As I continue to play with Mac OS X 10.1, I’m realizing something unexpected: it’s actually kind of fun to explore and poke at this new environment. I’ve used previous versions of Mac OS X off and on, but like many people I was waiting for 10.1 to sink my teeth (and time) into the new operating system. What follows is a collection of things – initial reactions, discoveries, or just features we think deserve more attention – gathered by the TidBITS staff and extended TidBITS community.
Before we go further though, a few quick corrections to last week’s article. First, zoom rectangles are present when launching applications and opening documents in Mac OS X 10.1, though not when opening folders, as is true in Mac OS 9. We’ll clean our screens better next time. Also, the online version of the Developer Tools CD is only 187 MB, not the massive 550 MB we’d heard previously. Plus, several people on TidBITS Talk have debated our assertion that file extensions were the result of Mac OS X’s Unix heritage, though Apple’s decision to put such emphasis on file extensions has come under almost universal derision. Worth a read, along with the many other discussions of Mac OS X 10.1.
One last thing – for those who have found that Web Sharing breaks under 10.1, it’s because Apple added a module to Mac OS X’s Apache configuration in the Web Sharing Update that preceded Mac OS X 10.1’s release, but in the release itself, changed the name by which they reference the module in Apache’s settings file. Unfortunately, Apple forgot to change the name of the module itself, causing a mismatch. Stepwise.com has posted a line of Unix commands that you can paste into the Terminal to fix the problem.
More Power to the Portables — As a PowerBook G4 owner, I’ve noticed a few welcome improvements in Mac OS X 10.1. The keyboard commands for changing screen brightness and sound volume now work, even elegantly: the large indicators that appear on screen are obvious but not intrusive, and fade away when you’re finished. (Earlier iBooks still have some problems, though; Apple’s Knowledge Base articles have more information.)
Another helpful addition is found in the Mouse preference panel, under the Trackpad tab. Enable the option labeled Ignore Trackpad while typing if you often accidentally touch the trackpad while typing, which positions the cursor somewhere else in your document or email message.
Some portable areas still need improvement. Battery usage is still nowhere near as efficient as when running under Mac OS 9. The battery on my machine needs to be recharged about an hour earlier than when I’m running Mac OS 9; you may still want to avoid Mac OS X on long flights if you don’t have a spare battery. And I’ve read reports that leaving a portable in sleep mode overnight without a charger results in a drained battery in the morning. iBook (Dual USB) owners have also complained about continually ejecting the optical drive tray by accidentally pressing the F12/Eject key while aiming for Delete – something that was easily mapped out in Mac OS 9’s Keyboard control panel.
My main gripe, however, is the inability to switch between the built-in LCD screen and an external monitor without shutting down. I typically use the PowerBook on its own at the office, put it to sleep during my commute, and connect it to my Apple Studio Display at home. This wasn’t possible at all under Mac OS X 10.0, and it’s a tease in 10.1, briefly waking up to display the desktop before snoozing off again. The consequences were worse going the other direction: after disconnecting the monitor, I accidentally woke the PowerBook, which didn’t activate the backlight. Restarting the machine gave me a very dim screen, and only zapping the PRAM and booting into Mac OS 9 solved the problem. For the time being, I drop back into Mac OS 9 before going to bed, so Retrospect on my Power Mac 7600 can back up my data during the night, and switch back into Mac OS X when I reach the office (waiting for Classic to load is a great excuse to go make coffee).
The Keys to the Kingdom — Adam mentioned last week that Apple has reintroduced the Sticky Keys and Mouse Keys components of Universal Access, which is especially significant for disabled users (also see Joe Clark’s "Accessibility on the Mac" series of articles beginning in TidBITS-568). However, there’s still no equivalent to Apple’s old utility CloseView, which magnifies areas of the screen for the visually impaired.
Another addition that some users will appreciate is the capability to assign shortcuts to control certain interface elements from the keyboard, including the menu bar, Dock, toolbars, and palettes. For this functionality, turn on Full Keyboard Access in the Keyboard preference panel. It also offers the capability to tab to any control in a window, including radio buttons, pop-up menus, and tabs. Mac OS X previously seemed too mouse-intensive, so this level of keyboard control is a smart addition.
Apple has also reinstated screenshot hot keys: Command-Shift-3 takes a picture of the entire screen, and Command-Shift-4 gives you a selection cursor and takes a picture of the selection. Screenshots are still named "Picture 1," with incrementing numbers, and are stored on the desktop (which is the desktop for the current user); screenshots taken in Classic applications, though, are stored at the top level of the hard disk or partition where your Classic system resides. Add the Control key to either keyboard combination to copy the screen or selection to the clipboard instead of sending it to a file. There’s no way to restrict the selection to the active window automatically, as in Mac OS 9; for that (and all the other features anyone serious about screenshots needs), you’ll need a utility like Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro X.
