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Apple Science and Technology News for 5-17-02

5-17-02 Bryan William Jones

So, a lot has happened since the last update for the scitech markets with the biggest two news items being the announcement that Matlab will be coming back to the Macintosh on OS X and the release of the Xserve from Apple.

As for Matlab, this has to be one of the most requested applications for OS X. Matlab is one of several symbolic and/or numerical mathematics software applications… a field including Mathematica, IDL and Maple. Each of which should not be overlooked as each application has its strengths and one cannot necessarily be expected to replace the others completely. In fact, I know folks who use Mathematica AND Matlab AND IDL. For some history: While Wolfram’s Mathematica and Research Systems IDL have been continuous supporters of the Macintosh, Matlab at one time was on the Macintosh, but dropped support in favor of Windows back in 1998 causing much upset in the Mac community and internally at Mathworks, the developers of Matlab. We are not sure what brought Mathworks around to realize the advantages OS X holds, but we are all certainly better for it as the availability of Matlab is crucial to many in the engineering field who have wanted to work completely on OS X. As for Maple on OS X, I am told that Maplesoft is investigating bringing Maple to OS X, but it is not yet a sure thing.

Apple’s demonstration of a new rack mount server is our other huge announcement this update. Given my area of research, it was gratifying to hear Steve Jobs say that biotech was one of the markets the Xserve was targeted for, and with Arthur Levinson (Chair and CEO at Genentech) on Apple’s board, this may not have been much of a surprise. Even so, I am pleased Apple is paying so much attention to the science and engineering markets and providing 1U servers for use with OS X. While 1U servers have certainly been available before, nothing has come close to this in terms of what you get for the money and they should make for quite powerful server/compute farm environments without the user tax imposed by Windows server environments. Additionally, the powerful software management package that comes with the server should make for much lower total cost of ownership than many other server configurations provided by IBM, Sun, SGI and the Microsoft commodity providers. With this new Xserve, we get all the features expected in a powerful rack server environment plus features that distinguish it from the others in the crowd such as Firewire ports with one even on the front making for an impressive iPod server. Seriously though, the quality and thought that went into the design of every Apple product has once again revealed itself in a very utilitarian device that many companies have given little thought to their implementations. The inclusion of pull out drawers with hot swappable drives, built in CD-ROM drive, Firewire ports on the back and front are all elegant design elements, while the inclusion of serial ports with VGA on the available video card will make for ease of integration into environments with other traditional means of administration like serial terminals. And finally the availability of a relatively powerful graphics card along with DDR memory available up to 2GB should even make this a viable solution for those who want to use it as their primary computer in a rack mount environment.

Continuing our coverage of potential uses of the Xserve, we have further improvements to Pooch, the plug and play parallel computing solution for the Macintosh. Improvements to the latest version of Pooch 1.2 include a number of improvements that extend the support of MPI and programming environments. While one of the arguments for using Pooch is that you can use any available Macintosh around (including the secretaries system when not in use, the combination of Xserve and Pooch should make for a compelling configuration packing a tremendous amount of computational power into very little space.

And because Apple is paying so much attention to the bioscience arena, we should mention that the Gene Construction Kit 2.5 is going to be carbonized for OS X. The Gene Construction Kit is an application that offers the ability to perform DNA manipulation, the design of clones and tools for annotating and illustrating genetic constructs.

Other significant software announcements to make are SPSS v.11, long one of the most important statistics applications for a variety of disciplines. SPSS was also another company that has come back to the Macintosh platform after a long absence with version 10. This release (version 11) will be made OS X native and will be available in the third quarter of this year.

For those users of alternative UNIX interfaces on OS X, OpenOSX has shipped XFree 1.1. OpenOSX is a company that is providing a number of open source applications to the Macintosh community by taking care of compiling and installing issues making for a more Macintosh like experience. The use of XFree on OS X makes available to Macintosh users thousands of commercially available and open source applications already in the UNIX world.

Until all of the software we want is native on OS X, for those users on OS X that absolutely have to run Windows software, Connectix has a new update to VirtualPC that mainly includes enhancements to networking, but also significantly increases performance in some areas.

Notable hardware announcements other than OS X server include the ProScope by Bodelin The ProScope is a handheld microscope that is connected to and powered by the USB port allowing one to capture images directly to a computer without the need for a frame grabbing card. Thus it is ideal for mobile applications including education, research and law enforcement. We hope to have a review of this product in the near future for you.

Other hardware introductions should also include the new HD 23-inch Flat Panel Display with 1920 x 1200 resolution allowing for more screen real-estate which makes it ideal for scientific applications such as molecular modeling and visualizing data fields. Additionally, as noted in the Apple site, the HD Cinema Display — like the entire line of Apple LCD displays — emits near zero electromagnetic output making them ideal for EM sensitive situations like electrophysiology.

And finally, Apple has created two new mailing lists for discussion of Mac OS X in science and engineering related disciplines: porting UNIX tools to Mac OS X and Fortran Development on Mac OS X. From the Stepwise site:

“The UNIX porting list is for users attempting to port software to Mac OS X from UNIX, Linux or BSD systems.”

Mac OS X is making inroads in the scientific community, and FORTRAN support is key. The FORTRAN Development list covers both Open Source and commercial tools and libraries, as well as other issues encountered by FORTRAN programmers.”

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