Steve Jobs envisions a Rhapsody in Yellow for Apple's comeback
Isaac Newton would be surprised at how far from the tree Apple Computer Inc. has
fallen. Gravity took a toll on Apple in the early 1990s, but recently there are signs of
Apple's acquisition of Next Inc. and its NextStep operating system could help rebuild a
technologically sound foundation for the Cupertino, Calif., company. I'm excited about
this, because I think the industry needs Apple.
Do you remember Apple's bold 1984 Super Bowl advertisements? The company attracted
millions of new users and stayed at the top of the personal computer tree through the
1980s, because so many people liked its friendly, elegant graphical interface.
Then along came Microsoft Windows in the 1990s, and Apple entrenched and stopped being
a risk-taking innovator. Times have been tough lately, but there are several big steps
First, Apple decided internally that its much-ballyhooed Copland just wasn't going to
make it as the operating system of the future. Apple did succeed in shifting its hardware
platform to the PowerPC processor, but in the absence of an equally advanced operating
system, computer buyers didn't take notice.
Why Apple spent so long understanding this reason for its financial red ink, I don't
know. But that first step was important because it opened the way for more.
Second, Steve Jobs, Apple's original wunderkind, was coaxed back into the family. The
company has missed Jobs' magical touch, and his return gives a the company a huge psychic
boost. Macintosh users practically worship Jobs.
I last saw Jobs in early 1996 at a Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in San
Francisco. On stage with Microsoft's Bill Gates, Jobs professed his undying regard for
Windows and Microsoft's embrace of the Internet-and, not surprisingly, an object-oriented
Next software product called WebObjects.
Jobs seemed uneasy speaking before a Microsoft audience. I suspect he's very happy to
be back up in the Apple tree.
Recently at MacWorld, visitors rewarded him with thunderous applause when he announced
that the new Macintosh OS will be a mix of Unix with a Mach kernel, and it will run on
Unnoticed by many was the fact that on the same stage stood Steve Wozniak, strangely
silent in all the hoopla. For those who are Mac-illiterate, Wozniak co-founded Apple with
Jobs. It will be interesting to see if he plays a part in Apple's future.
The third step, the one I'm calling the NextStep, also came at the MacWorld trade show.
Apple announced it will offer its Next operating system, code-named Rhapsody, in two
developer versions, Yellow and Blue. This is supposed to happen in the next six months,
with general release in a year.
With Rhapsody, users can run existing Mac apps inside a window, similar to the way Mac
users now emulate Windows with add-in cards and emulation software.
The Yellow version will contain the primary Rhapsody components based on Next
Software's excellent OpenStep OS. The Blue version has a "compatibility box"
window for running old System 7.x applications that don't communicate directly with the
hardware. Both include system extensions and control panels, but not drivers and utilities
that do work directly with the hardware.
If a System 7 app crashes, Rhapsody is supposed to keep going unaffected. This sounds a
lot like the way 16-bit applications run under Windows NT or the way they're supposed to
run under Windows 95.
The Blue Box won't be a Mac emulator but rather the actual System 7 OS running on the
new MacOS microkernel-the part of the OS that manages the hardware and basic system
operations. The Blue Box will be bug-for-bug compatible with System 7.
The new MacOS (System 8), or Yellow, will be based on the NextStep OS OpenStep version.
Unlike Copland, Yellow will be fully preemptive, multithreaded and memory-protected.
That means programs can work in parallel without making each other crash. It also means
that users can do several parallel tasks such as faxing while printing or sorting a
database while reading e-mail.
With the Copland plan that Apple killed, only some parts of MacOS 8 would have had such
capabilities. Rhapsody's Yellow Box also will support fully symmetrical multiprocessing,
in which any available CPU can run any program or program thread.
Apple plans to rework the NextStep OS interface to make it more Mac-like. Some NextStep
conventions will be adopted, but Apple is convinced that the MacOS human interface is the
best and wants to maintain it.
Like the abortive Copland effort, the Next-based MacOS (in the Yellow Box window) will
support multiple looks. Users can customize the interface's appearance and some of its
operations, such as blocking network access for certain users.
Programs in the Blue Box will be able to share some data with programs running in the
Yellow Box, and vice versa. The two environments are supposed to share data via Apple
"events" (Apple's OS-based messaging) or by copy and paste.
However, to avoid crashes, direct interapplication communication probably won't be
Not yet clear is how users and programs will deal with files created by applications
running in the two environments.
For more information about Rhapsody, visit the World Wide Web sites at http://www.macworld.com and http://www.apple.com.
Charles S. Kelly is a computer systems analyst at the National Science Foundation.
You can e-mail him on the Internet at [email protected].
This column expresses his personal views, not the official views of NSF.