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Apple rolls out Mac OS 8.5

Features of the new operating system include improved file and Internet search functionality dubbed "Sherlock."

Apple Computer introduced an upgraded version of the Macintosh operating system that interim chief executive Steve Jobs called a "must-have upgrade" today at a company event in Cupertino's Flint Center auditorium.

While Apple executives focused on the company's positive earnings report of a $106 million profit for the fourth quarter for the majority of the event, the rollout of the widely expected Mac OS 8.5 will be no less significant for the company's bottom line going forward.

Apple is banking on having a large number of users migrate to the OS because of its enhanced performance and improved ease of installation.

"The compatibility [with older machines] is there, the performance is there, and we've made the upgrade experience more seamless," said Peter Lowe, product line manager for the Mac OS, noting that the installation of the OS takes less than 15 minutes now.

Jobs and Apple's vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, demonstrated a number of features of the new OS, including faster performance when saving files over the network--up to three times faster, according to Apple--and improved file and Internet search functionality dubbed "Sherlock."

For instance, from a single dialog box, a user can search files by content and search the Internet using several different engines, such as Excite and HotBot, simultaneously. The search results can be summarized without opening up the Web pages, saving download time.

Lowe said the search capabilities can be extended through the use of plug-in software components. For instance, users can search Amazon.com's site for books and music through downloaded plug-ins. As new capabilities are added to various search engines, the Mac OS can "talk" to an Apple server when connected to the Internet and automatically update the plug-in software, he said.

In fact, the ability to guide customers to sites where products are being sold opens up a new revenue stream for Apple as it negotiates deals with Amazon.com, Yahoo, and other companies, although perhaps not a large one.

"We don't talk about the kinds of agreements we have reached," Schiller told CNET News.com. Schiller gave an indication that the results would not likely materially affect the company's financial results. He also discounted the notion that Apple is, in effect, becoming a competitor to other search engine companies.

"The majority of [those companies] are incredibly pleased, because we are making it really easy for users to do a lot more searches on search engines," Schiller said. "Plus, we are exposing customers to [branded] buttons before they are even on Internet.

"We think this will increase the number and kinds of searches people do," which will make the portal sites happy, he added.

Among other changes to the OS, the version of ColorSync that ships with OS 8.5 comes with software from Agfa and Imation that offers publishers a wider range of new color management options. ColorSync is a software technology that allows exact replication in a print-out, video, or Web site of what users see on their screen, an area where the Macintosh excels over the Windows platform.

The OS now comes with a fully PowerPC-native AppleScript that automates simple tasks or complex workflow operations such as networking, printing, and file exchanges.

As previously reported, the software will be available on October 17 at retailers worldwide--the first time Apple or any other company has simultaneously released a new version of an OS in multiple languages, executives claim.

For foreign markets, Apple offers "Multilingual Internet Access" for viewing Web sites and email messages in the native language. Support for up to 30 languages is planned, although 8 will be supported in the present version. Support for the new euro currency symbol is also included.

Mac OS 8.5 will be available from retailers and Apple's Web site for the estimated retail price of $99. The full retail version of the product includes QuickTime 3 Pro, which costs $29.99 when purchased separately.

Apple said it intends to ship new Macintosh computers with Mac OS 8.5 in the ensuing weeks. Customers who have purchased a Macintosh or Mac OS 8.1 since September 17, 1998, will be able to purchase Mac OS 8.5 for $19.95.

All iMac customers will be eligible for this offer regardless of when they purchased their computer, the company said.