Life, Technology, and Meteorology

Category: WWDC 2006

WWDC Keynote Thoughts

Between all the great sessions here at WWDC yesterday and Buzz’s excellent blogger party last night, I’ve had just about 0 time to blog about anything that has been announced here. The typical news sites have been posting all the details on Mac OS X Leopard that Steve talked about yesterday, but I thought I would add a couple of my own comments on Leopard.

First, though I’m under NDA for a lot of the content here, I’ll just say that Leopard adds a lot of nice features for developers. I would not be surprised to see a lot of applications next year requiring Leopard. I’m sure some Tiger/Panther users will feel a bit left out, but the development time can be collapsed greatly, and these apps will be a lot more polished.

64 bit is a big buzzword around here. It is a big deal…even with 64 bit POSIX available at the UNIX layer in Tiger. That was nice, but it meant that only command-line applications that used straight POSIX libraries would have the ability to run 64 bit. As was mentioned in the keynote, Apple has extended 64 bit support all the way up to the Cocoa and Carbon layers…completing the transition to 64 bit for Mac users. I think this will allow some very high-end scientific applications to provide absolutely beautiful visualization displays without having to write a bunch of extra code to handle 64 bit data processing in a different process on the back-end. I haven’t tried building Seasonality for 64 bit yet, but I suspect that it will provide a slight speed improvement on 64 bit machines because the satellite image is highly accelerated in hardware using the Accelerate framework. 64 bit processors may be able to generate a new satellite image up to twice as fast. I’ll update my blog with performance results on this sometime in the future. changes seem to be aplenty. I haven’t loaded the Leopard preview on my MacBook Pro yet to see just how much has been improved, but already I’m impressed. The templates look to be a good idea, but I can’t see myself using them too often. I’m sure there will be a subset of Mac users that will get a kick out of that though. The notes feature strikes me as a big chunk of bloatware tacked on to Mail. If you need to take notes, there should be another place to do it outside of your inbox. Sure, people spend a lot of time in Mail, and I’m sure a lot of people take notes while reading/responding to email, but that doesn’t mean that notes should be an integrated feature. It seems that a much better solution to write a new system-wide notes application that would let you bring up an interface with a hotkey, type something in, and dismiss it.

Apple still hasn’t updated the Finder. I really hope this is one of the “top secret” features they aren’t releasing until the end. The Finder is something Mac users spend a lot of time using, and the amount of legacy code still in there is pretty staggering. At the very least, the Finder needs to use more threading, but really they should start from scratch and try to implement something that is more efficient. They should also revisit usability. When using the Finder with a modern system with several hundred thousand files, it takes awhile to navigate to where you want to be (Note: this applies to all the current file-system-exploring applications I’ve used on any platform). Spotlight improves this situation somewhat, but it is still a pretty big problem and will only get worse as hard drive capacities skyrocket as they have been in recent years.

Despite these drawbacks, Leopard as a whole is a big improvement. Time Machine and Spaces are greatly welcomed, Core Animation will be a huge win for the usability of Leopard applications and the iChat improvements seem pretty solid.

Some Excellent Blog Postings

There has been a flood of excellent blog postings these past couple of days. Most are related to WWDC, but I threw in a few others as well. Here are the ones that caught my eye…

Brent’s WWDC talk: Brent has posted several entries on his blog, requesting tabbed interface updates (I second this), the open sourcing of Cocoa, UI requests for Leopard, and other random WWDC speculation.

Gus’ WWDC Predictions: Gus predicts resolution independence, VMware for Mac goodness, and other changes in Leopard.

Happy WWDC Guesses: Luis de la Rosa over at HappyApps has a few guesses up his sleeve as well.

Mike McCracken Cards: Mike McCracken won’t be able to make it to WWDC this year, but he’ll be there in spirit thanks to these hilarious cards he put together and posted on his blog today.

My imaginary friend hates your imaginary friend: Logtar talks about religion with respect to the latest political events unfolding in the Middle East. Very insightful.

The Price Is Wrong: Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweather Software talks about pricing shareware applications. Very good read.

Why Apple's virtualization technology in Leopard might not be what you expect…

Since the release of Boot Camp back in February, the rumors have been flying on the future of running Windows on a Mac. When Boot Camp was released, I couldn’t wait to try it, and I wasn’t disappointed with the results. There were some slight drawbacks to installing Boot Camp on my MacBook Pro, but they were mostly hardware related (not having a second mouse button, or a lack of a delete key to control-alt-delete). Fortunately there are software fixes for most of these and I’m now able to use Windows on my MacBook Pro without connecting any additional hardware.

A lot of people believe that Apple will take the next step with virtualization in Leopard, and I tend to agree, but I don’t think the next step Apple takes will be the ability to run Windows apps under Mac OS X natively, or even a Parallels type of virtualization where Windows will be run in a Window. Let’s discussion the options, shall we?

Option #1: Boot Camp is included in Leopard verbatim, users can boot into either Windows or Mac OS X.

This is the easiest path for Apple to follow, because most of the work is already done. Boot Camp works, and it works well. All that would be needed is continued driver support in Windows and some tighter integration between Boot Camp and Mac OS X. I don’t expect Apple to take this path however. Apple isn’t about doing things the easy way. The Apple mentality is to do stuff the right way, and I don’t think this is it. Granted Boot Camp was just released, and a lot of work would have to be done before any of the options below would be realized. Apple might just run out of time before the Leopard release and be forced to integrate Boot Camp for the time being. If this happens though, I think they’ll be working overtime to improve virtualization in Leopard++.

