Apple ponders `to Be or not to Be'

Apple executives are somewhat reluctantly considering acquiring the Be OS as the new Macintosh platform.

Macintosh developers and users may soon be faced with yet another OS choice: Apple executives are somewhat reluctantly considering acquiring the Be OS as the new Macintosh platform.

Sources close to the company have said a handful of Apple's top executives, including chairman and CEO Gil Amelio and recently named chief technology officer Ellen Hancock, are weighing the ramifications of adopting the Be OS and essentially dropping Copland. The advantages to using Be would be quick access to a 32-bit OS with true multitasking, multithreading, and memory protection features, giving Apple an OS with most of the advanced features of Windows NT and OS/2 Warp.

The Mac development community is already gearing up if such a move does occur; more than 1,000 developers have started working with the Be OS, sources say. In addition, Mac-clone manufacturer Power Computing will announce plans in November to bundle the Be OS, along with the MacOS, with its clone boxes, sources say.

Umax Technologies, another Mac-clone system manufacturer, is also considering the Be OS, although the company isn't expected to offer it unless Apple decides to adopt it. "Apple would need to endorse it before Umax would consider it," one source says. "Apple's the only one large enough to create a market for it."

But even though Apple's revamped Copland, or System 8, won't be fully rolled out for more than two years, the move would be full of problems for Apple. Be's Be OS is not compatible with existing Macintosh applications, although it is written to the PowerPC chip architecture. Apple already runs Mac applications under Unix, using emulations, and if the processor is fast enough, it's not a problem, says one developer. "They could do the same for Be," the software developer says.

More importantly, it's not clear how long it would take to move core Apple technologies, such as QuickTime, OpenDoc, and Java environment tools such as the Java Virtual Machine and Java Beans, to the Be environment.

Copland's segmented rollout

Early 1997 (Harmony release)

-- Cyberdog

-- HotSauce

-- OpenDoc

-- QuickDraw 3D

-- QuickTime

Mid-1997

-- Enhanced memory management

-- Multithreaded Finder

-- V-Twin search engine

Early 1998

-- Task-specific multitasking

-- Task-specific multithreading

Mid-1998

-- Complete microkernel architecture

-- Complete native-mode PowerPC version

-- Protected memory

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