Apple conference shows off new OS, and nifty hardware

Jobs' keynote address sparks interest

Apple Computer has stepped up its criticism of Microsoft’s Windows operating system and revealed numerous new features to its planned spring 2007 release of Macintosh OS X 10.5, or Leopard. But it was the hardware shown last week during San Francisco-hosted Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote address by CEO Steve Jobs that got people talking.

“Now I can begin planning our systems purchases,” says Robyn Berland, lab manager for the Student Tech Services group at New York University, referring to the new computers. She calls the new Mac Pro workstation and Xserve servers, which feature Intel’s just-released Core 2 Duo processors, “very exciting”.

Brian Weitzner, a chemical engineering student at Cornell University agrees, and says the US$2,499 base price was most surprising for a “well-equipped” standard configuration machine. “I could save up and get one in a few months,” he says, “if I didn’t eat.”

Bob O’Donnell, an analyst with IDC, says he was impressed that, with the announced October ship date for Xserves running the Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, Apple has now completed the transition of its laptop, desktop and server product lines to Intel chips. But he wondered whether Apple will follow other makers and support Intel’s historical and aggressive processor upgrade cycle, which runs about every six months.

“Normally, Apple has a longer release cycle,” says O’Donnell. The question is whether Apple intends to keep up with other Intel hardware manufacturers or will it need to skip chips on the Intel roadmap.

Henry Norr, a respected independent reviewer of personal computing hardware, says it is paramount for Apple to revamp the elaborate cooling system in the prior line of PowerPC-based professional workstations, which had nine fans as well as water-cooling technology to keep the systems from burning up. The new Mac Pro systems have four fans and no water cooling technology, primarily due to the much lower watt consumption of the Intel chips.

O’Donnell says end-users, particularly consumers, will get the biggest benefit from Time Machine, a new feature in Leopard that automatically backs up every file and application to a designated external disk drive. End-users can text-search or graphically navigate their way to locate lost or previously deleted files that Time Machine has saved so they can restore those files.

However, Berland points to the new advanced features in Apple’s iChat instant messaging application. “The video conferencing capabilities make it ideal for distant-learning environments.”

During the keynote address, Apple took a few potshots at its rival Microsoft. Bertrand Serlet, senior vice president of engineering for Apple, chided Microsoft for “photocopying” earlier features in Mac OS X into the current beta release of Windows Vista, accusing the software giant of even borrowing the Apple Aqua user interface logo as part of its own new logo for Windows. “If you can’t innovate, you have to imitate, which is never quite as good,” he says.

Jobs echoed those sentiments, claiming Microsoft developers spent more time chasing innovation at Apple and Google than creating some of their own. He says he is so concerned about Microsoft copying new features in Leopard that he was not presenting many of the more “amazing” new things in Leopard for public view.

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