Jobs announces Mac OS X beta, new iBooks

While many software developers make their beta releases available for free download, Apple is charging $55 for the disc. The final release, Mac OS X version 1.0 will go on sale early next year, Jobs said.

Jobs had first promised the beta release during his August 29 speech at the Seybold publishing conference in the US. Among the new features in the public beta release are a full implementation of Java 2, which takes advantage of Apple's new Aqua user interface design, OpenGL 3-D graphics, and support for symmetric multiprocessing to take advantage of the new dual-processor desktop G4s announced in July.

Power management for portable computers in the beta release was already "spectacular," said Jobs. Whereas an iBook running MacOS 9 will take between 8 and 22 seconds, depending on the state of the network connection, to wake up from sleep (a power-saving mode in which many of the computer's circuits are shut down), running Mac OS X it will wake up in around one second -- "About as long as it takes to open the lid," said Jobs.

New iBooks were also the order of the day.

The entry-level iBook will be upgraded to include a FireWire (IEEE 1394) high-speed data port, a faster 366MHz G3 processor, 64MB of memory, a 10GB hard disk, a 24x CD-ROM, a Rage Mobility 128 graphics card and bundled iMovie 2 software. Available now in Indigo blue ($2995) -- one of the four colors added to the iMac range on July 19 -- and an acid-green shade Jobs called Key Lime. The latter will only be available through Apple's online store -- an announcement greeted with jeers by some sections of the audience that otherwise gave Jobs a hero's welcome.

The previous iBook SE (special edition) was widely criticised for offering only a small increase in processor speed over the standard model and no other extras, for a substantially higher price, but the new iBook SE, will include a DVD drive and a 466MHz G3 processor in addition to the features of the iBook, for $3595.

While Microsoft is the company that many Macintosh users love to hate, Jobs urged his audience to support the company -- particularly the "few hundred people at Microsoft who love the Mac and who work night and day to make the Mac version of Microsoft Office the best." (At the end of last year, Microsoft employed 34,571 people across all its divisions, including 14,433 in research and development, according to Microsoft figures.) Kevin Browne, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh business unit, who joined Jobs onstage, demonstrated Entourage, a replacement for Microsoft Outlook that will be available "only on the Macintosh," and new features for Word and PowerPoint, including the ability to manage the overall appearance of documents (including color schemes and type faces) using a page layout "palette," and to convert PowerPoint presentations into Apple's cross-platform QuickTime movie-file format for distribution to PC users.

In a nod to Apple's famous industrial design, the new Microsoft Office will be packaged in a curvy, translucent plastic box available -- that phrase again -- "only on the Macintosh."

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