Unable to stem the tide of questions about their new OS strategy until Macworld Expo in January, executives at Apple Computer and Next have offered reporters and analysts glimmers of how the purchase of Next will affect Apple's operating system and market plans.
The first release of Apple's Next-enabled operating system will hit in 1997, but it will be tailored to developers and beta testers, Apple Chief Technology Officer Ellen Hancock said at a press conference aimed at esablishing, if not details then general directions.
A broader release will be available to users sometime in 1998, two years behind Copland's initial release schedule and a year behind the first revised date for Copland's ship. Hancock also estimated that full backward compatibility with existing Mac applications would not be available until well into 1998, although she emphasized that some applications, such as those written in Java, would be compatible before then.
She and the other executives admitted they were uncertain about how far back they will be able to carry backward compatibility. When asked if the Next-generation Mac OS would run with 68040 machines, Hancock said, "The OS is intended for the PowerPC, it's not limited to CHRP, however, over time, it will run on CHRP. How far back we can take this, we will figure out later on." The new OS would, she said, run on any systems Apple is currently shipping.
Hancock said Apple had not yet determined which kernel it will use for the new OS, and she said it is safe to assume that users would not be seeing a hybrid OS but rather an integrated technology.
Executives from both companies said there was a great deal yet to be explored relative to the merger of their two technologies. Avie Tevanian, formerly Next's vice president of engineering, who will take over as lead of Apple's OS effort and report directly to Hancock, admitted that System 7 has not yet been tested running in emulation mode on the NextStep. He cited third-party emulators [Executor by Quix] developed several years ago for System 6 which he said "ran fairly well. We don't anticipate problems with System 7 emulation."
That theme - of having strong hunches about NextStep's capabilities for the Mac but with a great deal of exploration left to be done - recurred as the Next executives referred to a key benefit promised by the Be OS: they said NextStep does support symmetric multiprocessing, but conceded that in its current form the Next OS does not ship for any symmetric multiprocessing applications.
Saying that her next move would be to have in-depth discussions with companies like Adobe Systems, Hancock was uncertain about how the Mac OS would handle Next's use of display PostScript versus the Mac's use of QuickDraw GX. NextStep writes to PostScript directly, which is seen by many publishers as a benefit, while the Mac OS writes to QuickDraw GX which acts as a PostScript interpreter.
The new company will continue to market and sell OpenStep and WebObjects, the two products that Next has been pushing most recently. Both products work on a variety of platforms, including the Intel platform. They emphasized WebOjects and Next's history as a Unix-based software company with an enterprise focus as opening the enterprise to Apple - a market in which Apple has never been successful.
Until the as-yet unnamed Next-generation OS is ready Apple will continue with its strategy to release interim updates to System 7. Users can expect the next revision to System 7 in January, code-named Harmony, and a July release of Tempo, which will incorporate features of the Mac OS 8 Finder. The officials said to stay tuned for Macworld Expo in January for more complete OS information.
In the same press conference, Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson offered some details of how the acquisition would affect Apple's finances, saying that Apple would write off about $300 million of Next's $400 million purchase price in the second quarter of 1997, with the remaining $100 million to be amortised over the next five to seven years.