The year 2000 is coming fast. Depending on who you ask, the coming of the next millennium may mark a new golden age or the beginning of the end. Either way, some people believe there’s about to be a change the likes of which we’ve never seen before. It’s easy to dismiss all that talk as hype and hysteria. Except for one thing–when it comes to the Mac OS, it’s actually true. In the next year, the Macintosh will undergo the most radical change in its history. The foundations of the Mac OS will be replaced by a system that’s much more powerful, stable, and efficient than the one we use today. But the Finder that Mac users know and love may be destroyed, replaced by a radically different system for navigating your hard drive. Software companies will be scrambling to make their programs ready not just for the year 2000 but also for the new Mac OS. And your current Power Mac may not even work with this new system. That’s why we’ve assembled everything we know into one guide to the future of the Mac OS–assuming, of course, that we all make it past the fateful stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999.
In the Year 2000
Early next year, Mac users will sit down at their desks, press the power keys on their computers, and load an operating system that is reminiscent of the one we use today?but underneath it all will be something unlike anything Mac users have ever seen. This isn’t to say that in the year 2000 all Mac users will be using Mac OS X?Apple is also continuing to revise Mac OS 8, with a major update, code-named Sonata, due to appear this fall (see the sidebar “Mac OS 8: Preparing for the New Millennium”). But while Mac OS 8 will be there for older Power Macs, eventually all new Macs will come with OS X, and owners of G3-based Power Macs will be able to buy an upgrade to OS X.
The first thing you’ll likely notice when starting up Mac OS X is that the icons you usually see marching across the bottom of your screen have disappeared. That’s because extensions, those bits of software that load at start-up to customize your Mac, will be obsolete under Mac OS X. Extensions latch on to parts of the Mac OS directly, and as a result contribute a great deal to the OS’s instability.
For several years, Apple has encouraged software developers to move to a different model for extending the Mac OS:
faceless background applications
. These programs run invisibly on your Mac, altering its behavior without making dangerous modifications to the Mac OS itself. The downside to the move away from extensions is that if you use old software that needs extensions to function properly, you may not be able to use that software with Mac OS X.
A Different Finder
For all the talk about OS X’s radical changes, it’s still called “Mac” and it still has a Finder you use to view files and folders. However, this new Finder is being completely rewritten by Apple. At Apple’s annual developers’ conference in May, Steve Jobs and Apple software chief Avie Tevanian showed off a Finder interface that looked remarkably like the interface found in Mac OS X Server, Rhapsody, and the Next OS.
This is a
mock-up of Apple’s declared vision for the Mac OS X Finder: a File Viewer window that graphically displays where you are in the folder hierarchy, with room at the top of the window for the placement of favorite files or folders.
This new File Viewer is a multicolumned window that lets you view several levels of a hard drive (or items across a network) at once. When you click on a folder in a column list, the contents of that folder are automatically displayed in the next column to the right. You can continue to move deeper and deeper into your folder hierarchy with this approach and can quickly move back up to higher levels via a horizontal scroll bar set just above the columns. You can also drag favorite items into a shelf at the top of the window for quick access.
It sounds like an intriguing addition to the Finder?but there’s a catch. In May, Jobs and Tevanian suggested that the new File Viewer wasn’t an addition to the traditional Finder interface but rather a replacement of it. They received a flurry of criticism from many members of the Mac programming community.
Why? Because the new File Viewer is a far cry from the interface that Mac users have become expert in over the past 15 years. This new browser may have some appeal for novice users, because it’s probably easier to understand the geography of a hard drive when using the browser metaphor than when navigating the Mac’s classic list and icon views. But the browser becomes much more complicated when you have to move files between different branches of a folder hierarchy.
Sources close to Apple indicate that the group of programmers working on the Mac OS X Finder are writing it to include
the traditional Mac Finder and the Next-inspired File Viewer interface. If that’s true, then Apple will be able to add a useful new means of viewing files and folders to the tried-and-true system we use today. But if Jobs and Tevanian should follow through with the suggestions they made in May and remove all traces of the old Finder interface, Apple could be in danger of alienating a large portion of the Macintosh faithful.
