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Apple unveils new pro PowerBooks, MacOS X Client

But Steve Jobs' Worldwide Developers Conference keynote brings few surprises

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Apple's Steve Jobs made a series of announcements -- some major, others less so -- during his keynote yesterday at the start of the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, held in San Jose, California. The increasingly not-so-interim CEO unveiled two new professional PowerBook notebooks, which went some way to pacify those Mac users who had been expecting the launch of Apple's eagerly-awaited iMac-style consumer portable, the iBook. Given the high-profile launch of the iMac and its subsequent popularity, Jobs was never likely to use a techies get-together to unveil the iBook. Instead, he simply said the notebook would make its debut "later this year". The new PowerBooks will ship on 20 May in 333MHz and 400MHz versions. Both machines use the latest copper-based PowerPC 750 (aka G3) processors, which is one of the reasons Apple has been able to get the portables' average battery life up to a five hours -- "industry leading", according to Jobs. The machines are 20 per cent thinner than their predecessors and, at 5.9lbs, 2lbs lighter. They also sport new USB ports, but anyone expecting FireWire connectors will have to shell out a little extra for Apple's FireWire PC Card add-in. That said, the new machines remain Apple's only computers to still support SCSi. On the software side, Jobs' lieutenant, VP of software and DoJ trial witness Avie Tevanian, brought Apple's OS strategy up to date with the immediate release of MacOS 8.6 and preview of the next version, codenamed Sonata, and MacOS X Client. The appearance of MacOS 8.6 was expected, and the Sonata demo added little to what's not already known about the upcoming upgrade. This time, Jobs and co focused on version 2 of Apple's Sherlock search engine, particularly its ability to collate and then compare search data culled from a number of Web sites. Sonata will finally see the arrival of the ill-fated Copland OS project's customisable user interface themes, plus an update of the long-ignored System 7 Pro Keychain technology, which allows users to log on to multiple systems and servers using a single password. Sonata will also leverage MacOS X Server's multi-user technology to allow standalone machines to also support multiple system settings for multiple users. Tevanian's coverage of MacOS X Client proved to be essentially a consolidation and clarification of the numerous hints and snippets Apple has mentioned about the product since it embarked on its revised strategy for the next-generation OS, at last year's WWDC. What we now have is a client-oriented OS based on the same Mach microkernel and BSD Unix core as MacOS X Server. Tevanian said the Client version -- he confirmed its ship date has slipped from late 99 to early 2000 -- will contain the anticipated Blue Box MacOS 8.x compatibility module (already shipping with Server) under the new codename Classic, the NeXTStep/OpenStep-derived Yellow Box API (now bicarrely redubbed Cocoa) to allow apps to use the full range of the OS' 'modern' features -- memory protection, pre-emptive multitaking, etc. -- and Carbon, the so-called 'green box' (half blue, half yellow) that sits between the two and is essentially a sop to developers, allowing them to bring some Yellow Box features to existing applications without the need for a major rewrite. MacOS X will also contain Quartz, Apple's PostScript-based replacement for its QuickDraw 2D graphics engine. The NeXT OS was always based on Display PostScript, and Apple long ago said MacOS X would use it too, so yesterday's announcement was no great surprise. Incidentally, Jobs as near as damnit admitted that OpenGL has replaced QuickDraw 3D as the MacOS' 3D graphics API when he announced its immediate availability. When he announced Apple's decision to license OpenGL, he didn't touch on QuickDraw 3D's future, but if QuickDraw is out as far as MacOS X is concerned, so presumably is QuickDraw 3D. Tevanian said Quartz will be based on Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF), which is itself just PostScript with some of the high-end pre-press stuff taken out. However, it does add support for inline video, sound and hypertext links, which should bring a degree of Internet integration into the MacOS. Whether that will also include a Web browser, a la Microsoft, remains to be seen. MacOS 8.x uses HTML as its core document format for online help files and the like, so the move to Quartz may also see HTML dropped in favour of PDF. Quartz and Carbon will presumably make their way into the next major release of MacOS X Server, too, due in the same timeframe as the Client release. That will leave very little to distinguish between the two beyond their different roles, and the bundled software those different applications require. ®

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