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 operating system.

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 ( 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 file names.

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 running faster.

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 article."

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!*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan