I recently had a good phone conversation with Chris Bourdon, the senior product line manager for the Tiger project at Apple Computer. A few days later he was the opening speaker at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference.
In his feature presentation, "The Tiger Project," Chris provided an inside look at where the Tiger project stands now, and discussed some of its most promising technologies. For those of you who weren't able to attend the conference, I'm going to cover the highlights from his talk, plus incorporate some additional information gleaned from our phone call.
Panther has provided us with a modern, stable operating system. Now that this foundation is built, Apple has been able to put even more energy into innovation on the platform.
I asked Chris to highlight the new technologies he thought would be of particular interest to the O'Reilly audience. Here are highlights of what he discussed.
Spotlight. This technology enables comprehensive search across the whole OS and its applications. Apple is tapping the metadata and content on the hard drive with their very fast index engines to create powerful but nimble search. Plus it's highly extensible so developers can use this technology for their own ideas. And this is a key concept: you can build Spotlight into your application using the Spotlight APIs. Unix users also have command-line access to Spotlight. And there will even be Smart Folders that can store your results and dynamically update as you change the data on your hard drive.
Dashboard. Here's another approach to providing you with access to the information you want quickly, this time through the use of widgets. Dashboard organizes all your widgets, allows you to select which widgets are visible, and provides you with a mechanism using a hot key or mouse gesture for quickly activating and deactivating Dashboard.
The cool thing about widgets is that you can easily build your own, or choose from the hundreds that I think will be developed by others. Most likely we're going to see all sorts of uses for this in education, business, and shared environments. Apple will provide many pre-built widgets in the Tiger release. Developers will be able to create feature-rich applications with these tools.
64-bit Computation. 64-bit application development comes of age in Tiger. Apple is making it easier to take advantage of the powerful Mac hardware that's available now. With Tiger we'll most likely see a proliferation of 64-bit apps. What's cool though, is that 64-bit and 32-bit applications can live side by side. Plus the 32-bit apps will run as fast or faster than they do today. So there's no performance penalty associated with added 64-bit support. Developers can create 32-GUIs that tap powerful 64-bit computation, all in the same environment.
Xgrid. The Xgrid client is included in every version of Tiger. This presents tremendous power in environments with lots of Macs. Conceivably, even spare cycles on an admin workstation could be used to help with computationally intense activities.
Syncing. The popularity of iSync has caught the attention of developers, making embedded synching high on the feature "request list" for Tiger. So not only will syncing be built into the OS, developers will be able to use Apple's technology for their own applications. It is improved and runs faster than before. Plus, the sync engine is extensible, enabling users to add their own preferences. This means Mail, System Preferences, and other core applications will be able to sync.
Core Media Technologies. Core Audio is very fast, with low latency and high resolution. It takes advantage of a technology called "audio units" that allows developers to add effects that become part of the overall Core Audio system. Any application that calls these units in the system can put them to use within the program. Core Image is accelerated image processing that allows similar flexibility for developers. Plus, Core Image taps the processing power of today's amazing graphics cards and doesn't need to unnecessarily tax the CPU.
Automator. This is more than just AppleScript. Automator is drag-and-drop application development using pre-built actions that you can string together to create a workflow. Not only does Automator simplify the process of building AppleScripts to streamline production, developers can use it to create whole new applications.
No doubt, Apple has assembled topnotch engineers who have both talent and vision. So many of their ideas spawn from the energy of these interactions. But Chris also discussed during the phone interview how Apple relies heavily on the independent developer community outside of Cupertino.
A top-of-mind example was the evolution of the synching functionality. Apple provided iSync, which allowed synchronization among its computers and many devices, such as PDAs, smartphones, the iPod, etc. It's also a popular feature of .Mac. But the developer community wanted to be able to incorporate this technology into their apps too, taking this functionality to a new level. That was great feedback, and Apple is making its synching technology available in Tiger as a result.
These interactions with developers are important to maintaining the vitality of the platform.
Many of us believe that Mac OS X is driving innovation on the desktop. Apple has made the transition to its modern operating system and can now focus on elevating the platform to new heights in computing. At the same time, it appears that Microsoft is still years away from making the transition, let alone refining it.
Chris thinks that some pundits in technology look at the desktop possibilities with Linux and they get excited. But in reality, Apple has most of those possibilities already built-in to Mac OS X. Plus users have the convenience of plug-and-play, refined productivity apps, excellent UI, and much more.
In the end, many people view Mac OS X on the desktop as the best of both worlds.
During the phone conversation with Chris, I mentioned that many of the developers here at O'Reilly Media also agree that Mac OS X is the best of both worlds. But I sometimes wonder how long Apple can keep up this tremendous pace of innovation. Since 2001, Apple has blown away the competition in this regard. So I asked Chris what makes him optimistic, if indeed he is, that Apple can maintain this pace?
Chris replied that innovation is at the core of everything they do at Apple. Mac OS X v10.4, Tiger, will be the most important release for developers since Mac OS X was first released in 2001.
In his view Tiger is loaded with a number of cutting-edge technologies that translate into new and interesting opportunities for almost every type of developer. In fact, developers working with prerelease versions of Tiger -- ADC Select and Premier members -- are already finding innovative ways to use the powerful new features, APIs, and frameworks. The latest Tiger build just became available for these developers to deliver innovative new applications when Tiger ships in the first half of 2005.
I suspect that Tiger will be popular with current Mac users. But I think the real benefit of Mac OS X 10.4 will be realized as users discover the massive new wave of innovative, Tiger-ready applications from independent developers, many of whom are working with prerelease versions of Tiger right now. I think 2005 is going to be a great year for the Mac.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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