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Apple offers taste of upcoming OS X

Executives offer a small sneak peek into the company's new operating system, but are asking fans to focus on what OS X will have, not on what it's missing.

    Apple Computer executives are offering a small sneak peek into the company's highly anticipated new operating system, but are asking fans to focus on what OS X will have, not on what it's missing.

    Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide marketing, on Thursday explained some of the features that will be available in the new operating system, as well as changes since September's public preview release.

    Apple on Wednesday released final, or gold, code to manufacturing as the company readies the product for sale March 24.

    Mac enthusiasts looking for video streaming will find the final version of QuickTime 5 in the box, Schiller said. Apple had been beta testing the competitor to Real's RealPlayer Plus 8 and Microsoft Media Player 7 since autumn.

    Apple also plans to offer its iTunes digital music-authoring package and iMovie video-editing software, although neither will come in the box with Mac OS X.

    "We're working really hard to make it available for download at intro," Schiller said. "We're trying to make that day. If not, really close."

    But DVD playback will be missing in the initial release. Schiller explained simply that the DVD player is not ready and will be available for download at a later time.

    Also missing will be iDVD, Apple's DVD authoring software. Schiller said Apple can't disclose iDVD's availability until the March 21 press event that will launch Mac OS X.

    But Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal faulted Apple for not offering either DVD playback or iDVD software with Mac OS X.

    "It's inexplicable to me, Apple could fumble on these things," Deal said. "Apple needs to pull their act together and have more fluidity in the release of their products. There has to be a saner way to do this."

    Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq also sharply criticized Apple for missing DVD playback in Mac OS X.

    "Shipping without a DVD player when the hardware is there in 80 percent of the cases is just something Apple doesn't want to do," he said.

    But Schiller dismissed such criticism, noting that the features were "offered separately either by Web download or with hardware. Availability of a feature doesn't necessarily mean in the box. DVD or iTunes did not come in the box before, but (they) were available for Web download."

    Customers absolutely needing DVD playback or the capability of authoring DVDs could chose to reboot the machine back to the older Mac OS 9.1, which offers both features. But the more convenient use from Mac OS X could be some months off.

    Schiller asked people not to focus on the things missing with Mac OS X. "These will be in the single digits, but there are a couple hundred new features" expected with the new system, he said.

    Tweaks and touches
    Apple added many new features based on feedback from the public beta, Schiller said. After hearing the Aqua user interface was too streamlined compared with Mac OS 9.x, Apple made a number of functional tweaks.

    "The toolbars are completely customizable. That's really cool. It's something we've not had in the Finder before," Schiller said.

    One change in the public beta had content opening within the same window. "But it now behaves like Mac OS 9 in that when you click on something it spawns a second window," Schiller said.

    Another streamlined feature kept disk drives from automatically showing up on the Aqua desktop, but they now appear by default as in Mac OS 9. Other Mac OS 9 throwbacks include an Apple menu bar on the left side of the desktop, which, among other things, offers access to recent applications and Apple's Location Manager. Apple also moved the clock from a toolbar-like feature called the Dock back to the menu bar.

    Apple responded to criticism that its popular Control Strip should not have been removed by adding commonly used Control Strip items, such as display and AirPort wireless controls, to the Dock.

    "We've got a feature called 'Get Software' that will point you right to the Web site on the Mac OS X page to learn about the third-party software," Schiller said.

    In one of the more significant changes, Apple is closely tying Mac OS X to its Internet suite of services, iTools.

    "Right as you set up your machine, as part of the start-up experience, it will ask if you have an iTools account or set one up for you," Schiller said. "Now on the toolbar on the Finder you click on an icon and boom, up opens your iDisk. It's just completely integrated seamlessly."

    Other niceties include built-in features for PDF (portable document format) support and an e-mail client.

    Mac OS X initially will sell for $129 either directly from Apple or at retail. Apple doesn't plan to offer the new operating system on new Macs until summer. The new version, which replaces Mac OS 9.1, is the first major overhaul of the operating system since its 1984 introduction.

    Schiller explained the odd naming convention.

    "We used the roman numeral because we thought it would be cool and fun," he said. "But officially it's Mac OS X 10.0," Schiller said. The 10.1 release could appear on new machines in the summer.

    Schiller would not comment on the number of Mac OS X applications before Apple's March 21 event. "Obviously, we're going to use every last minute we can to generate that information."

    LeTocq warned that Apple needs to execute better getting expected features, extras and hardware drivers out the door as well as rustling up more applications.

    "Apple is sustained by its faithful," LeTocq said. "Those are the people who evangelize Apple to the people around them. It is key for Apple that OS X absolutely bowl these people over. What Apple has to do is make sure there are no gaps when this thing ships, so people are so enthusiastic they run out and tell other people they absolutely have to have it."