Series: Mac OS 8.5
A detailed tour of Apple's latest operating system
Article 1 of 3 in series
by Geoff Duncan
The wait is over: with considerable fanfare, Apple last week released Mac OS 8.5, billing it as a smarter, faster version of the Mac OS with enhanced Internet integration and a raft of new featuresShow full article
The wait is over: with considerable fanfare, Apple last week released Mac OS 8.5, billing it as a smarter, faster version of the Mac OS with enhanced Internet integration and a raft of new features. The good news is that these claims are all true, and although Mac OS 8.5 isn't an ideal upgrade for all Macintosh owners or everything Mac owners dreamed about, it is a solid leap forward, with significant new capabilities and under-the-hood transformations.
Just the Facts -- Mac OS 8.5 requires a PowerPC-based Macintosh with at least 16 MB of RAM (Apple recommends 24 MB; I recommend even more). Unlike previous releases, Mac OS 8.5 does not support 68040-based Macs, or 68K-based machines upgraded to PowerPC processors. A bare-bones installation requires about 50 MB of disk space; recommended and optional components boost that to 150 MB and higher.
Mac OS 8.5 is available on CD-ROM for $99 from the Apple Store and for lower prices from Apple dealers and TidBITS sponsors Cyberian Outpost and Small Dog Electronics. If you bought Mac OS 8.1 after 14-Sep-98 you can upgrade to Mac OS 8.5 for $20 using an upgrade coupon available in PDF format. If you recently bought a Mac without Mac OS 8.5, you may be able to upgrade for $20 via Apple's Mac OS Up-to-Date program.
Installing Mac OS 8.5 -- For most users, installing Mac OS 8.5 will be simple - the installer application is straightforward and had no problems with clean installations or installing over existing system folders in my testing. If you're using third-party hard disk drivers, make sure they're compatible with Mac OS 8.5 before you install and make sure the Mac OS 8.5 installer doesn't replace them with Apple's disk drivers. Do let the installer update any Apple disk drivers. You should also write down your TCP/IP and dial-up settings before installing Mac OS 8.5. If you're using Open Transport, you can export your settings, then import them after installation.
The Mac OS 8.5 installer permits customization of packages before installation begins and can add and remove selected software once Mac OS 8.5 is installed.
As always, make a full backup of your Mac before installing new system software. If you aren't reliably and consistently backing up your data, you must. This has nothing to do with Mac OS 8.5: it's just common sense.
Performance -- The first thing many Mac OS 8.5 users will notice is that it's faster than previous versions of the Mac OS - sometimes much faster. One advantage of developing Mac OS 8.5 only for PowerPC-based Macs is that Apple was able to rewrite major portions of the core operating system using PowerPC-native code. Areas of the operating system that see the most benefit include QuickDraw and QuickDraw Text (the Mac OS's fundamental graphics and text rendering tools); routines that handle menus, controls, icons, lists, windows, and dialogs; and internal event management.
Mac OS 8.5 also includes a new PowerPC-native version of AppleScript, which Apple claims can be as much as five times faster than earlier versions. Scripts I tested typically run more than twice as fast as they did under Mac OS 8.1. Apple is also touting improved network performance, which is generally true, but the greatest benefits are seen between systems running Mac OS 8.5 on high-speed 100Base-T Ethernet networks.
Application Switcher -- After installing Mac OS 8.5, you'll notice the Application menu on the far right of the menubar sports the name of the current application along with the application's icon. Long-time Mac users may find this annoying, but it's beneficial to less sophisticated Mac users, who often have trouble figuring out which application is in the foreground if it lacks open windows. A small vertical beam enables you to reduce or eliminate the amount of space given to the application name.
You can tear the new Application menu off the menubar entirely - drag your cursor off the bottom of the menu until an outline appears, then release the mouse button. Now you're looking at the Application Switcher, a floating palette that displays your currently running applications as buttons, and lets you switch between them by clicking. You can also switch between applications at any time by pressing Command-Tab.
The Application Switcher is capable and configurable. You can drag & drop items onto running applications, and Option-clicking an application switches to that program while hiding the current one. Similarly, clicking the palette's zoom box hides or shows application names, Option-clicking the palette's zoom box toggles between large and small icons, and Option-Shift-clicking the palette's zoom box toggles between horizontal and vertical displays.
