In case you’ve lost track of time, Tuesday marks the eighth anniversary of the release of Mac OS X (version 10.0.0). In that time, there have been 52 different releases of OS X, counting the public beta as well as major and minor updates. So in honor of this eighth birthday, here are eight great things about OS X.
With more than 300 new features in Leopard alone, I know the following list is going to disappoint some of you—picking just eight means I’ve certainly overlooked a number of key features, probably including many that you feel should be listed here. So please, feel free to share your list of eight favored OS X features in the comments.
Stability: Remember the days of unexpected restarts, a single app bringing down the entire OS, and troubleshooting extension conflicts? Neither do I! OS X has, barring certain hardware failures, put an end to my worrying about the stability of my machine.
Multitasking: Assuming you’ve got enough real RAM, OS X does a wondrous job of multitasking. On my Mac Pro, after doing a Macworld Video project, I’ll often be surprised to find that I’ve got 15, 20, or even 25 apps open. As the project progresses, I just keep opening the apps I need, not really paying any attention to quitting others first. Even when I exceed the 8GB physical RAM limit on my machine, OS X does a decent job at swapping virtual memory, making the process not nearly as painful as it was in prior versions of the OS.
The Unix underpinnings: Sure, not everyone is going to use Terminal every day, but even if you don’t, the stability and multi-tasking goodness in OS X comes from its solid, long-developed Unix core. Add in the ability to access that Unix system via Terminal—not to mention running many Linux applications, such as GIMP, natively—and OS X emerges as a do-it-all OS for pretty much any type of user. If that’s not broad enough coverage, of course, you can use Boot Camp (and/or a virtualization application) to run Windows on your Mac as well.
The bundled applications: Sure, I can occasionally grouse about some of the bundled apps—hey, Apple, did you know people actually play more than Chess on their Macs?—but by and large, the overall quality of the OS X bundled apps is quite impressive. Sure, some are overly simplistic (perhaps Snow Leopard will include thousands separators in Calculator!), but many can ably compete with paid-for solutions. Dictionary is a useful utility to look up words locally or by tapping into the power of Wikipedia. iCal is a reasonably powerful calendaring solution. iChat is probably the most-used application on my Mac. iTunes handles most all all of my media needs (which are admittedly simple), Mail has handled probably hundreds of thousands of messages for me over the years, Preview has evolved into a multi-talented image- and PDF-handling utility, and Safari is simply the dominant browser on the Mac.
Once you throw in iLife (which is included free with all new Macs, so it’s more-or-less like the included applications), the bundled software suite on the Mac is an impressive collection of applications.
Drag-and-drop install: Although more complicated applications often run via an installer, I love being able to install most applications with a simple drag-and-drop. Sometimes this simplicity causes troubles for new Mac users, but I love it.
Built-in PDF support: After eight years, I take this for granted…until I’m using Windows and realize that you can’t, by default, convert anything you want into a PDF without jumping through some hoops. I use this feature daily, saving Web pages and documents in a format that I know I’ll be able to look at for years to come—even if the application that created the PDF is long gone.
System-wide keystroke capture: No, I’m not talking about some sort of spyware or malware that records your passwords and sends them on to third parties. Instead, I’m talking about the ability for top-level programs to trap your keystrokes, and then do useful and interesting things with them. Programs such as Butler, LaunchBar, TextExpander, and TypeIt4Me are great examples of what you can do by trapping keystrokes. Sure, this was possible in OS 9, but it was seemingly more complex, and certainly more prone to cause system errors.
512 pixel icons: In order for Leopard’s Cover Flow view to display crisp icons at larger sizes, OS X now supports icons that are up to 512x512 pixels in size. To put that size in perspective, the first Mac’s screen was only 512x342 pixels! Browsing a folder full of these large icons in Cover Flow mode is a joy, and you can really see the detail work that went into creating the icons. Sure, they don’t have much impact on my day-to-day work, but they’re gorgeous and, I think, reflect an attention to detail across the entire OS.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve written about AppleWorks, Apple’s venerable, capable, but seriously-people-this-thing-is-so-dead application suite. On Twitter (I appear there in the guise of @BodyofBreen) where the hip kids hang out, this has elicited allusions to dinosaurs, System 7.5, cranky old men shouting “Get off my lawn!”, AOL, and time travel. The e-mail response takes a different tack along the lines of “THIS IS A SLAP IN THE FACE!!!!” “I REFUSE TO MOVE TO PAGES BECAUSE IT WON’T LET ME PASSWORD PROTECT A DOCUMENT!!!” and “YOU DON’T GET IT!!!” (Oddly, a good number of these messages are from AOL members.)
And you see where that leaves me. Torn.
