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Apple's Ron Okamoto Previews WWDC 2004

By Staff Writer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 17, 2004 4:29 AM PT

As Apple's Unix-based Mac OS X enters its fourth year of existence, more and more developers are attending the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which will run from June 28th to July 2nd this year at San Francisco's Moscone Center.

Apple's Ron Okamoto Previews WWDC 2004

According to Ron Okamoto, vice president of worldwide developer relations at Apple, about 3,000 members of the development community attended last year's show. He told the E-Commerce Times that there was a "nice uptick" in the number of first-time attendees and a higher percentage of people who had been on the platform for less than five years.

"They offer a fresh perspective because they know us as OS X, not as our legacy Mac platform," Okamoto said. "And much of the crossover is multidisciplinary -- not just straight Win32 or Mac OS coders. They have a range of backgrounds in Java, Unix, open source [and] Win32 APIs, as well as classic Mac coding."

Okamoto spoke with the E-Commerce Times about the upcoming WWDC and what it augurs for OS X and Apple in general.

E-Commerce Times: What are some of the more interesting developments you have noticed at the WWDC since Mac OS X was released?

Okamoto: The most interesting thing we have seen over the last several years has been the number of different developers coming to the platform under OS X. [On] the enterprise IT side of the equation, there has been a heck of a lot more attention than in the past.

But that's not the only area where folks have started to take a look at [OS X] as a platform on which to build apps. The open-source community more and more is seeing open-source projects being built on OS X. We are also seeing activity from Java developers who have been coming to the platform.

Year after year, we see more developers with cross-platform experience. Whereas before it was Windows and Mac, today it is very rich and very diverse. It's some open source, some Java, some Unix, some Windows and some Mac, and that's a really great thing for us, because we are drawing a bunch of different types of developers from different communities all to develop under the Mac platform.

Today, when you look at what solutions we offer on the Mac, it's a really rich set of things. We're spanning everything from the consumer end -- with iPod, iTunes and the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) -- all the way up to the things we've done with Virginia Tech. Those are all things developers have been looking at intently for the last couple of years.

ECT: In brief, what will take place at this year's WWDC?

Okamoto: What we try to do at our Developers Conference is ... bring all these people from around the world, gather them in one place, and get them together for one week. In that week, we will give these folks the opportunity to look at all aspects of Mac development. What we will have there, besides a lot of great sessions, is a lot of hands-on laboratories, and this year we will be featuring one specifically for enterprise IT developers.

ECT: Are you seeing more interest in the Mac platform from the enterprise IT side of things?

Okamoto: Last year was the first year that we had a dedicated track for enterprise IT, and it was one of the best-attended tracks and one that we got some of the most positive comments from. For 2004, they told us: "More. More hands-on. More sessions. More depth."

As we take a look at the demographics of the people who have been joining our Developers Conference, it is really good to see how many are engaged in enterprise and IT development. It's a leading indicator to where the solutions on the map are coming from.

ECT: Life sciences also seems to be getting a push of late.

Okamoto: That's another area we really plan to pump up. We started off small several years ago, where we used to get together everybody from the science or biotech space for this "birds-of-a-feather" lunch. The first time we did it, it was basically Phil Schiller and about 10 other guys. Four years later -- last year -- we had over 350 people attend what was supposed to have been an informal lunch. They told us real loud and clear they would like to have formal sessions and representation for that at this year's Developers Conference. So we are going to be making sure we are doing that.

ECT: What other things can we expect at this year's WWDC?

Okamoto: Last year we had the first worldwide introduction to the G5 processor. We featured a lot of content about Panther, our new operating system and our current operating system today. We have been very clear with everyone that the Conference is one of those times when Apple is very open about describing where we're going. It's our opportunity to get in front of the developer community and give them an idea of our technology direction for the future. So you should expect to hear some similar messages.

ECT: Will you be introducing a new version of the operating system this year?

Okamoto: In typical Apple fashion, we will not comment; however, as I said, it is our opportunity to talk about our technology direction, so you can bet we will be doing that.

ECT: What do you think is bringing the scientific and engineering community to the Mac platform?

Okamoto: One [major draw] is the operating system. OS X has the built-in frameworks -- Cocoa, Carbon, Java and Unix.

For example, if you are someone in the life-sciences area, you do your coding in Unix. It is a Unix-based market. That's what developers build their tools in. What's been a breakthrough [is that] OS X allows them to do their coding in addition to browsing the Web, getting their e-mail, doing a little Photoshop, running their Microsoft Office, listening to some iTunes [and] everything else. It's the first time these guys have been able to get everything under one hood. And it's not just the Unix guys. It's been popular with the Java guys and the open-source guys as well.

The technology base of the operating system combined with the portability of our PowerBook line has really been a good marriage. And having the G5 processor is a good foundation for doing other things in the future.

ECT: Did the response you received at last year's WWDC play a big role in the direction of the Xserve G5 and the Xserve RAID?

Okamoto: It's been a combination of factors. When we first launched the Xserve, we were able to work with several developers prior to that. So when we launched it, we had some great partnerships, like with Sybase, which brought developer releases of its database right to the platform. Oracle was another great partner. When the hardware came out, there was enough of a developer environment that shipped with it more or less concurrently that allowed developers to really start getting solutions developed on top of the platform.

This year and the following year, you should start seeing more IT-like solutions for the platform, many of which people are building in-house. Virginia Tech was a combination of commercially available technology along with in-house technology on top of our platform.

What will be great is not just getting people through their projects, but actually getting new people on board through hands-on where we can do evangelism -- spread the knowledge and experience set to many more developers so that much more of this can be deployed to developers and other folks. At this year's WWDC, you will see us take deliberate moves to make sure that this information is proliferated and that the pockets of knowledge within the development community are shared with others so that people can keep moving their projects forward.

ECT: To what degree is this year's WWDC about getting people interested in Apple as an enterprise solution?

Okamoto: It's a really big component. Last year, a large number who attended our conference were first-timers. [Also], a lot of them are younger people who are developing on the platform. Both of [those things] are great indicators of the platform's state of health. From an engineering and technical perspective, getting them to the conference is one of the best ways for them to appreciate the platform.

Anecdotally, when I first started doing outreach with certain developers who had never been on the platform, in typical fashion, we'd start the meeting with a presentation. After two of these, it became really apparent that that was not the right way to engage developers on OS X.

So we dropped the slides, got these folks in a room, and the first thing we did was say, "We'd like to demo OS X."

We demoed OS X, and their jaws just hit the floor. "No, that's not Terminal Window running inside the OS ... no, that's not native Java running inside the OS!" And the temperature of the meeting immediately changed, and we quickly got past, "Convince me of this Mac thing," to, "Show me how to do it!"

So you bet, if these things are happening in these developer meetings, they are certainly happening at the WWDC, [where] there are thousands of people getting in-depth for one week. You bet there is a lot of evangelism.

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