Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life
Mac OS X 10.1.5—While We Wait for 10.2
When Mac OS X 10.0 was released, the apologists told us to forget about the beta; this was the real thing, fast and much more usable. When version 10.1 came out, we heard the same story. Now, as we wait for version 10.2 (code named “Jaguar”), we’re being told yet again that this is the real deal, the speedy, usable operating system we were promised. This time around, though, the rumor mill really supports the idea that OS X will have a usable interface.
The question, for those of you who have cleverly waited until now, is: is now the time to migrate to OS X? My initial advice is to always wait until a month or two after the forthcoming version (in this case 10.2) hits the shelves. If, on the other hand, you really need that killer app, here are some things I’ve learned from my transition to 10.1.5.
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One of the terrific features of OS X is the way it handles older programs, those designed to work with OS 9. Nearly all of the older programs work very well—I’ve only discovered one exception, and it’s a niche program in any case. You can always boot right back into OS 9 after you’ve installed X, and in fact many utilities recommend this. (For example, you can run DiskWarrior or even rearrange programs in the Applications folder).
From a technical standpoint, in fact, OS X is a triumph. It boots quickly, even on older machines, looks good, runs quickly, and offers such wonderful features as pre-emptive multitasking (so your programs get along nicely) and protected memory (so one program crashing doesn’t bring down the whole machine).
Being able to run older software as though you had not upgraded in the first place is a real plus, and, indeed, is probably mandatory; had Apple come out with a new OS that required an immediate investment in upgrading all your software, their market share would probably be nearly zero by now. Even Microsoft doesn’t dare start from scratch; support for its Disk-based Operating System (DOS) has waned over the course of many years, but it is still present in Windows XP!
Less mentioned, incidentally, is the fact that OS X even runs code designed for the pre-PowerPC 68K processor. Word 5.1 starts immediately and runs quickly. I found that some programs launched more quickly in Classic mode under OS X than in OS 9. However, Classic still needs to be running.
Printing seems far, far faster than under OS 9. PDF file creation is built into OS X, but despite the fact the Quartz display system uses PDF you still need Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to view or print many PDF files.
Web browsing is arguably better under OS X, with a greater variety of browsers to choose from. Internet Explorer for OS X is no better than the OS 9 version, but many swear by OmniWeb, which is not available under OS 9. Mozilla/Netscape is slow to boot on either platform, and under Windows, for that matter. As for e-mail, Eudora’s OS X effort just isn’t ready for prime time, and Qualcomm’s recent policy of charging for minor point upgrades doesn’t make a good case for buying Eudora. Apple’s included e-mail program, Mail, is however set to surpass Eudora, and many other alternatives already exist.
You can have more than one TCP/IP connection open simultaneously, making it easier to connect to multiple networks and eliminating the need to switch configurations all the time. There’s also built-in Windows file sharing support, though shelling out the extra cash for DAVE—or waiting for 10.2, which promises improved Windows compatibility, is probably worth it. There are many other high-level OS X features that can be easily enjoyed under OS 9 with the right shareware or freeware installed.
In general, OS X has been very fertile ground for many, many programs. Java works better, and Unix software is being ported over. In addition, many key professional staples will be put onto OS X, reflecting Apple’s greater market share (and probably those companies’ reluctance to invest in a dying platform, since the death of OS 9 had already been foretold). Not to mention Apple’s slick, functional, easy-to-use new programs—iPhoto, iTunes, and iDVD to name a few, all of which are free with OS X.
On top of all that software is better support for some devices. I found FireWire support in OS X to be better than in OS 9, by a good margin, at least for the devices I use. The upgrade to OS X was far easier from a device-driver point of view than the upgrade from Windows 98 to XP.
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Indeed, the largest problem with OS X is not application support, speed, graphics, or any of the usual issues. It is simply the user interface, which although pretty to look at is, in a word, terrible. Macs are known for their ease of use, but a clean install of OS X is harder to get along with on a daily basis than any flavor of Windows, including version 3.1.
The functionality of the Apple menu has been taken from us, leaving a non-hierarchical Dock which assumes you only use five or six programs whose icons you instantly recognize. Likewise, switching programs is no longer done from an easily accessed menu at the top right, but via the Dock or a keyboard command.
Simple things become a problem. Selecting files in the new open/save dialog boxes is painful thanks to poorly thought out (or missing) keyboard shortcuts, such as pressing the first letter of the filename, then arrowing down to select it. These might sound like trivial issues, but they quickly turn into major annoyances. Indeed, the user interface is awkward across the board, with an over-reliance on visual cues.
