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From the Roman numeral in its name to its Aqua interface, Mac OS X requires you to think very different. But thinking different doesn't mean throwing caution to the winds. For the best beta experience, you'll need to prep your Mac with certain hardware and software, install the beta in the proper way and place, and understand the new configuration options.

Apple is taking a huge gamble by releasing OS X to the public before it's done. If the beta is a bug-ridden turkey, Apple could lose the consumer confidence it has recaptured since Steve Jobs's return to the helm. So it's a safe bet that Apple's software engineers have been working overtime to make the OS X beta as stable and reliable as possible.

But before you reach for your credit card, make sure your hardware is up to the job. The OS X beta won't run on all Macs, and it has hefty system requirements. (See "The Right Stuff" for a hardware checklist.) Once you've met those criteria, you should take the following simple steps to forestall problems.

Don't Install the Beta on a Mac You Can't Live Without   Even if you have backups of your applications and data, reformatting and restoring a hard drive can take hours. It's also important to remember that many peripheral devices--including USB printers and removable media drives--won't work under OS X until vendors release new drivers for them.

Back Up Your Hard Drive before You Install the Beta   And do it again frequently thereafter. Don't assume that your existing backups are intact--test them to make sure that files weren't corrupted during backup. If you have Dantz Retrospect (925/253-3000, ), you can use that program's Verify function to check the integrity of your backups. (See "Be Safe, Not Sorry," February 1999, for backup strategies.)

Install Mac OS 9   If you want to use your current applications in OS X's Classic environment, you must have OS 9 installed. Classic is incompatible with previous versions of Mac OS.

Protect Your Files   Although you can install the OS X beta on the same hard drive as Mac OS 9, shielding your files by installing the beta on its own hard drive helps ensure their safety (though the beta can't boot from an external FireWire drive). If your computer goes south, you'll be less likely to lose valuable data. (If you have a G3 or G4 Power Mac with two ATA drives, you have to install the beta on the master drive.)

Back up your hard drive before you install the OSX beta--and frequently thereafter.

Partition Your Drive   If you don't have a second drive, use Apple's Drive Setup feature to create a separate partition for OS X on your disk. Note that Drive Setup can't partition a drive without reformatting it first.

You've backed up and prepared your hard drive, and you're holding the beta CD in your hand. It's time to install.

Start with C   Insert the CD and restart while holding down the C key. Your Mac will restart from the CD, and the installer will run automatically. (The spinning, colored CD cursor indicates that OS X is loading.)

Pick a Drive   When the installer prompts you, choose a destination hard drive or volume for OS X. You'll have the option of reformatting the OS X disk in the Mac OS Extended (HFS+) or the Unix File System (UFS) format. Although the beta works with either one, only Mac OS Extended drives show up on a Mac OS 9 desktop, so that's the best option for most users. (If you're installing OS X on the same volume as OS 9, don't reformat; if you do, you'll have to restore all your current files and folders.) When the installation finishes, the installer restarts your Mac.

The first thing you'll notice after Mac OS X starts is the revamped Setup Assistant. Although it resembles its Mac OS 9 counterpart, the OS X version lets you configure more settings. It offers mostly straightforward options but adds a few new wrinkles.

Configure Your Network   With OS X's Setup Assistant you can configure your Mac for Internet access via modem, local area network, cable modem, or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). It's a good idea to open your Mac OS 9 TCP/IP control panel and write down your settings before rebooting into Mac OS X, so you'll have them handy when you get to this screen.

Set Up E-mail   The Configure Email Settings dialog box lets you enter account information for the Mac OS X beta's e-mail client.

Define User Accounts   Unlike OS 9's optional Multiple Users feature, Mac OS X's requires that you specify at least one password-protected user account. If you don't want to type your user name and password every time you start OS X, you can specify a default account using the Login panel under System Preferences (see "Making OS X More Familiar," How-to, elsewhere in this issue).

Setup Assistant applies your settings. Once you restart, you're ready to begin exploring the OS X beta.

Here's what you'll need to run the Mac OS X beta:

• An iMac, or any Power Mac or PowerBook with a G3 or G4 processor, except the original PowerBook G3 (the limited-release model that came before the Wall Street models). Apple hasn't committed to supporting other PowerPC-based Macs, including those with third-party G3 or G4 processor cards.

• Internal video or an Apple-supplied video card from IXMicro or ATI. If you have more than one monitor connected to your Mac, disconnect the second one before you install the beta.

• At least 128MB of memory. (You might get by with less, but you probably won't be able to run your current OS 9 applications.)

• 1.5GB of free disk space. If you can spare the room, setting aside another gigabyte or two for applications and documents is a good idea.

• Firmware updates for your Mac and other hardware. Some people report they can't run the beta without those updates. Look for the latest installers and instructions on Apple's support site ( ). Updates may cause their own problems, so give yourself time to recover before you go to the next step in the installation process.

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