Apple Computer Inc. used its recent Worldwide Developers Conference to announce Tiger, the newest version of Mac OS X, and to trumpet its growing commitment to the life sciences and science in general. Apple even added a special "sci-tech" track and provided a science lounge to accommodate the growing number of science-related developers at the conference.
"The purpose of the lounge was to let scientists talk with developers," says Liz Kerr, Apple's director of sci-tech marketing.
The annual developer extravaganza demonstrated that Mac OS X is gaining ground as a development platform for scientific programming. The number of sci-tech attendees has increased from less than a dozen in 2001 to several hundred this year.
Sci-tech sessions covered a range of topics. Some were high-level talks, such as one given by Virginia Tech on how to build a supercomputer. (Last year, Virginia Tech built, at the time, the world's third most powerful supercomputer by clustering 1,100 Power Mac G5s.) Other sessions were more technical, covering topics such as optimizing code.
Scientists have long shown a preference for the Macintosh. Bud Tribble, Apple's vice president of software technology and a member of the original Mac team, cited a survey in The Scientist magazine in which 30 percent of life science users had Macs -- considerably higher than Apple's share in the general desktop market.
"Many of our scientists have been Mac users at the desktop level, using a Mac for writing reports, e-mail, Internet access, and working with spreadsheets," says Robert Cole, director of computing services at a mid-Atlantic biotech company. Thanks to Mac OS X's support of open-source applications, interest has grown in using Macs as network servers, too. "We're trying to develop an expertise on the server side, particularly in the application development arena," Cole says.
Life science applications fared well in the Apple Design Awards for Application Software contest, with winners announced at the conference.
The winner for the best server solution was The BioTeam Inc.'s iNquiry tool, an informatics platform that makes it easy to run many cluster-enabled bioinformatics applications. Runner-up was gridMathematica, a cluster- and grid-enabled version of Wolfram Research Inc.'s data analysis and processing applications, which are widely used in bioinformatics research.
The Best Student Product award was given to Alexander Griekspoor and Tom Groothuis, both of the Oncology Graduate School Amsterdam, for 4Peaks, a program that makes it easier to visualize and edit DNA sequences. The runner-up student award was for Curvus Pro X, a user-friendly 2-D and 3-D equation graphing program.
Recognition for the best scientific computing solution went to TetrUSS for Mac OS X, a suite of computational fluid dynamic programs developed internally at the NASA Langley Research Center. The software is used primarily in aerospace applications, but it is also useful in some biomedical applications.
Apple used the conference to announce an update to Mac OS X, dubbed Tiger, which will be available next year and includes native support for 64-bit applications. From a high-performance computing perspective, Tiger builds on the current version of the operating system (more commonly known as Panther).
"We've expanded our 64-bit support," says Ken Bereskin, senior director of Mac OS X product marketing. "Panther broke through the 4GB memory barrier (common in 32-bit systems)." But the processes remained largely 32-bit.
Tiger offers native 64-bit support in both server and client versions. "For scientific computing applications in bio-IT, the practical benefit of 64-bit support is that very large data sets can be supported," Bereskin says.
The new version of Apple's Mac OS X called Tiger will include several new features useful to life scientists when it debuts next year.
Native support for 64-bit applications -- Allows much larger databases to be stored in memory
Xgrid 1.0 -- Clustering software that allows up to 128 systems to be quickly linked together
Spotlight -- Advanced search tool that uses file data and metadata to find information
Safari RSS -- Apple's Web browser with built-in support for Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
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