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OS X : Getting ready for the Big League?
Written: Aug 18, 2002
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Robust, user friendly (for new users), beautifully reworked user interface.
Cons:Not compatible with some older hardware. Still needs some work.
The Bottom Line: Apple are improving thier next generation OS with every release. This really does represent a break with tradition and despite some flaws it's a welcome break at that.
The way it seems to me at the moment I represent the ‘old Mac’ brigade.
Both the systems I use at home are quite frankly from the age of beige, sure they are both G3 systems but in terms of what is available in technological terms for the home user these machines have left their cutting edge days long behind them.
So what happens when you take one cutting edge operating system and introduce it to a couple of machines that have been round the block a few times?
Well this is something of a mixed bag story, the machines involved in Adi’s little experiment are a beige G3 266Mhz (clocked to 300Mhz) with 416 Mb of RAM with two hard drives (4 and 20 gig respectively). Not to mention the Voodoo Graphics card and a USB card slung in for good measure.
The second machine is a Powerbook G3 (266Mhz) with 128Mb and a 20 gig hard drive installed.
Like I mentioned earlier, this ain’t cutting edge…
I’ll kick off with a little background about OS X. The version I am using is 10.1.5. The last version out of Cupertino before Apple decided that we all have to pay for 10.2.
My reason for upgrading is not down to the fact that I have any problem with OS 9 but one thing I have come to realise is that this is pretty much the future for Apple users. Basically I just don’t want to be left out in the cold.
OS X is designed to run on pretty much any Macintosh based system that utilizes a G3 processor or above. There are some exceptions to the rule here, the original G3 Powerbook is apparently a no no when it comes to running this system. I also here that there are some issues with Mac’s that are using a third party processor upgrade, although there have been drivers written to address this issue (although as a result Apple offers no official support on machines that fall into this category).
I figured I would start my upgrade path on the better stacked machine of the two. So disk in hand I eagerly slotted the CD into the tray of my beige wonder and set about introducing it to the future.
Unfortunately in this instance the future never happened…
You see OS X can be a picky little madam when it chooses and this was one of those instances. The Voodoo card I have installed in my Macintosh is unfortunately not supported by OS X and looking at the state of play now that 3dfx have been acquired by nVidia I can’t see that situation changing anytime soon.
Unfortunately I’m not prepared to ditch my card for the simple reason that it has become a key element in my desktop setup. So as far that installation went it was thanks…but no thanks.
I moved over to the Powerbook, this model is supported by OS X and has no weird and wonderful extras to confuse the issue so I decided to try again and see if I would fare better this time round.
Although OS X installs on this model the first issue I came across was related to the hard drive itself. On early G3 models right across the range you have to ensure that a drive is partioned correctly for installation. Essentially X wants the first 8 gig of the hard drive, well who am I to argue.
I figured I would make things fair and I more or less split the drive down the middle. One half of the drive for OS X, the other for OS 9 which Apple now refer to rather quaintly as their ‘Classic’ environment.
The partitioning of the drive was performed using OS X’s tools on the CD. You slice the drive up how you want it using a slider bar to allocate space to each separate section. I did struggle with this initially because it doesn’t immediately seem an obvious way to work, I was trying to input the amount of space I required on each partition in the supplied numerical fields. I…ahem…got it right after I sat down and read the instructions.
Installation from this point onwards wasn’t a problem. At this point this entire procedure was little more than an experiment to see how well the new operating system would function on a machine like this.
After about thirty minutes the somewhat laborious process was complete and my Powerbook was ready to reboot and set the world on fire with Apple’s latest offering.
Immediately I was greeted with a stylish splash screen as the new OS cranked up. The first thing I noticed and was pleasantly surprised by was the actual boot time from cold. If anything the startup procedure knocks OS 9’s out of the ball park in terms of speed. There’s probably not much in it but it just seemed a hell of a lot quicker.
As the system came up I remember feeling a little daunted, this sure didn’t look like any Mac OS I’d seen before. In terms of appearance this software really is a thing of beauty. Gone are the old flat looking icons and desktop layout, you are greeted with new stylized icons which have a distinctly three dimensional shaded effect. Sure it’s eye candy and serves no real purpose but Hey!, it looks good.
I began trying to navigate my way around this new OS and that’s where the first surprises came in to play. If you are a seasoned Macintosh user then a lot of the tricks that you used to employ as second nature aren’t around any longer.
Moving the cursor to the top right no longer gives you a pull down menu of currently running applications like in the good old days. While clicking on the top left of the screen presents you with a pull down menu that is similar to the old way of working but not quite.
Before now going to the top left would have given you access to the venerable Chooser for selecting your printers and network connections as well as indirectly accessing almost all the settings you could possibly want to play with on your host machine.
Nowadays this menu is where the ‘Sleep’, ‘Restart’ commands live as well as something called a ‘Dock’ which was to be the next big surprise. You can also access a sub menu that enables you to work with your machine settings in pretty much the same way as you did with OS 9. So far, so good…
The ‘Dock’ I mentioned earlier was waiting for me at the bottom of the screen. Hidden out of view during regular usage I moved my mouse down to the bottom of the screen and low and behold, up it came. Rising up on to my screen like a genie from a bottle.