Option #2: Apple licenses Parallels/VMware, users run Windows within a window.

I haven’t run Parallels on my MBP yet, but I do run VMware Server on Linux and it is a very good solution for running multiple OSes at the same time on a single machine. The drawback here, of course, is that you lose some processing power to the emulation environment. Usually this is only between 5-10% per a virtual machine, but if you are running 3 or 4 OS instances, that could utilize up to 40% of a CPU just in overhead. In addition, a lot of Mac users, myself included, have one reason to run Windows on their Mac: games. Thus far, neither Parallels nor VMware have been able to support OpenGL/DirectX in hardware, throwing the option of gaming out the window. And once Vista arrives, hardware graphics acceleration support will be that much more important. Apple is in a pretty good position to add accelerated graphics because they have control over the hardware. They know which GPUs they need to write drivers for, and I think that it’s certainly possible for Apple to go this route.

Option #3: Apple builds upon the Wine project, users run Windows applications natively on Mac OS X.

I think a lot of users would like to see Apple go this way with virtualization in Leopard. How cool would that be to double-click on a Windows application and have it launch on your Mac? There are several problems with this. First, you have a problem set by example. The Wine project has been under development for over 10 years, since 1993. Thus far, Wine only supports a small subset of Windows applications, and often-times the user has to jump through hoops just to get a Windows application working correctly under Wine. This usability is very un-Apple like. Apple, of course, has some very talented engineers in it’s employ along with something the Wine project does not have–a development relationship with Microsoft. Even so, I would find it hard to imagine Apple pulling this off in only a year or two, given how long it has taken the Wine project to get this far.

Furthermore, this option opens a can of worms when it comes to security. When you run Windows in a separate virtual machine, there is some comfort involved. Most likely, even if you were to get a Windows virus (or 100), your Mac OS X files would be safe. With native execution of Windows applications, you no longer have this comfort; Windows apps would have full access to all your Mac files. Apple could possibly build in some form of jail, so Windows would only have access to certain directories on the filesystem. However, I think this would be contrary to the point of implementing virtualization in this native manner. You want the tight Windows integration into Mac OS X, so files in your home directory can be used with applications built for either OS. With such tight integration, you have to compromise security.

Finally, this option is an interface nightmare, comparable to running X11 on Mac OS X . While I love having the ability to run X11 applications on my Mac, the user experience it provides is mediocre. For one, each X application doesn’t really appear to be completely separate like a standard Mac OS X application. Instead, all X11 apps are all running under a single application instance of Native Windows virtualization would most likely operate in a similar manner, where a application would load to provide a framework for other Windows applications to run. Another interface problem is that Windows applications often have their menus associated with individual windows. This is contrary to Mac OS X applications which have a menu bar for the entire application. Mixing these two interface paradigms is messy at best.

In short, I don’t think this is a very good option and this is probably the least-likely route for Apple to follow.

Option #4: Apple releases Boot Camp 2.0 with hardware partitioning, users run any number of OS instances concurrently on their Mac.

This is the option I think Apple should follow. Hardware partitioning has been around for quite a few years (see IBM’s LPAR, for example), but until recently this technology has been restricted to high-end servers and mainframes. With the upcoming releases of 4 and even 8 core Intel processors, hardware partitioning is becoming a much more attractive option in my opinion.

If you aren’t familiar with hardware partitioning, basically it’s a method to split the hardware resources of a machine between different OS instances. Say you have a 4 processor box with 8Gb of memory. With hardware partitioning, you can define one partition to use 2 processors and 2Gb of memory, while the other uses the remaining 2 processors and 6Gb of memory. Likewise, you could have 4 OSes, each with it’s own dedicated CPU and 2Gb of memory. There is a often limit to how much you can split the resources available. For instance, it can be difficult to write software to share a CPU between two OSes, so it makes sense that you can only have as many OS instances running as you have CPUs available. Likewise you can split memory or disks in the same manner. Each partition can run any OS the hardware will support, so in the case of Mac hardware, you could run a partition for Mac OS X, one for Windows, another for Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, etc…

In more recent years, VMware has been developing a product called VMware ESX Server. This software runs directly on the hardware, an OS of it’s own if you want to think of it that way. Then virtual OS instances sit on top of VMware ESX. VMware has even tackled the problem of sharing CPUs between virtual machines.

I envision Apple’s Boot Camp being able to do the same thing. Boot Camp would become a miniature operating system in it’s own right, and then load up the OS instances you have configured. Of course, Apple would come up with an easy way of configuring your virtual machines, and an easy way to switch between them. I envision the OS switching to be a lot like Fast User Switching…maybe they’ll even call it Fast OS Switching. 🙂 Also, since all of your virtual machines are running at the same time, it’s not a problem to use VNC to view your other running OSes in separate windows on Leopard.

We’ll find out Monday morning

All our questions will be answered come Steve Job’s keynote Monday morning at WWDC. I’ll be taking a flight out to San Francisco tomorrow in order to attend. Virtualization, of course, is just one small topic that may be brought up at WWDC this year. This year I’m expecting quite a few announcements coming from Cupertino, and I think it’s going to be a great week. If you are going to be there, drop me a line (mike at gaucho soft dot com) and we can meet up.

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