So the 2006 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference is complete, and contrary to some reports from the less clueful, it was not a dud, nor a disappointment.
The three big things to come out of the WWDC, at least publicly, were the Mac Pro Towers, the Intel-based Xserves, and the next iteration of the Mac OS, “Leopard.”
The Mac Pro is Apple’s replacement for the G5 Towers. “Replacement” here is almost the wrong word, as the new towers are a rather large improvement on the G5s they replace.
Each Mac Pro comes with two Dual Core Xeon “Woodcrest” CPUs, based on Intel’s Core 2 Duo architecture. Full 64-bit chips with greatly improved vector units, the CPUs are, with native/universal software, consistently faster than the G5s they replace, even at equivalent speeds. Of course, since you can get a 3.0GHz Mac Pro, “equivalent” is at the lower end of the scale.
Since the Intel chips don’t require the extensive cooling of the G5s, there’s room in them for some nice new features, like dual optical drives, more RAM slots, four hard-drive bays, each with a quick (dis)connect carrier for up to 2TB of internal storage, additional ports on the front, including a FireWire 800 port. (Yes, FireWire 800. Can we all please let the “Apple is abandoning FireWire” meme drop?)
The new systems ship with 4 PCI Express cards, with one slot being a double-width slot so you can install a higher-end video card than the shipping Nvidia 7300GT, so you don’t lose two slots in the process.
If you’re doing Final Cut work, heavy development work in say Xcode, this tower’s a no-brainer. If you’re a CS 2 pro user, well, that’s not as clear-cut. Rosetta’s a great technology, but it’s still going to be noticeably slower than running natively, so in that case, you’ll want to run some hands-on evalutations and see if the slowdowns are a problem.
The new Xserves, available in October, get a similar upgrade to dual-core Xeon CPUs.
Like the Mac Pro, you can get the Xserve with two Dual Core Xeons, running at up to 3.0GHz. This wasn’t possible with the G5s, as the thermal issues with the dual-core G5s didn’t allow them to be used in the Xserve form factor. (A note on the form factor. WIth the mounting hardware, the Xserve gains two inches in length, something to consider if your existing rack space is just long enough for the PPC Xserves.)
Since, like the Mac Pro, there’s less cooling hardware needed for the new Xserves, Apple added a few things, like more RAM slots (up to 32GB of FB-DIMM ECC RAM) on board video out (you no longer need a slot to use an Xserve with a KVM), two PCI Express slots (one can be used with PCI-X cards), the ability to use either SATA or Serial Attached SCSI, (SAS) drives, dual, redundant power supplies, and basic lights-out management (LOM).
The Xserve has always been a solid server choice, and with the new hardware, it will be a formidable competitor in the SMB server space.
What will be interesting to see is how VMWare’s announced plans work out, and if you can use Boot Camp with an Xserve. VMWare ESX on an Xserve allowing for the use of multiple instances of Mac OS X Server (even only on Apple hardware, this is a fantastic feature), or running Mac OS X/Linux/Windows on the same server would give Apple some real ammunition to get the Xserve into server rooms that had been previously closed to them.
As promised, WWDC attendees got a preview of the next major release of Mac OS X, aka “Leopard.” Of the Leopard client features demonstrated at the keynote, I think the new group calendaring features in iCal, the support for virtual desktops, aka “Spaces” and Time Machine are of the most interest to the enterprise.
Of the three, Apple’s take on personal backup, Time Machine, is the most interesting. At heart, Time Machine is automated, individual user backup. It can back up a whole volume, or selected files, at a user selected time.
What makes Time Machine interesting is that it’s far less modal than other backup applications, particularly for restores. Rather than realizing you need to restore some data, changing over to Time Machine, finding the data, restoring it, then switching back to the original application, the restore process happens in the context of the particular application.
So, if you’re searching for a contact in Address Book and you need to restore it, you click on Time Machine, and the restore happens within Address Book. The same goes for the Finder, Mail, or any application that can talk to Time Machine.
This is really important in getting individual users to use a backup system. One that requires odd, (to a non-technical user) interfaces and steps will eventually get ignored. But a system that “just works” and doesn’t make them jump through a lot of hoops results in more people backing up their systems regularly, and that’s always a good thing.
Next column, I’ll take a look at Leopard Server, and the new features it brings to the table, as doing that in this column would double, or perhaps treble the size of it.