WWDC: What Is It?

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If you're more comfortable using your Mac than you are writing programs for it, you may be wondering why the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) -- which kicks off Monday, May 15 -- is such a big deal, or why all the Mac Web sites cover it so extensively. Wonder no more: we're here to answer all your questions.

What is the WWDC?

It's an annual get-together for anyone who makes software or hardware for the Mac. The goal of the conference is to share information: Apple reveals their plans for its operating systems and hardware platforms, and developers share strategies for building applications that work on Macs.

Why do the developers care what Apple's codemonkeys will be doing for the next year?

Say you're a software developer who makes an application that lets users load different, random photos on their desktop every time they hold down a certain combination of keys. For your application to work, you have to make sure it can work around a chunk of code in the Mac OS -- the one that typically determines the desktop pattern in the Appearance control panel.

Then you go to WWDC and learn that Apple's planning on reconfiguring the chunks of code that determine the desktop appearances. (First, you breathe a sigh of relief that Apple has decided not to include all of your product's features into the Mac OS for free!) This reconfiguration means two things: first, the control panel code that you wrote your application around no longer exists; second, you're going to have to find a way to make your product work on systems with old versions of the OS and systems with the new, improved Appearance control panel code.

To prevent this from turning into a long story: developers need to find out what Apple plans on doing, because Apple's OS changes will affect their product's performance. Once a company knows what Apple's planning, it can begin making its own plans to adapt or overhaul its products to handle any changes in the Mac OS or other Apple-authored software such as QuickTime.

So developers go to WWDC as something of a predictive measure and as something of a preventive measure. It's fun to see what's coming out of Cupertino, the better to plan new and improved features for your own software. With the impending arrival of Mac OS X -- a major shift in the Mac landscape -- it's especially important. It's necessary to gather information to ensure that your product will still work after Apple issues its own new and improved stuff.

I see why developers should care about WWDC. Why should I care?

The same reasons Mac developers care -- prediction and prevention -- apply to you too.

Since Apple uses WWDC to hint at future directions for the company, it's a good chance to get a peek at new technologies coming down the line. While that's fun for Mac fans, it's also practical -- it lets you plan your future hardware and software purchases accordingly.

Where can I learn more about WWDC?

Macworld will have continuous coverage all week, and we'll be linking to WWDC coverage from our sister sites, MacWEEK and MacCentral.

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