Jun 7

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

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 WebKit: source code repository, mailing lists, bug tracker, and more.

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 802.11.

Speaking of books, our bookstore is beautiful. I had great pleasure finding all the books I worked on last year: Apache Security, Classic Shell Scripting, Mastering FreeBSD and OpenBSD Security, and Snort Cookbook. 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 Guide--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.

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Comments: 4

  Brett Brooks [06.07.05 11:26 PM]

Only just started reading the 'radar' blog after attending Tim O'reilys talk at lunchtime today (Tuesday).

I couldnt agree more about the wifi, i attended back in 2003 and i swear if wasnt as bad back then as it is this year. Ive all but given up even trying to get wireless access in the sessions. On the off chance i do feel lucky, i wander and sit down beside one of the wireless poles scattered around. If i do get a signal, it takes around 10mins just to send an email. *sigh*

On a positive note, i managed to score a hotel this year with free broadband :D

  gnat [06.08.05 10:00 AM]

Brett: what's the hotel?! Chuck (the O'Reilly Mac editor) and I are being gouged $15/day at our hotel. This is why our conferences have wikis, to share information on how to survive with mind, body, and wallet intact.

  Brett Brooks [06.08.05 12:38 PM]

Courtyard Marriott on 2nd street, a short walk to the Moscone. Internet is wired in the rooms, but its no problems sharing it via airport for more then one person.

Room is $150 USD per night, but i managed to get a scholorship which payed my accomodation expenses. Sharing the room also lowered the cost.

Hope that helps :)

  Brett Brooks [06.08.05 12:41 PM]

Oops, forgot to say - the conference wiki is a great idea! Hopefully apple move towards this in the future. I notice they had the 'My Agenda' thing this year, but to be honest i had nothing but trouble with it. It seemed to 'forget' the sessions id chosen, and the ical export just didnt work.

I guess they are working on it ;)

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