Mac users in the publishing business depend on Adobe’s PostScript technology every day, when they print, use fonts, and work in drawing programs. For them, Mac OS X’s new graphics engine, called Quartz, should have a lot of appeal. Quartz is based on Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) technology, which is itself based on PostScript. As a result, Quartz will allow applications running on Mac OS X to handle and display PostScript and PDF information much more accurately than apps running on the current Mac OS. Quartz also adds powerful compositing features, such as alpha channels, to the Mac OS, which should lead to faster and higher-quality image display. And Quartz’s use of PDF means that just about any Mac OS X-native application will be able to export to PDF in a flash.
Speedy and Stable
Mac OS X will incorporate two features whose absence has long been the target of those critics who call the Mac OS slow and unstable: memory protection and preemptive multitasking.
If you’ve ever had one of your programs crash and lock up your entire Mac, you know why there’s a need for memory protection. In Mac OS X, the system essentially erects walls between all the running programs. That way, if one program misbehaves, all the rest of your programs?and your Mac itself ?continue running with nary a hiccup.
A side effect of this new memory protection is the disappearance of one of the most frustrating experiences Mac users have to go through: setting the memory size of your applications. In Mac OS X, that problem is gone?OS X’s memory system gives applications as much memory as they need.
If you’ve ever tried to perform a lengthy download in the background while you’re busy working in some other application, you’ve seen the limitations of the Mac’s cooperative multitasking. Each open application can take up as much processor power as it wants, often shutting other applications out and slowing them down. In Mac OS X’s preemptive multitasking, the operating system itself determines how much processing time individual programs get.
This means not only that the application you’re working in should feel more responsive in Mac OS X, but also that all the programs running in the background should be working much more efficiently as well. It should also mean that Mac OS X will be much more efficient at processing audio and video and understanding spoken commands (see the sidebar “Speech Recognition Returns to the Mac”).
When the original Mac OS was designed back in 1984, the Internet wasn’t really on the minds of its designers. But the developers of Mac OS X have kept the Internet in their thoughts. For starters, the Finder will no longer treat items on a network as second-class citizens, to be viewed through the Chooser or the Network Browser introduced in Mac OS 8.5. Items on the network will be as much a part of your Mac OS X desktop as your hard drives. You’ll be able to quickly browse through your local network and even access computers elsewhere on the Internet, all from within the Finder itself.
In a first for Apple, Mac OS X will include its own built-in e-mail program, written in Java. Apple says the MailViewer program will support both POP/SMTP and IMAP, but the company didn’t give any more details.
Mac OS X is definitely focused on
networking, and that means that Apple has decided to abandon one of its own creations: AppleTalk. Mac OS X will exclusively use TCP/IP, or Internet-style networking, to browse networks and share files. What ramifications this has for AppleTalk-only devices such as printers remains unclear, although it’s likely that an AppleTalk add-on will be available from a third party.
Not All Programs Are Alike
An important goal for the first version of Mac OS X is for it to run existing Macintosh software well enough that the transition from Mac OS 8 is smooth. However, old Mac applications won’t be capable of taking advantage of new Mac OS X features such as memory protection and preemptive multitasking. Consequently, Apple’s come up with a multifaceted strategy to help programmers create modern Mac OS X programs without forcing users to abandon older Mac programs they’ve grown accustomed to.
The result is an operating system that will run three completely different kinds of applications, all from within the same interface. (You’ll still be able to copy and paste, drag and drop, and use other features that let various applications interact.) Those three new application types are called Classic, Carbon, and Cocoa.
Formerly called the Blue Box, Classic is a system that lets Mac OS X run old Mac applications without requiring them to be modified in any way. In Mac OS X Server and Rhapsody, the Blue Box was a separate environment?similar to an emulator?that the user had to switch into and out of. But in Mac OS X, Classic applications will appear on the same screen as all other Mac OS X applications, coexisting with Carbon and Cocoa programs.
However, there’s a big drawback to Classic programs?one that will spur their authors to update them for Mac OS X: even though Classic programs will be running in OS X, they’ll still experience the same limitations they did when running in the Mac OS 8.X environment.
