Friday, February 23, 2007

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Powerful New Mac Workstation, Leopard OS Features Announced

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs's keynote address at Apple's annual developers conference here kicked off with announcements of a new Mac workstation and a description of new features in the next release of Mac OS X, also known as Leopard.

Apple vice president of worldwide sales and marketing Phil Schiller came to the stage with Jobs to introduce the Intel Xeon-based Mac Pro to the annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The processors that power the Mac Pro are Intel's "Woodcrest" design--dual-core processors with speeds of up to 3 GHz.

Schiller said the chips have 4MB shared Level 2 caches and 128-bit vector engines that replace the "Velocity Engines" found in Power Mac G5 systems. And the processors are 64-bit.

"These are great microprocessors, and they deliver tremendous performance per watt," said Schiller, who added that power consumption is important both in notebooks and thin desktops. Xeons, said Schiller, offer up to three times more performance per watt than a G5.

"In every Mac Pro we're going to put two of them," said Schiller. All Mac Pros, said Schiller, will feature quad Xeon performance.

(Read PCW's Techlog blog for a minute-by-minute account of Jobs's presentation today.)
Inside the New Mac Pro

Each microprocessor gets its own 1.33-GHz Front Side Bus (FSB), with 21-gigabytes-per-second (GB/s) processor bandwidth. The processors are fed by four-channel, 256-bit 667-MHz memory, up to 16GB in the system. That's twice as wide as the memory bus in a G5 and faster.

With better performance per watt, Apple can reduce the cooling inside the Mac Pro case, so the system now supports up to four drives for up to 2 terabytes (TB) of internal storage, as well as dual optical drive bays.

The Mac Pro also features two USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 ports on the front. And while the enclosure is clearly based on the Power Mac G5 chassis, the internal architecture is entirely new. The system features a new drive carrier that's similar in implementation to the Apple Xserve quad Xeon 64-bit server announced today--when you insert a drive, it snaps right in.
Mac Pro Configuration

The standard Mac Pro configuration features two 2.66-GHz dual-core Xeon processors, 1GB of 667-MHz memory, 250GB of storage, nVidia GeForce 7300GT graphics with 256MB of VRAM, and a 16X SuperDrive optical drive--all priced at $2499.

"This is a great product to bust the myth of Apple's computers being more expensive," said Schiller, who demonstrating the point by pricing a similar configuration from Dell for about $1000 more.

Apple is also offering build-to-order configurations clocked at 2 GHz, 2.6 GHz, and 3 GHz, with up to 16GB RAM, 2TB of storage, and upgraded Radeon X1900 XT or nVidia Quadro FX 4500 video.

The new Mac Pro is shipping Monday, said Schiller.
New Leopard Features: Time Machine

Jobs explained to developers that some top-secret features in Leopard, the newest version of the Mac operating system, won't be revealed, but Apple wants developers to know about them in preparation for a spring 2007 launch. "We don't want our friends in Redmond to start their photocopiers just yet," he added. With that, Jobs introduced Scott Forestall, Apple's vice president of platform experience.

Forestall told the crowd that Leopard will support 64-bit applications. "We've now got 64-bit Unix," he explained. "In Leopard, take this a giant leap forward with 64-bit Carbon and Cocoa, all the way to your applications. You can have fully native 64-bit UI Carbon or Cocoa applications."

"Time Machine" is Apple's second major feature for Leopard. Forestall explains that it was developed to help users back up their system effortlessly. He pointed to estimates that only about 4 percent of users are utilizing automated software for backing up important files--only a quarter of users back up at all on a regular basis.

Time Machine automatically backs up your Mac, said Forestall. "If you change a file, that file is backed up. We back up everything...that means we can restore everything. If your hard drive dies, you can buy a new hard drive, put it in your machine, and be right back where you were."

Forestall said that Time Machine supports hard drives and servers, and will automatically configure a hard drive for backup once it's plugged in. What's more, it gives you version control, so you can recover specifically saved versions of files as well (hence the name Time Machine).

Forestall demonstrated Time Machine as an application resident in the Dock that displays your time line. Sliding the time line reveals your machine as it was--one, two, or more days ago--flying you through Finder windows so you can locate the document you're working with. Double-clicking the file shows a preview; clicking the Restore button brings that file back to your Mac. In addition to the Finder, Time Machine can work with other applications, such as Address Book. Time Machine will also be open to third-party developers. (The demo gods didn't smile on Forestall unequivocally, however: His demo crashed.)