When I started writing about technology a little more than 20 years ago I was a starving musician with a Mac 512Ke converted to a Mac Plus. I voraciously read Macworld and MacUser (and MacWEEK when I could scam a copy). And while reading those fine publications I swore that if I ever got to the point where my name appeared at the top of the page rather than in tiny italics at the bottom of a 75-word news piece, I’d try to avoid becoming a technology writer who denigrated those who either choose (or are compelled) to stick with older technology.
On Monday, we published a list of 15 iPhone 3.0 features we’d like to see. Now that Tuesday’s iPhone 3.0 event has come and gone, how did Apple do? Here’s a look at each item and how iPhone 3.0 fares compared to our wish list. (Yes, this is a completely subjective and Macworld-centric evaluation.) Keep in mind that Apple showed only a handful of the “100 new features” in iPhone 3.0, so it’s possible some of the things we’ve asked for simply weren't announced; for this reason, we’ve marked “missing” features as Too Early To Tell.
Systemwide cut/copy/paste As Jason Snell noted in our liveblog, “Our long national nightmare is over.” Copy/cut/paste is indeed coming to the iPhone with the 3.0 software update, and it appears to be a pretty good implementation. You simply double-tap some text to select it and bring up a Cut/Copy/Paste bar. If you want to adjust the selection to be cut or copied, you can do so. The feature works across applications, and it even handles HTML, rich text, and photos. (You can undo a cut or paste action by shaking the phone; shake again to redo. Clever, Apple.) Verdict: Fulfilled
Push notifications and/or background apps Apple first announced push-notification functionality back at WWDC 2008, but as we noted back in January, the feature has been missing in action. It’s finally coming with iPhone 3.0, and it appears the feature will work essentially as it was described last year, letting third-party applications use Apple’s service to notify you of events or data, even if the app itself isn’t running. On the other hand, Apple made its case (again) for why background applications aren’t a good idea, citing battery-life and performance issues. These are valid concerns, although they don’t change the fact that there are certain types of apps (Internet-radio streamers come to mind) that would truly benefit from being able to run in the background. Verdict: Partially Fulfilled
There is one prediction I’m pretty confident about, however—one thing that I can declare with absolute certainty will go down on Tuesday. Whatever iPhone 3.0 features Apple announces—copy-and-paste, push notifications, video capture, or hourly affirmations of what a swell human being you are for owning such a superlative phone—somebody, somewhere will declare that Apple’s announcement failed to live up to expectations.
And chances are pretty good that somebody will be a tech reporter.
Since Apple updated its Mac mini line a week ago, I've found myself getting into some pretty heated discussions with friends, colleagues, and others, about the mini's price tag.
As you know, Apple's latest mini models feature a 2GHz Core 2 Duo chip with 3MB of shared L2 cache. They also feature Nvidia GeForce 9400 integrated graphics, replacing the meager Intel GMA 950 graphics of the previous models. One model, with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive, sells for $599, while the other, with twice the memory and 320GB hard drive, costs $799. You'll note that those were the same prices of the previous mini configurations.
And yet, some of the people that I've talked to think Apple should have seized the opportunity to really put it to Dell and other PC makers by substantially slashing the price of the mini. With the economy the way it is, they contend, Apple could make a substantial dent in the low-end PC market.
I've been impatiently waiting for the arrival of the new Mac Mini, so I could run out and buy one to use as my living-room media center. So on Tuesday, I did just that. (Yes, I left work and walked down to the local Apple Store on day one, put down my credit card and left with a Mac in a bag. Told you I was impatient.) Then I went home and attached it to my high-definition TV. It looks great, and the Apple Remote works well with the built-in Front Row software to display media files on my hard drive and in my iTunes library.
But the Apple Remote only goes so far. When I wanted to watch a TV show on Hulu, I had to break out a wireless keyboard and mouse. And not only do I not want a keyboard and mouse floating around my living room, but after a few minutes of mousing my wrist really began to ache. (As a designer by trade, I use a pen and tablet as my pointing device at work.)
Now, there are plenty of VNC-style screen-sharing apps on the App Store, programs that let you see any Mac’s screen and control it remotely. But my TV is plenty big enough. I didn’t need to duplicate the Mac mini’s screen on my iPhone, I just needed to control the cursor and type in a few short items.
In the past, such a flurry of activity may have been saved for Macworld Expo, or at least a special Apple event. This time, however, the release was marked by a couple of Apple press releases, and the usual We’ll be back soon! status at the Apple Store. The times, they are a-changing indeed.
As I looked through the specs for the new Mac Pro, iMac, and Mac mini lineup, one thing struck me: FireWire 400 appears to be essentially dead—at least as far as Apple is concerned. With the release of these new Macs, Apple sells just one machine with a FireWire 400 port—the low-end white MacBook. Otherwise, it’s either FireWire 800 or (in the case of the unibody MacBook and MacBook Air) no FireWire at all.