Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life
Mac OS X: Powerful But Awkward
Mac OS X, version 10.2, finally makes good on the new operating system’s promise of speed, accelerating Classic—that is, OS 9 running inside of OS X to support older programs—so that it launches with surprising speed. On the other hand, OS X continues to sport a pretty user interface that is harder to work with than older Mac systems, or, for that matter, Windows 98.
The Lighter Side
The OS X 10.2 interface is a bit less awkward than in the past, and finally has helpful new features that can save time—including a quick, effective feature to find files, faster content searches, and a separate Sherlock for Internet searches.
Installing OS X can be surprisingly easy and fast. Internet preferences are usually picked up by the system, eliminating one of the most time-consuming adjustments. However, Apple menu items are not picked up and put into the Dock—there’d be no room for them—and some of the cosmetic settings are less than optimal.
Every device I own was easily found and installed by OS X with no fuss, though others have had problems with specific peripherals, particularly SCSI devices, HP printers, and CD writers.
However, upgrading from 10.1.5 to 10.2 caused my screen to go black, and the computer to freeze a few minutes later. Eventually, I did a minimum install and left the computer alone for six hours after the screen went black, and that worked. This seems to be a common problem for beige G3 owners; the Mac appears to go into power-saving mode no matter what settings you specified. Using a second video card and monitor appears to work for some, but most people don’t have those spare parts. Still, once 10.2 was installed, it updated easily to 10.2.2.
10.2 brings an incredible speed boost to Classic, booting your old OS 9.2 system quickly so you can run older programs—or newer ones you haven’t had the cash or inclination to upgrade yet. Unfortunately, the amount of memory available to Classic programs seems to be limited—some have said 128 megabytes of RAM are shared among them. Very few programs are not compatible with Classic; the only one we had real problems with was SPSS 10, and an OS X-compatible version of SPSS is coming very soon. OS X 10.2 does a fine job of running even pre-PowerPC programs, such as Cricket Draw 1.3, Word 5.1, etc. We found it easier and faster to use Office 98 under Classic than Office v.X.
For the moment, you can also boot into OS 9 after you’ve installed X, and many utilities recommend this. While booting into OS 9 from your hard drive is scheduled to end in machines introduced after 2002, you may be able to boot into OS 9 from disk utility CDs—for a while, at least.
There is an incredible number of new programs being written for OS X—and seemingly none for OS 9. Every day brings some cool new X program, not to mention Java ports. That will probably be the motivating factor for getting most people to upgrade, rather than OS X’s gee-whiz features and candy-coated interface. Hackers will enjoy running Unix software on their Macs, and Web designers can test Apache configurations easily. Java works better, and Unix software is being ported over. In addition, many key professional staples will be put onto OS X, reflecting Apple’s greater market share (and probably those companies’ reluctance to invest in a dying platform, since OS 9’s death had been foretold for several years). That’s not to mention Apple’s slick, functional, easy to use new programs—iPhoto, iTunes, and all the rest—which are free with OS X.
For those who network with Windows machines, there’s very good news with easy SMB networking. You can now easily and quickly hook up to Windows shared files, thanks to a new implementation of Samba with a graphical interface. The system is much easier to use than in 10.1.x, and seems to work very well. We did have to go to Help to find out how it works, though, because it’s not that intuitive—instead of a Network option or submenu, it’s under the Go menu in the Finder. Still, it’s about as easy as using Dave—or, for that matter, mounting a Windows server from within Windows.
In terms of safe Internet networking, it took a while to get the hang of setting up an SSH tunnel (for secure Telnet, FTP, etc.), and Apple had no information on their Web site about this important and common task. Under OS 9, you simply get the great and flexible freeware program MacSSH (and see additional instructions). Under OS X, well, you should probably just visit the aforementioned Allpar site. It’s a simple command—but it’s pure Unix.
You can also have more than one simultaneous TCP/IP connection at the same time, making it easier to connect to multiple networks and eliminating the need to switch configurations all the time.
Web browsing is better under OS X than older systems, with a greater variety of browsers (including OmniWeb and Chimera) with greater speed and reliability (aside from Explorer).
Mail, Apple’s free e-mail program, is easy to use, and powerful enough for most people. Emailchemy can help you to convert from Eudora to Mail, but because Mail only works on OS X, you can’t access it if you boot from OS 9. Eudora has finally come out with a version that’s fully compatible with X, on the lighter side; Mulberry has native and Classic versions; and there is a native version of Mozilla/Netscape for those who use that for mail. People who like to live dangerously can use Microsoft’s virus propagation systems, which can also serve as e-mail clients.
The built-in Rendezvous system for automatically discovering network devices, such as printers, is not especially useful right now, but will become invaluable over time as more companies build it into their hardware.
Quartz Extreme makes OS X much faster, but only on systems with 16 MB of RAM and an AGP-based ATI graphics card or one of a number of Nvidia cards. That speed boost can be very helpful on G3 machines, which lack Altivec, and aids the G4 line as well. Our test beige G3 (with a $150 G4 upgrade from Other World Computing) was not equipped to use this, but OS X ran quickly enough regardless.
