ISSUE 441: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Apple borrows the best from Windows 95
with new features in Mac OS 8.1 upgrade - April 7 1998
Last week, we took a peek into the near future,
when Microsoft unveils Windows 98, its next generation
While Win98 isn't going to be formally unveiled until
June 25, Apple has had its latest operating system upgrade, OS
8.1, available since January. OS 8.1 builds on the successful release
last summer of OS 8.0, which ended a long period during which Apple
seemed to do little to meet the evolving needs of Macintosh users.
Ironically, while Microsoft has often been criticized
for simply "borrowing" Apple's best ideas, in many ways OS 8.0 seemed
to me to play catch-up and imitate Windows 95. Microsoft's operating
system featured a 3D look, in "Chiseled Steel" (i.e. grey). OS 8
responded with a 3D look, in "platinum" (i.e. grey). Windows 95 offered
right-mouse-click pop-up context menus. Lacking a right-mouse button,
OS 8 offered Control-Click pop-up context menus. OS 8 menus even stay
down, just like Windows menus.
The new update, OS 8.1, continues the pattern. While
Windows 95b offered FAT32, an optional update to the file system
allowing it to work better with large hard drives, OS 8.1 offers HFS+,
optional to the Mac's Hierarchical File System, offering virtually the
same features as FAT32, supporting the new generation of affordable
large hard drives.
(And, like FAT32, Mac users should ap-
proach HFS+ with caution -- installing it destroys your current data.
Be prepared to back up and restore. Or be prepared to purchase the
third-party Alsoft PlusMaker (www.alsoftinc.com)
utility, which can make the conversion non-destructively.)
Even if you don't want to go through the hassle of
converting to HFS+, if you're one of the millions who made OS 8 a
bestseller for Apple, OS 8.1 is a worthwhile upgrade. You'll get
support for the Universal Drive Format used by DVD hardware, and an
updated Java runtime, along with improvements to Open Transport,
Apple's networking component.
Other improvements include an updated LaserWriter
drive, and a version of PC Exchange that finally recognizes PC long
In addition, the upgrade cures a collection of minor
irritants from the initial version of OS 8. It speeds up screen redraws
when opening a folder and eliminates many system crashes. And improved
virtual memory management results in many users finding their computers
While OS 8.1 includes Microsoft Internet Explorer as
its default Web browser (the result of
last summer's pact between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs),
it will respect your current browser when upgrading a current system.
For users who have already upgraded to last summer's
OS 8.0, the new version can be obtained for free from Apple over the
Internet -- if you're prepared for a 16-meg download. Alternatively, it
can be ordered from Apple on CD for about $30. It's also included on
the CD with the April 1998 copy of MacAddict magazine ($8.99).
Mac users who have not yet upgraded to OS 8.0 can get the full version
on CD for about $140 from all the usual sources. (Compare that to
Microsoft, who have only allowed users to download select portions of
the Windows 95B update, holding back the FAT32 upgrade to customers who
purchase new hardware.)
For the longer term, Apple is focusing on its Rhapsody
operating system, the result of last year's purchase of Jobs' NeXT.
Rhapsody promises a merger of the Macintosh ease of use with NeXT's
stability and solid multitasking. Like Microsoft, which supports two
operating systems -- Windows 95/98 for the majority of users and
Windows NT for servers and systems requiring extra robustness -- Apple
is expected to aim Rhapsody at the high end, promising to continue
support and development of the Mac OS "for the rest of us." The OS 8.1
upgrade is a sign that Apple is taking seriously its commitment to
continuing the classic Mac OS.
* * *
In a previous issue, this column revealed a
potential security problem to readers who access the Internet using the
popular Wave system, available from Rogers and other cable
providers. The problem was that if they turned on file sharing without
setting passwords, the contents of their shared drives were open to
scrutiny by other Wave users.
We can't take credit for this, but at virtually the
same time as publication of that column, the Wave system has fixed the
problem. According to Gary McKay, Rogers Wave Vancouver
regional manager, "We have upgraded all the LanCity modems, which has
specifically addressed the issues that were highlighted in your
Also in a previous issue, we looked at a pair of
powerful handheld computers. Reader Russell Slater pointed out
that the HP620LX that we examined is not alone on the market: "For the
same price as the HP, the Sharp Mobilon comes with a built-in
33.6 modem, and is otherwise pretty much the same feature for feature."
I count on my readers to keep me honest!*