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From Keynotes to Congregation: The Real Mac OS X Conference

by Derrick Story and Daniel H. Steinberg

Editor's note -- This article begins with commentary by Derrick Story, the co-chair for the Mac OS X Conference. Then, Daniel Steinberg contributes with reports on keynotes by Tim O'Reilly and David Pogue. (There are some excellent practical Panther tips included in the discussion on David's talk.) Finally, Derrick draws some conclusions about how this conference evolved into an event as much designed by the attendees as the program committee.

As a conference attendee, you never really know what to expect when you attend something as new as the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference. This was only the second year for this fledging event, designed for serious OS X geeks.

True, there were familiar names on the keynote dance card, such as Tim O'Reilly, David Pogue, Adam Engst, and Andy Ihnatko. Adding excitement to the mix was the curiosity surrounding the Tuesday night appearance of Dr. Srinidhi Varadarajan, who explained the details of building Virginia Tech's supercomputer with 1,100 Apple G5s. And then there were the sessions themselves, featuring experts such as Scott Anguish, Michael Bartosh, and mmalcolm Crawford, just to name a very few.

All of the keynotes were well attended and greeted with enthusiasm, but the conference evolved well beyond those morning highlights. Photo by Jan Blanchard.

I'm sure for many, expectations were set on these familiar aspects that we all use to justify the time and financial investment that comes with attending a technical conference. But once the event began to unfold, it took on the characteristics of those who are present -- innovative software developers, sysadmins, part-time programmers, content creators, QuickTime authors, news media, and conference staff. The second Mac OS X Conference was as much about sharing information around a table in the upstairs mezzanine as it was about dispensing tips and techniques in the session rooms. As the week moved forward, a new conference emerged, and it was one that I don't think anyone could have anticipated beforehand.

As we look back for a moment, let's see how it all started with talks by Tim O'Reilly and David Pogue. Daniel Steinberg writes about his impressions of the opening moments of the conference.

The O'Reilly Radar -- iApps Best Practices

They were lined up in the halls of the Santa Clara Convention Center for the Tuesday morning opening keynote. Just after 8:30 a.m., the doors opened and the attendees hurried to chairs near electrical outlets, popped open their laptops, and started iChatting with each other. iTunes was cranked up and there was plenty of new music to share. This year's conference kicked off with keynote addresses by Tim O'Reilly and David Pogue.

Tim O'Reilly began his keynote with one of his favorite quotes. He urged developers to think about the future because, in the words of Ray Kurzweil, "an invention has to make sense in the world where you finish building the invention, not the one in which you start building it." In particular, O'Reilly pressed developers to consider where some of the advances in networking are going to take us.

In Dave Stutz's manifesto on leaving Microsoft, he advised, "Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come." Stutz concluded his essay by advising folks at Microsoft to "Stop looking over your shoulder and invent something." O'Reilly asked what Apple is doing to realize the vision that Dave Stutz issued to Microsoft.

As a first example, O'Reilly considered iTunes as a next-generation application and asked what is cool about it. Following the theme, he showed how iTunes extends beyond a single device: when you insert a CD, a web service uses CDDB to find the metadata for it. He next clicked on Shared Music and finds music shared by many audience members. The Music Store extends the application to an e-commerce site from within a desktop application. In passing, O'Reilly pulls out an iPod and notes that you can sync your iTunes with it and concludes with some light criticisms about the playlists.

Next, O'Reilly suggested we look at iPhoto with fresh eyes. At bottom of the iPhoto application window there are services that reach beyond the device. You can order prints and books, but it feels like something is missing. You can't, for example, buy stock photos. He said that the difference seems to be that "with iPhoto, the assumption is that I produce media but don't consume it, where iTunes assumes I consume media but don't produce it." He noted that .mac slide sharing is a start but as Duncan says, "it has a little too much friction".

Mac DevCenter editor-in-chief and conference co-chair Derrick Story chimed in: "I'd like to be able to take some of the photos I've taken here, organize them into an album, and share them with all of you the in same way that I can share my iTunes music."

Consistency Across the iApps

O'Reilly repeated and modifies one of his favorite quotes by William Gibson: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." He added, "even within Apple, you see cool things, but not in all of the iApps." This is a problem for Apple. O'Reilly quoted Apple's human interface guideline, which advises that "Consistency in the interface allows people to transfer their knowledge and skills from one application to any other. Use the standard elements of the Macintosh interface to ensure consistency within your application."

Another organizing mechanism for users is metaphors. Think of simple, consistent metaphors that help you use applications. In networking, we have automatic lookup using web services, Rendezvous, buddy list, gateways (email, the web site as drop box or as a store), sync, and publish and subscribe.

Note that iPhoto cooperates with email, but it doesn't cooperate very well with iChat or the Address Book. Conference co-chair Rael Dornfest complained about iCal's limitations: "why can't I share calendars locally? I can subscribe to a calendar, but want to only keep the relevant pieces. I can't share with buddies, but I can't invite you in a chat without dragging and dropping. You can copy and drag from one app to another."

O'Reilly summarized the state of the iApps: "We have a melange of metaphors that are used inconsistently across the applications." He suggested the following set of metaphors that every app should consider, even though not every app should support every metaphor. Consider this set:

  • Rendezvous (it is a crime that iPhoto does not do Rendezvous).
  • Permissions and buddy lists (we need to see hard thinking about managing who gets access to what -- it's a hard problem).
  • Two-way (iTunes assumes one way and iPhoto assumes the other way) There are little bits of two-way. For example, you can submit names to CDDB. That two-wayness needs to be thought about.
  • Applications need to be extensible -- this implies decomposability; also, it requires more support for scripting. An application should be decomposable into a service, and yet scalable across multiple devices.

