Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Mac OS X 10.1 dominates our issue this week, as Adam looks first at the myriad details surrounding acquiring the upgrade, then focuses on the significant improvements that Apple made, and finally offers some guidance to help you decide when to upgrade. In the news, Microsoft releases a free Word X Test Drive, Apple ships a new entry-level iMac for $800, and Apple postpones the QuickTime Live conference until February of 2002. Next week: our 600th issue!
Copyright 2001 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
READERS LIKE YOU! You can help support TidBITS via our voluntary
contribution program. Special thanks this week to Jay Hunter,
Mervyn Smith, and Norval Mortensen for their generous support!
APS Tech -- 800/395-5871 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Burn a full CD in less than five minutes with the APS CD-RW
16x10x40 FireWire Plus. FireWire and USB ports let you easily
connect to all recent Macs. Order at: <http://www.apstech.com/>
WinStar Northwest Nexus. Visit us at <http://www.nwnexus.com/>.
Internet business solutions throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Small Dog Electronics: Titanium PowerBooks on Sale!
Factory Refurbished with Apple 1 Year Warranty and FREE 256 MB
RAM Upgrade Installed! 500 MHz: $2,689! 400 MHz: $1,989! MPDD
8 MB PCI video card: $99 <http://smalldog.com/> 802/496-7171
Protect Yourself from Internet Intruders! IPNetSentry is the
intelligent, easy-to-use way to deter hackers from an Internet-
connected Mac. NEW Update protects against Nimda. Just $35
from Sustainable Softworks <http://www.sustworks.com/tb/>
easyDNS: Worried about your ISP going under? Get lifetime email
and Web addresses with easyDNS's DNS-Plus package. Change ISPs
or Web hosting companies anytime YOU want. Take control.
easyDNS: the way things should work. <http://www.easyDNS.com>
MacAcademy: Dreamweaver or GoLive Training available on CD-ROM.
For customers who require training to build dynamic,
cutting edge Web sites. View descriptions for either title at:
<http://www.macacademy.com/tidbits.html> or call 800/527-1914
ConceptDraw Professional -- Looks better, does more!
New libraries, advanced data exchange and new
interface - the perfect drawing solution for IT and
technical specialists: <http://www.conceptdraw.com/>
Apple Adds $800 iMac to Lineup -- The iMac product grid at Apple's online store gained a new low-cost configuration this week. The new $800 iMac is available only in Indigo, and features a 500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 64 MB of RAM (as opposed to 128 MB in the next model up), a 20 GB hard disk, and a CD-ROM drive (as opposed to the CD-RW drives that are otherwise standard across the line), plus the standard complement of ports on other iMac models. This model also includes 512K of Level 2 cache, twice that of the other models, but running at a slower 200 MHz. Although the machine comes with Mac OS X installed (but not activated), the small amount of built-in memory makes it practically impossible to run. Fortunately, RAM is incredibly cheap right now (unless you buy it from the Apple Store, which charges up to five times the cost of RAM compared to many memory dealers; check sites like dealram and ramseeker for details). When Apple introduced the latest iMac lineup (see "Apple Speeds Up iMacs and Power Mac G4s" in TidBITS-589), we were disappointed that the lowest-cost model had jumped to $1,000 - it's nice to see an option again for folks with tighter budgets. [JLC]
Microsoft Offers Word X Test Drive -- For those with Mac OS X 10.1, Microsoft is offering a free Word X Test Drive to give people a look at what's coming in the final version of Office X for Macintosh, due in a few months. The Word X Test Drive is available only in U.S. English, is intended only for evaluation purposes, does not come with any support, expires on 01-Jan-02, and lacks some features that will be present in the final version (including printing, help, Visual Basic for Applications, and themes). For information about Word X's new features, including multiple discontiguous selection and the capability to clear all formatting from selected text, see "Microsoft Office 10's Carrot and Stick" in TidBITS-591. Word X requires Mac OS X 10.1, and is a 22 MB download. [ACE]
Apple Reschedules QuickTime Live 2001 -- In the wake of its cancellation of Apple Expo 2001 in Paris, Apple also announced last week that it is also postponing the QuickTime Live 2001 conference, originally scheduled for 08-Oct-01 through 11-Oct-01, until 10-Feb-02 through 14-Feb-02. The venue remains the same - the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. "Many QuickTime developers and customers asked us to reschedule QuickTime Live to a less stressful time," said Philip Schiller, Apple's vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. "We'll look forward to seeing them all in February." [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
On Saturday, 29-Sep-01, Apple started shipping the long-awaited Mac OS X 10.1, which brings the company's next-generation operating system a large step closer to the mainstream Macintosh audience.
