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New date for Mac OS upgrade

The Mac OS System 7.6 upgrade, originally set to ship last week, is now planned to go out today.

Apple Computer (AAPL), which originally planned to ship its Mac OS System 7.6 last week, now says it will begin shipment of the upgrade today.

Despite the change in shipment dates, a company spokeswoman said today that the system remains on track for delivery to customers by January 31, as promised earlier.

Confusion about the shipment date arose last Wednesday after a shipment notice was posted on the company's Web site and then removed. That posting said the software would be available from resellers starting last Friday.

Under normal circumstances, the ability to ship the upgrade on time would be no big deal. But in this case, it represents a much-needed reassurance that Apple can and will meet its deadlines for its software developers and users alike, a subject that has led to criticism of the company in the past.

At midweek, several Mac software retailers in Apple's home area could not give a firm date when they expected the OS upgrade to arrive.

"Apple needs a predictable development and OS path and not to sway from it," said Dan Feldman, president of statistical software maker Abacus Concepts.

It is also crucial for Apple to fulfill its OS promises if the company is to refocus on software and services, as chief technology officer Ellen Hancock said Tuesday night at a conference in Palm Springs, California.

The main attraction of System 7.6 is the integration of two homegrown technologies, OpenDoc and Cyberdog. OpenDoc lets users mix and match functions within a document container.

For example, one could put an OpenDoc-compatible Web browser window or mini-spreadsheet within a word-processing document. Cyberdog, a suite of Internet-access applications, is OpenDoc compatible.

Another new feature of System 7.6 is the Extensions Manager, which gives users a more detailed view of the files within the System Folder.

Apple plans a new upgrade every six months, with code-named Tempo coming in July with a multithreaded finder that will give Mac users more efficient multitasking. Apple also announced at Macworld Expo future System 7 upgrades Allegro and Sonata for 1998.

"System 7, especially with the next three versions, is looking like a clear strategy," said Larry Zulch, president and CEO of Dantz Development, which develops backup software for the business and consumer markets.

True believers like Abacus's Feldman are more concerned about the company's perception.

"For System 7, I don't need to be convinced that they're on track or not," Feldman said. "What I really want them to do is show our customers who purchase Macs that they're committed to maintaining the current OS."

System 7.6 will cost $99 on CD-ROM and $129 on floppy disks. System 7.5 users can upgrade to 7.6 for $69 for a CD-ROM or $99 for floppy disks.