You can change the Command-Tab shortcut for moving between programs (it can interfere with HyperCard, FileMaker Pro, and other applications). The new HTML-based Mac OS Help features a script to change the key combination; look under "Files and Programs." You can also change the key combination and other options using a third-party utility such as SwitcherSetter from Chris Gervais, or the stack in the HyperCard Update folder on the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM. Some of Application Switcher's more obscure capabilities are accessible only via these utilities or AppleScript.
Finder Features -- The Mac OS 8.5 Finder boasts many new features, some of which are subtle. You can finally resize and (except for the Name column) reorder the columns in Finder list views, and you can use the Finder Preferences to create default settings for all Finder views, then convert any Finder window to those settings using its View Options dialog.
Folder windows now display proxy icons in their title bars; you can drag these proxies directly to a different location without having to open the window's parent folder, locate the item you want to move, and then move it. You can also scroll Finder windows without using the scrollbars by Command-dragging in the content area.
The Finder's Get Info windows feature multiple panels for general information, sharing privileges, memory settings (for applications), and printer capabilities (for desktop printers). Each item is available directly via contextual menus as well as in the Get Info window.
The Finder is smarter about email addresses and URLs. If you drag a URL or email address from an application like Eudora or BBEdit to the desktop, the Finder creates an Internet Location File instead of a text clipping. When you double-click an Internet Location File, the Finder uses your Internet preferences to handle it. Unfortunately, earlier versions of the Finder don't recognize Internet Location Files or treat them as text clippings, so exchanging the files with earlier versions of the Mac OS is awkward.
The Finder sports new a new Add to Favorites command which creates an alias to a selected item in the new Favorites folder in the Apple menu. At first, Favorites seem like a half-baked attempt to add bookmarking capabilities to the Finder. However, Favorites are worth keeping an eye on since they tie in with Navigation Services, Mac OS 8.5's replacement for the awful modal Open and Save dialog boxes. Only a few applications (like Anarchie Pro) support Navigation Services currently. We'll talk more about Navigation Services soon.
Celebrity Makeover -- One anticipated feature in Mac OS 8.5 is support for themes, originally slated for Apple's long-defunct Copland OS project. Themes give users a high degree of control over the look and feel of their Mac, such as choosing window styles, system fonts, menu items, scrollbars, background pictures, buttons, and other interface elements. Several alternate themes have been heavily publicized, and Apple's failure to deliver theme support in previous versions of the Mac OS inspired products like Kaleidoscope, which has long provided much the same functionality. (Kaleidoscope has been updated to work with Mac OS 8.5.)
Mac OS 8.5 delivers on Apple's promise of theme support in the Mac OS, albeit not to the degree many Mac aficionados have expected. The new Appearance control panel subsumes the older Color, WindowShade, and Desktop Pictures control panels, providing a multi-tabbed interface for controlling various interface elements. (Mac OS 8.5 includes five new system fonts, but there are other font changes - for instance, Monaco has a new semi-serif look that takes some getting used to.) The Appearance control panel also enables you to have TrueType fonts smoothed (anti-aliased) above an arbitrary point size. Not all Macintosh applications are Appearance-savvy: some menus won't appear with proper fonts or colors, and some window elements might be out of place. For the most part, however, these problems are only cosmetic.
Although Apple developers had access to Gizmo and Hi-Tech themes while Mac OS 8.5 was in development, Mac OS 8.5 ships with only one theme: Apple Platinum. I suspect this is a conservative move by Apple to protect the renowned Macintosh look and feel. Frankly, few things will drive a new computer buyer away from an iMac faster than the Gizmo theme, which turns a standard interface into a cacophony of color, clutter, and chaos. If you desire more customization, try Kaleidoscope. Further, although Apple hasn't released details on creating theme files, enthusiastic Mac programmers are already reverse-engineering Apple's themes and developing tools to create new ones. A few documents imply Apple and other companies may distribute new themes in the future.
All that aside, sound tracks will be the love-hate feature of Mac OS 8.5's themes. Like the popular but long defunct SoundMaster control panel, themes can include a sound track for actions involving windows, menus, window controls, and various Finder actions. For instance, using Apple's Platinum sound track dragging a document across the screen causes a slight ticking, which even pans left to right as you move the document from side to side. Sounds play when windows open and close, when you select menus and menu items, when you scroll windows, and in response to many other events. I initially thought the Platinum sounds were distracting, but the sounds are surprisingly well thought-out, and now a silent Macintosh seems odd and somehow dry. Sound tracks aren't for everyone, but you might want to give them a chance.