The ‘Dock’ is very important, I guess you could call it the natural successor to the old Control Strip. A block of icons which sit at the bottom of the screen enabling you to access your most commonly used/important applications. Things like the Quicktime Player, the new Mail application and the all important ‘Trash’ icon (nice to know something’s don’t change).
The beauty of the ‘Dock’ is it’s very easy to work with, you don’t have to position it on the bottom of the screen. If you require you can move to pop up at the left or the right or even coming down from the top.
Also any application you want to reside within it’s confines can be added simply by drag and dropping it onto the ‘Dock’ itself. I have to admit though for the most part old habits die hard and I have left it as it is and resorted to using aliases on the desktop for any additional applications that I regularly use.
This new way of working seems to draw mixed reactions from the Macintosh fraternity. I’ve spoken to new users who get on with this new way of working as if it is the most natural way of working in the world (and in fairness, they are new users so I guess they aren’t familiar with the ‘old ways’ ).
The doubters seem to belong to the old guard who have been working with the Mac since the days of OS 7/8/9 and I have to admit that I have I am one of those people.
I guess the trick is not to fight the new way of working with your Macintosh. If you’re going to adopt OS X you’re going to have to be prepared to be a little flexible in your approach.
When you start having a poke around your freshly installed system you find that everything is organized in rather a neat fashion. There are folders present which deal with all your needs. Places to put your images and MP3’s as well as the obligatory System folder.
As I see it this is something of boon for users like me who have a tendency to work in a very messy fashion. If you look on any computer I have been using for any length of time you’ll notice I’m basically a messy worker. It doesn’t take long for me to start spreading files and folders all over the place. However since going over to OS X I’ve found that I’ve stuck to the pre created folders and as a result my Powerbook is pretty tidy as a result.
OS X is pretty much geared up for multiple users and as a result each designated user of X equipped Macintosh will get their own folder to store items in. Of course access to certain functions within the new system are allocated by an Administrator (in this case that’s me). Once again this is a good show of forward thinking by Apple and once again serves to keep things simple and uncluttered.
Now this wouldn’t be a review of OS X unless I mentioned the Unix core which resides at the heart of this system. Now I’ll hold my hands up here and admit that I know nothing about Unix or Linux for that matter, all I know that it’s at the heart of the new system and so far has proven to be incredibly robust even when I push this system to the limits.
In the old days when a Macintosh application bit the bullet and crashed there was often the chance that it would take the system down hard and you would require a hard reset to get things up and running again. In it’s latest incarnation however OS X takes steps to protect itself from any such malady.
If an application goes down the rest of the system manages to stay on its feet. This saves you the inconvenience of having to reboot in the event of things going wrong. So far I can count the number of applications failing on one hand and I’ve yet to see OS X crash completely.
One of the early concerns that OS X presented was how quickly would software developers make the switch to the new system. Apple are now aggressively marketing X as their primary system and as a result most of the big name players have sat up and taken notice. Microsoft Office is now natively available and the likes of Adobe and such have either followed suit or are in the process of doing so.
But what if you use an application on a regular basis that wasn’t built for X. Well that’s where the ‘Classic’ environment comes into play. I personally use Office 2001 which is the last version built for the older OS. I’m typing this review on that now.
In order to access Word I simply clicked on the icon and OS X went to work booting up an emulated version of OS 9.2. The actual boot time for OS 9 is slow however once it’s underway it’s speed is comparable to OS 9 in it’s ‘natural’ state. I’m thankful for that because I still have a need to use ‘Classic’ on a pretty regular basis.
Of course there is also a wealth of options for the discerning OS X to download. iTunes remains an excellent MP3 player/recorder/ CD burner and in it’s latest version (iTunes 3) adds some excellent features that enable users to manage their songlists. iPhoto represents an ideal way to work with any digital imaging equipment you own and it’s currently compatible with the latest crop of digital cameras.
It’s not all being plain sailing however, the Mail application that comes with the new system did prove to be a little troublesome during the setup procedure. For some reason it didn’t want to know my POP3 mailbox settings and for a while I was reliant on OS 9’s Outlook Express to get my mail. Thankfully since the last update everything seems to be working fine.
There are other features that don’t seem as easy to get along with as they used to either. I’ve found networking somewhat difficult, OS X is supposed to be backward compatible in terms of connecting to OS 9 machines. I’m still trying to get that working just how I would like but for the most part when I am networking I still revert to OS 9 for simplicity.
In terms of general usage, I have adapted to this new system and it is impressive. The fact that it runs so well on such a low spec laptop is a constant source of amazement to me. Although I hasten to add there is still some way to go before this system is bulletproof.
One thing that I would like to see improve is the in built help system, for my liking it just doesn’t seem as comprehensive as the old system and when I get stuck with a problem I usually end up going on the net to resolve which isn’t always ideal.
In conclusion what you have here is an operating system that represents the future of Apple. OS X is about to undergo it’s first big overhaul with the release of OS X 10.2. However if you aren’t using that yet this system should cut the mustard nicely. On modern systems it performs absolutely fine running at blazing speed with pretty solid all round stability.
If a die hard like myself can change the way I work then I consider Apple to have done their job well. Coupled with the fact that Apple themselves seem to be taking the time to listen to their customers and are actively reintroducing features that users want to see returned to their new operating system of choice.
It ain’t perfect, but who knows…in time it might get close.
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