OS X: Of Docks and Roadblocks

2002 – As I said last time, the more I use Mac OS X, the more I like it. This is especially true since replacing the stock 10 GB Toshiba drive (4200 rpm, 1 MB cache) with a larger, faster 20 GB IBM Travelstar drive (5400 rpm, 8 MB cache).


Although having enough memory to properly run OS X is crucial (we recommend 256 MB if your Mac supports it), it’s surprising how much more pleasant a more efficient hard drive can make the OS X experience. My little old 400 MHz TiBook is much more responsive in both OS 9 and OS X since the hard drive transplant.

Seeing the difference it makes, you’ve got to wonder why Apple isn’t putting faster hard drives in to begin with – or at least offering them as a BTO option for iMacs, eMacs, iBooks, PowerBooks, and Power Macs. Instead of even mentioning drive speed, Apple only mentions drive capacity in the build to order options (except for the Power Mac G4, where Ultra160 SCSI is an option).

Apple could make the geeks and performance lovers among us very happy by not only offering different hard drive capacities, but by also making faster hard drives available across the board. And they could increase profits while they’re at it.

If you have an older Mac that seems sluggish under OS X despite having plenty of memory, consider a faster hard drive. We’ll be experimenting with that on our Beige G3 in the near future.

The Dock

I love the Dock, a single place for launching applications and switching between them. It’s brilliant. I use two separate programs in OS 9 to provide the same functions.

It’s brilliant, but it’s not perfect. For one, the Dock sometimes gets in the way. As I’m writing this in Claris Home Page via Classic Mode, the resize box in the corner of the document is hidden behind the Dock. I have to either hide the Dock or relocate the document window if I want to resize it. That’s frustrating.

There is an option to “automatically hide and show” the Dock, and I’ve tried it. I don’t like it. If I overshoot the corner of my document, the dock pops up. There ought to be a better way.

Folders in Mac OS 8.1

Folder tabs from the classic Mac OS could be a better way of hiding the Dock in OS X.

There is a better way, and the Mac OS has supported it since System 7.5.x and 8.x. Apple has already invented the solution with folder tabs at the bottom of the screen in the classic Mac OS (above). All they need to do is put a small tab at the top of the dock, allowing the user to hide it or display it with a click, and then we won’t be stuck between always seeing the dock or always having it hide.

Here’s how it might look:

Dock with folder tab

That solves one problem. The other is more of an interface issue. Someone at Apple really likes centered items. They actually put a centered Apple logo in the menu bar with the OS X Public Beta, but it was nonfunctional, distracting, and stupid, so the Apple logo moved back where it belonged.

Mac OS X Public Beta menubar

Yes, the Public Beta did have an Apple logo in the center of the menubar.

The dock always centers itself on the side or at the bottom of the screen. It may look nice, but from an interface point of view, that means that every icon in the dock moves every time the dock adds or drops an item.

Control Strip

The solution is one Apple created with the Control Strip (above) back in the System 7 era. Instead of always putting the dock in the middle, Apple should give us the option of anchoring it to a corner. A horizontal dock anchored to the lower left corner could look like this:

OS X Dock anchored to lower left corner

The icons on the left would pretty much stay where they are. From an interface viewpoint, the corners are the easiest part of the screen to move to, followed by the sides. This would make is much easier for OS X users to get to their most used applications quickly.

Also note the tab on the end, giving this Dock the same ability to hide that the Control Strip has had since the beginning.

The Trash

I miss having the Trash in one place. I hate the way it can move out of the way as you’re trying to throw something away – it’s as though the Dock would much rather you put something in the Dock than in the Trash.

Simple solution #1: Move the Trash back to the lower right corner of the desktop.

Simple solution #2: Anchor the Dock in the lower right corner where the Trash won’t be able to move.

The Printer Roadblock

I have a Hewlett Packard LaserJet 2100TN next to my desk. It’s on our ethernet network, and the whole family uses it. This printer has two paper trays plus a “multifunction” tray for envelopes, manual feed, etc. It works very nicely, and with the amount of printing my wife does for her business, the 10 ppm speed and lower cost of toner vs. ink is a blessing.

