MWSF 02: Macworld Reflections — Power of X Finally Comes into its Own

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Date: Friday, January 11th, 2002, 10:29
Category: Archive

In a dramatic moment on Monday, Steve Jobs announced “it’s time”: OS X will boot by default on all new shipping systems (though OS 9 will remain on the drive). While OS X demos in July were an opportunity for many to snooze, this year they demonstrated with palpable excitement why we use Macs — even why we use computers — from visual expression to mathematical modeling to games to making Hollywood blockbusters — all made more powerful and better-looking on X. And the drama over Photoshop’s late arrival on the new OS has gotten more melodramatic than ever.


In a dramatic moment on Monday, Steve Jobs announced “it’s time”: OS X will boot by default on all new shipping systems (though OS 9 will remain on the drive). While OS X demos in July were an opportunity for many to snooze, this year they demonstrated with palpable excitement why we use Macs — even why we use computers — from visual expression to mathematical modeling to games to making Hollywood blockbusters — all made more powerful and better-looking on X. And the drama over Photoshop’s late arrival on the new OS has gotten more melodramatic than ever.

I’m surprised the pro Mac community is griping like it is about the lack of new Power Mac announcements and the ongoing megahertz gap with Intel/AMD. Pro video, audio, and graphics run so much better on the G4 chip, particularly with OS X, and yet members of the pro community who should know that miss the point. Software developers get it: their demos clearly demonstrate inherent advantages of the Mac platform.

Apple‘s Final Cut Pro 3.0 on OS X is an excellent example. The new version can do effects, titling, and even color adjustments in realtime. These features made the audience I was in gasp, and rightly so. The ability to do sophisticated, multichannel effects without rendering is revolutionary, especially when you consider the portable power of the PowerBook G4.

Lucas Film’s use of Maya and After Effects demonstrates just how much the Mac continues to revolutionize movie making. 4,000 pre-visualization shots are the fruit of this platform choice, and the advent of the G4 and OS X are making those shots look closer to what’s in the final movie than ever before. Just in the time between Episode 1 and Episode 2, OS X’s Maya has changed pre-visualization from flat-shaded QuickTime movies to fully rendered, fully textured, fully lit shots that look as though they could be final shots, not pre-visualizations. The marriage of Maya with After Effects brings multi-layered video that can be modified to try “what-if” scenarios. And it’s a tribute to Apple that this kind of power extends from the Mac’s high-end apps all the way to the fluidity and creative power of iMovie and iPhoto at the low end, which take advantage of the same industry-strength OpenGL graphics. Just a few months after the release of OS X, a lot of us have taken that for granted.

OS X is powerful even in fields few of us understand. The most entertaining presenter on Monday, ironically, was Wolfram Research‘s founder Theodore Gray, someone who understands the pure joy of open-ended, no holds barred, computing power on the Mac and what it does for human thought. I’m speaking of Mathematica. “What a word processor is to writing, Mathematica is to the whole world of technical computing — it doesn’t tell you what to think today,” said Gray. In other words, the software does anything math can do, from DNA sequences to stock analysis. The extreme reliability of OS X makes it superior to an OS like XP. And the results of pure math, rendered as animations and even anti-aliased equations on OS X, are simply gorgeous. The side-by-side comparison of a liquid-smooth Quartz animation next to a jagged, unclear animation on any other platform was breathtaking. “This would have been tremendously helpful for people designing vacuum tubes,” sighed Gray. “It’s kind of a pity.”

Something all of us understand, games, are suddenly looking a lot better on X, a big shift from a few months ago. Aside from the excellent sign that Lucas Arts will finally be back on the Mac with Aspyr‘s port of Star Wars Galactic Battle Grounds this year, Aspyr’s Harry Potter game is the nearest I’ve ever seen in a game to giving you the experience of being “in a movie.”

And, oh yeah, Adobe. The suite Adobe is completing looks gorgeous, fully integrated, and ultra-fast. But no one will give Adobe any credit for that until the day Photoshop ships. Photoshop guru Russ Brown, demoing the upcoming OS X version, tenuously announced “it’s real, it’s –“, as he tightened his voice, “almost here.” Jobs never missed an opportunity to taunt Adobe for not having shipped Photoshop. When Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen proudly said “Steve, we’re the poster child of applications for OS X.” Jobs retorted “We’re going to have a countdown to when Photoshop ships.”

OS X remains a work in progress. Dantz announced this week a beta of Retrospect (finally), though “beta” and “backup software” are not words you want to hear together when you’re trying to use an OS for critical work. Palm‘s release of beta Palm Desktop software is tempered by the lack of any conduits so far to run on it. And, as I keep reiterating, music and audio remains the key Apple market segment that has to boot back to OS 9 more than any other, and the one that can’t use Classic because of Classic’s inability to run audio and MIDI. But the waiting is hard partly because the product is so good, and the release of an OS that is truly complete – version 10.1 — has made all this industrial strength software possible. Make no mistake about it: OS X will be the most advanced OS ever.

How are OS X and Apple’s G4 machines impacting your pro work? Drop me a line and let me know.

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