Apple will launch a Java-oriented, server-centric operating system architecture at next month's Macworld Expo as part of a bid to tightly link Macintosh clients to a wide variety of enterprise servers.
Sources familiar with the company's plans say Apple will outline a broad initiative based on Java and an enhanced communications architecture that, coupled with OpenDoc technology, tightly links Macintoshes to as many as four server-based OSes.
The server OSes Apple already supports, or is considering supporting, include AIX, Windows NT, Sun Solaris, and a beefed-up version of the MacOS that would be designed for use as either an application or a Web server, sources said.
For Apple, this strategy represents a shift away from licensing software from Be Inc. as the foundation of the next-generation Macintosh.
"Apple's executives are realizing they have a lot of technology in-house," one source said. "They don't need Be to offer a more robust operating environment."
Using Java and other Internet-based standards, such as TCP/IP and HTML, users could link to different servers for specific tasks, such as multitasking, multithreaded database queries, or online transaction processing, sources said.
Apple expects that users will connect desktops to multiple servers running different OSes or run multiple OSes on the same PowerPC Platform design. Apple's chief technology officer, Ellen Hancock, has already outlined plans for a Power Macintosh server that runs under AIX, NT, and the MacOS.
When systems based on the PowerPC Platform ship in the second half of next year, Solaris will also be supported, although Apple has not committed to offering that OS.
As additional APIs and functionality, such as a transaction-processing API and Java Database Connectivity, are added to the Java environment, it could directly provide more of the functionality needed by Mac users, sources said.
That would not only remedy some of the technological shortcomings in the MacOS, but it would also pave the way for Apple to offer its own version of a Java-based thin client, sources said.
The thin-client plan Apple is expected to unveil at Macworld would feature a microkernel layer with a communications layer, a scaled-down OS similar to the Pippin architecture, an OpenDoc-enabled browser, and support for Java. Much like the JavaStation introduced by Sun Microsystems in October, the thin client would be capable of accessing and running applications and Java applets at the server level.
"They are still making some of the decisions they need to make, but they are committed to increasing how they use Java throughout the OS, particularly in a server-centric model," said a source close to Apple.
A company representative says it is "premature" to speculate on what Apple will announce at Macworld, because very few executives know what Apple plans to do.
Part of that uncertainty revolves around the BeOS.
Although the Be architecture has a number of strong supporters within Apple, including Hancock and CEO Gil Amelio, Apple's engineers are doubtful about using it.
Concerns include a lack of software, incompatibility with existing Macintosh applications, and the amount of time it would take to bring the BeOS to the Macintosh.
Although the BeOS has a number of advanced features that the MacOS still lacks, such as protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking, and multithreading, a more server-oriented approach would provide a stopgap solution as Apple adds those features to the MacOS.
But Apple might still be interested in using the BeOS for its original purpose: a real-time multimedia OS that would bring the Macintosh into the simulation and interactive video markets.
Apple already has the technology in place to run components of the BeOS as a "black-box" technology that would sit either at the server level or directly on the microkernel at the desktop level, sources said.
Apple Computer Inc., in Cupertino, California, can be reached at http://www.apple.com.