Apple recently held its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which is where they show the latest and greatest to all the developers who work on Macintosh products. Needless to say, this is where the truly cool stuff comes out of the woodwork at Apple, and from what we’ve heard, this year was no exception.
Pens & Milo — Of course, the big news has to do with handwriting recognition, and it sounds like Apple is taking their time to do it right. As Larry Zulch, president of Dantz Development said, "Pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land." Apple aims to be a settler, and GO will have work to avoid being too much of a pioneer. Apple has managed to provided gestures, handwriting recognition, and basic mouse functions without rewriting the entire operating system, a generally smart move and a testament to the modularity of System 7. Handwriting recognition and mouse functions won’t even require application support, but the more impressive gesturing abilities will require applications to be modified. In addition, Apple’s handwriting recognition will require more hardware in the form of a graphics tablet, but those that want it will afford one, and the demand may drive the price down on those tablets.
Perhaps the most impressive demo that people saw was something called Milo. Milo is a math program that uses the new Pen Manager and the handwriting recognition code in what a truly useful applications of pen technology. Perhaps a blow-by-blow description of the demo from our estimable Pythaeus will illustrate Milo’s amazing possibilities best.
After everyone had seen the pen stuff and was truly impressed, a very unassuming young man came out and began READING off of a prepared speech to the audience. He never looked up! He just went ahead with what was actually a very good speech. Once he had explained himself and Milo, he started the demo. He first wrote2 + 3 =
and the machine responded with5
He then wrote something like345 x 435 =
and the machine gave the correct answer! OK, sure that’s neat, but not all that difficult once you have handwriting recognition.
He then wrote a complex algebraic routine with divisors and powers and all that stuff. The machine understood how to reformat the characters as things were added. (The divisor shifted the text up, etc.) It looked very much like MathType. But, the machine also understood what things in the equation stood for and knew how to work with them. When he dragged a value to the other side of the equation, the program subtracted it! When he moved a number to the bottom of the divisor, it made the power negative! This went on for a few minutes with interspersed clapping and cheering. (He still never looked up.)
He then wrote a trigonometry equation, and the Mac immediately graphed it. He then wrote a simple line equation, and it added that to the graph. He then showed us how you could study the intersection by zooming in on the points in question. At this point he thanked the crowd, quit his demo, and began to walk off the stage. The crowd erupted into cheering and clapping and the whole hall gave him a standing ovation. Remember, these are developers! His manager had to bring him back onto stage where he took a slight bow, but was obviously overwhelmed by the crowd. It was the most amazing and utterly useful thing that I have ever seen on the Mac. And realize, it was running on a Quadra, but there was no time lag. Updates were instantaneous. In a couple of years we won’t know what to do without this. As an engineer I only know that I want and need this technology now, and in the Personal Digital Assistants.
OCE — Apple’s Open Collaboration Environment (OCE) is high on my personal list of must-have technologies. It will probably show up within the next year, ahead of most of the rest of the technologies at the WWDC, which is fine by me. Voice recognition and pen recognition are all fine and nice, but what I really need is a single mailbox on my desktop that will hold all of my mail from theoretically any email service, including voice mail, faxes (faxen?), Internet mail, and QuickMail. I hope to see most of the commercial services tap into this as well, since it’s an obvious advantage for users to have a single Apple-created interface to all electronic communications.
OCE is more than just a pretty face on email though, and may have the most long-term impact on the Mac as far as how groups of people work together, since it allows documents to stay in electronic form as long as possible, sometimes perhaps through the entire life of the document. It will be very interesting to see how all of this will be implemented.
Translation Manager — Leonard Rosenthol of Aladdin Systems said that the technology that impressed him the most was the new Translation Manager, which essentially combines the application substitution capabilities present in Finder 7 with the file translation capabilities of XTND. The Translation Manager will support transparent translations for files, the clipboard, and editions, and perhaps the best part is that it won’t require any modifications to existing applications. In my mind, this is incredibly important because as the number of file formats increase, it’s getting harder and harder to just double-click on a document or copy something and paste it into another application. The Mac’s file types and creators were an excellent first step after the idiocies of DOS, but the Translation Manager will still be very welcome.
Other stuff — People mentioned a few other things, such as AppleScript, which should provide a simple method of scripting the Mac via AppleEvents. Frontier provides that right now, but is perhaps somewhat more suited to the programmer than the end user. Also some lists of cool stuff at the WWDC included the new QuickTime and QuickDraw GX, which will provide most everything to the Mac that Display PostScript provides to the NeXT. The one capability that will not show up in QuickDraw GX, but which will have to wait for later, is 3D capabilities. It’s too bad, because 3D can add a lot to an interface, although it does work best with color monitors and faster Macs, which may account for the wait.
The new QuickTime will support asymmetrical codecs (compressors / decompressors), which means that compression takes a long time so decompression is very quick, even on a slower Mac like an LC. Salient’s AutoDoubler works like this. QuickTime will also support the new PhotoCD format from Kodak, so you’ll be able to get all your 35 mm pictures on a CD for $20 at your local drugstore, and then play the CD on your Mac with future CD-ROM players (the current ones can only handle a single PhotoCD session, whereas later drives will be able to read pictures that are added to the CD in later session too).