Mac operating sytem upgrade adds features Revision: OS 8.5 is more stable, has a zippier feel and offers several desktop enhancements.

November 02, 1998|By David Zeiler | David Zeiler,SUN STAFF

Fun, stable and brimming with useful features, the latest revision of Apple's venerable Macintosh operating system offers much to tempt users to upgrade.

According to Apple, OS 8.5 contains more than 70 new features, so many I haven't found them all

You should know right off the bat that OS 8.5's requirements include a PowerPC processor, so Macs based on the old Motorola 68K CPUs can't handle it. You will also need, Apple says, at least 16 MB of physical RAM, with Virtual Memory set to at least 24 MB.

With each OS revision, Apple has replaced more of the code designed for its original processors with code that's native to the new PowerPC chip. This leaves older machines behind but gives Mac OS 8.5 a zippier feel when performing such basic tasks as opening folders.

On the desktop, OS 8.5 offers several spiffy new features, such as scroll arrows together at the bottom right corner of open windows, saving a lot of mouse movement.

When viewing files as a list, you can resize and move the columns in each folder as desired, a feature long overdue. You can create a standard format for viewing files, but each folder will remember any customizations the next time you open it.

One long-promised feature that makes its debut half-baked in Mac OS 8.5 is Appearance Themes. Merged into an expanded Appearance Manager control panel, this feature allows you to select a desktop pattern and matching screen fonts with a click of the mouse. The full-fledged Theme concept would allow you to change the entire appearance of the desktop, including your system icons (like the shareware utility Kaleidoscope). Maybe in Mac OS 8.6.

My favorite desktop enhancement is the "tear-off" Application Switcher. You can create a resizable floating palette of active programs if you grab the Application Menu with the mouse arrow and drag it to another area of the desktop. The menu itself shows the name of the active program as well as its icon in the menu bar. And as if that weren't enough, you can now cycle through all open applications by pressing Command-Tab.

Another useful improvement is Sherlock - basically the old "Find File" feature on steroids. You can still use it to find files, but now you can search hard drives for content inside your files.

Type in a company name and up pops every file that contains that company's name anywhere in the text. To enable this you need to let your Mac generate an index of your hard drive, a process that can take about two hours but is well worth it.

Sherlock also allows you to search the Internet (assuming you're connected) by simultaneously tapping several common search engines such as AltaVista, Lycos and Infoseek.

This feature is one of several that takes a cue from Microsoft's book by increasing Internet integration with the operating system. Others include the ability to make aliases of Web pages and e-mail addresses and the option of setting the internal clock to automatically synchronize with one of the world's atomic clocks every time you connect to the Net.

Of course, not all the news is good.

Those folks using Apple PC Compatibility Cards won't be happy to hear that OS 8.5 doesn't support that hardware. (Pretty rude, Apple.) Of more concern are rare reports of failed hard drives after OS 8.5 installation. The cause remains unknown and affects Apple's machines as well as clones.

For most folks, though, software conflicts represent the real land mines. I strongly advise anyone planning to buy this upgrade to check the Web for lists of conflicts with existing software. Visit the MacinTouch OS 8.5 page (www.macintouch.com/m85.html) and the Macintosh News Network OS 8.5 compatibility page (www.macnn.com/reports/os85compat.shtml).

Patches are available for most major programs, but keep an eye on any shareware or freeware you're using.

Incredibly, even the ubiquitous Adobe Type Manager generates display problems with OS 8.5 on some systems. So proceed with caution and BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVE before taking the plunge.

Conflicts aside - they come with the territory, after all - Mac OS 8.5 is another major step forward for a remarkably durable operating system. I heartily recommend it.

Mac OS 8.5 is available through several catalogs and at CompUSA stores for $89.95. Anyone who purchased a Mac or OS 8.1 after Sept. 17 as well as all iMac owners can upgrade for $19.95.

Send e-mail to david.zeilealtsun.com.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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