ISSUE 584: Zisman- Jan 2 2001
The high-tech office
Apple's OS X takes
users to an otherworldly place
With its next operating system release, Apple
is set to take Mac users on a one-way voyage to Oz.
I'm referring to OS X, the first total rebuild in the
16-year history of the Macintosh. Properly pronounced "Oh Es Ten," the
operating system will not be officially released until later this year.
But a $50 prerelease public beta can be purchased from Apple's Web site
and local Mac retailers, and thousands have used it to get a feel for
Apple's version of the future.
Requiring a G3 processor and 128 MB of RAM, I
installed the public beta on a loaner iMac from Apple.
It installs quickly and easily, the system restarts,
and then we're in Oz. Up until then, the movie has been in black and
white. When Dorothy opens the door and steps outside, suddenly,
everything is in vivid Technicolor. "Toto, we're not in Kansas
And while a Mac user who had been in suspended
animation from 1984 until now would be able to quickly find his or her
way around the current OS 9, this new one will take some getting used
to. First of all, like Oz, OS X's Aqua interface feels like it was made
in Technicolor. Buttons and icons glow and throb. It's visually the
most appealing computer interface around. (At the same time, graphic
artists have complained that all that colour can be too distracting. As
a result, a simple setting tones it down.)
Like Oz, nothing is safe and familiar. Menus are
different; there's no more Apple Menu, and familiar commands are now in
new locations. For instance, you don't quit an OS X program from the
File menu anymore. The Control Panel is now System Preferences. There's
a new set of folders to get used to and a new Finder to locate and
manage folders and files. The most immediately noticeable new feature
is the Dock at the bottom of the screen, with icons of running
applications and documents like the Windows Taskbar alongside icons of
often-used programs that formerly would have been in the Apple Menu.
The full-colour icons bounce and dance as the mouse
passes over them.
Built on top of a Unix base (and the first Mac OS with
a command prompt), it handles memory and multiple applications much
better than the current generation of Mac systems. As a test, I ran
multiple QuickTime video clips at the same time and the computer never
skipped a beat.
But in order to take full advantage of its power and
abilities, applications need to be rewritten. A few will be rebuilt
from the ground up as native OS X applications. More will be modified
into what Apple calls "carbonized" applications so that they can run
under OS X as well as OS 9, but without being full-fledged OS X
While Apple currently lists 269 products "built for OS
X," most existing Mac programs will be forced to run under the new
system's Classic Environment. Open, say, Microsoft Word (even
the new Word 2001) and the system pretends to boot OS 9 and then loads
the application. (You can preload OS 9 at boot time, slowing down
startup but speeding up loading older applications.) When a Classic
application is running your computer is back in the past, complete with
old Apple Menu and system font -- and the old instability. But now if
your application crashes, it just takes down the OS 9 session, while
the computer itself stays up and running.
Some current Mac applications and hardware simply
won't work under the new OS. Installing OS X cost me Virtual PC,
PC-networking utility Dave and my USB floppy disk, for instance. I'll
have to wait for new versions and drivers to get these back.
It remains to be seen whether millions of Mac users
will happily buy into Apple's new look or whether, like Dorothy,
they'll prefer to click their heels together and return to the
familiar, chanting "There's no place like home."