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Future System Software

While the Power Macs capture the public’s attention, Apple is hard at work on many other things. Here are a few of them:

The $549 Macintosh Application Environment was introduced just after the Power Macs on March 15th. It enables System 7.1 and Macintosh 68000 applications to run unmodified in an X window on Sun Solaris Unix and Hewlett-Packard HP-UX systems, with support for DEC Unix coming later. It works with any standard X window manager, including Motif and Open Look.

System 7.5 is due to ship this spring. There will only be one version; gone will be the distinction between System 7.1 and System 7 Pro, and both the 68000 and PowerPC versions will ship in the same box. All of the elements of System 7 Pro and more will be rolled into System 7.5, and a new installer will only install the software that you have enough memory to run (it won’t try to install QuickDraw GX on a system with only 4 MB of memory, for example). The Finder in System 7.5 will be fully scriptable.

The Apple Guide (formerly Apple Help) will come with System 7.5. When I saw it at Macworld Expo, it reminded me vaguely of the hypertext help that Windows and OS/2 provide, but the Apple Guide was organized much more clearly and thoroughly. Ask it how to do a task, and it tells you the steps you need to follow. Ask it for more help, and it circles in red magic-marker on your screen the things you need to click on. Say you need even more help and it uses Apple events to automatically guide you through the process.

I haven’t found anything about this in print, but the Drag Manager will probably also arrive with System 7.5. It lets you select a range of text or a graphic in any window, and drag it into place in any other window or to the desktop (where it will appear as a "scrap"). I saw it at Macworld and was duly impressed – imagine the text dragging feature of Microsoft Word or Nisus integrated into the system software. I’ve heard that it will allow dragging anything into anything else where that would make sense; for example, some applications like Fetch or Anarchie might support having desktop icons dropped into or dragged out of their windows.

QuickTime 2.0 will be released this summer. Its main feature is increased speed, playing back on an LC 475 in a 320 x 240 window at 30 frames per second, or in a 640 x 480 window at 15 frames per second, which is twice the speed of QuickTime 1.6. If you put an MPEG board in your Mac, QuickTime 2.0 enables you to play MPEG movies from a CD-ROM like several CD-I systems on the market can. (A CD-ROM can hold up to 74 minutes of full-screen full-motion video and CD-quality sound.) QuickTime 2.0 also enables you to play a movie across a network (allowing for "interactive TV"), and it supports MIDI (for music playback) and SMPTE (to sync sound with video).

OpenDoc will probably arrive in System 7.8 later this year. OpenDoc does away with the concept of a document "belonging to" an application; you’ll simply have various mini-applications that can work on different parts of your document. Your word processor will let you edit the text in your document, while your draw program lets you edit the graphics. If you want a better spell checker, then just get a better spelling checker application, and it will fit right in with the other application modules.

The Appearance Manager will probably be part of System 7.8 too. I haven’t seen anything about it in print either, but according to what I’ve heard, it enables you to customize any part of the Mac’s interface to appear however you want. For example, imagine a Macintosh interface that looks just like Microsoft Windows, all the way down to the menubars in the windows. So much for Windows users being afraid of having to learn a new operating system, or for Motif users complaining they hate the Mac’s interface!

Apple’s new micro-kernel architecture, code-named Gershwin, is due to appear in 1996. This will provide the Macintosh with protected memory (meaning that when one application crashes, you can kill it and continue using your system without a reboot) and preemptive multitasking (meaning that the system is more clever about partitioning CPU time out to the active applications).

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