Nothing is free, O'Reilly acknowledged; the issues include intellectual property. O'Reilly sees the iTunes Music store as being the beginning of a real music revolution and suggested that we consider how the technology might go beyond music. Another key to successful software is that it is hackable. He explained, "when people hack, they show us where technology wants to go. Make your apps hackable. The manufacturer didn't support this but I want this. A lot of software progressions worth tracking start with hacks."

O'Reilly concluded that he had "hoped we see more in Panther than we do" and wants to "see the best practices of these apps come together and get more streamlined." On the other hand, his talk served as a possible road map for Apple.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Panther

Missing Manual author David Pogue followed O'Reilly with a look at some of the reasons you might want to buy Panther. First and foremost, the stealth factor for the Mac is its built-in security. He explained that Mac OS X has not yet had a single documented virus, more ports aren't open by default, and you can empty the trash using "secure empty trash" so that no one can resurrect your files. Before Panther, you could bypass the Mac OS X security by footing from Mac OS 9.

David Pogue shared many useful Panther secrets during his Tuesday morning keynote address at the Mac OS X Conference. Photo by Derrick Story.

Pogue spoke enthusiastically about the new Finder sidebar. He pointed to the trivial similarities between the sidebar, the dock, and the toolbar, but offered a few differences. The sidebar folds up the desktop starting column view at that point. A timesaving shortcut is to park destination folders in the sidebar for a moment. Drag items into the folder into the sidebar and when you are done, drag the folder out of the sidebar. If you look at the Save-Open popup dialog, the initial popup menu of "where" is the list of things in your sidebar. The Save-Open dialog settings can be altered. Click on a folder and you will be taken to that folder as a target. Click on a file name and the Save-As name will default to that name.

As time grew short, the number of new features came fast and furious. In TextEdit, you can highlight text and use the services menu to search Goggle directly from TextEdit. You can also use the summary service to get your Mac's version of a document summary. Get auto complete in text edit by starting a word and typing Option-Escape to get suggestions for words.

The Preview application also includes some hefty improvements. You can select an area of a graphic, crop it, and save it as different types. You can now open PostScript files and print them.

Plus, Apple has the only default Calculator that now speaks back to you :)

More system-wide hacks include putting more menulets in your menu bar. You'll find an assortment of available menulets in /System/Library/Coreservices/Menuextras. Pogue used Expose and Command-Tab together. With Expose, he showed just the documents belonging to a particular application. With Command-Tab he cycled through the running applications, and their documents came to the front.

You can still bring up the force-quit menu using Command-Option-Escape. If you add Shift to that sequence, you will force-quit the front program without bringing up the dialog. Since most of the time the application giving you problems is the frontmost application, this saves time. In fact, as Pogue showed, you can access menu items, dock items, and pretty much everything without using the mouse. Everything is keyboard-controllable.

Pogue wrapped up his presentation up by addressing the cost of Panther. Just a year after Apple charged for Jaguar, they are charging $130 for Panther. He began his talk by saying there were way more than 150 new features in Panther and had shown us a couple of dozen in the course of his 45-minute address. Now he started adding up the savings. Even if you will never use some of the features that he included in his calculation, Apple is justified in charging for Panther.

Outside the Session Halls

After David's talk, there was a sense that this conference was going to be a success. That's what keynotes are supposed to do: set the tone. This trend continued throughout the week with outstanding morning presentations by Adam Engst, Andy Ihnatko, Bud Tribble, and Terry Gaasterland.

Another conference of sorts came together in the mezzanine area of the Mac event. Here, thanks to plenty of tables, wireless networking, and refreshments, attendees and speakers alike gathered to compare notes. Photo by Jan Blanchard.

But within minutes after David had dispensed his last pearl of wisdom, a parallel conference began to emerge. As one attendee remarked (when I asked him later in the week how it was going), "The sessions and keynotes are great. Dr Varadarajan was amazing. But what I like the most is hanging out here with other guys who do what I do and understand what I'm saying." I heard this type of comment over and over again.

One moment in particular crystallized this event for me. On Wednesday night, after the reception for the Mac OS X Innovators had concluded in the Rendezvous Lounge on the second floor, I attended to some business in the staff office. After wrapping up, I walked along the rail of the mezzanine looking down at the lobby and bar below. There, in one corner of the bar, was a circle of the Innovator award-winners, engaged in active conversation. I have no idea what plot they were hatching, but to see these top minds pulling together and comparing notes suddenly made all of the efforts of the contest worthwhile for me.

The conference was infused with top Mac software developers, such as the winners of the Mac OS X Innovators Contest. Photo by Jan Blanchard.

This is a picture I saw many times during the week -- in the hallways, the mezzanine, outside by the pool during lunch, and in the lounge. If there was a way to capture these exchanges and publish them for the Mac world to see, it would be an amazing body of knowledge.

If you weren't able to attend this year, we've made a concerted effort to pull some of these revelations together and publish them on the conference news page. More information will follow here on Mac Devcenter.

And for those of you who were there with us in Santa Clara, feel free to share a nugget or two of knowledge that you learned at the event, so that others in our community can continue to benefit from this event.

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

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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