Nine lives for Mac OS 9

In an about-face, Apple Computer says it will sell some machines after January that can boot into Mac OS 9, the older version of the company's operating system.

Apple Computer has pulled back from a plan that would have made Mac OS X the primary operating system on all new Macs starting in January.

In September, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company said that after the New Year, new Macs would only boot up into Mac OS X. Older models had the capability of booting into Mac OS X or the older OS 9.2. New systems would still ship with OS 9.2--to support the "Classic" mode for older software--but it could only be accessed through OS X.

However, Apple said Friday that it will continue to sell schools some Macs capable of booting up into Mac OS 9, and will continue to sell a Power Mac G4 geared toward professionals such as graphic designers until June.

The change in strategy highlights a long-standing problem for Apple: moving customers over to Mac OS X. Apple released the new OS in March 2001 but quickly received criticism from users and software developers.

The first iteration shipped without support for DVD or CD-rewritable drives. At the same time, developers complained about problems with application programming interfaces (APIs)--software hooks to the operating system--that made moving applications to Mac OS X more difficult.

Only after Mac OS X 10.1 shipped, in September 2001, did Apple iron out most of the kinks. Soon after, Adobe Systems, Microsoft and many other major Mac developers started shipping OS X versions of their software.

However, Quark--which makes one of the most important software applications sold for the Mac, a desktop publishing program called QuarkXPress--stuck with a Mac OS 9.2 version of its product. That situation potentially created a problem for Quark users looking to buy a new Mac but needing to boot into the older Mac OS 9.2. And Quark is still not expected to release a Mac OS X version of QuarkXPress at next month's Macworld trade show, according to Apple.

"To not have one of the key apps that serves their primary target segment for their new operating system is a festering infection that could precipitate defections among its most loyal customers," said IDC analyst Roger Kay.

Quark released a new version of QuarkXPress for Windows XP and Mac OS 9 in January. Rival Adobe has tried to use Quark's absence to drum up sales of its InDesign 2 program, competing page-layout software that runs natively on Mac OS X.

But Kay warned that some Mac users, particularly at companies where most employees use PCs running Windows, could switch to the Windows version of QuarkXPress.

"Offering a configuration that still runs Quark is a Band-Aid for Quark users," Kay said.

Apple downplayed the change in positioning on Mac OS 9 support.

"Apple's professional customers are rapidly adopting Mac OS X, with more than 80 percent now choosing Mac OS X as their default OS," the company said in the statement. "To accommodate a minority of our pro customers still running Mac OS 9 applications such as QuarkXPress, Apple will continue to offer a 1.25GHz dual-processor Power Mac that will boot into Mac OS 9 until June."

Apple also faced potential problems in the education market. Because of buying cycles and the downturn in the economy, some education customers were moving to Mac OS X at a slower pace than the rest of the Mac market.

"The education budgets next year, like all public sector budgets, are going to be negatively affected by lower tax receipts this year based on the down economy," Kay said.

Slow release of native education software exacerbated the problem. In an attempt to jump-start education conversion, Apple in October offered teachers free copies of Mac OS X 10.2, or Jaguar, through the end of the year.

"We are pleased to report that education customers are rapidly adopting Mac OS X and are now ordering over 50 percent of their Macs with Mac OS X as the default OS," the company said in the statement. "Apple expects this percentage to climb to over 75 percent by the start of the next education buying season this April."

Apple released the Jaguar update in August, initially reporting record sales. About 5 million of the estimated 25 million Mac users worldwide will be using Mac OS X by the end of the year, according to Apple.

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