My Turn

An Everyday User Looks at Mac OS X

Jim Champlin - 2001.11.01

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Well, here I am after nearly two months with my Quicksilver G4/867 - nothing but problems.

Not problems with the G4, really, but problems with Mac OS X. It was really nothing more than a cool novelty until I got 10.1 a few weeks ago, then I thought, "Oh yeah, time to put it to the test!"

And so I have. I've tried to use Mac OS X 10.1 as an average, everyday user for a month. I know you've seen these things before, but how many reviewers are really looking at using OS X the way most normal users do? They look at how fast they can run their Photoshop filters and copy network files, but they don't really look at the complete picture.

I've also used my friend and her iMac Rev A as a guinea pig to see what someone without an extensive knowledge of computing thinks of X.

Speed

For something to be suitable for everyday use, blazing, ridiculous speed is not required. Quickness is. OS X, with all of its speed, is still sluggish in the areas that people see. The UI is quite, quite slow. Of all the reasons to turn off Aqua, the speed issue is the one I see as being the most pressing. I like Aqua, but what good is all the flashy stuff if it looks like your state of the art Mac is struggling just to move a window or scroll through a document? What did my friend say? She said it was horribly slow. Conclusion: OS X may have a speedy OS underneath, but to most people, the UI is the OS, and in Aqua's case that's not a good thing.

Stability

This is one area in which I've had nothing but glowing pride. In this whole month, I've only had one crash. I was opening a disk image, and for some reason it caused a kernel panic. Not bad at all. I've done everything I can think of to knock this bad boy on its face, but I can't do it. I've opened every piece of software I have, filled them with documents, then started an MP3 and checked my mail. It was still pretty responsive and didn't hurt it. Classic went down, but more on that in a moment. What did my test subject think? She didn't notice. She didn't even consider the issue, because she didn't have any problems. Conclusion: X is nearly impossible to crash when all you're doing is normal tasks.

Classic

This is one of my biggest beefs with OS X. Classic is asinine. The fact that a technologically superior OS would have to run an emulation mode is ludicrous. Carbon was implemented on OS X as a library. Why isn't legacy support provided through a "ClassicLib" of sorts? Windows NT supports running 16-bit Win16 applications natively, right alongside Win32 apps. Each one is preemptively multitasked in its own memory area. Backward software compatibility is one area where Windows kicks OS X's behind. You can natively run stuff designed for Windows 2.x on Windows XP. OS X relies on 9.x as a crutch to run Office 2001. What about my friend? She had one word for it: stupid. Conclusion: Classic's got to go and something better put in its place. You'd think that after working for three years, they could have done better than they did.

Hardware

Lordy mercy, what a nightmare! I had a column on My Turn a short while back, regarding HP's dismal support for OS X, and my quest to find a printer that works. Thank you so much to everyone who emailed me! I settled on an Epson C60, which I'm happy to say is a very good unit - but OS X doesn't like it. I downloaded Epson's drivers, which installed without a hitch. Print Center came up and detected the printer on the "Epson USB" bus, and everything looked good - until I tried to use it.

I attempted printing from Preview, and it moaned about not being able to communicate with the printer. What?!? I just installed it! I looked at the USB cable, thinking I might have pulled it, but it was still firmly connected at both ends. I unplugged it on the computer's end and plugged it back in. Nothing. I plugged it straight into USB port 2 - the printer made some noises, but still wouldn't budge. I finally had to turn off the printer, then turn it back on, and then it printed, but only once. This would drive someone less experienced with computers to take the printer back, thinking it was faulty!

