Mac's latest OS X is almost a perfect 10

October 22, 2001|By David Zeiler | David Zeiler,SUN STAFF

For Mac owners, this is The One.

Although we had our first taste of Mac OS X with the public beta release last fall, and the official release of version 10.0 on March 24, the real Mac OS X landed last month in the form of version 10.1.

The latest version, the first major upgrade to the Mac's new operating system, delivers the performance and polish you'd expect from what Apple promotes as "the world's most advanced operating system."

The most noticeable change from the initial forms of OS X is responsiveness. Everything is snappier, particularly application launches and window resizing.

Since I had been using OS X on my new G4 Quicksilver 867 (with an 80 gigabyte hard drive and 640 megabytes of memory), I didn't experience the kind of irritating sluggishness exhibited on older computers, particularly those based on the G3 chip like the iMac.

Nevertheless, the speed increases were obvious with 10.1. Applications launch in half the time. AppleWorks 6 and iTunes launch almost instantly, at least as fast as they do under OS 9.2.

Equally pleasing are the many adjustments made to the nuts and bolts of the operating system, which controls how you interact with your computer.

One of my peeves with the Dock, the strip of icons that launches programs, holds folders and provides a home for the trash, was that its anchored position at the bottom of the page interfered with scrolling through documents. In OS 10.1 the Dock can be placed to the right or left side of the screen as well as at the bottom.

Another slick improvement is the organization of the System Preferences screen. Now the icons are grouped in rows according to their function, making items easier to find.

All of these new goodies are in addition to the greater benefits that OS X already had brought to the Mac.

Because it is based on Unix, a computer operating system renowned for its stability and power, OS X is almost impossible to crash (programs may quit but they won't lock up the machine). OS X also is far better at multitasking, the ability to process several operations simultaneously without major slowdowns.

And despite the elaborate 3D graphics of the new Mac desktop, true computer geeks can call up the Terminal application and use its command-line interface to use the Unix programming language.

Given the major improvements OS 10.1 represents, I still urge caution to Mac users contemplating the switch now from comfortable old OS 9 (or OS 8 or even System 7). While this upgrade certainly makes it easier to use OS X as your everyday operating system, there are enough loose ends to give the average user pause.

The biggest issue is the lack of applications designed to run native on OS X. Although Apple claims 1,400 OS X applications are available, with a lot more coming in the next few months, this is small comfort if the application you depend on isn't ready yet.

While you can run your old programs in "Classic" mode - which is basically OS 9 running on top of OS X - you won't get the Unix benefits of X nor the pretty Aqua interface, defeating the purpose of adopting the new operating system.

The software situation is improving every day, however. Quicken Deluxe 2002 and FileMaker Pro are available now. An OS X version of the most critical application for the Mac, Microsoft's Office suite, is expected in November. Major programs like IBM's ViaVoice, Palm's desktop synchronization software, Dantz's popular Retrospect backup software and Adobe Photoshop are due later this year or early in 2002.

In the meantime, programs such as Apple's own iTunes and iMovie software run happily in the new operating system, and the included OS X version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer means Web browsing is available.

The other, more devilish OS X sticking point is the lack of compatibility with older hardware.

My old SCSI-based scanner, which I often use with Photoshop, is invisible to OS X, even in Classic mode. Only when I boot the G4 under OS 9.2 (free tip: hold down the option key at boot time to bring up a screen that offers you a choice between the old and new operating systems), can I use the scanner, a tremendous inconvenience.

While the OS X upgrade recognizes a lot more devices than before, it's still oddly picky. For example, OS 10.1 instantly recognized such USB devices as my Harman Kardon's SoundSticks and Hewlett Packard Deskjet 932C printer, but refused to acknowledge the presence of a USB hard drive - a problem caused by an incompatible driver.

Should you have legacy hardware unrecognized by OS X, you will need to find and download X-savvy drivers when - and if - they become available. I found a compatible driver for my USB hard drive at, a source of all sorts of OS X goodies that I highly recommend.

According to Apple, the 10.1 upgrade marks the halfway point to the complete transition to OS X, which should happen in early 2002. Even that doesn't mean each Mac user needs to be on board by then, but by 2003 you'll notice a rapid decrease in the availability of new software that will run in the old Mac OS.

For those who feel ready to leap into OS X, there are several ways to obtain the 10.1 upgrade. You'll have to pay the full price of $129 if your Mac didn't come with a version of OS X pre-installed. You can also order the upgrade package from Apple or any Apple-authorized retailer for $19.99

If you want a free upgrade, however, you'll have to get a CD-ROM from an Apple Store or Mac dealer. The closest Apple Store is in Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va. Closer to home, you'll find the CDs at CompUSA stores around the region and the Mac Home and Office store in Towson.

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