After months of rumor and speculation, Apple has finally released System 7.5.3 to the general public. System 7.5.3 is a universal system release that will run on any Mac from the Plus on up, which should be a welcome relief to anyone trying to keep up with a myriad of updates from Apple in recent months. In addition to bug fixes and added functionality, System 7.5.3 incorporates previous additions to the system software (such as the System 7.5.2 Printing Fix and the PowerBook 5300 System Update), and expands the availability of additional technologies such as Open Transport that were only available for a small range of machines.
System 7.5.3 takes two forms. The first is the classic set of system disks that can be used to install a clean, complete set of system software on any Macintosh. The second form is that of System 7.5 Update 2.0, which will upgrade any Macintosh computer running version of System 7.5, 7.5.1, or 7.5.2 to System 7.5.3, but cannot be used on its own to install a complete system. As with previous updates, Apple has made System 7.5 Update 2.0 available online, but the complete version of 7.5.3 will only be available on selected new Macs and as a separate commercial product from Apple. Also in keeping with previous releases, Apple is making each version available as both a set of floppy disk images and as an all-in-one network install.
Where To Get It — Be warned: System 7.5 Update 2.0 is a little over 20 MB in size, with the floppy disk version requiring 14 disks. Just to give you a sense of perspective, that’s about 100 minutes of download time on a 28.8 Kbps modem in the best of circumstances, probably considerably longer in real life. What’s more, Apple’s servers are likely to be overwhelmed for several days, so you might save yourself time and frustration by waiting a while before attempting to download this release.
A better alternative might be to order the update from Apple – or rather, Claris. Customers in the United States can order a CD-ROM or floppy-disk version of the update for $13 (plus any applicable sales tax) by calling 800/293-6617, extension 984. Claris currently says the updates will ship "as soon as they’re available."
That said, System 7.5 Update 2.0 can be found at the following locations, among others:
<ftp://ftp.support.apple.com/pub/apple_sw_ updates/US/mac/system_sw/System_7.5_ Update_2.0/>
<ftp://ftp.info.apple.com/Apple.Support.Area/ Apple.Software.Updates/US/Macintosh/ System/System_7.5_Update_2.0/>
<http://www.info.apple.com/Apple.Support.Area/ Apple.Software.Updates/US/Macintosh/ System/System_7.5_Update_2.0/>
<http://www.support.apple.com/pub/ Apple%20SW%20Updates/US/mac/system_sw/ System_7.5_Update_2.0/>
Apple has also made the update available on most online services including AOL, CompuServe, and eWorld. In addition, the update should be available from MacUser and possibly other Macintosh software sites.
New Features — The first thing anybody wants to know about new system software is what features it offers, so here’s a selected summary. System 7.5.3 installs no less than seven ReadMe files (the important ones include three for the System update and one for Open Transport) with detailed information on new items and specific fixes. These files can be found on the first disk of the system update (or in the first folder of the network installation).
- "Translucent dragging" on Power Macs: When dragging an item in the Finder, a translucent version of the item’s icon will be shown under the mouse rather than a simple outline. (Dragging multiple items only shows one translucent item – the rest still appear as outlines.) This feature was slated for Copland (the next major release of the Mac OS), but was brought forward to this release. The programming interface for translucent dragging is also available, so other applications will probably start to use it soon.
- Apple’s Control Strip software, originally introduced for use on PowerBooks then brought over to Power Macs, is now officially available on any Mac that can run System 7.5.3. Apple ships a selection of Control Strip modules to control things like monitor resolution and file sharing; additional modules are available from Internet archives and third parties. (You can use the MIT Info-Mac HyperArchive to easily search for control strip modules in the Info-Mac archive.)
- Open Transport 1.1: System 7.5.3 includes the final version of Open Transport 1.1. See below for more information.
- Comments stored in the Finder’s Get Info windows are no longer lost during desktop rebuilds. Apple has attempted to incorporate this fix into previous systems , but somehow it’s always been removed, sometimes at the last minute.
- Improvements to the way Macs identify themselves to software components, which should make it easier for clone vendors to produce Macs that don’t pose as known Apple machines. This has been a persistent problem for some Macintosh clones, since some software will refuse to install unless it can determine the Macintosh model in use.
- The name column in Finder list views (view by name, view by date, etc.) is slightly wider, allowing more characters to display. Additionally, the Finder’s list views show the sizes of large files in megabytes rather than kilobytes, saving some additional screen space.
