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Apple sells developers on openness

Gil Amelio is betting that Rhapsody's openness to Intel and compatibility with Macintosh will drive Apple's return to profitability.

SAN JOSE, California--Gil Amelio is betting that openness to Intel and compatibility with Macintosh will drive Apple Computer's (AAPL) return to profitability.

At the company's Worldwide Developer's Conference today, the chairman and CEO staked his credibility and pinned Apple's hopes on a "cross-platform" promise to prospective developers for next-generation operating system Rhapsody.

Amelio announced an important shift in Apple's strategy to run applications written for Rhapsody on Intel (INTC) processors, as well as PowerPC chips. Applications written for Rhapsody and used on Windows 95 and Windows NT will look and operate like Windows applications under the initiative.

A version of Rhapsody will run on Intel processors, the company said. Officials also demonstrated an early element of Rhapsody running programs written for the Mac OS to answer questions of backward compatibility.

"How can we make the Mac succeed in a Wintel world?" Amelio asked the crowd. The answer lies in offering customers great applications, he said, and Apple is promising developers tools to quickly write applications for multiple platforms.

"You have every reason to be skeptical," Amelio told developers, "but after this conference, you'll want to sign up for another round."

Apple has a history of promising newer, better technologies and then canceling the projects, but the company is hoping to convince developers that Rhapsody will be different. Last year Copland, the company's previous attempt to update its operating system, self-destructed.

Amelio called the conference a "critical milestone."

To demonstrate that the development of Rhapsody is well under way, Avie Tevanian, senior vice president of software engineering, showed an early element of Rhapsody called the "Yellow Box" running on both PowerPC and Intel hardware.

Key to Apple's strategy are the APIs (application programming interfaces) included in Yellow Box. Applications written for Yellow Box and used on Windows 95 and Windows NT will look and operate like Windows applications. At the conference Apple also said that the Yellow Box will be closely integrated with Java technology.

Apple also announced it will provide a version of Rhapsody for Intel processors that will include the Mac "look and feel."

Tevanian demonstrated Rhapsody's ability to run current Mac applications in another portion of the future OS that is referred to as the "Blue Box." The overall message was that developers will get a wider audience for their software than was previously possible in writing exclusively for the Mac platform.

Persuading developers to write programs for both the Rhapsody and Mac platforms will not be an easy task, but there are early indications that Apple may succeed.

"I'm looking for indications of future success here. I'm looking for a concise, compelling articulation of Apple's strategy," says Pieter Hartsook, a longtime Apple observer and market researcher. "I'm also looking for developer response to the message...The keynote was fairly good--they presented a continuation of the message they've already articulated and are offering developers a good value proposition. It's a good start."

Those sentiments were echoed elsewhere. "Apple has articulated a consistent strategy more clearly than they've done in the recent past. I'll tell my clients that they can't afford to ignore [Rhapsody]," said one consultant who wished to remain anonymous. The consultant said his agency advises a number of financial institutions on technology planning.

Apple is also attempting to deliver a focused Internet message to developers based around its WebObjects technology, which the company says builds on its strength in Internet publishing.

WebObjects technology enables Internet publishing and allows Apple to address emerging markets in Internet commerce, business applications, and networking applications. WebObjects Enterprise allows businesses to easily set up applications with a Web browser, including order entry, cataloging, and customer service.