Charles Moore's Mailbag

The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again, Part 2

Charles Moore - 2001.05.29 - Tip Jar

Wow! Last week's OS X CurmudgeonGrumbles Again article certainly precipitated a tsunami ofmail. A few respondents agreed with me; the largest proportion werecritical. You can read them below.

But before you do, permit me to address some of the criticismsyou will find therein.

First, I have used OS X - not a lot, but my son has beenrunning it on his LombardPowerBook since the developer preview builds of early 2000.It's been his main working system since the public beta wasreleased last summer, so I have a fairly extensive andcomprehensive reference to draw on.

Secondly, I am aware that there are actually lines of codehidden under the iconic structure of the Classic Mac OS Finder. Iknow about Open Firmware (I've never actually done anything withit). I have had MacsBug installed on all of my Macs since my 1974LC 520; I occasionally use it toretrieve unsaved text after a crash, which involves a bit ofcommand line entry, so I'm not completely uninitiated in CL mumbojumbo.

As to the issue of the Classic Mac OS GUI being a "shell" on topof the underlying code, I suppose it could be described that way,but the point that I was asserting in the previous article is thatthe old Mac OS was written from the get-go with GUI as anintegrated element. OS X Aqua is much more of a "shell" in thesense that the underlying Unix code was developed separately, withAqua added later.

I freely admit that I can only conceptualize these things quitebroadly and generally. I'm not a programmer. However, Marc Zeedar,whose comments about OS X inspired my latest curmudgeonlymusings, is a programmer and the author of the cool, nonlinear,Z-Write word processor. He has arrived at a similarconceptualization.

In short, OS X is simply not, and cannot be expected to be,as slickly and seamlessly integrated shell-to-kernel (to use Unixterminology) as the old Mac OS.

As for my comment about the Classic Mac OS being harder tobreak, of course if you trash the System file or the Finder or oneof the other key files, you can break it. Duh. The point I wasattempting to make is that if one does break it in such a manner,it can easily be fixed by simply dragging in the missing componentfrom somewhere else, or, if that's not practical, in doing a custominstall of just the missing components. As I understand it, this isnot the case with Mac OS X (I invite correction if I'mmistaken) and the minimum you can get away with it is a reinstallof one of four modules each containing dozens or hundreds (orthousands?) of files.

One of the reasons I'm a bit hazy on these points is that Ihaven't been able to get OS X to install at all on my WallStreet PowerBook, which I supposehas jaundiced my perspective on the new system somewhat. Beforedashing off an email telling me what I'm doing wrong, please readthearticle I wrote for MacOpinion on the topic. If you can thinkof anything we haven't tried, I'd be glad to hear about it, butwe've covered the obvious stuff. I have subsequently done acomplete reformat of the hard drive, and OS X still refuses toinstall. SuSE Linux, on the other hand, installed without ahitch.

A particularly felicitous quality of the classic Mac OS is thatyou can make up a quick and dirty boot disk by simply dragging theSystem file, Finder, a couple of other key files, and whatevercontrol panels and extensions you need to, say, a Zip disk. I didthis when I reformatted my hard drive several weeks ago asinsurance, as we were not sure whether the WallStreet's refusal toboot from the OS X install CD was a glitch in the PowerBook'sCD-ROM drive or not. It was not; the 'Book boots fine from anOS 9 install CD, but it also booted right up from mycobbled-up OS 9.1 on the Zip disk. Of course, you couldn't getOS X on a Zip disk, even if it would drag.

I am going to miss this sort of flexibility. Last spring, Iinstalled the OS 9.0.4 upgrade on top of my OS 9.0 installation.Mac OS 9.0.4 was not a happy camper on my WallStreet, and afterseveral days of relentless crashing, I decided to revert to OS 9.0.However, I didn't want to go through the hassle of a completesystem reinstall, so I just opened Extensions Manager, identifiedall the files labeled OS 9.0.4, and dragged them to the Trash. Ithen booted from the OS 9 install CD and ran the installer. Thisworked fine, and I was back to OS 9.0 with a minimum of fuss andbother. I don't think we will be able to do stuff like that withOS X.

