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Apple Futures I

Sometimes half the trick in dealing with Macworld Expo is knowing where to look for the real news. That was certainly the case this time, as some of the most stunning new technology shown at Macworld appeared at the nearby Boston Computer Museum as the System Software Revolution Showcase.

Several Apple teams, and representatives from a variety of third-party developers, displayed uses of system software features that are as yet unavailable to the end user. System 7.1 (scheduled to ship in a matter of weeks) was the least exciting technology shown, and that’s not intended to suggest it wasn’t nifty in and of itself! It’s just that QuickDraw GX, WorldScript, OCE, and AppleScript are all niftier.

Actually, according to Apple system software engineers, System 7.1’s primary purposes are to gather together the fixes and enhancements from the Tune-Up releases; to provide hooks for other upcoming technologies; and to add a couple of minor enhancements, such as a Fonts folder within the System Folder. Anyone who plans to use the various new technologies (which should ship over the next several months) will need to upgrade to System 7.1, but there won’t be much direct enhancement in functionality for users who already have 7.0 or 7.0.1 and Tune-Up 1.1.1.

Most of these technologies are expected to be distributed in a manner similar to QuickTime. None of them are likely to be a built-in part of the system software, for the simple reason that they’d take up a ridiculous amount of disk storage space and memory. Instead, third-party developers will probably license these technologies for distribution along with their applications that require them. Apple will likely offer parts of the technologies free of charge, but may reserve useful utilities for saleable packages such as the QuickTime Starter Kit, released this spring. Nothing definite so far.

QuickDraw GX — QuickDraw GX, while it incorporates many new features that are tough to visualize, had one of the most impressive single-feature demonstrations. This new version of Apple’s graphical imaging engine includes routines that can quickly and cleanly rotate any bitmap image to any angle.

Long-time Mac users will remember the thrill of using the Rotate feature of ClickArt Effects to spin a MacPaint image. This produced mediocre results, and the image couldn’t be rotated on the fly.

Using routines provided as part of QuickDraw GX, though, software developers will be able to provide rotation features that work quickly enough that you can grab the image and spin it, and it will update fluidly throughout your spin. The resulting bitmap is also attractive, and retains enough of the data that if you decide to rotate it back to the original orientation, it will still look quite good.

The immensity of this feat may be lost on those who don’t know the complexity of matrix mathematics. While I don’t pretend to be a mathematician (readers who saw me struggling through college math courses can stop laughing now!), I do know that these folks have done some fine work. The caveat, of course, is that the fluid performance being shown was accomplished on a Quadra 700… but the engineers feel that, with the debugging routines removed and the code tweaked for optimum performance, these functions will perform well even on lesser machines.

Less flashy but more important are the various features of QuickDraw GX that support the Line Layout Manager and WorldScript. The Line Layout Manager didn’t quite make it into System 7. It includes support for other-than-left-to-right writing systems, so that users may change orientation in the middle of a line or paragraph simply by selecting a font that’s designed for a different direction. This will be invaluable to educators working with foreign language translations, or anyone who needs to communicate in more than one writing system. In addition, the Line Layout Manager offers automatic ligatures, so that when a user is typing in a font that supports this, character pairs such as "fi" will immediately display in ligated form, for cleaner-looking display and nicer-looking printed output. Of course, these 65,536-symbol fonts (required for some non-roman alphabets) and automatic ligatures require the new TrueType GX.

Last but not least in the QuickDraw GX lineup comes a new Printing Manager, another feature that Apple originally planned to ship with System 7. For developers, the new Printing Manager provides a cleaner, simpler architecture that will make it easier to develop third-party printer drivers. As a result, we should see a wider variety of third-party printers available for the Macintosh market in the future. For users, the new manager offers optional access to the vaunted drag & drop interface that’s so important to System 7. Once you have selected a printer in the Chooser, you can create an icon for that printer that may be left on the desktop or, in fact, just about anywhere. Each printer can have its own icon, so printing a document will be a simple matter of dragging it to the printer of your choice. When double-clicked, the printer icons reveal the printer’s job queue, and thanks to the magic of File Sharing, these queues can show all jobs waiting for the printer, not just the individual user’s jobs. All printers can support network sharing, even serially-connected ones. Naturally, print jobs can be dragged from queue to queue, and can be previewed with a simple double-click. The PrintMonitor [known as PrintMonster in some circles -Tonya], one of the last of Apple’s MultiFinder kludges, has gone the way of the DA Handler, having been incorporated into the operating system. Finally, the new Printing Manager will allow applications to support mixed portrait and landscape printing within the same document, and even mixed page sizes within the same document, so you could print an envelope in the same file as the letter.

WorldScript — WorldScript may be the most remarkable of the new technologies that Apple’s elves have been working on, even though it’s not the flashiest. This component of the operating system works with the Line Layout Manager and permits Apple to support languages and writing systems that can’t easily be handled in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom, 255-symbol manner. They have managed so far with software like KanjiTalk, but WorldScript will make the Macintosh operating system a truly international one. It will allow 65,536 characters (or other symbols) in each font, which will comfortably support most known writing systems. At the same time, WorldScript allows users to combine left-to-right and right-to-left writing systems on the same line, something that required a real feat of applications programming in the past.

As mentioned above, WorldScript makes heavy use of new features offered in QuickDraw GX, so it will depend on its presence. The only unfortunate part of WorldScript is that it does not support the Unicode format that Apple, Microsoft, and numerous other developers hammered out recently. We don’t know the details about this, but we anticipate that a future version of WorldScript will be compatible with Unicode.

[Stay tuned for OCE and AppleScript next week. -Adam]

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