SAN JOSE, California--Speaking at an Apple software developer's conference, Apple Computer acting CEO Steve Jobs outlined the company's new operating system strategy, revealing that features destined for the next-generation Rhapsody OS will be incorporated into a separate, hybrid product called "Mac OS X," casting doubt on the future of Rhapsody.
The announcement calls into question Apple's level of support for Rhapsody as originally envisioned, since OS X (as in the Roman numeral for ten) will take on many of the features that Rhapsody was expected to offer.
Apple's previous Rhapsody strategy pushed its largest developers to commit resources to creating completely new software for a technology without a guaranteed future. The scheme meant convincing developers to write programs for Rhapsody while allowing older Mac applications to work within a virtual Mac OS "environment."
But now, developers will migrate to system software due by the fall of 1999 that will allow programs to offer Rhapsody's advanced features. What is significant is that developers will not have to completely rewrite their applications. The new OS will combine APIs (application programming interfaces) from the current Mac OS along with technologies in Rhapsody to ease the transition from the older OS to Mac OS X.
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Regarding Rhapsody, Apple stated today: "Later this year Apple will ship the first customer release of Rhapsody, a new operating system that Apple is providing as a server platform for publishing and Internet solutions."
With OS X, Apple is promising developers that with a relatively minor "tuning" effort, they will be able to release programs that could include all of the features promised for Rhapsody. Such features include preemptive multitasking and protected memory, which allow for efficient and reliable software performance.
Jobs said that developers should be able to offer applications that can run on Mac OS X with only one to two months of work, instead of the one to two years required with Rhapsody. "Even if you don't tune your applications, Mac applications will run on [Mac OS X], just without the new features," he promised.
Simultaneously, programs written for Mac OS X will be able to run on older versions of the Mac OS, something which would not have been possible with the company's previous strategy..
Apple will release Rhapsody itself later this year, mainly for use on servers and high-end workstations. Eventually, its technologies are expected to be completely subsumed into Mac OS X.
Mac OS X will be released to developers in early 1999, with a customer release slated for the third quarter of 1999, according to Apple. Meanwhile, the company will continue to update Mac OS 8, with the next release, called Mac OS 8.5, expected sometime in September.
"Apple is doing exactly what we asked them to do. They are delivering the benefits of a modern OS while at the same time preserving the investment that we and our customers have made," said Ben Waldman, general manager of the Macintosh business unit at Microsoft.
Norm Meyrowitz, president of Macromedia products, used the analogy of building a house. Two years ago, Macromedia asked for a modern, "earthquake-proof" OS. "We asked for a foundation," he said. "Apple offered a Jacuzzi."
But now, he added, Apple is offering a "solid foundation."
Continuing this analogy, Rhapsody would have been a whole new house, but the Mac OS X restores the old house while offering a new foundation.
Addressing a crowd of some 4,000 developers, Greg Gilley, vice president of graphic products at Adobe, said "Probably like most of you, when Apple came to talk to us about Rhapsody, we were going, 'Huh? How does this make sense for our customers? How does this make sense for us?' We never really could get excited about that."
"I'm extremely impressed that they were able to make the Mac OS truly modern, and I stand in awe at the fact that most existing apps will be able to use those features, unlike the original scheme when Jobs came on board, where they could not," said David A. Ray, an MIS Manager who observed the keynote from St. Louis via satellite downlink.