WWDC: Notes from the Floor

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SAN JOSE--All the optimists anticipating major new announcements at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference were disappointed. While Steve Jobs' keynote was filled with the showmanship that we've all grown to expect these past few years, precious little of note was actually conveyed to the eager audience. Sure, there was Growth with a capital G, but that's the kind of thing that should go into a quarterly call to analysts, not the last developers conference before the release of OS X.

QuickTime

As others have noted, the next generation of QuickTime will have a more streamlined player interface, and include the ability to encode and decode MPEG 1 and 2 files. Anyone looking for an excuse to get a G4 just found one, since this is precisely the type of software that benefits the most from the G4's Velocity Engine feature. The new QuickTime VR feature called "cubic panoramas" will certainly make VR-heads happy; for the first time, Quicktime VR images will be able to be tilted all the way up to the ceiling (or sky) and all the way down to the floor (or ground).

The coolest thing about the QuickTime side of the presentation for me was the statistics about how many copies have been downloaded (over 36 million last year). That's a lot of QuickTime playback capability. Considering the inroads that Windows Media Player has made over RealPlayer, one must wonder why QuickTime isn't getting greater recognition outside the standard group of Apple faithful.

OS X

The reshuffle of OS X's ship dates ("Public Beta" this summer and "1.0 final" next January) didn't surprise anyone who'd been paying attention. The most interesting aspect of OS X from my vantage point is that the DP4 release, handed to all developers at the conference, is supposed to be solid enough for developers to not just develop on, but to do Real Work (for example, e-mail) on. Those of you who've developed software know that mission-critical apps like email don't belong on machines that crash a lot, just like development machines do. If Apple is so confident in DP4's stability that it is exhorting developers to use it as their main OS, either they've been drinking too deeply from the hubris fountain or OS X is really shaping up.

Java 2

While write-one-run-anywhere is more of a bitter joke than the reality of Java these days, Java has made deservedly impressive inroads on the server side in the past five years of its public existence. Apple's announcement that OS X contains Java 2 and its HotSpot Virtual Machine is really good news for everyone. OS X will be a very credible server platform indeed, but also offer the necessary buzzword compliance for corporate client apps written to the Java 2 spec. Assuming that HotSpot is really as spiffy as the press releases claim, OS X's Java performance should be high enough to make Java-based apps usable.

Darwin

The most pleasant surprise of WWDC so far happened all throughout the entire first day. Last year, Darwin was something of an anomaly. Many Apple engineers didn't quite know what to make of it. But this year, Day One was chock-full of Darwin goings on. There were numerous presentation slides that contained the bullet point "Darwin == Core OS." For developers, such an expression can't get much clearer.

Apple seems to be really serious about Darwin. We are told that the version of Darwin that's used in DP4 is already available on the public Darwin source code servers, but those looking for a proper Darwin release will have to wait until after WWDC for an official Darwin 1.1.

Noteworthy goings on from the Darwin front include a successful boot of an Intel-based machine running Darwin (no word on whether apps other than the kernel and BSD OS layer run) as well as a preliminary port of X Windows to Darwin 1.x drawing multiple terminal windows. For those looking for progress outside of OS X, look no further.

No Darwin Airport

One challenge with Darwin is that it needs to be completely open-source-able, and that means that many drivers that Apple has rights to distribute in binary form may not be distributed as source. Adaptec's drivers for their SCSI cards were a frequently used example. Another salient one is the AirPort software, which apparently belongs to Lucent Technologies, and which therefore will only be part of OS X. This means that there is still plenty of work to do to bring Darwin up to the OS X driver baseline, since many of the crucial drivers for older Macs will remain missing from Darwin until an outsider provides them.

Much remains to be done in Darwin, but Apple definitely looks like it's beginning to take the lead out and deliver on many of the promises it made a year ago.

Interesting times lie ahead.

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