Opening its three-day European Developer Forum, Apple announced today that it has released the full version of Rhapsody, its next-generation operating system, to software developers.
Apple has decided to forego the hurly-burly of Comdex in favor of a more specialized audience of commercial hardware and software developers and multimedia content producers who belong to Apple's developer program, part of its strategy of concentrating on the publishing and education markets, a constituency for which Rhapsody is an important technology.
"We've decided to focus on trade shows that deliver our message to our main customers," Apple spokesperson Russell Brady said. The list also includes such gatherings as the Macromedia Users Conference and the Seybold show for content publishers. (See related story)
Last year at Comdex, the industry's largest trade show, Apple maintained a presence on the show floor and also participated in the AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) alliance pavilion showcase for future technologies. One of AIM's top items was a new 500-MHz PowerPC processor from Exponential.
Since then, Exponential went out of business after Apple decided not to use its chip; Power Computing, Motorola, and IBM have given up their Mac OS licenses; and Gil Amelio is no longer at the helm of the company.
But Apple has forged ahead with the development of the new OS in spite of the turmoil. Today's announcement of the availability of Rhapsody with the so-called "Blue Box" is an important step as the company attempts to show key customers that it will be able to roll out the new operating system on time and in workable form.
The Blue Box is the component of Rhapsody that allows users to run most older Mac OS programs on systems with PowerPC processors. "Backward compatibility" is a critical step that will help Apple migrate customers over to the new platform, because initially few programs will be available to take advantage of Rhapsody's capabilities.
The full release of Rhapsody follows an earlier version of Rhapsody for PowerPC, which was made available this month to developers who wanted to get an early start on developing new programs for the upcoming Mac platform.
As Rhapsody itself takes shape, so too are Apple's plans for the OS. Steve Jobs, interim CEO and cofounder of Apple, said in several recent speeches that the company wasn?t going to replace the Mac OS with Rhapsody. It will be gradually phased in much as the use of Windows NT has gradually moved into the market for powerful workstation and server computers while Windows 95 generally remains on consumer PCs.
"I think we might offer Rhapsody servers on PowerPC [processors]", Phil Schiller, vice president of desktop and server produce marketing for Apple, told CNET's NEWS.COM in a recent interview. Apple sells a large number of computers configured as servers for use in workgroup or departmental applications in the education and publishing market, even though the company stopped making servers designed for industrial-strength applications.
"I think we will offer systems in the affordable, easy-to-use server space. We are not getting into the market for enterprise-wide servers," Schiller noted.
The only remaining major vendor of Mac clones, Umax Computer, does have a major presence at Comdex, but the Taiwanese manufacturer is showing new notebook and desktop PCs with Pentium processors, scanners, and digital cameras along with its Mac systems.
Umax has a license for the Mac OS that lasts until mid-1998. The company expects to be able to renegotiate that license as well as a license for Rhapsody. However, these discussions are not expected to begin in earnest until after the January Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
"If Rhapsody servers are wildly successful, after the fact [of their introduction from Apple], we'd want to be suppliers of that technology," said Bruce Berkoff, director of product marketing for Umax Computer Group.
In the meanwhile, Umax is patiently waiting for Apple to decide which technologies it can incorporate into new systems. Apple's recently introduced PowerMac G3 systems with the new PowerPC 750 processor are being touted as Pentium II killers, but Umax has yet to ship a product with the new processor factory-installed. This is because Apple has the authority to certify new systems as being compatible with the Mac OS, and new technologies can't be shipped until Apple approves them.
The company is offering ways to upgrade new systems with PowerPC 604e processors to the PowerPC 750 (see related story) and is in the midst of designing new consumer and small business systems that could conceivably come with the new processor if Apple lets Umax use it.