Jobs Gets Specific on OS X Beta Release

You could take the 90-minute keynote speech given by Steve Jobs Tuesday at the Seybold Seminars trade show in San Francisco, extract all his major announcements, and wind up with just one sentence.

The public beta version of Mac OS X will ship in two weeks.

Other than making that announcement and revealing a few new features that will be included in the beta, Jobs had little new to say Tuesday, using the bulk of his speech to review the products unveiled at last month's Macworld Expo.

You can't fault Jobs for having no product announcements up his sleeve this week. The lineup unveiled at Macworld Expo--new iMacs, a dual-processor G4, retooled monitors, an entirely new mouse and keyboard, and the much hyped G4 Cube--marked the most products ever introduced in a single day in Apple's history. Jobs could have led the audience in song and sawed Apple vice president Phil Schiller in half, and the Seybold speech might still have been a letdown.

Still, reports of the OS X beta's imminent arrival--Sept. 13 at the Apple Expo in Paris--is good news for the Mac faithful. Apple had promised to have a finished beta ready for the public by the end of summer. And, if you hadn't noticed, Labor Day is right around the corner.

Jobs went to the dictionary to prove that Apple was meeting its end-of-summer deadline. Summer ends with the September equinox, Jobs told the crowd. That occurs "on or around September 23."

"So we'll beat that," he added.

Getting the beta out reasonably on time does more than just build confidence in Apple. It also keeps the company on schedule to deliver a finished version of the operating system in early 2001.

"We've been working at this a while, and it's looking great," Jobs said.

Some more of that work was shown to the public for the first time Tuesday. Under the classic Mac OS, Apple portables can take anywhere from eight to 22 seconds to wake up from sleep mode; Jobs said that portables running Mac OS X will wake within one second. However, when Jobs attempted to demonstrate this feature at Seybold, it didn't function properly.

Bugged by the candy colors of the Aqua interface? Apple has added a "Pro mode" that lets you ditch the pulsating color buttons in favor of plain graphite with a keystroke. This feature is aimed at graphics professionals who complained that Aqua's bright colors would distract from their work.

Another first sighting during Jobs' keynote was a combination MP3 and CD player application with playlist support. The program's controller window is small enough to leave visible on the desktop, Jobs said.

Jobs also briefly showed a screen saver that's built into Mac OS X. The screen saver fades various icons in and out atop a black background, and uses the icons of all software currently installed on the Mac as potential artwork.

Another small item on display was visual feedback from within Mac OS X's Dock for applications that are being launched. "The apps wiggle a little bit" when you launch them, Jobs said.

Apple's iCEO also displayed several previously-announced applications that will ship with the Mac OS X public beta, including a Carbon version of the QuickTime player and an OS X-savvy version of Internet Explorer 5.5. In addition, representatives from Macromedia showed off forthcoming versions of web design applications Dreamweaver and Fireworks that run natively in Mac OS X.

That's not the sort of stuff that lands you and your cube-shaped gizmo on the cover of BusinessWeek . But for Mac users, it's an important development. After several years of promising a new, modern version of the Mac OS, now the Mac community has a firm date. The Mac OS X era begins on September 13.

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