Monday, August 07, 2006

WWDC 2006 Keynote thoughts

The World Wide Developer's Conference has well and truly kicked off now that Steve Jobs and his team have finished giving the keynote. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, head on over to Apple's site and watch it.

Now, I'm not going to go through every single thing covered in too much detail, but basically what we got were the Mac Pro - the successor to the PowerMac G5, new Xserves, and a preview of some of the features of OS X Leopard. There was an absurd amount of competitor bashing, Dell got some stick, but Microsoft and Vista bore the brunt of the harshness. It seemed a bit excessive to me, but hey, it's an Apple event, it's their time, it's their moment of glory! But anyway, let's take a closer look at what we've been shown.

Mac Pro
It might look just like the PowerMac G5 on the outside (why change such a wonderful case?), but believe you me, on the inside, these are complete new beasts.

Sporting the new 'Woodcrest' Xeon processors, the Mac Pro has a far better performance per watt ratio than the G5s had. What this means is that a lot of the cooling inside the enclosure has been removed...which of course means that a lot more other stuff can be put in! The Mac Pro can include two optical drives, up to four hard drives (we're talking 2 terabytes of internal storage), four PCI Express slots, and a whole lot of other stuff. What's awesome about this system though, is that the standard basic system only costs $2,499 (almost $1,000 cheaper than an equal-spec Dell, according to the keynote), although by 'basic' I mean a quad 2.66GHz, 1GB RAM, 250GB hard drive monster, but it's FULLY configurable, which is fantastic! I've always loved the customisability of systems you buy off the online Apple Store, but this brings that to a new level. One standard configuration. Customise it any way you want.

Now these machines are no slackers, these new chips are server chips, and pack quite a punch. They are all dual core, and EVERY Mac Pro has two of them, effectively making every single one a quad core system. Each core can reach frequencies of up to 3GHz, and finally, like the G5, they support 64-bit. On top of that, these things have massive 4MB L2 caches and 1.33GHz frontside buses. The internal buses on the Mac Pro also clock at 25GB/s, which is sweet, it's always nice when your internal components can communicate to each other at those kinds of speeds :).

But in summary...these machines are monsters, and I can't wait to test one out. The Xserves are very similar in their configurations, and I don't wanna spend too much time talking about them.

Instead...let's talk about...

Now the first thing to point out is that I am confident that we have not by any stretch of the imagination seen all that Leopoard will have to offer. Steve Jobs very conveniently pointed out that there are a lot of 'Top Secret' features in Leopard that haven't been revealed yet, because they don't want Microsoft to 'start their photocopiers' too early :P. So expect many more features, probably at Macworld. But let's take a look at what we have been shown in Leopard, because a lot of it excites me quite a bit.

64 bit support and Core Animation
A couple of treats for developers here. Leopard will support 64-bit apps up to the UI level, instead of just at the Unix level as was the case with Tiger. This means that 64-bit and 32-bit apps can run side by side, natively. This should open up a whole new level of applications for systems like the Mac Pro. Core Animation is added to the OS as well, which allows developers to develop animations and interactive sequences with far greater ease. I will admit to not knowing very much about this aspect of OS X, but I expect this addition to bring a lot more eye candy at the very least. I'm not a developer though, so I won't spend too much time writing about things I don't fully comprehend.

Time Machine
This is absolutely insane. There are backup solutions. There is date recovery. There are cool interfaces. This is all three of those. On crack. Built with Core Animation, what Time Machine does is it automatically backs up your system to a hard disk or to a server, and recover things that may have been lost in the past. Nothing special right?

Think again. Just check out this interface.

It's really difficult to explain just how cool this is. Time Machine allows you to actually go back in time and restore your system to the state it was in at some point in the past. What's even cooler is that you can restore individual folders, files or parts of applications to past states, whilst keeping the rest of your system the same. You can even do Spotlight searches into the past within applications like Address Book. This is far too cool and amazing for me to explain, you really just have to watch the keynote and check it out on Apple's Time Macine site. The kinds of situations and uses for Time Machine they describe are absolutely spot on. From finding that's disappeared from a folder you know it was in, to recovering data you unintentionally saved over, or to recover important photos, contacts or files, Time Machine's interface just makes all of this look easy.

All I'm wondering about is how much extra hard disk space this is all going to take up.

Now if you've ever used Linux, you'll know that many distros have multiple virtual desktops that allow you to keep different windows and different applications in separate desktops. A great way to reduce clutter when multitasking. This is one of my personal favourite features of many Linux distros.

Now this has come to the Mac, with a whole new interface. You have the standard four desktops, and you can put different applications and different windows in each desktop, but the interface that Apple has implemented looks phenomenal. First of all, you can move between desktops, or 'spaces' with hotkeys, and you can tile your desktops in an Exposé-like fashion. You can also rearrange their order. But what's even better is that a) clicking on any application in the dock will take you to the 'space' that it's in, and on top of that, when you are viewing all of your spaces at once, you can click and drag applications and windows from one space to another - that is a great feature. I love Exposé, and this seems like a natural addition to it.

If you use Mail a lot, like me, it's about time we got an update. Three major changes to Mail were demostrated: a) 'Stationery', b) The addition of notes, and c) To-Dos.

