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ATPM 9.06
June 2003

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Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life

by Evan Trent, etrent@atpm.com

Jumping Directly from OS 9 to Jaguar

Recently I decided it was time to bite the bullet and upgrade from Mac OS 9.2 to Mac OS X. I had been procrastinating due to my early experiences with OS X which were, shall we say, less than encouraging. The beta was frightening, and I wasn’t a big fan of the first release either. I applauded Apple for pushing forward, and every application (operating systems included) must suffer that oh-so-buggy version 1.0 release. But that didn’t mean I was about to install it on my computer and deal with the resulting chaos.

While I had not actually played with Jaguar, a number of folks I trust seemed enthusiastic about 10.2 and declared it a major improvement over previous releases. I was optimistic, and finally took a leap of faith. A little over two weeks ago I installed Jaguar on my G4 tower. A few days later, to my delight, I installed it on my TiBook. I am now running it exclusively on both of my main home machines—the Mac on my desk at work will be next.

I am pleased to report that the upgrade was relatively painless. I expected chaos, frustration, lots of cursing (those who know me well understand that I am at my most crude and vile when my computer refuses to obey my command) and other such nightmares. To be quite honest, unless my memory is failing me, I recall the upgrade from OS 8 to OS 9 being more problematic and fraught with angst. Several utilities stopped working such as ATM, and a number of extensions crashed on bootup, or otherwise created problems. Tracking them down was a nuisance (made easier by Conflict Catcher) and it took a while to get compatible replacements or upgrades in some cases.

Upgrading to Jaguar was, on the other hand, pretty much smooth sailing. There were some small adjustments to be made for sure. Some menu items had moved around, a lot of keyboard equivalents for menu items had changed (but using MenuMaster I changed them right back—so there!) But overall learning Jaguar is easy enough for all but the most green of Mac users.

And what surprised me even more was that once I had the latest version of OS X up and running, I found it to be far more mature than even the previous version. I finally believe OS X is ready for prime time. I don’t see myself booting into OS 9 again any time soon, if ever. And I’ve been a curmudgeon, complaining about OS X being an abomination, since the beta release. I suppose I’ll have to tone down my rhetoric a bit.

But not completely…

Don’t get me wrong, I like Jaguar a lot—as I said, I like it enough to run it full time now. But it’s not without its problems. So let’s get right to the chase and get the gripes out on the table.

The Dock

I hate to come across as irate, but this thing drives me absolutely batty. I cannot stand it. I find it truly obnoxious, decidedly superfluous, painfully unintuitive, hopelessly unorganized, and generally counter productive. But let’s not mince words…

My chief gripe with the Dock is that you cannot turn it off. There should be some provision for removing it altogether. But even if you could come up with a hack to ditch the Dock, you would not be in the clear. Apple has made it an integral part of the OS, and this was a big mistake. For example, if you ditch the Dock, what happens when you minimize a window?

Other software developers have nailed this sort of concept in the past—DragThing is an awesomely indispensable utility that I ran on all my machines under OS 9. But now it seems somewhat difficult to incorporate with the Dock stepping all over its toes. DragThing is still a vastly superior solution, particularly because it provides for multiple “docks” but also for a variety of other reasons I won’t go into.

For example, when you try to drag and drop a file to the Dock so you can launch it with a specific application, the Dock starts rearranging itself to make room for the document on the Dock. This is not helpful behavior. As another example, the fact that the Dock constantly rescales itself and remains centered may seem cute but it’s functionally braindead. It’s never the same size, and nothing is ever in the exact same place as a result.

It would be ideal if you could segregate applications, documents, minimized windows, and open applications. But no…Apple has thrown it all together in one gigantic virtual depository (well, applications are separate). As a result, using the Dock as an application switcher is frustratingly pedantic.

Don’t even get me started on the Dock notification behavior—having an icon bounce up and down like a digital jack-in-the-box is just plain obnoxious. There’s no two ways about it: the only more obnoxious behavior I have ever endured on a computer is that horrific dancing paper clip courtesy of Microsoft. Apple should not be following Microsoft’s lead in software development, particularly when it comes to interface design, and I am sure most ATPM readers can appreciate why this is so.

The other thing about the Dock that drives me up the wall is that it obscures the resize handles for windows that are sized to be full screen height. Again, this is indisputably braindead behavior.