For one thing, there are so many tiny little files, most withunintelligible names. When I trashed the OS X system we trieddragging files onto my WallStreet (it didn't work, and yes, we usedResEdit to find all the invisible files), I recall that there weremore than 33,000 of the little critters that went to the dumpster.I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

As I said in the previous column, I'm not really interested inengaging in polemics with OS X lovers. If you like OS X,I'm genuinely happy for you. My son thinks it is great.

Maybe I'll eventually learn to like it, too, but I'm not holdingmy breath. When I get my next Mac, I will certainly installOS X and play with it, but until it will do everything I needit to do faster and better and slicker than OS 9.1 does, I'm notinterested in switching. It would be illogical to do so.

Stability? At this writing, I haven't restarted my PowerBook formore than a week (I'm not precisely sure of the date of my lastrestart ). I am up to "Untitled 140" in Tex Edit Plus documents.The 'Book has been running steadily ten hours a day. I've had 20 orupwards applications open throughout, although Mozilla has crashedon me three or four times, requiring MacsBug force quits. ViaVoicehas run out of memory once, and several other applications have"unexpectedly quit" over the week, but OS 9.1 is still gamelyplugging along, in spite of all these insults, with no signs yet ofthe flakiness that usually portends a Finder crash. OS X maybe more stable, but I don't have any serious stability problemswith OS 9.1.

Like I said, I'll switch when I perceive a compelling reason todo so.

Thanks to everyone who wrote. I thought all the letters madesome interesting points.

MR Mailbag

From Bill Jagitsch

Subject: Re: The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

Your article has some valid points, all of which I believe willbe moot within 6-9 months.

  1. Drag installing Classic Mac OS - true this makes it infinitelyeasier to install than any other OS on the planet, but really,what's the big deal with waiting an extra 10 minutes whileOS X loads from a CD? I installed X on a 250 MHz 7500 with aPowerLogix G3 card in about 20 minutes. OS 9 drag install took 10minutes.
  2. Command line "hieroglyphics" - if you check Version Tracker,there are dozens of apps released each week that perform what werecommand line tasks in the GUI - just as I predicted back in '97when everyone suddenly had heart attacks because the Mac OS now hadthe oh-so-horrible-and-scary command line interface. There are somany users like yourself who are either lazy or afraid to learn20-30 simple commands that the hackers out there can make sharewaremoney off of, so I wouldn't worry about it.
  3. Hard to break classic Mac OS? Hmmm, which classic Mac OS areyou using that's so hard to break? All you have to do is removeeither the Finder, the System kernel, the appearance extension andabout 4 other components (just removing one of any of these) andyou no longer have a bootable system.
  4. If you don't like X, don't use it. There are still Luddites outthere who use System 6 and 7 exclusively, so you won't be withoutsympathy or company. Your current OS 9 apps won't suddenlystop working after X ships on every Mac. Your older Macs thateither cannot run X or that are not supported running X will notsuddenly cease to work when every Mac ships with X. Just pretend Xdoesn't exist, and I think you'll sleep better at night.


From Barry Wall

Subject: We feel your pain...

I wish Apple had spent more time on the GUI of X than they did.They knew they had to keep deadlines due to the sins of the past,and the interface suffered, that much is clear. I have to believethat the Mac GUI will evolve back to it's roots with regard toFinder functions like the drag'n drop install and having it "alwayson" at the desktop level. Right now the real demon to fight is thekludgy performance of X, especially in low-RAM systemconfigurations.

Why Apple would make a Mac that doesn't even meet it's ownstated minimum specs for installed RAM for it's shiny new OS isbeyond me. X, as you know, requires 128 MB; three Macs ship with 64MB still. (Two preconfigured iMacs and the low-end iBook ship with64 by default.) RAM prices are very low right now; there is noexcuse for every Mac to not have 512 MB built in off the assemblyline, 256 at a minimum (That give X 128 and applications some roomto breath.)

Who the heck is going to buy a Mac and pay the premium pricewhen it takes 30 seconds for it to open the browser in 64 MBmachine under OS X? (I exaggerate only slightly...)


