OS X on Tap at Developers Conference

When Mac developers get together in San Jose for five days starting May 21 at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, they'll have Mac OS X on the brain.

No surprise there--the next-generation operating system happens to be the hottest topic in the Mac universe these days. But OS X has also been a major focus at each of the three previous developer confabs.

The conference, known as WWDC, is one of the most important annual events in the Mac world--and one of the most exclusive. Unlike Macworld Expo and the Seybold Seminars, which are open to the general public, WWDC is meant only for the developers who create Mac software and hardware. They pay more than $1,000 a head for the privilege of hearing Apple's experts give detailed technical presentations about present and future developments in the world of Mac engineering.

But WWDC is more than just a collection of programming seminars--and we're not just talking about the screening of the Star Trek Voyager series finale Wednesday in the main expo hall. This conference is also where Apple talks about its future directions in a way that it can't when launching major new products in front of cheering Mac fanatics at Macworld Expo.

To be sure, Monday morning's opening-session talk by Apple CEO Steve Jobs is as much for the media's benefit as for WWDC attendees. But after that, it's down to the nitty-gritty of the Macintosh world. And for the fourth year running, that means Mac OS X.

Apple started using WWDC to promote its new, Unix-based operating system to the Mac developer community back in 1998. That year, Apple introduced the name Mac OS X and revealed many of its basic features, including the Carbon set of programming instructions that would allow developers to bring Mac OS 9 applications to Mac OS X.

In 1999, Apple used WWDC to introduce Quartz, the PDF-based Quartz imaging model at the heart of Mac OS X. The company also showed off a Finder that looked nothing like the traditional Mac Finder, but bore a passing resemblance to the Next Browser. Perhaps testing the waters, Jobs insisted at the time that the Next-style Column View would be the only way of navigating in the OS X Finder. But in the end, Apple changed its plans.

Then last year, WWDC gave Apple the chance to push back Mac OS X's release date and reveal a fresh Finder that looked ... pretty much like the Mac Finder we all know and love.

For all of the changes over the past few years, one part of Apple's WWDC message has been consistent: the company has pressed Mac developers to embrace OS X and to move their applications there as quickly as possible. With Mac OS X now in stores and new OS X-native applications appearing every day, we're seeing some of the fruits of those past conferences.

And to hurry future OS X progress along, development-software maker Metrowerks will use WWDC to launch an improved, OS X-savvy version of CodeWarrior, the pre-eminent Mac application-development environment. Metrowerks is billing this as an "early access" version of CodeWarrior 7; a more complete version will ship in the fall.

The latest version of CodeWarrior includes a new Mach-O tool that gives developers access to the full range of programming APIs in the new OS. It also lets them write Java 2 applications in OS X. Matt Henderson, Metrowerks' tech lead for OS X tools, notes that developers can Carbonize with CodeWarrior 6, "but you're better off doing it with (version 7) because everything works better."

WWDC attendees will receive the early release of CodeWarrior 7 on a CD handed out at the conference; others can order it from Metrowerks for $10.

What will emerge from this year's WWDC? Some of it, we'll know when Jobs addresses the crowd. But the full effects of the developers conference may take months, or even years, to play out.

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