OS X Beta Diary: Epilogue

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OS X is here, well here at Macworld anyway. I spent a good portion of Wednesday in a super-secret Apple meeting, sitting within spitting distance of Steve Jobs and hearing all about the pros and cons of OS X. I saw demos of Quartz, OpenGL, Carbon, Coca, and Classic from the very people who helped create them. And when all was said and done, I was impressed and excited about the future of the Mac OS.

The key word here is future . I'm not trying to inadvertently scare you away from the initial release of OS X, but it will be shipping without a few things. The point of OS X is not to give the Mac OS an interface update and some modern perks such as preemptive multitasking and protected memory; the point is to give the Mac's operating system a new foundation to build upon. Unlike our Windows-using peers, we're getting an operating system built from the ground up. We lose the troubles of the old and get the benefits (and unanticipated troubles) of the new. This is the beginning of something wonderful, really. The Mac community gets to revisit 1984 and experience the start of a revolution.

So, What's Missing?

Early OS X adopters won't have DVD playback or the ability to burn CDs in iTunes, DiscBurn, or any other application for now. The reason? Apple felt it was better to give OS 9 users the ability to burn CDs now instead of putting the new feature into the new OS. Seems like an OK excuse, and I'm certain OS 9 users using DiscBurn and iTunes appreciate that. Steve Jobs actually made a good point yesterday when he reminded us that Windows has never shipped with the ability to burn CDs from the OS natively (out of the box). Certainly that's an uncharitable comparison, but it's a good point. And when you consider what we do get, waiting until April for Apple to release a fix for CD burning isn't bad.

There also will be a noticeable lack of applications for now. Remember, this is a new OS and it needs new applications; native Carbon applications don't grow on trees.

Speaking of underlying system architecture, now is a good time to bring up Classic, the OS 9-compatibility layer in OS X that allows users to run OS 9.1 apps. Until your favorite applications are OS X-native, you can run them while the OS is in Classic mode. The catch? They won't have the speed and stability features promised in OS X. I've actually found that in the shipping version Classic is stable, and it starts up faster than it did in the beta (just under 30 seconds). That time decreases when I turn off the extensions -- and to run applications like Word and Excel, you don't need extensions, so the speed and stability issues aren't nearly so pressing as they could be.

If you're concerned about applications that won't run in Classic and can't run in OS X, remember that you'll have the ability to install two operating systems, thereby creating a dual boot system. (OS X includes a full installation disk of OS 9.1 -- a perk for anyone who hasn't upgraded past 8.5.1.) When booting your machine, you will choose the OS in which you need to work. The OS you choose depends on the applications you need to use. I'm figuring out a way to have my system reboot into OS 9.1 automatically once a day, run Retrospect Backup, and restart into OS X, because I'm a big believer in backing up my machine. Of course, we'll only have to switch between operating systems while we wait for more applications to become OS X-savvy.

Why Install?

Despite the inconveniences, there are plenty of benefits to embracing OS X. Instead of giving you the Apple PR line about protected memory and fancy Aqua interfaces, I'd like to revisit the basics.

First, the PDF technology built into OS X is amazing, though not a first; NeXTStep had these features almost 10 years ago. However, the PDF technology is an only-on-the-Mac feature of OS X -- and the first of its kind for a consumer level OS.

Next, we get all the perks of UNIX without having to learn anything about UNIX, and there are already dozens of shareware applications that put a shiny Aqua interface and point-and-click usability on popular UNIX commands. For those of you who, like me, are familiar and comfortable in the command line, the UNIX perk is a plus.

Finally, networking capabilities work wonderfully in OS X. Apple has incorporated nearly every Internet standard and done an excellent job implementing it in the OS. At home, I have a static IP address for my laptop; at work, I have it dynamically assigned to me upon arrival. At the end of my day here, I put the computer to sleep, go home and plug in, switch my location settings and resume connectivity without affecting my mail application. It gets better: if I had an AirPort card in my laptop and had AirPort working at home, I wouldn't even have to tell my laptop to switch to AirPort. It would just automatically adjust to the changed network protocol when I woke it up.

Folks, I've been praising Mac OS X since I got my hands on it a year ago. I'm a firm believer in what it will be able to do. I see the flaws now, and I know they'll be fixed. I see there are no applications, but I know there soon will be.

One thing to consider as the reaction of OS X begins to pour out of the Mac community: these are people who have become very familiar with the Mac OS over the last 17 years. OS X is new, and not everyone is totally familiar with it yet. So we might be critical of an operating system we don't know -- but some of us just love the challenge.

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