Mac developers see life in OS 9

Some software makers are questioning Apple's decision to put all its eggs in Mac OS X's basket.

As the final version of Mac OS X looms on the horizon, some Mac developers are saying -- publicly and privately -- that Apple Computer Inc. should change, at least temporarily, its "one operating system" strategy and continue revising Mac OS 9.

At last year's Macworld Expo/San Francisco, Apple (aapl) CEO Steve Jobs told keynote attendees that when Mac OS X is finished, it will be the only operating system Apple will continue to develop. "Apple has a single operating system strategy, not a dual, triple, or quadruple strategy like some companies," Jobs said.

However, with the shipping version of Mac OS X just a month or two away, some developers are questioning this strategy. They believe that many current OS 9 users don't need Mac OS X and contend that a temporary, dual-OS track would give Apple time to iron out bugs in OS X and make its strategy and target markets clear. Although most agreed that Apple should concentrate its development efforts on Mac OS X, they said they think the company should continue to support the classic Mac OS for months, if not years, to come.

These vendors said they would prefer a single-OS strategy because that simplifies software development and support. "From a cost perspective, over the long haul, supporting two operating systems is more costly," said one developer who requested anonymity. "So the sooner it goes to one the better."

However, developers agreed that this would work only if OS X is bulletproof -- and some expressed doubts about Apple's progress with the new operating system.

"I can tell you from our experience so far with Mac OS X that it is not ready for prime time," said one developer who requested anonymity. "It is an amalgam of code from Unix, NeXT, and Mac OS -- and it is not all working together seamlessly yet." This vendor noted that, even now, some application programming interfaces (APIs) -- the means by which programs communicate with the OS -- are not completely in place, at least for "developers like us who need to do some pretty sophisticated stuff at the OS level."

Like many Mac users, Helmut Tschemernjak of Garbsen, Germany-based Helios Software GmbH laments many of the changes in OS X, such as the new Finder and the removal of Navigation Services and other Classic OS features. "The biggest problem I see at present with Mac OS X is that the ease of use of the operating system goes several years back," he said.

Tschemernjak also cited the small number of native Carbon or Cocoa OS X applications and complained that Apple's developer documentation is lacking. "Less than 10 percent of the APIs are documented, (and) other parts are wrongly documented," he said, further contending that OS X's support for Unix APIs is not as strong as in Linux or Sun Microsystems' Solaris OS.

However, he said he also sees tremendous benefits in Mac OS X, such as the stable kernel, full threading and multitasking, full symmetric multiprocessing support, better virtual memory than Windows NT, and the Classic environment's support for older Mac applications.

John Gruber, marketing director of Bedford, Mass.-based Bare Bones Software Inc., observed that many users will stick with OS 9 because they have older Macs that won't run the new OS. Pre-G3 hardware will be in circulation for years to come, he said, contending that Apple should continue to support those users.

"It seems obvious there will be two operating systems coming out of Apple," he said. "OS 9 is an extension of something they've been successful with for 16 years, and OS X is the future of the company." Bare Bones, he said, plans to support both platforms.

Lorin Rivers, product manager for Real Software Inc. of Austin, Texas, agreed that many Mac users will be unable or unwilling to upgrade to Mac OS X. His big question: whether Mac OS 9.1 -- an update, code-named Fortissimo, that many observers expect to be released next week -- will be complete as a "final OS."

Another developer, requesting anonymity, noted that Classic is a key element in OS X, and that as a result, Mac OS 9.1 -- reportedly the basis for Classic in the shipping version of OS X -- may be all that's needed to "stay status quo for the duration" of the new operating system.

David Loomstein, group product manager for Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., agreed that Apple should "solidify" OS 9 "as best as possible prior to OS X taking over."

"Once that happens, I think Apple is free to focus on OS X and let OS 9 be there for existing users."

Not all developers are calling for a two-OS strategy. One argued that departing from the current track at this stage would be a "recipe for disaster," as Apple would take a beating from Wall Street, consumers, and the developer community.

"Short term, they must focus all resources on OS X," he said. "Long term, Apple must create a product line that will build a new, larger market for their products." Apple, he said, "cannot simply continue to sell products to an existing (and shrinking) customer base and expect to survive."

Manny Menendez, president of Miami-based Deneba Software Inc., noted that Apple is in a Catch-22 situation: Many vendors won't develop software for the new OS until there's a critical mass of users, and users will be slow to move to an OS that doesn't have abundant native software. Even with Apple's Carbon APIs, which allow programs to run natively under both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, he said that developers won't be inclined to spend the resources needed to port their software if most of their users are still on the older system.

Still, "as a developer that has already committed to OS X and Carbon in a huge way, we want OS X now, and we want all of Apple's limited resources focused on it," he said. "If Apple had enterprise customers or a thriving server business, then a twin-OS strategy could make sense, but this is not the case."

Despite the concerns about Apple's progress with OS X, developers who quickly support the new OS will have a "big leg up on those that don't," Real Software's Rivers said. "If people using OS X have to choose (between an) app on OS 9 and OS X, they'll go with the OS X version, even if it doesn't have all the features they want."

In Loomstein's view, Apple faces a crucial decision of when to pre-install Mac OS X on new Macs. Do you install Mac OS X only and force everyone to run their OS 9 applications in the Classic environment? Do you wait until Mac OS X becomes friendly enough to appeal across the entire spectrum of users, and then scrap OS 9? Or do you offer two flavors: Mac OS 9 and OS X?

