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Free tools to boost Rhapsody

Apple will provide free software to attendees at its upcoming developers' conference, which will help programmers write applications for Rhapsody.

Apple (AAPL) says it will provide free software to attendees at its upcoming developers' conference, which will help programmers write applications for Apple's next-generation operating system, code-named Rhapsody.

Apple will give attendees of the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) the latest version of the OpenStep operating system and WebObjects, a tool for creating Web sites.

The OpenStep OS, which was acquired last year as part of Apple's merger with Next Software, will provide the core technology for Rhapsody. Rhapsody will also have the "blue-box" environment for running older Mac OS-based applications.

The computer company's offer will allow developers to learn about OpenStep technologies more quickly and allow them to start working with the programming environments, according to David Krathwohl, vice president of developer relations. The end result, Apple hopes, is that there will be a greater number of programs available for Rhapsody when the final version ships sometime in mid-1998.

Program developers are crucial to Apple as it transitions over to a new operating system. Rhapsody will offer important new features, including memory protection, which keeps the system from crashing when one application goes down. The system will also allow "preemptive multitasking," which increases performance by dividing processor time between applications more equally. Without new software that takes advantage of Rhapsody's features, users won't have compelling reasons to upgrade to the new operating system.

However, to learn about OpenStep, developers will need to have an Intel-based system because the software hasn't yet been fully moved over to the PowerPC processors that Mac-compatible systems use.

The development tools and portions of OpenStep are already being moved over since Apple said last week that it would show an early version of Rhapsody running on Mac hardware at the conference. The company has stated previously that it plans to release a more polished version of Rhapsody to developers sometime in the middle of the year so that they can begin in earnest to write new programs for Macintosh computers.

But developers won't be able to deploy software applications using the free software; developers will still have to procure a license to make and distribute Rhapsody software. Details on pricing won't be available until the conference.