The Game's Afoot -- The most-publicized new feature in Mac OS 8.5 is Sherlock, which replaces the Mac OS's Find File. You still use Sherlock to hunt for files on local disks and servers - its functionality is much like Find File - but Sherlock can also search the contents of documents on indexed volumes and send queries to Internet search engines. Unlike Find File, you can keep multiple results windows open.
Sherlock's Find By Content capability is based on Apple's long-simmering V-Twin technology, which is now built into the Mac OS so applications besides Sherlock can use it too. (To see another instance, Control-click a text file in the Finder and choose Summarize File to Clipboard.) Searching by content requires that Sherlock first index the disk you want to search. This process can take hours and results in an index stored as a large, invisible file. (Luckily, you can schedule Sherlock to index in the middle of the night, and Sherlock can ignore items with a particular Finder label.) After it creates an index, Sherlock can quickly search the disk's contents and provide relevancy-ranked search results that you can sort by several criteria. To use Find By Content to best advantage, use a phrase that describes what you're looking for, rather than just a few keywords; also, take advantage of the Find Similar Files button. Because Sherlock indexes only entire disks rather than particular directories, some people will find it more useful than others. For instance, I'd love to have Sherlock index just TidBITS issues, articles I've written, and a few other folders, but since these items live on separate disks, the overhead might be excessive.
Sherlock's most-advertised capability is to send queries to Internet search engines like AltaVista and Apple's Tech Info Library. Sherlock does this by using Internet Search Site plug-ins, which live in their own folder in the System Folder. The plug-ins tell Sherlock how to send a query to a particular search engine, how to interpret results from that site, and how often to check for plug-in updates. This means Sherlock is also a lightweight Web client: it sends a query to one or more search engines, then parses the HTML returned from those sites to display a results window. Clicking a search result often displays an abbreviated preview in the search results window; double-clicking a search result opens the item in your preferred Web browser. Sherlock's previews can contain banner advertisements from search sites, complete with animated GIFs. Although these banners are troubling precedents, their presence assures ad-driven sites that Sherlock users don't get the benefit of the site's searching capability without seeing advertising; otherwise, sites might ban Sherlock altogether.
Mac OS 8.5 ships with six search site plug-ins. Dozens more are already available for Macintosh-related sites, and Apple has a page of additional plug-ins for general-interest sites. We've created a Sherlock plug-in to search TidBITS articles - try it out by downloading it and dragging it to your System Folder.<http://www.apple.com/sherlock/plugins.html>
Sherlock can also save search criteria to separate files - whether you're searching your hard disk or the Internet - making it easy to repeat frequent queries.
Compatibility -- Mac OS 8.5's compatibility is quite good: most extensions and applications run without problems, and surprisingly few current applications seem to suffer from cosmetic Appearance-related problems. Nonetheless, some widely used applications and utilities have problems with Mac OS 8.5: here's a quick run-down of common problems and fixes.
Microsoft has released a 2.9 MB patch to the English language version of Office 98 to address a delay in menus drawing and solve layout inconsistencies between Mac OS versions. The update also fixes two problems that aren't specific to Mac OS 8.5.
The QuickDay and QuickContact components of Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date have severe problems when configured to add menus to the menubar. Qualcomm recommends turning off menubar functions.
Kensington has released MouseWorks 5.0.5 for compatibility with Mac OS 8.5.
There have been widespread reports of problems with Adobe ATM and ATM Deluxe with Mac OS 8.5. Several Adobe reps have confirmed privately that version 4.0.3 of both products works fine under Mac OS 8.5. I haven't found any problems with ATM 4.0.2, the version on the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM.
I had severe crashing problems with Symantec's Suitcase 3.0.1 extension; Symantec hasn't responded to my queries, or (so far as I can tell) acknowledged a problem.
OneClick 1.0.3, the current version, is incompatible with Mac OS 8.5. WestCode has said an update is forthcoming.
Next Time -- The next part of this article will examine some of Mac OS 8.5's features in greater detail, including AppleScript, Navigation Services, Internet and networking changes, additional software components, and new operating system features. In the meantime, please visit TidBITS Talk for more discussion about these and other Mac OS 8.5 features.