File Suffixes

Apparently I am supposed to refer to them as “extensions” as if that somehow mitigates the fact that their use is a gigantic step backward. Yes I realize that most other operating systems use file suffixes as a manner of determining file “type,” or at least associating files with applications. But it’s an antiquated method of doing so, and it has been so for some time now. Apple’s solution was infinitely more elegant, and functionally sound. What Apple has done with OS X is essentially join the throngs of unevolved lemmings who still use file suffixes. Note to Apple: just because you’re now also doing something stupid doesn’t make it any less stupid. In fact Apple’s file “extensions” make for more headaches than the absence of them in years past. Now we have useless file suffixes like .colorpicker or .framework, etc. You get the picture. These are not going to translate to any other operating system smoothly. They will get truncated or otherwise be ignored. So what is the point? Let’s just go back to using the type/creator paradigm which worked better on the Mac, and created no more problems on other platforms.

Now I do realize that for those of us who are forced to function in a cross-platform environment, dealing with suffixes is an unfortunate and frustrating aspect of our cyber-lives. But there has to be a more intelligent way of dealing with this issue than simply adopting file suffixes wholesale, and then ignoring fundamental rules such as the number of letters in the suffix.

No Application Menu

This gripe follows on the heels of the Dock rant. There should be an application menu, as there was in OS 9. Using the Dock to switch applications is contrived. More to the point, if you’re like me and prefer to avoid using the Dock at all possible costs, you’d like to see another provision for switching applications. Yes you can cycle through apps using Command-Tab, but I’d like some visual feedback without resorting to the Dock (whose visual feedback is hardly discernible). I find LiteSwitch X to do the trick nicely. It provides a Windows-style (sorry!) application switcher that pops up when you hit a user-defined key combination (yes you can steal Command-Tab) and lets you resize, reposition, and customize the display style of this window.

No Apple Menu

There is no “real” Apple menu in OS X either. Yes it actually exists, but it provides little, if any, real utility. The Apple menu has been a source of somewhat heated debate since the beta. The reality of the matter is that as it comes, out of the box, the Apple menu is virtually worthless. Thankfully with a utility like FruitMenu you can customize it, add items to the menu, and enjoy hierarchical navigation of your files, as under OS 9. Thanks to FruitMenu I use the Apple menu all the time.

No Desktop Printing

I was sad to see Desktop Printing absent from OS X. For some users it may seem like a small point, but Desktop Printing was a great invention by Apple in my opinion. For those of us with multiple printers, it was invaluable. Under OS X the Print Center is a fine program, and it does the job. But I can’t glance at my desktop anymore to see the status of a printer. Keeping the Print Center in the Dock provides some level of feedback, but if you have multiple printers it doesn’t give you the same degree of feedback, and without launching it you can’t easily manipulate jobs, or printers.

Then again some folks probably found Desktop Printing to be a nuisance and unappreciated use of desktop real estate. Fair enough—I think it should be an option. I always have felt that it should be, but under OS X it definitely ought to be the sort of feature you can turn on or off. If you have only one printer or simply do not care to have a printer on your desktop, use the Print Center exclusively. But some of us would like our Desktop Printing reimplemented, in addition to the Print Center.

No Internet Config

Another noticeable absence is Internet file mappings in the System Preferences. The only way to configure these mappings, as far as I can tell, is to use Internet Explorer. That makes very little sense to me, and it’s especially bothersome if you don’t want to use IE as your Web browser. Thanks in large part to the file extension gig, Internet file mappings have become even more important under OS X than they were before. How Apple managed to leave this configuration panel out of the System Preferences is totally beyond me.

No WindowShade

Minimizing can be pretty cool I must confess. Initially when Apple introduced the feature I thought it was a mere gimmick, especially because the emphasis was on how pretty it was, and how neat it was that the minimized window in the Dock was “live”—great, that’s wonderful but does it add to my computing experience or just look cool? In truth I have found minimizing to be very useful and I enjoy being able to hide a window entirely without actually losing its contents. Simple enough—but sometimes I don’t want to minimize, I want to WindowShade, as in OS 9. There’s no way to do this…without WindowShade X, another great little add-on I enjoy because it still allows minimizing, but also enables WindowShade behavior, and also one other behavior which alters a window’s opacity to a user-defined level. I am not sure how useful this last behavior is, but it looks cool and maybe some people will find it worthwhile. I’m just glad to have the WindowShade ability again.

