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A little help from Apple's friends

Apple lines up the support of industry leaders in hopes that everyone else will play follow-the-leader.

As it embarks on the most ambitious upgrade to its Macintosh OS ever, Apple Computer (AAPL) hopes to get by with a little help from its friends.

Today, a handful of those friends--and even one occasional enemy--were on hand at the Macworld Expo trade show in San Francisco, where Apple detailed its plans for its next generation OS called Rhapsody based on technology acquired from Next Software last month..

The operating system will eventually run Macintosh applications in a separate window so that users won't have to buy all new software. But taking advantage of the new Rhapsody features will require software developers to rewrite their applications and getting a large number of vendors to commit to Rhapsody is critical if Apple's turnaround plan is to be perceived as credible.

So, Apple lined up industry leaders today in the hopes that the rest of the industry will play follow-the-leader.

During his keynote address at the show this afternoon, Apple CEO Gil Amelio was joined on stage by several industry leaders who lent their support to Rhapsody. The leaders included Kim Polese, CEO of Marimba; Eric Schmidt, Chief Technology Officer at Sun Microsystems; and James Barksdale, CEO of Netscape Communications. Even Apple's nemesis, Microsoft, was represented on stage by Group Vice President of Platforms Paul Maritz, who said that Microsoft was happy to commit publicly to future support of Apple.

Others were more effusive.

"I'm like the pig at the ham and egg breakfast: I'm committed," said Barksdale, who says he himself has bought 10 Macs in his life for family members. "We think [the merger] bodes well for Apple, Netscape and the Internet and intranet communities at large."

"When I saw it for the first time in 1990, I thought [the Next OS] was five to seven years ahead of anyone else," said Sun's Schmidt. "The acquisition of Next gives Apple the best operating system in existence."

A number of vendors announced specific plans to support Rhapsody today:
--Metrowerks said that its CodeWarrior development tool for the Mac OS will allow developers to create applications for Rhapsody by May. The company will also port CodeWarrior and PowerPlant application framework to Rhapsody when the OS is available
--Netscape will make a version of its Communicator browser, email, and discussion software for Rhapsody. Today, the company also announced that its upcoming Constellation software will support Apple's Meta Content Format, a technology for generating 3D and other graphical interfaces for Web sites. Constellation will let Communicator users receive information broadcasts.
--Symantec plans to develop its Symantec AntiVirus and Norton Utilities for Rhapsody.

Tim Clark contributed to this report