Programmers attending Monday's opening keynote of Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference got a triple dose of system software as the company previewed three releases of the Mac OS: Mac OS 8.6, a free update that's now shipping; Sonata, an upgrade scheduled to ship this fall; and Mac OS X Client, which Apple expects to ship in 2000.
This update, which began shipping Monday, consolidates bug fixes and adds several new features, most notably an improved power management system for PowerBooks that increases battery life by 25 to 37 percent. In addition, Mac OS 8.6 offers enhancements to the Sherlock search engine, including new plug-ins and the ability to search the contents of locally stored PDF and HTML documents. The update also incorporates the latest versions of AppleScript, ColorSync, and Mac OS Runtime for Java, as well as a new release of the LaserWriter driver. Users of Mac OS 8.5 can download the update for free; a CD-ROM version is available for $19.95. Users of previous Mac OS releases must upgrade to Mac OS 8.5 before adding the update.
Sonata is the code-name for the next major Mac OS release, which is now scheduled to ship this fall. Apple says that Sonata will include more than 50 new features, but the company chose to preview two: a major Sherlock upgrade and the ability to configure a single system for multiple users. The upgrade is scheduled to ship this fall.
Sherlock II will feature a revised design reminiscent of Apple's new QuickTime Player, with a drawer that lets you store commonly used plug-in sets. In addition to providing plug-ins for accessing Internet search engines, Sherlock II will include plug-ins for automatically accessing online retailers and "people-finder" directories. For example, if you want to purchase a modem, Sherlock will search e-commerce sites and return with a list of modems including product name, price, and availability. If you search for a person, the results window displays names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
The new multiple user feature, of particular interest to families, lets you set up your Mac with unique preferences and access privileges for each family member. When you boot up the Mac, you select your name from a log-in panel and enter a password. The system then configures itself to conform to your preferences for fonts, desktop appearance, and other elements. You can use the passwords to control access to e-mail, Web sites, and locally stored files or folders. You can also require users to enter passwords to open individual documents. A voice-print feature lets you speak the password rather than typing it.
The client version of Mac OS X, Apple's next-generation OS, will include the same core software found in Mac OS X Server and Darwin, Apple's open-source server software. A Unix-based OS, Mac OS X will include such modern OS features as protected memory, multithreading, and preemptive multitasking. It is scheduled for release next year.
During the WWDC demo, Apple's Steve Jobs and Avie Tevanian discussed several components of the forthcoming OS, including a new imaging model and a new version of the Finder.
The imaging model, known as Quartz, provides windowing and graphic-display features currently handled by QuickDraw. Based on Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format, Quartz will support such sophisticated imaging features as alpha channels, making it easier for developers to incorporate image compositing functions into their applications. For example, Apple product marketing VP Phil Schiller dragged a PDF file to a sample application that automatically anti-aliased the graphic and generated a blurred drop shadow. Showing another sample application, he laid one PDF file on top of another and used slider controls to modify their transparency.
The new Finder, apparently borrowed from the Next OS, lets you view the contents of local volumes or remote directories by clicking on icons above a results window. Frequently accessed folders, whether stored locally or across a network, can be stored on a "shelf" for easy access, a feature that Jobs likened to the tuner buttons on a car radio. The new Finder will also include picture previews and file information in the directory list. Apple says the new features will make it easier to access files, especially those on remote volumes. However, some developers were less than enthusiastic about the new approach, contending that users will find it more difficult to move or copy files.
Apple also demonstrated a forthcoming e-mail client for the new OS. Leveraging the capabilities in Mac OS X, the software will let you place PDF files in the message body. You'll also be able to search for message content--including the contents of PDF files--using a Sherlock-based engine.
Developers, who received a special preview release of Mac OS X after the WWDC keynote, praised Apple for sticking to its OS development roadmap. However, the company has changed the labels for some key components in the new OS. The Mac OS X Blue Box, which will be used to run current Mac applications under the new OS, is now known as "Classic." Mac programs will run unmodified in this mode, but won't be able to take advantage of protected memory or other modern OS features. The Yellow Box, used to develop new software for the OS, will be known as Cocoa and will incorporate the ability to run Java programs. The third component, Carbon, will be used to run Mac applications that have been adapted to the Carbon API, which Apple announced at last year's WWDC. Mac applications that have been written to the Carbon spec will have access to Mac OS X's modern OS features.
In addition to previewing the OS upgrades, Apple has released a faster version of its Java software, Mac OS Runtime for Java 2.1.1, as well as a Macintosh implementation of OpenGL, software that allows for faster 3-D graphics performance. Although the new Java is much faster than Apple's previous version, Jobs admitted that it's about 30 percent slower than the latest Windows implementation. However, Apple showed a prototype version of a Java 2 interpreter that was considerably faster than a Java interpreter running on a Pentium workstation.