Apple Technology Briefing in Berlin with Simon Patience

Last Friday, I attended an Apple Technology Briefing starring Simon Patience, head of “Core OS” (aka Darwin) at Apple. He was about to give a talk on Darwin so I was prepared my questions. In addition, there was talk on Mac OS X Server by Armin Briegel of Apple Germany and André Aulich talked about Open Directory 2, the new OpenLDAP-based directory services subsystem of Mac OS X Server 10.3.

Actually, I missed the first talk on OS X Server because Apple decided to hold the at a lecture room at Freie Universität Berlin which is quite far away from the center of Berlin where I live and I got up late :-)

So my day started with Simon Patience (who is on tour in Europe these days as it seems). Simon is from Britain, is very polite and seems to know what he is talking about. He gave a quick overview on the main new features of Mac OS X 10.3 and never stopped explaining that Steve will kick him immediately if he is going to comment on “future products”. So we shouldn‘t ask. But apart from the standard blurb, Simon could actually shed some light on some issues. I am not going to note everything he said (unfortunately, the slides are not available)

Simon said Darwin 7.0 is based mainly on FreeBSD 4.8 with some extensions of FreeBSD 5. I forgot to ask which features these were, but I guess it is basically about userland applications. Darwin now comes with a Unified Buffer Cache (which means it makes use of all memory at doesn‘t reallocate memory when data gets transferred from Cache to executable memory) and it supports asynchronous I/O. This is all fine but somehow expected as Apple had to close that gap to other UNIX operating systems. Now they have.

After some time I started to drop my questions. I pointed to the backup problem as they are still pushing the resource-fork contaminated HFS+ file system and critical tools like rsync and other backup solutions do not support this. I also asked about file system meta data and what Apple‘s plans were in this respect. Well, trying to save his job he said that Apple is currently evaluating this heavily, looking at what everybody else in the market is doing but hasn‘t settled on any specific path yet. Hmm. This didn‘t make me that happy, but at least it shows that Apple is aware of this problem and is going to do something about it.

I also pushed the metadata issue once more and gave him a hard time that the “Tracker” of BeOS running on my old Dual PPC 603/133MHz (“G2”) BeBox machine still outperforms the Mac OS X Finder by 10:1 even when running on a Dual PPC G5/2000MHz machine. He noted that the original developer of the BeOS Tracker is working in his group and he is aware of this as well. Good answer.

Asked about Linux file system support (EXT2FS etc.) he said this would see this as a “great third party” opportunity. I think he is right and I wonder why so far nothing has popped up. It would be cool to be able to mount EXT2 and EXT3 file systems on the Mac via Firewire to easily exchange large amounts of data with Linux systems. I know there is some HFS hacking going on in the Linux world but I wouldn‘t trust it as much as a EXT2 support created by the Linux community for the Mac. By the way, NTFS support is in Darwin 7 but only in read-only form. Simon said, this work was based on reverse-engineering. Hope they are not getting in trouble with the DMCA with this one.

I pushed a bit more why the graphics card device drivers were not open-source as well. He answered this is mainly a problem with the graphics cards manufacturers who were not willing to expose details of the inner workings of their hardware by giving out the controlling software. So it is not really Apple‘s problem in this respect and I guess they would change this if they could.

I also asked about DarwinPorts and why it hasn‘t been in the final version of Panther while it was in early betas. He said that they wanted to include it but found (unnamed) “security issues” they considered to be a showstopper. I am not sure if he considers these issues to be general or if we are just talking about minor bugs. But it might also be that Apple has problems with a Package Manager that gets binaries from unauthenticated programs. I don‘t know what the consequences will be but maybe they are adding digital signatures to all this? Actually, I have no clue. We‘ll see what is coming. So far, fink has to serve our needs (and does this well).

The final talk on Open Directory 2 was very practical and focused a lot on integration with Windows‘ Active Directory but didn‘t leave out important features of OS X Server. The talk was a lot better than expected. André Aulich is also a translator for O‘Reilly.

The whole event very technical which was good as the whole audience looked like Geeks anyway. Some MacHackers were there, some were related to BeNG and BeLUG, others were from the university field I guess. All in all the event was a good thing as it was way beyond marketing blurb and gave food for some interesting discussions afterwards. Apple is on a good way providing events like this. Next step should be to create free (or at least: cheap) developer roadshows with experts giving insight in OS technologies. This on was more for system administrators but a Micro-WWDC could be help generate even more interest from developers.

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