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Apple shows off Rhapsody OS

In an effort to woo programmers, Apple gives one of the first public demonstrations of its next-generation OS.

Apple gave one of the first public demonstrations of the developer release of Rhapsody, the company's next generation operating system, in an effort to woo programmers, but questions remain about where Rhapsody will be used.

Apple showed off Rhapsody for PowerPC-based systems last night in Cupertino, California, for the Bay Area Next Group. The developer release is a partially completed version of the operating system, designed to help programmers get down to the business of making Rhapsody applications.

The core technology for Rhapsody comes from Next Software, which was acquired last year by Apple. The new OS will additionally have a "blue box" environment for running older Mac OS-based applications, although the first developer release does not have this feature, so as to encourage development of Rhapsody applications.

The demonstration included a look at some of the applications that are running on Rhapsody, including a "simplified" word processor with advanced typography capabilities, support for Japanese characters, and an email program. One feature exhibited was the ability to automatically copy images and text from the word processor into an email document, something that normally requires a combination of keystrokes and cursor movements. A Rhapsody-based Web browser, games, and other applications will ship to developers for testing.

Apple also showed how the new OS fully supports Java programs and assured developers that their programs would run as well as if they where native Rhapsody applications. If developers choose to program in Java, they can also access all of Rhapsody's features, such as the ability to rotate 3D objects.

Apart from not showing older Mac OS applications running on Rhapsody, the developer release does not yet fully support symmetric multiprocessing (SMP). SMP uses more than one processor in a system with greater efficiency.

Rhapsody does, however, allow "preemptive multitasking," which increases performance by more equally dividing processor time between applications. Most server computers and high-end desktop computers have both features.

The company expects to ship the software to developers within the next two weeks, which shows Apple is making great strides toward delivering the final version of the OS on time in mid-1998. However, the company still isn't answering questions how the OS will be used on systems other than PowerPC-based systems.

Ricardo Gonzalez, product marketing manager for Rhapsody, said Apple will ship a version of Rhapsody for use on Intel-based systems to developers a few weeks after the PowerPC version, as well as yet another iteration of Rhapsody called "yellow box for Windows."

At the meeting, Apple demonstrated yellow box, which will provide additional features for programmers to use on computers with the Windows operating system. The yellow box consists of the main APIs (application programming interfaces) programmers will use to write programs for Rhapsody.

Applications written for yellow box and used on Windows 95 and Windows NT will look and operate like Windows applications, while "Rhapsody for PC" on Intel processors will look like the Rhapsody/Mac OS hybrid.

Program developers are crucial to Apple as it transitions over to the new operating system. Without new software that takes advantage of Rhapsody's features, users won't have compelling reasons to upgrade to the new operating system.

One of the possible reasons Apple isn't talking about what it will do with non-PowerPC versions of Rhapsody is the reaction of developers to the idea of making software that can run on Windows computers. At the meeting, most developers booed when shown the Windows OS as part of the yellow box for Windows demonstration.

The booing was done half jokingly, but is also the result of a long-held mindset among Mac aficionados that Microsoft and Intel are forces of evil to battle in the computer industry.

Apple's new technology clearly shows it wants to give developers a way of developing a program once and selling versions for platforms beyond just the Macintosh. Convincing them that such an effort is worthwhile is the next task at hand.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.