ISSUE 406: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Apple's new OS 8 system falls short of revolution
but is still a step forward for clan Macintosh Aug
Despite the chaos and uncertainty at Apple
caused by the surprise departure of CEO Gil Amelio and head of
technology Ellen Hancock, the company is moving ahead with
plans to update the Macintosh operating system -- a platform known for
its ease of use but saddled with decade-old roots.
Those aging roots have forced Mac users to put up with
a system that crashes more often than they would like, and that lacks
some of the features available to users of rival Windows systems,
including stable multitasking.
Having purchased Steve Jobs's NeXT Corp.
to gain access to its operating system, Apple developers are busy
trying to integrate the two technologies. The project, code-named
Rhapsody, won't be available to users until some time next year, at the
In the meantime, owners of fairly recent Macintoshes
will be offered an interim product, OS 8 (formerly code-named Tempo),
to replace the current, five-year-old System 7 generation of operating
With an expected release later this summer, Apple has
been demonstrating its features. I saw OS 8 in action at a seminar held
recently at Denman Street's Electric Zoo. And while OS 8 isn't
a revolution, it looks like a useful step forward for Mac users.
A number of new features will save trips to the menu
bar. For example, many objects offer contextual menus, meaning you can
command-click on an icon, a window, or even text, and a menu pops up
with the actions most usefully performed on that object. (Application
software will need to be rewritten to take advantage of this handy
A new File Menu item lets you send an object to the
Trash, even if the Trash Can is hidden. And dragging while pressing the
Command and Option keys automatically creates an Alias.
Desktop clutter is addressed with new button and tab
views of icons and windows. The buttons can be launched with a single
click, while tabs minimize the amount of space taken by these objects
but easily open up when needed to display their contents.
Users get a modernized, 3-D look, which is more easily
customized through a redesigned control panel.
An Internet Setup Assistant simplifies creating an
account with an Internet service provider. The control panel adds a
Connect To item, which allows direct connection to an Internet address
at any time, regardless of what application is loaded. The Web Sharing
Control Panel makes it easy to publish data on the Net.
Perhaps the most welcome improvements, however, are
under the hood. The Mac Finder has been rewritten to take fuller
advantage of PowerMac power. That means most Finder operations will
feel perkier. As well, the Finder is now multithreaded, which means
that multiple tasks can be performed at the same time so you can start
to copy a large number of files but keep working while the copying
takes place, for example. (Formatting a disk, however, still shuts
everything else down.)
Many of these features have been available as separate
utilities, but it's nice to have them all integrated into a more stable
In many ways, however, OS 8 seems to be playing
catch-up. Contextual menus have been just a right-click away for
Windows 95 users, for example. So while OS 8 probably won't draw many
Intel/Windows users to the Mac, it should prove an at-tractive upgrade
for current users.
Farther off looms Rhapsody, the merger of NeXT and
Apple technologies, which promises industrial-strength multitasking and
other power features. Apple promises a Mac-like look and feel for this
operating system, along with the ability to run the current generation
of Mac software in what is described as the Blue Box.
Apple hopes, however, that software developers will
start to write software for the next generation of Rhapsody-native
applications. These will be run in a so-called Yellow Box.
Apple has also announced plans to make a version of
Rhapsody available for Intel-based computers. Rhapsody for Intel will
be able to run Yellow Box applications, but not today's current Mac
applications. As a result, developers writing for the Yellow Box will
be able to produce software that will run on both Macs and PCs.*