because cameras and recorders are prohibited and no printed materials are provided, attendees are left trying to take notes (or simply remember) the "fire hose" of material that each presentation provides.

And, because Apple doesn't provide any NDA-safe forums, it is difficult for attendees to follow up on presented technologies after the conference. More generally, non-disclosed ADC members have no legal way to trade notes on bugs, features, or programming techniques. Apple has known about this problem for years; it's really time they fixed it...

Non-Apple material is very sparse at WWDC, consisting of end-of-talk Q&A periods and a small number of feedback sessions. There are a few informal lunchtime sessions and some evening events at the nearby Apple Store, but there are no BOFs. Nor, sadly, were there any booths this year for third-party vendors, Open Source projects, etc. These were an interesting part of earlier WWDCs; I'd like to see them return.

One conspicuous (and delightful) exception this year was a scientific "poster session" that took place in a conference hallway. Several dozen presenters stood next to large (roughly 3' x 5') posters that described their work. Topics ranged from ArchImage (architecture) to WeatherScope (meteorology).

Conclusion

In summary, WWDC is a large, narrowly-focused, unidirectional multicast from Apple to its developers; the back-channel is informal and low bandwidth, at best. That said, WWDC is by far the best way for prospective Mac developers to get started and for experienced Mac developers to learn about new technologies and fill in gaps in their knowledge.

If you can't go in person, watching the recorded versions of the talks is reasonably effective. Unfortunately, Apple does not make these generally available. Given that only 0.5% of the ADC membership got to this year's conference, I think that Apple is missing another bet...


Rich Morin has been using Unix on Macs (e.g., A/UX) for two decades. As you might expect, he's very happy with Mac OS X and the way it has been accepted by the Apple community. Rich does contract technical editing and writing, programming, and web development for a living (and, between contracts, for fun). You can reach him at rdm@cfcl.com.

 
AAPL
$99.00
Apple Inc.
+1.33
MSFT
$44.07
Microsoft Corpora
-0.43
GOOG
$589.79
Google Inc.
+0.77

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Acorn 4.4 - Bitmap image editor. (Demo)
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more
Bartender 1.2.20 - Organize your menu ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu bar apps. Features: Lets you tidy your menu bar apps how you want. See your menu bar apps when you want. Hide the apps you need to run, but do not need to... Read more
TotalFinder 1.6.2 - Adds tabs, hotkeys,...
TotalFinder is a universally acclaimed navigational companion for your Mac. Enhance your Mac's Finder with features so smart and convenient, you won't believe you ever lived without them. Tab-based... Read more
Vienna 3.0.0 RC 2 :be5265e: - RSS and At...
Vienna is a freeware and Open-Source RSS/Atom newsreader with article storage and management via a SQLite database, written in Objective-C and Cocoa, for the OS X operating system. It provides... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.1.5 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Default Folder X 4.6.7 - Enhances Open a...
Default Folder X attaches a toolbar to the right side of the Open and Save dialogs in any OS X-native application. The toolbar gives you fast access to various folders and commands. You just click... Read more
TinkerTool 5.3 - Expanded preference set...
TinkerTool is an application that gives you access to additional preference settings Apple has built into Mac OS X. This allows to activate hidden features in the operating system and in some of the... Read more
Audio Hijack Pro 2.11.0 - Record and enh...
Audio Hijack Pro drastically changes the way you use audio on your computer, giving you the freedom to listen to audio when you want and how you want. Record and enhance any audio with Audio Hijack... Read more
Intermission 1.1.1 - Pause and rewind li...
Intermission allows you to pause and rewind live audio from any application on your Mac. Intermission will buffer up to 3 hours of audio, allowing users to skip through any assortment of audio... Read more
Autopano Giga 3.6 - Stitch multiple imag...
Autopano Giga allows you to stitch 2, 20, or 2,000 images. Version 3.0 integrates impressive new features that will definitely make you adopt Autopano Pro or Autopano Giga: Choose between 9... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Traps n’ Gemstones Review
Traps n’ Gemstones Review By Campbell Bird on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CASTLEVANIA JONESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fight mummies, dig tunnels, and ride a runaway minecart to discover ancient secrets in this... | Read more »
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition Review By Jordan Minor on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: GHOSTS BUSTEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Phantom PI is an exceedingly clever and well-crafted adventure game.   | Read more »
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a Ne...
More Stubies Are Coming Your Way in a New Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
The Great Prank War Review
The Great Prank War Review By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: PRANKING IS SERIOUS BUSINESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Though short, The Great Prank War offers an interesting and fun mix of action and... | Read more »
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at...
Marvel Contest of Champions Announced at Comic-Con Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Announced over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con was the fairly exciting looking Marvel Contest of Champions. | Read more »
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review By Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DULL SWIPINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The pizza power is weak when it comes to this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.   | Read more »
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbudd...
Exploration Focused Puzzle Game Beatbuddy Set to Make Transition from PC to iOS this September Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
PlanetHD
PlanetHD By Nadia Oxford on July 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPACE MADNESSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad PlanetHD will keep players busy for a while, though its unpredictable physics are a handful to deal with.   | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: July 21-25, 2014
Another Week of Expert App Reviews   At 148Apps, we help you sort through the great ocean of apps to find the ones we think you’ll like and the ones you’ll need. Our top picks become Editor’s Choice, our stamp of approval for apps with that little... | Read more »
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client (...
Reddme for iPhone - The Reddit Client 1.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: News Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Reddme for iPhone is an iOS 7-optimized Reddit client that offers a refreshing new way to experience Reddit... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $1099,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $1099.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Roundup of Apple refurbished MacBook Pros, th...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pros available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. Their prices... Read more
Record Mac Shipments In Q2/14 Confound Analys...
A Seeking Alpha Trefis commentary notes that Apple’s fiscal Q3 2014 results released July 22, beat market predictions on earnings, although revenues were slightly lower than anticipated. Apple’s Mac’... Read more
Intel To Launch Core M Silicon For Use In Not...
Digitimes’ Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai, report that Intel will launch 14nm-based Core M series processors specifically for use in fanless notebook/tablet 2-in-1 models in Q4 2014, with many models to... Read more
Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion: $100 g...
 Apple’s 2014 Back to School promotion includes a free $100 App Store Gift Card with the purchase of any new Mac (Mac mini excluded), or a $50 Gift Card with the purchase of an iPad or iPhone,... Read more
iMacs on sale for $150 off MSRP, $250 off for...
Best Buy has iMacs on sale for up to $160 off MSRP for a limited time. Choose free home shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Prices are valid for online orders only, in-store... Read more
Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP, starting...
Best Buy has Mac minis on sale for $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup. Prices are for online orders only, in-store prices may vary: 2.5GHz Mac mini: $499.99 2.3GHz... Read more
Global Tablet Market Grows 11% in Q2/14 Notwi...
Worldwide tablet sales grew 11.0 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2014, with shipments reaching 49.3 million units according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation... Read more
New iPhone 6 Models to Have Staggered Release...
Digitimes’ Cage Chao and Steve Shen report that according to unnamed sources in Apple’s upstream iPhone supply chain, the new 5.5-inch iPhone will be released several months later than the new 4.7-... Read more
New iOS App Helps People Feel Good About thei...
Mobile shoppers looking for big savings at their favorite stores can turn to the Goodshop app, a new iOS app with the latest coupons and deals at more than 5,000 online stores. In addition to being a... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
WW Sales Program Manager, *Apple* Online St...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.