Device support continues to improve, with more printers, scanners, and the like being supported—but beware, because your favorite peripheral might not be on the list. Check Apple’s Web site for compatibility if you’re concerned. Our two printers, scanner, NP networking box, and various USB and FireWire gadgets were all recognized, but we must admit that we did not try an old slide scanner. FireWire support in OS X is better than in OS 9, by a good margin, and USB support seems better as well.
Printing is faster under OS X than 9. Creating PDF files is built into the system, but, though the display system is built on PDF, you need the free Acrobat viewer to read or print some PDF files.
As an operating system, OS X excels in technical terms. Where it falls is the user interface. Macs are known for their ease of use—but OS X is, as it comes from the factory, harder to get along with on a daily basis than Windows (even Windows NT!).
From the start, the lack of a Start or Apple menu is still a major gap, especially for those who have lots of small programs they need to run (and little patience for constantly opening new windows to find their programs). The Dock doesn’t cut it, unless you only have five or six programs, and recognize their icons quickly. A menu-based program switcher would also be handy. There are shareware utilities which fill both these needs, but they will probably need to be upgraded each time the system is.
When Microsoft came out with Windows 98, and later Windows XP, they included provisions to keep the appearance fairly similar to Windows 95, so that people who had gotten used to the older systems would not be too disoriented. It does not seem entirely unreasonable to expect Apple, whose prior operating systems had been almost universally applauded for their usability, to have done the same—to have a set of preferences and appearances pre-installed, so that clicking on a button or two in the preferences would restore the Apple menu, program switcher, stable Trash can, and other key features to their OS 9 locations. Surely, this would not be too much to ask by 10.2.2, especially considering the work Apple has put into arguably less important features such as proprietary mail and chat clients. Can a real Apple menu be so hard to program? (And, if it is, why have several independent programmers been able to do it?)
Simple things quickly become problems, and not just because of the oversized icons. Selecting files using the new multiple-column format (in Open/Save dialog boxes) is painful thanks to poorly thought out, or missing, keyboard shortcuts—simple things like pressing the first letter of the filename, then arrowing down to select it, often don’t work as expected. The columns move back and forth, making it impossible to orient your eyes easily, so you have to pay attention at all times. It’s hard to ask new users to know that you have to left-arrow or click on the left scroll bar to go back up one level. And that’s not even considering the paradigm shift from “contents of disk drives” to “special folders on one disk drive” in what used to be the path button in the Open/Save dialogues; unless you store your information in one of Apple’s preferred locations, you have to monkey with the default folders, and to do that, you have to figure out where the controls are. Hard drive roots are not listed by default, unfortunately. Neither are common OS 9 locations. It’s sad that we’ve gone from a simple, elegant Open/Save in system 7 (Command-Right Arrow to go to a new hard drive, Command-Up to move up one level, Enter to select) to the less elegant Navigation Services (move all the way up and drill back down to change drives) to the even less elegant Column view (too complicated to summarize).
That brings us to the paradigm shift from the desktop to the multiple-user environment of Windows NT, complete with a buried set of User folders, and a separate applications folder for X and for 9.
Gone are the days of understanding what each extension did, or of being able to quickly find preference files in the System Folder. Key files are distributed across all sorts of folders, buried here, invisible there, scattered across all creation. Troubleshooting quickly becomes a nightmare. OS X is also a pig—adding to the root directory:
- Applications (Mac OS 9)
- Desktop (Mac OS 9)
You can’t get rid of most of ’em. That’s a far cry from the old OS 9—a single system folder, logically divided into Control Panels, Extensions, Fonts, Preferences, etc. It’s as bad or worse than the litter created by Windows, though at least the files in OS X have longer names, and there’s no inane “shared extension except that each program has its own folder of unique shared extensions” system.
Another issue for OS 9 upgraders is the fact that most programs don’t seem to be programmed to share preferences with their OS 9 equivalents—at least, not by default. You can set Eudora and the rest to use their OS 9 file locations, but by default, they look in the OS X folders and not in the OS 9 folders. That might not be under Apple’s control, but surely it wouldn’t be so hard to have a routine that first checks in the System Folder preferences (though as of 10.2 Classic applications can read preferences from the OS X home folder).
It is still hard to customize most aspects of OS X, especially when compared with Windows, which allows for far greater user control. This is, to me, less important than straightening out the user interface, and going back to the tried and true principles that shaped OS 1 through OS 9. A little experimentation on real people might help Apple to make an operating system that doesn’t cause its loyal customers to scream. (A lower upgrade price might have the same effect.)
There are also issues of metadata and file extensions; now the .doc extensions matter to Mac people as well as Windows people. That was probably only a matter of time, but many of us will miss the file type and creator codes when they finally leave us.