Article 2 of 3 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Last week in TidBITS-451, we took our first look at Mac OS 8.5 with a discussion of system requirements, installation, and prominent features like Sherlock, Appearance and Themes, and new Finder capabilitiesShow full article
Last week in TidBITS-451, we took our first look at Mac OS 8.5 with a discussion of system requirements, installation, and prominent features like Sherlock, Appearance and Themes, and new Finder capabilities. This week, we'll cover Internet and networking changes, the new HTML-based online help, Navigation Services, and more.
Internet and Networking -- Networking changes in Mac OS 8.5 are among the most noticeable new items for Internet users - especially those connecting via a modem.
First, Open Transport/PPP has disappeared: you won't find a PPP control panel in Mac OS 8.5. Instead, Mac OS 8.5 uses the PPP capabilities in Apple Remote Access 3.1 - the Remote Access control panel now contains all the familiar dialup options. Thinking of PPP connections as a form of remote access isn't a large conceptual leap, but long-time Macintosh users may think Remote Access is used only to connect to AppleTalk networks via a modem; if those folks haven't needed Remote Access in the past, they may exclude it when performing a custom installation of Mac OS 8.5. The result is a Mac OS 8.5 installation with no PPP capability. So, if you connect to the Internet with a modem, make sure you install Remote Access with Mac OS 8.5.
After entering your dialup settings in the Remote Access control panel, you can connect to the Internet through the control panel itself, or via the Remote Access Status application that's installed in the Apple menu. Both interfaces provide a connection status display. If you used FreePPP instead of Open Transport/PPP, you'll be happy to know that it works fine with Mac OS 8.5.
Also new in Mac OS 8.5 is the Internet control panel, which brings together many Internet-related settings, including mail servers, email addresses, and suffix mappings, along with default applications to handle email, Usenet news, and Web browsing. If the Internet control panel sounds like Internet Config, that's because, underneath, it is Internet Config. Apple quietly shipped Peter Lewis and Quinn's public domain Internet Config 1.3 with Mac OS 8.0 and relied on it to tie together Internet-related features. With Mac OS 8.5, Apple provides its own interface to Internet Config 2.0's settings via the Internet control panel, plus access to Internet Config features such as the capability to store - and switch between - multiple sets of preferences. (Switching preferences comes in handy for laptops that travel to different locations or for computers shared by multiple users.) Internet Config and the Internet control panel write to the same preferences, so you can adjust settings using either, though you should use Internet Config 2.0 or higher.
People who use multiple configurations on their machines will be happy to learn that the Location Manager (now installed by default) can automate switching groups of settings in one step, including settings for Internet, Remote Access, TCP/IP, and AppleTalk, as well as items like printers, named Extension Manager sets, time zones, and more. Sharp-eyed users will note that Internet Config's suffix mappings also appear (and can be modified from) the new File Exchange control panel, which replaces both PC Exchange and Macintosh Easy Open.
Mac OS 8.5 ships with Open Transport 2.0, a significant under-the-hood upgrade to the Mac OS's fundamental networking technology. Although users won't see differences in the TCP/IP or AppleTalk control panels, Open Transport includes improved Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) support and other enhancements for better interaction with Windows NT-based servers. Open Transport 2.0 also supports Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Despite the name, SNMP is a sophisticated network management tool; some networked sites may require users to install SNMP on their systems. SNMP software comes in the Mac OS 8.5 installation set (not as part of the Mac OS 8.5's Internet software set); however, typical home and business users don't need to install it. SNMP could even pose a security risk since it can report hardware and configuration information about your machine to a remote user with an SNMP administration tool. (Apple includes such a tool on the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM.) If you install SNMP and decide you don't want it; use the Mac OS 8.5 installer's custom remove feature to delete it.
The most publicized aspect of Open Transport 2.0 is improved network performance: Apple is keen on claiming that Mac OS 8.5 networking is faster than Windows NT networking, albeit between two machines running Mac OS 8.5 using a high-speed 100Base-T Ethernet link. Users desperate for improved modem performance won't see improvements from Open Transport 2.0 - the modem is the bottleneck - although I was pleasantly surprised to see Mac OS 8.5 deliver improved network performance in realistic network environments, such as a 10Base-T network populated with Macs running varying versions of the Mac OS. Using Mac OS 8.5, copying files in the Finder seems faster regardless of the version of the Mac OS used on the remote machine, shared FileMaker databases respond more quickly, and access to AppleTalk servers and devices (like printers) is smoother. Internet applications are somewhat snappier, and background network operations (like downloads) no longer cause unexpected pauses in foreground applications.
