As Windows 98 continues to meet a lukewarm reaction in the market, Apple has given its first public demonstrations of a MacOS upgrade notable for some major new features.
MacOS 8.5, set for a September release, contains a number of features originally slated for Apple's ill-fated Copland OS. Unlike Copland, however, it is nailed to a release date, and Apple says it will drop features rather than miss its deadline.
The feature likely to generate the most interest is the V-Twin search engine, which now underpins Find File and its two new features, Find by Content and Search Internet. Find by Content can generate a master index of the contents of all text files on a hard drive, making them searchable. Search Internet can connect to the Internet, submit a query to the major search engines and collate and rank the results.
OS 8.5 will also seek to make good on the company's identification of AppleScript as one of its key technologies. A new set of AppleScripts, called Folder Actions, was added with the most recent alpha release of the software. These scripts will allow users to ascribe behaviours to folders — from simply keeping them open to having all files saved to a given folder uploaded to a Web server or converted into a desired format.
Many changes have been made to the MacOS interface. Text should look better thanks to built-in anti-aliasing similar to that used by Adobe Type Manager. The Find and Save dialogue, long a bugbear of Mac users, has been revamped and is now non-modal, resizable and movable, and can mount and browse file servers. Scrolling has been expanded and now includes a Windows-style proportional scrollbar.
Windows users might recognise the Themes-style function of another one-time Copland feature, the Appearance Manager, which allows for radical changes to system appearance. System icons will be able to use 32-bit colour and will be 48, rather than 32 pixels square.
Apple's Disk First Aid utility can now be invoked automatically after a crash. A new Internet control panel uses the Internet Config shared-preferences standard to provide a single interface for all Internet settings, and can store multiple preferences for different users. Apple has also brought back the Keychain feature of its failed PowerTalk mail software.
Apple's OS roadmap now seems clear of the muddle of recent years. After Mac OS 8.5, 8.6 will ship in Q1 of next year and the upgrade, code-named "Sonata", is due in Q3, around the same time as the first release of MacOS X.
Apple must keep up its Mac OS 8.x development because it is likely that MacOS X will only support machines based on the new Power PC G3 range of processors.
Apple New Zealand spokesman John Holley says that as a result of feedback from developers, Apple was investigating opening up Mac OS X to PCI-based Macintoshes, "but only if it can be done without delaying the shipment".