The first four minor updates to Mac OS X 10.0 fixed bugs and made behind-the-scenes improvements to the initial release of Mac OS X. But they didn't change the user experience particularly, and that was where Mac OS X needed the most help. Third party utilities stepped in to help out and to restore useful bits of functionality from Mac OS 9, but even still, Mac OS X 10.0 felt distinctly rough. The good news is that Mac OS X 10.1 goes a long way toward polishing those rough surfaces. For the most part, the only downside is that Mac OS X remains a work in progress, so even though Apple has made great strides with this release, plenty more work remains to be done.
We'll look next at the major improvements and new features in Mac OS X 10.1, but first let's look at how you lay your hands on a copy.
Getting It -- The Mac OS X 10.1 upgrade is free to all owners of Mac OS X and purchasers of Macs that shipped with Mac OS X pre-installed. However, because Mac OS X 10.1's size forces it to be available only on CD-ROM, Apple is charging a $20 shipping and handling fee (plus local sales tax, which you must calculate yourself). The full upgrade package, available to U.S. and Canadian users via Apple's Mac OS Up-To-Date program through 31-Dec-01, includes a Mac OS X 10.1 upgrade CD, a full Mac OS 9.2.1 CD, an updated Developer Tools CD, and a user guide. Apple promises 6 to 12 week delivery times via UPS or First-Class Mail, though my copy - requested via fax on Thursday, 27-Sep-01 - arrived today. It's also possible to order the update directly from the Apple Store for $20 if you call them at 800/MY-APPLE - this approach could be faster than using the Mac OS Up-To-Date program.
You can avoid the fee and get Mac OS X 10.1 in person by going to an Apple Store or participating Apple dealer for an Instant Up-To-Date upgrade package that includes only a Mac OS X 10.1 upgrade CD, a Mac OS 9.2.1 upgrade CD, and a Mac OS X manual. The Instant Up-To-Date package will be available through 31-Oct-01 or while supplies last. To judge from today's reports on TidBITS Talk, supplies in many locations lasted only a few hours, although it's likely that Apple will replenish them - call ahead to verify that some are in stock.
Developers should note that the Instant Up-To-Date package lacks the new Developer Tools CD, which is necessary since the old tools will not work with Mac OS X 10.1. Although a free online membership in the Apple Developer Connection program enables developers to download the full set of updated developer tools beginning this week, the download is reportedly a massive 550 MB.
International Availability -- It appears that Apple is handling upgrades for customers in other countries similarly, given the almost identical pages on Apple's site for other countries in which Apple has a presence. To check out the Mac OS Up-To-Date program for another country, visit Apple's contact page linked below, click the link corresponding to Apple's home page for that country, append "macosx/uptodate/" to the end of the URL that appears in your Web browser's Address field, and press Return. The details of the Instant Up-To-Date program will undoubtedly vary somewhat; Kenneth Wedin passed on information in TidBITS Talk about how the Instant Up-To-Date program would work in Japan.
New Copies -- The full release of Mac OS X 10.1 is also now available for $130 from Apple, Apple dealers, and online retailers. To run it, you'll need a Macintosh based on the PowerPC G3 or PowerPC G4 processors (not including the original PowerBook G3 or processor upgrade cards) with at least 128 MB of RAM and 1.5 GB of free disk space.
