The VisionThing: Brave New Macintosh

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When looking at this new operating system, you must look beyond the interface. Yes, it's new, it's different, maybe even a bit bizarre and inscrutable at times. But that's not what's really important here. What's important is that we have a totally new OS, and it feels like it. It's like a pristine canvas, waiting for someone to paint a masterpiece upon it. It's fresh, it's new, and it practically crackles with the electric potential of a hundred brilliant programmers frantically creating its future, with no eye on how they can make a buck, but only on how they can change the world."

I wrote these words about a new Apple operating system-but in 1984, not 2001. And when I went back to look at my notes from so many years ago, it struck me how true those words ring in these first days of Mac OS X.

At the time, the world was scratching its collective head trying to make sense of this thing called Macintosh. No C:>, ], or READY. prompts? Using pictures to issue commands? Built-in networking? A mouse? Only a handful of people recognized the Mac OS's potential at first. But as each upstart programmer made another little contribution to the platform, it was clear that this was the start of something big.

I've been using Mac OS X as my primary operating system since the night it officially shipped. And I must say, a lot of stuff doesn't quite work (see " Are You Ready for OS X " elsewhere in this issue). But a lot of it does, and much better than I expected. What's really exciting is that I'm clearly at the start of something big again .

The old Mac OS, for all its steadfast functionality, ran out of headroom long ago. But Mac OS X is only at the beginning. Apple has successfully delivered Unix, the most powerful operating system in the world, to the desktop in a form most anyone can use. When you use it, you can feel the wellspring of power just waiting to be tapped.

Open Source

Steve Jobs himself said it, and I agree: By the end of 2001, Apple will be the largest source of Unix operating systems in the world.

Why is this important? Well, beyond inheriting an OS foundation that has been pounded on for decades by the most demanding people ever to torment a computer, we also benefit from all the knowledge about that foundation and the software written for it.

And, we get to take advantage of the massive open-source community for Unix. Open source is a remarkable concept. It means that every line of code powering the software is open to everyone. People all over the world can collaborate to improve that software, to expose bugs that might otherwise remain hidden and unfixed for years, and to re-use bits of software in ways that the authors might never have imagined.

A great example of the potential results is Fire, a universal chat application that uses open-source components to build an application that itself is not open source. By combining a variety of open-source codes written to interact with many popular-but incompatible-chat systems (including those from Yahoo and MSN), software developer Epicware ( ) came up with a program that uniquely integrates all these systems into a single, Mac OS X-only shareware application. Had Epicware been forced to write the code to interact with each chat system, Fire might never have been compiled.

The Mac, traditionally the most closed of closed environments, is suddenly wide open, thanks to Mac OS X's Unix foundation. The potential of a Mac OS capable of leveraging vast storehouses of brilliant open-source code is mind boggling.

Cocoa and Carbon

Another thing that has become clear to me is the power of Cocoa, an object-oriented framework for developing OS X-only applications. Traditional Mac developers seem to be struggling to move enormous old-OS programs to OS X using Apple's Carbon programming interface. But developers who have chosen to start fresh with Cocoa are already delivering some killer applications.

Take browsers. OS X comes with a preview release of Microsoft Internet Explorer developed using Carbon. Thus far, I've had a better experience running the old version of IE in OS X's Classic mode than I have running the OS X version.

Then I discovered a $30 Cocoa-based browser called OmniWeb (800/315-6664, ext. 250, ), which is quickly becoming my favorite Web browser on any platform. It's fast in ways I never thought a browser could be, and it takes full advantage of Mac OS X's antialiased text features.

At one point, so many of the Carbon-based applications I was playing with were problematic, I began to think that Carbon was inherently slower and less stable than Cocoa. Then I got my hands on the Carbonized version of the $35 shareware image editor GraphicConverter ( ), which is more stable and faster than its OS 9 counterpart. That's how they're all supposed to be, right?

The Command Line

Perhaps the most noticeable advancement in OS X is actually very old technology: the command line. The Mac has never had a command line, and in the very early days this was one of the primary criticisms leveled against the Mac's graphical user interface. Without a command line, you lose the ability to hack around inside the guts of your computer, and as a result, you lose a certain amount of control.

I find that I'm spending a lot of time in the Terminal application, the gateway to the Mac OS X command line. In just a few weeks of playing around with it, I've already used the command line to move the Dock from its default location on the bottom of the screen to a new, more appropriate place on the right side. Sure, there are now shareware programs that will do this for you, but I did it in the command line and I'm proud of it.

Mac OS X is at once like the old Mac OS, and nothing like it. Command lines, open source, and Cocoa are all wrapped up in an extension of the Mac interface that is both familiar and new. It's a brave new Macintosh, one that opens bold new frontiers for Mac users. And it's up to us (and the Mac's intrepid developers) to blaze trails in this new world.

Andrew Gore is Macworld 's editor in chief. To comment, type Vision Thing Forum in the Search box at

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