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By Salvatore Salamone

August 18, 2004 | Apple 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 sci-tech 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. She notes that they were expecting about 20 people to attend the informal lunch roundtable discussions, but got between 40 and 50 people.

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 fewer 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 Mac. Bud Tribble, Apple’s vice president of software technology, 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 on the server side, 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 and runner-up for the best server solutions went to life science applications. The winner was The BioTeam’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’s data analysis and processing applications, which are widely used in bioinformatics research.

Design awards also went to a number of scientific applications. 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.

Another winner (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.

Crouching Tiger
Apple also 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.

Tiger also includes Xgrid 1.0, Apple’s clustering software, which allows researchers to quickly create a cluster of up to 128 systems, running up to 10,000 queued jobs.

*Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, San Francisco; June 28-July 2.



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