Attendees at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this week voiced optimism on the prospects of Mac OS X, and said they wouldn't be negatively affected by the latest slip in the next-generation operating system's schedule. Mac OS X is now due to ship in January.
Last January, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had said the operating system would ship in the summer. Instead, he said this week, users will receive a public beta in summer, and the final product will ship in January 2001. For the consumer market, this means that systems based on the new operating system will arrive after the vitally important Christmas buying season.
As expected, Jobs delivered an impassioned plea to developers in his keynote address, calling on them to port their applications to Mac OS X.
Mac OS X is based on the OpenStep operating system from Next Software, which Apple acquired in December 1996. At the time, Apple promised to merge OpenStep and Mac OS within a year. Mac OS X is supposed to bring Macintosh users such features as preemptive multitasking and memory protection.
Rather than the Mac OS X beta version that many attendees were expecting at the show, Apple distributed what it described as a "developer-complete" fourth developer release, DR 4.
Developers took the news in stride. "What had been previously announced in January was maybe a bit optimistic," commented Paul Lalonde, programmer at Zero-Knowledge Systems, a developer of Internet privacy software. Some said the delay would help them get their applications ported in time for the operating system's launch, as well as provide beneficial input from end users.
The long public beta phase that Apple has introduced "means more time to get feedback into the operating system", said Tim Voss, a senior software developer at IBM subsidiary Object Technology International.
Demonstrations during the keynote showed that the operating system's new user interface, Aqua, is still a work in progress. Responding to criticism from testers, Apple has made a number of modifications in DR 4. These include a version of the Finder file manager that works more like the original Finder in the current Mac OS 9. The "Dock" feature, which somewhat resembles the task bar in Windows, has been revised so applications appear on the left side of the bar and documents on the right.
Mac OS X will support three application environments: "Classic," for existing Mac OS 9 applications that won't benefit from the operating system's new features; "Carbon," a modified version of the Mac OS application programming interface set for reworked apps; and "Cocoa" for some new applications.
Chris LeTocq, an analyst at Gartner Group, criticized Apple for not being forthcoming with information about Mac OS X. "How are they going to describe (Mac OS X) to consumers? What machines will it be on, and will it be a dual install? We should have heard that by now," said LeTocq. "It's time Apple said a little more."
Some developers agreed. "It's been like pulling teeth to get information from Apple," said Jeffrey Bernstein, president of Digital Desktop Consulting.
Jobs was also expected to demonstrate some influential applications that were being ported to Mac OS X, and he didn't disappoint on that count. Attendees were shown "Carbon"-based versions of Internet Explorer 5, the computer game Quake III Arena, Santa Clara, Palm's Palm Desktop and Adobe's InDesign. But the news that got the biggest applause was that Silicon Graphics subsidiary Alias Wavefront, in Toronto, is porting its high-end video effects software Maya (used for digital effects in such movies as The Matrix and Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace). According to Apple, more than 200 application developers have committed to Mac OS X.
Unlike many previous keynotes, Jobs didn't have a major new product announcement to surprise the audience. He did win cheers when he said the Web Objects development environment would be repriced from $50,000 per server to $699 (UK prices not yet available). An all-Java version of the software will be released by year's end, Jobs said.
Jobs also said a new version of QuickTime due this summer will support streaming of MPEG1 and MPEG2 video formats.