Citing anonymous sources, ZDNet News is reporting that Apple has set February 24, 2001 as the release date for Apple's next-generation operating system, Mac OS X. Coincidentally, this is the birthday of both Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Macworld Editor-in-Chief Simon Jary. The same anonymous sources told ZDNN's Daniel Drew Turner that Jobs will announce this ship date during his January 9 keynote speech at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Apple has officially stated that Mac OS X will ship in "early 2001", and company spokespeople would not comment on ZDNN's report.

Leak or subterfuge It is possible that Apple has leaked a fake date (and why not pick your birthday?) for the OS X launch in order to flush-out a mole within its ranks. However, if the sources are correct, this will be the biggest Apple secret to leak out of Cupertino since Steve Jobs took over control of the company.

Aside from being the day Steve Jobs blows the 46 candles out on his birthday cake, Saturday February 24 is the last day of Macworld Expo/Tokyo, which kicks off two days earlier. However, sources said the Mac OS X rollout would not be tied directly to events at the Mac gathering in Japan.

Feature complete Sources say that Mac OS X has passed the "feature-complete" stage of development. The remaining work consists of bug removal and optimization. There is expected to be an update to OS X, code-named "Orient," within three to 12 months of the 1.0 release.

The latest, feature-complete builds of OS X include the upcoming revision to the current Mac OS, OS 9.1 (code-named Fortissimo) as its Classic environment, according to sources. This fixes the current incompatibility between early builds of that operating system and the OS X public beta.

As part of a "massive" promotion, Apple is reportedly considering offering free OS X updates to those who purchase Mac systems at January's Macworld Expo or after. Plans to load OS X as the default operating system on Apple's professional-level systems are also being considered, according to ZDNN's sources.

Apple claims that is has sold 100,000 copies of the Mac OS X Public Beta since its release at September's Apple Expo Europe in Paris.

Hardware sales tonic During his conference call with Wall Street analysts on Tuesday, Jobs cited anticipation of Mac OS X as a major factor behind the company's current underperforming hardware sales. Jobs claimed that a large number of users are holding off on Mac purchases until they can be sure that Mac OS X will run on their hardware. Others, he suggested, want to get OS X for free when Apple bundles it with new Mac models.

Mac OS X will run on any Power Mac system that shipped with a G3 or G4 CPU; dual-processor Power Macs will take advantage of the operating-system's multiprocessing performance benefits.

(February 24th is not just a special day for Steve Jobs and Simon Jary. Other people who will be waiting at the front door for birthday cards include Minder's Dennis Waterman and motor-sport's Alain Prost. Comedy fans will remember that Derek Nimmo died on this day last year; rock fans will look back on Feb. 24's marriage of Curt Kobain and Courtney Love.)