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Apple seeks Internet status

The company announces Java, QuickTime updates.

Treading close upon the release of a new operating system yesterday, Apple (AAPL) is seeking to rev up its Internet strategy too with the announcement of improved Java and multimedia technology as well as a new server software package.

The company is pinning its hopes on the ability of the Internet to bridge Macintosh computers to Windows and Unix computers through the use of Java. Java applications are designed to run unmodified on any platform that supports an application "engine" called the Java virtual machine.

That bridge will come, in one of its manifestations, as the Mac OS Runtime for Java 1.5, released at Internet World Expo in Chicago. The software, an implementation of Sun Microsystems' Java virtual machine (JVM), now offers a "just-in-time compiler" and other enhancements that increase performance of Java by as much as ten-fold, according to Apple.

The new software may also give developers a reason to use Macintoshes to write programs. Apple says the new software endows developers with the ability to add Mac OS-specific functionality to their applets while allowing the applets to still run on other platforms.

But Apple needs to proceed carefully here to avoid making its Java implementation too Macintosh-specific, according to one analyst.

"For the Mac OS, Java will open up the Mac environment to interoperate with other platforms, which could potentially be a feather in Apple's cap that would increase the amount of users who are at least coming into contact with the Mac OS," said Ron Rappaport, an analyst with Zona Research. "Java's benefit of platform independence is its advantage."

He added that OS-specific Java technology is not necessarily a healthy trend: "Availability of platform-specific virtual machines has taken a lot of steam out of the cross-platform argument. When you start to tailor the JVM towards a specific platform, you increase the benefits of using a specific OS, decreasing the ease with which you interoperate with other operating systems."

Nevertheless, Apple sees the Internet and Java as tools to help the company sell well-behaved Mac clients to companies with Windows machines. Apple has already started to integrate Internet capabilities into the Mac OS 8, just released yesterday. For instance, users can also run Java programs such as stock-ticker updates--applets--by clicking an icon on the desktop. The company has also said it will make Java technology a core part of Rhapsody, Apple's next-generation operating system.

But Apple still needs to improve upon this, say analysts. "There hasn't been a tremendously good, clear sense of direction. They have come to recognize that they need to play very effectively and be a leader in this arena," says Michael Gartenberg, a research director for Gartner Group.

He adds that Apple needs to make sure that new technology keeps coming. "Apple needs at this point to focus on two things : They have to make sure Apple fits in really well so that there is no penalty for using a Mac. Also, make sure Netscape is coming out with new versions of Navigator, that there are new versions of Marimba (Marimba's Castanet, an information delivery system). Then differentiate by making sure the Internet is best experienced on a Mac," Gartenberg says.

Gartenberg thinks that with Mac OS 8, Apple has done a better job of making the OS more "friendly to the Internet" by making it easier to set up an account with an online service provider and by making it easier to share documents over an intranet or the Internet, for example.

In related news, Apple continues to work on improving its popular multimedia authoring and playback software, QuickTime.

The company said it will release a browser plug-in this fall that will give both Windows and Mac users the ability to view streaming media and interactive objects that change their behavior based on their environment. For example, the same video clip could include audio tracks in different languages, depending on which country you are viewing the content from.

The QuickTime Plug-In 2.0, in conjunction with the QuickTime 3.0 authoring platform, is also expected to make it easier for developers to create content with the support of a greater number of file formats such as MPEG for video playback.

Apple today also announced version 3.0 of its Internet Server Solution, a bundle of software that makes setting up and running Web sites easier.

The new software package contains Claris HomePage and other programs for Web site creation as well as WebStar/SSL from Quarterdeck and other file server software for using a Mac system as a Web site server. The software is included on Apple's Workgroup Server computers.

Apple sells both the 9650/233 with a 233-MHz PowerPC 604e and the 7350/180 with a 180-MHz PowerPC 604e with the new Internet Server Solution. The 9650/233 sells for an estimated street price of $5,200, and the 7350/180 has an estimated street price of $3,100.