It almost seems as though Apple was so busy getting the technical parts of OS X to work that they totally ignored Apple’s #1 selling factor of the past, namely the user interface—and how easy it is to get things done on a Mac. It’s hard to make adjustments on Windows. It’s hard to get even simple work done on Windows. The Windows interface is not meant for use by humans, but by developers. That’s why installers sort programs (under Windows) by company name, and put single icons into folders. (In Windows, to start Eudora, go to Start, select Programs, select Qualcomm, select Eudora, then select Eudora—ignoring Uninstall Eudora. Who cares that Qualcomm created Eudora? And why is Uninstall even needed?)
The Mac has always been about ease of use, about lower maintenance costs. OS X throws that out the window and replaces it with technical superiority—but not so much technical superiority that Windows isn’t a viable alternative for those who don’t mind doing business with convicted (albeit unpunished) criminals bent on dominating the world. Come to think of it, the technological advances of OS X are largely in place with Linux, and you can get WINE to run a large number of Windows programs under Linux—with boxes already set up at Wal-Mart for $200 and passable user interfaces.
Even though former Mac user interface designer Bruce Tognazzini posted an extensive set of recommendations for OS X two years ago, Apple seems to be totally ignoring everything it learned about user interfaces in the past. Perhaps 10.3 will do something, but don’t hold your breath; we were given that line back with 10.0, then with 10.1. Even now, simple things like an OK button in the preferences (instead of just a tiny close button), or a real Apple (Start) menu with an easy interface for customization, or a satisfactory Open/Save dialog box (maybe with Windows’ ability to delete or rename files) seem very far away.
Converting to OS X
Even though using OS X may make you run screaming to OS 9—or to Linux—you may choose to install the system for either part-time or full-time use. Some people seem to actually like the OS X interface, and there’s no way to tell until you try it.
To prevent disaster, back up your hard drive completely before starting, and make sure you don’t have mission critical jobs in the next few days—just in case. Then check out your system with DiskWarrior (it really should come with each Mac) as well as Disk First Aid. Follow all Apple’s advice.
If you’re using a beige G3, you will need to make sure that OS 9 and OS X are installed in the first partition, and that the partition is 8 GB or smaller. That might mean reformatting your hard drive. Make two sets of good backups if that’s the case—Retrospect Express might be handy. Actually, Jaguar seems to be fairly buggy in the beige G3s in general, though some have suggested that if you have a G4 upgrade, you take it out and put the G3 chip back in for the purposes of installing OS X.
Once OS X is running, I suggest installing and configuring FruitMenu first, for your own sanity. If you are going to be using Classic (non-native) programs on a regular basis, and you probably are, set the Classic control panel so it automatically launches on startup; it comes up faster if you have it automatically shut off all extensions (Apple, it would be nice if you could simply run an extension set so you can keep essential extensions on!). Classic (OS 9 under X) starts up very quickly, and OS X puts it to sleep when it’s not in use so it doesn’t eat up your system resources.
Because Classic works so well (despite some problems copying and pasting between Classic and X), you probably should not upgrade all your software immediately to Carbon or Cocoa versions. Wait a while and see what happens. Maybe a competitor will come in and drive prices down in the meantime—or maybe open source will come to the rescue. Remember, being native to OS X does not mean being faster; this isn’t the PowerPC conversion. If you’ve been using Photoshop 5.5, GoLive 5, and Office 98, upgrading to the new X versions will be disappointing. All are slower than their older 9.2 equivalents. At some point, versions that add more value—or open-source alternatives—will probably appear, especially now that the Mac is based on BSD Unix. Indeed, many are already here, including high-speed replacements for HP print drivers, and an open-source image editor.
In some cases, you will use different versions of the same program. In some cases, you can set them up to use the same preferences and files (e.g. Eudora, Mulberry). In other cases, they can drive you crazy by refusing to acknowledge the other’s existence. Researching with Google can help avoid frustration.
OS X likes lots of RAM, not surprising considering that you will sometimes also be running OS 9. RAM is now fairly cheap, and 512 megabytes isn’t such an unrealistic idea—but you can get by with 256 if you don’t go overboard. Get good, high-quality (e.g. Kingston) RAM; many have had problems with cheap RAM under OS X.
Overall, moving to OS X can be rewarding with lots of new software, greater stability (in most cases), and new capabilities. It can also be punishing, with a poorly thought out user interface, many rough edges, and incompatibility with some hardware and software—which is unimportant to me, since all of mine works, but very important to you if your printer, scanner, and backup drive are all suddenly obsolete. You may well end up like me—switching to OS X now and then to enjoy Chimera, easy FireWire access, and fast, simple Windows access and file searches—then rushing back to OS 9 with a great sigh of relief to enjoy the traditional Macintosh ease of use, efficient use of graphics, and high-quality interface design.
Also in This Series
- About My Particular Macintoshes · May 2012
- From the Darkest Hour · May 2012
- Shrinking Into an Expanding World · May 2012
- Growing Up With Apple · May 2012
- Recollections of ATPM by the Plucky Comic Relief · May 2012
- Making the Leap · March 2012
- Digital > Analog > Digital · February 2012
- An Achievable Dream · February 2012
- Smart Move? · February 2012
- Complete Archive