At a special presentation during Macworld Expo San Francisco this week, Phil Schiller, Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing and Avie Tevanian, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, gave attendees a tour of Apple’s flagship operating system intended to illustrate “The Power of X.”
Schiller briefly reiterated that as of this month Mac OS X will become the default boot operating system for all Macs shipping from Apple. The “Power of X” presentation was prompted by the public interest generated in the wake of the keynote announcement on Monday, and in spite of the impromptu nature of the session it was well attended.
The audience was promised that this would be more than a mere OS X primer, and after a brief warning that “geek” was likely to be spoken Schiller and Tevanian quickly stepped through the components that they said would form the foundation for the Mac platform for the next decade.
The first demonstration centered Mac OS X’s kernel, which has long been talked about as bringing all the features desired from a modern operating system to the Mac OS: memory protection, virtual memory, symmetric multiprocessing, multithreading, and multitasking. Tevanian demonstrated what the buzzword compliant list means to the every day Mac user by launching and playing a QuickTime movie, and then concurrently burning a CD in iTunes, while surfing the web in Internet Explorer. A utility tracking CPU usage showed how the operating system deftly distributed the processing load across the PowerMac’s dual G4 processors. Each application continued to perform smoothly, even as more was demanded from the hardware, and the using the “force quit” applications panel to terminate Internet Explorer didn’t affect the others.
Tevanian also pointed out that the Finder was one of the applications listed in the applications panel, and said this offered another level of robustness for Mac OS X, as the Finder doesn’t necessarily need to be running in order for the Macintosh to keep functioning.
The file system itself was described as being “pluggable,” meaning that third party developers can add new file system types as they are required. Apple itself used this system to create out of the box support for a wealth of formats, including HFS/HFS+, DOS FAT, UFS, ISO, and UDF, with network support for traditional AppleTalk, NFS for Unix networks, SMB/CIFS for Windows networks, and the web based file protocol called WebDAV.
The networking architecture in Mac OS X is similarly extensible and although the operating system ships with support for ethernet, 802.11 wireless networking, PPP, PPPoE, AppleTalk and IrDA, more could easily be added in the future. Meanwhile, Mac OS X removes the need for the manual configuration of network settings, automatically figuring out the fastest way for your Mac to go online no matter what network environment it’s been moved to.
Commenting that all the technology in the world is no good unless it’s presented to the user in a way that allows them to get their work done, Tevanian briefly touched on the practical aspects of Mac OS X, such as smart power management and reliable plug and play, before landing on the new operating system’s media layer as the next key feature.
“One of the most important things out of the Quartz imaging bottle is PDF,” commented Schiller, as he demonstrated that any Mac OS X native application that could print could also save files in Adobe’s ultra-portable cross-platform PDF document format. Not satisfied with an obvious example like a word processor to prove his point, Schiller launched a chess game, and saved out a game screen in PDF format so that he could easily share the chess problem with an expert. Tevanian further pointed out that same steps could be used to archive or share favorite web pages as PDF files.
Schiller next introduced Mac OS X’s “state of the art audio architecture,” including Velocity Engine enhanced performance and an integrated proper MIDI system. Doug Wyatt, Core MIDI Engineer, joined Tevanian to demonstrate the extremely low latency in the synthesizing of MIDI events that allows Mac OS X to render notes on the fly. Wyatt played a live accompaniment to a canned MIDI file, demonstrating that the new operating system could easily handle MIDI events from multiple inputs without lagging, even as Tevanian launched new applications to provide some stress testing.
Next up was security, a hot topic for any new operating system. Saying that “we take security very seriously,” Tevanian noted that Mac OS X ships with very conservative default security settings to protect novice users from accidently exposing their data to the world. Moreover, the new OS features built-in SSH, SSL, and Kerberos support, as well as a firewall foundation, the ability to create encrypted disk images (so users can create virtual disks that would remain protected even if the drive itself was accessed), and of course multi-user support.
