While not as sexy as blueberry-colored iMacs--a big hit at Macworld here yesterday--Mac OS X Server is Apple's first step toward offering an advanced operating system with sophisticated networking capabilities long sought by customers in the education, publishing, and application development markets.
Mac OS X Server is the renamed Rhapsody, which was to use software technology acquired from NeXT to enable software to run on Mac and Windows platforms.
The release of OS X Server marks the beginning of Apple's two-tiered OS strategy where there is a "Pro" and "Consumer" version of the OS, much like Microsoft's Windows NT and Windows serve different markets.
Mac OS X--a separate product from Mac OS X Server--will be based on the technology in OS X Server, but it will be better able to run current Mac programs. Mac OS X is not slated for widespread release until at least the third quarter of 1999, so Apple said it wanted to give its high-end customers an early shot at using the software via OS X server.
"The goal has always been for OS X to be both a server and client product. While we are still on track to do client stuff later this year, we decided to bring the server product to market sooner because there is not a big dependency on [the Carbon set of APIs]," said Avie Tevanian, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering. The "Carbon" application programming interfaces are a collection of 6,000 of the most-used Mac OS APIs that will be added to the innards of Mac OS X, which consists of a Unix core.
New features in both OS products include preemptive multitasking and protected memory, which allow for efficient and reliable software performance. Beyond those essential features, a new feature called "NetBoot" serves to mark the evolution of the network computer concept.
Jobs demonstrates new OS
Interim CEO Steve Jobs yesterday demonstrated Mac OS X Server streaming three separate videos to 50 different iMacs. Each of these systems essentially downloads bits of Mac OS 8.5 from the server, not from a local hard disk drive. The applications are sent to the client piecemeal as well, but are run by each iMac's processor. This compares to the original concept of a network computer that downloads an entire Java-based program and runs it on a local system.
If the server crashes for some reason, the client can still function as a standalone computer. Additionally, a program on any single iMac can't crash the server, according to Ken Bereskin, director of OS technologies for Apple.
Bereskin said the advantages of simplified network administration are still realized. Macs on a network share the same operating system and applications stored on a server. As a result, a single change to the server software updates the entire network.
This capability, along with software tools and a program that allows a user to install the software in 30 minutes or less, will make OS X server popular with the education market, Bereskin believes. Teachers are often charged with setting networks up in classrooms, and the new software will save them time.
Many conference attendees and other users appear to be impressed by the new software's capabilities, but wonder how much Apple can make off its new operating system in a market populated by the likes of Sun's Solaris, Microsoft's Windows NT, and to a lesser degree, Linux.
"I'm a long-time Unix systems administrator, and I've tried OpenStep [the previous name for OS X Server's APIs] and am pretty impressed," wrote one reader in an email to CNET News.com. "I've also dealt with NT and know it has many shortcomings as a serious server OS. The opportunity is there, I think; can Apple take advantage of it?"
Mac OS X Server can run on all Power Macintosh G3 or Macintosh Server G3 systems. Mac OS X Server requires 64MB of RAM, 1GB of free hard disk space and a CD-ROM drive.
Apple executives expect Mac OS X Server to ship in February, with worldwide availability in the spring. The software will be available online from Apple for the estimated retail price of U.S. $995.