For those who don't yet have Mac OS X, the question becomes: is now the time to upgrade? Read on for our take on the major improvements in Mac OS X 10.1, and after that we'll provide guidance on determining if you should make the jump now or continue to wait.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At the July 2001 Macworld Expo in New York, Steve Jobs previewed Mac OS X 10.1, wowing the audience with a demonstration that promised massive speed improvements, the return of features previously exclusive to Mac OS 9, and a host of interface tweaks to address the most glaring of Mac OS X's usability holes. Now that Mac OS X 10.1 is here, let's look at the major changes. Rest assured that there are many smaller ones that we lack the space to cover here, which we'll write more about in future issues.
Spit and Polish, Quickly -- The worst problem suffered by Mac OS X 10.0 was performance. Throwing lots of RAM and processor power (particularly a PowerPC G4 with the Velocity Engine coprocessor) at the problem helped, but PowerPC G3-based Macs, and particularly those on the lower end of the RAM scale, were unacceptably slow. My 250 MHz PowerBook G3 Series with 160 MB of RAM couldn't even restart in Mac OS X 10.0 without timing out.
Mac OS X 10.1 reduces or eliminates performance problems across the board. The most notable improvement comes in the previously dismal performance when launching applications. Wags immediately coined the term "bouncemarks" - the number of times an application's icon bounced in the Dock - as a measure of launch speed. On my 500 MHz iBook (Dual USB) with 320 MB of RAM, I checked Internet Explorer 5.1 and System Preferences before and after installing 10.1, and both were significantly faster (though, to be fair, it's entirely likely that Internet Explorer's improvement was due to its own changes, not Mac OS X 10.1's). Applications launch more quickly after having been run once (presumably due to resources being cached or more easily located), and in my tests Internet Explorer initially took 15 bounces on the first launch, and 10 on subsequent launches. In Mac OS X 10.1, Internet Explorer took only 6 bounces on the first launch and 2 on subsequent ones. System Preferences went from 6 and 5 bounces (first/subsequent) to 4 and 2 bounces under 10.1. Unfortunately, I didn't think to test more applications before upgrading, but I can say with assurance under 10.1 that application launch time is no longer a major issue.
Many other common actions, such as moving windows, resizing windows, navigating through menus, dragging icons, and so on also feel more responsive, although it's difficult to quantify the difference. Most Mac OS X users won't see the interface speed demonstrated during Steve Jobs's keynote at Macworld Expo in New York in July - that was a demo and while not necessarily rigged, certainly wasn't representative across the board. Part of the problem is that even Mac OS X 10.1 isn't as snappy as Mac OS 9 for these actions. It almost can't be, since Mac OS 9 uses performance-enhancing tricks like resizing only the outline of a window, rather than the window itself, as happens in Mac OS X. Using Thousands of colors rather than Millions in Mac OS X's Display preference panel seems to help a little by reducing the amount of data Mac OS X has to manipulate to resize a window or drop a translucent menu.
Apple also introduced a new minimizing effect called Scale - it's perceptually faster than the old Genie effect, though the actual difference is probably only about half of a second. I've not noticed any benefit here, in part because the concept of minimizing windows to the Dock remains foreign to me - I prefer leaving application windows visible so I can use them as large buttons for application switching (which still annoys me in 10.1, since switching to an application with multiple windows by clicking a window reveals only the clicked window and no others, whereas clicking the application's icon on the Dock brings all of that application's windows to the front). Other perceptual niceties - like the zoom rectangles that accompanied application launches in Mac OS 9 - are still missing.
Finally, Apple claims that OpenGL is 20 percent faster in 10.1 and has native support for the Nvidia GeForce 3 video card, thus improving 3D rendering speed. This improvement should help performance of certain games significantly.
