Apple’s next generation operating system, Mac OS X, will ship on March 24, Apple announced at Macworld Expo in San Francisco this week. It will cost US$129. No UK pricing was available at the time of writing. Apple has listened to its users’ comments on Mac OS X, returning several old favourites to the modern operating system’s new-fangled Aqua interface.

The knowledgeable crowd of 5,000 whooped with joy as it learned of a new Apple menu, customizable tool bars and improvements to the Dock.

"Mac OS X is the future of the Mac, and we hope it will delight our customers with its unrivalled power and ease of use," said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO.

"The Public Beta has generated incredible feedback and support from Mac users and developers, which has helped us to make Mac OS X the most advanced operating system ever," he added.

X marks the spot During his keynote address at San Francisco’s Macworld Expo, Jobs said that Apple has shipped more than 100,000 copies of Mac OS X Public Beta since its release in Paris last September. The company has received more than 75,000 individual user feedback entries from Macintosh users and developers worldwide – "some of them quite long," joked Jobs.

"The beta has been a stunning success," said Jobs. "And OS X lays the foundation for a decade and a half of our software efforts," he added.

The reaction to the Public Beta has been overwhelmingly positive, claims Apple - particularly in response to Mac OS X’s stability, Aqua user interface, easy installation and compatibility with existing applications. Jobs explained that direct input from customers has also helped Apple enhance key aspects of Mac OS X with powerful improvements to the Dock, Desktop, Finder and networking technology, making Mac OS X more customizable and familiar to Mac users.

X-tended features In response to OS X beta user feedback, Apple has returned the Apple logo to the left side of the top menu bar (from the centre), and added a drop-down menu to form a new Apple Menu. Pop-up menus have been added to the bottom-of-the-screen Dock.

Some users found Aqua’s folder tool bars and Fonts panel, as well as other features, "too big". Apple has now made these "dramatically smaller", claimed Jobs.

"Different users wanted different things on the tool bar," explained Jobs as he showed how Apple’s software engineers have made folders a lot more customizable – as well as smaller.

"Some people just love the old Finder," reported Jobs, who then showed how Apple has made it possible for these people to configure OS X to act like OS 9’s desktop. "If you want to litter your screen with a lot of windows, you can," he promised.

"You can have Mac OS X exactly as you want it," he added.

Jobs also showed off a new OS X screensaver that utilizes a user’s screen icons.

In addition, Apple has added many features that users had complained were missing from the beta, including AirPort support, location manager and printer drivers.

Carbon copies More than 400 leading developers, including Adobe, Alias Wavefront, Macromedia and Microsoft have committed to delivering more than 1,200 applications built for Mac OS X. In addition, more than 100 developers will announce new Mac OS X products this week at Macworld Expo. A complete listing of applications built for Mac OS X is available.

Jobs predicted that July’s Macworld Expo in New York would see "an avalanche" of applications upgraded (or "Carbonized" as Apple calls it) to take advantage of Mac OS X’s new features. "It will be a coming-out party for Carbonized apps," he told the audience.

Richard Kerris, director of Maya Technology at Alias Wavefront, demoed the Mac OS X version of Maya, a tremendously successful 3D modelling, rendering and animation application previously unavailable on the Mac. "OS X performs like a champ," Kerris told the crowd, which oohed and ahhed at a brief demonstration of its Dynamics Engine’s powers.

Default OS ‘by summer’ Mac OS X will be preinstalled as the standard operating system on Macintosh computers beginning this July. Mac OS X requires a minimum of 128MB of memory, and is designed to run on the following Apple products: iMac, iBook, Power Macintosh G3, Power Mac G4, Power Mac G4 Cube, and PowerBooks introduced after September 1998.

Apple also announced today it will immediately begin shipping Mac OS 9.1, the latest update of Mac OS 9.