FAQ: Apple's 2007 Worldwide Developers Conference recapped

Mac fans always mark two dates on their calendars: The first day of January's Macworld, and the opening day of the Worldwide Developers Conference summer fest. They've come to think of both as gift-filled holidays/Oklahoma Sooner-style store rushes/laugh riots at Microsoft's expense. Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, showman extraordinaire, owns the stage at each event, as he pulls back yet one more curtain on yet one more surprise product announcement.

At this year's WWDC keynote, though, the only surprise most Apple users got was that there weren't more surprises. What happened?

Actually, quite a lot. And this FAQ proves it:

What was the reaction to Jobs' spiel?

If you're taking stock by a quantifiable metric, a look at Apple's closing share price Monday meant a thumbs down from investors. Apple ended the day down $4.30, or off 3.45%, to $120.19. (But only a month ago, Apple's price was only $106.78, so there's that.) Other, more subjective ratings of the keynote speech ranged from "underwhelming" by Gene Munster, a Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst who covers Apple, to "uneventful," which is what Kevin Hunt of Thomas Weisel Partners LLC called it.

And what of Apple's customers? The Unofficial Apple Weblog site posted a poll asking users to rank Jobs' effort with a 1-5 scale (5 is best). As of Monday afternoon, with 6,194 votes tallied, 68.9% gave it a mediocre (3) or worse.

What was the day's biggest tease?

Moments after Jobs began his keynote, alert users noted that the U.S. version of Apple's online store was offline, and the familiar "We'll be back soon" Post-it had been slapped on their browsers. That sent tongues wagging, since in the past it meant the site was being prepped with new hardware. And since at least some of the rumors leading up to WWDC had said Apple would update its iMac line, all assumed the gossip was gospel. But when the store came back online toward the end of the 90 minutes, it only sported a new look, not new hardware.

Jobs is famous for his "one more thing" announcements at these wingdings. What was it this time?

Actually, he had two up his sleeve. The first, which he debuted about 70 minutes into the talk, was Safari on Windows. To say that was a surprise would be an understatement: None of the tipsheets leading up to Monday pegged that as among their many possibles. Right after that, Jobs launched into the final segment, which dealt with the iPhone.

As he hinted last week when he said that security concerns were paramount, Jobs repeated that Apple won't let third-party developers craft applications using a traditional software development kit. Instead, they can build Web-based applications using JavaScript (he specifically mentioned Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, better known as AJAX) that run within the Safari browser embedded in the iPhone. From the forum and blog comments Computerworld's seen, neither struck a chord with the hoi polloi.

What's the one thing unveiled today that must have made Microsoft breathe a sigh of relief?

While the argument between Vista and Mac OS X users will certainly continue, Microsoft had to be happy that Jobs didn't unveil any new Leopard bits that would have instantly made Vista obsolete. Still, the biggest relief had to come from what wasn't announced by Jobs: partnership with Google.

According to some of the semibelievable prekeynote chatter, Google and Apple would partner to bring the former's Web-based apps to Mac users via Apple's .Mac service; or Apple's iLife suite would be taken to the Web, again with help from Google; or Google and Apple would swap apps, Google getting a Web-based version of Keynote and Apple gaining access to Google's spreadsheet. With Google breathing Web 2.0 down Microsoft's neck, no news must have been good news in the Northwest.

What's the one thing unveiled today that must have made Microsoft mad and Steve Ballmer mad?

It might seem insane to hand Safari 3 for Windows -- a beta, no less -- this honor, what with the early returns from PC users criticizing its font smoothing (one wag said there were three option settings: nasty, nastier and nastiest) and anti-Windows look, not to mention installation problems, crashes and poorly rendered sites. But Microsoft suddenly has another competitor to fend off in the browser space. And this one isn't a small Norwegian company (Opera Software ASA), a $50 million-a-year open-source developer that relies on volunteers for some of its manpower (the Mozilla Foundation) or an outfit everyone thought was long gone (Netscape). This is a $19.3 billion (2006) rival.

Longtime Windows users may scoff at Safari's awkward-for-them interface and quirkiness, but if Microsoft's executives think long term, and they do, they'll see this as a serious move that could portend even gloomier news down the road if, say, Google decides to band with Apple rather than Mozilla as its preferred browser partner. And Windows users laughing at Safari now might want to remember what they thought of iTunes when it hit the PC in 2003, and whether they wagered that it would reap the lion's share of music downloads to Windows machines.

What didn't show?

There were more expected announcements that didn't get made at WWDC than unexpected ones that did. Among the predictions that didn't come true, we should include Sun Microsystem Inc.'s "leak" last week that its ZFS file system would replace HFS+ in Leopard.

Also AWOL were the previously mentioned Google-Apple deal, new iMacs and a Boot Camp update that would make Leopard virtualization-ready. (Parallels Inc. and VMware Inc., which, respectively, released Desktop 3.0 for Mac and Fusion Beta 4 in the last week, had to be happy to hear the latter prospect crushed.) Also not appearing was an expected death certificate for the Mac mini. Others had hoped for an update to iLife or a refresh of the stand-alone display line. Nix on both.

Now that Jobs has demoed more of Leopard, what feature, brand new or talked up in '06, has bragging rights?

The money remains on Time Machine, the backup and restore software integrated with Mac OS X 10.5 that Jobs first talked up at last year's WWDC. "We're just walking time bombs in terms of having something go wrong," said Jobs this time. "If you lose just one precious photograph, you're gonna be really bummed." None of the new-new features he disclosed -- revamped desktop with expanding Stacks of folders, a new Finder, the Quick Look document preview -- are getting the kind of treatment on technology news sites or in blogs that Time Machine garnered last August.

What was Jobs' best stick-it-to-Microsoft moment?

No contest. As he wrapped up his top 10 list of Leopard features, Jobs poked at Windows Vista's plethora of prices and its scads of SKUs. "We've got a basic version [of Leopard], which is going to cost $129. We've got a premium version, which is gonna cost $129," Jobs said. "We've got a business version, $129. We've got an enterprise version, $129. And we've got the ultimate version, we're throwing everything into it: It's $129. We think most people will buy the ultimate version." Lots of laughs.

How come Jobs didn't talk about security?

Mac users would, of course, respond with "Because he didn't have to." But according to Symantec Corp. researcher Eric Chien, Jobs should have. "Opening up the iPhone to third-party applications now raises the risk of malicious applications for the mobile device," Chien said, referring to the part of Jobs' keynote where Apple's CEO told developers to write in JavaScript and run their apps through the iPhone's Safari browser.

Chien also warned of the security ramifications of Safari moving to Windows. "With Safari now being available on Windows, we suspect new vulnerabilities and exploits geared toward Safari will follow if Safari achieves a sizable market share."

What were the best headlines to come out of WWDC?

You can pretty much smell the bias by the phrasing, but that shouldn't stop you from getting a grin out of these:

"WWDC Leopard peek makes Vista look like bag lady" -- MacBlorge.com

Money quote: "If you must use Windows, use it until October. After that, be done with it, and don't look back."

"The Apple Developer Keynote Made Me Sleepy" -- LAist

Money quote: "If I have to watch any more Keynotes like this, I'm gonna need a lot more coffee."

"Mac Apps On Windows Suck. Here's Why" -- Webware.

Money quote: "Apple has pulled off a remarkable feat: it's released crappy software for Windows that only makes users want more of it."

How could I have missed all that? How can I make amends?

Apple has posted a Quicktime video stream of Jobs' keynote on its Web site.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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