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WWDC 2002: Everyone needs a pet Jaguar

By Johnny (johnny@macedition.com), May 15, 2002

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Steve Jobs spoke to developers, but everyone got something to chew on at the WWDC 2002 keynote. No new products were released, but Apple did pull the curtain back just a little. Most of the speech focused on the nifty features coming in Jaguar (expected late this summer), with a few hints here and there as to the company’s (and therefore, developers’) future direction. Of course, hints are all we’re going to get given Jobs’ intense focus on secrecy.

Of course, Apple did remind attendees (developers! developers! developers! developers!) that the future of the Mac OS lie in X, and that 9 is “dead”. Don’t worry, jobs acknowledged that 9 isn’t dead yet for many customers, but the message was clear: developers should be focusing 100% on Mac OS X. What does this mean for Carbon? I have a feeling that Microsoft, Adobe, and Macromedia will continue to force Carbon improvements, keeping it near feature-parity with Cocoa, for as long as they consider it necessary.

But most of us aren’t developers; we’re just quivering in anticipation of the vision of Jaguar that Jobs painted at the keynote. So let’s look at the potential of the cooler stuff that the average Mac user will get in Jaguar.

Speed

The most obvious deficit of Mac OS X is speed. 10.1 made the OS usable; Jaguar promises to make it fast, at least on newer hardware. Performance improvements will come from many places; some will require new versions of software, others will be inherent in the shipping OS. We’re currently hearing about a 10-20 percent general speed increase overall (even on older hardware).

The most exciting news to come out of the keynote, though, is an answer to the notoriously sluggish Quartz rendering. Mix in a liberal dose of hardware acceleration (Radeon or better cards only, please), broil for 4 months, and what do you get? Quartz Extreme. This has the potential to make “the world’s most advanced operating system” appear as zippy as the less fashionable competitors and maybe even lead to real usability improvements as interface designers experiment with the cool new capabilities. I’m disappointed that Apple has been unable to deliver real performance improvements without resorting to throwing hardware at the problem. The famous total-cost-of-ownership advantage of the Mac has dwindled as new hardware becomes even more rapidly obsolete.

[Ed note: While it is true that Quartz Extreme requires new hardware to be most effective, Apple did show other display improvements that will be evident on all systems.]

Even as performance marches on, though, Jobs can’t help but throw in more cycle-chewing bubble gum. Think Secret reports that slick new aqueous effects for actions like closing windows and arranging icons have been added. But Apple, all will be forgiven if in Jaguar, the time it takes to resize Project Builder windows on a 500MHz G4 with 768MB of RAM isn’t measured in seconds.

Finder

The Finder gets multithreading, which hopefully translates into less of that damned spinning beach ball and more of a snappy feel. Multiprocessor Macs will also get a little extra something out of this, which may give Apple another reason to push multiple processors to at least the whole Pro line of hardware. I can’t believe that it’s taken so long to bring this to a piece of software so central to the Mac experience, but once it’s here, life on Mac OS X will be nicer.

The recent 10.1.4 update brought big optimizations to OS X’s HFS+ file system. That newfound boost, along with the Finder’s multithreading support, makes possible the new Fast Find feature of the Finder; this promises to help me find a file without having to remember which of the countless Library folders I put it in. I don’t think we’ll get a true appreciation for how much Fast Find will change our work habits until we use it. We’ll be able to cut across folder hierarchies to get to our files, in a manner much more immediate than through Sherlock.

We also get spring-loaded folders back! Now just give me back tabbed folders and the ability to remember how I actually arranged my workspace, and I might not miss the OS 9 Finder any more. But whereas Jobs and friends acknowledged the users’ and developers’ wish lists last year, they were largely silent at this year’s keynote about the interface improvements and missing features that users have not stopped clamoring for — avoiding issues like the use of metadata in linking files with apps, the perceived lack of spatial respect in the Finder, better Open/Save dialogs and other various odds and ends from OS 9 that we find ourselves acutely missing.

Rendezvous

This technology appears to bring AppleTalk into the Internet Age properly, and the Digital Convergence Age as well. Apple is going to push this as a “smart appliance” solution, where computers, as well as other digital devices, will tap into a network — via FireWire as well as AirPort and Ethernet — and provide services for other devices. The possibilities? Off the top of my head: A digital camera or scanner that can send images to any standards-compliant printer, TV or email account that it can find on the network. A digital video recorder that can be controlled by, and play back on, any computer or TV it can find (if the MPAA doesn’t stop it first). An iTunes music library to be played (as demonstrated by Apple at the WWDC keynote) locally on another computer or stereo, or uploaded wirelessly to a car stereo (if the RIAA doesn’t stop it first).

Properly marketed and implemented across both the PC and consumer spaces, this technology will make Apple look prescient again, even if it is just a extension of the ZeroConfig Networking Initiative. After all, look what the original iMac did for USB.

Extras

Apple’s throwing in a few more extras, tossing a bone to various factions, as it were. Universal Access is back in a more meaningful way (“Hey! Look! MacEdition in LARGE PRINT!”). Inkwell finally surfaces, a lonely companion to speech recognition in the “cool technologies awaiting a purpose” category. VPN and Windows disk sharing integration should work out of the box for many when Jaguar finally ships, leaving fewer complaints on the IS cutting room floor (and fodder for a “Jaguar on Enterprise” article).

iApps

In addition to the shiny new tech goodness baked into the new OS version, Apple is still making those little standalone apps that make Club Macintosh so appealing. The new iChat, to be included with Jaguar, is an AIM client, sure. But there’s also integration with Apple’s Mail app, so that your conversations seamlessly transition from email to a real-time chat, and encrypted peer-to-peer file sharing, which opens a lot of possibilities for the future. This may be a consumer application, but it has a lot of possible business applications as well. I just hope that the interface is smoother than it looks.

The Address Book has received more than just a facelift. vCards feel at home and your Bluetooth cell phone will feel positively chatty with this iApp. Supposedly, this information repository will be open for other apps, like Palm Organizer or Entourage, to take advantage of its centralized chewiness (whether they will, remains to be see). This could be glue that makes it easier for any app to talk to anyone we know; Apple’s provided the example in the integration between iChat, Mail and Address Book.

Sherlock will also take on a new role as an information browser in Jaguar, especially now that the Fast Find feature built into the Finder will handle many of the regular ol’ file-finding duties. Apple did a smart thing in emulating Watson (and though some complain that this smacks of Microsoft, hey, welcome to capitalism). I imagine that Sherlock 3 will stay open on my system, since most of the quick trips I make to the Web are to look up the bits of information like maps, TV listings and phone numbers that it can retrieve with more agility.

See a pattern here? Apple's squeezing more usefulness out of the Internet even as it takes a page from Microsoft's playbook on integration and “bundling.” Information management in this age of information overload is critical, and Jaguar will give me tools to help weed out the noise and get to the signal; whether it’s an email conversation that leads to an iChat, all my contacts on a cell phone or iPod, a Fast Find window into my hard drive, or driving directions through Sherlock. It may not be the next great leap in human-computer interface, but maybe Quartz and Quartz Extreme will provide the building blocks with which previously unimagined interfaces will be constructed.

Sure, I’m still worried that Jobs’ Cone of Silence is slowly eroding support for the platform at the roots; who wants to develop in a dark tunnel leading to an unknown destination? But while it looks hazy after September, the near future appears to be bright for Mac users, and at least indicates that it may stay bright for a while. Apple is showing us that with Jaguar, it's aiming to improve the Digital Lifestyle, but it’s also making strides in corralling the Information Lifestyle.

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