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Heads Be Spinning

Nature abhors a vacuum; apparently, the same is true for the mainstream and trade press following Apple’s operating system plans (see TidBITS-343). Last week brought a new torrent of speculation from Reuters and MacWEEK about Apple Computer, newcomer Be, Inc., and the future of the Mac OS. All told, these articles hinted at a brand new Macintosh operating system that might run on Intel-based machines, an Apple buy-out of Be, and a hybrid Copland-Be system that might be ready by mid-1997. Add to these articles hundreds of increasingly spurious rumors and threads on the Internet, and the lines between fact and fallacy nearly vanish, so far as the general public is concerned.

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Both Apple and Be have issued "clarifications" to refute statements in these articles. Apple denies it has signalled a new direction in its OS strategy, or that it’s planning a version of Mac OS written from scratch that would also run on Intel processors. Be Director Mark Gonzales has specifically disassociated his company from a report in MacWEEK’s Mac The Knife stating Apple wants to acquire the Be OS at least partially to leverage revenue as a BeOS developer and as a publisher of other BeOS products. Gonzales states flatly that Be is not open to business alliances along those lines.

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However, as with Apple’s recent attempts to elucidate its operating system plans, these official responses have generated more questions than answers – what Apple says is overshadowed by what Apple is not saying. Apple has not denied it is in acquisition talks with Be; similarly, Apple has not denied it is considering a hybrid operating system built on Copland’s microkernel with Be’s application layer. Add to this a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle that Apple is actively seeking to locate (and possibly fire) employees who are sources of recent news leaks and rumors, and you get what can only be described as an untenable public relations position. So far, Apple’s most definitive statement regarding its operating system plans is that it plans to make a definitive statement in "early 1997." Unfortunately, if rumors continue as they have been, that stance will only make a bad situation worse.

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At this point, it’s too murky to tell what the final outcome of this windbaggery might be. However, Apple and Be have reasons to talk to each other that have little to do with Apple acquiring Be’s operating system. Be may have a significant interest in Apple’s "middleware" (like QuickTime and QuickDraw 3D), and Apple should want to see Be’s port of Be OS for the Power Macintosh succeed, whether or not it’s under an Apple logo.

In the meantime, Be is pushing ahead with a developer release of BeOS for Power Macintosh (to be bundled free of charge with the January issue of MacTech magazine), and technical discussions are appearing about the realistic possibilities of the Be OS on Macs. We can only hope both Apple and Be understand silence only encourages unwarranted speculations and that they should take control of the situation, rather than letting the situation control them.


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