MacOS X: a shiny finish with a few loose screws

Cameron Kramlich

On March 11, Apple introduced a next generation operating system for its Macintosh computers. This software, dubbed MacOS X, was reasonably stable but tediously slow on even the most recent computers. This fall, the first major upgrade was released; the new version, MacOS 10.1, offers sufficiently compelling advantages to merit a second look at the Macintosh as an alternative to Windows. MacOS X unfortunately includes the same type of quirks that defined earlier versions of the operating system, although for new users they could be euphemistically called “features.”The hallmark of MacOS X is a user interface that finally obviates the 1980s dcor and multicolored Apple from prior versions. Simply put, MacOS X offers the most intuitive and attractive way to use a computer. Unlike even Windows XP, on relatively modern Macs, digital cameras, music players, and other hardware just work. Older computers can run the operating system, but not necessarily the peripheral devices attached to it. The only remedy to this problem is for the computer to reboot into the old MacOS 9.1, something that is a necessity to install in any event.

Herein lies the problem; in order to run older programs, both MacOS X and MacOS 9 must be installed on the same computer. Upon launching an older program, it is necessary to wait several minutes for the MacOS 9 compatibility environment, dubbed Classic, to load. Once using this compatibility environment, the older interface jumps out of the woodwork creating some confusion for inexperienced users.

Once acclimated to this switch, Classic performs in a satisfactory manner, but significantly distracts from a strikingly beautiful way to control a computer. Fortunately, a significant number of applications are already reprogrammed for this new operating system including Microsoft Office, Eudora, Netscape, and Internet Explorer.

Perhaps the most touted technical feature of this new operating system is something called Darwin. This buzzword compliant component is an open sourced Unix-derivative that supports symmetric multiprocessing in a 64-bit environment while offering military grade stability. To the average user this means that MacOS X almost never crashes and can run a plethora of (typically free) new software originally written for other similar operating systems like BSD and Linux.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these applications seem to be created exclusively for geeks, but two particular programs could become very popular on college campuses. This first is a program called Sharity, available at www.obdev.at, which provides easy access to the Windows side of a campus network. Although a commercial program, it is available for no charge to students and educational institutions.

The second application is built into the operating system. Telnet provides a way to connect to other computers like the card catalog or the campus phone book. Because it is a Unix application, MacOS X requires that a command line, called Terminal, be used to control it.

It might seem daunting at first, but once the user becomes acclimated, the command line interface becomes second nature. Upon opening the Terminal, a series of unintelligible words precede a cursor. To use telnet, type “telnet,” space, and then the address. To access the phone directory, you would type “telnet ellen.acad.lawrence.edu” and then find a username. To access the library card catalog you would type, “telnet lucia.lib.lawrence.edu.” Thousands of other Unix applications are available and some are even supported in the graphical interface.

The Verdict:

MacOS X offers the best way to use a computer through its combination of an improved Macintosh-style interface and under-the-hood power of Unix. If you are currently a Mac user, the question of whether to upgrade should be determined by the age of your computer. If your computer has USB ports and you do not mind installing $50 of Ram, at least 320 megabytes, it probably makes sense to use this new operating system.

If you presently use a Windows-based PC it might make sense to consider the Mac as an option when next upgrading computers in lieu of the privacy-challenged Windows XP. For first time computer users can try both MacOS X and Windows XP. You will probably prefer MacOS X.

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