Apple Computer said today that its next-generation operating system, code-named Rhapsody, will be offered only as a server OS, not as a client OS likes its Mac OS. Rhapsody was originally developed to replace the Mac OS but Apple has decided to change plans in mid-stride since it has been able to successfully update the Mac OS beyond expectations.

Adobe Systems, makers of PageMaker and other leading Macintosh software, for example, were originally approached by Apple to create Rhapsody products as well. Since that time, about a year ago, the message from Apple has changed dramatically: In addition to meetings with Apple about the fate of Rhapsody, "Customers aren't asking for Rhapsody right now," according to an Adobe spokesperson.

The real problem may be a lack of interest from software developers. While many developers have stuck by the Mac during an incredible drop in marketshare, they aren't that excited about learning a new system that is destined to have minimal marketshare as well.

"I think Apple is not getting the keen endorsement they thought they would get, so without that endorsement, at least privately, it's hard to justify \[Rhapsody replacing the Mac OS\]," said Chris Le Tocq, of Dataquest.

Interestingly, Apple denies that Rhapsody was ever intended to replace the Mac OS, despite public declarations to the contrary last year. Then CEO Gil Amelio said, "We are going to be building our next-generation OS on \[Rhapsody\] technology."

"We've been trying to recalibrate those expectations ever since," said an Apple spokesperson. "The Mac OS will be the volume OS from Apple for years and years to come, probably forever." The spokesperson compared Rhapsody to Windows NT. "You didn't see tons of apps for NT initially. I think initially it will be in the server area and power applications space."

That's a believable scenario, but if Apple really believed that Rhapsody would never replace the aging Mac OS, why did it spend over $400 million buying NeXT, which made Rhapsody's predecessors, OpenStep and NeXTStep. The company expected to get a replacement for the Mac OS, not a server OS, which will likely never sell very well. Apple sells millions of copies of the Mac OS a year, in contrast. Perhaps Apple will eventually sell a version of Rhapsody for home computer users as well.

"If you're asking us if five to 10 years down the line, will there be one OS, we're moving forward and not ruling that out," said the spokesperson. "Over time, it may make sense to converge the two."

It sounds like Microsoft's plans for Windows NT. It also sounds like a great idea