How OS 8.5 Saved My Macintosh

When I bought a used Power Mac 6100 to replace our aging Performa 600, I thought I was moving into Mac Heaven. The feeling of swapping out a restricted 030 for a PowerPC chip, albeit a slower one, was a major thrill. What’s more, it had a DOS card installed, meaning that I could easily swap projects from work to home. And with a scanner, a Zip, and a SyQuest drive, along with three printers, we felt we were ready to make our move into a real Home Business.

Menagerie of Macs

Power Macintosh 6100But not so fast! The 6100 with the DOS card seemed to have terminal SCSI woes, particularly when we removed the Zip drive from the chain and put it on another machine. Nothing seemed to work even after we rerouted the cabling and changed the addressing. Finally we changed the order of the devices on the chain, said a few fervent prayers, and presto, it worked. Sort of.

You see, we were never entirely convinced the SCSI was to blame for all of the weirdo glitches that would pop up. Occasionally the menu bar would just disappear. Clicking on the right places would restore individual commands, but the bar in its entirety wouldn’t come back till we restarted. Crashes were pretty frequent too, even after we’d pruned all of our favorite extensions/control panels out of the System Folder. None seemed to have any rhyme or reason -just random freezes and “Your application has unexpectedly quit” messages. Even the Finder itself would quit for no apparent reason other than perhaps it simply wanted to. We have 40 MB of RAM, which should be plenty; we even considered that we might have a bad DOS card, but it had never given us trouble before, and it too was maxed out with RAM. Things got so bad that I was ready to go back to 7.5.5 and take the $100 spent on 8.1 as a loss.

Then, 8.5.

I was leery, to say the least. One thing that disturbed me was that Apple, in its infinite wisdom, had decided to stop supporting its own DOS card. And that despite having bought 8.1 just four months prior, we would get no upgrade rebate, so we would spend the full $100. I still think that’s something less than fair. But we choked it all down and bought the package. I readied myself for an evening of upgrading frenzy.

In that respect, at least, I was disappointed. Thirty minutes was all it took. And everything worked, even my internet connection. Much though it grieved me, I decided to give Internet Explorer and Outlook Express a try – and they’ve worked marvelously, far easier and more intuitive than Claris Emailer or Eudora, and exponentially more stable than Netscape. Between the new version of Open Transport and all the other system goodies, getting onto the ‘net has never been easier or more enjoyable.

Aside from the networking improvements, everything seems to work better. Applications launch with blazing speed. AppleScripts run with zip. The interface is cleaner and neater than ever, even if Apple didn’t give us the customization options previously promised. Hopefully someone out there is writing some new “themes” and sound files. Oh, and those sound files! The Mac truly interacts! Also, the new help system is light years better than Apple Guide. All of the software gizmos included in this release replace all sorts of non-Apple stuff I’d been using previously. So I can’t run my old copies of all of my timesaving utilities – but who needs to? On top of everything else, Sherlock is by far the fastest search engine I’ve ever used. I am weeks away from being able to fully utilize its capabilities.

What’s more – and perhaps most important of all – I haven’t had a single system related crash – yet. I expect to, but I haven’t yet. Everything works, and works better – faster – than ever before. And the DOS card is not lost – I just loaded 7.5.5 on a SyQuest and use that as my startup PC disk for those times when I absolutely must (gasp!) use Windows at home.

So how much is this upgrade really worth? Macworld goes both ways on this – on the cover it refers to 8.5 as “the must-have upgrade.” Inside, David Pogue demurs, if gently: “It isn’t a must-have, but it’s a great-to-have.” He then proceeds to conclude with a metaphor of a major renovation of your house for under $100. Would that kind of renovation be worth it to you?

The metaphor works. Effectively, I have a brand-spanking-new computer sitting in my home. $100 is cheap at twice the price.

James Reyome

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