The Mac Webb

OS 9 or X: You Can't Go Home Again

- 2002.01.25

As I have always been a sucker for the latest in computer technology. I was one of those who rushed out an installed Mac OS X days after its initial release.

With its customary focus on user experience, Apple had made the OS X install process wonderfully easy. Pushing a few buttons and drinking a cup of coffee, I had installed my first Unix-based operating system. I was amazed at the beauty of the OS, from the window shades to the larger icons and the dock. Apple had created something fresh and new.

Unfortunately the initial releases could only cover about 75% of my computing needs, and I found myself booting back to OS 9 quite often.

With the early fall release of 10.1, Apple had improved the speed and added enough features to allow me use OS X up to 85% of my computer time. I worked diligently at learning the ins and outs of the new system, taking the time to match the new methods to the old. I found the OS wonderfully stable and enjoyed my initial investigations.

Unfortunately, a few small details kept me moving back to OS 9. Many of my most important applications and peripherals were not yet compatible with OS X. Power management for my PowerBooks is still an issue, costing me about 40% battery life when compared to OS 9.

In an effort to make a final break, I decided to spend one month doing all of my work in OS X. I bought new peripherals, learned all of the little differences in procedure, upgrade all of the software, and made a clean break. All seemed to be going well, and I found myself happy with the results.

Time passed, and I began to feel like I had left the Mac OS and moved to a new operating system. Over the last few months, I began to notice a rash of articles harping on the inadequacies of OS X and supporting staying with OS 9 until it suffers the lingering death of no support.

As I read these articles, I found myself agreeing with the majority of the points. I missed some of the things I really enjoyed about the classic Mac OS. I missed the spring loaded folders, the faster GUI, the greater customization, the old applications I loved, and my old peripherals.

I decided I would boot into OS 9 and run for a week to build a feature comparison based on my usage. For the particular things that I need to accomplish, which OS provides the better experience.

The experiment lasted all of one hour!

I logged onto my backup server to transfer a 900 MB folder into storage. In the past, I would begin the transfer and head out to lunch, as I knew it would be difficult to continue working. With the release of OS X, I was able to continue working during the transfer. I could check mail, browse the Web, and writer a document, all while the transfer took place.

When I made the attempt in OS 9, I again found myself unable to work on any task during the transfer. My system crawled to a halt. If I moved to another application, the transfer process would slow to a crawl.

The experience was incredibly frustrating. I realized at that moment that you can never go home again. While I miss many of the little touches in OS 9, the bottom line is that I can accomplish more in OS X. All of my grouching about the OS could be contributed to "good old day syndrome."

The OS 9 GUI is faster. Applications feel a bit peppier - examine why, the CPU is focusing all of its time on the task at hand. Also, we are able to assign memory to each individual application. I can dedicate 450 MB to Photoshop, and it will run incredibly fast. Try to check email at the same time, and the system will sputter and choke.

Try to surf the Web while transferring a 100 Mb file over AirPort. OS X allows me to work without problem. In 9, I was stuck staring at the transfer bar. While users may sacrifice a small percentage of GUI or application performance, the benefits of being able to multitask far outweigh the negatives.

On an interesting and related note, as I moved to a PowerBook this year, my wife claimed my iBook 500 from the eBay pile. For the first time, she owned a computer that was hers and only hers. I was not allowed to adjust, upgrade, accessorize, or otherwise molest this machine.

I helped her get set up from scratch and taught her how to find her way around OS X. She loves the machine and has none of the complaints about speed or processes that many older Mac owners voice.

Last week, we installed an older version of VPC on her machine (I have yet to upgrade). I explained how to boot back into OS 9 to use it. She spent some time playing in the classic OS and found it frustrating, unstable, "ugly," and altogether an uncomfortable transition.

I realized that she was simply the reverse of the Apple customer spectrum. She likes the OS she knows and uses on a daily basis. The important thing for her is that she knows how to get her work done quickly and efficiently.

If Apple migrated to OS 9 today, she would complain about the change. LEM

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