The Practical Mac

8 OS X Gotchas

- 2002.02.12 - Tip Jar

Mac OS X is the most advanced operating system on the planet. It is the most stable GUI-based OS. I have recently chronicled two completely successful migrations to OS X, and upgrade "horror stories" are few and far between - especially considering that the upgrade to OS X is essentially a change to an operating system which is, at its very core, fundamentally different from any Macintosh OS that came before.

While no one would seriously challenge these statements, OS X is by no means perfect. Here is a (not necessarily exhaustive) collection of what could best be called "unexpected results" that you might experience upon upgrading to OS X.

1. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to sync we go.

Not in OS X you won't. The Palm Desktop is still in beta, and no conduit to sync Entourage with your Palm device will exist until Palm Desktop is in general release. Fortunately the people I have spoken to at the Genius Bar expect this to happen soon. If you cannot remember to brush your teeth or eat lunch without your Palm reminding you, now is probably not the best time to upgrade your Mac to OS X.

2. Adobe Acrobat is Carbonized. Sort of.

The Adobe Acrobat 5.0.5 update partially carbonizes this popular application. About all the update really does is allow Acrobat to run natively in OS X. The features which allow you to create a PDF by printing to the Adobe Postscript driver are not available in OS X. You can set up a "virtual printer" and choose to save your document as a PDF. However, this does not give you as much control over PDF creation as the Adobe driver, and I have had several occasions where I needed the additional tweaks that Acrobat would give me. I would expect this to be resolved and Acrobat fully Carbonized in the near future.

3. I can't Print!

Or, more likely, the people who used to print to your shared USB printer can't print. USB printer sharing does not exist in OS X. In fact, I know of no way to share your printer in OS X. It is interesting to note that OS X can print to a printer connected to an OS 9 workstation and shared through USB printer sharing.

I have experienced this "gotcha" firsthand. My wife has a brand-new HP LaserJet 1200 which I had been sharing. When we got her a PowerBook G4 running OS X, I was no longer able to use the printer.

I cannot speculate as to whether this will ever be corrected. However, there are at least three manufacturers who make wireless print servers which will allow you overcome this limitation: HP, DLink and Buffalo Technology. The HP and Buffalo models specifically state that they are compatible with AirPort. The HP model does not mention whether it is compatible with OS X. However, starting at $199 they are a lot more expensive that USB printer sharing, which is, of course, free.

4. My scanner won't scan.

Scanner drivers seem to be lagging further behind the curve than those for other peripherals. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my Umax Astra 6400 would not function in OS X - or even in Classic Mode. I had to reboot into OS 9 to use it. Fortunately, an alert reader told me about a great shareware program called VueScan, which allows my scanner to work in OS X.

While VueScan allows me to use my scanner, it does not provide a TWAIN driver. This means that, among other things, I can't scan directly to Adobe Acrobat. I have to scan to a TIFF, then open it in Acrobat. This is a bit cumbersome, but not nearly as bad as having to reboot to OS 9.

5. Where did my Locations go?

Location Manager does not exist in any significant form in OS X. The OS X iteration of Location Manager only controls Internet connection settings - and even those it does not import from OS 9 when you upgrade. I travel a lot and had about 11 different settings that I had to reenter manually after my upgrade. There is no support for automatically changing your file sharing settings, time zone, or any other other functions available in OS 9's Location Manager.

The person I talked to at Apple was unsure whether this functionality would be restored in a future release. He felt sure that if it wasn't, a third party developer would fill the void.

On the bright side, OS X does have a feature called "Automatic" detection of location. It can detect whether there is an AirPort or ethernet connection and activate the appropriate network connections. Unfortunately, 9 of my 11 locations involve modem connection from various cities. Although the "Automatic" setting can detect that I have no AirPort or ethernet connection, it cannot figure out which city I am in, so I usually set the location manually. Maybe if Apple can build a GPS into the next iBook....

6. ATI graphics support, or lack thereof

If you own a beige Power Mac G3 (Rev. A and B plus the All-in-one), Rev. A-D iMac, WallStreet or Lombard PowerBook, or an original iBook or iBook SE, you may find your graphics support sub-par after your OS X upgrade. It is safe to say that this will not be remedied unless a third party steps up to the table and writes the appropriate drivers (see Rage at Being Left Behind).

7. No (easy) way to recover from GUI lockups

Users of Linux and the Gnome or KDE desktop, or Unix users familiar with CDE, know that GUI lockup does not necessarily equal OS lockup. While your user interface might stop responding, the OS kernel continues to work away, unaffected. You can restart the GUI without having to reboot the computer.

Theoretically, you should be able to do the same thing in OS X. But if you can, I can't figure out how. I have heard that it is possible to telnet into the Mac and restart the GUI that way, but I don't think that is a real option for most of us. Ideally, there should be some key combination that would bring up a box offering to restart Aqua.

8. Not enough information on file overwrite

We keep our financial information in Quicken, which resides on my wife's PowerBook G4. I have a copy of the application only on my iMac DV. I access the data file on her PowerBook. Periodically, I copy the data file to my iMac for backup purposes. In OS 9, the dialog box that popped up when I did the copy informed me that an older copy of the file existed on the destination and asked if I wanted to overwrite it. I always felt comfortable that I was copying files in the right direction.

In OS X, the dialog box just tells me that a file of the same name exists on the destination, but it does not tell me whether it is older. I fear that one day I am going to get the windows mixed up and overwrite the wrong file. This may seem like a minor issue, but it could have devastating consequences for a user in the right (wrong?) circumstances. This is an issue that needs to be addresses by Apple in the next update.

All in all, OS X is a giant leap forward. Most of these issues should be resolved in the near future. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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