My Turn

Why I'm Sticking with Mac OS 9 and Not Switching to OS X

John Droz Jr - 2003.08.06

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 .

I was going to write this some time ago, but I have been rather overwhelmed with numerous other demands of my busy life. However, after reading a few articles on this important subject, I have been inspired to put aside such time-wasters as eating and sleeping so that I could put pen to paper.

Some other worthwhile observations on this matter can be found in The OS X Transition Must Be Completed Now on MacNETv2, The "Why Aren't More People Switching to OS X" Letters on Applelinks, and Thinking Too Different: Why Mac Users Are Slow to Adopt OS X here on Low End Mac.

If these articles are good, why do I need to weigh in? I guess that as informative as these other pieces are, they didn't put it quite the way I would like to.

So who am I to make comments? I am a reasonably competent computer person. I have OS 10.2.6 running on one iBook and OS 9.1 on a less powerful iBook. Despite this choice, I am doing 99% of my work on OS 9 (like now). As a computer consultant, I have over 200 Mac customers. I am encouraging most to stay with OS 9, and some 90% still are.

Check out Should Our Schools - or Anybody Else - Have Macs or PCs? and you will see where my convictions lie. And as far as what I have written about OS X, X vs. XP goes into more supportive details than almost anything else on the Web. Few people on the planet have spent as much unreimbursed time promoting Apple as I have.

So what about OS X? The bottom line is that this was absolutely the right move for Apple to make, and OS X has numerous superior elements in it.

The problem, though, is that the devil is in the details.

An insightful story ("Transition Anxiety") about some of the background behind why the OS X interface is what it is, was written by Matt Deatherage for Macworld in their June 2003 issue (I am unable to find it online). Personally I find the apparent slavishness to NeXT ideas at the expense of Mac traditions to be very disturbing.

If I were running Apple's design team, my change criteria would (evidently) be quite silly: "In OS X we will continue to utilize all the traditional Mac interface methodologies unless an engineer can demonstrate a clearly simpler and superior approach. Under no circumstances would change for the sake of change be acceptable."

Let's look at a real world example: aliases. Aliases are a necessary and very useful shortcut to effective computing. In the Classic Mac OS, aliases were created by typing "cmd-M". Anyone could tell that an item was an alias by the fact that its icon or line item title was in italics.

In OS X an alias is now created by typing "cmd-L". ("cmd-M" has been reassigned to "Minimize Window". Since shift-cmd-M appears to be unassigned, one wonders why that wasn't the choice for "Minimize Window". This would allow OS X to keep the Make Alias the same.) Verdict: no convincing superiority to this change, so it is denied.

Next, in OS X, is that the alias' icon's title is no longer in italics. The indicator that we are dealing with an alias is relegated to the fact that the icon has been tweaked to have a small arrow in the lower left hand corner. This change clearly makes aliases less recognizable. Verdict: No convincing superiority to this change, so it is denied.

"So what?" you may be thinking, How can this be a big deal?"

Here is an example of what happened to me. I was going to install a third party OS X utility. I double clicked on the ".dmg" (disk image) item. (We needed to change to dmg? I digress.) An installer package came up. Fine. Among the several items presented was a "Read Me". Contrarianly, I read it, and it said that before I installed this item, I needed another utility, where to get it, etc. Fine.

Since I didn't have the time to do all this then, and the instructions were more than I could memorize, I dragged a copy of this Read Me to my hard drive window. I put away (ejected) the package via "cmd-E" (which is an improvement over "cmd-Y", so that is approved).

The next day (when I had the time to finish this installation) I double clicked on the Read Me to be reminded of exactly what I needed to do. Error message: "The alias yadda-yadda could not be opened because the original item could not be found." Okay, I had made a mistake and dragged an alias (and not the original) to my hard drive. The fact that this item was an alias was not readily apparent. I have never done this under the Classic Mac OS.

Well, no biggie, you say, just trash this orphan and start over. That's what I thought. I dragged the alias to the Trash. Oops - another error message: "The operation could not be completed because this item is owned by the root."

Now here is when I shut down, as this message is absolute gibberish. None of this would have happened in the Classic OS. Nevertheless, in this case I soldiered on. I started by going to the alias' Info window. The "Ownership and Permissions" part looked most promising. (Again, none of this is user friendly.) Ah-ha, the alias is locked. Clicking on the lock unlocks it. I closed the Info window and tried trashing it again. Same error message.

Back to Info and "Ownership and Permissions." Maybe it needs a different owner. Choices are: me, mysql, nobody, smmsp, sshd, system (the current choice), unknown, and www. What normal user understands all these and what the change implications are?

Anyway, I think that maybe if it is nobody, then it will be easier to trash. I select nobody. Another message comes up saying I need a password. (This security is a bit much for a non-networked machine. It seems like I should have the option to simplify the level of security on my own computer.).

Continuing on, the password window accepts my password entry and goes away. Oops, the Owner doesn't change from system. I slide up to select nobody again, but it immediately reverts back to system. It simply refuses to accept nobody. No explanation given.

I closed the Info window and tried trashing the alias again. Same error message.

Then I think that maybe it is in the "Group" part of that window. I check the "Group" choices, and there are twenty one indecipherable options. This is absurd. After playing around with some of these (I won't bore you with the details), nothing worked. What happened to the Apple idea of computing for the masses?

I tried firing up the ".dmg" installer package for this utility again. The alias now did work correctly - but I still couldn't trash it! What is that about?

In exasperation, I said forget this stupid alias icon in my hard drive window, I'll put it into a folder and deal with it later. No can do! Dragging the icon into a folder creates a copy of the alias in that folder, but the original stays put. Things don't work that way in OS X with a non-alias document, so why should it for an alias? Interestingly, I discover that the alias copy can be trashed from within the folder with no problem.

Inspiration! I again copy the alias to the folder (I had trashed the prior one). I then drag the alias copy back onto the hard drive and (after asking permission) it replaces the initial problem alias I had there. I can then trash both alias copies. An hour of my valuable time wasted with ridiculous and completely unnecessary OS X foolishness.

Again, this is just one example of many gotchas I have found in OS X. This type of situation is completely preventable (e.g., by having italicized aliases), and there is no conceivably sound design reason that the OS X interface couldn't have been set up this way.

And I'm sure several more intelligent people will write me saying that I should have done this or that to get out of this situation. But I shouldn't have to be told how to do this basic level of stuff. If it is not intuitive, then it's not a Mac.

So my position is this: I believe that there are many good things about OS X. However there are way too many OS X (Unix/NeXT) aspects that are not intuitive, sensible, logical, or reasonable. I do not have the time to ferret out what the too frequently encountered OS X gibberish means. If I wanted to play geek games, I might just as well have used Windows.

Solution: Apple engineers must get off the blind NeXT mindset and needs to make decisions as to what is best for the user.

Isn't this the most fundamental difference that has distinguished Apple from PCs from day one? How can this profoundly significant premise be relegated to second-class citizenship?

Until OS X gets it, I will be sticking with OS 9.

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