- Copying large number of small files should be faster due to a change in the way the Finder updates the progress bar in the Copy dialog box and handles the calculation of sector sizes. Quick tests on my machines (such as copying the entire TidBITS issue set) revealed no significant improvement, however.
- MacinTalk Text-to-Speech software: System 7.5.3 includes version 2 and 3 of MacinTalk (version 3 for fast 68030 Macs or better; version 2 for slower machines). MacinTalk is automatically installed when using the Easy Install option, along with a selection of (occasionally humorous) voices.
- If you have install disks from System 7.5 (not 7.5.1 or 7.5.2), you can use System 7.5 Update 2.0 to create a universal system folder that can be used with all Macs supported by the update.
- Apple Guide 2.0.2: This new version of Apple Guide fixes a number of long-standing bugs, and is also PowerPC native for improved performance. System 7.5.3 also includes version 1.3 of the Macintosh Guide (the System’s Apple Guide file), which includes a number of enhancements and additional information.
- SimpleText 1.3.1, which now supports QuickDraw 3D (available for Power Macs).
Additionally, the Installer application is relatively intelligent about updating system components, even if they’re disabled. So, if you’ve turned off portions of the system software using something like Extensions Manager, the Installer will update the disabled components without re-enabling them.
Important Fixes — System 7.5.3 includes a number of bug fixes and patches which should make some people’s lives easier. In particular, Apple has gone to great lengths to reduce the frequency of the infamous Type 11 errors encountered on Power Macs, as well as to improve overall stability and performance on both Power Macs and 68K machines. Apple has also made a number of changes to improve stability with third-party software such as Retrospect, StuffIt SpaceSaver, and others.
System 7.5.3 includes PowerPC native versions of the Resource Manager and the SCSI Manager, two important low-level components of the system. System 7.5.3 also includes changes to the way applications are launched using Virtual Memory on Power Macs that originally appeared in the PowerBook 5300 System Update. Apple made these changes mainly to help Microsoft Office products launch faster, but they can help other applications and at least they’re now available to a wider ranger of users. Other performance improvements include more intelligent handling of caches on 68040 and PowerPC-based Macs resulting in better Finder performance, and asynchronous file copying (which should let other applications be more responsive while files are copying). In addition, the default disk cache settings in the Memory control panel have been increased to 32K per megabyte of physical RAM; though this makes less RAM available to other applications, the performance improvements can be significant. (You can always choose a lower cache setting manually, if you need to.)
Again, the ReadMe files that ship with System 7.5.3 go into considerable detail on the fixes contained in the release, so read through them for more information.
What 7.5.3 Replaces — System 7.5. Update 2.0 incorporates many previously released updates to the system (and components included in those updates), including:
- System 7.5.2 Printing Fix (see TidBITS-304)
- PowerBook 5300 System Update (see TidBITS-310)
- PowerBook 2300c Update (see TidBITS-312)
In addition, several stand-alone files have been merged into parts of the system, including Sound Manager, SerialDMA, SCSI Manager, and various machine-specific enablers. With System 7.5.3, there are currently only two enablers: one for PCI Power Macs, and one for every other Macintosh. As Apple introduces new machines, however, you can expect to see machine-specific enablers for System 7.5.3.
Potential Problems — Though we’ve been waiting for System 7.5.3 for some time, it will not be a bed of roses for some users.
Tucked away in the third ReadMe file for System 7.5.3 is a note that could send shivers down the spines of network administrators and MIS managers: PCI Power Macs might have a different physical Ethernet address after installing this update, since System 7.5.3 corrects a bug that causes an incorrect address to be used when TCP/IP addresses are obtained using BootP, DHCP, or RARP. Fortunately, Open Transport makes it much easier for a user to determine his or her physical Ethernet address (choose Get Info in either the AppleTalk or TCP/IP control panel); however, this won’t make it any more fun for network administrators to reconfigure their networks if they relied on the physical addresses of these machines.
A more common problem users of older Macs might encounter involves older disk drivers. System 7.5.3 incorporates SCSI Manager 4.3 directly into the system. If the hard disk drivers you’re currently using aren’t compatible with SCSI Manager 4.3 (generally true if you haven’t updated your disk drivers since about October of 1994), you might find you can’t boot your Macintosh after installing this update. As always, make a complete backup of your drive and data before installing any system update. If you use a third party hard disk utility (such as Hard Disk ToolKit, APS Power Tools, Drive7, or Silverlining) and you aren’t sure if it’s compatible with SCSI Manager 4.3, contact your software vendor before attempting to install System 7.5.3. If you used Apple’s HD SC Setup, a new version with updated drivers can be found in the Utilities folder of the first update disk.
