The rap on Apple’s Rhapsody system

Thanks largely to third-party developer products such as Digidesign, and Sonic Solutions for audio and Avid Film and Media Composer, Apple’s Macintosh computer system continues to be the darling of sound and film’s creative community.

Double dilemma

Considering the recently announced union between Apple and Microsoft, and all the troubling news about reduced market share for the Mac OS (Operating System), Steve Job’s company presents developers and end users an interesting double dilemma.

Apple is releasing a new operating system, code named Rhapsody, later this year based on components of the recently acquired NeXT OS and the Mac OS, according to Apple Evangelist’s Doug Bloomquist, senior manager for publishing & entertainment. The new OS however, requires software developers to rewrite their code bases. So, the first part of this dilemma is should they? If they must rewrite, why not write for Windows NT and the Intel world of computers? The other side of the puzzle concerns the end user. If a developer migrates to Windows, a user may migrate to either a new Macintosh based product, a competitor’s Windows based product, or a proprietary platform.

Sonic Solutions makes high-end audio post, CD mastering and DVD authoring systems for the entertainment industry based on Macintosh computers. Chris Kryzan, marketing manager for Sonic Solutions explains Sonic’s situation.

Major adjustment

“The code base for our audio system, for instance, contains over a million lines,” Kryzan says. “It is not a trivial job to go and change all that code over to a new operating system, and right now today, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, I can’t see doing it just for the sake of Rhapsody.”

Kryzan’s stance is based in part on the fact that Rhapsody will share OS existence with the current Mac OS (version eight was just released) for the next several years. This offers the opportunity to evaluate market acceptance, before committing to a rewrite for the new OS.

Creatives’ fave

“While there is no question that Windows NT is an established operating system and enjoys far greater preference than the Mac, the Mac is still overwhelmingly preferred by the creative community,” Kryzan notes.

“Graphic arts and multimedia areas are all Macintosh. Audio workstations are dominated by the Mac-based systems. The Mac is what is being used today and that is why we will incrementally change over to a new OS.”

Walt Disney Studios is a media production empire with a seven-figure investment in Mac-based systems for audio and video. While Disney is constantly evaluating new equipment of all kinds to stay on the cutting edge, they have a considerable engineering base familiar with Apple.

“In the past, the Mac OS was the superior operating system for our kind of work, but that isn’t the case anymore,” says Chris Carey, VP of post-production services for Walt Disney Studios. “The issue with Rhapsody for Disney involves both backward compatibility with our existing hardware investment and the future desire on the part of developers to port code to Rhapsody.”

Double dilemma

Despite the look-and-see attitude of current Mac system developers and users, Apple’s rap on Rhapsody is upbeat and simple. If Rhapsody presents a dilemma for the Macintosh community, it also presents a real dilemma for Microsoft. This is because Rhapsody runs on both the PowerPC-based machines that the Mac runs on and on Intel Pentium based machines.

Catering to market

“Companies like Sonic Solutions need to look at the Intel part of the market because of the very large number of machines out there,” Bloomquist says. “Sonic might have a million lines of Macintosh code, but if they move to Rhapsody and develop for Rhapsody, they can take that single code base and compile it to run on both Intel and PowerPC platforms. That is a real advantage because a software company can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to develop an application.”

This also means that with Rhapsody, end users can buy a computer based on price and performance.

Microsoft alternative

Even more compelling is the interest in an alternative to Microsoft on the part of companies like IBM. Big Blue invented and co-developed the PowerPC chip with Motorola and Apple. Rhapsody presents the opportunity to build a desk top business based on a chip they manufacture — more profits per machine — while servicing their successful Intel division.

“The NeXT OS has been developed for over 10 years,” Bloomquist says. “It is a modern OS, a mature OS and, with all the innovative technologies people identify with Apple and the Mac included, the combination is the best OS.” Time will tell.

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