Apple pushes back retail release of Mac OS X

The retail version of Apple's new operating system may be six months behind schedule, but that didn't stop chief executive officer Steve Jobs from singing its praises on the opening day of the company's annual developer conference.

Jobs announced that the fourth and final developer release of Mac OS X was now available, which should allow software developers to finish porting their software applications to the new OS. He also showed off features in Mac OS X that will improve multimedia playback and boost performance and usability.

"Mac OS X is to our software what the G4 and iMac are to our hardware," Jobs said in a keynote speech at the start of the week-long show. "They are taking things to the next level in performance and capability, but at the same time making them simpler and more beautiful."

In January, Apple had pledged to deliver a "shrink-wrapped" version of Mac OS X by the middle of this year, and to begin pre-installing the new OS on its computers in January 2001. Plans now call for the company to release a "beta" version of Mac OS X in the middle of the year, with the software on track to be pre-installed on Apple's computers in January, Jobs said.

An Apple official acknowledged that in the software industry, "shrink-wrapped" generally refers to the final release of a product that is available in stores for purchase, whereas a beta product typically is an unfinished release that users can download from the Web to try out for free.

However, the official maintained that Apple's apparent change in plans doesn't mean that its delivery schedule has slipped. The software to be released mid-year is the same software product that Apple said it would release all along -- the company simply decided to call it a "beta" rather than "shrink-wrapped", said Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide product marketing.

"This is not a case where we're taking a slip in the schedule and dressing it up with a fancy name," Schiller said. It is not clear yet whether users will have to pay for the beta version or how it will be distributed, he added.

The developer version released just released, Developer Preview 4, includes a Mac OS X version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 and support for Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Platform, Jobs said.

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