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Your next OS?

November 4, 1997
by Alex Zavatone

Ok, I'm sorry. I promised this two weeks ago but digesting two brand new operating systems is not the easiest thing to do. Hope you like the overview.

I guess it's a typical Macworld thing. Brian Gray and I stealthily meet in an undisclosed location, exchanged passes and VIOLA! I was Brian, complete with conference access. Off to "A Taste of Rhapsody."

A bit late for the session, the room is packed. There is a lot of talk about "blue box", "yellow box", code that compiles once for three platforms, no more crashes, etc etc... Pretty nice to hear it coming from Apple after the copland flop.

Rhapsody is being demoed on a Techra laptop running NT and an undisclosed mac at the same time. During the demo, there were several of what we would refer to as crashes but in Rhapsody, an app doesn't bring down the whole system when it crashes, it just quits. This is due to the protected memory of the Rhapsody's "yellow box". The standard Mac OS can be run on Rhapsody in a "blue box". This means that there is a section of the OS that is dedicated to running the "old" Mac OS. When running in blue box, 90% to 95% of the speed of the OS running by itself is assured. The crowd nods in approval.

An interesting parallel is that both Rhapsody and Be are based on similar Unix kernels, with compliance layers that most of the UNIX programmers require. There are significant differences however and I'd like to address them here.

The quick summary is it appears that two companies have successfully put good UI's on top of UNIX kernels. This gives users the power of UNIX without being required to remember all the bizarre UNIX commands. Here, operating systems have significant pluses over what we must currently live with. One thing that is planned for the second release of Rhapsody is the "symmetric multiprocessing" that Be has already. This means that the OS knows how to farm out tasks to the processors with the least load on them.

Be supports multiple processors now on Motorola and Intel architecture. Rhapsody does not and will not by its first release. The developer release of Rhapsody for mac and NT will be available by the WWDC in Q2 of this year. For programming languages, Be has C++ while Rhapsody has Java and Objective C. One significant promised benefit of Rhapsody is the claim of one compile for 3 platforms. Since the yellow box API's are the same on the Rhapsody mac, NT and unix, you should be able to create a so called "obese" binary which will run on all 3 machines.

One claim of "how the Rhapsody team is operating" was that they were merging Apple technology onto an updated version of the Next OS. This was evident in the Rhapsody desktop which talks directly to the yellow box API's. Rearrangements of this mean that the desktop applications can look appropriate for the machine it's running on without using different calls to the API's. This is possible through Rhapsody's interface builder which is a library of common interface elements that you can use to create your application's UI. Things like scroll bars, buttons, sliders, text fields, etc, can be given special relationship to other objects. Scroll bars can be chained to the right of a text field so that whenever the window is resized, the field is properly sized. With the on screen postscript technology coming from Next, text can come with built in kerning and other advances over "current" operating systems. Features like these can streamline application creation and therefore bring products to market much faster.

Be also has advantages in application creation. According to some friends experimenting with cooking up Be apps, what used to take up to 3 pages of code to create a Mac app, can take 1/2 a page on Be. Part of the structure of way the Be OS works with support of media types bears shows interesting use of scoping. To add a new media type, it can be added system wide or just to an application by simply placing the media type descriptor file into the proper location in the system folder or into the same place within the applications folder. Media types can be added just like plugins or xtras. Add a JPEG media type and suddenly all you applications know how to use JPEG files. Very impressive.

As users, we have been putting up with buggy operating systems that we are "required to use" for way too long. To restate old facts, Apple didn't push its superior technology so Microsoft did it for them. System 8, is a good step forward but it still has most of the Mac OS's problems. To get a decent Windows OS, you've got to pay $400 to get NT. Both OS's are not what we need today. The advances made by both Be and Rhapsody allow us to get a fresh look at operating systems and choose the ones that will 1) not crash and 2) operate with functionality long overdue in operating systems

Overall opinion of the look and feel of Be.

There is nothing slicker than the following:

Overall opinion about the look and feel of Rhapsody:

Ok, slickness abounds here too.

Though both OS's are scheduled for release later on this year, Be can be previewed with Mac support right now (Intel support is in the works). Visit http://www.be.com/ for more info.

Rhapsody information can be found at http://www.apple.com/macos/rhapsody/

I can't wait for both to come out. Time to get inspired.

Glossary:

API: Application Programming Interface. The interface through which a programmer accesses an OS's services.

Kernel: The core guts of an operating system that allows OS services to happen. The essential part of UNIX or other operating systems, responsible for resource allocation, low-level hardware interfaces, security etc.

A Director user since 1987, Alex (Zav) Zavatone has worked on the engineering teams for both Director and Shockwave, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Recent investigations find him developing foundation classes for Director with asynchronous process management and other life threatening activities. In its early days, he had something to do with this Internet thing known as "DOUG". A noted ne'erdowell, slacker and laggard, Mr. Zavatone is nonetheless is trusted by children, small animals and the elderly. In his spare time, Mr. Zavatone rehabilitates lame desert trout.

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