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ISSUE 535: The high-tech office- Jan 25 2000


Many Apple users consider skipping OS 9 in favour of waiting for a really big change

Besides being one of the few computer manufacturers providing the industry with any excitement these days, the revitalized Apple Computers has also shaken up its operating system software business.

Since the return of founder Steve Jobs, every six months or so Apple has introduced the next in a series
of incrementally improved operating system versions, from OS 8.0 through 8.6. Late in 1999, Apple released yet another in the series -- OS 9. Apple includes more than 50 new features, a set of Internet tools that they claim makes it "the best Internet OS ever."

Apple's Sherlock 2 search feature sports a cleaner interface, with a series of buttons making it easier to search the Internet. Included is a button to search for prices, but straight out of the box, it's limited to checking the Amazon and Barnes and Noble bookstores and the eBay auction site. While it should be possible to add other e-commerce sites, there were none available from Apple when I looked.

Several of the new features are aimed at users who share their computer with others, whether at home or at work. Multiple users can each have their own customized desktop, preferences and files and can choose whether to keep files and applications private or accessible by others. The ability to store personalized preferences varies with your applications, however. Microsoft Word, for example, allows this, while Adobe Acrobat insists on using one set of preferences for all users.

If the computer is set for multiple users, a log-in password is required -- and unlike Windows 95/98, it actually provides some security. The ability to speak the pass phrase is a nice touch -- though that may not be practical in many office settings and can be confused by background noise. There is also built-in speech recognition for system commands.

Also interesting is the Keychain to manage the large number of passwords many of us have been collecting (and, too often, forgetting). Once set up, logging in automatically enables all other passwords as well, at least in theory. This technology, as well, has to be supported by software applications, and the Internet browser versions included with OS 9 lack that support.

Encryption is built into the system, allowing users to securely encode documents. This is especially useful combined with OS 9's Internet File Sharing. This new option could, for example, allow a notebook user on the road to have access, over the Net, to files on the machine back in the office. (No, you wouldn't need to encrypt those files -- but if you're going to make them available over the Internet, you probably should!)

Like Windows 98, OS 9 promises auto-updating across the Internet. Graphics designers and others who have used AppleScript to automate complex procedures may be pleased that AppleScripts can now be used across the Internet.

As with other operating system upgrades, there have been reports of incompatibilities with some applications, particularly utilities.

OS 9 costs $149 and requires a PowerMac with at least 32 MB RAM. Apple claims that more than a million Mac users have purchased the upgrade, which is not yet pre-installed on the company's hardware.

At the same show, however, the company may have removed much of the motivation for many users to upgrade. In a nearly two-hour presentation, viewable at
, Steve Jobs showed off,
for the first time, the big one -- OS X (pronounced "Oh Es Ten"). The OS 8 and 9 upgrades have been relative-
ly modest tune-ups of the company's existing operating systems. OS X
is a major change, offering both a stunning look and feel combined with a host of new features along with big improvements in stability, at least for applications that are rewritten to take full advantage of it.

OS X is promised for sometime in the summer. With that on the horizon, will users bother upgrading now to the more modest improvements of OS 9? *


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