WWDC here

In a little while, Steve Jobs will be keynoting Apple’s developer conference. I doubt that anyone will be thinking about audio drivers. So in the remaining moments to do that, let’s go — because 10.5 looks like it’s yet another release from Apple that takes music production seriously.

Most of us didn’t expect any major improvements in Apple’s Core Audio in 10.5 — nor need them, as Core Audio is rock-solid for most of what we need to do, in terms of performance and reliability. That’s not to give Apple a free pass; there have been some compatibility issues with point releases (10.4.9 comes to mind), bumps in the AU plug-in format’s evolution, and so on. But at the end of the day, the Mac is an OS that works for music production, more seamlessly and easily than anything else out there. Yet Apple is in fact making some improvements to its audio driver system even in 10.5:

164 Professional Audio Input and Output with Leopard Mac OS X Essentials Presentation
Discover Leopard’s support for the recently-approved USB Audio Device 2.0 class specification and how to write spec-compliant descriptors for your high-speed USB audio device. Find out how to unleash the power of FireWire peer-to-peer networking using Leopard’s all-new FireWire audio drivers and enhanced Audio/Video Control (AV/C) media services. Learn how to implement user interfaces and vendor-specific AV/C commands to control your audio device.

So, wow, in other words … in a release that’s largely focused on Core Animation and the visual side of the operating system, Apple has added new FireWire support, networking over FireWire, and driver-free USB 2.0 support. (Right now, you can plug-and-play class-compliant USB 1.1 audio devices, but not USB 2.0. Erm … or whatever those two USB specs are really supposed to be called; that’s another discussion.)

This is great news, because typically adding driver support to Core Audio would not require anything new on the application side — meaning you’ll soon be able to plug in devices and reap the benefits, at least for things like plug-and-play USB 2.0 (provided your hardware is up to spec).

Microsoft recently held an Audio Summit to talk to its partners about what was needed in their OS. FireWire and USB support would be extremely high on my list, yet Vista still has to catch up to the level of support in Mac OS X 10.2. Windows’ internal USB/FireWire support is basically unusable for pro audio, there’s not anything near approaching plug-and play with USB MIDI and USB and FireWire audio devices, and Windows lags badly behind key features on Mac and Linux for inter-app audio and MIDI, device aggregation, and other tools that are essential to building a music and audio creation studio. Apple, having taken care of a lot of the basics, can now go on and actually innovate with features like networking. I was told Microsoft basically ignored USB, FireWire, and MIDI support in general in Vista, aside from overhauling the driver model and thus breaking a lot of backwards compatibility. (But overhauling the driver model doesn’t necessarily benefit the music and audio market.) Meanwhile, not a single OS release has gone by that Apple hasn’t made significant improvements to its pro audio capabilities. (And, as I’m fond of pointing out, that benefits not only “pros” but anyone who cares about music.)

Just sayin’. And this is not to be smug or launch an OS war; I genuinely hope Microsoft makes an effort to do better.

Any developers at WWDC who can report back? I couldn’t fly out to San Francisco this week.