WWDC - Why IT staff, users will like Apple's plans

Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs opened Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference yesterday with a keynote that put an end to weeks of speculation about new products and features in the next generation of Mac OS X. The announcements Jobs made can be broken down into four major areas: information about Apple, the new Mac Pro, the new Intel-based Xserve and a preview of Mac OS X Leopard, which is due out by next spring.

As I expected, there was no mention of new iPods or an iPhone. This was an event for Mac software and hardware developers, along with other Mac IT professionals. The focus of the keynote was correctly all Mac.

I'd like to focus not just on yesterday's announcements, but on what the upcoming changes mean for Mac professionals -- both those who work in the IT field and those who use Macs as part of their daily job.

Enter the Mac Pro; exit the Power Mac G5

The big hardware announcement was the Mac Pro, which defied rumors on two major fronts. First, it did not sport a new case design; the externals of the case are essentially the same as the Power Mac G5 it replaces. The inside case design, however, is significantly different, owing to less need for cooling hardware because the Mac Pro's Intel processors run significantly cooler than G5 chips. The processors themselves were the other surprise. While virtually everyone expected Apple to use the new Intel Core 2 Duo processors aimed at desktop PCs, known as Conroe, Apple opted for the higher-performing Xeon-based Woodcrest processors typically used in high-end servers.

The Mac Pro includes two dual-core Xeon processors, effectively giving it the power of four Xeon processors -- more than double the computing power of any other Intel Mac (and setting it higher than most Intel PCs) and twice as fast in real-world tasks as the Power Mac G5 Quad it replaces. One reason for the additional power might be that many professional Mac users work with applications such as the Adobe suite that are not yet Universal apps. This extra power should provide significant improvements when running such applications under Rosetta emulation. It also simply provides professional users with more raw power, thus differentiating the Mac Pro from Apple's other desktop offerings and most PCs. (A comparable Dell PC would be as much as US$1,000 more than a standard Mac Pro.)