Software writers want Next-based system to do the near-impossible By: Tom Abate
EXAMINER TECHNOLOGY WRITER
In an office at Apple Computer Inc., two doors down from the
room reserved for Steve Jobs, Avie
Tevanian talked about what might be the most challenging
technical task in Silicon Valley: building a new
operating system for the Macintosh.
The 35-year-old programmer spoke to The Examiner last week, as
Apple was gearing up to announce the
layoffs of perhaps 40 percent of its 13,500-person workforce.
"My job is to separate what is interesting, important and
valuable from what is interesting and cool but
not valuable," said Tevanian, who once turned down Bill Gates to
go to work for Jobs.
And in Apple's current plight, nothing would be more valuable
than if Tevanian could ramrod the creation
of a new Mac operating system.
Simply put, an operating system (OS) controls the basic
functions of a computer. When the OS works,
users don't know it's there. But when the OS gets flaky, using a
computer can be an exercise in
At the core of Apple's myriad woes is the fact that after 13
years, the Mac OS doesn't seem much better
than its chief competitor, the Windows software from Microsoft
To improve the Mac OS relative to Windows, Apple began several
years ago to develop a new OS called
Copland. Last year, however, Apple Chairman Gil Amelio decided
Copland, though cool and interesting,
wasn't valuable. So he canceled the project and bought an
operating system from Next Inc.
Next, based in Redwood City, was the company Steve Jobs founded
in 1985, after he was eased out of
Apple, which he had co-founded a decade earlier.
Now, the indomitable Jobs - whose current credits include
creating movies like "Toy Story" at Pixar Inc.
- spends a day or so each week as Amelio's "special advisor" at
And Tevanian, who worked for Jobs and used to manage 100
engineers at Next, now directs 10 times
that number at Apple.
In a 50-minute interview last week, Tevanian displayed the
diplomatic skills he will need to juggle several
equally critical tasks. In the first place, he must make sure
Apple continues improving the current Mac
"People may be underestimating the importance of the Mac OS,"
Tevanian said. "The Mac OS is solving
the problems customers have today."
At the same time, Tevanian must meld Apple's technology with
Next's software to create a new operating
system called Rhapsody that will leapfrog past Windows.
But even if Tevanian can pull off that engineering feat, by
motivating Apple's talented but demoralized
ranks, he must manage one more miracle - persuading independent
software vendors to create programs
that take advantage of the Rhapsody OS that is due out next year.
Just how hard that will be was evident after talking with John
Warnock, chief executive of Adobe
Systems Corp. Adobe sells the software that is the heart and
soul of the Mac, programs like Photoshop
and Illustrator that are used by graphic artists everywhere.
Warnock said Adobe had told Tevanian that Apple must change its
plans for Rhapsody. As first explained
in January, Apple said Rhapsody would have two separate
environments, which it called the blue box
and the yellow box.
At the time, Apple said Rhapsody's blue box would let the new OS
run current Mac programs, be they
word processors or desktop publishing software. The yellow box,
by contrast, would be the environment
in which to create new and more powerful Mac programs.
But to take advantage of the power inside the yellow box,
developers would have to rewrite their
programs from scratch.
Warnock said Wednesday that "Adobe is not interested in
rewriting its applications" for the yellow box.
That would take too much time and money. Instead, he wants
Tevanian to engineer Rhapsody so
programs like Photoshop can use some features in the blue box
and some in the yellow box, and not get
stuck in one or the other.
"There needs to be a middle ground," he said. "If Apple makes
some compromises in the (blue) box, it
would save a huge amount of time on our part."
Stephen Howard, who has followed Apple's operating system saga
for MacWeek magazine, was
surprised by Warnock's comments. He said the Copland project had
failed because it had tried to do what
Warnock seemed to want from Rhapsody - to make old programs run
on a new operating system, only
"Apple had a problem of trying to provide that," Howard said.
But Warnock said "these operating systems are full of
compromises; we're not asking them to do
Warnock's comments only serve to illustrate the challenges
Tevanian will face in trying to balance
competing demands from Apple's software allies, customers,
engineers and other constituencies.
And as he tries to navigate the reefs and shoals of his new
position, Tevanian will have to steer clear of
one other storm, the issue of his loyalties. On the
organizational chart, he is a vice president at Apple,
answerable to Amelio. But in temperament and office geography,
he seems much closer to Jobs.
"I work for Gil Amelio, and Gil is my boss," Tevanian said in
answer to a question. "If there is some
disagreement, his word prevails.
"That having been said, I have a very long relationship with
Steve," he added. "We often have the same
ideas at the same time."
HAVE YOU RESTARTED YOUR COMPUTER LATELY?
Restarting the computer frees up space that,
over one or more days, can get filled with files
the computer uses only temporarily. - NeXTStep Power Tips, pg. 19
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