Mac OS X Beta Diary: Rumors and Truth

The deadline for OS X's release is getting closer, and the Mac community is buzzing with excitement. Of course, there are still the people sitting in the back of the class offering nothing but complaints, which really helps no one. But please don't ready an e-mail to me containing your Mac manifesto, or go hog-wild in the forum about what a senseless load of drivel I've compiled here until you read this.

For a start, the important thing to remember is that we are watching a development cycle. Let me say that again: we are watching a development cycle . Did you notice that every time Steve Jobs gets on stage to talk about OS X, the operating system is different? Changes are happening even as I write this. Much like having a child, you can't expect the child to walk if it hasn't been born yet, right? So why then, should we expect OS X to do all the tricks we're asking of it when it hasn't even shipped?

This brings up our issue from last time: software. The feedback I'm getting from a lot of OS X developers is: "It's not done yet, and when it is, we'll be ready." Now, I know, we've heard that line over and over (even from Apple), but I have an excellent explanation. To illustrate my point, pretend you're a software developer. You work for a week on your application, load it up, and it runs great. Then, you get another version of OS X (say it went from Developer Preview 4 to the Public Beta), and your application doesn't work at all. Back to the drawing board, changes made, and so on, and then it works again. Then, weeks later, you get another developer preview and surprise, broken again. How many times are you going to do this before you throw up your hands and say "I'm waiting for the final"?

Certainly there are things that can be done in the meantime to prepare for that final version, and still make sure you have your applications ready in time. Those of us using the OS X beta just shouldn't expect beta applications that support it right now. But we should rest easy: Apple is hard at work to get this thing shipped, and certainly other companies are working just as hard.I can assure you now that I've seen many, many changes in the past few weeks in later builds of the OS X beta. Sure, a few have crashed faster than you can spell USB, but some haven't. Week by week the OS gets better, with increasingly more features. One specific feature I'm pleased to see: I plugged in my USB printer and it's good to go. I mean, there are no drivers, no setup -- it's just ready to go. Networking also works like a champ, with no need to restart after making changes.

My guess is that OS X will ship with a handful of apps to keep us all busy (read: "Hey you guys, look over there!") while we wait on our other applications to get updated so they run natively on OS X.

Don't run out and get your copy unless you're sure OS X will be right for you -- just think about it first. Now is the time to start weighing the benefits and the drawbacks of OS X so you can make that decision in an informed way. I'll go over a few of the pros and cons of OS X, and hope to dispell some rumors.

True or False? "All my apps will run in Classic, but I won't get any benefit from the protected memory management and stability of OS X in Classic." Well, that's true and false. An app may crash in Classic (and we've yet to see Classic survive a crashed app, but that could change by March 24), but Classic actually starts up faster in OS X than OS 9 does by itself. The other day, I got Classic to start in 20 seconds, and it took OS 9 a whole two minutes to start up without OS X on the same machine.

True or False? "Aqua doesn't work like OS 9." True, it doesn't look like OS 9. Why? Because it's not OS 9. It's something new, and change inherently comes with new things. However, similar to learning a language, diving in and immersing yourself will get you up and running fast. Dipping your toe in once and saying the water is too cold will have you at the sidelines complaining while the rest of us get moving. This is an easy OS to master, and once you do, you'll ask yourself how you ever went without it.

True or False? "I need to know Unix to use OS X, because I'll need the command line." False! If you don't know Unix, you don't need to use it. It's very well hidden, so unlike in Microsoft Windows, you won't see a terminal or any text on your screen that will give you flashbacks to 1982, ever -- unless you really want these flashbacks. Apple covered it all up, but power users who know Unix can dive right in and have at it.

True or False? "I'll have to learn how to browse through my files all over again!" False. You have three options as it stands now, one of which is just like Mac OS 9.X. You will be able to find your files, trust me.

True or False? "All that animation and OS beauty imparts a cost on performance." False. I had the first version of the beta (by the way, betas are slow by nature) running on a 233MHz Rev. A iMac with 64MB of RAM, and it ran just fine, even with Classic going full steam.

True or False? "My applications won't run in Classic."OK, again, that one is both true and false. There are some applications that won't run in Classic, such as Retrospect and Virtual PC. Unfortunately, if you use one of those apps, you will need to wait for them to be updated before you can use them again in OS X while running Classic. Alternatively, you can prepare a dual boot system if you just have to have OS X right away.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is going to be big. We just need to take a deep breath and relax. The best things come to those who wait, and we've been waiting long enough.

Want to discuss Mac OS X with Brett Larson and other Macworld editors? Visit our Mac OS X Forum!

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