Keychain Snootiness

The Keychain was another one of Apple’s wonderful inventions that made our lives easier. Apple is great at this sort of thing—novices and geeks alike totally dig the Keychain. It just makes life so much easier, and provides an easy way to retrieve passwords we’ve forgotten. I was outraged to find that I could not import my OS 9 Keychain into OS X.

Let me rephrase that: I was outraged to find that after stuffing all of my passwords into a single file, that I could not take that single file with me to my new operating system. So in other words I have no access to those passwords unless I manually retype them into my OS X Keychain or use the Classic version of an application dependent on that password, which will pull the info from the OS 9 Keychain. That’s really a boneheaded oversight on Apple’s part. Guys—you invented the Keychain. It’s not like I’m asking you to import some obscure file format from the late 1980s created by a software developer now out of business. There is no good reason the OS X Keychain manager shouldn’t be able to open up an OS 9 Keychain file and be in business.

The Finder

There are some folks out there on the Net who are going berserk over the new Finder and villainizing it as a travesty. I am not sure if I feel quite that strongly, but I will say that the new Finder is not much of an improvement over the OS 9 Finder in most respects. Overall it is an inferior design, and I wish Apple would have simply taken the OS 9 Finder, given it a facelift, and made it OS X-native. Instead they have done some pretty silly things, as have been discussed at length in a variety of well written articles.

I don’t see the need to repeat these grievances or discuss them in depth but I will reiterate that the Columns view behavioral quirk is pretty braindead. The fact that you cannot change the font is equally so.

This does not mean that the new Finder has nothing to offer. I’ll get to that later when I discuss the good stuff (had you fooled for a minute there—you thought this article was going to be all bad, eh?).

Power & Performance

The main impetus behind the development of OS X was the provision of modern memory management (real virtual RAM, memory protection, etc.) and improved performance (preemptive multi-tasking, better use of system resources, a fully native kernel, etc.) OS X does deliver on these promises, sort of.

Modern memory management is certainly there. You no longer have to allocate RAM to each application, which is nice. You also no longer need to concern yourself with how many programs are running, how many documents they have open, etc. Most importantly memory is protected, so if one program crashes or otherwise misbehaves it doesn’t affect others, nor does it take down the entire computer.

Protected memory is a big plus, and a welcome and long overdue addition. But apart from that, modern memory management isn’t really blowin’ my skirt up. When you load up a bunch of applications and/or open a lot of documents, the computer still starts to get pretty sluggish unless you have an awful lot of RAM installed. I have a gigabyte, which is sufficient for most tasks. But if you push the computer too hard, the swap file kicks in and then it’s all over. So while you don’t need to allocate RAM and aren’t forced to quit one program to open another, you would still be advised to do so in many cases.

The solution to this is simply to pile on the RAM. It’s pretty cheap these days and it can make an enormous improvement in performance. I wouldn’t really suggest running OS X with less than a gig unless you tinker around most of the time and don’t do much serious computing (in which case I applaud you for reading this far!)

On the performance end of the spectrum, OS X has a little ways to go. Carbon programs are, for the most part, slower than under OS 9. Not inordinately, insurmountably slower—but slower. Put a number on it? OK, 5-10%. That’s arbitrary and totally unscientific. Sometimes it’s subtle differences in speed, like a window taking a split second longer to appear under OS X. Other times it’s actually more of a performance issue involving real “computing” as it were.

Classic is slower than OS 9 too, although I can understand that and frankly I have no beef with Classic. It works and it works surprisingly well.

But Carbon programs should run faster under OS X than OS 9. That they don’t is one solid reason a lot of folks are not upgrading. If time is money and money talks, then by the law of transitivity time talks. Are you listening Apple?

