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Apple 'launches Longhorn' with better search, graphics

While Redmond blogs, Cupertino codes

Many of the features due to appear Microsoft's Longhorn will appear a year early in Mac OS X "Tiger", Apple claimed today. The next major revision does indeed offer some benefits that OS vendors have been talking about for more than a decade, such as real-time content retrieval, and point and click scripting. But there are other attractions amongst the ten CEO Steve Jobs showcased this morning at Apple's Annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), such as APIs for video and image manipulation libraries which will be bundled withe OS, real 64-bit addressing, and iChat video conferencing. But the stars are undoubtedly search and scripting.

The new search facility in Tiger is called Spotlight, and it extends the instant real-time searches BeOS users will remember, to the contents of files. With sub-second respond times, there's no need for a friendly cartoon dog to scratch its butt while you wait for the results.

"A lot of us are never going to use the Finder again," reckoned Jobs. "We discovered that we'd already solved this problem in iTunes". As with BeOS, queries can be saved as an icon. The engine is accessible from the main menubar or can be built into applications with Apple leading the way enabling Mail and Address Book. Examples of these persistent searches could be "all files from a certain person" or "all birthdays coming up in the next week". As Jobs demonstrated, Spotlight can find text in a PDF map. He showed the content engine working with System Preferences and the help system, to allow people to find where to change a setting.

Indeed one of the advantages of a system like this, as BeOS vets pointed out in this interview a couple of years ago, is that you never have to worry about where you've put a file. So finally Apple moves away from the spatial desktop it pioneered twenty years ago, and not before its time.

The other major attraction is a scripting development application called Automator. Although scripting has been in MacOS for over a decade, Automator offers a new UI for building workflow scripts, and pretty much removes the need to write code. The UI consists of a pallet and a series of dialog boxes which are used to create the script. Again, a new API will allow developers to expose their applications to the scripting engine.

Developers will be able to incorporate dramatic image and video effects in Tiger with the new Core Video and Audio libraries. The image library bundles 100 real-time effects, from basic sepia, RGB to more sophisticated graphics transformations.

Also amongst the ten advances that Jobs demonstrated were better Windows integration, and iChat video conferencing with support for up to three video and ten audio conferencing members. The system will support the H.264 video code, feature 64-bit addressing (and a 64-bit VM) and Dot.Mac will be enhanced to allow synchronization across several Macs.

However even Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field began to wobble when he described how the Safari Browser "has always been at the cutting edge." (Only if you've been stuck in a time capsule since 1995, and are still impressed with Netscape 2.0, we reckon). Safari will get Arse-Feed support (both RSS and Atom) in the next version, which the audience met with a stunned silence.

Jobs used the keynote to introduce a new display enclosure, and a new, 30 inch LCD monitor which requires two DVI feeds to power it. Fortunately a new NVidia 6800 Ultra graphics card also announced features this. At $3,299 the LCD isn't cheap, and the GPU is an additional $499. The neat aluminum enclosure wraps the revised 20-inch and 23-inch models at $1,299 and $1,999 a piece. Both of these can be used by conventionall G4 PowerMacs and PowerBooks, as they take a regular DVI-out connector. All the models feature two FireWire and two dual-USB ports.

And Jobs also explained that "the industry had hit a wall" moving to 90 nanometer fabrication process, and that while IBM had failed to reach 3Ghz with the PowerPC G5 processor, it had advanced 25 per cent over the past year rather than 12.5 per cent. (He could have made hay with Intel's chaotic desktop roadmaps, recently ripped up, and 64-bit confusion, but diplomatically declined to).

And with that, the assembled developers went to pick up their Tiger preview CDs, and propaganda posters. "Introducing Longhorn" and "Redmond, start your photocopiers" are the most memorable. While Redmond blogs, Cupertino codes. ®

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