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The Three Faces of Steve: WWDC 2006

by Daniel H. Steinberg

New hardware, new software, and a week to hang out at sessions with 4,000 of my closest friends. It's Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2006) and, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, it was the largest one ever. There were 4,200 developers from 48 countries along with 1,000 Apple engineers.

This year's show opened with a video featuring the actors who play the role of the PC and the Mac in Apple's recent series of television commercials. After welcoming the audience of developers, Jobs let the audience know that others would help him on stage. This, in and of itself, was unusual. There are often supporting roles in the WWDC and MacWorld keynotes but only one featured artist. Not only did Jobs share the stage with Bertrand Serlet, Phil Schiller, and Scott Forstall, but he allowed them to make many of the morning's announcements. In a way, they represented the three faces of Steve.

The Transition Is Complete

Jobs told the developers that the previous quarter had been Apple's best Mac quarter ever. He said that the 1.33 million Macs sold represented a growth rate ahead of the industry, which means that Apple is gaining market share. Three-quarters of the Macs shipped were Intel-based. Apple now claims 12 percent of the U.S. retail sales in notebook computers. With this, Jobs brought SVP of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, to the stage. Schiller is no stranger to WWDC keynotes, but this time his role was a bit different. Schiller introduced the latest in Apple hardware.

First up was the expected replacement to the professional desktop. The Mac Pro is built around a pair of Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 processors available at 2GHz, 2.66GHz, or 3GHz. Schiller said that the 128-bit vector engine is faster than the velocity engine they replace and that each processor has a 4MB shared L2 cache. Each chip sits on a 1.33GHz frontside bus. Check out the tech specs. As expected, the replacement to the G5 desktops had to be 64-bit.

The MacPro is built around a pair of Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 processors available at 2GHz, 2.66GHz, or 3GHz.
The MacPro is built around a pair of Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 processors available at 2GHz, 2.66GHz, or 3GHz.

Schiller stressed the improvements in performance per watt saying that this new chip is three times more efficient than the G5. You might expect a new enclosure for the Mac Pro. There is no longer any need to include the cooling paths that defined the last case. Instead, Apple has decided to load the existing case with options. There are slots for four internal hard drives that can just be snapped into place and could hold up to 2TB. There is room for a second optical drive and more connections have been moved to the front of the case. Airport and Bluetooth are not included. 1GB of memory is standard but the computer can ship with up to 16GB of memory installed.

Now that Apple has attacked the performance "myth" by adopting Intel machines, they are taking on the pricing "myth." Schiller said that Apple is working to fight the perception that Apple computers are more expensive than Windows boxes. Before turning the keynote back to his boss, Schiller also announced that in October the new Intel-based Xserves will ship. The new features that most appealed to the audience were redundant power and new software for lights-out management.

Redmond's Cat

Once again, the upper floors of Moscone West are full of signs taunting Microsoft. One reads "Hasta la vista, Vista" another announces that Leopard is Vista 2.0 and a third says that Redmond also has a cat (like Tiger, Panther, Leopard ...), "a copy cat." On the posters, whether deliberate or accidental, only the top half of the X appears. Almost like a "V" for Vista. Some developers found this taunting mean-spirited, while others said that it is smart of Apple to position themselves as the innovators in the operating system war.

Jobs pointed out that Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger for Intel is actually the sixth release of Mac OS X in five years. Cheetah shipped in Spring 2001 and was followed by Puma that September. Jaguar released July 2002, Panther a year later and Tiger in April 2005. Jobs said that there are now 19 million active Mac OS X users and that Tiger is Apple's best-selling software product. The sixth release was the Intel version of Tiger, which as Jobs pointed out, was a port of 86 million lines of source code to an entirely different architecture.

Jobs next introduced Bertrand Serlet, SVP of Software Engineering, to take a look at what Microsoft has been doing in that same time frame as they've worked to ship a single release. Serlet showed screenshots from the current beta of Vista and compared it to features that have been shipping on the Mac since Tiger or before. He began by showing similarities in the desktop and moved onto the Windows version of Spotlight saying, "after the WinFS debacle, they've been scrambling."

Serlet said that Safari RSS was added in Tiger and now we're seeing IE7 RSS with the same layout of the filter box on the right. Like the Mac Mail application, Vista now splits their Mail client from the calendar. He showed side-by-side screenshots of iCal and the new Windows Calendar and pointed to their obvious similarities.

"Underneath it all," Serlet concluded, "it is still Windows. It still has the registry at its core. It is still dll hell and it still has this well-loved feature called activation." Before turning the program back to Jobs, Serlet said that the lesson is clear, "if you can't innovate you just imitate. [... Vista] is features from our past."

Before moving on to the Leopard preview Jobs added that Microsoft is spending "$5 billion a year on R&D but all they can seem to do is copy Google and Apple."

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