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Apple to ship Mac OS 8 next month

The PC maker hopes to restore consumer confidence by delivering the eagerly awaited upgrade on time.

Apple Computer (AAPL) expects to unveil its latest upgrade to the Macintosh operating system in late July.

Apple is expected to ship on July 26 the eagerly anticipated Mac OS 8, according to sources within the company. The upgrade will sell for a suggested retail price of $99, the sources said, and will offer an updated user interface, improved performance, and new features that make organization of files easier.

But even more important than the list of new features, an on-time delivery of the new operating system would give a much-needed signal that the company has its act together.

Resellers confirm that users are anxious to get their hands on the software.

"We've had a lot of feedback from clients. They're pretty much ready to go. They're looking forward to more reliability, and some of the enhanced features are really nice, like the multithreaded finder," says Peter Jackson, an account executive with NovaWorks.

NovaWorks is an Apple VAR, or value-added reseller, that sells to companies like HBO with hundreds of Mac systems.

Jackson thinks that the demand for the new upgrade will be much higher than for the last, System 7.6, which shipped in January. "We've dissuaded a lot of customers from going to System 7.6. Most stayed with [an earlier version] because we felt it was more stable, so we told them to hang in there and wait for System 8.0. There's no question a lot of others consultants did too," said Jackson.

While Apple will certainly welcome the additional revenue brought in by the upgrade, there are more significant aspects to the release that won't be immediately apparent, according to Stephan Somogyi, principal at technology consultancy Gyroscope.

Starting with the release of Mac OS 7.6, Apple has done more work on "continuation engineering," he says, which has resulted in a more stable and better performing operating system. That, combined with an on-time delivery, will significantly bolster customer confidence, he said.

"OS 8 is the first indicator of Apple's statement that the Mac OS has a future, where before when they were working on Copland, they said the [existing] Mac OS was dead," Somogyi says. "A customer needs to have the understanding that their existing investment in the Mac isn't going to be obsoleted already."

Copland was a next-generation version of the Mac OS that was canceled and replaced by Rhapsody, the combination of the Mac OS with Next Software's NextStep.

Mac OS 8 is also a critical component of the PowerPC Reference Platform (PPCP) specification for Macintosh hardware. The new OS along with PPCP-compliant hardware are key technologies that will allow Mac clone vendors to enhance system performance and introduce new products more rapidly.

But while Apple is expected to ship the new operating system on time, none of the Mac clone vendors have signed agreements to license the new software yet. Negotiations are in progress and are expected to resolve the licensing question soon, but last-minute changes could hold up delivery to the desktops of clone customers.

Mac users can already reserve a copy of the upgrade from mail order companies and Claris, Apple's wholly owned subsidiary.

Somogyi joked that an on-time delivery may end up being a mixed blessing for Apple. "By virtue of the fact they didn't goof, they might not get as much press coverage. For a lot of people it will be a non-story because there's no scandal," he quipped.