Unfortunately, the Chooser is still as awkward as ever. But Mac OS 8.5 now includes a new Network Browser application that displays the hierarchy of AppleTalk zones and servers, plus enables you connect to those servers and remote AppleShare servers via TCP/IP. The Network Browser strongly resembles the Windows Network Neighborhood and relies heavily on Navigation Services (below), which can also offer most of the same functionality in new Open and Save dialogs. Nonetheless, the Network Browser is a step in the right direction for those who routinely deal with large AppleTalk networks.
Favorites, Aliases, and Navigation Services -- After installing Mac OS 8.5, you may notice a Favorites folder in the Apple Menu, and new Add To Favorites commands in the File menu and in various contextual menus. Logically enough, you can use the menu commands to create an alias to the selected item in the Favorites folder. As I noted last week, at first Favorites seem like an attempt to add bookmarking capabilities to the Finder; however, Favorites tie in with Navigation Services, Mac OS 8.5's replacement for the awful modal Open and Save dialog boxes.
Applications must be revised to take advantage of Navigation Services - in fact, even programs that ship with Mac OS 8.5 like SimpleText and MoviePlayer don't support Navigation Services yet, although some third-party applications already support them, like Anarchie Pro. But you can get a glimpse by using another new Finder feature: fixing broken aliases.
Unless you already have a broken alias that can't find its original item, you'll need to make one. First, duplicate a small file (like a ReadMe or a text clipping), then make an alias to the duplicate. Put the duplicate in the Trash and delete it by emptying the Trash. Now, select the alias you just made and choose Show Original from the Finder's File menu. In Mac OS 8.5, instead of seeing a dialog that simply tells you the alias's original item can't be found, the dialog also offers to delete the alias or fix it. If you choose to fix it, you'll be presented with a new dialog which allows you to locate the original item, or choose a new one.
This dialog box is part of Mac OS 8.5's Navigation Services. Notice that you can expand and collapse folders in the list, the dialog is resizable, and you can switch to other applications while the dialog is open (although you can't do other things in the Finder). At the upper right, you see menus for recent items, disks, and network volumes - you can also browse your AppleTalk network from here, and (aha!) choose items from a menu displaying any Favorites you've made. Navigation Services dialogs can also show previews (good for movies, pictures, and text) and accept items dropped into them from the Finder or Sherlock, Mac OS 8.5's new Find feature.
Although Navigation Services isn't in widespread use now, I look forward to its adoption by applications. Over the last ten years, I've used almost every utility that expands the functionality of standard Open and Save dialog boxes. Though they're useful - and many offer features not provided by Navigation Services - incompatibilities and constant updating have been a perpetual frustration. The standardized, enhanced functionality offered by Navigation Services should be a tremendous benefit to Mac users in the long term.
AppleScript Goes Native -- Folks who automate tasks on their Macs or need to create custom functionality within or between applications have been wishing for a PowerPC-native version of AppleScript for years. Despite wide use in the publishing industry and amongst Macintosh administrators and power users, AppleScript has always been denigrated for poor performance, even on high-end systems.
With AppleScript 1.3, Apple has finally removed critical performance bottlenecks and produced a PowerPC-native version of this built-in scripting environment, and, frankly, the difference is like night and day. Apple claims that some AppleScript operations run as much as five times faster under AppleScript 1.3 as under previous versions. Although my results aren't that dramatic, AppleScript scripts I use on a daily basis typically execute two to three times faster under Mac OS 8.5 than they did under Mac OS 8.1. Apple also added new, much-demanded functionality to AppleScript: alert dialogs can now time out after a period of inactivity, plus scripts can access the clipboard, summarize text, enable users to select items from lists, and understand many new units and data types (including Unicode text). Additionally, Apple extensively reorganized the scripting dictionaries for the Finder and other system components for clarity (although this means some scripts must be updated to work with Mac OS 8.5). Mac OS 8.5 also boasts several new scriptable items, including the Appearance, Location Manager, File Exchange, Internet, and Apple Menu Options control panels. Heck, you can even use AppleScript to embed a ColorSync profile in an image.
