Apple is using its Worldwide Developers Conference to take the battle to Longhorn – Microsoft's planned major update of Windows. WWDC opens today at San Francisco's Moscone Center, around which Apple has strewn several mischievous banners promoting Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Apple also announced a new line-up of LCD screens – with the top-end model measuring a massive 30 inches across.

One reads "Introducing Longhorn," another states "Redmond, start your photocopiers," a third reads "This should keep Redmond busy," and then there's "Redmond, we have a problem."

During his opening keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs mentioned the banners. "We're having fun with that in the lobby," he said.

Steve Jobs keynote

During his keynote speech opening WWDC Jobs told attendees that 3,500 developers (from 44 different countries) are attending the conference –17 per cent up on last year.

Jobs mentioned Apple's successful retail store chain, encouraging developers to get their products on the store shelves.

He also provided an overview of the iTunes Music Store, mentioning AirPort Express, the company’s 802.11g portable base station that can hook up to a home-entertainment system to provide streaming music from iTunes.

Jobs talked about Apple's recent update to its Power Mac G5 line, bringing the systems up to dual-2.5GHz. He explained that his promise the year previously that Apple would have 3GHz systems available “within a year” had been compromised by the complex nature of the PowerPC 970 architecture. The semiconductor industry had "hit the wall" when it transitioned to a 90 nanometer manufacturing process, he said.

"IBM has done very well relative to the rest of the industry, but less than we'd hoped," said Jobs. "We think the Power Mac is an incredibly high-performance system, and we'll keep striving for 3GHz."

New Apple displays

Jobs introduced a new 2,560-x-1,600 pixel, 23-inch Cinema Display to replace its current offering – without the Apple Display Connector (ADC) interface that has been standard issue on Apple's flat panel displays for several years. The new display has a one-piece aluminum stand. It retains a one-cable DVI connection to the computer, and sports dual USB 2.0 ports and dual FireWire ports. The new panel "works out of the box with your PowerBooks," said Jobs.

He also introduced a new, giant 30-inch display. The $3,299 display sports 2,560-x-1600 pixel resolution, and works only with the Power Mac G5. It requires a new $599 NVidia GeForce graphics card that features dual-link DVI interfaces.

A new 20-inch display featuring the same industrial design has also been introduced for $1,299. No UK price is available at the time of writing.

From Panther to Tiger

Jobs talked up the company's current Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Apple claims more than 12 million OS X users. It says that more than 12,000 applications have been written for OS X. Not for the first time, Jobs exclaimed that "We can now say that the transition is over". Jobs invited select developers – including Maya developer Alias – on stage to demonstrate some of their Mac OS X applications in action.

Jobs announced that the next version of Mac OS X, code-named "Tiger," will ship in the first half of 2005. Tiger will debut 150 new features, including the ability to run any process in 64-bit – making use of some of the core architectural improvements introduced last year with the Power Mac G5's PowerPC 970 CPU.

Tiger's new search technology, called "Spotlight", "is years ahead" of Microsoft's new operating system, according to Jobs. Spotlight works similarly to the song-search technology in iTunes, and can find files and content in standard formats. It is integrated into the Finder, Address Book, Mail and System Preferences.

QuickTime's recently announced H.264 support will be a cornerstone technology of Tiger, according to Jobs. It's a scalable video codec that works on everything from 3G "smartphones" to high definition DVD.

Tiger's implementation of iChat, Apple's popular AIM-compatible instant messaging service, will support H.264, said Jobs – that equates to higher-quality video over the same bandwidth, he added. What's more, Tiger iChat will support the ability for up to 10 people to chat together in audio simultaneously. Up to three video users can chat, as well.

The Tiger version of Safari, Apple's OS X Web browser, will sport integrated RSS aggregation, according to Jobs. RDF Site Summary (RSS) is a popular method that online users have of checking updated content on the Web sites they visit regularly.

Core Image is a new graphics-processing library that will be introduced with Tiger. It drew a comparison from Jobs to Core Audio, Mac OS X technology that enables developers to more easily manipulate sound and digital signal processing elements. Core Audio, and its companion Core Video technology, processes graphics using the Mac's graphics hardware, using floating-point precision and the ability to support real-time filters. The technology was demonstrated performing instant gaussian blurs, 3D effects like bump distortions and more using a demo application called Funhouse.

Jobs described Dashboard as "Exposé for Widgets." The software – unmistakably similar to a third-party shareware application called Konfabulator – enables users to launch special-purpose "widgets" to accomplish a variety of tasks.

Automator is a new visual scripting application that enables users to teach their Macs how to repeat tasks. An on-stage demonstration showed how Automator can help families create DVDs containing photo slideshows, Web site images and more.

For news from WWDC as it happens visit Macworld Online.