Mac OS X Beta Diary: Advantage Apple

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I was going to take some time in this installment of my diary to vent about the overwhelming amount of negative feedback I've received about Mac OS X. How people have complained till they were blue in the face about the lack of a non-aliased disk or Trash on the desktop -- and the entire existence of the Dock is apparently the root of all evil in OS X.

I could go on and on about how the Mac community is once again foaming at the mouth about the latest thing to come to our desktops -- yet it really is no different than the complaints about previous Mac OS and Mac hardware releases. On the surface, one could easily think we are an ungrateful bunch.

But maybe it's just that we're a critical bunch -- and the jury's still out on Mac OS X. A lot of people haven't even started using it yet, whether out of fear or out of a reasonable desire to wait until it's ready to go. But I'm here to tell you that I've been using it for months now -- and I'm liking it more and more as time goes by.

We live in a world where Apple is recognized as an innovator and is copied at every opportunity. All the PC manufacturers are slowly (but surely) following in Apple's footsteps. Compaq has color faceplates for their new machines, and the new HP Pavilion looks more like a Power Mac G3 than the Power Mac G4 does. Windows, of course, looks remarkably like the classic Mac OS.

But nothing looks like Mac OS X. And so, for a little while, Apple will have a clear advantage again. People will love Mac OS X.

Over the past few months, I've showed off Apple's new operating system to anyone who will look, and the reaction I get from everyone is great. From the colorful icons to the Dock to all the small interface niceties Apple has added, no one has had a negative thing to say about OS X. And this from an audience of both Mac and Windows users.

But when I demo Mac OS X, I don't stop there. I also talk about all the remarkable new features I've discovered. There's the power of Unix -- but it's hidden behind a beautiful Apple-designed interface. We don't have to dicker with the command line to rebuild our printer drivers or configure our network. In fact, we don't have to know Unix at all! Beautiful.

Then there's performance. Beta versions tend to run slower than the final equivalents, and if that's true with the Mac OS X beta, then we're in for a very fast OS. My startup time for OS X is down to around 40 seconds (50 if you count me logging in). Try that on a Windows machine -- or a Mac running OS 9, for that matter.

In terms of system requirements, Mac OS X also shines. It seems much less of a hog in terms of disk space and RAM than Mac OS 9. (I know, Apple suggests you have 128MB of RAM to run OS X, but I've run it fine on an old iMac 233 with 64MB of RAM.)

Mac OS X is easy to figure out, even for old Mac users. In fact, after I used it for a day, I stopped noticing the differences and started noticing the improvements. Especially when I would go home and use OS 9 on my G4. Has anyone noticed how often OS 9 crashes? But not my Mac running OS X.

I also have a feeling that the learning curve for OS X is a short one. If you use the OS, you'll find within minutes that you're right at home. Only a few times have I moused for the Process menu, and I've yet to have a need for the Apple menu.

How did we make it 16 years without the Dock? I've got my most-used applications neatly parked there, so there's no need to go find them, and no need for aliases to mess up my desktop. My most-used documents are right there, too. I can have the Dock tiny at the bottom of my screen, or hidden until I move my mouse toward it. By far, it's faster than using the application menu in OS 9.

And my hard drives and Trash are back on my desktop, thanks to Adrian Diaconu's ShowDrives. I don't use the disk icons much, but getting the Trash back was a nice touch.

The flashy icons and colors will get old, right? Wrong. After a while, you don't even notice them. In fact, what I have noticed is that the interface seems cleaner and more inviting with all the crisp lines, curves, and sharp colors. Aqua says, "Use me! I'm friendly, easy, and fun!" the same way the original Mac OS said it.

Windows may have co-opted the original Mac's easy and fun attitude, but Apple has set a new standard, raised the bar. Computers should be easy, fun, simple, and powerful. Mac OS X will capture the newbies, such as Nan, my 73-year-old grandmother. But it'll also give the rest of us enough power to leave our Windows-using peers something to lust after.

PC vendors may be able to create machines that look a lot like a Mac to the untrained eye, or if you squint a little bit. And the classic Mac OS looks too much like Windows. But, for at least a little while, the look of Aqua and the power of OS X are ours.

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