It's put up or shut up time for Apple this week at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, with the company expected to provide details of how its acquisition of Next Software will translate into products that will revitalise Apple.
Although Apple won widespread praise for buying Next, the speed of the acquisition has left users wondering exactly what Apple will offer and when, something even few employees within Apple know at this point.
Building the next MacOS, tentatively dubbed the NewOS, around the OpenStep for Macintosh environment is the centerpiece of Apple's strategy. But complicating matters is the fact that company President and CEO Gil Amelio is expected to outline at the show more than just a third-generation operating system from Apple.
Amelio will also unveil an Apple plan that relies more on the server than the desktop, as the company shifts its emphasis from stand-alone operating systems to a Java-fueled environment designed to take better advantage of the move toward the Internet and corporate intranets.
According to sources familiar with the company's plans, Apple's new server-centric strategy will rely heavily on Java applets and the OpenStep OS (the successor to NextStep) to provide a robust, multithreaded, multitasking, protected environment.
Although Apple will continue to market hardware and software for the desktop, most of its emphasis will now be on providing a server environment that will compete with Windows NT.
Apple executives have acknowledged that the server is becoming more prominent in their strategy, particularly as Java makes the desktop OS less and less significant.
"I don't know exactly what level of detail we'll be ready to release at Macworld," says Will Iverson, Apple's product manager for Java and System Object Model development, "but you're going to see more emphasis on Apple providing a robust server environment there."
Besides outlining how Apple will integrate OpenStep into the Mac environment, or more accurately vice versa, Amelio will sketch out at least the broad plans for radically changing the way Apple does business.
Those plans will call for increased support by Apple for the Intel platform. Apple will continue to develop the OpenStep environment for Windows NT and various flavors of Unix, including Solaris and HP-UX. Amelio will also reinforce Apple's commitment to bring system software services developed for the Macintosh platform to the Windows environment, including technologies such as QuickTime, QuickDraw, and HotSauce.
But although Apple has garnered widespread initial praise for the acquisition of OpenStep as its next-generation OS, users are waiting to hear the details of how Apple intends to merge OpenStep with Apple's existing technology.
"I'm in a kind of passive acceptance mode right now," said Frank Calabrese, information technologies manager at Bose, in Framingham, Massachusetts. "We have between 1000 and 1500 Macs right now, and it would not be that easy for us to change them. We have a vested interest in Apple maintaining viability."
But at the same time, "Apple has done a very poor job of keeping us informed," Calabrese says. "I can't make a plan going forward based on what Apple's told me, and I need to be able to do that. I'll be very interested in what Apple says at Macworld."
Bruce Rinehart, general manager of e-Line Productions, a San Francisco-based Web development and electronic publishing company, said Amelio will have to lay out specifics for the company's plans for the Next technology. Rinehart is a Macintosh user, and his company has several Next computers as well.
"Apple better say something specific and something quick," Rinehart says. "They haven't said anything about what is going to happen."
Apple's next steps
January Harmony (System 7.6) due to ship.
Summer First developer's version of OpenStep for PowerPC due; Tempo (System 7.x)upgrade due.
Winter OpenStep for PowerPC will become commercially available.
1998 Backward compatibility for existing Mac applications due for OpenStep; Apple technologies such as QuickTime and OpenDoc start to be ported to OpenStep.
It's a Two-Way Street
What OpenStep brings to Apple
-- Cross-platform development environment for Windows NT, Solaris, and HP-UX
-- Multithreading, symmetrical multiprocessing, pre-emptive multitasking, and protected memory
-- Support for multiple hardware platforms, including PowerPC, Intel, and Sparc
What Apple brings to OpenStep
-- Installed base of 20 million users
-- Java support
-- Multimedia technologies including QuickTime, QuickTime MS, HotSauce, and QuickDraw