Classic is designed to be a system that smooths the transition from Mac OS 8 to OS X through backward compatibility, much as the Mac OS’s 680X0 emulator made it easier for Mac users to move to PowerPC-based Macs. It’ll be especially valuable for the users of programs that are no longer maintained but still used.
Probably the most important of the three different software environments is Carbon, announced by Apple more than a year ago. Carbon represents an evolution?not a revolution?of the current way Mac OS applications are written. As the metaphor goes, all life is based on Carbon?and Apple thinks all future Mac apps should be, too.
With Carbon, Apple made a system for creating programs that was as similar to that of the old Mac OS as possible, discarding methods that were incompatible with an operating system containing memory protection, preemptive multitasking, and other important features Apple wanted to put into Mac OS X.
What this means is that programmers shouldn’t have to perform a wholesale rewrite of their applications to gain the benefits of Mac OS X. According to Apple, only about 10 to 20 percent of a typical current Mac OS program will need to be changed to become compatible with Carbon.
So when the authors of your favorite programs decide to update them for Carbon, does that mean you’ll be stuck if you’re still using Mac OS 8? Not necessarily. Carbon applications can remain largely compatible with Mac OS 8.1 through 8.6 with the help of a special system file called CarbonLib. When running on Mac OS 8.1 and later, however, Carbon applications won’t be able to offer any of the performance and stability features of Mac OS X.
Formerly referred to as the Yellow Box, the environment called Cocoa provides an easy way for programmers to quickly create new applications. Cocoa’s technology comes from Next’s OpenStep system, which was designed to aid the rapid development of corporate applications. Cocoa enables?but doesn’t require?developers to use Sun’s Java language. Java is much applauded by programmers for the ease with which it lets them create complete, Mac OS X-native applications.
While most Mac developers are only beginning to investigate Cocoa and what it can do for them, many former Next developers are likely to update for OS X the programs they’ve already written for Next.
Let’s step out of the familiar Mac interface for a moment. Although Apple has said that it will hide Mac OS X’s Unix underpinnings so that no regular user will ever need to look Unix in the face, Mac OS X should be perfectly capable of running Unix programs via a Unix-style command-line interface. Power users and Unix veterans alike will enjoy the fact that any software that runs on one of the flavors of BSD Unix should be portable to Mac OS X, although some compatibility issues between the Unix and Mac OS file systems may limit which Unix utilities will work on Mac disks.
See the sidebar “Open Source Sets Mac OS X Free”
Work in Progress
No one has successfully managed to make Unix into a consumer-oriented operating system before, so Apple’s attempts to do so with Mac OS X are quite remarkable. However, it’s unclear whether the marriage of the Mac’s traditional user-friendliness with Unix’s gritty command-line power will be immediately successful. In all likelihood, the first release of Mac OS X in early 2000 will be just the first step in the Mac OS’s transition to a modern operating system.
Those concerns aside, the good news is that
is a commodity at Apple these days. The company’s Mac OS strategy not only remained remarkably consistent over the past year but also emphasizes continuity between Mac OS 8 and Mac OS X through the Classic and Carbon environments.
The software transition to Mac OS X will likely mirror the 680X0-to-PowerPC transition that began five years ago and still hasn’t quite finished. Those programs that most benefit from Mac OS X’s new capabilities will be the first to make the move. Mac OS X will also attract many developers of high-end scientific and engineering software from the Unix world.
Deeper and Deeper
When we peer past 2000, things get a bit fuzzier. Mac OS X is such a remarkable departure for Apple that it could potentially change everything we think we know about the Mac in the future. Mac OS X will certainly benefit greatly when the G4 processors arrive, but persistent rumors abound that Apple is also investigating Intel’s next-generation chips. Mac OS X isn’t nearly as tied to the PowerPC processor as the old Mac OS is. Could Mac OS X run on an Intel processor? Certainly, if Apple wanted it to. The real mystery is,
the company want it to?
The Last Word
In the world of technology, experience has taught us that most products touted as revolutionary rarely are. Up to now, Apple has been remarkably restrained when it comes to Mac OS X?probably because the company knows it must deliver this new Mac OS before patting itself on the back. But Mac OS X promises to provide some far-reaching changes in the Mac universe, not all of which may be for the better.
