It got nary a mention in Steve Jobs’ Macworld Expo keynote, but Apple has quietly released Mac OS 9.1, an update of OS 9 that represents a bridge to Apple’s next-generation OS X. The update is available now as a free download for Mac OS 9 customers. It otherwise sells for $99.
The enhancements to OS 9.1 are subtle ones, designed primarily to ease the transition to OS X’s user interface. It also offers a wide range of minor fixes and updates.
The upgrade requires 350MB of free hard drive space. Installation is similar to that for Mac OS 9.0.4. However, Apple has made it easier to set up the Multilingual Internet feature, which lets you surf the Web in multiple languages.
After installation, you’ll see a new Applications folder, now called “Applications (Mac OS 9).” Moving closer to OS X’s directory structure, Mac OS 9.1 places the Utilities and Internet folders within the new Applications folder. You’ll also notice a new Window menu in the Finder, which lists all open windows, with those that have been windowshaded identified with a dash. This, too, represents a step toward OS X, which also includes a Window menu.
One of the biggest changes in OS 9.1 is the new Startup Disk control panel, which lets you choose a specific System Folder for startup. It displays every volume in a hierarchical list, with unbootable volumes such as FireWire drives or those without System Folders dimmed and unavailable. A clickable arrow will flip open a volume, listing any System Folders it may contain and showing the OS version number. If you plan to have OS 9.1 and OS X on the same drive, this feature will come in handy sooner than you might think.
The General Controls panel has a new look, but otherwise is little changed. However, it now accounts for multiple users, so that each user can now have independent settings. Also, the Folder Protection options that provided a measure of tamper-proofing for the System and Application folders have been removed.
A new Sound Control panel (see below) sports a new look, with an additional signal level meter and gain control for whichever input device is selected.
As for miscellaneous items: You can now empty the trash using the command-shift-delete combination. The upgrade allows the Pro Keyboard’s volume and eject buttons to be used on older USB-equipped Macs. iDisk is now included in Navigation Services, and users can now share their USB printers over Ethernet networks via USB Printer Sharing 1.0.
Other changes are under the hood, including a new process manager that speeds up event handling and switching between applications; FireWire 2.7 support; and OpenGL 1.2, which adds more Velocity Engine optimizations. A new feature called vDSP provides vector and scalar digital signal processing functions that developers can incorporate into their applications, particularly those involving sound, including MP3 and speech handling, as well as video processing.
URL Access, which adds Internet features to applications, now includes 128-bit encryption for high-level security.