From Robert Jung

Subject: Re: The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

You wrote:

I'm not the village idiot, and I don't doubt that I could learnthis stuff if I wanted to and had the time. I don't, in eithercase, and I am more than a little disgruntled at being dragoonedinto doing so.

So how is learning Mac OS X's directory structure, or somebasic Unix commands, or the fundamentals of permission control, anydifferent than learning about using ResEdit, or debugging extensionconflicts, or "blessing" a System folder in Mac OS Classic?

Truth is, it isn't. Both operating systems have their own arcane(to a new user) requirements and secret tricks. Yet I'll wager thatyou didn't consider yourself "dragooned" into learning the tweaksand tricks of Classic, were you? So what's the difference when itcomes to Mac OS X, other than because (a) it's different and(b) your old tricks don't work any more?


From Michel Benevento

Subject: Re: The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles

Mr Moore,

It's silly (not to mention stupid) to think that just becauseyou are unable to see any low level system feedback in the ClassicMac OS, it's any less complex than Unix or Windows.

Apparently, you believe that the icons and windows in theClassic Mac OS are physically present inside your computerenclosure. Not so. In fact, the Classic Mac OS is also a graphicalshell around a low level character based system (even seenmacsbug?). Sorry to bust your bubble. Also, messing around with amultitude of the files in the Classic System Folder will easilybreak your system every time.

What OS X brings is the ability to intervene, but it'snever required. You don't even have to log in or need to have anyroot access by default and are thus protected from messing up yoursystem. So please stop complaining about having to learn CLI orUnix (you don't) and refrain from writing any more of these poorlyinformed, sentimental articles.

Michel Benevento

From Robert Schwarz

Subject: OS X Grumbles...

I know Unix, but so far I haven't had to use any Unix since Iloaded up OS X. Apple thoughtfully provided GUI versions ofmost commands you might use from a command line. Also, if you tryto move a folder that OS X needs, I have found (so far) thatyou are either forbidden to move it (can't even get rid of a LATEBREAKING NEWS text file despite repeated attempts), or OS Xwill recreate it when needed.

I'm very impressed with OS X so far.

Rob Schwarz

From David Chilstrom

Subject: Re: The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

I'd like to address some of the points you make, as I think theyare based in some measure of misunderstanding. You state that "Aquais essentially a graphical shell running on top of the Unix, unlikethe classic Mac OS in which the graphical interface is fullyintegrated with the underlying file structure." The lack of analternate command line interface in OS 9 makes the graphicalinterface of OS 9 no more "fully integrated" than Aqua is inOS X. OS X needn't have any command line tools availableto be completely functional and capable of fully manipulating the"underlying file structure" as well as OS 9 does.

One significant difference, however, is that tinkering with theSystem Folder is not permitted at the Finder level. This is a goodthing, in my view (where I value system stability much more highlythan freedom to hack the System), and actually makes Systemmaintenance a complete no brainer. While drag and drop install ofthe System is currently not doable in OS X, neither is themuch more frequent task of drag and drop installation of mostapplications under OS 9. In this regard, OS X'sapplication packages are much more user friendly. Drag and dropapplication install is the norm in OS X. It brings back fondmemories of the good old days.

While you may find the Classic Mac OS "extremely flexible,tolerant, and forgiving," I make a living by understandingextension voodoo and the myriad interacting factors that cause Macsto go boom. Even with extensions pared to the bare minimum needed,I'm continually dumbfounded at how computers rebooted daily,regularly can't hold up for 8 hours. I wouldn't call OS X arock, but a handful of crashes since September for an always onPowerBook beats the heck out of OS 9.

You state that "It is hard to break the classic Mac OS bymessing around it." As I stated earlier, the user can't mess withthe System folder in OS X at all. In OS 9, you can easilybreak the System by dragging the System file or Finder out of theSystem Folder. Less catastrophic would be unintentionally removingfonts, control panels, extensions, preferences, etc. Installing asingle misbehaving extension can bring OS 9 to its knees. BreakingOS 9 is trivial compared to the effort required to destabilizeOS X.

As for freedom and flexibility, we've already seen early hacksthat add a traditional Apple and Application menu, change the Dockorientation, etc., and more arrive weekly. For those who prefer,OS X offers an alternate command line interface, a flexibilityforbidden by the otherwise "tolerant and forgiving" OS 9.