The only notable place I noticed no speed improvement was in starting Classic - it took 90 seconds the first time and 60 seconds on subsequent launches both before and after upgrading to 10.1. Other reports seem to contradict my experience, though. I didn't use applications under Classic sufficiently in 10.0 to have noticed whether or not they're faster under 10.1, although again, some reports indicate that Classic performance has improved, particularly on slower machines.
No Longer MIA -- Apple has been adding major missing features to Mac OS X - like CD burning in iTunes - throughout the four minimal updates to 10.0, but 10.1 offers a few more features to which Mac OS 9 users have become accustomed. Most notable is DVD playback, for all those people watching movies on their PowerBooks and iBooks on long flights (though DVD Player 3.0 works only on Macs with built-in DVD-ROM drives and AGP graphics, and doesn't yet support watching DVD movies on a PowerBook or iBook connected to a television or external monitor). DVD Player 3.0 sports a new and better interface, and shows off Mac OS X's multitasking capabilities; a friend with a PowerBook G4 Titanium played a DVD in DVD Player, played some MP3s in iTunes, and checked email, all at the same time without any hiccups. DVD authoring will also come to Mac OS X in 10.1 with the release of iDVD 2, available soon, and only for Mac OS X 10.1. And for those who have become fond of burning data CDs on their desktops, Mac OS X 10.1 now offers the capability to burn data CD-ROMs from the Finder. If you do so often, you can even add a Burn button to your toolbar in Finder windows.
Networking has also been enhanced with the addition of a version of the AirPort Admin Utility for Mac OS X, so you can now manage AirPort Base Stations without having to reboot back to Mac OS 9 (although Mac OS X still lacks Mac OS 9's extremely handy Software Base Station capability). Plus, Mac OS X 10.1 can now connect to AFP (Apple File Protocol) servers over AppleTalk as well as TCP/IP, which makes it easier for a Mac running Mac OS X to coexist on legacy networks with older AppleTalk-based AppleShare servers. New in the Mac OS in general is a built-in SMB (Server Message Block) client that enables Mac OS X to connect to SMB-based Windows and Unix file servers (though doing so requires you to type an SMB URL in the Connect to Server dialog box; see Apple's Knowledge Base for full instructions). In Mac OS 9, a utility like Dave from Thursby Systems or DoubleTalk from Connectix was necessary to access SMB servers, and if Apple's implementation doesn't become easier to use, there will still be a market for Dave and DoubleTalk.
Apple also beefed up support for printers in Mac OS X 10.1, such that it boasts over 200 PostScript printer description files for printers from Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark, and Xerox. Also supposedly improved is support for USB printers (although my Epson Stylus Photo 860 merely shows up as an unsupported printer when I plug in it).
AppleScript support has improved significantly, with additional scripting support in the Finder, plus scripting support within many of the operating system's standard components, like Print Center, Internet Connect, and Terminal. More impressive are the many bundled AppleScript scripts, some of which are useful examples (such as one that queries an Internet site for stock quotes or current temperatures via Mac OS X's new Web Services XML communication capabilities) and others of which actually provide missing functionality (a Switch to Finder script works like the Application menu's Hide Others command in Mac OS 9's Finder). Check them out in the Scripts folder in the Library folder. Even more scripts with useful tweaks to the Finder (such as opening a pair of Finder windows positioned for easy copying of items from one to the other) are available online from Apple. Promised on Apple's Mac OS X Web pages, but not yet available, is AppleScript Studio, which purports to let scripters create application interfaces with AppleScript. Although I've never found AppleScript as simple as HyperTalk (the language built into Apple's long-suffering HyperCard), I suspect the lack of built-in interface tools has been equally as daunting for many of those who appreciated HyperCard's capabilities for building stand-alone custom applications.
Last but not least, Apple has bundled the final release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.1 browser, which differs primarily from the 5.0 version of Mac OS 9 in its support for Java 2 and the addition of several useful interface touches controlled from the Interface Extras panel of Internet Explorer's Preferences dialog box. It's difficult to see how much better Java 2 support really is - I found some Java applets that worked right and others that didn't, and I wasn't able to figure out how to evaluate any real world Java performance improvements.