As much as this enhanced AppleScript functionality is welcome, Folder Actions are perhaps the most subtle new AppleScript capability. Folder Actions enable users to attach AppleScript scripts to a particular folder and have those scripts respond to events affecting that folder, including opening or closing the folder window, and adding or removing items. The possibilities of this functionality are wide-ranging: I've set up Folder Actions that delete chaff from my email attachments folder and automatically generate Web server log reports. Another scripter uses text clippings dropped into a particular folder as a customized reminder and scheduling system, and Gordon Meyer noted on TidBITS Talk that he set up a Folder Action on his father's iMac so specially configured folders are always available as pop-up windows across the bottom of the screen. Folder Actions raise a few security concerns - after all, scripts have complete access to the system - so Folder Actions can run only from local hard disks (not from server volumes or removable disks), and there's no way to send a Folder Action via email. Nonetheless, be sure you only use Folder Action scripts that you make or that come from a reliable source.
Mac OS 8.5 allows Folder Actions to be set only via contextual menus (Control-click a folder); if this is a problem, check out Bill Cheeseman's shareware Folder Action Setup; it has a seriously overburdened interface, but you'll find it useful if you spend a lot of time setting up Folder Actions.
Online Help -- Mac OS 8.5 also features a new HTML-based online help facility. Unlike Sherlock - a lightweight, specialized Web client with limited display capabilities - the Help Viewer application is a reasonably full-featured HTML engine with no Web capabilities.
Macintosh developers have clamored for HTML-based online help for several years now: although Apple Guide works well for walking users through a series of steps, it's lousy for detailed explanations and references. Also, creating material for Apple Guide requires specialized tools and knowledge that can't be applied anywhere else, like to a Web site or a Windows version of a product. Most technical writers and software publishers live and breathe HTML these days, and, since authors can use standard third-party tools to create HTML, it's easy to repurpose HTML-based documentation. (GoLive CyberStudio seems to have been the favorite tool of Apple's help authors.)
Apple took this opportunity and ran with it, not only creating extensive online help for the Mac OS (complete with surprisingly useful tips and information for advanced users), but also adding capabilities to Help Viewer that enable it to interact with your system via AppleScript. So, the HTML-based help can offer to open the Chooser, connect to a Web page, launch an application, or modify your Application Switcher settings. It's also possible to embed links to scripts in Web pages on remote servers, so a technical support page could, via an AppleScript installed with its own product, offer to open the product and adjust settings for the user. This capability to run scripts is controlled by your Internet control panel - look in the advanced settings under Helper Apps, and you'll see Help Viewer is set to handle the "help:" URL scheme. (Don't bother changing it: the Help Viewer will change the setting back.) This feature opens up the possibility of someone installing a mischievous or malevolent script on your Mac, then triggering it from a Web page, but, frankly, the risk is the same as someone shipping a malevolent script with a software product.
(Incidentally, to see good examples of using AppleScript under Mac OS 8.5, look through some of the cryptically named scripts inside the Help folder.)
As good as the Help Viewer is, however, its organization makes hopping around between subjects awkward, particularly since it lacks key commands to move forward and backward, so almost all navigation is by clicking. Savvy Mac users can avoid these navigational hurdles by utilizing the Help Viewer's search capability, which returns results ranked by relevance. In my experience, a reasonable search query works better than browsing if you know what you want to find.
Not Forgotten -- Mac OS 8.5 included several dozen new features, and we've covered only a handful of them in these articles. Here, then, are a few other important items in Mac OS 8.5 that shouldn't be forgotten:
Apple System Profiler 2.1.1 gathers even more detailed information about your computer's configuration and subsystems; also, check out its unexpected drag & drop capabilities. However, the interface has become too confusing for everyday Macintosh users, who are precisely the people who most need this tool. Apple System Profiler is also available for free separately from Mac OS 8.5; it's a 956K download.
A new version of PlainTalk speech recognition comes with Mac OS 8.5, although it's not part of the standard installation. In the good news department, the system works as well as it ever did, aided considerably by high CPU speeds on recent Power Macs and a new External Mic audio input setting. In the bad news department, PlainTalk offers no new features, and some commands (like "Close this window") are just as broken under Mac OS 8.5 as they were under Mac OS 8.0. Still, the performance of the new PowerPC-native AppleScript makes customized Speakable Items more practical.