If you use a PCI Power Mac on a Novell NetWare network, you should know System 7.5.3 incorporates version 1.0.3 of the Ethernet Compatibility extension. The good news is this fixes a problem with the system shutdown code; the bad news is that there’s now a two-minute delay shutting down the computer.
Finally, a drawback of System 7.5.3 is that it comes with neither a bootable Network Installer disk, nor a bootable Disk Tools disk. Although existing Macs can be booted with these disks from earlier versions of the system software, it’s one more pesky detail to keep in mind, and future Mac models will probably have to have their own set of boot disks, complicating matters once again.
Open Transport 1.1 — One of the most anticipated components of System 7.5.3 is version 1.1 of Open Transport, Apple’s reworking of the Mac’s core networking software. As bundled with System 7.5.3, Open Transport replaces both AppleTalk and MacTCP on most Macs. Open Transport provides easier configuration, more flexibility, and better performance for most network tasks, even over dialup connections.
The good news is that Open Transport 1.1 provides easier configuration, more flexibility, and better performance for most network tasks, even over dial-up connections, and is a significant improvement over the initial 1.0.x releases that initially shipped with the PCI Power Macs. (Reports from Apple’s recent public beta of Open Transport 1.1b16 were quite positive; see TidBITS-316.) The bad news is that using Open Transport can still be rather complicated, and may not be the best choice for all people.
First, contrary to expectations, Open Transport 1.1 is installed by default on all machines with a 68030 or greater processor; however, it seems to be active only if Open Transport was active before installing the system update. Installing Open Transport with 7.5.3 does not delete MacTCP or "classic" AppleTalk capabilities, it merely stashes them safely out of sight. Apple thoughtfully includes an application called Network Software Selector to switch between Open Transport and classic networking services, so at the very least installing Open Transport shouldn’t be fatal for anyone currently using MacTCP. However, Network Software Selector doesn’t work on PCI-based Macs since those machines technically require Open Transport. Also, please note Open Transport is not available on desktop 5200, 5300, 6200, or 6300-series Macintoshes; if you use one of these machines, you’ll apparently have to stay with classic AppleTalk and MacTCP for the time being.
The potential downside to Open Transport is the amount of memory it requires, which can be anywhere from 400K to 1.5 MB of RAM on Power Macs. You can reduce this footprint by turning off services you don’t use (so if you never use AppleTalk or TCP/IP services, making them inactive in their control panels will save memory.) Another way to reduce Open Transport’s RAM impact on Power Macs is to use Virtual Memory (or RAM Doubler), which allows the system to unload portions of Open Transport that aren’t in use.
However, if you use MacPPP or FreePPP to access the Internet, using virtual memory isn’t necessarily a good option, since neither PPP implementation is fully compatible with virtual memory. (Some users report no problems; others have easily reproducible crashes.) Version 2.5 of FreePPP – due to be released shortly – should be fully compatible with virtual memory. If you experience problems using PPP with Open Transport, turn off virtual memory, revert to MacTCP, or consider using a different (commercial) PPP implementation. For more information, I recommend Mark Sproul’s collection of Web pages on Open Transport.
If you use FreePPP, Open Transport will default to using BootP for determining your IP address. For many users, this will not be the correct setting, and you should instead choose Using PPP Server from the pop-up menu in the TCP/IP control panel. Fortunately, Open Transport allows you to do this without restarting, or (in many cases) without even re-dialing.
Additional Information — Apple has released a technical note in Acrobat format covering the changes in System 7.5.3. Although much of this material is available in 7.5.3’s ReadMe files, the note contains some technical information useful to developers and technical support people.
In Conclusion — Is installing System 7.5.3 a good idea? The general answer is yes, particularly for Power Macintosh users, although there is something here for everyone. Due to the size of the update, it’s probably worth waiting a few days for the load on Apple’s servers to decrease, or ordering a CD-ROM or floppy-disk version of the update if you aren’t in any particular hurry. Although my (admittedly limited) testing of the final release of System 7.5.3 has been generally positive, I cannot report it’s more stable than System 7.5.1 on any of my machines (all 68K-based), and I am seeing occasional new problems (although I haven’t yet determined whether they’re caused by the system software, or a particular application or system extension). As always, back up your data before installing a new version of your system software, and make sure you have a bootable floppy disk or CD-ROM handy in case something unexpected occurs.