Week in review: Apple thinks differently about iPhone

Apple welcomes third-party iPhone developers, while Microsoft sets its sights on new territory. Also: The RIAA goes to school.

After months of barring third-party developers from working on the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is rolling out the welcome mat.

In an open letter on the company's Web site, Jobs confirmed reports that a software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone will be released to developers next year. Come February, budding iPhone developers will be able to obtain a software development kit that will give them the tools and the know-how to create safe and reliable applications for the iPhone without having to depend on "jailbreak" programs.

That means iPhone users will be able to add applications they can trust without voiding their warranties.

"We are excited about creating a vibrant third-party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users," Jobs wrote. "It will take until February to release an SDK because we're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once--provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc."

The only thing unexpected about this development is the timing. Some thought an SDK would arrive as early as this month, while others (including CNET News.com's Tom Krazit) didn't expect Apple to provide an opening into the iPhone until next year's Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

The reason it's taking so long, according to Apple, is that the company wanted to find a way to be as "open" as possible to third-party development while still keeping a lid on viruses and malicious software that could kill the iPhone before it gets off the ground.

Of course, third-party applications aren't really new to the iPhone. Almost immediately after its release, hackers got to work "jailbreaking" the iPhone--opening it up so third-party applications could be developed and installed on the device. Dozens of small, useful applications sprung up overnight as enterprising developers came up with new ways to use the iPhone.

But Apple never authorized this, and actually said loading third-party applications onto the iPhone would void the warranty. It reinforced that notion with the now-infamous 1.1.1 software update, which wiped the iPhone clean of any third-party applications.

While CNET News.com readers were discussing the nuts and bolts of the decision, one reader commended Apple for the company's strategy.

"If you think about it, Apple was smart to force the Web apps to be developed first, then the native apps," wrote one reader to News.com's TalkBack forum. "Hopefully the Web apps will continue."

In other Apple news, Apple confirmed that the next version of its Mac OS X operating system, "Leopard," will hit stores on October 26. The company has stated that Leopard, which was delayed this spring because of the iPhone, includes more than 300 new features in comparison with its predecessor, Tiger.

Among these are an improved "dock" interface for easy access to applications, more-robust parental controls, the Time Machine automatic-backup service, and a redesigned Finder interface.

The operating system is set to cost $129 for a single-user license and $199 for a five-user "Family Pack" license.

Movin' at Microsoft
After years of planning its move into corporate telecommunications, Microsoft is finally rolling out new products. At an event in San Francisco, Chairman Bill Gates and Business Division President Jeff Raikes formally launched several that are key to Microsoft's strategy of offering "unified communications" for businesses--that is, software for bringing together e-mail, instant messaging, voice mail and telephony.

The most significant of the new products, Office Communications Server 2007, is a considerable expansion of its predecessor, Live Communications Server, which was used mainly for corporate instant messaging. The new version can handle that task, but is also capable of managing phone calls for businesses using either traditional or Internet-based phone systems. In addition, it can plug into existing Microsoft software, such as Office and Exchange.

In addition to the core server software, Microsoft is introducing a companion desktop product, Office Communicator, and a new version of its Live Meeting videoconferencing software. It is also making available its RoundTable videoconferencing device with a 360-degree camera and recording abilities.

But Microsoft is also looking further afield. Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company was on the prowl for acquisitions that made strategic sense.

"Microsoft will continue to invest in buying technology, products and market share," he said. "We'll buy 20 companies a year consistently for the next five years for anywhere between 50 million and 1 billion bucks."

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