Apple Computer opened up its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on Monday morning with a string of marquee-level product announcements. CEO Steve Jobs was on hand to show several of over 100 new features in a new version 10.3 of the Mac OS X operating system, dubbed Panther. Jobs also confirmed news which had been leaked to the Web last week (at Apples own Web site), concerning the arrival of three new systems based on Apples latest G5 microprocessor.
Panther was released in a developer version to attendees at the conference, and will ship later this year. It continues the areas of primary emphasis seen in the Cheetah, Puma and Jaguar versions of the Macintosh operating system, with many kinds of special graphical effects made possible by the OSs Quartz Extreme graphics engine.
The operating system features a completely overhauled version of Apples Finder technology. The new version of Finder is, according to Jobs, “people-centric rather than computer-centric.” A users folders and applications sit on the left column of the new Finder, rather than being buried several columns deep, and folders can be easily dragged and dropped into the column on the left. A constantly available Action button lets users click once to find out what they can do with any document or folder. Open and Save panels contain more information than they previously did. Throughout all panels in the operating system there is a Fax button, much like a Print button.
Panther features fast auto-searching for files, where a search is launched as soon as a user begins typing. The Panther interface has several glitzy properties. For example, icons in Finder shrink and enlarge as Finder windows are resized. The OS also has a very crowd-pleasing way of treating windows and information in windows, which is called Expose. To illustrate, Jobs opened up several Photoshop files and some Web pages, then with one click all the pages shrank instantly to nearly postage-stamp size so that you could see an array of 10 pages on screen at once. With one more click, the pages tiled back into a standard-sized stack. Any key on a users keyboard, or a right mouse button, can be set to execute Expose, and Expose is flexible enough to let a user do things like concurrently see thumbnails of all the windows a certain application has open.
The mail features in Panther are also radically overhauled. You can view mail by threads, in a fashion very similar to the approach taken by Lotus Notes. The mail engine also contains the HTML rendering features found in Apples Safari browser. There is also VPN (virtual private network) technology in Panther, based on the IPSec security standard, and Panther contains an advanced QuickTime codec called Pixlet which is designed for what Jobs calls “studio-grade film and multimedia quality.”
In one of the well-received portions of the keynote, Jobs showed Panthers iChat AV instant messaging technology. Jobs videoconferenced with a friend in Paris, and with Al Gore in Los Angeles. Through an IM buddy list, any user of iChat AV can see if buddies are equipped for IM-based video or audio conferencing via icons in the buddy list, such as one that looks like a camera. Along with iChat AV, Apple is shipping a brand new $149 videoconferencing camera called iSight, which mounts on the top of either a desktop system or notebook system. The camera connects by Firewire, and all of the features in iChat AV are designed to work on a plug-and-play basis, so that no setup is required for, say, videoconferencing.
Among other features in Panther, there is fast user switching, similar to the user switching found in Windows XP. By clicking one button, Jobs changed the system state on his computer from his own to a system state owned by a child. Panther also allows users to create .PDF documents within any application, and does what appears to be very fast .PDF rendering. In addition, Panther has a new set of developer tools built in called Xcode, which is designed to do fast compiling (compiling starts, in predictive fashion, even as a developer continues to build an application).
At the end of his keynote, Jobs confirmed last weeks reports that Apple has a successor chip to the G4, which is the new G5. Three new PowerMac G5 systems will start shipping in August, and the G5 chip itself is a product of joint engineering between Apple and IBM. The G5 is a 64-bit processor that runs existing 32-bit applications natively. It will be available in clock speeds up to 2GHz, with a 1GHz front-side bus (purportedly six times faster than the G4 bus). The chip is manufactured on a 130-nanometer process and contains 58 million transistors. “I dont know how they count those,” Jobs quipped.
Systems based on the G5 will be available in two lower-end versions and one dual-processor high-end version which Jobs claims is “the fastest personal computer ever.” The first low-end system is a 1.6-GHz G5 machine with 256MB of memory, an 80GB hard drive, and a GeForce graphics chip for $1,999. The second lower-end system is a 1.8-GHz machine with 512 MB of memory, a 160 GB hard drive, and a GeForce graphics chip for $2,399. The high-end system comes with two 2-GHz G5 chips, 512 MB of memory, a 160 GB hard drive and a Radeon 9600 graphics subsystem for $2,999. Jobs claimed that a system with two Xeon chips from Dell, comparably configured, would cost over $4,000. In benchmark test results that Jobs showed, which were produced by VeriTest and based on SPEC tests, Jobs cited the high-end G5 system as having 41 percent faster floating-point performance than comparable Pentium 4 and Xeon systems.
The new G5 systems come with a whopping nine fans, and have computer-controlled cooling systems built in. The corners of the all-aluminum cases have handles. There are 800/400 Firewire connections, a USB 2.0 connection, and optical digital audio built in. The systems support up to 8GB of memory, compared to the G4s limit of 4GB. All systems have 4x Superdrives.
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