File Organization

Due in large part to the multi-user nature of OS X, files can be organized in a somewhat cryptic manner. You cannot simply drag your System folder from one disk to another to create a bootable copy, for example. Also you will find a lot of duplicitous files and folders in the root and a specific user’s folder. This can be very misleading for novices. I also maintain that for the vast majority of installations, multi-user capability is entirely unimportant. Yes it is useful for some environments and I am glad to see that OS X provides this functionality. But you should be able to turn it off, or at least make it more transparent to the user so that somebody with a lesser geek factor (smaller propeller?) isn’t thrown off by the file system’s organizational methods. This isn’t a gigantic problem or a major gripe, but it’s worth mentioning. Finding files is not as straightforward as it was under OS 9, and that’s not due entirely to the fact that users are accustomed to looking in a specific place.

Sheesh—Is There Any Good News?

Absolutely; I saved the good news for last so we could end the article on a high note. But being the painfully thorough gent that I am, I refused to simply affix my seal of approval on Jaguar without covering the handful of behaviors that drive me particularly nuts. Now, onward to greener pastures.

The Feel of Modernity

This is going to sound trite and goofy, but OS X feels like a modern OS. Using it is a delight in many ways as a result. It’s not so much what OS X does but rather what it doesn’t do that contributes to the overall enhanced user experience.

One thing it doesn’t do that I particularly appreciate is allow an application to commandeer my computer. Under OS 9 I would constantly start cursing (see there I go again) at Internet Explorer while loading a complex page, or QuickTime Player loading or saving a large movie file, for example. These applications would take over the computer, rendering it useless for sometimes substantial periods of time. Now under OS X I can just switch into another application. Perhaps it will take longer for IE to draw that page, but I don’t mind because I can go back to reading my e-mail or performing some other task. I also don’t have to worry about whether IE actually crashed or whether it’s simply taking a long time to draw a page (something it is very good at, especially when compared to the other Web browsers out for OS X).

The Look of Modernity

There are some other intangibles that make OS X seem more “modern,” and many are aesthetic. The anti-aliasing of text, the shadowing of windows, the new fancy icons in the Finder, and the extensive use of opacity throughout the OS are all good examples of the generally more up-to-date look and feel of the OS. Do these things really, truly matter? Perhaps not at the most utilitarian level of computing, but they do enhance the experience of using the computer, and that is not to be trivialized.

The Mechanics of Modernity

So what is at the core of this “modern” OS that makes it so appealing? I’ve covered some of this already, but protected memory gets a big fat bag of brownie points. I like being able to load up a slew of applications without dealing with allocation. I didn’t deal with it much before, but then again I have had a gig of RAM on my machines for the longest time being the super geek that I am. On a more fundamental level, the user really shouldn’t have to concern himself with allocation, so it’s good to see that we’re moving into the 21st century with modern memory management on the Mac.

Pre-emptive multi-tasking that actually works is also a plus. This works pretty much the way you’d want it to, and the way it should. Applications crank along and play together without hogging the CPU, with remarkably few exceptions. The kernel also allows you to force quit an application safely if it should lock up or for some other reason start acting strangely. There’s no need to worry about a force quit taking down the whole machine, or causing that application to be unstable if you relaunch it without a reboot.

Jaguar has been exceptionally stable on my machines. I have not had cause to reboot in over two weeks. I have also experienced very few unexpected quits or similar errors from applications, and have only had to force quit once or twice. The beauty is that these sorts of interruptions are far less intrusive or problematic than in the past.

Yes, all of these features should have been incorporated into the Mac OS eons ago. They weren’t. Well now you can have them on your Mac. And guess what? It’s pretty heavenly. These modern touches alone are worth the price of some of the nonsense I griped about earlier on, and I haven’t even discussed the rest of the perks in OS X.

Da Net

While Carbon programs in general may not be as peppy under OS X as they are under OS 9, one thing is certain: network activity is much faster. Thanks in large part to its Unix roots, OS X sports much faster bandwidth when transferring data over a network. I don’t have any hard data, but after two weeks of transferring files via FTP, HTTP, AppleTalk, Timbuktu, and practically every other protocol imaginable I have definitely observed at least a 10-15% increase in overall throughput. And latency seems to have been reduced—Web pages pop up faster, for example.

Mac OS X has traditional Apple File Sharing over TCP, Windows File Sharing, Web Sharing, FTP file access, printer sharing, and remote login. Best of all these services are easy to turn on and configure. Personally I am elated by all of these services because they really open up a world of possibilities for Mac users without installing all sorts of potentially expensive third-party software. Certainly there will still be a place for industrial strength Web servers and the like, but having most every network service accessible at the click of the mouse is definitely very nice and really helps to bridge the platform gap! The built-in firewall is similarly a welcome addition, as is Internet Connection Sharing.