"Ultimately, I think Apple is doing the right thing in saying that OS X is the entire future, and then keeping its options open with OS 9 as something that will ease the transition," Loomstein said. "If they try to do any more with Mac OS 9, they'll wind up spreading resources too thin." As the final version of Mac OS X looms on the horizon, some Mac developers are saying -- publicly and privately -- that Apple Computer Inc. should change, at least temporarily, its "one operating system" strategy and continue revising Mac OS 9.

At last year's Macworld Expo/San Francisco, Apple (aapl) CEO Steve Jobs told keynote attendees that when Mac OS X is finished, it will be the only operating system Apple will continue to develop. "Apple has a single operating system strategy, not a dual, triple, or quadruple strategy like some companies," Jobs said.

However, with the shipping version of Mac OS X just a month or two away, some developers are questioning this strategy. They believe that many current OS 9 users don't need Mac OS X and contend that a temporary, dual-OS track would give Apple time to iron out bugs in OS X and make its strategy and target markets clear. Although most agreed that Apple should concentrate its development efforts on Mac OS X, they said they think the company should continue to support the classic Mac OS for months, if not years, to come.

These vendors said they would prefer a single-OS strategy because that simplifies software development and support. "From a cost perspective, over the long haul, supporting two operating systems is more costly," said one developer who requested anonymity. "So the sooner it goes to one the better."

However, developers agreed that this would work only if OS X is bulletproof -- and some expressed doubts about Apple's progress with the new operating system.

"I can tell you from our experience so far with Mac OS X that it is not ready for prime time," said one developer who requested anonymity. "It is an amalgam of code from Unix, NeXT, and Mac OS -- and it is not all working together seamlessly yet." This vendor noted that, even now, some application programming interfaces (APIs) -- the means by which programs communicate with the OS -- are not completely in place, at least for "developers like us who need to do some pretty sophisticated stuff at the OS level."

Like many Mac users, Helmut Tschemernjak of Garbsen, Germany-based Helios Software GmbH laments many of the changes in OS X, such as the new Finder and the removal of Navigation Services and other Classic OS features. "The biggest problem I see at present with Mac OS X is that the ease of use of the operating system goes several years back," he said.

Tschemernjak also cited the small number of native Carbon or Cocoa OS X applications and complained that Apple's developer documentation is lacking. "Less than 10 percent of the APIs are documented, (and) other parts are wrongly documented," he said, further contending that OS X's support for Unix APIs is not as strong as in Linux or Sun Microsystems' Solaris OS.

However, he said he also sees tremendous benefits in Mac OS X, such as the stable kernel, full threading and multitasking, full symmetric multiprocessing support, better virtual memory than Windows NT, and the Classic environment's support for older Mac applications.

John Gruber, marketing director of Bedford, Mass.-based Bare Bones Software Inc., observed that many users will stick with OS 9 because they have older Macs that won't run the new OS. Pre-G3 hardware will be in circulation for years to come, he said, contending that Apple should continue to support those users.

"It seems obvious there will be two operating systems coming out of Apple," he said. "OS 9 is an extension of something they've been successful with for 16 years, and OS X is the future of the company." Bare Bones, he said, plans to support both platforms.

Lorin Rivers, product manager for Real Software Inc. of Austin, Texas, agreed that many Mac users will be unable or unwilling to upgrade to Mac OS X. His big question: whether Mac OS 9.1 -- an update, code-named Fortissimo, that many observers expect to be released next week -- will be complete as a "final OS."

Another developer, requesting anonymity, noted that Classic is a key element in OS X, and that as a result, Mac OS 9.1 -- reportedly the basis for Classic in the shipping version of OS X -- may be all that's needed to "stay status quo for the duration" of the new operating system.

David Loomstein, group product manager for Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., agreed that Apple should "solidify" OS 9 "as best as possible prior to OS X taking over."

"Once that happens, I think Apple is free to focus on OS X and let OS 9 be there for existing users."

Not all developers are calling for a two-OS strategy. One argued that departing from the current track at this stage would be a "recipe for disaster," as Apple would take a beating from Wall Street, consumers, and the developer community.

"Short term, they must focus all resources on OS X," he said. "Long term, Apple must create a product line that will build a new, larger market for their products." Apple, he said, "cannot simply continue to sell products to an existing (and shrinking) customer base and expect to survive."

Manny Menendez, president of Miami-based Deneba Software Inc., noted that Apple is in a Catch-22 situation: Many vendors won't develop software for the new OS until there's a critical mass of users, and users will be slow to move to an OS that doesn't have abundant native software. Even with Apple's Carbon APIs, which allow programs to run natively under both Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, he said that developers won't be inclined to spend the resources needed to port their software if most of their users are still on the older system.

Still, "as a developer that has already committed to OS X and Carbon in a huge way, we want OS X now, and we want all of Apple's limited resources focused on it," he said. "If Apple had enterprise customers or a thriving server business, then a twin-OS strategy could make sense, but this is not the case."

Despite the concerns about Apple's progress with OS X, developers who quickly support the new OS will have a "big leg up on those that don't," Real Software's Rivers said. "If people using OS X have to choose (between an) app on OS 9 and OS X, they'll go with the OS X version, even if it doesn't have all the features they want."

In Loomstein's view, Apple faces a crucial decision of when to pre-install Mac OS X on new Macs. Do you install Mac OS X only and force everyone to run their OS 9 applications in the Classic environment? Do you wait until Mac OS X becomes friendly enough to appeal across the entire spectrum of users, and then scrap OS 9? Or do you offer two flavors: Mac OS 9 and OS X?

"Ultimately, I think Apple is doing the right thing in saying that OS X is the entire future, and then keeping its options open with OS 9 as something that will ease the transition," Loomstein said. "If they try to do any more with Mac OS 9, they'll wind up spreading resources too thin."