Mac OS X In The MacWorld 2001 Keynote

Among other new developments announced at MacWorld 2001, Mac OS X gets more than a makeover. It appears that speed has been most people's concerns, and Apple addressed it. CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated OS X's new-found agility by selecting a folder-full of applications, and started the lot. Everything was up... in about five seconds. That's stunning performance for any computer and any operating system. You can do this test with your current version of OS X. Select a few programs in the Applications folder. Now double-click. Voila! They all start, eventually. While I haven't had outrageous delays from OS X, I could always use more speed. The ideal computer, after all, is one that isn't in the loop, so to speak. You aren't waiting for it to process something. It just works. I thought I had achieved that when I first built my Windows NT workstation. Copious "updates" and other "enhancements" have taken care of that. I suppose it's always a race to keep the computer ahead of ever-expanding software. Perhaps this time will indeed be different.

And the signs are that it may truly be so this time. In his article PowerPC G4 for Engineering, Science, and Education, Dr. Richard Crandall demonstrates how gigaflop computing - computing at better than a billion floating-point (mathematical) operations per second - breaks the threshold of real-time performance for many applications on a real-world scale. He goes on to show performance numbers of two, three, and more gigaflops for a Mac G4 machine, and double those numbers for the dual CPU version. One of his fascinating examples has a night sky full of stars rotating in real time, as the location and relative brightness of each and every star is calculated in every step. The rotation appears completely fluid to a viewer. That's my kind of computer. Where I once thought that a decent Pentium with a good chunk of RAM could "take the computer out of the loop", I'm prepared to raise the bar now, as G4s make the possibility of a desktop supercomputer a reality.

Let me point out that the OS X upgrade will supercharge every machine it runs on, not just G4 dual-CPUs. My example above serves to show that Apple is on a roll, a roll that arguably began some time back. It's about making the best use of available resources. I for one think that processors running at a healthy fraction of a GHz with chunks of memory at healthy fractions of a gigabyte all make for a pretty good pool of resources. Wouldn't you agree? And at least in my own experience OS X already runs just fine the way it is. The only performance tweak I'd be inclined to make right now is to provide software for disk defragmentation. Apparently (to me, anyway) this issue is not very high on the priority lists of many unix users, regardless of unix flavor. I'll continue my research in this area and let you know what I find. My money says that Apple will provide defrag software in this upcoming OS X release.

I am thrilled that Apple has chosen to tweak the iMac line, and otherwise leave this great design unchanged. Here is a computer that comes about as close as it gets to plug 'n' play. Why tower computers continue to leave the Critical ports on the back defies explanation. For a short time some 386-class computers put the keyboard port on the front, but this practice never caught on generally. Apple is moving in the right direction with its integrated video cable for its flat-screen Studio Displays. After all, it's on your desktop that you need your mouse and keyboard.

All of the new iMacs come with a CD-RW drive now. I'm not certain how much mechanical genius is required to make Apple's DVD-RW drive into a slot-load device for iMacs, but you can bet it will come in time. Meanwhile for the money iMac is as nicely equipped a computer right out of the box as they come.

By now you've heard about the new G4 towers. They're not only a power user's dream machines, but possibly the fastest personal computers on the planet. What an opportunity! These machines are geared towards media and software developers and math-intensive applications users such as physicists and geneticists, but wouldn't you like one on your desktop? I would. They cross a technology threshold that makes real-time a reality in many areas. Large-screen DVD must be a joy to watch on one of them. Apple has mentioned California physicist Dean Dauger who is also a long-time Mac user. He evidently has enjoyed doing things on his Macs that were impossible on other platforms. Imagine what he could do with today's dual-CPU G4! Check out his current projects, including Atom-In-A-Box, to see what he's been up to.

I am sorry to see that Apple has suspended production of the G4 Cube. For sure this makes existing Cubes hot collectors' items. Management must make tough decisions sometimes, and this was one of those. I thought the Cube was the way of desktop computing to come. After all, not everyone can get along with just an iMac. The Cube was somewhat expandable, although to a limited extent. It fit on your desk very well in every way. And it eliminated a bulky tower and most of the cables. I envisage a future project that piggybacks an expandable version of a PowerBook chassis onto the back of a flat-screen Studio Display, for a self-contained, yet free-standing and fully expandable, desktop computer. Let's see what Apple comes up with.

Apple and World Book got together for a joint project, and produced World Book for Mac OS X. Now, I think World Book is a pretty nice encyclopedia. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this new CD version. It's the entire contents of the hardcover version and then some. It takes full advantage of OS X, and was developed for it from the start. It does not run on previous versions of Mac OS. At $59.95 a pop, it's affordable and a great resource. This product will raise the bar for all the rest.

The MacWorld software presentations with third-party developers were impressive. I allowed a strong possibility that something would glitch, but it never happened. You may recall, in fact, that the only apparent glitch of the day was Steve Jobs having trouble turning on his digital camera, which Apple doesn't make! I was impressed by the strong alliance between Apple and Microsoft's Mac group that came through in the presentation of Microsoft Office for Mac OS X. Do you have any idea how complex Microsoft Office is? To port it to OS X must have been a monumental undertaking. I wish them well, and hope that Office is the first of a strong line of commercial OS X products from Microsoft. As a long-time WordPerfect user, I have never quite clicked to using Word, and still wish that someday we might see an updated WordPerfect for Mac. At Comdex here earlier this year a Corel representative spoke with me and alluded to a Mac development effort for WordPerfect, so I continue to hope. Here is an area that lends itself very well to a specifically OS X version. We continue to use the most recent but now dated version of WordPerfect for Mac in our office because of its Reveal Codes feature. Reveal Codes is to word processing what a good html editor is to a web page, except even better, because both your document and its codes are on the screen simultaneously. You don't need to edit document codes very often, but when you do, you do. Hands down, Reveal Codes separates WordPerfect from the pack.

For some time I've had a sideline interest in digital audio. While my angle has been digital restoration using DiamondCut Audio Restoration Tools on Windows NT, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the digital recording arena, and on occasion have provided a little technical support for it on the Mac OS side. So I was thrilled to see Emagic come on board with a complete line of professional audio products made for OS X. You can bet that this announcement will make the folks at Steinberg and Digidesign sit up and take notice. This will bring digital audio to a new level of performance for everyone.

I'll just mention one more item, the Apple DVD Player. I specifically bought an iMac DV with a DVD drive. Running OS X, I fully intended to enjoy DVD flicks on my iMac. My careless attempts to do just that a few months ago gave me plenty of material for an article. Now Apple has developed a version of its DVD Player specifically for OS X. Hooray! I anticipate that it will key into the technological hooks built into OS X and run DVDs optimally. I'll have to wait until September for the OS X 10.1 update, but that gives me time to build up my DVD library a little. See you in the movies! Ciao.

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