Word on the Street at WWDC

It’s great to be at WWDC. For eleven months, three weeks, and two
days, I’m the only Mac programmer I know in my zip code. But for five
days every year, I can slip into a wonderful world where OS X
programming is the norm and Windows users are pitied. It’s like a
vacation, except I learn something. I love it.

And so do many others, it seems. WWDC is huge: nearly 4,000 people
on site at the fancy new Moscone center. There’s a lot of open space,
three levels, and many rooms. A lot of rooms are devoted to Apple
labs: test your hardware with Tiger, get help writing installers, try
Tiger on a Pentium box. The most consistently busy room is devoted to
Enterprise IT: whenever I pass there’s a thick throng of people around
the Xserve and Xserve RAID racks. It’s hard to tell how much of the
interest is hardware porn (“take the cover off, yeah, take it off!”)
and how much is genuine interest.

The best part of the conference is the unfettered access to Apple
engineers. There are over 500 engineers on site, I believe. Today I
had lunch with Stuart Cheshire, creator of
Rendezvous Bonjour and got to hear about the
work of an engineer on his team who is optimizing TCP/IP for particular situations. A gentleman from Adobe, a former
coworker of Stuart’s, was also there. The Adobe chap had interesting
things to say about their heavily constrained use of open source: they
basically have a sandbox where open source is allowed but at some
point between the sandbox and the Adobe core products, open source
becomes verboten. Not even open source compilers, even when they
don’t link to open source libraries. Things may be changing, though:
Adobe has its own open source projects now.

Of course, Apple’s got their act together on the open source front.
For a while there, things looked shaky—there was a big kerfuffle
around the WebKit that was based on an open source component but which
Apple had basically forked and gone dark with. This has since been
resolved, with the announcement of a major engagement around the
: source code repository, mailing lists, bug tracker, and

Attendees are talking a lot about open source on Macs: I just
learned about a set of open source medical visualization tools, and
there are definitely a lot of PHP and MySQL developers here. O’Reilly
is running the bookstore, and we have a lot of open source titles
selling well. I wish we’d taken the WSJ article seriously and stocked
the Art of Assembly book from No Starch!

Yes, there’s a lot of talk of the Intel move. But, interestingly,
not as much as you might have expected. Apple has built out Xcode to
support an “universal binary”—Foo.app containing compiled Intel
and PowerPC binaries in it. With a click of a box, and very few code
tweaks needed, you recompile and suddenly your Cocoa (probably Objective C) app
works on the new hardware. Carbon (probably C) apps require more work, because
the language is closer to the bare bones of the machine. I think the
average developer has shrugged and said, “oh well, I’ll worry about it
when I actually have an Intel box in my hands.”

I defy anyone at WWDC to not be impressed by the presentations.
Not the speakers, who vary in abilities as at all conferences, but
the Keynote presentations. As befits a company that prides itself on
a keen sense of design, the presentations are beautiful: fonts,
transitions, and design. It’s not as genre-shaking as Larry Lessig’s
minimalist approach
, but it represents the strongest use of the
heading-and-bullets oevre yet.

The only downside is the wifi: as I write this from inside one
session, there’s no signal. In the lobby, where there are comfortable
chairs, no signal. In rooms with a signal, the network is lagged
enormously. It’s hard to build networks for this number of people,
but it’s nearly five years since these networks started to
appear—surely by now there are standard practices that just
work? Perhaps we should write a book specifically on this aspect of

Speaking of books, our bookstore is beautiful. I had great
pleasure finding all the books I worked on last year: Apache Security, Classic Shell
, Mastering FreeBSD
and OpenBSD Security
, and Snort
. They look great: Tatiana and Allison did a great job on
them. The hit of the show was the free copy of my roommate Chuck’s Mac OS X Tiger Pocket
–I remember the swarm of people around the registration desk
just before they were handed out.

I’ll end with another overheard snippet: every twelve months the
amount of storage you get for a dollar doubles, predicted to continue
for the rest of the decade. With Spotlight, it’s obvious that Apple’s
focusing hard on the problem of finding what you need in the ocean of
storage; application creators can use Spotlight’s extensible metadata
to let users search and manage their data on criteria. That’s what
WWDC is about for me: connecting the abstract technology I’ve read
about to real problems I’ve been chewing on.