Makes Macs ready for Internet

OS 9

New release: Net file-sharing and better security are among the improvements, but there are annoying flaws.

November 15, 1999|By Dave Zeiler | Dave Zeiler,Sun Staff

In recent years Apple has made integration of the Internet with the Mac operating system a priority. With its newest release, Mac OS 9, Apple feels it has succeeded to the point where it can declare the product "Your Internet co-pilot."

One can't argue with this strategy. With the Internet playing an increasingly central role in how we use our computers, the more seamless the experience to the user, the better.

Topping OS 9's list of Internet-savvy features is Sherlock 2, an improved version of the all-purpose search utility that Apple introduced with Mac OS 8.5. Sherlock 2 adds more Internet bells and whistles, such as the ability to search for people and to search for products at sites such as Amazon.com and eBay.

While I'm not all that big on shopping, I was impressed when Sherlock took a product description I typed in and showed me a list of sellers, including price and availability. I have yet to demonstrate this feature to my wife.

Another practical addition is Live Update. This feature automatically checks Apple's Web site for updates to Apple software when you're online; if it finds a new version of something on your system it will ask if you'd like to download and install it.

Unfortunately, you may wind up doing a lot of downloading of patches from other sites, because OS 9 isn't compatible with some very popular software and hardware -- including many Hewlett-Packard printers. More about that later.

Something that will surely please anyone who works with multiple Macs in remote locations is Internet file sharing. Any two Macs using OS 9 can be set up to share files over the Internet as if they were on a local network.

Combining this feature with Internet AppleScript, you now can tell a Mac at work to execute a task from your Mac at home. All these features are password-protected, of course. Security, by the way, is another major theme in Mac OS 9. Any file or folder on your Mac's hard drive can be password-encrypted.

And you can use another OS 9 feature, the Keychain, to store all those passwords in one place so you don't have to remember (or type) them anymore. You need only remember the password that unlocks the Keychain. The Keychain can also store passwords for programs and Web sites, but regretfully not until third parties incorporate the new technology.

Perhaps OS 9's flashiest additions are Multiple Users and the Voiceprint Password. A Mac owner can create additional user accounts on the same Mac, which maintains separate preference files for each individual for whatever programs they use.

Each user can log on either by typing in a password (boring) or by speaking a phrase of his choosing. The Mac's voice recognition software analyzes your speech and knows if it's really you. I tried this at home with my family and it works eerily well.

Mac OS 9 also adds some minor but much-appreciated touches. Until now, system message alerts froze activity on your Mac until you clicked OK. With OS 9, system alerts appear in yellow-tinted dialogue boxes that allow you to continue working until you feel like clicking the message away.

But as always with major OS upgrades, thorns lurk among the roses. Quite a few utilities and extensions don't like

Apple's newest operating system, among them the popular Adobe Type Manager and Adobe Type Reunion. Adobe has posted free downloads of OS 9-friendly versions.

Unfortunately, other pieces of software "broken" by OS 9 were unfixed. To my dismay I found that SoftWindows 95 didn't work and that I initially couldn't use my Hewlett-Packard DeskWriter 660c because a driver incompatibility prevented the Print Dialogue box from appearing. Thankfully, HP (www.hp.com) released OS 9 patches for its printers late last week.

I don't have enough space for a comprehensive list of things that won't work with OS 9, but I beg you to visit one of the Mac Web sites that does. Sites keeping a running tab on OS 9 problems include MacFixit (www.macfixit.com), the Macintosh News Network (www. macnn.com) and MacInTouch (www.macintouch.com).

You can also download a free utility from Alsoft called Check 9 File Mgr Compatibility (www. alsoft.com/AskAl). This handy program checks each application on your hard drive and creates a report that tells you which ones could have trouble with OS 9.

The good news is that once you've ferreted out the troublemakers, Mac OS 9 delivers rock-solid stability.

Like other recent upgrades to the Mac OS, this one runs only on Power Macs. Apple also recommends at least 32 megabytes of physical RAM and that you have Virtual Memory turned on.

In fact, this may be the last OS hurrah for owners of pre-G3 model Power Macs -- Apple says next year's OS X will be "optimized" for G3- and G4-based systems.

Should that turn out to be the case, the array of impressive features in Mac OS 9 should take some of the sting out of owning an older Mac until your bank account can afford a spiffy new one.

Mac OS 9 retails for $99, although owners of Mac OS 8.5 and 8.6 can get a $20 rebate.

Send e-mail to david.zeiler@ baltsun.com.

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