Smoother Aqua Sailing -- With Mac OS X 10.1, Apple has listened to the user feedback many of you have sent in about the new Aqua interface, and although Mac OS X's Aqua interface has by no means reached the maturity level of Mac OS 9 yet, it has definitely improved. Do keep sending in your feedback - it's clearly having an effect.
Having longer file names in Mac OS X was generally considered a step up from the previous limit of 31 characters, but Mac OS X 10.0 removed characters from the middle of the filename when it was too long to display, making it near impossible to differentiate between some similarly named files. Apple addressed this limitation in 10.1 by letting file names wrap to two lines in icon view and by making the columns resizable in Finder windows using the Column view. Drag the resize thumb at the bottom of a column to resize all columns equally; Option-drag a resize thumb to resize only that column.
Files in Mac OS X often have extensions, thanks to the operating system's Unix heritage. Although the classic Mac OS's more modern file type and creator information is still used (and used preferentially over extensions, if it's present), extensions are unlikely to go away. In 10.1, Apple hides filename extensions by default and has added an option to the Finder Preferences (look in the Finder's Finder menu) to show them on a system-wide basis.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple, and in the process, Apple has created a thoroughly confusing morass. Individual files can override the system-wide setting for showing extensions (check the Name & Extension panel of the Get Info window), but the rules for why any given file will ignore the system-wide setting remain inexplicable. For instance, if you create a file in TextEdit while the "Always show file extensions" setting is on in the Finder, that file will always display its extension, even if you later change the system-wide setting. And some filename extensions, like .html, are always set to display unless you specifically change them in the Get Info window. Apple tries to avoid some obvious problems, so if you change a file's extension while "Always show file extensions" is on, you're asked if you know what you're doing, since the change could make the file open in an application that can't read it. The entire system needs revamping - requiring arbitrary filename extensions is both poor user interface and design laziness. Apple's limp defenses of "that's how other operating systems do it" and "it's easier for Mac users to share files across platforms" are just weak - documents are created in applications, and if those applications are used across platforms, they can shoulder the burden of encouraging users to add filename extensions upon saving, as Microsoft has done well with the Microsoft Office suite.
The Dock, though essentially unchanged, has one extremely welcome new feature - you can position it on the right or left edges of the screen as well as the bottom, where it tends to obscure window scroll arrows and resize boxes. Applications can now display custom menus from their Dock icons, and when an application needs attention, its application jumps in the Dock like a kid in class begging to be called on. Apple also reduced Dock clutter by moving Dock extras to the menu bar, just to the left of the clock. Controls for switching between monitor resolutions, seeing modem status, adjusting volume, showing battery status, and switching between AirPort networks can all now appear in the menu bar (check their related System Preferences panels for controls to toggle the menu bar display). Although the Dock desperately needed to save the space wasted on Dock extras, I fear the menu bar will soon become overloaded, particularly if other developers start to put their icons up there too. One criticism - though much of Mac OS X's interface is highly attractive, the almost-crude and primarily monochrome menu bar icons seem as graphically out of place as the disclosure triangles in the Finder's List view.
Speaking of System Preferences, in Mac OS X 10.1 Apple reorganized the window by function, grouping the different preference panels by Personal, Hardware, Internet & Network, and System. The categorization improves the cluttered feel from previous versions, although it seems a bit arbitrary, and as with the menu bar icons, I fear it won't scale well if developers are allowed to add their own preference panels.
Several new preference panels have appeared, including Desktop (where you set the desktop picture), and General, which bundles together options for appearance, highlight color, scroll arrows (missing is my favorite approach - double scroll arrows at the top and bottom of the scroll bar), scroll action, recent items, and text smoothing. I've always turned off text smoothing in Mac OS 9 for fonts under 18 point, since the hand-tuned fonts display better than the machine rendered anti-aliasing to my eyes. But Mac OS X apparently lacks hand-tuned fonts, since the system font characters and character spacing are terrible without anti-aliasing turned on in Mac OS X, especially at small sizes.
