This past Monday (August 7) at 10AM PT saw the commencement of the 2006 Apple World Wide Developers Conference. This is the place where OS X developers gather to hear about new development tools, additions to OS X that they might want to take advantage of and to generally share ideas and feedback with the Apple Development team. The conference begins with a keynote address from Apple CEO/Founder Steve Jobs. In the past, Jobs has been known to sneak in a new consumer product during the keynote. No such luck this time around. Anyhow, here are some of the highlights of the event.
Mac Pro – The main highlight this year was the announcement of the Mac Pro (the revision of Apple’s high-end desktop computer, the Apple G5). The “Pro” consumer line had been the only remaining product line not to have switched from the IBM G5 processor to an Intel processor. This announcement solved that problem — as now every desktop and laptop are running on Intel processors. Steve Jobs took advantage of the opportunity to highlight the fact that Apple had migrated their entire line of machines in only seven months.
OS X Leopard – Posters all around the conference poked fun at Vista. There were banners that read, “Mac OS X Leopard – Introducing Vista 2.0”. At the keynote, Jobs went through the timeline of OS X releases since 2000. He then invited Senior VP of Engineering Bertrand Serlet onstage to take a few shots as Vista. Bertrand talked about the similarities between Vista and Leopard and got some huge laughs from the partisan crowd. Bertrand’s English was sometimes tough to understand, but I thought his presentation was rather amusing. (To check this out, (with QuickTime installed) go here and forward to the 24:00 minute mark and watch for about 5 minutes.)
Also of note was the fact that Steve Jobs mentioned that the Dev team would only be showing ten new features of Leopard. Saying that he didn’t want to get the “photocopiers in Redmond started too early”, Jobs said that the team was going to keep some additional features “top secret” until a date much closer to the release. (Jobs indicated that the team was aiming for a Spring 2007 release).
Time Machine – Time machine was a new feature that will ship in Leopard where the user will be able to highlight a folder, go to Time Machine and your Mac will display a running history of changes to the folder at any point in time. The demo showed Scott Forstall, VP of Platform Experience searching in a folder for a file that was “missing”. He then clicked an option that warped his window into the pictured screen and clicked the arrows to get back to a point in time when the file was present. He demoed finding a file as well as a contact that he deleted from the address book.
My overall reaction to this was sort of a “wait and see” feeling. It’s not really anything new — Windows has had this functionality going back a few generations (I can recall go-back features as far back as Windows 2000). Time Machine actually presented a bit better visually and from a usability standpoint. But having had some experience with these features before, my general feeling is that they take up too much disk space to be practical. (I’ve troubleshot machines that enabled this feature in XP and I played around with the “go back” add on software that Symantec sells). This probably wouldn’t be much different. How could you retain all of that data without having a lot of disk waste? Perhaps for the casual user this would be practical. And maybe this could help me. If more of the folks that I support had this, then maybe I’d stop getting calls from people who could “just swear they had that file yesterday”. But I’m not that tantalized by a feature like this until I have a better understanding of what I’m sacrificing in terms of system resources and disk space. (But nonetheless a good idea for users who don’t manage a lot of music, movies and other large media files.)
Spaces – Spaces was a simple concept, but one that I could foresee myself using. Basically it was a take on creating themed workspaces. The demo showed a desktop with different applications strewn across the screen. Spaces would allow you to group the workspaces manually according to your task. The demo showed four workspaces — not sure if you could have additional workspaces. So to put this in practical use, perhaps on one screen you could have your work related windows — your VPN e-mail, your work documents, proposals, etc. Switching to another screen, you could have a few personal writing projects you were working on. On another desktop you could have an iMovie project you were editing. And so on.
My reaction here is that this sounds kinda nice, but realistically I don’t see myself breaking my desktop out. I’m too worried about system resources. Unless there’s some way of making sure that only the active screen uses resources, then maybe I’d use it. Perhaps if Spaces allows you to save the spaces when you shut down and then have them present in the same state when you boot up?!! Now, that might be truly practical! We’ll see.
Spotlight – Spotlight is already my favorite feature of OS X and I was listening to the keynote praying that they wouldn’t “mess it up”. Spotlight is the built in feature that allows you to search your entire hard drive and any other connected hard drives for data within seconds. Most of my searches are done in less than 8 seconds. It’s one of those things that really has made life easier — but enough about that. The Leopard revision of Spotlight will enable users to search not just their hard drive but other Macs on the domain, servers, etc. Also, they claim that they’ll be improving the functionality a bit.
Let’s hope they don’t mess this up. I’m sure my Windows pals are gonna e-mail me with claims of similar functionality from apps like Google Desktop and X1. I’ve used both as well as the MSN Search there’s nothing quite like Spotlight. It has to be used in practice to be appreciated. What’s nicer than being able to find an e-mail or a document in less than 10 seconds based on the contents of the e-mail and the metadata? (For the Mac folks, I haven’t quite adapted to using Quicksilver yet — I’ll get there.)
Mail – The Mail update saw a few new features including the ability to create “to-do” lists and “notes” from e-mail. The nice part is that notes are created on a separate stationary and have their own home on the toolbar, a la Outlook (i.e. Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items, Notes). What was nicest about the changes is that any line in a note or an e-mail (or even the entire e-mail itself) can be marked as a “to-do” item. Leopard actually has a “to-do” server. So when an item is highlighted and marked as a “to-do”, a window will come up where the user can give it a date and a time on iCal. (Sounds like a trick to make some of us complacent folks a bit more action-oriented!)
Overall, this is pretty much the event that it should have been. I’m hearing reactions from lots of folks complaining about not seeing the “iPhone” or any other rumored products. I think Apple observers have gotten a bit spoiled (but that’s a topic for another post). The bottom line is that this was an event for the development community. And judging from the reaction to the keynote, those developers in attendance sounded rather pleased.