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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Irksome Traits Are Subtle and Few in OS X

April 26, 2001|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Mac OS X, the new version of the Mac's operating system, has been shipping for a month now. And it's been selling. In a quarterly earnings report issued last week, Apple said Mac OS X generated $19 million in revenue in its first week alone. That's not bad for an operating system that, in many ways, isn't ready for prime time.

How is OS X playing in Peoria? On online discussion boards, the buzz is mixed. Most Mac veterans are gradually coming to terms with its radically different, Unix-based architecture and its glitzy new interface. Surprisingly, few are complaining about having to learn OS X's new navigation techniques and shortcuts.

Most of the complaints surrounding OS X deal with subtler issues. Take mandatory registration, for example. When you install OS X, a program runs that helps you configure key system settings. The program also requires that you register OS X by supplying your name, address, e-mail and telephone information, which are sent to Apple when you connect to the Internet. And unless you uncheck two boxes, you're automatically signed up to receive e-mail offers from Apple and others.

Some users have expressed privacy concerns over mandatory registration. Fortunately, others have discovered an escape hatch: You can bypass registration by pressing Command-Q when the registration screen appears.

Many Mac veterans also are dotty over Mac OS X's use of file extensions, those often-cryptic characters that appear after a period in a file's name. Microsoft Windows and other operating systems use extensions to identify a document's format--.doc for a Microsoft Word document, for example. As Windows users know, by changing a file's extension, you can make it difficult or impossible to open a document. This sad state now exists on the Mac too.

In previous Mac OS versions, information about a file's format was encoded into the file in what are called type and creator codes. These invisible codes eliminate the need for file extensions and the hassles behind them. Although Mac OS X still supports this scheme, it also relies heavily on extensions, and Apple is recommending that software developers do so too.

Apple says this is a feature, not a flaw--that, in today's world of networks and the Internet, file extensions are the most reliable way of indicating what a file is. It's true that the Mac's type and creator codes can be stripped away when you e-mail a file or transfer it to Windows. But embracing file extensions as an alternative? Apple's cure is worse than the disease.

Fortunately, software developers still have the option of using type and creator codes in the Mac OS X versions of their programs. They should. What's more, Apple should tweak OS X to eliminate the risk of causing problems by changing a file's extension.

On the positive side, Apple has already released an update to Mac OS X that improves compatibility with third-party Universal Serial Bus, or USB, devices and fixes some bugs. Mac OS X 10.0.1--there's a mouthful--is free and is automatically downloaded by Mac OS X, which checks for updates once a week. The updating process worked perfectly for me, although users short on disk space have reported problems.

And what's the state of Mac OS X programs? Apple has shipped OS X-native versions of its iTunes jukebox software and iMovie video editor. Both are free and available through the Mac OS X Web site at http://www.apple.com/macosx. Macromedia has announced that the OS X version of its FreeHand illustration program will be available within a couple of weeks. But although many major developers have announced plans to support OS X, few have set specific ship dates.

As for me, I've installed Mac OS X on one of my Macs, but I won't use it as my primary operating system until later this year, when the programs I rely on are likely to be available in native form. In the meantime, I'll boot up under Mac OS 9.1 when I want to work and under Mac OS X when I want to feel like a beginner again.

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Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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