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Apple ponders cross-platform future for MacOS

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Apple appears to be seriously considering taking the MacOS down a platform-independent path. Sources close to Apple's senior executives say they are exploring plans to extend the next major version of the Mac operating system, MacOS X, to a wide range of platforms, according to Mac-oriented Web site MacOS Rumors. Linux, Solaris and other varieties of Unix, plus Windows are all being viewed as bases for the OS. This actually isn't that new an idea. When Apple first outlined its plans for Rhapsody, its next-generation OS based on NeXT's OpenStep, it said the operating system would be provided in PowerPC and Intel versions. The Intel release would comprise both a native x86 version of Rhapsody and a version of its Yellow Box API (the bit that came from NeXT) that would run on top of Win32. In the process of Rhapsody morphing into MacOS X, and the company's more aggressive promotion of its PowerPC-based hardware, the cross-platform side to the story has rather faded into the background. But Apple has never publicly said it would not bring the Yellow Box and later Carbon APIs (essentially the old Mac Toolbox tarted up to operate alongside Yellow Box, to make it easier to port old apps to the MacOS X) to Win32. The whole OS has always had a high degree of separation from the hardware, so producing versions of Yellow Box and Carbon to run on even more platforms is relatively straightforward, allowing, say, Linux users to run the Mac GUI and apps out of the box. Users get a consistent interface but one that takes advantage of whatever hardware is sitting underneath it. At first glance, it sounds a slightly daft strategy. Windows users might like the better GUI, but they've got plenty of apps already -- do they really need Mac ones too? Ditto Linux buffs, Alpha fans and so on. However, if Apple were to allow developers to ship the appropriate versions of Yellow Box and Carbon with their apps, plus versions of their apps that are based upon them -- so, say, Adobe's Photoshop for Windows CD contains a Win32 release and the MacOS X version with APIs to run it and provide the Mac look and feel -- sufficient numbers of users might be tempted to try it, especially since it works alongside the host OS rather than requiring it to be booted separately. They could then -- perhaps -- be persuaded to buy Apple hardware, which will always provide the best MacOS experience, next time. It has to be a hardware gig since users will otherwise ask why they should pay for an OS when your hardware has already shipped with one, and alternatives, like Linux, are free? The downside is the risk that users stay where they are with the free software Apple has provided, but since the company would be leveraging development effort that has already been paid for by Mac users upgrading their system software, the financial risk is minimal. Gain users and you're laughing, but if you don't win more support, you're no worse off than you were before. ®

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