Yesterday, Steve Jobs of Apple held his usual keynote speech at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference at the Moscone Center, San Fransisco. I usually thoroughly enjoy Jobs’s keynotes; they are a well-planned piece of theater, complete with drama, comedy, and even action. In between, of course, some new products are announced, and some meaningless figures are given (classic example of spin doctoring: use only the figures of your strongest market, in Apple’s case, the US laptop market; ignore the rest). However, this time, the theater part seemed to far outweigh the new-products-part. And that’s a shame. Note: The, Tuesday Eve Column.The Mac Pro Apple introduced yesterday is, I think, the best value-for-money Macintosh Apple has ever put in the market. If you downgrade the processors to 2.0Ghz, and the harddrive to 160GB, you can have a Mac Pro for a relatively mere 2119 Euros. That’s a whole lot of computer for that money. The new Xserve is harder to judge for me, as I am not really interested in server offerings.
But of course, the software part of the keynote is what really interested me. Apple started off by paying a lot of attention to Windows Vista. They reminisced the banners they had at last year’s WWDC (“Redmond, start your photocopiers”), and that they did not expect Microsoft do actually do that. They then came up with a set of comparison screenshots, allegedly showing the similarities between the two operating systems, and in the end, Jobs made a remark about money not being everything in R&D, and how MS is only capable of copying Apple and Google.
Of course, all very entertaining, and I’d definitely say that these jokes have a some shreds of truth to them. However, what made this whole comparison cheesy, were not the comparisons themselves. No, it were the Leopard features presented afterwards that made them look misplaced.
Jobs stressed seven key improvements coming in Leopard: Time Machine, Spaces, Core Animation, system-wide to-do’s, and improvements in Mail and iChat.
Time Machine is one hell of a feature. The ability to see your file structure as it was hours, days, weeks ago is something many, including myself, will find very welcome. And as we have come to expect from Apple, it is all done in a pretty interface with fancy effects and flashy sounds. But wait a minute– how new and revolutionary is this? Is this really all that new?
It is not. What Apple has done with Time Machine is taking a well-known and anything-but-new concept, and implement it with a pretty interface, and scream innovation. But as soon as you break that innovation down to its core elements, it is just a way of accessing old file revisions– something OpenVMS has been capable of doing – system-wide through its filesystem – since roughly two decades. Linux has had similar implementations as well, such as Dervish or Wayback. And yes, even Microsoft has implemented a similar technology: Volume Shadow Copy. This does exactly the same thing Time Machine does– just in a less pretty interface. It has been included in Windows XP since day one in a limited form; only in Server 2003 (and now Vista as well) is it capable of roughly the same tricks as Time Machine. Who is photocopying who here, exactly?
The biggest laughing stock is of course Spaces. Steve Jobs said that this was “big” and “new” (“This is a big one”). Yes, Apple has invented something so revolutionary, so extremely brilliant, my hair suddenly grew back. What they have done is this: they have created three virtual desktops, in addition to the one you are currently staring at. These virtual desktops can house your open applications, and you can switch to them. They enable you to reduce the clutter on your screen. Revolutionary! How brilliant! How unimaginable what we can do with computers today!
Of course Apple fails to realise that probably even the machine the builders of Stonehenge used had virtual desktops. They have existed on basically all X11 desktops and BeOS since day one. Millions of hackers all over the world rely on it every day. Again, who is photocopying who here, exactly?
Core Animation is a whole different story. This truly seems like a new technology which I haven’t seen anywhere else. It will enable developers to easily include flashy animations and transitions into their applications. Together with Core Audio, Video, and Data, developers for the Mac have a seriously well thought-out set of tools at their disposal.
The system-wide to-do thing is also one of those things only Apple can come up with. At its core, it is such a simple idea, but it is going to be so utterly handy for people like me who forgets just about anything. Great work from Apple.
Another ‘big’ thing Apple focuses on is ‘Stationary’. This is another one of those supposedly revolutionary features which in fact can be found in just about any other mail client in the world- for years. Of course, Apple, in their usual fashion, made it all very easy to do, and if it’s anything like the templates in Pages, it really will be easy. But that does not hide the fact that we are looking at simple html emails here– not new, not special, and certainly not revolutionary.
Lastly, iChat features some very interesting evolutionary changes– but besides the iChat Theater, none of them are even close to being new or fresh. Tabbed chats– old. Animated buddy icons– old (and annoying). Multiple logins– also old. And as long as iChat is restricted to ICQ/AIM/Jabber, it will remain useless for a big chunck of the IM market.
Taking the above into account, it is easy to see how misplaced the stabs at Microsoft were. If you look at the above feature list, it becomes clear Apple has used its photocopier just as much as Microsoft has. Please note that I myself do not find copying of ideas and technologies a bad thing; it’s better to steal something good, than to come up with something bad. I do, however, have problems with grandly accusing your biggest competitor of copying your ideas– while in fact, you yourself are copying just as hard.
Now, do I find the changes Apple has announced thus far disappointing? No, not at all. Time Machine is going to rock, the new to-do system sounds awesome, and Core Animation will bring us even better looking applications. However, overall, these changes are mostly evolutionary.
And seriously, it is going to be hard to sell an evolutionary product (compared to the previous version)– when your biggest competitor has just released a product that is by all definitions a revolution (compared to its previous offering). Let’s hope those ‘Top Secret’ features Jobs mentioned are more radical than what he announced yesterday.
A big kick-Dashboard-into-hell button would be welcome.
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