Although it was a safe bet that most people in the audience had at least a passing familiarity with Aqua, Mac OS X’s interface, Schiller briefly explained te multiple challenges Apple faced when designing it. Obviously, a friendly interface was required, but it needed to be one that would be easy for new users to learn, while also offering experienced users greater power as they became familiar with the OS. According to Schiller, OS X satisfies both audiences in a way that no other OS vendor does.
Tevanian then customized the toolbar in a familiar short demo, adding and reorganizing capabilities, placing folders on the toolbar and dropping files into then, and lastly hiding the toolbar altogether and reverting to a more OS 9-like navigation system.
Improved keyboard access to the OS was also demonstrated; after a simple keystroke Tevanian was able to navigate through items on the dock without using the mouse, moving back and forth with the left and right arrow keys, and using the up arrow to navigate through the dock’s pop-up menus. A different command stroke allowed him the same access to the top menus.
Changing the preferred applications your documents open with has also become easier with Mac OS X; the OS X equivalent to the “Get Info” allows you to simply change the application you would like to use for that specific file, or for all documents of that same type across your system.
Developing for Mac OS X rounded off the presentation, starting with an example of the advantages of Cocoa. Karelia Software’s Dan Wood demonstrated the power of Cocoa development by using “Watson”, a collection of useful web based services that are available from within a single desktop application instead of residing in the browser. Only available for Mac OS X, Watson allows you to do anything from look up movie listings (including theatres close to your zip code, showtimes, and preview trailers) to track packages from the most popular services including UPS, FedEx, and USPS, all from a single interface.
Wood said that using Cocoa had “sped up the development process by a factor of at least four,” and that the ability to make use of the prebuilt Foundation and AppKit classes meant that he could just make use of items like toolbars, column views, and XML support, and concentrate instead on the functionality of the application itself. In a moment of high praise, Wood said that “Cocoa didn’t just make Watson easier, it made Watson possible.”
On the Unix front, Tevanian said that any Unix developer would find most of their familiar tools available to them on Mac OS X, and that “for the occasional thing that is not there, it is almost trivial to get it there.” Chris Horvath of Tweak Films then demonstrated just exactly how quickly Unix programs could be ported over by demonstrating a sophisticated simulation of deep ocean waves that he had brought to the Mac OS X within a week.
Horvath, who has worked on visual effects for feature films including Deep Impact and The Perfect Storm, said that he was surprised to suddenly find himself a Mac programmer, but that the Altivec enhanced G4 immediately gave him an obvious performance advantage. This, coupled with NVidia’s GeForce3 video card allowed him to quickly move beyond simply porting the Unix based application; Horvath demonstrated how the brand new Mac OS X program could also preview a number of effects he would previously only be able to see by first importing the animations into Maya. Horvath said the demo he showed would be freely available at the end of the week from this web site at Tweak Films’ Web site.
Tevanian next reminded the audience that Mac OS X is the only mainstream operating system to offer Java2 support, and that along with JDK 1.3, the HotSpot VM, and Java 2D, Java applications for Mac OS X can make use of the Aqua interface.
AppleScript was last, but definitely not least on the list of important Mac OS X features. Describing AppleScript as “hugely strategic for us,” Tevanian said Apple has “done a lot of work to integrate it really well.” Schiller further commented that AppleScript’s automatisation possibilities were “critical”, and that with Mac OS X Apple as taken AppleScript further than ever before.
Sal Soghoian, AppleScript Product Manager, showed just how far AppleScript has come by comparing the simple script editor that was first released in 1992 with the professional development environment that is the new AppleScript Studio. Included with every copy of Mac OS X, the AppleScript Studio closely resembles the tools used to build Objective C and JAVA applications, including asset lists, dictionaries of available application commands, and a debug mode that offers step by step debugging.
In conclusion, Schiller touched on a few of the many “hidden gems” among the 2500 available applications for Mac OS X that he said might otherwise be lost in the shuffle, including EarthBrowser, which lets you find the local time and weather conditions for locations around the globe, Atom In A Box, which simulates Hydrogen atoms, the arcade shoot-’em up action of Deimos Rising. Lastly Schiller demonstrated MacReporter, showing the audience how the dock-based application used the dock’s menuing system to give users immediate access to current headline news from a variety of sources including CNN and, of course, MacCentral.