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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Weighing the Hassles of an OS X Upgrade

April 12, 2001|KAREN KAPLAN |

My grape iMac and I were really looking forward to the release of Mac OS X.

Honestly, we were.

Years of hype indicated that the new Unix-based Apple operating system promised the most dramatic improvement in user experience since Apple began offering Macintosh computers with color monitors in 1987. A college friend who spent seven years on the team that developed OS X whetted my appetite further with periodic updates on his progress.

The $129 price tag felt a little steep, considering that my 18-month-old iMac runs just fine on version 8.6 of the operating system.

Then I got an offer I thought I couldn't refuse: My editors would provide a copy of OS X for free if I would simply install it and write up a review from the point of view of an "average person."

It sounded so simple.

Then I began to consider the logistics of upgrading.

Slowly--and sadly--it dawned on me that I probably would have to wait on OS X until I buy a new iMac in another year or so.

The reason? I have been a Macintosh devotee since 1984 because I have very little patience or aptitude to deal with fussy machines, and Macs are notoriously uncomplicated and user-friendly. Upgrading my operating system would involve just the kind of hassle that led me to embrace Macs in the first place.

I'm not saying that OS X itself is a hassle to use. On the contrary, I'm sure it's wonderful, as everyone says. That only makes this newfound realization more frustrating.

The first hint of trouble came with a suggestion from Jim Heid, the regular Mac Focus columnist, to prepare for the upgrade by erasing my hard drive. That, of course, would require me to back up all of my files.

I know I should back up my files regularly, but I must confess that I don't. If my iMac had a floppy disk drive, such back-ups would be simple. It would even be simple if I were willing to spend $99 on a 100-megabyte Iomega Zip drive, or even $79 on an external floppy drive. So far, I haven't been willing to make either purchase.

The other option is to back up my files on the Web. Not only would this eliminate the need for new hardware, it also would be free.

Dozens of companies--including Xdrive Technologies, I-drive, and Yahoo--offer plenty of free megabytes of online storage space. I experimented with a few of these services about six months ago with my PC at work, and I wasn't able to store files as easily as advertised.

Even if they work better now--or work better with a Mac--that would take care of only my application files. The bigger problem is the applications themselves.

An Apple spokesman, Bill Evans, assures me that my most critical programs--Palm Desktop 2.5, Quicken Deluxe 98 and Microsoft Office 98--will all run just fine in OS X's Classic mode (which is a fancy name for OS 9.1). But I had trouble with some of these programs when I copied them from my Performa to my iMac, so I can't help being nervous about another upgrade.

If all this makes me sound like a technology-fearing Luddite, I'm not. I once upgraded the operating system on my Performa without incident. I've also opened up my Mac to install additional memory.

Yet I worry that with OS X, it will take both time and money to get my iMac working as well as it did before. For instance, Microsoft is developing a version of Office 2001 designed for OS X, but the upgrade will cost about $300.

But it's the hassle factor that aggravates me more than the cost. If I wanted to spend that much time tweaking my computer, I'd buy a PC. Will it be this painful when people upgrade to Windows XP?

I'm sure OS X would be fun to use, if I managed the upgrade. The demos on Apple's Web site ( are quite appealing. And there are lots of cool programs I could run if I upgraded my operating system.

But I'll just hold out until I get a whole new iMac. The ones with OS X preinstalled will begin shipping sometime this summer.


Times staff writer Karen Kaplan covers the Internet. Jim Heid will return next week.

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