Apple's first battle in making its acquisition of Next Software a success already seems to be won, judging from the praise software developers have given the deal so far. But the devil is in the details, few of which Apple has released to this point.
"Developers are really excited about this so far," says Brian Pfister, vice president of research and development for SoftLinc, in Florida. "Apple really needed protected memory to become a more viable OS, and they get this from Next. It also becomes a way for me to become a Windows NT developer quickly and easily, because it's already cross-platform."
Frank Lazar, director of technical services at Graphisoft USA, in San Francisco, says Apple will gain from two aspects of Next's technology.
"Next has a solid microkernel architecture," Lazar said. "Apple has been looking for a solid foundation for System 8, and Next would provide that."
The second piece of Next technology Lazar says will benefit Macintosh users is Next's WebObjects.
"Apple needs to get object-oriented technology for the Internet, and WebObjects is just that," Lazar says.
Apple has also moved to gain support from some of its largest ISVs, including Adobe, Metrowerks, and to some degree, Microsoft.
Adobe is committed to using OpenStep (the successor to NextStep), says Robert A. Roblin, senior vice president of marketing for the company.
But even though John Warnock, founder of Adobe, was consulted before Apple completed the deal, Adobe doesn't have enough information to know how or when it will make its applications available for OpenStep.
"We need to look at this at a deeper technical level, see what tools are available, and mesh it with our development schedule," Roblin says. "We don't have the answer yet [and won't] until we have more information."
On the tools front, Mac developer Metrowerks is developing an Objective C compiler and will provide PowerPlant support for the Next platform, says Greg Galanos, chief technology officer for Metrowerks. It also plans to put native support for Next's Objective C in its Code Warrior developer's kit at the next Apple WorldWide Developers' Conference in May.
But developers also have unanswered questions, including how soon Apple will add backward compatibility for Mac applications to OpenStep, how it will bring OpenStep to the Mac platform, and what will happen to technologies such as OpenDoc.
Although Apple reiterated its commitment to OpenDoc when it acquired Next, Chief Technology Officer Ellen Hancock acknowledged that the OpenDoc development team was not consulted before the deal, and Apple hadn't explored exactly how or when it would bring OpenDoc to OpenStep.
"That's what I'm most concerned about, because we're an OpenDoc developer," SoftLinc's Pfister says.
But for users, what matters most is what Microsoft does.
"If this affects the timing of Office for the Mac platform, then we might have to change our [hardware purchasing] plans," says Frank Calabrese, information technologies manager at Bose, in Framingham, Massachusetts.
What Microsoft has said so far has been diplomatic.
"We are very enthusiastic about Apple's acquisition of Next, and we are eagerly looking forward to details of the NewOS," says Ben Waldman, Microsoft's general manager for Mac products. The ship date for Office97 for System 7.0 is unaffected.