Long delays in getting new Mac operating systems to market are tarnishing Apple's crown jewel

On Nov. 17, more than 400 Apple Computer Inc. software engineers jammed into a company auditorium. After working into the wee hours and weekends for seven months, they were ready to ship the first version of a new Macintosh operating system called Copland. There were T-shirts for project ``heroes,'' a Lettermanesque top-10 list in praise of Copland, and a beer bash. Says Ike Nassi, an Apple vice-president: ``The place was wild. It was a very important milestone.''

It was, however, perhaps a little soon to break out the beer kegs. While a group of 50 applications development companies are seeing an early version of the program now, Mac users aren't likely to get the new system until mid-1997. That's 18 months after it was initially due, and as a result Copland has blown its primary mission: to blunt the impact of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95.

If Apple loses its software edge, it could find itself in an accelerating slide: Without compelling new software, the company will be lucky to hold onto its customers, let alone expand market share. Already, formerly Mac-only software makers such as Adobe Systems are focusing as much on Windows as on Mac, and sales of Mac software are slowing even in traditional strongholds such as graphics and education (chart).

In the first three quarters of 1995, sales of Windows programs grew 47.4% from the year before while sales of Mac titles fell 12.9%, according to the Software Publishers Assn. That has developers thinking twice about the Mac. Says John R. Deal, CEO of Lizard Tech Inc., a Santa Fe (N.M.) graphics software company: ``I'm an original Mac-head, but I can't afford to miss out on 80% of the market just because I hate Microsoft.''

NEW TOOLS. So far, there's no clear signal that the Mac hardware business is suffering. In the September quarter, Mac shipments surged 9%, making it the top-selling brand. But Macs are moving so slowly in the critical pre-Christmas season that Apple has slashed prices up to 25%.

Apple executives insist that Copland has the stuff to put Apple back on top. They say they hope for delivery in 1996, but make no promises. ``We've got an aggressive timetable, but we're going to make sure it works,'' says David S. Nagel, senior vice-president and chief technologist. But insiders say that despite new software tools and management controls, there's too much testing ahead to get Copland out in 1996. Says one recently departed Apple engineer: ``There's no way in hell Copland ships next year. I just hope it ships in 1997.''

Getting Copland out is up to Nagel. But developers worry that the longtime head of research and development is too enamored with Apple technology. ``The game is to cut it down to the three or four most compelling features as opposed to having hundreds of nice-to-haves,'' says one software executive. ``I'm not sure that's happening,''

And Copland isn't the only problem facing Apple's software-development efforts. On the same day the Copland developers were celebrating, Apple killed Kaleida Labs, a 4-year-old joint venture with IBM that failed to bring forth a language for multimedia programming. Apple also has halted development of Dylan, a programming language that Apple programmers said might have been a rival to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s white-hot Java, a World Wide Web programming language. Taligent, another IBM-Apple operating-system venture, may be shuttered any day now.

Overall, the software expertise that has been Apple's crown jewel for more than a decade may be fading. Just a year ago, Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison mulled a bid for the No.2 PC maker--just to get the user-friendly Mac operating system and other software goodies. Now he says he's not interested. ``We think there is another avenue for us--a better way to get there.''

Can Apple turn things around? A new effort to develop programming for the Web will be critical. So will a successful Copland. The first total rewrite of the Mac OS since 1984, it will bring Apple up to speed with newer operating systems such as Windows NT and IBM's OS/2 that are better suited for corporations. For example, ``preemptive'' multitasking will reduce system crashes when running more than one program. Copland also has ``agents'' to carry out routine tasks, such as printing out your

E-mail at 8 a.m. every day. A more powerful ``finder'' will help let users retrieve documents by searching for keywords or phrases rather than file names. And, with Copland, the Mac interface can be customized--a simple screen for kids or lots of icons for power users.

CONCENTRATION. Apple executives point out that Copland's ``modular'' architecture will also give the company a way to bring new features to market faster. Instead of periodic, massive updates of the entire operating system, it will be possible to rewrite pieces of code--to improve file management, say. That will help Mac applications developers get their hands on new capabilities sooner.

There are other new software initiatives. OpenDoc would let developers plug small applets into other applications. QuickTime, Apple's multimedia video technology, is a popular way to post ``movies'' on the Web. And, Nagel says, Apple also has strength in 3-D computing. ``You have to look at the totality of what we're doing, and we can still do things the other guy [Microsoft] can't.''

Business partners and Wall Street are glad Apple's software operation is concentrating on these efforts and Copland. ``Apple's been trying to do too many things, and anything that focuses their attention is good,'' says Robert P. Lee, CEO of Insignia Solutions PLC, which makes a program that lets Mac users run Windows applications.

Still, Apple has become a hard sell. After months of wooing, ID Software agreed to do a Mac version of its intergalactic game, Doom. But, says ID CEO Jay M. Wilbur, he'll still do new Windows versions ahead of Mac releases. ``Apple's gone out of their way to help us, but we've just got our hands full with our mainstream stuff,'' he says. When that attitude changes, Apple will really have reason to celebrate.

...But Apple Has A Plan

COPLAND: The first full rewrite of the Macintosh operating system since 1984, Copland promises the durability of more powerful programs such as Windows NT as well as software agents and customizable interfaces. Due out in mid-1997.

OPENDOC: This new architecture would replace today's bloatware with modular, easily updated chunks of code. But tepid industry support and the departure of partner Novell are slowing progress.

THE INTERNET: Because Sun Microsystems' Java has beaten it to market, Apple has killed Dylan, a World Wide Web programming language. Now Cyberdog, a program to let cyber-surfers cobble their favorite Internet applications together, is the company's Internet bet.

By Peter Burrows in Cupertino, Calif.


Updated June 13, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1995, Bloomberg L.P.
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