Apple Developer Conference: Leopard, VMWare, Parallels

Wednesday Jun 20th 2007 by John Welch
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An inside glimpse at Leopard, along with a hefty dose of Mac news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

So, at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, which of the following did Steve Jobs not announce will be shipping in Leopard?

A) A telepathic interface

B) Virtualized OS X

C) A Pony

Now, perhaps I am a bit too deep into the hyperbole here, but sometimes, I wonder what people expect, and then I realize the answer is "more." Now, I will be the first to admit that the keynote itself was not astounding. True, I do like some of the newer UI tricks like Stacks (Shades of Copland! All we need is the Knowledge Navigator, and that OS will finally have shipped), and what looks like a much faster response time for opening folders in the Dock, but as keynotes go, this was not one that was so astounding it made you think you had the vapors.

The changes to the Finder and the Desktop are not revolutionary, but rather evolutionary, and that's a good thing. Complete overhauls of the interface are things best avoided as much as possible, just ask Microsoft, who has done it something like 5 times compared to Apple doing it twice. (Once if you don't count going from the Apple II UI to the Mac.) The only two complaints I have at the moment are that the folder icons are just...well...ugly. I mean, I'm sure the people at Apple really worked hard, but dark blue icons on a blue gradient background? Even on a huge screen, the folder badging is barely readable, and I'm reminded of a bad Kaleidoscope theme. The other one is the translucent menu bar. I just don't see it being possible to be perfectly readable across all backgrounds, and that's what it has to be. I'd be completely not shocked were it to change by October.

The new Finder sidebar has potential, depending on things like how many servers are going to show up by default, and if you can control what servers show up there, a la Managed Network Views in Mac OS X 10.4. Taking Coverflow from iTunes, and integrating it into the Finder is one of those things that won't be immediately useful to everyone, but it will be really handy for people who need to see a file to figure out what's in it. Coverflow, combined with Quick Look, Apple's new content preview feature, will be useful to me personally, especially when I'm playing "which presentation had what slides." Not having to deal with either Powerpoint or Keynote when I'm just scanning for slides will not suck.

(Another bit of irony. Someone pointed out to me that Quick Look is, in principle at least, awfully close to OpenDoc's "universal viewer" idea. Ah, nothing is ever truly discarded.) Seriously, this is something the Mac has needed for a while. If I just want to see what's in a file, why shouldn't I be able to do that? I don't need to edit it, I just need to view it. The command line has "more," and that's all Quick Look really is: "more" for the GUI. It's a really spiffy way of presenting it, but that's what it is in essence: graphical "more."

Looking at Mail, I can't help but chuckle at how what was once hailed as "the right way" to do things (that is separate applications for each task), is now being gradually moved towards a single application. Tasks and notes are now in Mail, so it's becoming more of a groupware application than a "pure" Mail application. All we need to do is add some iCal and Address Book love, and you have...well, no need to rub it in. Again, seriously, this is not a bad thing. Email, tasks, notes, contacts, and events are, in our modern communications world, all related. It makes sense to not make you have to say "Oh darn, now I have to open some other application to get to some data that I should just have right here.”

iChat has gained some features that, while never demonstrated as such, are going to be pretty handy for businesses. The ability to integrate any file that Quick Look supports means that iChat is only one step (group editing, not just viewing) from the kinds of video conferencing that the world has been moving towards, only for a lot less than anything Microsoft or anyone else has to offer. Add in the chat federation, Single–Sign on support, and the logging that Leopard's iChat Server will offer, and suddenly, you've got a serious solution.

However, really, outside of the Finder and the UI changes, I thought the most interesting news at the WWDC didn't come from Apple. First, the Microsoft Mac Business Unit, aka "Mac BU," has a new boss, Craig Eisler. Now, I didn't get the chance to talk to him face to face, and I didn't even really get much of a chance to talk with him via email, but from what I can tell, he's definitely not afraid to talk to people, nor even a bit hesitant about it. (The former General Manager, (GM) for the Mac BU, Roz Ho, has moved up to another position in the Microsoft entertainment division.) This willingness to talk, at least initially, is important for the GM of the Mac BU, considering the very odd place it holds both for Mac users and within Microsoft. I hope he will continue this habit, as the lack of communication from that position before was astoundingly frustrating at times, and made dealing with them both as a writer and a customer harder than it needed to be.

Keynote favorites VMWare and Parallels both had WWDC-timed announcements. From VMWare, beta 4 of its Fusion for Mac product. I'll play with it more later, but it seems to be working nicely. The Bootcamp Vista support works, and they have their own Coherence feature, although I've not played with that yet. Fusion does have Direct X 8.1 support, but I've nothing at the moment to test that with, since the game I wanted to test, Neverwinter Nights 2, requires Direct X 9 to work.

Parallels had a new product announcement, Parallels 3, with Vista Bootcamp support/Direct X support. It then had a very quick update to deal with a rather annoying lockup caused by Apple's Bootcamp 1.3 drivers. The update is the 4128 build, so that's the one you want if you're working with Parallels. Alas, contrary to what I had hoped, Parallels doesn't support Direct X 9 yet either, so no Neverwinter Nights 2 for me there either. During the WWDC, Parallels also announced their Parallels Server for Mac OS X product. This is designed to run on Xserves, under Mac OS X Server, and allow you to run multiple instances of Windows Server or various Unix servers on Apple server hardware and OS's. This does not allow you to run multiple instances of Mac OS X or Mac OS X Server, but you can use an Xserve to host Windows Server instances, for example. The version I saw was still in alpha form, and Parallels will be starting a beta program soon, so we'll be able to start getting real data on how well it works.

However, for me, the biggest announcement was from a new company, Aqua Connect. They have the first iteration of a product that I have wanted on Mac OS X, literally, since Mac OS X came out, and that is a terminal server.

This is potentially huge, as while the current version is based on VNC, and therefore has more than a bit of overhead, Renee Mehrian, CEO of Aqua Connect told me that they are working on a version based on RDP (the protocol that things like Windows Terminal Server and Citrix use), which has a much lighter overhead than VNC, and better client support. If they can pull this off, especially with decent 2-D and 3-D video support, this could sell Macs and software to a lot of people who only need/want one application.

Want to use Keynote instead of PowerPoint? Instead of buying separate Macs for everyone, you buy an Xserve or two, an Aqua Connect license, and a truckload of iWork licenses. Then use the RDP client for your platform (and they are everywhere), log into the server, and commence to Keynoting. Now the RDP version isn't out, isn't announced, but Renee told me Aqua Connect knows they really need that to get the product to where they want it to be, so that down the line, you can have load balancing, session balancing, etc. For those of you who've never lived the Citrix or Terminal Server life, it's a very nice way to manage your desktops, and give people access to applications they might not otherwise be able to run. For me, it's how I can run my Active Directory network from my Macbook Pro. I'm also going to look into getting the VNC-based product for now, because it's simply too useful to wait on, and honestly, I really want Aqua Connect to succeed.

So it was an interesting WWDC, even though there's always tons I can't talk about. This is one of the few where the biggest news wasn't really from Apple. That's not necessarily bad, although for the folks in the pony crowd, I feel your pain.

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