Mac to the Future

X Things I Love About X

Kel Taylor - 2000.06.14

I. Aqua
It's the most elegant graphical user interface in history, to say the least. The name fits perfectly, for the system flows not like electrons on silicon wafers, but like water in an easy going stream. It doesn't try to be "quasi-futuristic," as many current Mac OS desktop themes do. It simply acts natural. This natural interface could set a new standard with software, just as it does with hardware, that could have a drastic influence on far-future systems. Only time will tell.

II. Finder
Although the most Windows-like element of the entire OS, the new Finder is also one of the major improvements - but it doesn't have to be. It offers the option to do things "the old way." You can, with a simple click of the mouse, be navigating as if you were in OS 9 (I guess it would be the same as System 7, as not much has changed since then). But why would you want to do it that way? Just because the new Finder is Windows-like isn't a good reason to not flow with it. Some things have changed since the early developer previews. Disks now can appear on the desktop, the dock, and/or in the base level of the Finder - the choice is yours. The icons, which may be too large for smaller screens (such as iBooks), can be adjusted. The bottom line is, if you don't like something, you can probably change it. This also includes the views. The new "column" view will function very well for many tasks. Go the Mac OS X Theater to see the power of the new Finder first hand.

III. Open Source
As I said before, if there is something you don't like about Mac OS X, you can probably change it. This is taken to a extreme when you consider that Darwin, the operating system core for OS X, is open source. This "allows developers to customize and enhance key Apple software." Although the common Mac users would be unable to contribute, people nevertheless have the power to customize OS X. In fact, the open source Darwin project may bring Darwin to Intel machines. While the effects of such a move are unknown, it is intriguing to ponder.

IV. The Dock
The much scrutinized and much loved dock has changed in the latest developer preview, which shows Apple responds to customer complaints and ideas, something I think is cause for much applause. The old dock could store just about everything - applications, documents, finder windows, the trash can, and disks, all jumbled down there at the bottom of the screen. Which, I must say, isn't much different than the Apple Menu of today. Click on that multicolored apple now, and I'm sure you will find everything ranging from control panels to old documents to applications to maybe even your iDisk. Some older systems even have a shutdown switch in the Apple Menu.

The Dock has changed from earlier versions. Minimized or stored applications will appear on the left side of the dock, and minimized or stored documents, windows, and the trash can will appear on the right, separated by a dividing line. For those who compare the Dock to the Windows taskbar, there is probably more to contrast. First of all, the Dock simply looks better. Plus, the taskbar only shows you what is open or minimized - everything that is open or minimized - and nothing that isn't. The Dock can hold frequently used documents and folders, functioning much like OS 8 and 9's popup windows, without them being open. Unlike the Windows taskbar, it doesn't create a button for every single window that is open, which severely clutters the taskbar if you have many windows or applications open.

The Dock's magnification feature looks all too cool. You can see it in the Mac OS X Theater. But most importantly, it's very useful. Items in the dock are shown in "preview," which means you actually see a picture of the document or window in the dock, not just an icon. The magnification lets you easily tell the difference between items, even though you can have the title pop up if you wish. The Dock will successfully take place of the cluttered Apple Menu, the program menu, and popup windows (if you use them), and do a much more efficient job.

V. Multitasking
This is one of those technical things that many people don't understand, including me. The Mac OS has been able to run more than one program using cooperative multitasking since OS 6, but not the same way Mac OS X will. Mac OS X will feature preemptive multitasking, which more efficiently handles multiple tasks. Preemptive multitasking will let the OS control processor usage, instead of having programs fight over it like a bunch of four-year-olds.

VI. Protected Memory
Are you tired of crashes? Although it doesn't happen to me that often, my iBook has crashed on several occasions, and I have heard that some people don't have that much luck. I asked a computer-smart friend of mine just what causes a computer crash. He gave me an analogy. "Imagine you are a program and I am another program." He then held up a pencil and said to imagine it is memory. "The computer tell me that I am suppose use this pencil, but for some reason, it tells you that you are suppose to use it too. The programs can't run because they are fighting over the memory." He also added that there are other ways that programs crash by themselves and take other programs down with them. Although I'm not sure how accurate his description is, it makes sense to me. Protected memory under OS X will assign a program memory and protect that memory from other programs. This will prevent crashes caused by programs fighting over memory and will prevent a single crashing program from taking down others. For those running OS 8 or 9 now, I have a tip for you. If a program crashes or stalls, press command-option-esc to "force quit" the program. This trick works most of the time, and it lets you save your other work before you restart, which is advised if you force-quit a program. Of course, only Carbon and Cocoa applications will feature protected memory.

VII. Classic Environment
With a total change in the core OS, current "un-carbonized" applications will not run in OS X. How will all of our older programs operate? The answer is a Classic environment, which can run full screen or within a window. To do this, it must startup, just like OS 9. Of course, programs you run inside the Classic environment won't be blessed with protected memory and Aqua. However, the Classic environment itself will be, which means if a Classic program crashes, it crashes the Classic environment, not the rest of the computer. Although Mac OS X won't honor all the extensions and control panels that might fill your System Folder now, you can see them popup across the bottom of the screen when the Classic environment starts up. For those who are afraid of the big changes, the Classic environment will be a link to the past.

VIII. Internet Integration
Although Microsoft is in trouble for a similar action, Apple has built internet applications into OS X. One such program is an email application. Although not much has been said about it, Steve Jobs has mentioned it several times. Apple could integrate this program with current and future iTools, such as iCards. It would be much easier to send an iCard from an email application than going through Apple's site, which makes it difficult to add many recipients simply because you have to look up all the email addresses one by one. Other iTools are sure to be integrated. Apple will probably make iDisk easier to use and hopefully faster. Perhaps the much rumored iPhone will make a debut. In any case, Apple is trying hard to make sure everyone that owns a Mac is online and using iTools.

IX. Traditional Elements
I'm a Texas Aggie, and at Texas A&M there are not many things more important than tradition. The same is true with any select group, such as Mac users. Many long time users showed a bit of hostility toward Apple for making OS X so different. I guess they believe that Think Different means to think different than others, not think different from the past. Well, Apple has been doing a lot of different thinking the past few years, and it has yielded nothing but success. However, I agree that with progress there must be a tie to the past. Apple announced at the WWDC that it added more "traditional elements" to Developer Preview 4 and that there may be more in the beta and final versions. I'm sure that Apple will never forget its past, but I don't think there were many looking back when they replaced the Apple II line with the Macintosh. The same should be true in this case.

X. Public Beta
This is a risky step, but so was naming a computer company after a fruit. Apple announced a public beta would replace the final version of Mac OS X previously scheduled for release this summer. The full version will be available in stores and preinstalled on all new Macs in January (hopefully).

A public beta, or test version, will be available for anyone to "test." While beta versions usually are incomplete and buggy, Mac OS X beta will probably not be much different than the completed version. Many have considered it a name change rather than a schedule change. Word is that many developers were in favor of calling the summer release a beta, but, as far as I know, it's only a rumor. I will be installing OS X beta on my iBook the first day I can get my hands on it. If Apple weren't confident that the beta would provide excellent performance, I'm sure they wouldn't release it to the public. This move could help with the transition, a crucial step for Apple. With the beta, more users are likely to announce allegiance to the new system, giving confidence to developers and other users.

Mac OS X is going to be grand, and it's only months away.

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