OS X Beta Diary: What to Expect When You're Expecting

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The other day, a friend of mine who uses iBooks in his classroom visited me in my home in San Francisco. He noticed my PowerBook out on the coffee table and asked if he could check his e-mail. He doesn't know much about computers. On top of that, he didn't know that my computer had OS X running on it, and that everyone is complaining about what a horrible thing OS X is. But as a silent experiment, I decided to let him check his mail and not mention anything about the new world he would find when he flipped open my PowerBook's lid.

He sat down, moved the cursor around, noticed the dock pop up, found the familiar Internet Explorer icon, clicked, waited, and then checked his Web-based e-mail. Not once did he stop to say "What the heck is this?"

After checking his mail, he decided to poke around my computer for MP3 files, and that was when he stopped and said, "How do I find files again?" "Oh," I said, still perpetuating my ruse, "Just click on my hard drive, and navigate your way to my MP3 folder." He was off and running, and he easily found the MP3s.

(Some of you may be asking why I told him to click on the hard drive on my desktop. Well, I hacked the beta to add hard drives to my desktop. However, in subsequent versions of the OS, that capability has already been added back.)

Are you getting my point here, or do I need to go on and tell you the details of what we later had for dinner? Odd that my beginning-computer-user friend found it so easy to use OS X, because it's so different from our traditional Mac OS, and so hard to use, right? Wrong. Let me say it again: Use it for a few minutes without criticism, and then make up your mind. Just listening to what other people are saying or watching a demo won't give you the experience you'll need to make your own conclusions about OS X.

So what are the big differences? When you switch, what problems will you run into? Now that the Apple menu has been moved, is the OS easier to use? Well, yes and no. Here's a rundown of the stuff you'll have to get used to.

That Dock Thingy Initially, you'll find yourself looking for the Applications menu (the one found in the upper-right-hand corner of your screen in OS 9.X) instead of the Dock, but you'll either break that habit or find shareware as your fix. Once you start using the Dock, you'll agree it's quite useful.

New Apple Menu The Apple menu adds functionality for Shutdown, Restart, Sleep, and Force Quit (no longer do you need to remember the 3-finger salute to force-quit an app in OS X). It also includes a Recent Items option that keeps track of where you've been and what you've opened. I have to say that I especially enjoy the Force Quit option. In OS X the cursor will still move, even when an application stops doing its job; that has never before been the case in any Mac OS. That means you can go back to the desktop, choose Force Quit from the Apple menu, and quit the app without bringing down your whole system. Your system keeps working, and you don't need to press the Power or Restart button on your computer to force a restart.

What? Crash-proof? One obvious thing you'll notice: no crashes. Sure, I've had apps in OS X die on me over and over, but never once have I been able to crash the whole OS. This OS can run for days on end, never needing a restart. Think about it: This OS can run for days on end , never needing a restart. You'll get used to that quickly, believe me.

See, it works with OS 9.X! Classic is really no different than, well, OS 9.X. The function of Classic is to work like OS 9.X does, so you'll feel right at home when you're using it. Regardless of any performance issues that crop up, you should be amazed that Apple managed to pull off Classic at all. It's quite an accomplishment.

Applications don't behave any differently in OS X than they do in OS 9.X, but they do look a little different. Don't worry about bubbly buttons or the red-yellow-green buttons. They're the first things you'll stop noticing.

All in all, given a few days at the controls of your very own computer, you will wonder how you ever lived without OS X.

If Brett didn't touch on your concerns, go to the Mac OS X Forum to air them.

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