The fundamental multi-user nature of OS X does bring a newfactor into the Mac experience. On the one hand, it vastly improvesthe experience of sharing a Mac between two or more users. On theother hand, even the GUI bound owner doesn't have carte blanche tomess with the System at will. While system stability issues arecritical in a multi-user context (yes, I care that you hosed thesystem and trashed all my files!), your screw ups on your computerare a less critical issue. Nonetheless, the multi-user necessity ofthe utmost system stability possible, yields a substantial benefitto the lone user.

Using a car analogy, I suppose it's the difference between thehighly tinkerable Classic bug vs. the computer controlled VW oftoday. Which is better? It depends on your values. For those whoprefer to get under the hood, OS 9 has legs for a few yearsyet.

David Chilstrom

From Mel

Subject: re: OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

I really enjoyed reading your article regarding OS X. Iagree with every point you said about it.

It seems Apple is really missing the point in so far as usregular people, who are not programming freaks, can and could tweakall of the versions of Classic Mac OS with reckless abandon and nothave anything major go wrong with it.

While I agree that OS X has a pretty interface, I wouldabsolutely hate having to go down into the command line to fixsomething that went wrong, or worst call some techie to do it forme, which means wasted time, wasted money, lost productivity, andall that while you're hanging around waiting.

This kind of reminds me to of the BeOS which I have run on myPowerCenter. Nice interface,but with a Unix-like command line running underneath it. However,from what I have been reading so far, it seems BeOS (on Power Macsat least) seems to be easier to manipulate over Mac OS X. Ihave not had much experience with Mac OS X except for playingwith it at my local CompUSA store.

I do plan on buying a G4 towersoon, and I guess now I will be forced to take it with OS X. Iguess I better hurry, because the good thing is that OS 9.1 willalso be there and set up as the default OS. I had planned on buyinga G4 before July so I could only get OS 9.1 and not have to botherwith OS X sitting on the same hard drive. I would rather haveOS X boot off a separate, external drive vs. residing on thesame drive as 9.1.

Regardless, I am still planning to buy a new G4 just so that Ihave a computer that can run both. 9.1 to continue using my presentapplications and, of course, OS X to slowly migrate to thefuture.

I will never forget classic Mac OS's because I have too manyolder Macs lying around my little apartment that will make meremember. I love them all because they all have the neat thingsthat they can do with whatever classic Mac OS that is installed inthem.

Keep up the good work here. People need to read both sides ofthe OS story and not be brainwashed by the stuff that comes outfrom only Apple and Steve Jobs. Older Mac OS's are great and willremain great for as long as there are users like me willing to usethem.


From: Pete Ottman

Subject: Linux


When I read you were going to install Linux, I wondered if youwould do what I did when I did this a few years ago on the first PCI ever built, and it seems you had a similar reaction. After I gotit installed and running, I played with it about a half hour andwent back to my Mac for the rest of the night. Linux may be a bagof chips and all that, but it isn't for the normal computeruser.

As for OS X, I have no experience with it, but I can offera thought or two. Yes, it isn't the traditional Mac OS. Yes, it isa shell on top of Unix. But if Apple does its job, 98-99% of thetime we won't care. Again, as long as Apple does its job correctly,that 1% of the time when it doesn't perform and the system startsfloating belly up, the situation will be a lot better than thetraditional Mac OS and a poorly written program taking a systemdown a few times an hour. At least I hope it will be a bettersituation.

Pete Ottman

From: Jack Shedd

Subject: A Note On Classic...


While I can understand your frustration, I don't believe youreally understand Mac OS X or how classic was actuallybuilt.

First, Classic is no different then OS X in it's GUI. Hitthe "Programmer's Button" on a new Mac, and you'll see the Terminalfor classic. Better know as Open Firmware, it is essentially DOSfor the Macintosh, only a thousand times more archaic. Compared toOF, Unix is ***ing AppleScript.

Most Mac users ignore this facet of Classic, and, especiallynow, it's understandable. People being people will always cling tofamiliar ground, and highlight the days when "prices werereasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected theirelders."