While the power of Unix is undeniable, so too is its user-hostility. We have no doubt that Apple intends to cover up Mac OS X’s Unix heritage, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the company can manage the trick. Because while extremely technical computer users will rejoice at the prospect of the Mac OS and Unix in the same box, most Mac users won’t stand for a Mac OS that displays a command-line interface at the drop of a hat.
After the stroke of midnight, on January 1, 2000, will the Mac OS magically transform from the patchwork twentieth-century Mac OS 8 into the new millennium’s shiny new Mac OS X? Of course not. But for Mac users, the path Apple is taking with Mac OS X suggests that a great future lies ahead for the Macintosh?even if there are a few bumps along that road.
Contributing Editor STEPHAN SOMOGYI is looking forward to having the best of both the Mac and Unix worlds in a single OS. He wrote “”The Beauty of the Beast”” for Macworld’s April 1999 issue.
Mac OS 8: Preparing for the New Millennium
This much is true: Apple’s long-term future will be based on Mac OS X. In the meantime, Mac OS 8 is firmly in charge. And let’s not forget that for older Macs incompatible with OS X, Mac OS 8 will likely be the only game in town. So it’s only right that while Apple’s Mac OS X team cranks away on the Macintosh of 2000, a separate team of programmers is carefully crafting new releases for good old reliable Mac OS 8.
Mac OS 8.6
Released in May, Mac OS 8.6 is a free update that every Mac OS 8.5 user should install. You can download it for free from Apple’s Web site (
) or get it on CD for $20. Among the big winners in this installment of the upgrade sweepstakes: PowerBook users, owners of multiprocessor Macs, and AppleScript aficionados.
The key part of Mac OS 8.6 is something that no user will really see?a new
, a low-level part of the operating system that operates like a traffic cop. The OS 8.6 nanokernel offers several benefits. For PowerBook users, it is much smarter at understanding when the processor can rest and when it has to work hard. The result is that PowerBooks are more energy efficient?they last longer on batteries and run cooler than they did under previous versions of the Mac OS.
The nanokernel also brings multiprocessing back into vogue. A few years back, Macs and Mac clones with more than one processor inside started appearing, and many of us thought this augured a future where all Macs doubled up on chips to get immense speed boosts. This didn’t come to pass, not only because the G3 processor prefers to work alone but also because the Mac OS was designed with a single processor in mind.
But Mac OS 8.6’s nanokernel is built to understand Macs with more than one processor, fixing several long-standing bugs. For example, owners of multiprocessor machines can finally turn on virtual memory, which was previously incompatible with multiprocessor Macs. And this new nanokernel will certainly benefit users who buy new multiprocessor Macs, whenever they appear.
Sonata: Bridge to OS X
The next release of the Mac OS is due this fall and is code-named Sonata. It’s meant to bridge the gap between Mac OS 8 and Mac OS X, but if you think it’ll be called Mac OS 9, you’re probably wrong. That’s because another company, Microware Systems, already has an operating system called OS-9, and it’s unlikely that Apple will want to bother with the potential confusion (and lawsuits) caused by calling Sonata Mac OS 9 or even Mac OS IX.
Since Sonata will be the version of the Mac OS that exists when Mac OS X arrives, it has to provide compatibility with as much of that new operating system as possible. As a result, Sonata will be able to run Carbon-based applications automatically. Mac OS 8.1 through 8.6 will be able to do this, too, but they’ll require a special system file called CarbonLib.
One of the other features Apple is promising for Sonata is support for multiple users on one machine. If you’ve ever shared your Mac with other people?most likely at home, in a college apartment, or in a small business?you’ve probably dealt with the difficulties inherent when several people are constantly modifying each other’s application preferences and stepping on each other’s personal files.
In Sonata, any Mac can support multiple users, each with their own separate files and preferences, and you’ll be able to log in via password or voiceprint recognition.
In Sonata, you’ll be able to set up a Mac to ask users to log in before they can access the system?an approach similar to using Apple’s At Ease software but one that is integrated directly into the Mac OS. After logging in?either via password or through a cool voice-identification system?each user will have his or her own protected file area, along with common areas where any user can share files. Each user will also have their own set of preferences, start-up applications, and the like, making the Mac a much friendlier place for people who must share computer space with others.