"We're going to deliver the complete package," said Jobs of the third major item on the list of Leopard's new features.

"We've got applications as beta, applications as separate downloads--we're going to ship all of them with Leopard," he added.
Front Row, Photo Booth, Spaces

Jobs told the developers that Boot Camp, Apple's software that enables Intel-based Macs to run Windows, " going to be even better than the beta, and it's going to ship as part of Leopard."

Leopard will also include Front Row, Apple's software for accessing media such as photos, music, movies, and downloaded videos from a single interface that's easy to view in a living room or media room. Apple's Photo Booth--software that turns the iSight Webcam into a fun and creative imaging tool--will expand the number of cameras it works with.

"Four--this is a big one," said Jobs. "We call it Spaces."

Jobs described Spaces as "a new way of working on your Mac" that lets you take collections of applications that you use to accomplish tasks and "create a space for them to be in," and then rapidly switch between them. It sits as an icon in the Dock.

Jobs demonstrated Spaces being used with a collection of apps such as Mail, Safari, GarageBand, and iTunes. With the press of a key, the entire user interface slid left, right, up, and down. Another Space contained Final Cut--clicking on an icon in the Dock automatically switched to its layer.

Forestall told developers that Leopard's implementation of Spotlight expands the search engine's scope to other Macs on the network--with users' permission, of course. Leopard Spotlight will also gain advanced syntax searches with support for Boolean expressions and file types in search queries. Leopard Spotlight adds an application launcher, as well.
Front Row, Photo Booth

Core Animation is the sixth major bullet point for Leopard that Apple revealed to developers at WWDC. Using Core Animation, developers can create a "Scene" comprising layers that contain text, images, video, or OpenGL content. "You define a start state, a goal state, and possibly keyframes in between."

Forestall demonstrated Core Animation by using it to create a demo using iTunes album art flipping around--similar to an effect in Apple's recent iTunes television ad--showing a city being built of album art and then funneling into an iPod. He created the demo live, using Core Animation.

Apple is improving Leopard's universal access, for users with physical disabilities, said Jobs. The OS is gaining Braille support, along with closed captioning support in QuickTime. VoiceOver has been overhauled, according to Jobs, who demonstrated dramatically improved text-to-speech technology.

Mail is getting some major enhancements in Leopard, said Jobs. It will add Stationery--HTML-based mail templates; Notes, which lets you add a special message type that lives in a special Notes mailbox; and a feature called To Do--which lets you select anything and make it a To Do item, complete with a priority setting, a due date, an alarm, and more.

The To Do feature is, in fact, a new type of service offered in Leopard that any application can tie into. It provides "one systemwide to-do service, where everything is kept track of," said Jobs.
Dashboard, iChat

Leopard's implementation of Dashboard is also getting some improvements. The first is a developer tool called Dashcode that helps developers design, develop, and debug widgets. Dashcode includes templates that can help developers incorporate RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and podcast support, images, and more. Those templates can be modified to the developer's liking. Dashcode has a "Parts" library that includes search fields, button controls, and more that users can simply drag out to their own widget. Also included is a full JavaScript editor and debugger.

A more user-oriented feature in Leopard Dashboard is called Web Clip. "We've come up with a way where anyone can take any part of a Web page into a widget," explained Forestall. He demonstrated the technology by using Web Clip to make an automatically updating comic strip panel widget, an eBay auction, and more.

Once again Jobs took the stage to introduce the tenth new Leopard feature--what he called "a seriously enhanced iChat."

iChat will support multiple log-ins, invisibility, animated Buddy icons, and video recording, said Jobs, as well as tabbed chat.

"But we want to go further than this," Jobs added. With many new Macs shipping with iSight cameras and videoconferencing available right out of the box, Apple wants users to have fun, too. So with Leopard iChat, users can add Photo Booth effects to videoconferencing. What's more, iChat Theater lets you show slides as you're talking; Phil Schiller, offstage, demonstrated the new technology by conducting a videoconference with Jobs via iChat--playing an iPhoto slide show, a Keynote presentation, and video. In each case, his image slid to the left, while a large area next to him displayed the slide show.

Backdrops is another new iChat feature similar to video blue- or green-screening. You step out of the frame, and iChat "learns" your background. When you step back in, you can replace the background with anything you want. You can also insert video-based backgrounds.


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