Time to Go with Point One

2001 – Back in January, I wrote in Never Go with Point Oh that I was conservatively waiting to switch to Mac OS 9 until Apple brought out OS 9.1 or greater, because by then most of the bugs would be eliminated. I also tend to run about one OS version behind the rest of the world, so when everyone else was running OS 9, I was still running Mac OS 8.6.

Now Mac OS X is becoming more and more widespread, and people everywhere (LEM included) are reporting their experiences in making the transition. So when OS X 10.0 came out, I dutifully upgraded my OS 8.6 machines to OS 9.1, skipping the “point oh” option. Right now almost every machine I use personally is running OS 9.2, which seems to be working pretty well for most of the things I do.

I Installed Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X

Mac OS X 10.0 install CDMac OS X finally shifted from “point oh” to “point one” recently, and since I keep my important files on an external drive for school use, there seemed little risk in upgrading my teacher computer to OS X 10.0.4 in anticipation of OS X 10.1. So I used the installer (it came with the computer when we got it), installed OS X 10.0.4, let it do its thing.

The installation was relatively straightforward. I didn’t bother reformatting and partitioning the drive, since there wasn’t much mission critical stuff on the drive to begin with; restoring to OS 9.1 only would be a minor hassle, but I wouldn’t lose any of my important data if something went wrong. A bit later, I upgraded to OS X version 10.1. In a sense, I already had a backup, because all my important stuff was on the external drive. If that’s not true for you, back up first.

Side note: A kid cannot hack into your hard drive if your hard drive is not on your computer.

I’m the user Apple has to convince to switch. If you’re still on the fence, then you should pay attention to what I – as a home user, classroom teacher, and ordinary non-Unix user – have to say. Here is my common sense, down-to-earth advice for when to switch to OS X.

If your computer can handle it and your applications are Carbonized or Native, you should switch.

There is simply no other excuse to wait other than not having the money or hardware to install it. It’s that good. And it’s fun, too. And remember, this is from the guy who wrote “Never Go with Point Oh.”

Compatibility Report

At my school, we have to use the following programs:

  • Microsoft Office (our emerging standard)
  • AppleWorks (our old standard)
  • Microsoft Outlook Exchange
  • Some sort of web browser
  • Grade machine
  • Classxp

So I installed it, and lo! everything worked with a few annoying quirks. These quirks are big enough that I wouldn’t recommend switching everyone just yet, but it will be soon – maybe next year. Definitely okay for the tech-heads to try, or the Brave Ones, or the Ones Who Will Not Be Compliant. Here is what I found out.

Office 2001: Seems sluggish and crashes a bit more in OS X (in Classic Mode) than in OS 9 (not running in Classic Mode, just booting up in OS 9.) Tried Word X, but without printing that’s really a waste of my time, because if I can’t print, it isn’t a real test. So until we have an Office X license, I would say this one rates as “usable but unpleasant.”

AppleWorks 6: Works great in OS X.

Microsoft Outlook Exchange: Works great in Classic Mode, no problems whatsoever.

Web Browser: Internet Explorer works okay, and Netscape is usable. Haven’t tried iCab or Opera yet in OS X, but as you know, they are highly recommended. Explorer was a pain to configure on the school network though.

Grade Machine: Has a couple of quirky problems related to opening files, but if you open them from the program’s File menu, they go away.)

Classxp: This is the companion program to SASIxp, an attendance and reporting program. Works, but has serious bugs. See below.

The gist of it is that the computer is usable in OS X. I still depend on Classic Mode to run certain required applications. I depend on it enough that I set it to autoboot in the system settings controls, so I wouldn’t have to wait on it later in the day.

One Troublesome App

Of all the applications, Classxp is the least “carbonized.” In practice, this means it just doesn’t run quite right. It takes longer to boot. When it does boot, part of the menu bar it uses appears behind the Dock. The window I usually get asking me to specify which class to open is there, but it’s invisible. You have to click around after login until you find it, then open a class at random, which makes the window appear. Then you have to switch to the appropriate class. It’s usable for testing purposes, but I wouldn’t want to have to face a room of teachers and explain how to do it. Finally, if you leave it running for a while, the server disconnects and the program sort of goes into limbo waiting for a response from the server. Eventually you have to force-quit it (which works like End Task on a PC).

I wrote to tech support at NCS, the publishers of Classxp. They wrote back:

Dear SASIxp and NCS ABACUSxp software Customers: NCS Pearson continually strives to improve the quality of its software products and services. The satisfaction of our customers is a critical consideration when evaluating any changes within our market place. With the release of the new Macintosh OS X operating system software, software vendors are required to perform a process called “Carbonization” to update existing software versions. Carbonization requires mandatory program changes for the SASIxp and NCS ABACUSxp software to properly function within this new operating system software. These changes may also require you to upgrade your hardware to a level compatible with the new Mac OS X operating system software. To analyze the impact, NCS Pearson sent key personnel to workshops conducted by Apple®. The information presented was to prepare software developers for the process of Carbonization. We are currently reviewing a new version of the carbonization library, CarbonLib 1.4 SDK, which is a key element in the Carbonization process. With the change in this key element, NCS Pearson personnel have to evaluate the impact that the Carbonization process will have on our SASIxp and NCS ABACUSxp software products. Our current products do not support Mac OS X operating system software. NCS Pearson is continuing to research solutions to the changes that are necessary to allow our software products to properly function with all versions of the Macintosh® Operating Systems. NCS Pearson is committed to supporting our Macintosh customers and will keep you informed as we continue with our research into possible solutions.

