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Apple seeds new OS ideas

Apple is still discreet about rumors of an impending merger with Be, but Executive VP Ellen Hancock says Apple's operating system philosophy is changing.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada--Apple Computer (AAPL) is still being discreet about responding to rumors of an impending merger with Be, but Executive Vice President Ellen Hancock made it clear today that Apple's operating system philosophy is changing to accept the idea of looking for outside help.

Apple CEO Gil Amelio has made similar comments in the past two weeks, but Hancock's remarks are especially apt coming one day after the resignation of Isaac "Ike" Nassi, from his position as the head of the company's AppleSoft software division.

While Nassi declined to disparage Apple management in his explanation of his departure, it's known that he clashed with Hancock, a former IBM and National Semiconductor executive who was hired in July to take the reigns of Apple's research and development. Her moves to modernize the Mac OS have clashed with some Apple veterans, including Nassi.

The fight is one that will profoundly affect Apple's future role as an operating system vendor. The company has been struggling to finish an update of the Mac OS known as Copland that will adopt an object-oriented approach to allow for more customization in the OS. Apple is scheduled to make a major OS announcement regarding some of the Copland technology at the Macworld conference in San Francisco in January, an announcement that may include plans for using licensed or acquired technology.

"We must ruthlessly and relentlessly drive out the 'not invented here' syndrome," said Hancock today, referring to a resistance to all things not created by Apple employees, an attitude traceable directly back to company cofounder Steve Jobs. "Apple is famed for living in its own reality distortion field."

Hancock didn't mention Nassi today, but her comments about shifting Apple from an "entrenched" philosophy to one more open to forming partnerships and borrowing outside technology seemed to be aimed at old-school Apple hands. For example, Hancock said that Java is an outside technology being integrated into Mac OS. A Mac OS runtime for Java is in beta testing and should be ready in the first half of 1997. "We will not do it totally alone," she said.

On the other hand, Hancock moved to shift attention away from a rumored merger with Be. "Be is just one of the options we're considering," Hancock said. "Not everyone we're talking to is talking to you." She also insisted that Apple can develop core OS technologies such as memory protection and preemptive multitasking without outside help, two technologies that Apple is supposedly interested in acquiring from Be and integrating into the Mac OS kernel, the deepest level of an operating system architecture.

The Be OS is coveted for its built-in memory protection, which keeps the whole system from crashing when one application goes down. It also runs on machines with more than one processor while the Mac OS can run on these machines but not take full advantage of multiprocessor power.

Another important piece of the OS 8 puzzle will be backward compatibility. Hancock recently caused a stir by suggesting OS 8 would not be compatible with older Mac apps, but Amelio immediately reassured audiences on an international tour that backward compatibility will not be sacrificed. Hancock did not address the issue today.