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This is a historic moment. For the first time, Mac users have a chance to try an entirely new Macintosh operating system. More than a facelift, update, or collection of enhancements, Mac OS X is the future. It represents the best Apple has to offer -- the latest thing in stability, performance, and human interface. And history teaches us that we will be living with this new Mac OS for a long, long time.

And we Mac users have as much responsibility in helping to ensure Mac OS X's greatness as Apple does.

This is a call to action. It is the duty of all Mac users who care, really care, about the future of the Mac to get a copy of the Mac OS X beta, load it onto a computer, and pound the hell out of it. Write everything down -- what works, what doesn't work, and what could work better. Then post your comments to the feedback site Apple has set up especially to gather input on the beta test program.

And then, just to be certain Apple really is listening, go to Macworld.com's Mac OS X feedback forum at www.macworld.com/subject/macosx/forum.html and post it again. Discuss the OS among yourselves. Exchange ideas, discuss discoveries, and diagnose problems. As Macworld's editor in chief, I commit this magazine and Web site's resources to giving you the most-up-to-date information on Mac OS X and third-party support. We will help you understand and ultimately exploit what will be the single most important advancement ever to hit the Macintosh. Macworld.com will be a comprehensive resource and an active community of Mac OS X-beta testers.

Apple doesn't always have the best track record when it comes to listening to its users. Take the introduction of the original iMac mouse. While reaction to the round mouse was almost universally negative, it took Apple two years to redesign its standard input device. But while users may have objected to a hockey-puck mouse, it was a problem that could be solved with the judicious application of a few dollars. It wasn't really that big a deal.

But an operating system is forever. Whatever we ultimately get at the end of this beta process, we will have to live with, every minute of every day, for a long time to come. We need to make sure it's what we want and need.

The operating system is what the Mac is all about. Sure, cool industrial design makes your Mac distinctive and might even make it a bit more useful, but the OS is what it's all about. If you can't get your work done using Mac OS X, you're not going to be using it for long, no matter how cool your Mac looks sitting on your desk. And while I don't for a minute think Apple would ship an OS that didn't work, the devil is in the details. It's up to us to communicate how Mac OS X could work better for us.

We will have no one to blame but ourselves if this new Mac OS doesn't offer the best user experience in the computer industry.

Apple is already showing signs that it's prepared to listen to its customers when it comes to Mac OS X. When the company showed off the new OS at its Worldwide Developers Conference in May 1999, the Finder had been replaced with a Next-style file browser. As you'll see in the Mac OS X public beta, the Finder is back in all its glory. Even interface idiosyncrasies, such as placing files on the desktop (and not being able to tell which volume they actually live on) will be maintained. And you'll still have the ability to view files in a browser.

But what about the Dock? Does it behave the way you expect it to? How could it be better? How's that Classic-application compatibility? Do Classic Mac apps do everything they're supposed to? How's that legendary Mac OS X stability? Is it really crash-proof? Apple wants to know the answer to these questions as much as you do. Otherwise, why bother doing a public beta at all?

It's really a bit like getting the keys to a new experimental racing car and being told, "Sure, take it for a few laps around the track. Knock yourself out and let us know where it tops out."

You, Macworld 's readers, are the best test drivers Apple could ever hope to have. Macintosh users are in large part the reason the Mac has always embodied a better way for people to use computers. It's true, we're very loyal -- but we're also very demanding of our computing platform. It's time to put our critical natures to work, no holds barred, and help Apple build the best possible Mac OS it can.

Mac OS X is the riskiest move Apple has made since Steve Jobs came back to run the company. But, as with most bold and risk-filled ventures, the payoffs are enormous. If Apple succeeds, it will have delivered what others have only talked about -- a fully modern operating system that can be used by anyone from kindergartners to rocket scientists. Not even Microsoft has managed to achieve this goal, and not for lack of trying.

Apple knows that with your help, it stands a much better chance of achieving this goal.

And I, for one, want them to achieve it -- because I want to use that operating system: an operating system built by the most innovative computer company in the world and hundreds of thousands of the world's most demanding, nitpicky, and loyal computer users.

ANDREW GORE is Macworld's editor in chief. To comment on this column, please visit the Vision Thing forum at www.macworld.com/columns/visionthing/forum.html

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