Watch out PC: Mac is back


Have you been hearing the good news coming from Apple Computer lately? Maybe not, but Wall Street certainly has. Apple is expected to continue to show profits ($45 million on $1.4 billion in revenue last quarter), and its stock price has more than doubled in the last six months. The outstanding success of Apple's G3 Power PC Macintoshes (which are up to twice as fast as Intel machines), the recent release of QuickTime 3 for streaming video and audio, and the new feature-rich Microsoft Office 98 for Macintosh are all pointing to a company that is on the comeback.

Perhaps the most exciting part of Apple's future is its next operating system (OS), code-named "Rhapsody." Rhapsody will have a variety of features which will make it extraordinarily attractive to both users and developers, including a number of significant features which cannot be found in Microsoft Windows systems (Windows NT and Windows 9X). Apple is building Rhapsody to run on both Intel and Power PC (PPC) hardware so software developers will only have to write a program once and it will run on both platforms.

Therefore, developers can write software that will run on systems which currently use Windows 9X, Windows NT, and the Mac OS. Furthermore, Apple may also introduce Rhapsody emulators which run on top of the Windows and Mac OSs. Thus, people could run Rhapsody with the Windows interface while still being able to run their native Windows software. Current Macintosh software will still run on Macintosh computers under Rhapsody. And all versions of Rhapsody will also have a Java virtual machine.

The Intel and PPC versions will both have an "advanced Mac look and feel" graphical user interface (GUI) designed for today's larger monitors (unlike the original Mac and Windows GUIs, designed for smaller monitors). Many feel that the "Mac look and feel" is the most user-friendly GUI, and that Microsoft Windows systems are only poor imitations.

Programmers will be able to use a variety of languages to write for Rhapsody, such as Java and C++. However, the language of choice is called Objective-C. Objective-C is an object-oriented language that allows programmers to reuse large components of code, which makes programming more efficient. Unlike Windows NT, Rhapsody is fully object-oriented, and there is already a large component software library available for developers. It has been estimated that the programming environment for Rhapsody will save 30 to 500 percent of development time! One developer has already reported building a full-featured word processing program in less than an hour using this component library.

In addition, Rhapsody will have a number of other significant features which will make it the most modern operating system available. These include full multithreading and preemptive multitasking (both allow for much faster simultaneous operation of multiple programs), protected memory for a more stable system, and the ability to use multiple processors much more effectively (symmetric multiprocessing). Neither Windows NT nor Windows 98 has all of these features.

Apple expects to release Rhapsody for consumers this fall. Initial developer releases have been receiving terrific reviews. If Rhapsody continues to wow developers and attracts compelling native software applications, Apple may once again find itself in the running to become the premier desktop operating system. In fact, Rhapsody may have been one of the reasons that Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple. It has been suggested that Microsoft will adopt Rhapsody as its operating system of choice to write applications for because of its attractive features and overall efficiencies. We'll see.

George F. Huhn, managing consultant with the K. W. Tunnell Company in King of Prussia, Pa., will complete requirements for the Executive Master of Science in Engineering degree (ExMSE) in Management of Technology this year. This piece is based on a presentation for his class in Management Information Systems. He can be reached at Huhn@kwtunnell.com.

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Originally published on April 16, 1998