What, We Worry?

Editor's Note: This column appears as a part of Macworld's Total OS X, available exclusively on newsstands beginning April 2002. This special issue, which features a magazine, 50-page booklet, and two supplementary CD-ROMs, is devoted entirely to Mac OS X and includes excerpts from David Pogue's bestselling book, Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, published by O'Reilly and Associates.

So much for our collective genius. When Steve Jobs first unveiled Mac OS X at a Macworld Expo, we, the Mac fans, were horrified by all the wrong things.

Remember the hysteria about the removal of the hard drive icon from the desktop in the Mac OS X Public Beta (code name: Public Alpha)? From the shrieking on the Internet, you'd have thought Apple had switched to a two-button mouse or something.

In the end, Apple restored the hard drive icon to the desktop in version 10.0 (code name: Public Beta). The juicy irony, of course, is that now as we settle in to Mac OS X, it's dawning on us that there's nothing very useful in the hard drive window anymore. It's the Home folder we care about now.

So what do we do? More and more people are deliberately removing that hard drive icon from the desktop, via the Finder preferences. Apple, as it turns out, knew what it was doing all along.

But even that was nothing compared with the sleep we lost over the Dock. With this single row of icons at the bottom of the screen, Apple intended to replace a long list of beloved Mac features--the Apple menu, the application menu, the Control Strip, pop-up windows, and the Launcher. Help! Police!

Here again, we were tilting at windmills. True, Apple met us partway by making the Dock hierarchical, adding fantastically handy pop-up menus that reveal the contents of our disks and folders. Today, in the faster, more flexible version 10.1 (code name: version 10.0), the Dock doesn't seem so bad. In fact, in some ways, it's actually better than the application and Apple menus: Everything in it is now visible all the time. And heaven knows, it's a lot easier to add things to the Dock than to the Apple menu.

Of course, just because we worried about the wrong things doesn't mean there's nothing to worry about at all. Even if Apple got most of the big picture right, it fudged a lot of the details.

We've lost a lot of useful little features like icon labels, randomized desktop pictures, and file encryption. Most Macs have a built-in microphone, for example, yet Mac OS X offers no way to record sounds. A Mac OS X machine can't serve as a software base station for an AirPort network. We still have something like the Location Manager, but it remembers only our network settings for each place we take our laptops--not our preferred printer, startup program, and other settings.

There are even uglier problems having to do with Macs that Apple promised would be fully Mac OS X-compatible, but aren't. For example, if your Mac has a G3 processor and an ATI graphics card, you eventually discover, as Apple's tech note puts it, that "QuickTime movies may play with a lower frame rate than expected. Games and other software may perform more slowly than expected." And if you've never witnessed actual steam blasting out of another human being's ears, try asking a bronze-keyboard, Mac OS X PowerBook owner: "Watched any good DVDs lately?"

In the end, though, there's hope. Despite Apple's claim that Mac OS X is an ultramodern operating system, Unix is actually 30 years old. It's been polished to a shine by thousands of geeks all over the Internet.

In other words, Mac OS X comes with a fully built, highly tuned Mercedes chassis. All it needs now is a little body work.

If you want to worry about Apple, worry about market share. Worry about what's taking Photoshop 7 so long. Worry about the Mac's dependence on Microsoft.

But don't worry about Mac OS X. It'll be out of the shop in no time.

DAVID POGUE (www.davidpogue.com) is the weekly technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of Mac OS X: The Missing Manual (Pogue Press/ O'Reilly & Associates, 2002).

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