Apple takes dual OS approach

Apple Computer Inc. earlier this month said it will continue to support its current operating system while developing a new operating system based upon Next Software Inc. technology.

Apple announced its strategy at the Macworld conference in San Francisco. The company's current operating system Mac OS will be enhanced through periodic upgrades. The next-generation operating system code-named Rhapsody will be built around Next's Openstep object-oriented development environment. The product will be delivered to developers in mid- to late 1997 with customer shipments expected by January 1998.

The operating system strategy stems from Apple's intent to acquire Next which was announced last month [FCW Jan. 6].

Apple officials maintain that the company's new operating system will offer "backward compatibility" so that applications written for Mac OS will work within Rhapsody. Dendy Young a longtime Apple observer and chief executive of Government Technology Services Inc. said a key challenge for Apple will be how to execute this transition so that the numerous applications written for Mac OS 7.5 "can be used on the new operating system and use the new operating system effectively."

But Charles Mokotoff a computer specialist with the National Institutes of Health's Division of Computer Research and Technology said he did not expect any problems with backward compatibility. He said Apple has a good track record with compatibility citing the company's transition to Power-PC technology.

For Mokotoff the main issue is how quickly Apple can get the new operating system ready to ship."The first concern is the timetable " he said. "The present operating system is definitely aging." He noted that a further erosion of Apple's market share would result in software developers defecting to Windows."NIH has a large Mac-user community " Mokotoff said. "We are watching [Rhapsody] very closely."

Buyers who historically have ignored Apple may be paying closer attention as well. According to Young the Next-based operating system could open doors for Apple beyond the company's traditional strength among scientific users such as NIH and graphic arts shops. He said the Next development environment "has the reputation of being perhaps the best" and has found considerable use in the federal market.

Accordingly Young said agencies may be "more reluctant to push Apple out the door" if they have the promise of a Next-based operating system. "For the first time Apple has a valid reason to meet with and work with IRMs and CIOs " Young said.

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