Apples Mac OS X Ultimatum

The Mac maker is making good on its warnings that developers need to port to Mac OS X or get out of the way. Is Quark roadkill?

I hate to say it, but we told you so.

Actually, thats a bald-faced lie: Reporting scoop news (however carefully researched) always carries at least a slight risk of humiliation if the company changes plans midstream, and being proven right always provides me with a pleasant endorphin rush.

Thus, Im delighted to note that Daniel Drew Turner and I were on the money way back at the beginning of August, when we first flagged Apples next major step to close the book on Mac OS 9.

To recap: Citing sources close to the action, we reported that Apple was planning to pull the plug on Mac OS 9 as a startup OS.

As of Januarys Macworld Expo/San Francisco, we wrote, new Mac models would no longer boot into Mac OS 9, leaving Mac OS X as the sole operating system. (We reported that the move had been considered—and discarded—for new Macs starting at Julys Macworld Expo/New York.)

We also assured readers that Apple would continue to maintain the Classic environment within Mac OS X, allowing users to run most of their Mac OS 9 applications under the Unix-based new-school OS.

While Apple was characteristically unwilling to respond to our reports, the company was unusually prompt in making the news official: At last weeks Apple Expo in Paris, CEO Steve Jobs himself put users and developers on notice that Januarys Macs would boot Mac OS X only, although Classic will continue to function within forthcoming OS revs.

In the interest of fairness, I will point out that some readers continue to contest our assertion that this change constitutes a deliberate move by Apple to block future Macs dual-boot capabilities. Instead, they interpret this line in the sand as a natural result of OS evolution, akin to previous incompatibilities between new Mac models and older system software.

Our ringside sources insist that Apples continued support for maintaining Mac OS 9 in the form of Mac OS Xs Classic environment gives the lie to the assertion that this move is anything but calculated; these readers are arguing "semantics, not engineering," one of our sources said.

Whatever spin you choose to put on it, however, the bottom line is that Apple has put users and developers alike on notice: Switch to Mac OS X now, or join OpenDoc and CyberDog in Apples dead-letter office.

And as we noted in our initial story, no company is more profoundly affected by that port-or-get-off-the-pot pressure than Quark Inc., the developer of QuarkXPress, the venerable page-layout application that remains the linchpin of most Mac-based publishers software workflows.

While other Mac graphics and multimedia heavyweights—including Adobe Systems and Macromedia—have tuned their applications to Mac OS Xs Carbon APIs over the past couple of years, XPress 5 remains Mac OS 9-only.

That means publishing pros—whove built elaborate production systems atop XPress itself as well as third-party software extensions that extend its capabilities—are most apprehensive about any move that will force them to choose between buying new Macs and running their businesses.

Quark has readily acknowledged that its working overtime on the Carbon-compliant XPress 6, although its been less articulate about a time frame. (Our sources tell us the target is Macworld Expo/San Francisco—not coincidentally, the launch date for Mac OS X-exclusive booting on new Macs.)

In fact, some of my Quark-conversant sources insist that Apple—painfully aware that XPress has become the biggest hurdle to Mac OS X adoption—has volunteered some of its own software developers to help speed the project along. Whats more, several of them indicated that Apple was most anxious to see a public "sneak peek" at XPress 6 during Jobs Apple Expo keynote presentation.

The failure of that blessed event to materialize adds even more piquancy to Apple and Adobes announcement last week of a joint promotion with Quark archrival Adobe: Buy a Power Mac between now and Dec. 31, and get a free copy of InDesign, Adobes blissfully Carbon-compliant "Quark-killer" page-layout application.

The point couldnt be any more clear if it were run on the front page of every publication that still relies on XPress to get the news out: Until and unless Quark is ready to join Apples platform push, the Mac maker is going to put its promotional power behind someone who is.

With its single-booting announcement, Apple has put the Mac public on four-month notice that January will be a decisive moment for the platform. With its four-month endorsement of InDesign in the reignited DTP wars, Apple has telegraphed Quark precisely the same message.

Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is online editor for Ziff Davis Medias Baseline and CIO Insight magazines.