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Mix Magazine

This installment of The Bitstream column appeared in the May 2001 issue of Mix Magazine.

The Bitstream

This column discusses the MacWorld 2001 show in San Francisco…

Son Of Tosh

If you use a Mac at home or work, then by now, you’ve already seen the ads, purchased the cocktail napkins and generally gotten caught up in the spin of Apple’s PR machine. But, hang in there, Genteel Reader (who am I kidding), as here there lurks a few choice morsels for you…This month I’m veering away from CES to discuss a follow–on show here at Moscone Center, Macworld. It was annoyingly busy, making it difficult for me to get my work done. I shouldn’t complain though, as recent metrics indicate that 17% of new Macintosh purchases are by users switching from a Windows world. The new operating system, along with Gigabit Ethernet equipped, 5 slot CPUs and the new TiBook, fueled the big buzz and will pull in yet more converts and lapsed pilgrims. Though Apple hasn’t sent out my Solutions Provider copy of X, I can safely say that it will beat the pants off Win ME as a desktop OS.

If you didn’t make it to my Pueblo By The Bay for the show, you missed more networking, storage, productivity and rich media tools than you can shake a CD-R at. Let’s start with the obvious stuff…FireWire has come into it’s own and Macworld’s home court advantage allowed storage vendors to show their hard drives, bridges, repeaters, way fast networking, DVD and CD-RW drives. More, cheaper, better. Now that Plextor does ATAPI, their mechanisms showed up at several booths, disguised as external FireWire drives. Ecrix debuted their long awaited 1394–attached VXA tape drive, which is all I’ll say about that for now as a future column will get into backup options and the new tape formats. Other storage stalwarts like Atto and Adaptec proclaimed their support for OS X and 3ware showed their new midrange 1000BaseT SAN product, a first for the Mac OS space. Think SCSI over IP (block–level transfers rather than file) and you’ll begin to see why this trendy product category is heating up. More on that in the months ahead.

In other storage news, Arco Computer was one of several vendors testing the Mac waters with their simple IDE RAID controller line, great for you tinkerers too cheap to buy a ready–made. ARCHOS Technology was demo’ing their USB combo 6 GB storage/MP3 player gadget, a fun item for you other tinkerers with disposable income. Those of you with a music or effects library in a jukebox will appreciate studioZee’s ZephIP, a widget that easily lets you control your consumer TV, CD or DVD transport via infrared commands from your Mac.

There were no less than four pure play Digital Asset Management vendors. This is another product/service class showing signs of long term growth.

On to the big excitement for me, Unix on PPC. Linux is the current darling of the server set and is making significant inroads into the enterprise as well. But, despite the work of Eazel and others, I don’t see Linux making a huge impact on the Desktop. Enter another processor independent, open source project: Darwin, the basis for Apple’s OS X. During development, Apple’s goals were: a simple and elegant UI, a modern, reliable kernel, killer graphics, the best Internet experience of any desktop OS and finally, gentle migration from the current, classic Mac environment. Sounds like a plan.

OS X is scheduled for general availability before this issue hits the street, so I won’t bore you with stale stuff. But I did find the double hit of new hardware and the new OS to generally buoy my spirits. The four–usable–slot towers would make admirable studio processors and the new svelte portables are great for on–the–go production. But what really got me going was the small signs that Apple is now a Unix platform, with the accompanying up and downside. The upside: unprecedented speed and stability, rapid migration of existing hardware and software from other Unix flavors and, a wee peerage in the court of Enterprise Computing. The downside: weaker security without significant bolstering.

So, what about audio at the show? Oh yeah, audio. Other than to say that Tascam had a small booth showing their nifty control surface, I’ll defer the discussion until OS X ships. Fear not, we’ll keep you informed as the plot thickens. Meanwhile, happy mousing!

Sidebar: Condensed Cream of OS X

Mac OS X, a layer cake of software modules, is not really new. It’s lineage extends back over thirty years, to a time when Big Iron dominated computing and AT&T needed software to run their public switched network, the phone system. Since that time, Unix has grown into the dominant enterprise operating system. It also became the brains that made and continues to make the Internet possible.

The foundation of OS X is Unix or, more precisely, Darwin. Darwin is somewhat akin to the current Mac’s System suitcase, the fundamental bit on which everything else is built. Because it’s based on a Mach 3 microkernel developed at Carnegie–Mellon and UCal Berkeley’s Standard Distribution Unix 4.4, Darwin provides all the stuff one would expect from today’s Unix: full preemptive multitasking, advanced virtual memory and complete memory protection with modern networking services. Because Darwin is open source, improvements and fixes are rapidly accomplished by a collective of international zealots, not anesthetized worker bees. That work is examined by Apple and the juicy bits are incorporated back into the next version of their commercial product. Also, savvy end users can tweeze the code to their liking, something you can’t do with proprietary operating systems.

Sitting on Darwin are three presentation engines: Quartz, OpenGL and QuickTime, handling 2D, 3D and motion/rich media respectively. Quartz, the 2D graphics engine, is based on Adobe’s PDF, the Portable Document Format. It provides anti-aliased, on–the–fly rendering with transparency and masking. This means the OS itself can read, generate and write PDFs. 3D chores are dealt with by OpenGL, the industry standard developed by Silicon Graphics.

The third presentation service is QuickTime, playing on it’s superior quality and rich media support for audio, video, sprites and text tracks. QuickTime holds the number two spot in end user adoption, with Real ahead and Windows Media Framework behind. After many, many months of requests, Apple still hasn’t gotten back to me on OS X developments for MIDI, synchronization and Multi-Channel I/O so I’ll have to defer discussion until Apple PR opens the corporate kimono a bit. But QuickTime 5, now in beta, adds support for Flash 4, DLS-2, SHOUTcast and the Sorenson Video 3 codec.

The next–to–the–top layer in the OS X torte provides 3 APIs for high level development, Classic, Carbon and Cocoa. Classic allows old school MacOS applications to stretch their legs. Carbon is a collection of modernized OS 9 APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), the mechanism by which propeller heads create applications. Carbon–compliant app.s will run under OS 9 or X. Cocoa is the most advanced and powerful development environment. In Apple’s words, Cocoa is a “next-generation, object-oriented application framework, accessible from Objective-C or Java.” That translates into developer productivity, consistency and maintainability, all important if you’re building the next generation of audio applications. Also tucked in there somewhere are the networking bits and welcome additions like Java 2.

The sweet as eye candy icing on the cake is Aqua, a user interface hybrid drawn from many influences and a thing of beauty. Since most desktop users are unlikely to open a shell or command line interface and interact with the kernel directly, Aqua is where most of us will spend our time. Thank goodness Apple has taken their usual care making the user experience second to none.

Bio

OMas works on content creation infrastructure issues and lives just up the hill from the site of the first Yerba Buena rancho. This column was created while under the influence of Radiohead’s Kid A and Grant Hart’s Good News For Modern Man.