OS X Beta: Explore with Care

The OS X beta is visually stunning, powerful, and stable in situations that crashed previous operating systems. But it also lacks a long list of beloved Mac OS features, including the Apple menu, Application menu, Control Strip, pop-up windows, Encrypt command, Put Away command, Launcher, and several useful control panels. Even Windows is closer to the traditional Mac desktop than Mac OS X.

The cheat sheet " Where'd Everybody Go? " will help you find the missing elements (or their replacements) as you navigate the beta. A more in-depth guide to its geography follows.

The most disorienting aspect of the beta is its folder structure. What lies behind Mac OS X's pretty face is Unix, plain and simple. Your Mac's default name is localhost, and the System folder contains folders called Administration, Applications, Documentation, and Library. Poke around, and you'll find files with names like BSD.pkg and apache.conf.bak.

For now, don't knock yourself out trying to decipher the functions of these files and folders. Instead, get to know the new Go menu or the Finder toolbar, both of which give you direct access to the folders you really care about: Applications, where you'll find most of your Mac OS X programs; and Documents, where Mac OS X programs deposit your work (unless you direct them to a different folder via the Save command). Both of these folders are buried deep in the nested mass of Unix folders, but you can summon them easily with the Go menu.

Finder windows don't work quite like they used to. For example, double-clicking on a folder or disk doesn't open a new window. Instead, you see one big window at all times; each disk or folder you double-click appears within this window, replacing its contents. Click on the Back button just below the title bar (or press command-B) to return to the previous view. In other words, the Mac OS X Finder works like a Web browser for your hard drive. Unlike a browser, though, there is no Forward button.

If you need to open two windows at once (for example, to move or copy icons), use the File menu's New Finder Window to create a second window or option-double-click on a disk or folder to open it in an independent window. You can also use the Column view. To alter the default behavior so that every double-click on a folder opens a new window, choose Dock and Desktop Preferences from the Desktop menu, click on the Finder tab, and choose the "in a new window" radio button.

You get the best Mac OS X experience by using programs written for Mac OS X (termed "Cocoa") or adapted to it (called "Carbonized"). Only these programs offer features like the Aqua interface and memory protection, which ensures that if one application crashes or freezes, the rest of the Mac zooms merrily along.

You don't have to buy entirely new programs, however. Apple's Classic application lets you run OS 9-compatible programs in their own memory bubble. They don't offer the same stability and features; if one of these programs crashes, your entire Mac OS 9 bubble may crash. But even then, you don't have to restart the machine; Mac OS X soldiers on.

To enter the Mac OS 9 world, just double-click on the icon of one of your older programs. (Most such icons look blotchy and ragged, since they weren't designed with Mac OS X's smooth-scaling graphics technology. However, some forward-thinking developers can create Classic applications that also have pretty OS X-style icons -- you'll know them when you see them.) Unfortunately, launching the Classic application is just like starting up a Mac OS 9 machine, complete with a long wait for extensions to load. And unless your Mac has 128MB of RAM or more, you'll find launching older programs painfully slow. No matter how much RAM you have, mundane tasks like scrolling in graphic-heavy documents may be slow and jerky. For more on the Classic experience, see " Classic Confusion."

Few Mac OS X components have generated as much controversy and confusion as the Dock, the row of icons that replaces the Apple menu and Launcher. To get the most out of the new interface, you should learn the rules of the Dock:

1. Just like the Apple menu, the Dock holds the icons of programs, folders, disks, and documents for quick access. It's much easier to configure than the Apple menu, however: you can put an item on the Dock simply by dragging its icon there. To remove it, just drag it away from the Dock. You rearrange the icons by dragging them.

2. Only programs appear on the left side of the Dock's thin white divider line. Everything else (folders, disks, documents, and the Trash) appears on the right. Each document icon looks like the real document, complete with fonts, headlines, and so on. A crowded Dock ends up with very small icons; pass your cursor over any of them to reveal more detail.

3. To open an item in the Dock, click on it once. A small arrow below an application icon indicates that it's running. Documents, on the other hand, never show these arrows, and open documents never appear on the Dock.

4. To add an icon for any window to the Dock, click on the yellow dot in the window's title bar.

If you're willing to learn Mac OS X's new terminology, new locations for familiar controls, and new technology concepts, and if you're willing to bear with the bugs and glitches that enliven any beta-test experience, you may start seeing its potential. For example, you now have a keystroke (command-H) for hiding the active program and another (command-M) for collapsing a window to the Dock. The Network program lets you turn any Mac into not only a Web site, but also an FTP, Telnet, or e-mail server -- for free. And the Terminal program brings command-line power to the Mac.

Viewing the beta version of Mac OS X is like gazing at a hunk of hacked marble. Its solidity and heft make it inspiring, and the right artist can unleash a lot of beauty -- but at the moment, it's got a lot of ragged surfaces and sharp corners.

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