Miscellaneous Ramblings

The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

Charles W. Moore - 2001.05.22

I have been keeping my own counsel lately about my continued misgivings about OS X. I have no desire to begin sounding like a broken record (that's becoming a bit of an antiquarian metaphor these days, isn't it?) or a Luddite crank.

However, Marc Zeedar's latest column on MacOpinion, Unix Is Complex, in which he eloquently articulates his own misgivings about OS X, has inspired me to venture forth into these waters once again. Actually, Marc's thoughts on the issue mirror my own so closely that I could almost write "what he said" with a link and be done with it. However, I will add a few observations of my own.

What I don't want to do is initiate a polemic with OS X fans. I will concede that from a purely engineering perspective, OS X (and all the other Unixes) is superior to the classic Mac OS. The problem for me is that I'm not a software engineer, a programmer, or even a competent command line user, and I have neither the time nor the desire to become one. Well, maybe perhaps the last, if I have to.

Marc hit the nail on the head with his observation that the OS X structure is very similar to that of Gnome, KDE, or Nautilus running on top of Linux - Aqua is essentially a graphical shell running on top of the Unix, unlike the classic Mac OS in which the graphical interface is fully integrated with the underlying file structure. That is, when you, for instance, drag something in or out of the Mac OS Extensions folder, you are altering the system's file structure without resorting to command line hieroglyphics.

That quality makes the classic Mac OS both user-accessible conceptually to non-programmers like me in terms of troubleshooting and customization, and also extremely flexible, tolerant, and forgiving. It is hard to break the classic Mac OS by messing around with it, and you can see what you are doing in a spatial sense. You can also drag it around with reckless abandon, and even install it by dragging. My son's Lombard came with a CD containing a draggable System Folder that can be used to restore the OS with no muss or fuss.

The 0S 9 installation on my SuperMac S900 was originally installed on my WallStreet PowerBook in December 1999.

These flexible qualities are a big part of what I love about the Mac OS, and I am dismayed to see them disappear with OS X - really a much more significant and important issue in the long run than adapting to the switch from the familiar Mac OS Finder to OS X Aqua and the Dock, et al.

As Marc speculates, OS X, when the bugs are worked out and it becomes a stable system, may well turn out to be a superior system from a user friendliness standpoint for tech illiterate users, but only insofar as nothing needs changing or fixing.

My recent experimental foray into the world of Linux has been a real eye-opener as to what darkness lurks in the command line catacombs that underlie the brightly lighted streets and promenades of OS X Aqua. Like Marc, I consider myself a power user, but a Mac power user. I have essentially zero experience with command lines - even DOS. My first real computer was a Mac, and prior to that I used a menu driven Wang word-processor.

I'm not the village idiot, and I don't doubt that I could learn this stuff if I wanted to and had the time. I don't, in either case, and I am more than a little disgruntled at being dragooned into doing so. Whatever happened to "the computer for the rest of us?"

Helpful advice like "If X Y Z happens, consult your system administrator," isn't very helpful at all. I leave deep in the country, 50 miles from the nearest possible tech support. I am my system administrator, which makes the classic Mac OS an ideal solution for me.

This brings me to another point. Unix folk seem to be obsessed with networking and security, which are of course important when you are administering large network systems with multiple users, but which are largely irrelevant to me. I am the lone user of my two production Macs, which are as networked as I will ever need via an ethernet crossover cable and AppleTalk - not even a password necessary to slow things down. All of this foo fa rah with logging in, root administrators, and such is just so much on unwanted baggage for me.

Consequently, I remain an unhappy camper vis a vis the transition to OS X. I concede that it's inevitable, but I don't have to like it, and I don't. The classic Mac OS was something special and unique - it really was "the OS for the rest of us."

OS X is just another Unix with a pretty face.