The desktop paradigm has been replaced by a multiple-user environment borrowed rather obviously from Windows NT, complete with a deeply buried and poorly labeled set of user folders, and a separate applications folder which, by the way, you will often not be allowed to modify. Organizing programs into sensible folders is something you’re apparently supposed to do from OS 9, or after—horror of horrors—reading the manual.
It also took a while to get the hang of setting up a Secure Shell (SSH) tunnel, and Apple offered no information on their Web site about this important and common task. Under OS 9, simply use the great and flexible freeware program MacSSH. Under OS X, it’s a simple command but it’s pure Unix. (Allpar has instructions.)
On the lighter side, there are third-party programs to deal with most of the interface issues. For example, the first program I installed under OS X was FruitMenu, which restores the traditional Apple menu—albeit only in the native environment. You still have to populate it with the contents of your Apple menu Items folder. I used a similar program for the program switching menu on the top right—both work perfectly.
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It’s hard to make adjustments on Windows. It’s hard to get even simple tasks done using Windows. The Windows interface is not meant for use by humans, but by developers. That’s why installers sort programs (under Windows) by company name, and put single icons into folders. In Windows, to run Eudora, you go to Start, to Programs, to Qualcomm, to Eudora, and again to Eudora, ignoring Uninstall Eudora. Who cares that Qualcomm created Eudora, and why is Uninstall even needed?
Despite being famed for it in previous OS versions, it almost seems as though Apple was so busy getting OS X to work that they totally ignored their top selling point, ease of use. The Mac has always been about ease of use, and about lower maintenance costs. OS X throws that out the window and replaces it with technical superiority, albeit not so much as to eliminate Windows XP as a viable alternative.
Fortunately, 10.2 is going to change all that—or so everyone is saying. The rumor sites tell us that talented Apple user interface people have worked on it, and have done more than tweaked that horrible Dock. Perhaps a real Apple menu will be included and an easier interface for customizing it will be provided. I certainly hope so.
Before Apple announced its user interface improvements, incidentally, switching to an Intel-based Linux system was becoming very attractive, especially with the advances in Linux windowing systems. 10.2 should move Apple back into the lead position; we should know whether or not this is the case in a month or two.
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Given all this prologue, you can learn from my experiences in installing OS X. First, you can now more or less rest assured that it will not destroy your system. I do advise that you check out your system with DiskWarrior as well as Disk First Aid and follow all of Apple’s advice.
If your disk is partitioned, or if you have two hard drives, you may want to put OS X onto a different hard drive from OS 9; this makes it easier to switch startup disks (it eliminates a small but annoying delay as the computer searches for a second system folder); it also prevents you from having to wade through all of OS X’s required folders and files every time you look at your hard drive window. That’s another little annoyance of OS X: it takes up too much root-level space. OS 9 requires only one folder to be at the root level.
Installing OS X is surprisingly easy and fast. Your Internet preferences will probably be easily picked up by the system, eliminating one of the most time-consuming adjustments. However, your Apple menu programs are not picked up and put into the Dock—there’d be no room for them, in my case—and some of the cosmetic settings are less than optimal. Every device I own was easily found and installed by OS X with no fuss (another thing I cannot say about Windows XP, which still requires some USB devices to be plugged and unplugged—and for me to constantly find drivers for the system).
Once again, I advise you to install FruitMenu first, for your own sanity. Also, if you are going to be using Classic (non-native) programs on a regular basis, and you probably are, set the Classic control panel so it automatically launches on startup. OS X starts up very quickly, so that doesn’t add too much time. The Classic environment usually stays running in the background, but OS X puts it to sleep when it’s not in use so it doesn’t eat up your system resources.
Because of this, I’d advise you not to spend all your money upgrading all your software to Carbon or Cocoa versions. Wait a while and see what happens. Maybe a competitor will come in and drive prices down in the meantime—or maybe open source will come to the rescue. At some point, versions that add more value—or open-source alternatives—will appear, especially now that the OS is based on BSD Unix.
OS X likes lots of RAM, not surprising considering that you will sometimes also be running OS 9. RAM is now fairly cheap, and 512 megabytes isn’t such an expensive buy—but you can get by with 256 if you don’t go overboard.
In short, waiting for 10.2 is probably the best bet, but if you have to upgrade before then, be heartened. You can always reboot into OS 9.
Also in This Series
- About My Particular Macintoshes · May 2012
- From the Darkest Hour · May 2012
- Shrinking Into an Expanding World · May 2012
- Growing Up With Apple · May 2012
- Recollections of ATPM by the Plucky Comic Relief · May 2012
- Making the Leap · March 2012
- Digital > Analog > Digital · February 2012
- An Achievable Dream · February 2012
- Smart Move? · February 2012
- Complete Archive