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Apple announces first rack servers, P2P, chat, web services

"One more thing..." after another

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Updated Apple seeded developers with "pre alpha" code of Mac OS X 10.2 at the WorldWide Developer Conference in San Jose today, which many had predicted.

What no one expected was a slew of bold software initiatives across the board - many more than a typical Jobs keynote - and as a teaser for an announcement next week, word of Apple's first ever rack mount servers. A glimpse of a silver case was all we saw of this, which for the first time brings Apple consumer design talents to the most utilitarian of backroom computers: the rack.

Jaguar, or "Jag-wire"* as Jobs pronounced it, includes new utilities and important changes under the hood. A new service called Rendezvous automatically discovers other Mac users and drops their shared playlists into iTunes' Source panel. Jobs showed one Mac notebook streaming to another. Apple said it will contribute the discovery and federation mechanism - which offers similar functionality to the low level services of Sun's JCP-controlled Jini, and Microsoft's UPP - as an Internet open standard.

"You want computers to discover each other and just share stuff" said Jobs.

Apple has co-authored the dynamic device discovery specification that underlies Rendezvous, ZeroConf. We stand to be corrected on the precise relationship between the two: Apple itself says they're one and the same thing, at the Jaguar preview page posted since we went to press.

The IETF working group page can be found here, and the IETF charter (and recent minutes) here. So we'll hazard that the most accurate description is that Rendezvous is an implementation of ZeroConf protocols. (Perhaps Apple can help.)

This could bring Apple into conflict with the RIAA, but will give it a popular USP. Apple actually thought its new AIM-compatible messaging client, based off official AOL-TW, was worth higher billing: as it merited its own press release. Fine though it is, Jagwire's Rendezvous features are ground breaking for any consumer appliance, and a spur to the rest of the industry to make such obvious, end-user functionality so easy.

Jagwire also takes a few leaves from Be Inc's back pages. The OS will use a common address book format open to client applications. It will be "tied into Bluetooth, for Caller ID and SMS" promised Jobs. "It will be syncing with Palms and other devices - probably Bluetooth phones too - by the end of the year," he said. BeOS included both a common address book format (using extended attributes) and a common underlying e-mail engine. Echoes of Be can be heard in the new, lean-and-mean file finder, which has a BeOS-like query builder. (Both Pavel Cisler, who authored Be's GUI shell, Tracker, and BFS author Dominic Giampaulo are now at Apple).

So Sherlock itself has been radically overhauled, and in version 3.0 evolves into the client for web services.

The version demonstrated has channels for AppleCare, Yellow Pages, Pictures, News, "Packages", Translation and a Dictionary.

Why not use Google's API, a nearby Doc Searls asked me. A good question, Doc: the Internet search example didn't seem to gather hits from Google. Web services integration was also evident with the new address book - it can go out and grab a location map from Mapquest.

"We've been working with AOL for some time," said Jobs, "piping some features back into the AOL client code." He introduced it by saying "this is the first time AOL has let anyone in under the tent," and said you don't have to be an AOL subscriber to join.

It's mostly familiar, but the neatest innovation is location awareness: you can create ad hoc buddy lists from users within range. We guess that leans on the Rendevous discovery service for gathering the information. It is a shame it isn't based on Jabber, the excellent open source IM service which telcos have begun to adopt because of its presence features, but Apple judged compatibility with the installed base was more valuable. After all, that's where the folks are.

In another important announcement, Apple said Jagwire would enable modern graphics cards to take much of the load by "pipeling" Quartz via OpenGL to the card. Thus, "Quartz Extreme", as it's called, relieves the main CPU of drawing the eye candy, but will only be available on machines with AGP 2X and 32MB of memory and above. Rage 128 systems don't cut it. "We had some misunderstandings before," said Jobs referring to the current lawsuit on behalf of G3 users.

To demonstrate Quartz Extreme, Apple showed a slow motion genie fade of a streaming video.

Other announcements include a handwriting recognition service called Inkwell, available to applications right now, which perhaps paves the way for tablet-based Macs in the future.

The Finder and QuickTime see improvements - the latter was demonstrated applying scubbing and freezes on a video stream, and it certainly appears much more responsive than the current sluggish X client. The Finder at long last gets services, spring loaded folders, and the new search feature can be added to the toolbar.

High end features have been added to the built-in mail client, Mail, including a heuristics-based spam filter, and viewing and searching across a "union" of mailboxes.

Jobs began by consigning MacOS 9 to a coffin. "It isn't dead for our customers yet but it's dead for you, the developers he said." Although both the slide, and Jobs obituary gave 1998 as its birthdate, rather than 1999. It's obviously stuck around far longer than Apple wanted.

Jagwire will ship in "late summer" promised Jobs. ®

Bootnote: No, it we weren't being snotty. Jobs' pronounciation caused recurring titters from the (almost entirely American) press corps, and Webster's confirms that in the US it's pronounced
"Jag-you-are" or "ja-gwär". In the North of England, we pronounce it "Jag-wer", with the second syllable disappearing faster than a free pint of Holts.

But if "Jag-wyyyyre" is good enough for Steve, it's good enough for us. He's the boss. Obey.

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