Miscellaneous Ramblings

Mac Software Not "as Pathetic as It Could Be"

19 June 2000 - Charles Moore - Tip Jar

MacObserver's Michael Munger has written another interesting and provocative piece entitled The Deplorable State of Mac Software, in which he argues that "the condition of Mac software is as pathetic as it could be."

Michael focuses specifically on several items of Mac software, Mac OS 9 first and foremost, calling Apple's latest OS the runner-up to System 7.5 for the "crappiest release of the Mac OS" booby prize.

Michael says that OS 9 "is extremely intolerant with third-party extensions and software. It is trouble free when you install a fresh copy, but when you add third party components, it starts crashing. Nor can you keep many applications active at the same time."

I must lead a charmed life, because of the four Mac operating systems I've used on my PowerBook G3 233 MHz, Mac OS 9 is by far the most stable and trouble-free. With Mac OS 8.6, I was getting hard crashes three or four times a week, and sometimes several times per day. With Mac OS 9, in the first six weeks after I installed it I had four crashes. This, I hasten to add, is running the same third-party software extensions and applications that I was using with Mac OS 8.6, with the exception of RAM Doubler. However, when I eventually installed RAM Doubler, I noticed no diminishment of stability.

I usually have between 10 and 20 applications running simultaneously, and I test a lot of shareware and beta software, so it isn't like I'm doing light computing with OS 9. Nor do I allocate exceptional amounts of RAM to applications (except for ViaVoice). I have 96 MB of real memory doubled with RAM Doubler 9. I have not reinstalled the system since I upgraded six months ago, and it is as stable as ever.

I have also found that Mac OS 9 is much more forgiving than earlier Mac OS versions were, at least on this PowerBook. It usually gives me plenty of warning that the memory heap is becoming corrupted, and I find that quitting and restarting all running applications is usually the fix for that. I do usually restart about twice per week, and I find that when I get up to about untitled document number 60 or 70 in Tex-Edit Plus, it's getting to be about time for a restart.

I don't dispute that Michael and some others are having a different and less felicitous experience with Mac OS 9, but the fact is that I have been reluctant to install the Mac OS 9.0.4 patch because Mac OS 9.0 runs so well for me that I don't like to tamper with success.

One possible explanation for the discrepancy in reliability is that I don't run much Microsoft software, and don't use Office '98 at all. I occasionally use Internet Explorer 5.0, but my main browser is iCab. This is just a hunch, so don't read anything more into it than that.

However, Michael notes that when he uses Outlook Express and Internet Explorer at the same time, one of the two will crash - most of the time. "I hang around the public forums related to the two products, and a countless number of people asked how they could solve the problem, but never received a definite answer."

Here's one. Use iCab and Eudora for browsing and email like I do (or Netscape and PowerMail, or....). Microsoft is not the only choice.

Michael is right about the lack of modern a memory management system in the current Mac OS. While this can be annoying at times, I have gone as long as 10 days of 10 hour a day computing without a restart, so it is not a fatal flaw. Mac OS X will fix the Mac OS memory management shortcomings, but I hear it can still be crashed.

Michael asks why Stuffit Deluxe's True Finder Integration "give headaches to its users a few weeks after installing it?"

Not to me. I've had TFI turned on for six months with nary a sign of trouble.

Other stability problems identified by Michael:

"The Internet Preferences corrupt easily under Mac OS 9."

Not for me. Never once.

"The Finder itself corrupts often on many Macs. For example, I have had to install a fresh copy every two or three weeks since I have Mac OS 9."

I haven't noticed that either, although I do find that it is often the Finder's memory partition that gets corrupted, necessitating closure and restarting of applications.

"Did anybody have problems with the AOL Instant Messenger lately? Another Mac Observer staff member told me that he experienced the same crashes than me with this product."

I use ICQ.

One point upon which I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Munger is his comment about software tech support folks who tell you that the "solution" to the trouble you're having is to run their software without third-party extensions or other applications active.

As Michael puts it:

"Using a Mac without third-party extensions or software defeats the whole purpose of buying a computer to use it!"

Amen and amen. Turning off other applications and extensions is a non-answer. I refuse to use software that won't peacefully coexist with my other software. Happily, for my particular needs this has not been a real problem.

Michael nostalgically laments that, "The Mac OS was so darn stable when versions 8.1 and 8.5 came out. My computer misses the days when it could run for a week without a single crash."

I don't doubt that was true for him I still have OS 8.1 and 8.5 installed on other partitions on this hard drive, and occasionally I boot up from them in order to use an application not supported by OS 9. They are definitely not as stable as OS 9 on this computer with this set of applications and extensions. It all goes to show that one can't generalize about these things when there are so many variables. LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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