Oct 97 Viewpoint
Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Viewpoint
by Eric Gundrum
A Bit About Boston
Just a few weeks ago, as I write this, Steve Jobs made a number of significant announcements at Macworld Expo in Boston. As is usual with Steve's comments, they had a euphoric affect on the audience. In this case, the audience was much larger than the few thousand people listening live. It included Wall Street investors and probably the entire community of Macintosh users.
The general feeling around the show floor was very positive. Steve's announcements may have caused this feeling. Expo attendance was solid, and, more importantly, Mac users were spending a lot of money at the show. Whether they had extra money to spend because Apple's stock price nearly doubled or because they were excited about Mac OS 8 is hard to say. Nonetheless, attendees showed their support for Macintosh by buying Macintosh products. Many of the venders who chose not to attend should be kicking themselves for missing out on a great chance to market and sell their products.
Rhapsody Andante Pianissimo
Almost as important as what Steve Jobs said at Expo is what he didn't say. He did not talk about Rhapsody, and this had many people asking questions. His failure to mention Rhapsody seems to have been a calculated move. There has been some concern within Apple that at the last WWDC Apple's marketing machine had once again hyped a technology beyond what Apple engineering could possibly deliver on the schedule created by executives. As is typical of WWDC, many developers bought the hype.
Apple seems to be working to reduce the hype, and, hopefully, focus our attention on what Rhapsody really will deliver. Rhapsody was intended to be the long term solution. Mac OS 8 is the technology that will be paying the bills for some time to come, especially in light of its recent success. Apple also may be getting the message from developers that what we see in the developer release will determine what resources we put to Rhapsody development. No developer wants to be trapped again basing a product on Apple's promise of a new technology. Developers will judge their first experience with Rhapsody carefully, and if Rhapsody doesn't live up to Apple's promises, most developers will not look at it again until the next major release. Apple wants to get it right the first time.
I don't mean to say Rhapsody won't be a great OS. Frankly, I won't be able to say one way or the other until I have a chance to work with it. I am anxious to work with it. The idea that I can build applications five times faster than I do now, and with greater reliability, appeals to me greatly. I expect the developer release to demonstrate how Rhapsody will improve developer productivity, even if we don't realize that improvement right away. (Most of us have a lot to learn before we can be proficient building Rhapsody applications.)
There are other things I expect from the Rhapsody developer release: I expect it to look a bit like the Mac on the surface, but not to feel much like one underneath. Apple hadn't planned to release the Advanced UI in the developer release, anyway, so they can have more time with it. (In my opinion, the user experience in Mac OS 8 suggests that Apple has forgotten what the Mac experience is all about, but that is for another column.) I expect the Rhapsody developer release to be slow, possibly slower than Mac OS. I also expect it to be riddled with bugs, but hopefully not in the core OS. Apple is releasing an early version of Rhapsody to developers so we can begin to learn how to build applications in the dramatically different programming environment. I expect Apple to give us an OS we can use to accomplish that task without the bugs and performance problems getting in the way. If they can meet that goal, I will be forgiving of other limitations of this preview release.
There is another reason Steve Jobs did not mention Rhapsody during his keynote address: the unexpected success of Mac OS 8. Apple's new OS has moved off store shelves so quickly, and carried along so many other products, that resellers are starting to think Macintosh users might actually have enough money to interest them. Many "multi-platform" resellers have reported Mac OS 8 sales to rival the dollar volume of the release of Windows 95. Consequently, Apple would like developers to stay focused on delivering new and better Mac OS applications. Mac developers know how to do this and do it well. The number of Mac OS customers will dwarf that of Rhapsody for at least the next two years, so maybe we developers shouldn't be too hasty to abandon it.
Rhapsody likely will come along a bit more quietly and slowly than we were led to believe in the first half of this year. Apples claims the server market is one area that will immediately benefit from the new technology. Others think higher education will be drawn to the strengths of unix hidden underneath. There may be merit in all these claims, but the first market will be the early adopters.
Rhapsody should be in developers hands around the time you read this, or very soon after. I expect we will soon see a wave of many new and ported shareware and freeware applications built just for Rhapsody. These are our first generation Rhapsody products, built as we learn the ins and outs of this new OS. As developers discover the leverage offered by the rich toolkits built into Rhapsody, we will see more sophisticated applications coming out. We already have several NEXTSTEP-turned-Rhapsody developers showing us what they have been doing all these years. If the dreams bear out, we should see some revolutionary software enter the market during the coming year. It may ultimately be the plethora of exciting new software that drives users to Rhapsody, not the technical superiority of the OS. Only time will tell.