There is no way, either now, nor in the future, to develop an OSthat is entirely graphical. A CLI has to be available and alwayshas been on Macs. Most people just don't know how to get to it,and, unlike Unix, it's so poorly documented unless you are adeveloper, it's worthless.

Also, 90% of the "fix my system" you worry about is largelyresolved with OS X. All of the things that BROKE classic areno longer in OS X, and, if something should arise, DRAG andDROP still applies!

Just my two cents.

Jack Shedd

From xpurple

Subject: The OS X Curmudgeon Grumbles Again

I agree with you in part. Most people don't want to deal withall the hoopla involved with Unix. I do tech support for a living,I already know what's going to happen soon. Lots and lots of callsto Apple's tech support with good questions.

They do hide the Unix pretty well. In all reality there is noreason why the average OS X user will ever have to deal withit. Sure, they could if they wanted to, but they don't actuallyneed to. Ever.

By default even the superuser (root) account is locked out inthe final release. I had to break into my own machine just to getfull access to that account. This should stop a lot of people fromcausing havoc.

Security is important even if you are as isolated as you say youare. Especially since you are running a server OS. Lots of scriptkiddies out there would love to break into your computers just totrade warez, DoS someone, or whatever turns them on.

You would be surprised how many attempted attacks I get, and I'mon a dialup account.

Again I'd like to point out that your right. Most users don'twant, or need to deal with this. Also that OS X doesn't seemto be nearly as refined as Classic. That should improve withtime.

In case your wondering, I'm a Unix/Mac geek.

Thank you :)

From Marc Blaydoe

Subject: OS X


Read your interesting article "The OS X Curmudgeon GrumblesAgain." I think both you and Marc Zeedar are missing a relativelyimportant point: the Unix/CLI underpinnings of OS X arecompletely hidden from the user (unless the user WANTS to accessthe CLI). Your article makes it sound like the CLI isunavoidable.

I have been playing with OS X for a while. I have not usedthe CLI once. To be honest, the CLI in all pre-X OSs is only aprogrammer button push away. I used to use it to get around programbombs, and it came in very handy. I would have to say that the GUIis as integrated into OS X as it ever was in any prior OS,particularly with OpenGL and .pdf for display. The bundling ideathat makes the separate files look like one file is a masterstrokein making Unix complexity simpler for the average user. Networkingis as simple or complex as you need it to be: from none at all toyour own fully functional web server. THAT is POWER.

Marc Zeedar says some very inaccurate things in his column:

And there's the rub. While I applaud Apple for picking Unix asthe basis for their OS - Unix is time-tested and has a loyalfollowing - I am very concerned with how Apple has integrated(perhaps I should say not integrated) a Mac-like interface intoUnix.

Not sure what he is saying: sounds like "I'm glad Apple is usingUnix, but I wish they had not used Unix."

The Mac OS is graphical at its heart. There is no shell ordeeper "core." When you move icons on your desktop, you really arechanging the underlying file structure. It's more than ametaphor.

No, sorry, this is simply NOT TRUE. There has always been acore, and like I said, the CLI is only a push of the programmerbutton away.

With Mac OS X, you don't know what's happening. TheOS X Finder shows you a different set of files than thecommand line! Duplicating files with the OS X Finder causesone thing to happen, while duplicating files at the command linedoes something different.

Duh. Same has always been true in Mac OS from the beginning, fewpeople talked about it is all. Just open ResEdit and pokearound.

Having done some research and learning about Unix, I am amazedat the similarities between it and what always happened on the Mac(and even Windblows) at the core level. The only real differencenow is that we have access to the best of all worlds: Macs will nowbe able to do the few good things that Windows did PLUS havingaccess to all the power of Unix (if you want it). If you don't wantit, don't use it. OS X is designed from the core up to neveruse the terminal app and the CLI if you don't want to. Many, manypeople will use OS X and die of old age never using vi or greponce.

Charles, have you used OS X much at all? You do NOT need toknow any Unix, you don't have to grok GREP. Honest. I mean it isfine to express concerns, but when those concerns are based onincomplete knowledge, I think you do your readers something of adisservice. I might suggest you spend some time playing withOS X before you disparage it any further.

Marc Blaydoe

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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