What's Next for OS X?

The release of Mac OS X 10.1 last year changed Apple's next-generation operating system from an OS for early adopters to one that could conceivably be used by the rest of us. The update offered much-needed improvements in performance and such sorely-missed features as DVD playback, support for CD burning, and OS X-native AirPort configuration software.

But even Apple would admit that OS X is anything but complete. Work remains to be done on the interface and under the hood. Here are some changes to hope for in future updates.

Aqua Absentees

When Apple tweaks OS X's interface, it usually restores OS 9 features. Familiar elements still missing from OS X include labels, spring-loaded folders, a Control Panels-like hierarchical menu for system preferences, an application menu, pop-up folders, contextual menus that offer more than a scant few commands, a windowshade feature that doesn't send you traipsing to the Dock to find minimized windows, and, of course, the Trash on the Desktop. OS X's Open and Save dialog boxes--impossible to navigate with the keyboard--also call out for more attention. Many users would be pleased to find support for the AirPort software base station and USB printer sharing in OS X.

More technical users will be pleased when the SMB (Server Message Block) networking protocol, which allows Macs to log onto Windows networks, is easier to configure and use. And AppleScripters will feel more at home when OS X supports folder actions.

Hardware Hitches

The old Mac OS's plug-and-play prowess has yet to be achieved in OS X. There's no game-controller-input API. And even if a native version of Adobe Photoshop was available this instant, some users would stick with older versions--and OS 9.2--because many people require TWAIN support for their scanners and compatible drivers for their production printers.

Many USB and FireWire devices now function thanks to OS X 10.1; SCSI hasn't fared as well. A number of SCSI adapter cards don't work with a Mac running OS X, and those that do, don't work as well as they could.

Pitfalls for Publishers

Systems that developers depend on must also be finished. OS X-compatible drivers for MIDI devices are starting to appear, but the CoreAudio and CoreMIDI systems that make up OS X's music and audio architecture are far from complete.

And many of the developers we spoke with wish Apple would provide more ways for applications to tap into OS X. For example, OS X's preemptive multitasking scheme allows a host of applications to grab the attention of the Mac's processor, but game developers would be tickled if they could tap into a high-level function that shut down all nonsystem processes, thereby gaining more processor time for their games and boosting performance.

Looking Forward

While OS X is still a work in progress, the good news is that it will only get better with each iteration, providing better performance, greater support for attached devices, and, ultimately, more compelling reasons to forget about the Mac OS of old.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the April 2002 issue of Macworld.

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