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Tools for a new Apple age

Software development tool maker Metrowerks hedges bets on Apple's next operating system.

Software development tool maker Metrowerks (MTWKF) has already jumped on the Apple-Next bandwagon by announcing that its popular CodeWarrior development environment for Macintosh will support Apple's next-generation operating system.

As-yet-unannounced elements of the NextStep operating system will likely be used to revamp the current Mac OS, which lacks many features considered essential by developers. Objective C is the preferred language of NextStep.

Metrowerks will add Objective C to the list of programming languages that CodeWarrior supports by the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference next May, when Apple (AAPL) could conceivably unveil the first developer release of its next-generation OS. CodeWarrior currently allows software developers to write applications in the C, C++, Pascal, and Java computer languages.

Metrowerks wants to give the 55,000 software developers using CodeWarrior a head start on converting their current Mac OS applications to whatever the next generation may be.

"What's critical is that we get application development on NextStep as soon as possible," said Metrowerks chairman and CEO Jean Belanger. "The first way to do that is to support the language of preference on that platform."

Adobe Systems, one of the largest developers on the Macintosh platform, is thrilled at the merger news and doesn't foresee major problems with the port.

"We'll look to move our products over as soon as we can," said Bob Roblin, senior vice president of marketing. "As long as we have innovation [from Apple], learning new APIs will not be a problem."

The NextStep OS will bring to the merger its Display Postscript technology that ensures a consistent view of images and graphics from the screen display to the print output. If included in the next-generation Mac OS, the technology would be a big leap forward for Apple's graphics customers, which make heavy use of Adobe products such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

"[Apple chief technology officer] Ellen Hancock really understands the benefit of a consistent graphics model," said Roblin. "It's really a mission-critical need for information publishers."

As the largest Mac developer, Microsoft was much less enthusiastic than Adobe and preferred to take a wait-and-see attitude. "It's really good to see Apple come up with a long-term operating system strategy, but until Apple provides more detail on their plans, it'll be hard to say how people will partner with them or support the new venture," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray.

Other developers stressed that Apple shouldn't neglect the strengths of some of its homegrown technologies.

"It will be interesting to see how traditional Apple technologies will fit into this new system," Garance Drosehn, senior systems programmer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, wrote CNET in an email. "I'm particularly interested in having the entire QuickTime Media Layer available and OpenDoc."

No matter what Apple's Next move entails, the company will have to work extra hard to bring former devotees back into the fold by convincing them that Windows is not the solution.

"Most of the programming we're doing is on PCs. Our Web development stuff can be done on either platform," said James Locker, technical director of San Francisco-based Red Dot Interactive. "If it weren't for the QuickTime technologies to make high-end movies and sound, I wouldn't be using the Mac much."

An Apple-Next press conference today is not expected to reveal much in the way of technical details on the new OS, according to Apple press officials. The company is expected to lay out the technical blueprint for the operating system January 7 at the Macworld trade show.