Don't hold your breath -- using Macintosh System 7.5.3 may not be an illuminating experience

Personal Computers

April 01, 1996|By Peter H. Lewis

WAS IT JUST a decade ago that we waited for the glorious arrival of Halley's comet, only to see a little fuzz ball smudging the night sky? Despite the disappointment of that event 10 years ago, some of us still venture out in the wee hours to catch a glimpse of potential greatness.

So, on a dark night last week, we went looking for two new transients, one the comet 1996 B2, whizzing through space to make its closest approach to Earth, and the other Apple Computer's new Macintosh System 7.5.3 operating system software.

We had better luck finding System 7.5.3 in cyberspace. Alas, some users who are expecting it to light up their Macintoshes may find it to be just another fuzz ball.

Scientists have speculated recently that comets carry stowaway life forms from distant parts of the galaxy; nothing exotic, mind you, just microbes and shower scum, but life nonetheless. The latest revision of the Mac OS is known to be carrying some genetic code from Copland, Apple's grand operating system revision, which is now less than a light-year away.

In the hope of bringing some new life to our Mac, we logged on to America Online's Macintosh forum and clicked the button to download Update 2.0 for System 7.5. Even at the relatively brisk pace of 28.8 kilobits a second, we were warned, the download was expected to take about 2 1/2 hours.

There are other ways to get the free software, which can also be downloaded from Apple's World Wide Web site on the Internet (http: //www.apple.com) and from Compuserve. Or one can pay $13 to Apple to get the software via postal service on diskettes or CD-ROM.

But since we were killing time waiting for the comet anyway, a couple of hours did not seem like a burden. Besides, it afforded the opportunity to explore the concept of "flow," a sort of state of grace known to Internet junkies who lose track of time as they hyper-link from one information site to another on the World Wide Web.

Three federal judges hearing a legal challenge to the Communications Decency Act last week in Philadelphia were treated to a courtroom seminar on "flow." Although the judges were not Internet users, they seemed to brighten at the analogy to wandering through a vast network of libraries, effortlessly gliding from book to book and library to library anywhere in the world, following their interests.

For some people the flow is a sort of Internet time warp in which hours pass in what seems like the blink of an eye. As protection, my first stop was the U.S. Naval Observatory (http: //tycho.usno.navy.mil/ time.html), to make sure my computer's clock was accurate.

The Naval Observatory is the nation's premier timekeeper. Its cesium atom and hydrogen maser clocks have now been harnessed to tick off the passage of time on the World Wide Web. By clicking around at the site, one can find a new feature, available to visitors with newer browsing software, that updates the time on screen, second by second.

Another feature points to sources of software that automatically links the Naval Observatory's clocks to the system clock in the user's computer, so that the time on screen is always precise. But the idea of such precision was unsettling, and it was time to move on.

Another link from the Naval Observatory site flowed into the mother lode of information about our other quarry that night, Comet 1996 B2 (http: //cfa-www.harvard.edu/cfa/ ps/info1996B2.html). This Web site contains data and background information suitable for astronomers and backyard gawkers alike.

The comet is expected to be visible for another month, it said. So, rather than race to the backyard, I decided to go with the flow to a few other sites, in effect running a few errands in cyberspace. Spring had officially arrived, so it seemed like an opportune time to visit Garden Escape (http: //www.garden.com) to plan a garden. Then, it was over to Hoover's financial information cornucopia (http: //www.hoovers.com/ hotlinks.html) for financial and investment browsing. Then .

The 2 1/2 hours blinked by, and the new Macintosh System 7.5.3 upgrade was in my computer, along with not one, not two, but seven "Read Me" files. It turned out that the main advantage of the upgrade is consolidating a variety of interim fixes that Apple has released over the last year for different models of Macintoshes. The fixes are intended to reduce some types of system errors and glitches that, frankly, I did not know I had.

There are said to be some performance improvements for owners of Power Macintosh system, but in my experience it may be necessary to employ a hydrogen maser clock to measure them. There are some networking modifications of interest to system administrators and some seemingly arcane plumbing changes that will come under scrutiny here when Apple releases its so-called Cyberdog Internet technology later this year.

It was fun to fool around with some new text-to-speech features in Apple's built-in Simple Text word processing software, and a "translucent dragging" feature is helpful for people who forget what they are doing when they drag file and folder icons around on the desktop.

But on the whole, System 7.5.3 is more of a little meteor shower than a blazing comet.

Peter H. Lewis is a columnist for the New York Times.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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