Sincerely, Ron Barton
Product Manager Specialist
SASIxp™ Student Administrative Software

Let me translate this letter for you.

Dear SASIxp and NCS ABACUSxp software Customers:

Don’t use OS X until we tell you. If anyone says why not, say, “SASI ain’t Carbonized yet, and when it will be is anybody’s guess.”

Sincerely, Ron Barton
Product Manager Specialist
SASIxp™ Student Administrative Software

This is the kind of thing holding back widespread OS X adoption. Usually it’s some cross-platform program needed to connect to the Wintel network that OS X isn’t quite aligned with yet, like SASIxp. From the sound of things, it isn’t going to be fixed by next Thursday either.

Tweaking Classic Mode to Minimize Problems

Recently I learned two tricks that seem to help. First, in the System Preferences panel in the Dock, there’s a Classic control panel that lets you restart Classic without restarting the entire computer. That helps when SASIxp goes off to lala land and won’t respond. Secondly, I discovered many of my problems were caused by Classic going to sleep and cutting off my TCP/IP connection to the SASI server. So I set TCP/IP in Classic to “always on” and Classic to “never sleep.” That seems to have stopped the mysterious hang ups and huge delays problem, but I still have that invisible window problem I need to fix.

With problems like that, why use OS X?

For one thing, it’s rock solid. I’ve used it for days without restarting, and when I do restart, it’s because of SASIxp mutilating Classic. It doesn’t crash OS X, but it gums up every other Classic app I have open.

This is the part where Ron Barton says, “I told you not to use it yet. You’re not listening!”

You can bet your butt if SASIxp were not compatible with Windows XP, they’d have that puppy “X-pedited” last Tuesday, and you wouldn’t get a friendly form letter either. You’d get a nice upgrade form. SASI’s the kind of product that costs so much they don’t list the price online. (“Just fill out this form and a representative will contact you.”) If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. You have to have a contract (which I’m sure somewhere around here we do) to get tech support. More importantly, you have to be in charge of the contract to get tech support. That would not be me. I asked our tech staff about that, by the way, and they told me, “We asked NCS about OS X, and they said it wasn’t compatible.”

Mac OS X: I Like It!10

Anyway, OS X is very nice looking. Unlike some purists, I don’t mind the bouncy icons, the pulsing lights, or the new positions of commands in the menus. I use the Genie effect for minimizing. I want more effects to choose from! How about just shrinking in place and disappearing with a “pop!” Or sliding sideways until it becomes a strip vertically placed above its Dock position, then falling down into the Dock. That has some potential for fun. My students really like it and want to know how to make Windows do that sort of thing. Some old-timers don’t like all the fluff. I say if you can’t have fun learning how to use a computer, you’ve forgotten what it was like when you first sat down with a Mac.

I like the shading under the text in Finder views; I like the System Preferences organization. I was a little puzzled over the multiple pathways for saving files on the desktop vs. the documents folder vs. the user’s documents folder, but I think I have that under control now. The file saving dialog is a big improvement, too.

I still think there’s a fundamental conceptual block for beginners who like to manipulate icons. They don’t know how to relate the Save dialog to the Finder view. OS X tries to solve this problem by allowing the Finder view to look like an Open and Save dialog. That helps a little, but beginners would like to see a little miniature desktop pop up, maybe, when you hit Save, so it looks just like what it does when you’re just browsing around.

Unix is just a mystery to me. The good news is that you don’t need to know anything about it for workaday stuff. You do if you want to have ultimate control over the machine. When I really need it, I’ll learn it; if I don’t, I probably won’t bother.

I like having a built-in screen saver. I know modern screens don’t need saving, but I like it anyway. Mine’s a big flag.

If your programs are not completely compatible yet, you are still probably going to be okay for experimenting. If they are, the OS has numerous features not found in OS 9 to make one want to switch. Besides the eye candy, there’s increased flexibility for connecting to networks, enhanced iDisk access (although iDisk use is blocked from any OS at our school), increased OS stability, the Dock’s increased usefulness as an “open application” manager, and more.

Bottom line: If you are a classic Mac OS user, you are going to be able to find your way around in OS X without taking a class or buying a Dummies book. I like it so much that I use it all the time now despite my travails with SASI. And I write for Low End Mac. You do the math.

It wasn’t as scary as you might guess from the technical articles flying around. And it is just as fun as everyone says. If you’re nervous still, do that partition thing that Dan Knight recommends, and you’ll be fine.

Give OS X a try. As always, back up before you start. You can, for the time being, revert back to OS 9 using the Startup Disk control panel (System Preferences in OS X lingo) if needed.

Come March, new Macs will ship with OS X as the default OS, but I expect OS 9 will still be there for a while until the NCS Pearsons of the world catch up. March 2003 could be a different story.

Keywords: #macosx #classicmode

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