Developers size up state of Mac OS X

Reactions among attendees of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech ranged from anger to cautious optimism as Apple announced that this summer's release will be a public beta, not a shrink-wrapped package
Written by Daniel Turner, Contributor

"For the third year in a row, it's 'next year,'" said Kelsey Schwind, a developer for Adobe Systems. It's not that he doubts the final version of Mac OS X -- Apple Computer's next-generation operating system -- will ship early in 2001, the revised date announced by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at Monday's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech here. However, Schwind said he's heard such talk before.

"I'm encouraged by the progress" in Developer Preview 4, the prerelease version of Mac OS X demonstrated by Jobs and distributed to attendees of the annual Mac developers gathering, "but I'm worried that there's still so much to do," he said.

There's much to do for both Apple and developers: At the end of his speech, Jobs exhorted developers to "stop immediately developing for OS 9," adding that "the train is leaving." With the release of the developer-complete DP4, Jobs said, "there's no reason not to develop for Mac OS X."

Many developers who attended the conference echoed Schwind's concerns. Some said they hoped the revised release schedule for Mac OS X -- which includes shipping OS X as a public beta this summer instead of delivering the final version as was predicted by Jobs at January's Macworld Expo/San Francisco -- would give Apple time to fine-tune the OS and resolve pending issues such as drivers for peripherals.

"We're going to embrace OS X wholeheartedly," said Michel Rynderman, a consulting engineer for Tewksbury, Mass.-based Avid Technology, manufacturer of high-end Mac-based video editing hardware and software systems. "Still, there's a lot of work ahead for us."

Drivers wanted Drivers were of special concern for Rynderman. Avid's systems require specialized hardware and software components.

By contrast, Chris Bentley, a senior software engineer at ATI Research, a subsidiary of Canadian video card maker ATI Technologies, said he hasn't had problems connecting with the drivers he needs. "Apple has been pretty forthcoming on drivers so far," he said.

Bentley said the default 3-D drivers that will be included on Mac OS X systems are being built in conjunction by Apple and ATI. Bentley added that his work on 3-D drivers requires only very specific support. "The small portion of driver information we need, we have," he said.

"We're working hard on Radeon drivers," he said, though he could not comment on whether Apple will include ATI's upcoming Radeon 3-D card in its systems. He did say the company "was committed to the Mac market."

"I'm just happy that the OpenGL demo didn't hang" during Jobs' keynote speech, Bentley said.

Other developers, such as Ward Bond, president of PELE Enterprises, maker of speakers and other peripherals, expressed disappointment about what they didn't see at the keynote.

"I particularly wanted to see if there were any changes in hardware," Bond said.

Sound advice Bond said he hoped some of the conference's seminars would provide an answer to another pressing issue: "I'm concerned about multichannel sound in Mac OS X." He noted that standards such as Dolby 5.1 and peripherals such as Creative Labs' Sound Blaster cards would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to implement without more information from Apple.

"They released their I/O Kit quite late -- only a month or two ago," Bond said. Despite his reservations, Bond said he was pleased about revisions to Mac OS X's Aqua interface that Jobs showcased during his presentation. "It's good that they're incorporating feedback," he said.

One developer, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed with Bond about the I/O Kit but disagreed about the state of Aqua.

"Mac OS X will ship with about 85 percent of what you have now in OS 9," he said. "In maybe two years, it'll be great." He pointed to the problem of drivers as typical. "The I/O Kit was late, and it's still not considered feature-stable enough for developers to depend on," he said.

As an example, he said Mac OS X will "most likely" include a new MIDI architecture. "It may be better than what's available for OS 9," he said, "but it'll only be available for Mac OS X. You'll have no way to develop for both OSes."

The developer also said that the state of Carbon, the subset of APIs for use in Mac OS X's modern Carbon environment, was lacking. "Carbon 1.1 is at d8," he said, referring to the latest pre-release of the APIs for rendering current Mac apps compatible with Mac OS X. "It needs to sync up with Carbon in Mac OS X, or there'll be no reasonable way to develop." Other developers standing nearby nodded in assent.

Having introduced design sense to the realm of PC hardware, Apple is preparing to repeat the trick in software with its next-generation operating system. Go with Andreas Pfeiffer for the news comment at AnchorDesk UK.

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