The new version, code-named Jaguar, will feature a handwriting technology, dubbed Inkwell, that lets Mac users enter text using a pen in any program that accepts text.
Jobs quipped that Apple got something out of the millions of dollars it invested in the ill-fated Newton handheld.
Jaguar will also offer improvements to Apple's Finder, such as built-in search, and new Unix tools. Features designed to make Macs work more easily in Windows networks will also be included, such as support for built-in virtual private networking.
Jobs kicked off Apple's annual worldwide developer conference by paying tribute to Mac OS 9. Jobs arrived on stage to the sound of funeral music and pulled a copy of OS 9 out of a coffin.
All of Apple's development is focused on OS X, and independent developers should follow suit, Jobs said.
"We are here today to mourn the passing of Mac OS 9," Jobs said. "He is no doubt looking down on us today with that same smile he showed us every time he booted up."
Although Apple would like developers to think of OS 9 as "dearly departed," in fact OS 9 and earlier versions are used on the vast majority of the 25 million Macs in service.
Looking to sell developers on the importance of developing for OS X, Jobs said that Apple entered 2002 with about 1 million active OS X users but expects 5 million people to be using the OS by year's end.
Jobs buries OS 9
Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
Improvements to OS X's mail program will allow the merging of several mailboxes, improved compatibility with Microsoft Exchange servers, and better junk-mail filtering.
Jaguar will also include iChat, an AOL Instant Messenger-compatible instant-messaging program that will be built into the operating system. In addition to the usual IM features, iChat can build a "buddy list" of all iChat users who are connected locally. Although iChat is "blessed" by AOL, Jobs said it won't require an AOL subscription.
"It's the first time AOL has let anyone under the tent," Jobs said. Windows users can use AIM for free but have to get a screen name from AOL.
Another iChat feature is the ability to drag and drop files to share, such as a photo. The program is not the first IM program to allow file sharing, although iChat appears to make it much easier to share a file and does not require that file to ever be stored on a server.
Like other Mac OS X applications, the iChat program can take advantage of a universal address book that will be built into the new version of Mac OS X.
Jobs also said that on May 14 Apple will introduce a rack-mounted server, the first dedicated server Apple has introduced in a long time. Jobs did not provide specifications or details.
Of demos and turtlenecks
The keynote speech featured all the staples of a Jobs event: crowds racing in once the doors opened, lots of demos, and, of course, Jobs' trademark black mock turtleneck and jeans.
But the speech was clearly aimed at developers, with talk of Unix protocols and programming tools.
Developers devour new OS X
Ian Fried, reporter, CNET News.com
"Where else do you see applause for IPsec?" Schiller said. "I love you guys."
The work developers do is seen as critical for Apple's effort to convince Windows users to switch to the Mac and get a larger percentage of the 25 million active Mac users onto OS X. Apple estimates that only about 1.5 million to 2 million Mac owners are using OS X today even though 3 million Macs have sold with the operating system.
Avie Tevanian, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said that VPN support will remove a critical barrier that has prevented people who use Windows-based PCs at work from buying a Mac at home.
"One thing they want to do is get into their e-mail system," Tevanian said in an interview. "Now we're going to break into that."
In contrast to last year, when Apple was focused on getting developers to bring their programs to the already released Mac OS X, the company is talking much more about the future--so much so that Apple reminded conference-goers that nearly the whole conference is considered confidential information covered by the company's nondisclosure agreement.
Developers were also given several CDs with developer versions of Jaguar, although Jobs implored developers to keep those confidential as well. Past developer versions of OS X have made their way onto the Internet.