WWDC: What's NeXT for Apple's OS?

By Jonny Evans

It took over a decade to get there but NeXT@Apple is closer than ever to delivering a thin client computing experience for devices, as predicted by the father of OS X, Bertrand Serlet, way back in the late '90's.

The thin Mac

Developer David Casseres worked at Apple in the late '90's when Jobs returned to Apple. On his blog he revealed that Apple's then OS X chief, Bertrand Serlet would often claim: "The next Mac OS was likely to be a thin client OS on a computer that had no hard disk."

This didn't happen then, but it seems to be coming closer, as we await Lion and iOS 5.

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This focus on advancing the operating system must surely be part motivation to Apple's claimed decision not to introduce hardware at its sold-out WWDC event. The company wants to put all the thunder in one direction, aimed squarely at its OS's.

"People have gotten a little too used to Apple doing certain things at a certain time of the year," said Gartner's Michael Gartenberg, speaking to Computerworld. "There's nothing that says Apple has to make journalists' or analysts' lives easier by keeping to a pattern."

Shapeshifters

That's the thing about patterns, it makes things predictable. We're human, too, and we tend to look around at this confusing world in hope that we'll make some sense by joining the dots. And Apple likes surprises.

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There might be some hardware at WWDC, though. I have this hunch (just a hunch) we might see some software-based hardware evolution, for example. Those much-anticipated streaming media and App services could conceivably play nice on the million-selling A4-powered (and hard drive-free) Apple TV.   

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I recognize this is a stretch, but there's a little logic. WWDC is a developer-focused show. Apple wants its developers to make money so they also make money for Apple, so it is duty bound to continue to develop new markets for its code warriors to explore.

If there's going to be any new markets opened up at Apple's show, why shouldn't it be the front room? After all, there's a big focus on gaming at WWDC this year. Wouldn't it be a scream to surprise everyone with the launch of Apple TV-based console gaming?

Look to the iMac and iBook launches in advance of the introduction of Mac OS X, and you'll see that Apple sometimes likes to manage a velvet revolution. In this case, the company would be immediately opening a potential console gaming feature to a potential million or more Apple TVs.

Lion in hand

There's one more thing. Recent reports have suggested Lion development is progressing ahead of schedule. TechCrunch claims it is already close to a Golden Master release. This won't be a final Golden Master, but a big step towards it and suggests Apple's well on schedule to ship the software this summer.

Apple hosts (well, via its European partner, Amsys) a European developer event shortly after WWDC, The European Mac OS X Training Summer Camp.

This year there's been a name change. It is now called European Mac OS X and iOS Training Summer Camp and runs between 14-22 June. This extremely intensive course offers three strands, but my ears pricked up when I heard attendees are also being promised a "Free update to Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) as and when the material becomes available."

The fact it an update is mentioned at all suggests to me that release could be even sooner than we think. For me, it's just a little more circumstantial evidence to support the notion of a WWDC launch.

Some will mourn the cost of the next OS, which abandons built-in support for Samba, Java, Flash (well, no one should mourn Flash), Rosetta and others. Others will rejoice at the enormous improvements in accessibility in the OS. After all, do you really think those "deep" voice commands will be confined to iOS 5?

No wonder the company advertised for a new software engineer way back in July last year, when it sought out someone to help it "create something totally new".

"We are looking for a senior software engineer to help us create a revolutionary new feature in the very foundations of Mac OS X. We have something truly revolutionary and really exciting in progress and it is going to require your most creative and focused efforts ever."

Are you excited yet? I think we probably should be. Even Casseres thinks OS X has taken "huge leaps forward in application frameworks technology" in order to create an OS which has "everything it needed" -- and he was discussing Snow Leopard.

What are you expecting from WWDC? Let me know in comments below. Please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know just as soon as I post new reports here first on Computerworld.

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