Having scrapped its own plans for a next-generation operating system and chosen Next Software's OpenStep over the BeOS to help replace it, Apple will be offering OpenStep for the MacOS on the Intel x86 architecture in 1997.
Apple, recently announced its intended acquisition of Next Software and the part-time services of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was rumored to be in similar discussions with Be Inc. The company has been searching for help in rejuvenating the MacOS, which has fallen behind competitors such as Microsoft's Windows variants both in terms of technological capabilities and market share.
According to Apple, the company decided to go with OpenStep instead of Be's operating system because it was a more mature OS that offered the same multitasking, multithreaded features as Be - with the added benefit of being network ready and stable.
A company spokesperson says the fact that OpenStep already runs on the Intel architecture was a compelling factor in acquiring Next.
"Apple recognises that the PowerPC isn't the only hardware platform out there, and [Chief Technology Officer Ellen] Hancock is really pushing the idea of expanding the platforms the MacOS can run on," says one source close to Apple. "That's heresy to a lot of factions within Apple, but Hancock is very committed to it."
Apple does not intend to spell out fully how it will use the OpenStep technology until the Macworld show in San Francisco next month, but the company stressed Next's cross-platform capabilities in announcing the merger.
A spokesman for the company says Apple remains committed to the PowerPC chip as its platform of choice, but notes that "one of the features that we expect of a next generation OS is that it have cross-platform capabilities."
If Apple does bring an integrated NextStep/MacOS to the Intel platform, in addition to the PowerPC, it may have a compelling competitor to Microsoft's Windows NT architecture, says some analysts.
"NT is still in the toddler stage at best," says Richard Doherty, founder of Envisioneering Inc., a market research and testing firm in Seaford, N.Y. "If Apple goes ahead and brings this technology to the Intel platform, they have a chance to be way ahead of NT in the 32-bit OS space."
Much of that would depend on how long it takes Apple to integrate the two OS platforms into a single OS, something else the company doesn't plan to unveil until the MacWorld show.
Sources familiar with Apple's plans say OpenStep, and Next's server-oriented development platform WebObjects, would form the basis of the OS, with a number of Apple technologies being grafted on.
Apple's contribution would include technologies such as QuickTime, QuickDraw, its Meta Content Format known as HotSauce, and the integration of Java technologies into the NextStep operating system.
Apple's ultimate success, however, is likely to hinge on how quickly developers embrace the idea of porting their existing Macintosh applications to the new hybrid OS.
Many developers have applauded Apple's acquisition, but reserved full judgment until they find out how and when the changes will take place.
"I'm really in a wait-and-see mode," says John Blackburne, a programmer in Hong Kong specializing in Web pages. Like others in the Mac community, he wants future releases of the Mac OS to offer greater stability and improved multitasking.
Others seem encouraged by the return of Jobs to Apple.
"The acquisition of Next as well as Steve Jobs provides a bright opportunity because Steve has not only seen the future but he drives it," says Robert Roblin, senior vice president of marketing at Adobe Systems. "He can identify new opportunities because he has a proven track record."
However, some industry observers feel that Apple is too far off of corporate IT buyers' radar screens to make a difference in their future platform strategies.
"Apple is largely irrelevant. What does Apple offer corporations? Not much," says Steve Auditore, president of Zona Research in Redwood City, Calif.
Apple Computer Inc., in Cupertino, Calif., is at http://www.apple.com/.
Additional reporting by Pardhu Vadlamudi, Jim Balderston, and Jon Skillings, the Asia-Pacific bureau chief of the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.