General System Stuff — Mac OS X 10.1 is a big update in terms of size as well as importance. Steve Jobs has said that people will be discovering new things long after they’ve installed the software, and I believe him based on the following miscellaneous changes.
People who deal with more than one language on a regular basis will notice that Mac OS X 10.1 increases support for other languages, adding Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Icelandic, and Turkish. Typing text in Chinese and Korean requires a localized version of Mac OS X (text in those languages can be read, however). Tom Gewecke <[email protected]>, who has written about using other languages on the Mac (see "Unleashing Your Multilingual Mac" in TidBITS-557), points out that the Thai keyboard present in Mac OS X 10.0 seems to have disappeared, and there’s no word on when Indic, Hebrew, and Arabic (which are available in Mac OS 9) might appear.
When Apple brought back Apple menu functionality in Mac OS X, it reinstated the capability to access recent applications and documents. However, it was limited to displaying only five of each, which bordered on useless. Now, the General preference panel includes pop-up menus to specify a number of items to show, ranging between 5 and 50.
Copying files picks up a feature more familiar to Windows users. Instead of dragging files to a new location to copy them, you can select one or more files, choose Copy (Command-C) from the Edit menu, navigate to the new location, and choose Paste (Command-V) from the Edit menu to complete the copy action. Note that this feature only copies files – there’s no way to use it to move files, which limits its utility. The feature is welcome for those of us who aren’t quite accustomed to the way Finder windows operate or who find them clumsier than in Mac OS 9, where dragging from one window to another wasn’t difficult. Although I know I can make folders always open in new windows as they do in Mac OS 9 (you’ll find this option in the Finder’s preferences, and if you want to do it only occasionally, try Command-double-clicking the folder icon), I want to give the new style of using just one window a chance to prove itself. So, copying a file or folder, then navigating to a new location and pasting the files is a quick and easy alternative.
And speaking of the Finder, the visual geek in me is happy that I can now change my hard disk icons, which previously displayed pictures of metallic hard drives (objects most users have never even seen). Use the Finder’s Show Info command to copy and paste icons. Web sites such as the Iconfactory and xicons.com are regularly adding new icon sets that you can download.
I’m also extremely pleased to report that Finder windows set to display in List view now remember column widths. Plus, a few controls that should have appeared in the first releases of Mac OS X are now present, including a Set Time Now button in the Network Time tab of the Date & Time preference panel, and a checkbox toggling the Empty Trash warning located in the Finder’s preferences (although the Empty Trash warning doesn’t give you any details of how much will be deleted, as did the version in Mac OS 9 – even using Show Info on the Trash doesn’t reveal this information).
Apple updated more than just the operating system, of course, as pointed out by TidBITS reader Tomoharu Nishino <[email protected]>, who discovered the capability to encrypt disk images using AES encryption in the Disk Copy utility. AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is the proposed successor to the U.S. government-approved DES (Data Encryption Standard). "One thing I miss dearly is PGPdisk, which I use to carry around sensitive data. It looks like Disk Copy will tide me over until the PGP suite of tools becomes available for Mac OS X." Nishino also points out that Palm synchronization under Classic is working again, an interim solution until Palm releases a Mac OS X version of Palm Desktop by the end of the year.
Internet Explorer 5.1 — Adam mentioned last week that Internet Explorer 5.1 is now more responsive under Mac OS X 10.1, but Microsoft also added a few goodies to its browser. Check Internet Explorer’s Preferences window for the new Interface Extras pane, which gives you three new options.
You can decide if the first click in the Address field should select the entire URL (useful for copying URLs) or place the insertion point where the click was (useful for editing URLs).
When another application asks Internet Explorer to visit a page, you can now choose whether Internet Explorer should reuse the front browser window or open a new one. I generally prefer opening multiple windows, since I often read numerous related pages at the same time, switching back and forth to compare information.
When new browser windows open, you can choose whether they should start with all of Internet Explorer’s many toolbars expanded or use the state of the current default window.
As a last tip, there’s a new hidden feature in Internet Explorer 5.1 that’s ideal for anyone on a slow Internet connection. You’ve long been able to Command-click a link to open it in a new window. Now you can Command-Shift-click links to open them in new windows behind the current one. That way they load in the background while you continue reading the frontmost page – it’s a great feature.
Bold Explorations — Perhaps the most telling reason why Mac OS X 10.1 will start to make inroads into the Macintosh mainstream is that exploring this new version often results in useful little discoveries. All too frequently in previous versions of Mac OS X, explorations were simply met with failure – all you found was a lack of interface functionality, a lack of flexibility, and an almost complete lack of customizability, all viewed through a lens of poor performance. We’re clearly still in the phase of adding back to Mac OS X the features that set Mac OS 9 apart from the madding crowd, but we’re within sight of being able to add innovative features.