The WWDC '97 Keynote:
A Personal Account

by Gregg Williams
Apple Developer Relations
Apple Computer
Tuesday, May 13, 1997

If there was anything different about the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, I couldn't tell it. The usual assortment of developers were milling about before the Opening Keynote session, the presentation stage was, if anything, even more opulent than usual, and Hall 1 of the San Jose Convention Center was almost filled to capacity. It was an excellent turnout that countered the dire predictions of a troubled and under-attended WWDC.

I think I will remember it as the day that I realized that Apple was back on its way to greatness, once again.

I sat through the Opening Keynote with some knowledge of what was going to be said. But seeing it said in one place, with demos of upcoming operating systems running flawlessly, I began to see things as they must have appeared to the rest of the audience: a strategy that was coherent, sensible, and deliverable. As Apple Chairman and CEO Dr. Gilbert Amelio said during his part of the presentation, "The strategy is sound, the code [that the strategy depends on] is real."



### Major Statements ###

Apple has a bad habit of announcing things under its breath, the end result being that not everybody hears what Apple has announced or they're unsure as to whether something was "really" announced. To ensure that this doesn't happen here, below is a list of things I picked up from the Opening Keynote that I think most developers will find to be BIG NEWS. The speakers were Dr. Amelio, John Rubenstein (senior vice president of hardware development), and Avadis (Avie) Tevanian Jr. (senior vice president of software engineering). If this isn't official enough, I don't know what is.

  • Apple's Dual OS strategy. Apple is pursuing a dual OS strategy that includes both the Mac OS and the new operating system based on Apple and NeXT technology, code-named Rhapsody. Rhapsody is not meant to be a replacement for the Mac OS. According to Avie Tevanian, "The Mac OS is so important to moving our business forward. We have no plans for Rhapsody to replace the Mac OS anytime soon.

  • New life for the Mac OS. Apple promised yearly major releases of the Mac OS: Mac OS 8 (Tempo) this July (and it's on schedule), Allegro (mid-1998), Sonata (mid-1999), and--this was new to me as well--an unnamed release for mid-2000. "The Mac OS will continue for years to come," Dr. Amelio said, "and customers can migrate to Rhapsody at their own speed." Apple announced that the Mac OS engineering team was fully staffed and would continue to improve the Mac OS, increasing its performance and stability and improving the OS in ways that would add value for customers *without* depending on developer adoption of new technologies.

  • Rhapsody for Intel. Yes, yes, yes--Apple executives have mentioned this before, but talking about it at WWDC as part of a larger strategy should make it official in everybody's eyes: There *will* be a version of the Rhapsody operating system that will run on Intel Pentium computers. It won't have the Blue Box (which allows the PowerPC processor-based version of Rhapsody to run Mac OS software), but it'll be identical otherwise. Recompile your Rhapsody application and it'll run on Intel computers that are running this operating system.

  • Apple's Yellow Box strategy. Most of the innovation in Rhapsody will come from what Apple has code-named the "Yellow Box." The Yellow Box is based on the OpenStep operating system that Apple acquired from NeXT Software, but it also contains key Apple technologies, including the QuickTime Media Layer (QuickTime, QuickTime VR, and QuickDraw 3D) and ColorSync.

    Perhaps the biggest announcement of the day (and of the entire conference) is that the Yellow Box is not just the "engine" within Rhapsody, but rather a development platform--implemented as a set of APIs (application programming interfaces)--that allows you to write one set of source code and, by recompiling for each platform, reach *five* separate platforms. The five platforms are:
     - the Rhapsody (for PowerPC) operating system
     - the Rhapsody for Intel operating system
     - Mac OS
     - Windows 95/Windows NT (one recompilation reaches both platforms)

    Support for Rhapsody, Windows 95, and Windows NT will be out as soon as Rhapsody comes out. (Support for these three platforms is based on technologies that NeXT has been shipping as commercial products, so this part of Apple's strategy is more than an unimplemented intention.) Nothing was said about exactly when Rhapsody for Intel will come out. Yellow Box for Mac OS functionality is due in mid-1998 with the release of Allegro.

    Because the technology that allows a Yellow Box application to run on top of Windows 95 or Windows NT is based on licensed technology, there has been a fear that you would have to pay a royalty for each copy of an application that uses this technology. One big piece of news that came out during the Opening Keynote is that Apple would make this technology available to you through a no-fee license--meaning that you can deploy your Yellow Box application on Windows 95 and Windows NT without it costing you a cent extra.

    Apple's announcement of the Yellow Box strategy makes Apple's position stronger than ever. Some developers said they needed a single development solution that would cover both the Mac OS and Rhapsody platforms--now they have it. Others said they needed a single development solution that is cross-platform between the Windows world and the Apple world--now they have that, too.

    In short, the Yellow Box strategy removes many of the objections that developers have had about developing for the computers that Apple and its licensees sell.

  • Java. Sun's Java environment is a component of the Yellow Box, meaning that it is also part of the five platforms mentioned above and that Java programs can run, unmodified, on any of them.

    In addition, Apple is making it possible for Java programs to access the Yellow Box APIs. Think of what this means: You still have a Java program that, *without* recompilation, will run on the five platforms mentioned above--and they have access to a far more sophisticated set of routines (the Yellow Box API) than is available to a plain-vanilla Java program. Such a solution gives you the best of both worlds--the portability of Java and the extra power and flexibility of a full-featured development environment.


### Final Thoughts ###

*Whew!* That was just the Opening Keynote session. Afterwards, I attended Mac OS and Rhapsody technical sessions that gave more details on Apple's OS strategy, as well as details on some other important topics--most notably, Apple's emphasis on Internet support in its operating systems, and the WebObjects technology for producing dynamically-created web pages.

I'll mention briefly the Opening Keynote demos, which included:

     - a demo of Mac OS 8 (Tempo)
     - a demo of the Blue Box (which showed the current beta 
        version of Mac OS 8 running within Rhapsody)
     - the current (pre-Developer Release) version of Rhapsody, 
        running on a PowerPC processor-based Macintosh
     - a Java program that displayed a rotating QuickDraw 3D 
        object (by calling QuickDraw 3D through the Yellow Box)


Also, I have to mention an unsolicited comment that one developer, Stephen David Beck, from Louisiana State University, made at lunch: "I was impressed not just by the demos but by the implications of those demos--namely, that Rhapsody is farther along than I expected."

I think he--and the majority of developers at WWDC today--was seeing what I see: namely, an Apple that has its act together, that has articulated a promising new direction, and that has shown concrete evidence that it will be able to deliver what it promised. And that's a good place to start one's climb back to greatness, once again.