Rumor Control: The Fate of Mac OS 8


November 1, 1996

Since August, when Apple announced a radical change of plans for the Mac OS, the entire Mac community has been wriggling with anticipation, waiting to hear what the new game plan will be. As MacAddict's Kathy Tafel observed in her article Hello Darkness My Old Friend [ ], Cupertino's silence has created a vacuum, and in recent weeks we've seen speculation and misinformation rushing to fill this void.

We've had worrisome and vague reports from the mainstream press. We've witnessed Mac industry pundits and loyalists clamoring for Apple to replace the overdue Copland project with Be Inc.'s BeOS, perhaps for no other reason than boredom and anxiety. Now we have a Reuters article in which Apple CEO Gil "Doc" Amelio claims that Copland has been canned and that Apple will debut an entirely new, written-from-scratch operating system in 1998; an Apple response rebuts some of the article's claims but sheds little light on the company's Mac OS plans.

Well, enough is enough. We called Apple for clarification, and here's what their spokesperson told us.

Copland No More

Technically, Copland as we knew it is dead.

Copland, as originally conceived, was to have been only a partial revamp of the fundamental operating system. The plan for Copland - AKA "Mac OS 8" - was to deliver a bunch of nifty new features and some architectural improvements, stopping short of a total overhaul for compatibility's sake. Not until the next version would the Mac OS get full memory protection and multitasking, behind-the-scenes changes necessary to match the performance and stability of Windows NT and other state-of-the-art operating systems.

In August, with Copland slipping further and further behind schedule, Apple decided to deliver parts of the package early rather than hoarding them all for a monolithic system release. Selected Copland goodies would be delivered in a series of upgrades to the current System 7, giving us something to look forward to while we waited for the completion of Mac OS 8. This part of the plan hasn't changed - bells and whistles like the Appearance Manager, improved OpenDoc integration and Finder improvements will be added to System 7 over the course of next year.

However, the goalposts have been moved for Mac OS 8. The rumblings we've been hearing out of Cupertino over the last few weeks, particularly from Chief Technology Officer Ellen Hancock, indicate that balancing architectural improvements with near-total backwards compatibility has proven to be well-nigh impossible. The notion of Copland as a halfway point between System 7 and a total, ground-up rewrite has been abandoned. Copland will be stripped for System 7 parts, but it'll never ship as a full-fledged Mac OS 8.

So, what is Apple going to do for the next incarnation of its operating system?

Mac OS 8, Take 2

This is where things get interesting. According to Apple, the story behind the garbled reports we've been seeing in the mainstream press is that the innards of the next Mac OS will be totally rewritten, rather than merely patched up a bit as per the Copland plan. In other words, Apple is forgoing the compromises of Copland and proceeding directly to the next phase of the Mac's evolution, without passing "Go" or collecting $200.

The nature of this next-generation Mac OS - let's hold off on awarding it the "Mac OS 8" label until Apple gets its story straight - is still somewhat up in the air. While the company maintains that future operating systems will incorporate some of the technologies developed for Copland, Hancock and Amelio have been reluctant to commit to details, features or delivery dates. This lack of detail leaves the faithful room for speculation, so Mac devotees can be forgiven for wondering whether Apple may yet adopt all or part of Be's OS technology.

Wherever this new, more robust foundation comes from, Apple still needs to connect it to the Mac applications and cool System technology we've all come to know and love. As the fate of Copland demonstrates, this is the hard part. Still, it should be much easier to start with a clean slate, building as much as possible of the new Mac OS from scratch and being prepared to break a few applications along the way. This, not the hybrid Frankensystem we knew as Copland, is what Apple now plans to ship as the successor to System 7.

So Bright We Gotta Wear Shades

Sounds much better, doesn't it? If you've been thinking that it wasn't worth waiting two years for Copland, we reckon you'll be pleased to hear that Apple agrees. Instead, we'll get something much better - a truly new and improved operating system, one that may well reassert the Mac's lead over Windows instead of merely keeping up. It would be nice if Apple could deliver this message to the Mac community instead of letting slack-jawed press troglodytes run amuck, but until that golden day arrives: Copland is dead. Long live Mac OS 8!

This is Rumor Control, signing off...

MacAddict online editor Mark Simmons <> is recovering from a bad case of shaken confidence, though he's still unsettled by the fact that the term "Mac OS 8" has been expunged from Apple's Web sites and the pages devoted to it have gone down the memory hole.

Copyright 1996