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Developer Notes from WWDC 2003

by Derrick Story

You could fill a book with subtext from the first 14 hours of WWDC. The big announcements were indeed impressive. But developer discussion over empty boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and icy Jamba Juice smoothies tell a broader story of Apple's place in the technology world right now.

Regardless of how Apple corporate wants to portray its products, the Mac isn't a machine for the masses any more than red wine is the preferred beverage at baseball games. To be honest, the masses don't have the capability to appreciate the elegance and depth of this platform.

In reality, the Mac is a computer for developers, geeks, power users, risk takers, visionaries, lunatics, scientists, musicians, photographers, educators, and entrepreneurs. When you consider that half of the PC world is still running Windows 95 and 98, you understand why Mac OS X is often overlooked. Many of these people think that an operating system is some type of medical procedure.

So who cares about ubiquity anyway? Once you have 10 to 15 percent of the market, you have enough momentum to keep the best developers employed and paying taxes. This audience in San Francisco gets that. And more importantly, so does Apple.

Forget the Press Releases, What Are Developers Discussing?

So what were some of the topics tossed over green salads and pasta? Here are a few of the headlines that you might have missed.

  • San Jose is out; San Francisco is in.

  • Motorola let IBM eat their lunch.

  • Panther is here; Longhorn is out there, somewhere.

  • Safari is an application model that we all should study.

  • Expose will blow your mind.

  • Threads finally made it into

  • The search function in Panther is fast, real fast, damn fast.

  • iChat A/V just works.

  • Free iShoots for developers is good idea.

  • Xcode programming tools are serious business for serious work.

  • "Premature Specification" isn't nearly as satisfying as a full-length Steve demo.

  • The G5 64-bit processor also runs existing 32-bit apps, but you can compile your work to 64-bit faster than Starbucks can brew coffee.

  • The scientific community should dedicate a building to Jon Rubinstein.

  • Carbon is far from dead. Cocoa is far from being appreciated.
  • Al Gore might not have invented the Internet, but he knows how to use his Mac.

  • Five years ago, who would have thought that it would be the combination of Steve's vision, open source's brains, and IBM's muscle that would save the Mac platform from extinction?

G5 on display.
Oh you sexy thing! The G5 attracted photographers like bees to pollen.

Over dinner do you think we were talking about how some Wall Street analyst thinks Apple stock should be valued? No way. We were comparing notes about the nine computer-controlled fans that cool the new G5 through four air streams while creating only 35db of noise. Someone said that whispering is about 20 db. That's quiet.

Or while having a beer in the Expo hall, we debated whether Panther's new user-centric Finder is indeed better than Jaguar's computer-centric model. But asking a bunch of geeks about computer-centric anything is like asking a dog about scratching.

By the way, did you see the size of the bus in the new G5 architecture? 1 GHz. Now that's a pipe.

Mac OS X Hacks

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I'll Take Two Please

Oh, and next time someone says, "Well, I think Mac OS X is a cool operating system, but I don't really want to pay a premium price for the hardware to run it," pull this out of your back pocket.

You can buy a 2 GHz dual processor G5 that can hold up to 8 GB of memory with a Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card, 4X SuperDrive, high performance I/O, serial ATA hard drives, 133 MHz PCI slots, and full SMP to take advantage of those dual processors for $1,000 less than the equivalent Dell machine that doesn't fare as well in some of the benchmark tests. And this machine is built right here in the US.

Goodies for Creative Pros

In addition to all the excitement around iChat A/V, lots of other tools for creative types were announced too. Pixlet, the studio grade codec for QuickTime that doesn't use interframe compression resulting in super high quality video, is included in Panther. It's based on wavelet technology and was developed (in part) for Pixar, hence the name.

Video chatting demo.
Video chatting was definitely a major attraction at WWDC, but there were lots of other good news for fun-loving pros.

There will be a builtin Fax button on every print dialog box in Panther. Also included is a new font management technology called Font Book. And Steve says that the updated Preview application will be the fastest PDF viewer in the world.

Speaking of fast, Greg Gilley, Adobe VP of Engineering, came on stage to talk about how Photoshop has been optimized to take advantage of the new G5 architecture. The "dual processor duel" between the G5 and the top of the line Dell backed up Mr. Gilley's comments; the G5 ran complex Photoshop rendering 2.1X faster.

I'll Have a Double Shot of Performance Please

O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference.

By now you might be figuring out that the message to developers is performance. Apple clearly wants "application speed" to be a priority.

Safari is the shining example of how to do it right. The engineering team made performance the most important feature, and it was measured constantly. No regression was allowed from build to build. If an engineer wanted to introduce a feature that degraded performance, then there had to find some other way to improve speed in order to keep the feature.

Tips from the Safari project include: use the right API for the job, make performance a priority, measure constantly, and never regress. (Apple seems to be taking this speed thing seriously.)

Everything Coming Together

The hardware is robust, the operating system is evolving, the developer base is growing, and customers worth having are taking notice of Apple once again. I call it peanut brittle computing: You have "salt of the earth" Unix blended with the sweetness of GUI applications. My gosh, what a good time to be an Apple developer.

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

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