I really like what Apple has done with the Network configuration panel. First of all, PPPoE is now built-in. Anybody who has had to deal with Mac PoET or EnterNet will dance around the room upon reading that last sentence. In addition, OS X allows for multiple connections to the Net. This is a very powerful feature that was lacking under OS 9. AirPort is also better integrated into the OS than before, and it also seems to be speedier than under OS 9.

Monitors

I appreciate that OS X can “Detect Displays” without a reboot, or in the case of a laptop without a sleep. A small point perhaps, but for those of us with laptops it is nice, especially since in the past we had to reboot in order to activate the S-Video output for projectors and the like—a sleep didn’t cut it.

Full Keyboard Access

Another small addition I like, though I do not personally use, is Full Keyboard Access, which provides a facility for controlling the computer completely from the keyboard. There are a variety of circumstances in which this could be useful or essential, and it’s nice to see that Apple had the foresight to include the ability.

Elementary My Dear

The new Sherlock in OS X is a big improvement over past versions. It is no longer used for finding files, or searching by content (more on that momentarily) but is instead something of an Internet portal. Personally I won’t be using it that much, but for novices or users for whom the Internet is still a big and overwhelming place, Sherlock 3 provides a quick and easy way to accomplish a variety of basic tasks: booking airfare, translating between languages, checking stocks, buying movie tickets, or just searching the Web.

You can, of course, add channels as well. One channel, Calillona, searches Amazon. Even if you aren’t a novice, these channels have their value: they are fast. It is definitely the case that searching via Sherlock 3’s channels is faster than going into a Web browser, pulling up the appropriate page, punching in the query string, and awaiting the results. Because the channels ignore superfluous content (and hence don’t present you with ads or popups, etc.) they are an efficient way to conduct certain Web-based activities regardless of your geek factor.

Hopefully They Won’t Go on Strike

Thanks to packages in OS X, installing and uninstalling applications is for the most part a real snap. In many cases you can simply drag an application (really a package) onto your hard drive, and you’re done. Uninstalling is equally straightforward. Sometimes an installer is required, and occasionally you will be advised to logout and log back in. But no more rebooting, and often times you can just drag a program over and start cranking away. Slick, simple, and painless.

FBC

No it’s not a new television network—FBC stands for “find by content,” a feature which was added back with the original Sherlock. Unfortunately FBC required that disks be indexed, and indexing took an eternity. Under OS X, indexing is at least an order of magnitude faster, if not more. I indexed my entire drive (same size drive as under OS 9, with all the extra OS X junk on it) in what seemed like about half an hour, in the background while goofing around on the Web. Also, FBC under OS X will index on demand as it searches. What all of this boils down to is a real, usable Find by Content. It’s much faster, and the sort of feature you’ll find yourself using much more frequently as a result.

Window Manipulation

As I mentioned in my gripes section, minimizing is a cool feature. Yes WindowShade provided some manner of keeping things tidy when oodles of windows were crowding the screen. But minimizing gets rid of the window altogether without losing its contents, and helps to keep things even tidier. At times, as I mentioned, I miss WindowShade but with WindowShade X I have the best of both worlds. And I do think that the minimize concept works very well with the Dock. If the Dock weren’t so otherwise infuriating, or if there were a dedicated windows dock, I would be even more enthusiastic about minimizing. The fact that you can move a window without making it active, can quickly zoom it to full screen, and otherwise manipulate windows in useful ways is also a plus. The toolbar hide/show button is also convenient as often times the toolbar is just a superfluity, but it’s nice to have it available at the click of the mouse.

The Finder

Speaking of the toolbar, it’s one of the additions to the Finder that I really dig. I like that I can add a folder, file, application, or virtually anything to the toolbar for quick and easy access, especially where dragging and dropping is concerned. It’s smart, and customizable. I wouldn’t mind a little more freedom in the customization department, but even as it stands it’s pretty snazzy.

The Columns view, despite some counterintuitive behavior (such as letting you browse the same directory in two different windows) is otherwise a welcome addition.

