The VisionThing: The Blue Mouse Cometh

The mouse rating is, in a very real sense, what Macworld is all about. It's the distillation into a single icon of what we do best: help users make the smartest Mac investments, and then help them get the most out of those investments.

That's why, by the end of this year, Macworld will stop using performance under Mac OS 9 as the basis for all of its ratings and lab tests. Come the end of 2001, all products that Macworld evaluates will be judged by how well they operate in Mac OS X, either natively or in the Classic environment. Software or hardware that does not support OS X at least in Classic mode will not be rated (although it may still be covered otherwise by the magazine).

The reason is simple: with the Mac world starting a tumultuous transition to Mac OS X, there has never been as great a need for objective, accurate, definitive purchasing advice. The danger of making costly mistakes is greater now than it's been in years. And while the stakes are high, the costs of not making the switch are even higher. That's why we at Macworld have chosen to put 100 percent of our resources and expertise into helping to make this transition as smooth as possible for our readers.

Even if we have to twist a few arms along the way.

The Mouse That Roared

Changing our ratings basis from OS 9 to OS X was inevitable. Apple has made it clear: the Mac is moving to OS X--as quickly as possible. Mac OS X is already included on every new Mac's hard drive. Soon when you start up that brand-new Mac, it'll be OS X's Aqua interface and not OS 9's Platinum look and feel that greets you.

And while Apple is moving fast, so are our readers. According to a recent survey of Macworld subscribers, 68 percent of you will have OS X by summer. Most Mac applications aren't available in native OS X versions, but the bulk will run in Classic. How well they run is open to debate.

Apple has put a lot of pressure on Mac software developers. Its past two Worldwide Developers' Conferences were spent convincing them of the vital need for them to move their applications to OS X. Which only makes sense: Mac users will be more inclined to make the transition if their favorite programs are available on the other side of the great divide.

By deciding to stop rating products based on Mac OS 9, Macworld is putting pressure on those developers, too. We hope it will be an added incentive for them to get their OS X products right the first time. And, in turn, the developers will have an interest in ensuring that Apple continues to improve Mac OS X, making it a more stable platform on which to build great software.

But we're not pressuring Mac developers just because Apple is. Every Mac user who is considering the jump to Mac OS X needs to know how well the latest products work on this new operating system. Those who've already made the transition will also be hungry for that information. They'll be able to get it from us.

Surely, some Mac developers will be unhappy about our decision. Most are still trying to sort out their OS X development plans; others are working hard to make their programs OS X native. That's why we're announcing this change so far in advance: to give fair warning.

The slow pace of progress by many developers toward OS X compatibility is not entirely their fault. Some admit dragging their feet because of doubts about the new operating system and the continued viability of the Mac itself. But other developers tell us they don't have all the tools they need to successfully move to OS X. Apple's making progress, they say, but key components of the operating system and development environments are still lacking.

I hope our move will help developers pressure Apple to ensure that they have what they need to make great OS X products. After all, Apple doesn't want to see a raft of poorly rated products--or worse, none at all--in Macworld 's end-of-year issue either.

Whither OS 9?

Readers will be able to tell from a simple visual cue when we start using Mac OS X to evaluate products: our mouse-rating icons will change color, from red to blue. This should also benefit developers, who'll be able to put those same blue mice on their product packaging, declaring that their products run on OS X, and just how well they run.

But our move to base mouse ratings on Mac OS X doesn't mean we'll be ignoring how products work in OS 9. As long as the Mac's most active communities continue to use the classic Mac OS, we'll be vigilant about Mac OS 9 performance. In the text of our reviews, we'll still let you know how well each product works in OS 9.

Nor will Mac OS 9 rapidly become OS non grata in our magazine. Our how-to and feature articles will continue to address the hardware and software you're using now. (Of course, the Mac OS X Secrets column we began in our July issue will always explore the technical side of the new Mac platform.)

Debuting this month are two new columns, Web Publishing Secrets and Print Publishing Secrets . Both will focus predominantly on Mac OS 9 for some time to come. Even after the mission-critical applications of the publishing world have moved over to Mac OS X, there will be the matter of custom AppleScripts, application plug-ins, and other essential cogs found in any pro publishing setup. For this reason, publishing professionals may be loath to chuck a system that works and move to a new operating system right away.

For them, Macworld will continue providing tips, tricks, shortcuts, and other useful advice--and we'll also monitor the Mac market's progress toward the day when professional publishers can confidently make the transition to Mac OS X.

Expert Buying Advice

Another feature that's new this month is our "Ultimate Buyers' Guide" series. Scheduled to appear quarterly, the articles in this series are comprehensive guides to buying essential Macintosh add-ons such as printers, digital cameras, monitors, and storage devices.

The guides will feature reviews based on comprehensive lab testing (this month we evaluate 20 ink-jet and monochrome laser printers). But in addition to giving you a list of the best current products, we'll teach you how to shop for the products in the future. Each guide will explain in detail the various features found in different product categories, so you can make good choices based on what you need.

The buyers' guides will follow along when Macworld switches the basis of its mouse ratings to OS X. The next guide, scheduled for our November issue, will use OS 9 in an evaluation of digital cameras. But the guide after that, planned for February 2002, should feature product reviews based on their performance in Mac OS X.

Macworld Recommends

Apple took a bold step, replacing the entire foundation of 17 years of success with something we all hope will be better. It was time for something new. Mac users have been demanding a robust, modern OS for more than a decade.

Well, now we have one. But if the people who make Mac hardware and software don't put maximum effort into bringing top-notch products to Mac OS X, Apple's Herculean efforts to build this radical new operating system will be for naught.

So we're putting our mouse ratings where our mouth is: strongly behind the migration to Mac OS X. Our readers will need reliable tests and ratings to help them safely bridge the chasm between platforms, and only through that transition will the Mac platform continue to grow and improve.

ANDREW GORE is Macworld's editor in chief. To comment on this column, visit our Columnists forum (type Vision Thing in Macworld.com's Search box).

Correction
The "Speed Racer" illustration in " Does MHz Matter? " (July 2001) was created by Terry Paczko.

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