What did my friend think? She wasn't able to use her USB Zip 100 or her USB floppy if they were plugged in through her keyboard. The Zip 100 refused to work even when plugged straight into the iMac. Both of them worked perfectly on my G4. Conclusion: Trying to make hardware work on OS X would send most people to the funny farm. Bear in mind, though, that Apple has done great work in getting the NeXTstep core and the Unix side of things to play nice. At least I didn't have to run emacs and muck around in /etc/

Aqua and the Finder

What can I say about Aqua? It looks nice, it's flashy, and it's frustrating. It's moving in the right direction, and it's evolving nicely. Considering the fact that the Desktop didn't exist until late in the beta cycle, I think they implemented it pretty well. But there are other blaring issues. One of them is the size of objects; the other is inconsistency. It's slightly disconcerting to have everything different sizes. My desktop icons are the default medium size, the icons in most folders are old 32x32 size, but some of my folders have managed to get themselves messed up good. My "desktop folder," which is where I toss all my personal goodies, likes to reset itself to having massive 128x128 icons every time I open it. I set it to use the global 32x32 size, but next time I open it, it's back to big icons! That's precisely what I mean by inconsistency. I'm not really in control of the size of the icons because some odd bug keeps it from saving the size I choose, meaning that all my icons are one size, but then one folder has these huge icons. Yet another folder refuses to open in anything but column view. Beyond that, every time I open my hard drive window in list view, the Applications and Users folders are expanded, but I don't want them expanded. Back to the size issue: the size of fonts in the Finder is excruciatingly large. While that's nice for a 22" Cinema Display, someone with a 15" iMac running 800 x 600 is going to feel like they're running out of space. And again, there's no way to change this the way we've been doing for years. Conclusion: Some considerable work needs to be done here.

The Finder Continued

Well, no, I'm not done yet. Some issues related to security are going to drive a lot of people nutty. For instance, take two files I throw in the Trash. I go to empty the Trash, and one file disappears, but then it scolds me about not having permission to delete one of the files. Why not? I'm using the owner profile. They need to solve this problem soon.

And on the subject of the Trash, I'd like to add that putting it on the Dock is both good and bad. It's good in that it's always easily accessible, no matter where you are. You can take a file in the Finder and toss it out, no matter how many windows are covering the desktop. However, it's a moving target. As soon as you approach the Dock, stuff starts zooming in and out, sliding around, and mainly being a nuisance. You might have been moving toward the Trash, but along the way you had to go through two other items. Now, the Trash is seemingly farther away. As you move closer to it, it accelerates toward your cursor, and you end up passing it, because you were aiming for where it was. A pain! (More on the Dock coming up.) Conclusion: The Finder is, for the most part, the same as it was. Most people won't notice any difference beyond the fact that it looks like Aqua, but they will notice the fact that some of the details aren't quite kosher.

The Dock

What a nervous little thing. I like the Dock and what it does, but the way it goes about doing it is all wrong. The jumping icons slow down my G4. It slows down noticeably whenever AOL Instant Messenger starts wailing away at the bottom of my screen. The zoom effects are quite frustrating. I like the Dock on the left side, but it has to labor over genieing the window into the little space. Why can't we have the option of using NeXTstep's spinning rectangle?

My friend's iMac dies whenever you minimize stuff. You see the window start to morph, then you see it in the dock. My G4 just stutters. I also think the "slide" animation when hiding is enabled is inconsistent with the rest of the UI. It would make more sense (and be less of a processor drag) if the Dock faded in and out; then it would act like a menu!

What did my friend think of the Dock? She said that it was "neat," but she missed the App menu. Conclusion: Trying to do the job of two things simultaneously, the Dock pulls it off, but trades that for a twitchy, goofy implementation. I think anyone could grow to like it, though. I have.

Conclusion

I've only talked about the things that bugged me and my friend the most. There are other issues related to normal consumer use, but they're relatively minor. What can I say in closing?

OS X is the future. Is it a positive, bright future? I think so. It's going to take some adjustment and a little bit of time, patience, and understanding. It's time people stopped trying to compare it to OS 9, because that's not what it's supposed to be. There's a reason for the big blue X. It's not just a fancy way of saying "Ten." Mac OS X is the future OS of Apple's hardware platform. Is it the familiar Mac OS? No, and it's not intended to be. It is a thoroughly modern system designed for thoroughly modern Macs and for the people who use them.

Give Apple some time, though. It's not even a year old. We'll see a really, really great new Mac OS emerge from it and we'll all wonder how we lived without it all these years.

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