The big man at the top of Apple, Gil Amelio, is trying to turn the downtrodden company from an island in a PC ocean (with sharks like Microsoft and IBM circling it) into one of the sharks swimming in an open-standards sea. In his new role for the company, Apple is embracing the Internet and gearing itself up to be a fearsome competitor on the mainstream Net and enterprise computing fronts. And the dramatic acquisition of Next during the Christmas rush has provided some of the tools to achieve those ambitions.
?The acquisition of Next acts as an emblem of the new types of products, technologies and development philosophy I?m bringing to Apple,? he told customers after the announcement.
?In this new approach, the ?not invented here? syndrome has been banished far beyond the horizons of our vision. Apple will be open to new technologies, and where they?re developed doesn?t matter. In this new era, we will not be an island in the industry, but rather build a bridge to the centre of an open standards world based on industry alliances.?
Those alliances include close relationships with Netscape and Sun ? key partners for anyone wanting to be a player in Internet-based open systems ? and central to its new vision is a strategy that puts object-oriented software and middleware at its heart.
That?s why Next was so palatable. Included on its menu is Openstep, a component development environment running on Sun Solaris, other Unix platforms and Windows NT. Openstep will be incorporated into Rhapsody, the Mac?s eventual replacement OS, to make it a serious contender when it comes to creating small multimedia-rich Internet applications.
Apple claims that with the advanced technical underpinnings of Openstep, Rhapsody will ?allow developers to create Rad applications that leapfrog other modern operating systems?.
The other tasty morsel from Next is Web Objects, a platform-independent piece of middleware that allows Web servers to access legacy data and applications and then builds HTML pages on the fly for sending to Web browsers, much as the Lotus Domino server does for Notes databases.
Apple intends to go on promoting technologies that will give Web developers an advantage over other platforms. The Quick Time Media Layer will give enhanced multimedia and Web conferencing facilities, while the Hot Sauce Meta Content Format will provide a unified approach to disparate databases. It is envisaged that core Apple technologies like these will be moved cross-platform, opening them out for wider adoption.
A lot of the development work on the next release of the Mac operating system, codenamed Tempo and due for release in mid-1997, will be Internet-focused, too. There will be an upgraded Cyberdog, integrated Mac OS Runtime for Java, and personal Web sharing, software that will permit any Mac or Mac-compatible to be used as a Web server. Later versions of the Mac OS will have even more Internet integration.
So we?ll be seeing no more navel-gazing at Apple. Amelio?s plan to turn the company inside out and reform it into an open environment champion hasn?t come a moment too soon. The question for resellers and application developers will be: can we wait so long for the fruits of the merger to ripen?
At least with the new directions, Apple resellers can now start getting serious about selling Internet-savvy machines and enterprise-wide intranet systems.
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