Many of the existing preference panels have changed as well. The Keyboard preference panel still lacks support for customizing function keys, as in Mac OS 9, but Apple has brought back the Sticky Keys and Mouse Keys components of Universal Access, a welcome change for those with certain disabilities or who prefer to avoid the mouse entirely (see "Accessibility on the Mac: Access Solutions" in TidBITS-569). The Network preference panel renamed the Advanced panel to Active Network Ports, which is good, since "Advanced" doesn't tell you anything about what's in there (I once spent quite some time troubleshooting network problems that were related to the order of the active network ports). The Energy Saver preference panel now lets you display the battery status in the menu bar, but otherwise remains far less flexible than the Mac OS 9 version, and some initial reports claim that 10.1 once again sucks battery power in laptops unnecessarily. In the Sharing preference panel, you can now allow other users to send Apple events to your computer for controlling local applications, but on the downside, Web Sharing appears to be broken in 10.1 for many people, myself included, and never gets past the startup up phase.
There are certainly more small changes in Mac OS X 10.1 that may make the difference for you between upgrading from Mac OS 9 and not, but those will have to wait for another article. However, the question of whether or not to upgrade is up next.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
The real question I'm sure many of you are asking at this point is if Mac OS X 10.1 is good enough to entice those who haven't yet set themselves up to be Apple's guinea pigs. Let me table the answer to that question briefly first and address the guinea pigs.
Run, don't walk, to your local Apple dealer and get a copy of Mac OS X 10.1 via the Instant Up-To-Date program (and if that's not possible, send in your $20 for the full Mac OS Up-To-Date upgrade, especially if you need the updated developer tools). The closest I've found to a reason not to upgrade instantly is that the current beta release of Retrospect Client for Mac OS X from Dantz Development can't do a full system restore in 10.1, although Dantz's testing indicates that restoring user-created documents should work. If you're doing real work on Mac OS X and relying on the Retrospect Client beta, I'd recommend extra caution. Otherwise though, 10.1 is better than 10.0 in every way I can see, and if it hasn't yet sanded down every rough edge, well, Apple developers are only human too.
Now, for you fence-sitters: I think Apple has done their job in getting Mac OS X ready for prime time with this release, so now the question of whether to make the switch comes down to other variables.
Does Mac OS X actually offer you anything useful? If you're happy with your existing setup and you don't feel the need to start moving toward the future at the moment, there's no shame in sticking with what you're using now. At the same time, Mac OS X 10.1 is good enough that I'm starting to feel excitement - rather than constant irritation - when I play with it on my iBook.
Have the applications you need to use been carbonized, and if not, are the existing versions sufficiently functional under Classic? Here the responsibility falls at least in part to Macintosh developers (there are still problems that only Apple can resolve that may hamper developers). If the applications you need are not ready now, check again at Macworld San Francisco in January of 2002.
Would switching to Mac OS X mean the loss of any necessary peripherals? You can always boot back into Mac OS 9, but that shouldn't be necessary for a device you need to use regularly. Driver support for new peripherals should continue to improve, although I wouldn't put money on particularly elderly peripherals, especially those accessed through USB converters, being supported.
Are you willing to invest the time in learning and configuring an entirely new operating system, complete with a whole new set of quirks and foibles? It takes time to read the mailing lists for configuration tips and to hunt down the shareware utilities that eliminate interface irritations. But there's an undeniable satisfaction in getting a system just right, and doing that in the classic Mac OS hasn't been particularly challenging for some time.
Whatever you decide, rest assured that Apple is serious about improving Mac OS X and standardizing on it at some point in the future. This new version shows what Apple can do, and I have increasingly high hopes that future versions will finish playing catch-up with Mac OS 9 and start forging new ground.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue