OS X Gets Closer To Reality

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For Avie Tevanian, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, it's a light at the end of the tunnel. For CEO Steve Jobs, it's "clearly the most important thing we're doing at Apple." It's Mac OS X, the long-awaited upgrade to Apple's operating system. And this summer, it may finally be ready for prime time.

That's when Apple plans to release a beta of OS X to the public. Developers also have in hand OS X's fourth preview version, which contains several changes from the operating system Apple has previously shown in public.

"We're creating a new OS and a new generation of applications," Jobs told developers at Apple's annual conference in May.

Ready, Set, Wait

Apple calls the latest preview version "developer complete," meaning software makers now have what they need to create applications that use OS X's Carbon and Cocoa APIs. But lost in the excitement over that news is the fact that OS X's launch has been delayed again.

Jobs announced in January that a finished version would be ready in summer 2000 and that the operating system would be installed on all Macs come January 2001. Now Apple doesn't expect the final version of OS X to be ready before the end of 2000.

Aqua for the Rest of Us

Still, the new developer preview is significant for the changes Apple has made to the Aqua interface. Previous versions of Aqua marked a radical departure from the Mac OS. But the latest edition contains several features that should be familiar to Mac users.

Developer Preview 4 includes a more Mac-like Finder instead of the NeXT-like browser that appeared in earlier versions. Users can also hide the browser toolbar and drag files onto the desktop. Mac OS 9 controls return to OS X, and the menu bar now displays the name of the application that the active window belongs to.

The Dock--the area on the bottom of the screen that gives you a quick way to access applications, files, and windows--has undergone some tweaks as well. Applications are now stored on the left side of the Dock, files and windows go on the right. You can drag items out of the Dock to remove them, and you can now store Web site URLs there.

OS X also boasts tighter integration between Open GL and Quartz. For example, you can use Quartz to create a 2-D image that can link with a 3-D Open GL image in a separate window. Modify the 2-D image and it instantly updates the 3-D window.

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