The Personal Computing Paradigm
Mac OS X 10.2—First Impressions
My copy of Mac OS X 10.2 didn’t arrive until September, so this article will only cover my very first impressions of it. For now, I will focus on how the basics have improved since 10.1.5. Perhaps next month I’ll take a look at the exciting new technologies like Rendezvous.
Although I’ve never had trouble in the past, it’s always a good idea to preserve your old system installation when upgrading to a new version of an the operating system. One way to do this is to rely on your normal backup, but be careful if you go this route. It may take many hours to reinstall your system software and backup program, and then to restore everything from the backup. If you can, it’s better to make a separate clean installation to test the waters. Since Mac OS X doesn’t support multiple installations on a single partition, you’ll need either two partitions or two drives.
My Macs are a year-old QuickSilver G4 and a 600 MHz iBook. While I was working on the G4, I used the iBook to install 10.2 on an external FireWire drive. Perhaps it was the new CD I was listening to, but the 10.2 installation didn’t seem to take very long, even though it required two CDs.
Pretty soon, I was running Jaguar on the iBook. Even though Quartz Extreme doesn’t support my iBook’s video card, performance is much improved. The Finder is more responsive, and list view is actually usable when you sort by something other than name. Applications load faster. Menus don’t seem as sluggish. Browser windows resize more smoothly. BBEdit’s Find & Replace window draws faster. There’s no more delay when opening the Startup Disk preference pane. OS X still feels slow compared to OS 9 running on the same hardware; it probably always will because it’s doing more. But with 10.2 it runs at what I consider to be an acceptable speed on an iBook. If you’re running Mac OS X on a G3 today, the 10.2 upgrade is worth it for the speed increase alone.
The next step was to attach the external drive to my QuickSilver to try 10.2 there. The boot process started normally, but then the old 50% gray halftone replaced the normal boot screen and the machine froze. Luckily, I was able to unplug the external drive and reboot with 10.1.5 from the internal drive. The problem was that 10.2 is incompatible with the PCI Radeon video card that I use to drive my second display. Sure enough, after I removed the PCI card, 10.2 booted fine on the QuickSilver. Given that Apple shipped this Radeon on its own build-to-order machines, I’ve got to wonder how they let Jaguar out with such an obvious flaw. Well, I guess they can say that they didn’t miss their release date.
Spring-loaded folders are back, right? Wrong. The more useful aspect of spring-loaded folders is back in that you can drag files onto a folder to tunnel down and find where you want to drop them. Not back, are the spring-loaded folders that you activate with a click-and-a-half to browse when you aren’t dragging anything. Apple evidently wants to replace this with Columns view. However, Columns view takes more screen space than the other views and can only sort by name.
I already mentioned that Finder responsiveness is much-improved. Other parts of the Finder are also improved. It now provides the option of using normal Get Info windows that always track the same item. The 10.1 “inspector” window that always tracks the current selection is available if you hold down Option.
The Finder has a new Find command that harkens back to the System 7 days. It’s both faster and easier to use than the travesty that was Sherlock on OS X. Unfortunately, some of the familiar search criteria are gone, so you may have to resort to a utility like File Buddy.
Although 10.2 continues to rely on filename extensions more than it should, the Finder now has an Open With command that lets you open a file with a non-default application. Holding down Option is supposed to change the application binding permanently, but it saves the setting in the fragile Launch Services database rather than using the file’s creator code.
The other main problem with the 10.1 Finder was that the Icon and List views didn’t work as well as their Mac OS 9 counterparts. A major improvement in 10.2 is that you can now adjust the font size of these views (as well as Column view), down to a minimum of 10pt (instead of 12). This makes it possible to see more files at once. Unfortunately, one aspect of List view is actually worse than in 10.1. With only a single column showing, I was unable to get the right edge of the column to stick to the right edge of the window. It always seemed to be too wide or too narrow for the window.
Other long-standing problems with the OS X Finder windows persist. If you save a file from an application, you have to click in the Finder window before the file shows up. The windows sometimes forget whether the toolbar was visible and how the icons were arranged. Making a new folder in List view sometimes causes the Finder to scroll the window horizontally, even if the folder name already fit in the displayed part of the view.
When 10.1 was released, I complained that its font smoothing made small text look blurry. You could turn off the smoothing at smaller font sizes (except in the Finder), but then you’d run into OS X’s poor spacing of screen fonts. It was a choice between letters running together and blurry text.
With 10.2, two changes help resolve these font issues, though not completely. First, the 10.2 Finder obeys your font smoothing preferences. Second, the system now lets you choose among four different levels of font smoothing. The first, known as Standard, is the font smoothing present in 10.1. The other three are known as Light, Medium, and Strong. They incorporate sub-pixel font rendering and give you some control over the darkness of the text.
It’s difficult to compare the levels live because you have to quit and relaunch applications before they notice that the setting has changed. Below is an image that shows the way Finder text looks in System 7, Mac OS 8/9, Mac OS X 10.1, and Mac OS X 10.2.
The first two lines show Geneva text rendered by QuickDraw at 9pt and 10pt. The first line is the default Finder font size in System 7; the second is the default in Mac OS 8 and 9. The third line shows 12pt Lucida Grande with Quartz’s Standard font smoothing. This is the default Finder font in Mac OS X, and the only one available prior to 10.2. The next four lines show Lucida Grande 10pt with Standard, Light, Medium, and Strong font smoothing. The last line shows Lucida Grande 10pt without font smoothing.
10.2 is an improvement over 10.1 in that the Medium and Strong font smoothing options allow for blacker text that’s easier to read. Unfortunately, the stronger font smoothing tends to make the text look thicker. This is especially apparent in the menu bar. Overall, my Finder has gone from the third line (in 10.1) to the last line (in 10.2). I find this a big improvement, though Lucida Grande still doesn’t look as good at small point sizes as the Geneva of the first two lines. The “X” in particular is oddly formed, and examples with other letter sequences show that Quartz still fails to put any horizontal space between certain characters.
The new 10.2 sub-pixel smoothing adds colored artifacts, which are visible even on LCD screens. In this example, look at the second half of the word “Programming,” the middle of “Files,” the “d” of the second “Add,” and the “l” and “d” in “Folder.”
There are far more changes in Mac OS X 10.2 than I have mentioned above. Apple’s developer Technical Note lists many of the bugs that were fixed. There are also major improvements to many of the bundled applications. Preview now shows thumbnails for multi-page documents. Mail has improved filtering and spam features, though its inexact search engine and poor support for message threading continue to make it unsuitable for heavy use. Sherlock 3 brings Watson-style Internet services to everyone, though Watson is faster and has more tools. Though there are still lots of problems with Mac OS X, most things are improved in 10.2. (The notable exception is open and save dialogs, which still aren’t properly navigable from the keyboard.) 10.2 won’t get everyone to switch from OS 9, but it’s a no-brainer for users of 10.1 and well worth the upgrade price. I’ll be happy to use it once Apple resolves the hardware incompatibilities.
Also in This Series
- How Cool Is Your Mac? · May 2012
- Mac OS X’s Increasing Stability · August 2006
- Coping With Mac OS X’s Font Rendering · January 2006
- E-Mail Archiving with Eudora and Mail.app · January 2003
- Grab Bag · October 2002
- Mac OS X 10.2—First Impressions · September 2002
- Mac OS X 10.1—First Impressions · October 2001
- Mac OS X Tips · June 2001
- Mac OS X—Finally · May 2001
- Complete Archive