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Solid Mac OS X Apps Highlight a New Year and a New Approach
Pages: 1, 2

3D-XplorMath, the 3DFS Consortium ... Adds Up

As a recovering mathematician, I had to pick one piece of mathematical visualization software. If you want to understand a curve or a surface, the freely available 3D-XplorMath (renamed from the original 3D-FilmStrip) is a beautiful piece of software. In the accompanying documentation, original author Richard Palais explains the thoughts behind the drawing algorithms. Sometimes the right thing to do when you are exposed to a new platform full of toys is to ignore them. The charm and usefulness of this product might be lost if it embraced OpenGL and the rest of what is available in Quartz Extreme.

If you're familiar with high end tools, you may wrongly conclude that the drawing methodology in 3D-XplorMath is inferior. It looks primitive. For a surface, you see the back soon to be hidden side drawn and then you see the near side drawn on top of the initial image. Wouldn't it be more efficient to just draw the visible portions? Sure, but the purpose of this software is to help you get a feel for different surfaces -- by seeing it all drawn this way you get a feel for a complex surface. Similarly, when you grab a piece of surface to rotate it, you see the mesh rotating. Surely, in these days of OpenGL a flashier rotation could have been accomplished. But, again, by not seeing the entire colored-in surface, you get a better feel for what's being rotated and better understand the surface.

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No tour of 3D-XplorMath is complete without a pair of red green 3D glasses. You can choose to view space curves and surfaces in stereo. The math objects seem to pop out of the screen at you. This is a great teaching tool for everything from high school level mathematics through graduate studies and beyond. 3D-XplorMath supports Apple events for making movies or JPGs, for drawing, for executing menu commands, and for making lists of surfaces or space curves.

Rendezvous, Apple Computer ... Totally Disruptive

I think Rendezvous is a great idea. Simply put, the idea is that machines communicate using IP on a Wide Area Network, so why not use IP for local networks. If you know much about networking, you know the answer to that question is that you don't want to have to mess with assigning IP addresses and names. Rendezvous allows devices to choose their own, locally unique IP address without a DHCP server and their own, locally unique domain name without a DNS server.

You've seen how Rendezvous is used in demos of music streaming from one iTunes collection to another and in your use of iChat on local networks. At MacWorld Expo this week, Brother announced that they are shipping the first Rendezvous-enabled printer for workgroups. You plug in your printer and machines on your network will recognize it and be able to use it. TiVo is using Rendezvous to discover Macs in a local network and stream pictures and music from the Macs to your TV. Aspyr has announced that all of their future networked games are going to use Rendezvous to allow players to easily find and join games on their local network, beginning with NASCAR Racing 2002.

iStorm, Math Game House ... Solid

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iStorm is a cool application that allows you to collaborate with others in real time on a document. You might start up a document and then decide that you'd like to share it with others. When you do, they will see it in a list of possible documents to join. The documents are registered and discovered using Rendezvous. The iStorm interface is clean and easy to use. A single button at the bottom of the screen is grey if you aren't currently connected to a shared document. It is green if the current document is available for you to edit. It is Blue if you have pressed the green button to take control of the document. Finally Red indicates that someone else has control of the document.

If the button is red you can forcibly take control back by repeatedly pressing the red button. The first time you press the red button a scratch pad will pop up to allow you to record your ideas and later cut and paste them into the document. It would be nice if pressing the red button somehow signaled the person with control of the document that someone wanted it. In pair programming, for example, this is a much nicer way to pass a keyboard remotely than snatching it by pressing the red button six times. The folks at the Math Game House have put a lot of thought into the interface. The application is easy to learn and the documentation is very clear.

X11 for Mac OS X, Apple Computer ... Bold Move

It's hard to know whether or not the open source community is happy with the release of X11 for Mac OS X. X11 apps can run on the desktop along with your other Mac OS X apps. X11 apps are now piped through the standard Apple graphic stack. This means that standard Unix windows apps can now take advantage of Quartz in hardware accelerated two dimensional and three dimensional applications.

This is a pretty aggressive move by Apple to support these X11 applications. At the same time, Apple has just trumped the effort of groups that have been working to bring X11 to the Mac. The good news for the end user is that this version of X is easy for end users to install. This makes it easier for many Linux and Unix applications to be ported to the Mac platform.

Daniel H. Steinberg is the editor for the new series of Mac Developer titles for the Pragmatic Programmers. He writes feature articles for Apple's ADC web site and is a regular contributor to Mac Devcenter. He has presented at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, MacWorld, MacHack and other Mac developer conferences.

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