Apple to unveil Mac OS upgrade next week

The clock is ticking for Apple Computer as the hardware and software vendor this month is expected to release a tuned-up version of its Mac OS X operating system, a major upgrade to the company's flagship operating system first unveiled in March.

Apple representatives said this week the company has not veered from its plans to release Mac OS X Version 10.1 sometime this month. "We haven't changed anything that we announced earlier," said Natalie Sequeira, an Apple spokeswoman.

With only one week left to meet that deadline, two sources who asked for anonymity and who are familiar with Apple's plans confirmed on Friday that the anticipated point release will be the focus of Apple's keynote presentation on Tuesday at the Seybold Conference and Expo in San Francisco, an event aimed at the computer graphics and digital publishing industries, two of Apple's key markets. Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of product marketing, is scheduled to address the conference joined via satellite by Apple's Chief Executive Steve Jobs.

"That's sounds like a perfectly logical venue to make the announcement," said Michael Silver, an operating systems analyst with Gartner Inc.

Moreover, Adobe Systems Inc., one of Apple's leading software vendor partners, also said it plans to make a product announcement Monday related to Mac OS X 10.1, a company spokeswoman said Friday. Apple would not comment on the event.

No matter when it is released, the software will likely be welcomed by the market, users and analysts interviewed predicted. Roger Kay, an analyst with International Data Corp. (IDC), recently previewed the latest point release of the new operating system running on Apple's newly released dual-processor Power Mac G4. He said Apple has fixed several glaring bugs that have kept many users from adopting early versions of the software, which include Mac OS X Version 10 and Version 10.04.

The latest release Version 10.1 now includes increased stability, deeper integration with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system -- including Windows networking and file sharing -- and improved graphics performance, Kay said. He and other analysts say the Mac OS is now ready for broad adoption.

"It's a real improvement over 10.0," Kay said.

The operating system also features CD burning capabilities built into the Finder toolbar and DVD (digital versatile disc) playback, two features users missed in earlier OS X release, according to information on Apple's Web site.

In addition to enhancing features, Mac OS X 10.1 is pegged to improve Apple's hardware sales as the greater PC market suffers, analysts said.

"Apple has really pushed to get their (hardware) products out regardless of the operating system and they've had considerable success," said Brett Miller, a PC analyst with A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc. "You have to expect their sales to continue driving forward with the new operating system."

While most of the major vendors such as Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. have been hit hard by a decline in PC shipments this year, Apple -- which holds less than 5 percent of the total PC market share -- got a boost in one sector, IDC reported in late July. U.S. shipments of its laptop computers jumped 68.4 percent in the second quarter of 2001, due in large part to sales of its iBook laptop series, which sold 182,000 units in its first two months. Worldwide, Apple's laptop computer shipments grew by 25.2 percent.

"That's pretty good for Apple," Miller said.

Meanwhile, preliminary estimates from research firm IDC show total PC shipments worldwide declined 3.2 percent in the second quarter of 2001, compared to the same quarter a year ago.

Apple released Mac OS X 10.0 -- an upgrade to its operating system with a reworked and more colorful interface -- in March with little fanfare. While it was considered by users and analysts as one of the most significant operating system releases ever to come from the Cupertino, California-based PC icon, it was packed with bugs, and critics complained that it lacked a number of key features such as DVD playback.

"A lot of users pointed out that there were some serious holes in 10.0," said Kay, who covers operating systems for the Framingham, Massachusetts-based research firm IDC. "Even Apple has admitted that they just needed to get something out the door."

In the new version, Apple has managed to fix many of those earlier issues, users and analysts say. Mac OS X 10.1 will include support for Apple's new dual processor computers, according to information on Apple's Web site. It will also include "protected memory" and "preemptive multitasking," two new features that add stability to Macs when users run multiple applications at once, according to Apple.

"What it means is that each application is using its own memory. In previous versions of the operating system it would trade off memory between each applications " said Brian Sheafer, a Mac consultant who runs SV Macintosh Consulting in Southern California. With the new technology "if one application crashes then the rest of the operating system will remain stable," he said.

With renewed industry backing, the only question that remains is when users can expect Apple to release Version 10.1. Apple had planned to make the new operating system the focus of the Apple Expo in Paris, but cancelled the show due to the devastating terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Anticipation is high among sectors related to the operating system, such as software application vendors, which are at a standstill with new products under development to run on the operating system. Apple has enabled Mac OS X to run software developed for older versions of the Mac OS in what it calls "Classic" mode. Users can switch Mac OS X from its regular mode to the classic mode to run older software applications. With most users relying on this classic mode to run their applications, software makers have been slow to release upgrades to their products.

But that is changing as the latest operating system upgrade nears release. "New applications (for OS X) are coming out more and more every day," said Mac consultant Sheafer, who currently uses Mac OS X 10.04 and Mac OS 9.1 on the same computer. "It's a whole new operating system for the Mac, and since it's a complete rewrite I would say that things are coming out pretty quickly."

Currently Adobe -- one of Apple's leading Independent software vendors -- has released its Acrobat Reader 5.0 with native support for Mac OS X. The company has said that it is waiting for 10.1 to hit the market before it releases any of its other flagship software products such as OS X-native versions of Adobe GoLive, Illustrator and InDesign.

Aladdin Systems Inc. has also released a version of its StuffIt Delux decompression software to run on Mac OS X. The software allows users to open large files and e-mail attachments that have been compressed for downloading.

Quark Inc., which makes the popular desktop publishing software QuarkXPress, is also waiting to release a version of the software native to Mac OS X, the company said. That software is due by the end of this year.

Pledging to lead the way with software tuned for Mac's new operating system, Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it would release the latest version of its Office productivity software in November. Office v. X for Mac OS X will include the most advanced versions of Microsoft's Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Entourage applications, Microsoft said.

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Matt Berger

Computerworld

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