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Mac OS X: The Curse of the New

As you have no doubt noticed, we have been increasing the amount of Mac OS X-specific content in TidBITS. Although there are good reasons for this change, it can create some tension, since many users continue to rely on earlier versions of the Mac OS. A few people have expressed concern at our trend toward more Mac OS X content; until now we’ve stuck to private replies, but I want to make our reasoning public.

Before I get to that, though, how many people really are using Mac OS X? Matt Deatherage, the publisher of MDJ and MWJ, did some calculating based on numbers that came out of Apple’s recent quarterly results. Apple has shipped about 3 million Macs with Mac OS X pre-installed so far, and as of last quarter had shipped 1 million boxed copies of Mac OS X. Based on those numbers and some extrapolation, Matt estimates there are about 4.2 million copies of Mac OS X out there, of which he can imagine only about half – or 2.1 million – in regular use. When you compare that number with Apple’s standard customer base claim of 25 to 30 million Macs (many of which can’t even run Mac OS X, to be fair), you see that fewer than 10 percent of Macs out there are likely to be running Mac OS X. Of course, now that Mac OS X is the default operating system on all new Macs, that percentage will climb fast – Matt estimates that within a year it could be as high as 50 percent, perhaps higher if you consider only Macs that are capable of running Mac OS X.


I suspect TidBITS readers tend to adopt new technologies earlier than many users, so it’s likely that our readership has switched to Mac OS X in greater numbers than would otherwise be expected. But let’s not restrict ourselves to speculation – we’re running a poll this week on our home page that asks what percentage of time your primarily Mac spends booted iinto Mac OS X. Please participate in the poll so we can learn two things: how many people have switched to Mac OS X at all, and how completely those who have switched are using it. For instance, Geoff Duncan and I both switched our primary Macs to Mac OS X recently, but he still spends heaps of time in Mac OS 9 to do professional audio work, whereas I haven’t left Mac OS X since installing.


Why It Doesn’t Matter — Unfortunately, no matter what these numbers show, the painful truth is that Apple has ensured we don’t have much choice in our Macintosh coverage. Think about the kind of articles that appear in TidBITS for a moment. If we’re reviewing software, writing updates about software we’ve previously reviewed, or even covering events at a Macintosh event, we’re basically stuck with writing about Mac OS X-specific topics.

That’s because Mac OS X topics are all the news that’s fit to print – they’re happening all around us, whether we like it or not. Apple has made it crystal clear to developers that Mac OS 9 is a dead-end (going so far as to hold a mock funeral for Mac OS 9 during the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote), so almost all are spending their efforts either on carbonizing their existing applications (usually instead of adding new features) or writing new applications for Mac OS X. Combine all that Mac OS X product news with the fact that it’s easy to be interested in the new world of Mac OS X, rather than the familiar Mac OS 9 desktop where there are no surprises, good or bad, and you understand the trend toward ever more Mac OS X coverage.

We’re not alone in this – every other major Macintosh publication has struggled with the same dilemma, and all those with which I’m familiar have made the same decision. Mac OS X is the future, and technical publications can’t live in the past. In some respects, we have it even worse than most, since we seldom, if ever, revisit topics that we feel we’ve covered sufficiently in the past. That’s what our article database is for, and although it’s occasionally tempting to republish an older article that people could still benefit from, it feels like cheating.

What To Do? Although we’re happy to listen to feedback from TidBITS Talk, here’s our current thinking. We will continue to cover products and events specific to Mac OS X, and the frequency of coverage is likely to increase. However, we plan to focus our coverage toward topics related to switching to Mac OS X – with the recent releases of Retrospect 5.0 and Photoshop 7.0, two of the last remaining barriers to adoption for many people have fallen (QuarkXPress remains the most heavily used productivity application that runs only in Classic mode). For instance, our series on Mac OS X utilities is intended to help people migrate from Mac OS 9, and I’m working on an article laying out a series of preparations that can significantly ease the pain of upgrading. As time goes on, of course, Mac OS X coverage will cease to be distinct from general Macintosh coverage.

Until then, however, we also intend to try including information in every issue that will be of interest to those not yet running Mac OS X. That content might take the form of articles unrelated to the Mac, but sometimes it might be more subtle, such as the way I noted that several of the Mac OS X utilities I covered last week were also available for Mac OS 9. It’s not worth a separate article to make such a small point, but don’t assume that just because an article seems to cover Mac OS X that there’s nothing of interest to those who haven’t switched.

One thing you won’t read is complaining about the transition to Mac OS X. It’s been hard, and it will remain difficult for some time to come. But the time to complain is over – Apple has been crystal clear about how Mac OS X is the future for several years now, and complaining now will change nothing. Constructive criticism may help, however, and where there are appropriate criticisms to be made, we’ll reserve the right to make them so long as we can simultaneously offer potential solutions.

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