We’ve been keeping her letterhead in the bottom bin (Tray 3 in HP lingo) and plain paper in the top drawer (Tray 2). The only problem has been that any Mac without HP drivers installed will print from tray 3 by default, so we finally switched the two bins around.

She’s got her stationery set up to print the first sheet on letterhead, the rest of the document on plain paper. Problem is, under Mac OS X, there’s no support for that third tray. It’s grayed out. The HP LaserJet driver simply will not let us choose it, although it seems to recognize that it exists.

On the plus side, if I don’t specify a tray, the 2100TN will print from tray 3. On the minus side, there’s no way to tell it to print page 1 from tray 2 and the rest of the document from tray 3. Very frustrating, and a real obstacle to getting OS X 10.2 Jaguar on her business’s iBooks so she and her employees can use iCal and the Address Book.

HP, you need to address this one soon.

Oops, Another Retrospect Update

Part of moving to OS X includes backup. We’ve been using Retrospect to back up our networked Macs for a couple years – until about a week ago.

As noted in Backing Up Your Mac, we’re switching to a backup system that uses IDE drives in FireWire enclosures, since the cost per GB is lower than for tape. I’m hoping to sell my VXA tape drive with 3 tapes, a cleaning tape, and a SCSI cable to cover the cost of the switch. (Email me if you’d be interested in acquiring the backup system.)

The anticipated cost includes several 80 GB drives, a couple FireWire enclosures, and updating Retrospect to version 5, the version that supports backing up Mac OS X. The problem is, Retrospect 5 refuses to work with our current client licenses. We’re looking at another $70-140 depending on whether we upgrade both 5-user packages or not.

I’ve emailed Dantz customer support to ask if it’s possible to buy a 10 user upgrade for two 5 user licenses, which would save a fair bit of money, but haven’t heard back yet. My other unanswered question is whether I can use the same backup license on both the OS 9 and OS X clients installed on the same computer.

Until we get that resolved, I’ve gone back to using Retrospect 4.3 for backup.

Looking Ahead

I ran my first OS X benchmarks on my TiBook earlier this week, mostly looking at the big improvement with the new IBM Travelstar hard drive.

In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to do some more hardware upgrades and OS X benchmarking. We already have OS X on my TiBook, my wife’s 14″ 600 MHz iBook, and my 266 MHz Beige G3 (which our youngest son uses as his own). We also have a couple iMacs, so I’ll probably install it on the one with the most memory.

I’ve got a couple higher capacity, high speed hard drives (an IBM Deskstar and a Seagate Barracuda) to test in the Beige G3 and the iMac. I’ll also test different memory configuration in the G3, since it’s fairly easy to remove memory sticks.

I also received a 333 MHz G3 processor this week, so another thing we’ll be testing is how much faster that makes the Beige G3. (If anyone has spare ZIF modules they’d be willing to loan us or donate so we can benchmark them, please email me.)

Down the road we really need to get a faster hard drive controller for the Beige G3, which only has a 16.7 MB/sec. IDE bus. We’re looking at Sonnet Tempo and Acard Ultra66 cards, which should really unleash the capabilities of the Seagate and IBM hard drives.

After that, we’ll be looking at video card options to put the final touches on the Beige G3. This won’t be a gaming machine; we just want to find something that will overcome the sluggish Rage II circuitry in the old G3.

The overall goal is to spend as little as necessary to get comfortable performance. Big, fast IDE hard drives regularly go for well under $100. Pulled CPU upgrades are often dirt cheap. I’ve seen Ultra66 cards that work under OS X for under $60. The big unknown at this point is what video card will offer sufficient performance for AppleWorks and browsing the Web at a reasonable price.

At some point, finances permitting, we’ll spring for a Jaguar family pack (about $189 is the lowest price I’ve seen so far), which will replace OS X 10.1 Puma and give the TiBook, iBook, iMac, and Beige G3 another kick in the pants as far as performance is concerned.

Step by step, we are moving 10 Forward.

Keywords: #macosx #osxpuma

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