Rendezvous

When Apple gets something right, they really get it right. There are times when the guys at Apple just make me want to scream because they seem so clueless. And then other times—most of the time—they make me feel genuinely proud to be a Mac user. Rendezvous is a classic example of how Apple makes our lives easier and how they “get” user friendly computing like no other. Novice and turbo-geek alike will appreciate that network devices seem to figure things out for you, thanks to Rendezvous which simplifies the process of setting up a network, printer, and communicating with others on a network. It doesn’t remove any degree of flexibility in network configuration, but it can help to automate and simplify setting up one’s computer or entire network. Admittedly not every printer on the market is Rendezvous savvy. That will come in time. But the concept is a good one, and it renews my faith in Apple’s ability to make computing more pleasant for all of us.

iApps

It may be in large part because I cannot stand the sight of the word Microsoft, and generally feel that the world would be a much better place if the company were removed from the face of the Earth, but for some reason when Apple bundles all sorts of useful applications with their OS it doesn’t come across as forced or manipulative in the same way as it does when Microsoft insists that IE cannot be uninstalled from Windows, for example.

In any event, my point is that the applications Apple has included with OS X are, for the most part, great. Of course by now we are all familiar with iTunes, iDVD, and so forth. There are many others included with OS X, and while they aren’t all total hum dingers, virtually all of them are useful, elegant, and well conceived. As the OS comes, out of the box, you can get quite a lot done and in fine style. And a lot of what you can do, you’d be hard pressed to do on another platform—in some cases at all, or at the very least without spending a pile of money on hardware or software. Apple has provided a consistent user interface for a variety of small applications that will really make life easier for novices. And even those of us who are geeked out appreciate the fact that we can burn DVDs with iDVD, rip MP3s and listen to Internet radio with iTunes, and organize all of our hot dates with geekettes (is that a word?) using iCal. The addition of Bluetooth support and inclusion of iSync makes life easier for those of us (myself included) who are so geeky that we can’t stop using a computer for even one waking moment and carry Palms with us all day long.

So What’s the Deal?

Where does all of this leave us? As I said I’m running OS X full time now, and enjoying it. Jaguar is far from perfect, but it’s a gigantic improvement over previous versions of OS X. I have been using it for two solid weeks now without booting into OS 9 once, and I believe that for the vast majority of users Jaguar is ready for prime time use. I certainly could not have said that about 10.0 or 10.1!

Apple has some work cut out for them. For one thing, they have to get the speed up. OS X needs to run Carbon programs faster than OS 9. I’m not asking for miracles—I don’t care about huge speed increases whereby OS X is twice as fast overnight, but let’s get it faster than OS 9 so we can really move forward and give everybody an incentive to make the switch.

If I had my druthers 10.3 would allow you to turn off the Dock and let you minimize windows to another application like DragThing. This will probably never going to happen, but it would sure be nice if I could hide the Dock entirely with an F-key and bring it back when I need it to unminimize a window. Then I’d yank everything else off of it and use DragThing for program/document launching and LiteSwitch for program-switching.

Of course I’d love to see file extensions abandoned in favor of a more elegant and intelligent system. But that seems fairly unlikely as well. Never hurts to ask though…

Other than that, let me import my OS 9 Keychain, and fix some of the braindead Finder behavior. Many of my other gripes can be resolved with third-party utilities, which while not the ideal solution, provide some talented programmers with an opportunity to make a few bucks and strut their stuff, and allows Apple to focus on something more important than enabling hierarchical browsing in the Apple menu (like improving speed, etc.).

So I’m turning over a new leaf. Instead of bad rapping OS X at every opportunity I’m making an effort to spread good cheer and convert some of the stubborn OS X nay-sayers I used to call comrades. Do not worry, the Mac is as much a pleasure to use as before. If you doubt that, play with Jaguar for a week or two, and then tinker with a Wintel box. OS X has most of what you’d want from Windows or Unix, but it preserves a lot of what we love from OS 9. Sure some concessions were made, and I’m not 100% behind all the decisions Apple made. But OS X is more stable, and in many ways gets us past some of the baggage the antiquated OS was burdening us with.

I hate to sound like Mary Poppins, but I do believe that the future of the Mac is bright as ever if Jaguar is any indication. There are bound to be some bumps in the road, but if I am running Jaguar full time and enjoying it, there’s no reason most ATPM readers shouldn’t be too!

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