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Andreessen praises Apple plan

Marc Andreessen is enthusiastic about the prospects of Apple Computer's union with Next Software, despite the revelation that existing Macintosh apps won't run on Apple's new operating system in its release in late 1997.

Netscape Communications' (NSCP) senior vice president of technology Marc Andreessen was enthusiastic today about the prospects of Apple Computer's union with Next Software, despite the revelation yesterday that existing Macintosh apps won't run on Apple's new operating system when it debuts in late 1997.

"I'm impressed with the plan and I think it will work fine," Andreessen told CNET today. "This indicates that Apple has their priorities in the right order."

Andreessen agreed with the dual-OS strategy outlined by Apple chief technology officer Ellen Hancock yesterday, in which the company would continue development of the current System 7 platform while building a new, modern version based on Next Software's OpenStep technology.

"They must rapidly ship the new OS to give developers a platform on which we can implement," Andreessen said. "In the interim they must support their existing users on System 7 and then migrate them to the new platform as it materializes with a third-party application base. The plan they announced sounds like it does all of these things."

As the leading maker of browser software, Netscape's support for Apple's operating system strategy is crucial as Apple positions the merged Next/Mac OS as a leading-edge Internet platform. So far, the two companies have had a cozy relationship. Netscape typically offers Mac versions of its Navigator software at the same time or soon after it releases Windows versions, while Microsoft has lagged behind with Mac versions of its browser, Internet Explorer.

Netscape will announce its plans to support the new Mac OS at Macworld Expo in early January, but will continue to develop for System 7 as well.

"We'll continue to develop for System 7 for as long as there are users--many years to come, I imagine, just like we develop for Windows 3.1 and Windows NT 3.5 even though there are newer versions of those operating systems out," Andreessen said.

Hancock said yesterday that Apple would continue to develop System 7 until the new operating system garnered a "significant number" of users. She did not specify what qualified as significant.

Hancock was also circumspect about the possibility of running the new operating system on Intel-based PCs, even though OpenStep already runs on that platform. Hancock said the initial plan will run on PowerPC systems only, but didn't rule out an eventual port to Intel-based boxes.

Andresseen, whose company is engaged in a battle with Microsoft for Internet software supremacy, thinks they should hurry that along. "I think they should take the new OS onto Intel as rapidly as possible. They should make it possible to recompile a PowerPC app for Intel without source code changes. A bonus would be a built-in emulator for the Intel instruction set when running on PowerPC and vice versa."

Andreessen sees an opportunity to crack Microsoft's dominance of the operating system market, especially with the advent of Java as a platform-independent mechanism for delivery of applications over the Internet.

"The whole next generation of operating systems that hundreds of millions of people will be running on powerful PCs and workstations in five to ten years is up for grabs right now, with the basic choices being Windows NT and Mac/Next OS (and maybe BeOS). NT has a small enough user base right now--a couple million users max--that if Mac/Next OS offers compelling advantages, there's no reason it can't take a huge share of the eventual next-generation OS market on Intel."

"The traditional application lock-in [that] OS vendors have been able to achieve is going to be much harder as most applications get developed for Java and the Net. Most apps developed over the next five to ten years will run on any OS, and this presents a whole new type of challenge to Microsoft and a whole new opportunity to Apple and their new OS," said Andreessen.