X Unveiled

While it will ship with a few holes left by missing features, OS X made its debut Wednesday when Apple gave the media a sneak peak of the finished operating system that hits stores this weekend.

Wednesday's four-hour briefing was Apple's last chance to put its spin on the first brand new OS on the Mac platform since the Mac was introduced in 1984. Apple executives went over every detail of OS X, including application support and marketing strategies.

The Mac OS had worked well over the past 17 years, an unshaven Steve Jobs told about 30 reporters, but it "needed new plumbing." The Apple CEO hopes OS X will be the Mac's operating system for the next 15 years.

Directly addressing the fact that OS X won't have all the features an operating system should when it ships, Jobs said there are two ways to introduce a new OS: wait until it's perfect -- which, he added, would never happen -- or release a product with flaws and rapidly fix them.

Apple has clearly chosen the incomplete model. DVD-playback and CD-burning capabilities are missing from the initial release. Jobs promised that those two features would be fixed sometime this spring and at the end of April, respectively.

Skipping the demo of OS X's Aqua interface which has become a staple of recent Jobs presentations, the Apple CEO instead touted the OS's new Save panel as an example of the power of UNIX and the simplicity of the Mac brought together.

Jobs handed over the stage to Avi Tevanian, senior Vice President of software engineering, and other members of Apple's senior staff to talk up various features in OS X that have been overshadowed by protected memory, symmetrical multiprocessing support, and the Dock. The new OS will include drivers for 45 common ink-jet printers. It also has the ability to create a PDF print preview directly from the Print menu. And a single OS X installation CD will support seven languages -- including Japanese, complete with Japanese fonts.

As for OS X-native applications, Apple concedes that support from Mac developers will be critical to whether users make the switch to OS X. Close to 50,000 copies of OS X developer's tools have gone out, says Clent Richardson, vice president of worldwide developer relations. As of now, 356 applications run natively on OS X, Richardson added. Apple expects 40 to 50 more announcements to come soon after the operating system ships. By summer, 1,000 apps will run natively in OS X, climbing to 3,000 by fall.

Apple will do its part, releasing OS X versions of iTunes and iMovie (as well as a beta of an OS X-native edition of AppleWorks) this Saturday as free downloads at its Web site. Look for Carbonized versions of iDVD and Final Cut Pro this summer, Jobs said.

Executives from FileMaker, Macromedia, and Microsoft were on hand to give brief demonstrations of products running in OS X. Macromedia Freehand 10 should be available this spring, and Microsoft Office 2001 is still slated for a fall release.

Asked whether Apple and other vendors planned to charge for updated OS X versions of their products, Jobs said most developers plan to release an OS X-native version as their next update. That includes all the new features you would expect in a typical software upgrade. The bottom line: don't expect many vendors to be giving their OS X-ready software away.

As for the new OS's naming scheme, it's officially OS X version 10.0, says Phil Schiller, Apple vice president of worldwide marketing. The way Apple figures it, Schiller said, there are 11 million potential OS X customers -- but realistically, this release is meant for early adopters. A new version of OS X Server will also ship sometime next quarter.

While the press briefing was largely informal, there were a few tense moments, sure to add to the Jobs legend. Asked by one reporter about Apple's reliance on IBM and Motorola for PowerPC chips, Jobs snapped, "You don't know what you're talking about." Another question about recent reports that Apple had laid off its G4 Cube development team was greeted with a denial by Jobs that anyone had been laid off.

OS X is available Saturday, March 24 for $129. It ships with OS 9.1 and a Developer's Tools CD.

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