Stationery sounds like a cool addition; this essentially gives you a bunch of templates (think Pages and iWeb) that allow you to send really good-looking HTML emails that you can customise. Whilst this is eye-candy more than anything else, what this might do is make it very evident when somebody is emailing you from a Mac. Gone could be the days of boring looking emails with attached photos at the bottom. If asked how your emails look so professional and so nice? The simple answer would be 'I'm a Mac user'.

Notes is a cool addition too. Basically you can take notes within Mail instead of having to email stuff to yourself. You can imbed things such as photos, PDFs and the new To-Dos within Notes, and there's a special mailbox for these. This is cool, because since so much information these days is exchanged via email, it'd be nice to be able to take notes within the same application.

But it's the final addition that really excites me - the To-Dos. Adding the ability to make any mail message or any line in a Note a To-Do (think iCal-style To-Do lists) could increase productivity a LOT! How many times have you gotten an email asking you to do something, and then jotted that task down somewhere and forgotten about it? I know I have a few outstanding email tasks as we speak. So this could be very useful. But what's best is that this is SYSTEM-WIDE! So any To-Do you make in Mail will show up in iCal's To-Dos, and vice versa. And developers can build this into their software, which would be a very useful feature in a lot of productivity software such as FileMaker Pro. I approve wholeheartedly. I still would like a way of using different kinds of flags, so I can flag certain emails as ones that I want to reply to, and others as emails containing important information. I've wanted this kind of feature for a long time...and it still seems like I'm not gonna get it.

iChat has been GREATLY improved, with some amazing additions. The most significant of these are to video chat, which is good, but unfortunately, until (or unless...rather) most of the people I know switch to Macs, it's going to mean that not everybody will get to experience all these wonderful new features, which is the only drawback to iChat (which isn't its fault, obviously).

Photo Booth's fun effects have been added to live video chat, which could make for hours of timewasting. But more significantly, iChat Theatre has been added, which allows you to show off Keynote presentations, iPhoto slideshows and more within video chats, whilst you talk people through them. Provided you have enough bandwidth, this could really revolutionise instant messaging and videoconferencing. And I use that word 'revolutionise' very rarely, but seriously - if more people used Macs, iChat would be the greatest thing ever.

iChat also lets you add a backdrop to your video chat, to make it look like you're chilling out in the Bahamas or anywhere else. The backdrop can be either an image or EVEN a video. This and the Photo Booth effects could really be quite fun.

Dashcode, a widget and general development tool has been released officially. I actually picked up a copy of this when it was leaked earlier, and it's pretty cool. If you know some Java, this is a really powerful tool for building widgets very quickly.

But the coolest addition is Web Clip, which basically lets you take any section of any webpage and make it a widget, which will update that piece of the webpage in real time. An AWESOME idea, great for doing things like keeping up with web comic strips, tracking activity or eBay auctions, watching webcams, and many other things. What's cool about this is that a lot of sites have really useful info in a very small space, which one might check regularly. But more often than not, the rest of the page is filled with useless junk and ads. Web Clip is the perfect solution! I like it, and it might make me use Dashboard much more frequently!

That's it!
Lots of other stuff was shown off, including improved Universal Access, particularly VoiceOver, and Spotlight and iCal have been improved too. But whilst these changes are good and cool, I don't want to go on and on about these in particular. If you're interested, check them out on Apple's Leopard page for the details.

So that's Leopard and the new Mac Pro. I can't wait till to see what remaining features there will be, and as soon as it ships in Spring, I'm definitely going to pick up a copy.

All in all a good keynote. People have been moaning about how there wasn't an iPhone or new iPods, but this is the WWDC! Developers don't care about iPods! If there are new iPods and even iPhones on the way, expect them to be rolled out in a different way. It's high time we had a new iPod, but a developer's conference is not the time to be talking about music players. They kept it about the hardware and operating system. Good stuff.


At 3:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 1:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Apple's excessive MS bashing:

I thought they went a little overboard too... Bashing, bashing, bashing everywhere from the banners in the WWDC hallways to the "I'm an [idiot] PC" ADs at the beginning of the Keynote and in the iChat demo... The crowd wasn't overly thrilled about it.. ("yeah... we get it" reactions). Apple had some right to be pissed off at MS's adoption of the shiny "aqua-like" (glass, they call it) interface, BUT they didn't need to over-emphasize this... It seemed a bit immature on Apple's part. No offense to Bertrand, but I couldn't take his Vista-bashing seriously because it was difficult to understand what he was saying with very thick French accent. Perhaps he wasn't the right person to do that part of the keynote :P

Jobs clearly wanted to get that off his chest and he was obviously having fun emphasizing Microsoft's lack of development in the last 5 years... But overall, Apple's jokes on Microsoft went a bit too far. Microsoft is a "copycat?" Apple knows that they took the idea of 'fast search technology' from Microsoft and released it as Spotlight before Longhorn beta. Spaces, as you said too, derives from Linux. We all know that Konfabulator developed the concept of "widgets" before Apple. Stationeries in Mail? Outlook had that since Windows 2000. Front Row? Windows Media Center. The stacked up windows in Time Machine look familiar? Hmm have you seen Vista's Flip3D?

PhotoBooth effects in iChat isn't really original if you've seen Logitech's interactive software for their webcams. I give Apple a lot of credit for making these concepts right and adding user-friendly interfaces to them, but they should stop acting like they invented everything. Apple has come up with many original softwares, but not all of their ideas are purely original, and some Apple fanboys are reluctant to admit it. Of course, Microsoft copied tons of stuff from Apple too, but it seems like Apple's the only one being cheeky about it.

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