Developers brace for Mac OS X

Summary:While the public beta of the next-generation OS may not be quite ready for prime time, third-party vendors want to be up to speed when it arrives.

The public beta of Mac OS X, Apple Computer Inc.'s next-generation operating system, may not be available until late summer, but third-party developers are bracing for the radical change the new OS will mean for their products.

Although Santa Clara, Calif.-based FileMaker Inc., a subsidiary of Apple (aapl), will be showing only currently shipping products in its booth at this week's Macworld Expo/New York, the company will be showing "in other fora" the "in-progress" FileMaker Pro 5 for Mac OS X, said Steve Ruddock, FileMaker director of public relations.

However, Ruddock said, this will not be the product the company is planning to ship for the new operating system.

"When we release FileMaker for Mac OS X, it'll be the next version -- maybe 5.5, maybe 6," Ruddock said. Although the name of the product hasn't been set, Ruddock said the company is committed to ensuring that the revised application will be Carbonized -- that is, developed to Apple's revised set of APIs that will run both in Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X while taking advantage of some of the latter's advanced underpinnings.

Cocoa, the native, object-oriented development environment for Mac OS X, is "still in the indeterminate future," Ruddock added.

Ruddock said that the company has set no ship dates for the next FileMaker Pro, saying that its programmers still haven't seen "Apple's final plans" for Mac OS X. In addition, Ruddock said, "We'll wait for the final version of Mac OS X, not the beta."

Kurt Heiden, a developer relations representative at Creative Labs Inc. of Milpitas, Calif., said his company has found adapting its PCI- and Universal Serial Bus-based products, including the SoundBlaster 3D sound card, to the new operating system a bit more problematic.

It's all about the drivers, he said. Although building high-level drivers in Carbon, such as the ones for Creative's portable MP3 players, has seen progress, Heiden said, the company doesn't "have enough information from Apple to write a high-performance driver for our audio card." The problem, he said, is that writing for the PCI specification requires work much "closer to the metal" than most I/O standards.

"Apple hasn't been forthcoming with the driver information, especially for the PCI standard," Heiden said. However, Heiden added, he thought this reticence may be because Apple hasn't yet resolved all its own technical issues surrounding PCI and Mac OS X.

"When Apple releases more information for PCI, we'll evaluate Mac OS X more fully," he said.

Drivers are also the concern for drive manufacturers. Guillaume Mazieres, the Toronto-based sales director for Canada and the northeast U.S. for LaCie USA, said that his company is already updating their Silverlining drive-management software with Mac OS X in mind, although the process will be an extended one.

Mazieres said LaCie plans to include support for Mac OS X in Version 6.4 of Silverlining, scheduled to ship in the first half of 2001: "We're going to need at least two to three months from the date of the public release" to develop solid drivers. He was quick to add that Apple has provided good support, saying that Apple, LaCie and Adaptec have been "working pretty closely" on development issues.

However, this will mean that Mac users with LaCie hard drives, all of which use Silverlining as a driver, will not be able to access these drives if they adopt Mac OS X before Silverlining 6.4 is released.

Dantz Development Corp. of Orinda, Calif., makes the Retrospect line of backup software and works closely with LaCie. Jon Maroney, the company's director of product marketing, said that Dantz is "cranking full speed ahead" on incorporating Mac OS X support into its products but is finding it heavy going.

Meeting the needs of a new operating system is particularly difficult with an application like Retrospect, Maroney said, because so much depends on the nature of the file system, the I/O subsystem and the operating system itself.

"There's still a lot of work to be done" on Mac OS X itself, Maroney said, "though things are starting to settle down." He said that as Mac OS X settles into beta form, it's "not so much of a moving target" for Dantz. "Apple's been clear on direction -- it's just a matter of getting there," he added.

Maroney praised Apple's developer support, saying the company has invited Dantz to various "kitchens," or coding sessions, on a regular basis.

As a result, Maroney said, "our hope is that we'll have a release of Retrospect close to the shipping version of Mac OS X."

Developing Mac OS X support to its line of Mac-compatible peripherals has also been a "huge effort" for Hewlett-Packard Co. (hwp), said Vancouver, Wash.-based Hugh Amick, the company's Macintosh product manager. He pointed out that HP makes home inkjets, professional-level laser printers, scanners and all-in-one units.

"We felt that the last Worldwide Developers Conference [held in San Jose, Calif., in May] was well-engineered by Apple" for providing developer support, Amick said. "But, as with any launch of a new operating system, there's a lot of work to be done."

Amick said HP currently has Mac OS X-compatible drivers for many of its products up and running with "most" of the desired functionality available. However, he added, issues remain, particularly around how much support Apple will provide for HP's laser printer descriptions.

Amick pointed to the May release of the Mac OS X I/O Kit by Apple as "critical." However, he said HP had already been focusing on Mac OS X drivers.

Though HP has not yet decided on when and in what form it will release Mac OS X-compatible product drivers, Amick said, "we're in really good shape."

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Software

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