Ihnatko: 2001: A Mac OS Odyssey

Let me apologize, folks. The Infinite Mystery of God's existence has caused everyone no end of bafflement and trouble for the past 3,800 years, and although I discovered the definitive answer some time ago, I haven't actually done anything with it, apart from jotting it down as a to-do item in my Palm. That was pure carelessness on my part.

In any event, yes, God does indeed exist, for better or for worse. If you're unwilling to just take my word for it, consider this: in all of world literature, only two years are also titles of classic novels: 1984 and 2001. And Steve Jobs chose both of those years for Apple to roll out new operating systems designed to blast apart the existing hegemony.

Of course, we shouldn't take mere coincidence as the sole proof of a Divine Being's existence. But it does represent precisely the sort of cheap irony you'd expect God to go for. God created the coconut, which provides vital nourishment, fiber, and drinking water, and He included utensils with it (just break off a piece!) so that humanity could readily access and enjoy it all. And then He stuck it 50 feet above our reach in a tree with no branches.

Similarly, He chose to have Chairman Steve make his first play during the year in which George Orwell predicted we would be struggling against a totalitarian dictatorship. And now, during the year in which Arthur C. Clarke predicted we would transcend our clumsy human forms and move to the next stage of cosmic enlightenment, Chairman Steve is back for a second act.

(The Infinite Mystery of why Steve Jobs continues to wear those black mock turtlenecks at important functions remains for the next generation of theologians to ponder, however.)

Thus Spake Jobs

Like it or not, Mac OS X is meant to have the same effect on us as Macintosh System 1.0 had on the MS-DOS world. This time, we are the enemy-and sure enough, Mac users' grumblings began with Apple's very first, very cautious demonstration of the Aqua interface.

The more I work with OS X, the more my attitudes and opinions-about almost every aspect of it-flip-flop. I mean, I generally like the Aqua interface, but I worry that Apple has traded elegance for flash. I like the new browser-based Finder, but dangit, it takes up a lot of room on my screen.

And while some people's first experience with Mac OS X was loading up Microsoft Internet Explorer, mine was compiling GNU source code and excitedly seeing how much I could exploit Mac OS X's Unix heritage. I'm as captivated by X's Unix underpinnings as an Adam Sandler fan is by shiny objects. And yet . . . several times in the course of the past year, I've skidded around a corner in Mac OS X and found myself transported to the dark, humid realms of lowercase backslash directories when I wasn't expecting it. It's dampened my enthusiasm for X every single time. Um, this is still Mac OS, right?

All of this is hot stuff. I can get a lot of cocktail-party conversation out of those comments. But (and I offer this only as a remote possibility) could I be, simply, full of it? Am I evaluating Mac OS X as a brand-new operating system? Or am I just rebelling against having to rethink my 15-year-old definition of the Macintosh experience, as Mac OS X's architects have done?

Everyone's going through the same ordeal. It's delightful and thrilling and frightening. All around me, folks are running around, looting stores, and proclaiming that the End of the Mac is nigh while helping themselves to a couple of DVD players at Best Buy. Others, thoroughly hypnotized by those pulsating buttons, have embraced Mac OS X and are making it do wonderful things that Macs can otherwise manage only in cartoons.

Knee-Jerk Rebels

When we were teenagers, we rebelled against anything and everything that registered on our radar. As we made our way into adulthood, we exploited our rebellious impulses a little more efficiently, focusing them on the issues we deemed truly important.

Eventually, though, we've all got to realize that the things it's most important to rebel against are our own hard-won principles and preconceptions-to realize that sometimes there's a difference between the Right Way and what we've merely come to think of as the Right Way. Our gut-level distaste for something new is less about our reaction to the thing in question than it is about our fears of abandoning the familiar and comfortable.

The computer world faced that challenge in 1984. Some of us were apoplectic with joy about the first Mac and embraced it right away, even though in many ways it was about as useful as a camel that could yodel Gershwin. Others fell in love but managed to restrain themselves until the Mac became a more practical alternative to the status quo. Still others remain unmoved.

2001 will go down as the Proving Year for Mac OS X. People will buy software for it. Apple will release updates for it. Surely, like the original Mac, Mac OS X won't be truly finished until it arrives at its equivalent of System 4.0. Until then, we won't know whether that ending will be like 1984 's, in which our impotence against the will of the collective is proved, or like 2001 's, in which humankind gains the ability to play among the stars.

Regardless of the outcome, 2001 will be remembered as the year in which the Mac community irrevocably grew up. And you'll see how 2001 won't be like "1984": This time, the blond woman in running shorts isn't hurling a hammer at a video image of Big Brother-she's throwing it at a mirror.

ANDY IHNATKO has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, Playboy, and other publications.

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