The Dashboard — and Other WWDC Goodies §

So the WWDC opened on Monday, with the Stevenote of the year. The highly anticipated WWDC keynote brought some follow–through on many rumors (the Dashboard, the new display lineup) and a lack of follow–through on several others (new iMacs, for example). I want to incorporate into this article my thoughts on several of the 150 new features, and why I do intend to purchase this upgrade in early 2005.

Features worth Mentioning

Here are some of my favorite new features that will be included in OS X Tiger. These are the reasons I will upgrade.

Spotlight— Of course this one is in here, why wouldn’t it be? If you saw the keynote, or have read the Mac news sites in the last two days, then you are well aware of what this is. Spotlight is the new search integrated into Tiger. This thing is brilliant! Spotlight allows you to search using a document or folder’s meta–data. This is great, because it allows for real language searching. You can still search using a keyword, but the function is far superior to any other search. You will be able to use a keyword to find anything related to it: whether it be an e-mail, or a video file; a music file or a web shortcut. It is all lightning fast too, read: on the fly, real–time searching.

But what if I don’t want to use a keyword, but a phrase. Say I want to find all of the documents related to a research project I am conducting that I had worked on in the last 2 days. I can click in the Spotlight search field, and type in “show me the documents about research project that I have worked on in the last two days,” and voilá! All of the documents appear instantly, without even hitting the enter key.

Beyond these, I can now create “smart folders”, which are basically the same as smart playlists in iTunes. I can save a search set, and save it as an dynamically updated folder.

Automater— This feature sounds great. This application adds a very user–friendly interface to the many automated scripting features available in Unix OSes, and since I have never taken the time to learn any of them, not to mention AppleScript, I am excited for this app. I can forsee uses far into the future.

SafariRSS— I love RSS. I love Safari. It doesn’t get any better than the two together. I can’t wait to see the implementation. If you don’t know what RSS is, check out my syndication page to learn more.

Dashboard— This one is a good one, and a center for plenty of controversy. Think Konfabulator but cooler. Why is it cooler? It looks just the same, you say? Well here’s why it is cooler: it disappears. People are calling this a downside, but for me this is exactly why it has become a selling point for Tiger. I enjoyed Konfabulator once, through the trial anyway. I liked the widgets, they were mostly useful, sometimes fun. I like the fact that I could use JavaScript to create my own miniature applications. The thing I did not like, was the space these things took up on my desktop. Visually they were mostly appealing, utilizing Quartz to its full potential, but so much clutter makes me nuts. I am a very minimalist person, and that was a big no no in my decision to not purchase Konfabulator.

While I’m already on the topic, I would like to point out a few things to those who see this as a rip off of someone else’s product. First off, I’ll just come right out and say it: you are right. Dashboard is a rip–off of an application created by Andy Hertzfeld. No, not Konfabulator. A little app called Desk Ornaments. Who is Andy Hertzfeld? Well, he is one of the father’s of the Macintosh, a former employee of Apple Computer. Basically Apple took a product idea they already owned, and revamped it into the 21st century for OS X.

Now before you go crying bullshit, and start ranting about the visual differences between Desk Ornaments and Dashboard, and the stunning similarities of Dashboard and Konfabulator, finish reading. There is a very basic, fundamentally different point. I was going to write this article defending Apple based simply on the Desk Ornament situation, but thankfully John Gruber has connections that I do not, and was able to find out some very interesting details about Dashboard that I am not privy to, since I am neither a devoloper or well–connected professional.

First of all, Dashboard creates its own environment that it operates in, it does not just run as a separate application. I won’t expand any further on that, because I’m still not too clear on that subject, but I will go further and put it this way: download Konfabulator, open some widgets, and just look at your Process Viewer. The amount of memory that one widget uses can be more than a fully independent OS X Cocoa application. Gruber pointed this out, and I checked it, it’s absolutely true. A widget is supposed to be incredibly small and functional. The amount of memory the widget takes is absurd, especially since they are supposed to be things that go on in the background, unlike an application that deserves to take up that much memory.

Now check this out: Konfabulator uses JavaScript, a great idea don’t get me wrong, it makes the application and its widgets portable to every platform (in theory, but not yet in practice), and makes it easy for people with limited experience to create their own custom widgets. Dashboard also uses JavaScript, but according to Gruber it is more based on HTML and CSS. Two basic languages used in web development, and that are incredibly simple to use. This is powerful because all three languages (Java, HTML and CSS) are built right into the core of OS X through Safari. What makes that extra powerful is the portability and the even easier ability to create custom widgets. Apple’s widgets are basically miniature web pages, and I know a lot more people who can throw together HTML than people who can create a Java applet.

This is a plus too, because all of these things are built into OS X, and now that Dashboard is built in the memory consumption will be incredibly minute. As Gruber points out:

Thus, Dashboard is clearly an extension of Mac OS X system-level technologies: Web Kit for layout and scripting; Exposé for the Dashboard window layer; and Cocoa for advanced functionality. Dashboard is the result of advanced Mac OS X technology in action.

So there it is, perhaps Apple’s incarnation looks stunningly similar to Konfabulator, but if you think about it, can there be any other way of implementing such an environment without jeopardizing ease of use for creating custom widgets, and without using the built in technologies available in OS X? I don’t think so. And as I’ve pointed out above, with the kind help and inside information of John Gruber, just because an application/widget environment looks similar, does not make it a copy or rip–off. And for the record, if I were Andy Hertzfeld, I would consider the development and inclusion of Dashboard a nice homage to my work, a legacy that lives on. For me though, it is yet another selling point for OS X Tiger.

and some other cool stuff too…— I encourage you to check out the web site for the Tiger preview, there are so many advancements, these are only a few, from a users standpoint, that make it worth the transition. Along with these, is even better Unix support, more integration of industry standards in Quicktime to make for some really cool video playback, and XCode 2.0 with tons of new APIs and core technologies. If you have an iSight and use iChat AV (which I do not, so this is not a selling point for me) there is a whole new version of iChat AV that allows for up to 10 simultaneous audio chats that can all be linked together (a big conference call) and now support for 3 simultaneous video conferencing feeds (all three people can see eachother, etc.) I highly recommend you look at the way Apple implements this. You might picture three separate video windows, and if that’s the case you need to remember Apple is involved. It is fast, beautiful, graceful and classy. This may not be a selling point for OS X Tiger, but it is a selling point for an iSight.

So basically that’s it. There were lots of things out of the WWDC keynote this year, but this is the most important one to me. The new displays are incredibly gorgeous, but far out of my price range.

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