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Apple MacOS X beta more NeXT than Mac – sources

But what else was it ever going to be?

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Apple's public beta of MacOS X, due to be announced and released tomorrow at Apple Expo Paris, may not be as near the final version as users might have expected of a close-to-completion test release, according to an early look at the software.

The problem? According to Daniel Drew Turner of ZDNet (but don't hold that against him), sources who've already seen the beta say it's still pretty much NeXTStep with a Mac-ish interface and not the quite the next-generation Mac OS that Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been promoting.

We're not entirely surprised, it has to be said. Last month, Apple sources confessed that the company is unlikely to promote the beta release enthusiastically, precisely because it's worried hard-core Mac OS buffs may not be too happy with the result.

The trouble is, because the company had promised an open beta version - one already much delayed - it can hardly can the public release until it gets things right. Instead, Apple plans to release the software without much fuss in the hope that no one really notices. Or so the sources say.

Now, the ZDNet report, it has to be said, does bemoan the passing of various established MacOS interface elements and note that support for some hardware components - multi-monitor support and AirPort, for instance - are missing. But that's the nature of beta releases; they're rarely feature-complete.

Still, the beta does include QuickTime, OpenGL and Java 2 support, along with Quartz, MacOS X's 2D graphics technology, all missing from previous, developer-oriented releases. The public beta also offers better support for existing MacOS apps than previous versions of the next-generation operating system, sources say.

It's also worth bearing in mind that this is a beta release - in other words, one that's unfinished. The ZDNet report notes various NeXTStep elements in the bets, but many of these are cosmetic and will undoubtedly be removed by the time the OS ships. After all, you don't waste time sorting out things like cursor icons until the important under-the-hood stuff is done.

At the same time, ZDNet bemoans the public beta's start-up login screen and "Unix-like, network-oriented file structure". Again, the former will almost certainly be made more like MacOS 9's multi-user login screen by the time the final product ships, and as for the Unix file structure, that's the whole point, guys. MacOS X is Unix, and most of the more tech aspects of it will be hidden from users in any case.

And that's the real work Apple has on its hands: managing expectations. MacOS X was always going to be a product significantly different from the classic MacOS, irrespective of whether it derived from NeXTStep or some other Unix clone. Arguably, Apple has been too keen on the Unix-style desktop - which Microsoft also aped with Windows 95 - rather than a more Mac-like UI, and it's this rather than minor cosmetic and hardware support issues that's going to get the company in trouble with its users.

Apple, of course, is well aware of this, hence its concerns, expressed by company sources earlier, that the public may not like the public beta too much. But at least the test release gives Apple the opportunity to gauge users' reactions to the OS outside the demo theatre and modify it accordingly. Conversely, the public release allows users to work with the new UI, appreciate some of its merits and get used to it before the OS' final release. ®

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