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Apple readies Mac OS 8 upgrade

Apple is preparing for early next year a minor operating system upgrade that will offer performance increases and also incorporate support for DVD-ROM.

Apple Computer (AAPL) is readying a minor upgrade to the Macintosh operating system that will offer performance increases and allow the company to incorporate what is expected to be one of the hotter technologies of 1998: DVD-ROM drives.

The revision to the Mac OS, called Mac OS 8.1, could arrive as soon as January and would include a revised file handling system and support for reading DVD (digital versatile disc) files, performance enhancements, better Internet integration, and other refinements, according to Apple.

Apple has previously said it will incorporate DVD-ROM drives into most of its Macintosh desktop and notebook lines by early 1998. DVD-ROMs are able to deliver better audio and video than the CD-ROMs now in use. They can store up to 4.7GB of multimedia data, while CD-ROMs can hold a maximum of around 650MB.

Integrating DVD-ROM with multimedia technologies is a top priority for Apple because it is of such interest to its core audience of content creators. And judging by recent studies, more and more content creators will be ordering DVD-ROM drives in their systems by next year. According to Forrester Research, as early as 1998, computer manufacturers may begin to scrap CD-ROM drives in favor of DVD-ROM drives.

Because the Mac OS 8.1 upgrade will introduce a new way of handling files, the company is being cautious about over promising any delivery dates. "Any thing that involves customer data, we take seriously. If it takes an extra build to make sure it is rock solid, we'll do that," says Peter Lowe, Mac OS product manager.

So far, the initial release of Mac OS 8.0 has been a hit for Apple in terms of retail sales. Lowe expects the sales momentum will be sustained with the upcoming revision because some "fence sitters" will be sufficiently attracted by the new technology to finally upgrade. Already, Apple claims that there are over 2 million Mac OS 8 users, putting the company ahead of the pace it projected for user upgrades from Mac OS 7.x software.

Meanwhile, Apple is moving forward with the development of a new OS, called Rhapsody, as well as further refinements to the Mac OS. Last week Apple announced the developer release of a version of Rhapsody with the so-called Blue Box component, which allows users to run most older Mac OS programs on systems with PowerPC processors.

By mid-1998, Apple will release a major revision to the Mac OS, code-named Allegro, as well as the full release of Rhapsody.

Company officials say they expect Mac OS 8.1 to be available at no cost for registered users of Mac OS 8.0.