If your Mac isn't shut down or restarted properly, the Mac OS now checks your startup disk with Disk First Aid during the boot process in order to detect and repair any file or directory damage before it causes more problems.
More Info -- If you'd like to read about other's experiences with Mac OS 8.5 - including tips, discussions, and notes about software conflicts - check out the Mac OS 8.5 threads on TidBITS Talk over the next week or so. We've been steadily answering questions from readers there, as well as passing along Mac OS 8.5 tips and news.
Article 3 of 3 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Following a few weeks of rumor and speculation, Apple today released the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update. The update doesn't offer any new features (although it does include a few new Sherlock plug-ins), but instead addresses a selection of under-the-hood problems in Mac OS 8.5Show full article
Following a few weeks of rumor and speculation, Apple today released the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update. The update doesn't offer any new features (although it does include a few new Sherlock plug-ins), but instead addresses a selection of under-the-hood problems in Mac OS 8.5. Although these issues have not affected the majority of Mac OS 8.5 users, Apple recommends that all users of Mac OS 8.5 install the update.
It's always a good idea to perform a complete backup of your system before installing any new system software. This recommendation has nothing to do with Mac OS 8.5.1 - it's just a common-sense practice that can't be over-emphasized.
Update Availability -- The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update is available for free as a 3 MB, self-mounting, disk image from Apple's support sites. This update supports only the North American English version of Mac OS 8.5; Apple says localized versions of the update will be available later this month.
Apple also plans to begin distributing the Mac OS 8.5.1 Update on CD-ROM in January of 1999 (presumably just in time for Macworld Expo in San Francisco). Users in the United States and Canada will be able to order the CD-ROM for about $10 by calling the Apple Software Order Center at 800/293-6617; there's no information yet on the availability of localized versions of the Mac OS 8.5.1 update on CD-ROM.
You can find more information about Mac OS 8.5 and its new features, in a series of TidBITS articles published in October.
What's Fixed -- The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update addresses six primary issues, covered both in the update's ReadMe file and a Tech Info Library article from Apple.
An AppleScript memory leak has been fixed. The PowerPC-native version of AppleScript that debuted with Mac OS 8.5 has a great deal of power, but unfortunately, calls to scripting additions that weren't embedded in "tell" blocks caused the loss of a small amount of memory. The problem isn't the size of the leak but its frequency, which can cause some scripts and (particularly) AppleScript applications like Web server CGIs to fail over a period of time, or require users to restart their machines to reclaim the memory.
Mac OS 8.5.1 fixes a memory problem in the Mac OS file system that could cause a crash. The problem appeared only when applications made numerous asynchronous writes to a disk; FileMaker Pro users may have encountered the problem importing a large number of records from a database.
Mac OS 8.5.1 re-enables many third-party ADB devices like joysticks and copy protection dongles that stopped working under Mac OS 8.5.
The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update comes with an updated version of Sherlock that communicates correctly with proxy servers, enabling Sherlock to better execute Internet searches from behind a firewall. The update also includes a few new Sherlock plug-ins for sites like CNN Interactive, Apple's Macintosh Products Guide, and a selection of search engines and online retailers.
The Mac OS 8.5.1 Update includes Drive Setup 1.6.2, which corrects a rare problem with updating volumes. The problem damages the HFS partition information, preventing the disk from appearing on the desktop. Drive Setup 1.6.2 also makes sure necessary patches are correctly installed on drives after an initialization or update; previous versions of Drive Setup failed to install updates correctly in some cases.
Mac OS 8.5.1 includes Open Transport 2.0.2, which fixes a rare problem some machines had with booting from the Mac OS 8.5 CD-ROM.
The Upshot -- As of this writing, it's too early to tell whether Mac OS 8.5.1 Update introduces new problems or incompatibilities, or includes fixes that aren't detailed here. Further, Apple didn't distribute this update widely to developers before release, so it hasn't been subjected to the wide external testing typical of a major system software release. However, this is not a major system software release: it's just a bug fix intended to address a small set of problems. The patches noted above are well-defined, isolated, and introduce no new features, so users can be confident Mac OS 8.5.1 doesn't include major new problems. I've had no troubles installing the update on three of my systems running Mac OS 8.5, and so far have seen no aberrant behaviors.