If this system sounds familiar, it should?it’s essentially the same procedure Apple uses for NetBoot, the system that lets Power Mac G3s or iMacs boot off of a Mac OS X server and log in using their personal files and preferences. From all appearances, Apple has taken NetBoot and implemented the same interface for a single Mac, one that uses its own hard drive?instead of a remote OS X server?as a repository for files.
With the advent of multiuser access in the Mac OS, Sonata will also add new security features to the mix. It will let you encrypt documents from the Encrypt File command in the File menu. Sonata will also reintroduce the Keychain, perhaps the best part of Apple’s discontinued PowerTalk software. With the Keychain, you’ll be able to save your passwords for encrypted files, file servers, Internet FTP sites, and more in one centralized location?and have one master password that unlocks it, making it easy to collect all your secret codes without having to remember a dozen different passwords for different occasions.
The new search utility will sport a new, QuickTime 4.0?like interface and customizable Favorites buttons.
Sonata will also offer a major update to Sherlock, the all-purpose search utility introduced by Apple in Mac OS 8.5. Dubbed Sherlock 2, this new Sherlock sports a silvery interface similar to that found in the QuickTime 4.0 player (see the screen shot “Sherlock 2”). At the top of the Sherlock window is a Favorites bar in which you can place buttons to control exactly what Sherlock searches?be it a local hard drive’s files, the text on local drives, or files on the Web. Sherlock 2 will let you set up search presets, so you can click on a button to search a different set of sources for different tasks, such as finding news stories, sports scores, or general Web pages.
In addition to the search views available in today’s Sherlock, the new Sherlock will let you search for people’s names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other contact information. It will then return the listings in a results window with appropriately named columns, such as Name, Phone, and E-mail Address. Likewise, searches for products in online stores will return results that can be sorted by name or price, letting users comparison shop in a flash.
Other Sherlock 2 improvements include a separate window for advertisements, and separate items in the Finder’s File menu for searching your hard drive and the Internet, making it easier for users who were confused by Sherlock’s array of different search facilities.
The Immediate Future
Will Mac OS 8.6 and Sonata last us through the next decade? No?that’s the job of Mac OS X. But given that older Power Macs likely won’t be able to run the new operating system, these updates to Mac OS 8 add new features to OS 8 while providing an important connection to Mac OS X.?JASON SNELL
Open Source Sets Mac OS X Free
The toast of the computer world this past year has been the free Linux operating system
(see “The Beauty of the Beast”, April 1999). What makes Linux so noteworthy is that it’s not just free but is also open-source software. This means that everything that makes up Linux?every single line of programming code?is available to all to peruse, modify, and improve as they see fit. We live in a world where a program’s source code is usually treated as a trade secret, but thanks to the success of Linux, that’s starting to change. And Apple is hoping to match Linux’s wave of success with one of its own, by releasing the foundation of Mac OS X to the Internet for all to see.
reported earlier (see ”
Apple Goes Open Source with Mac Server
“, News, June 1999), in March Apple announced the creation of Darwin, a subset of Mac OS X that will be available to developers at
http://publicsource.apple.com. In May, the company announced that it would also release the source code for the Mac OS X-based QuickTime Streaming Server as well as for OpenPlay, a networking protocol devised by programmers from Apple and game developer Bungie Software.
If Apple has paid good money to its own employees to create this software, why give it away? Because by going the open-source route, Apple is hoping to benefit from the power of the Internet-based programming community while keeping the juiciest parts of the company software for itself.
Open Source’s Strengths
As the success of Linux shows, open-source software allows many different developers to work on a single large project, with each developer typically focusing on an area of particular interest. In Linux’s case, the result was a complete computer operating system written entirely by volunteers.
Because open-source software has its fundamental building blocks available for anyone to see, it is often far more stable and secure than any proprietary software. That’s because all of a program’s bugs are on display for hackers to exploit?making it imperative that the programmers fix the bugs promptly.
Open-source software can benefit greatly from the community that grows up around it. That’s because one of the tenets of open-source programming is that any additions or modifications to the open-source code need to be contributed back to the project.
