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Apple preps MacOS 8.6 to drive shift to MacOS X

Nanokernel to give taste of Mach benefits

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Leaks from Apple's Beta programme suggest the next version of the MacOS, 8.6, codenamed Veronica, will mark the company's first attempt to align its existing operating system with the forthcoming MacOS X and implement its confused OS strategy. The plan runs something like this: next Autumn (if the schedule is met), Apple will ship its Unix-derived MacOS X to users of Macs based on the PowerPC 750 (aka G3). To keep users of older Power Macs sweet, the company has said will continue to extend and offer the MacOS 8.x/9.x line, at the same time cobbling on bits of MacOS X to ensure application developers have enough of a unified base to support both groups of users. The obvious thing to do would be to make MacOS X available to the MacOS 8.x hangers-on and just have done with it. Even then Apple would have two operating systems -- MacOS X and MacOS X Server, aka Rhapsody -- but why stick with two when you can have three and really confuse people. Given MacOS X is designed to be easy to port to other platforms, adding PowerPC 601, 603e and 604/604e versions to the installer shouldn't be too much of a problem. But Apple clearly thinks otherwise, and it's hard not to conclude that it wants to ensure everyone rushes out and buys a new box just to run the new OS. As for MacOS 8.6, its MacOS X-like features include a microkernel (sort of -- its called a 'nanokernel'). The nanokernel is described by sources as a cut-down version of the Mach kernel used by MacOS X. It will provide MacOS 8.6 with better multitasking and memory protection, and a degree of device abstraction. Vernonica, due to ship next spring, will also add new interface tweaks to bring the current MacOS look and feel more in line with the NeXT/MacOS hybrid GUI that MacOS X will present. Both OS' implementations of Java will be aligned too. Other enhancements include the addition of Game Sprockets, Apple's DirectX-style set of APIs, which will now be installed automatically without user intervention. MacOS 8.6 was always pegged to form the basis of MacOS X's Blue Box MacOS compatibility module, but with Apple heavily promoting its Carbon APIs, a set of Rhapsody-ised MacOS Toolbox routines, as the ideal compatibility solution, that leaves Blue Box as little more than a trap for all those ancient apps whose developers won't convert to Carbon. In fact, Carbon provides compatible MacOS 8.x apps with a degree of the benefits of MacOS X -- pre-emptive multitasking and memory protection -- which is... er... just what 8.6's nanokernel seems to do, perhaps Apple's OS strategy is more integrated than the rumours would have us believe. ®

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