Take Mac OS X. Apple says that Mac OS X will run only on Apple Macs that originally contained the G3 chip. But the new approach of making all the code available should?theoretically, anyway?enable non-Apple developers to add the necessary bits of code to support older Power Macs. Apple has even said that it would be quite happy if developers created versions of Darwin for earlier Mac models?and even for Intel-based PC hardware!?as long as the company didn’t have to do the heavy lifting itself. As a result, the owners of older Macs (or possibly accelerator-card companies that sell upgrades for those older Macs) may actually have the power to create backward compatibility for Mac OS X all by themselves.
Darwin is in many ways a gamble for Apple?one that could pay off handsomely if Apple manages to get development momentum going. While basing a commercial OS on open-source pieces may seem gutsy at first, it really isn’t. What’s courageous about this move is that not all open-source efforts have been resounding successes?Netscape’s decision to make its Web browser open source has yet to bear much fruit?and if Apple winds up being the only major contributor to Darwin, then most of the benefits of open source will be lost.
The good news is that Apple says its goal is to synchronize Darwin with FreeBSD 3.X
), arguably the most popular version of free BSD Unix available. That move would undoubtedly assure Apple a larger community of programmers who could contribute to Darwin.
Darwin itself consists of just the Unix part of Mac OS X, a layer of bedrock on which the familiar Mac interface of OS X will be built.
This approach shows that these days, the core of an operating system doesn’t need to be treated as a trade secret. Unix has been around for long enough in its various incarnations that it has become a mature, reliable, fast operating system. Apple’s decision not to reinvent this particular technology wheel is a shrewd one.
That said, Unix has never been part of a consumer-oriented OS, and that’s where Apple’s strengths can come to the fore. If the company can build a responsive and easy-to-use consumer operating system on top of Unix, it won’t matter that the free Darwin is hiding underneath it.
The true measure of success of Apple’s open-source strategy, however, will be whether Apple can succeed in making developers care about Darwin the way they care about Linux and FreeBSD today. Apple must offer technology that open-source developers find useful enough to spend time understanding, enhancing, and maintaining. If Apple can pull it off, making its core OS an open-source project could be one of the best strategic technology choices it has made in a long time.?STEPHAN SOMOGYI
Speech Recognition Returns to the Mac
In almost every future we’ve imagined, computers listen. Not just to the grumbles, curses, and pleas most of us barrage them with now but also to dictation and commands (“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”).
The future arrived in 1996, when Articulate Systems released PowerSecretary, the first full-fledged voice-recognition program for the Mac. But by late 1998 it was gone. Dragon Systems?a major investor in Articulate, and the distributor of PowerSecretary?killed the program. As a result, there has never been a Mac program capable of the latest advance in voice recognition: continuous-speech dictation (where you don’t have to talk . . . like . . . this).
Now the possibility of relief is in sight. Two companies?an upstart, MacSpeech
), and Dragon Systems itself (
)?have promised to close the huge gap in voice-recognition capabilities between the Mac and PC by the end of this year. MacSpeech says that it will release both MacDictate and MacDictate Professional for less than $250 each. Dragon Systems has not yet announced the name or pricing of its product.
For Mac users who can’t use the keyboard for one reason or another, often because of disabilities or computer-related injuries, the lack of voice-recognition software on the Macintosh has forced them either to use seriously outdated software or to switch to Windows. (This very article is being dictated into a Windows PC by a
The Mac OS does offer built-in, limited voice recognition through the PlainTalk extension. (To make PlainTalk work, owners of iMacs and the new G3s should upgrade to Mac OS 8.6.) MacSpeech’s ListenDo! program enhances PlainTalk, allowing you to control all menu items via voice commands. But all that is nothing compared to the Windows alternatives.
Over the past couple of years, the power of voice-recognition software for Windows has skyrocketed while prices have plummeted. To put it in perspective, the original PowerSecretary cost about $3,000; Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows is available in several flavors, at prices ranging from $200 to $700. It’s the best-selling voice-recognition product in the U.S., according to market researcher PC Data.
Many people believe that using voice-recognition software will be the primary way people will interact with their computers in the future?the public nature of cubicles be damned. At least now the Mac won’t be left out of the game.?SCHOLLE SAWYER