Have you switched to Mac OS X? Although the older OS 9 remains a better choice for many types of users, OS X is becoming more viable every day.
How can you tell whether OS X is for you? Start by determining whether the programs you need are available in native OS X form. Here's an end-of-year report card that grades how well OS X addresses each major program category.
Business: B. When Microsoft's Office v. X for Mac shipped in November, OS X immediately became viable for mainstream productivity tasks. The OS X version of Microsoft's Office suite is gorgeous and takes excellent advantage of OS X's features. Some programs are a bit slow, but not unbearably, and future updates will boost performance. Also noteworthy in this category: FileMaker Inc.'s FileMaker database manager, MYOB's AccountEdge and Intuit's Quicken 2002 accounting packages, and IBM's stunning ViaVoice dictation software.
Internet: B. OS X includes Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.1, my favorite browser on any platform. OS X users also can choose from several alternative and specialty browsers, such as OmniWeb and the unique Watson. Microsoft's Entourage, included with Office X, is a stellar e-mail program. And America Online for OS X shipped this month. For streaming media, there's Apple's own QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media Player, but alas, RealNetworks has yet to announce an OS X version of its market-leading RealPlayer.
Digital hub: B. Apple itself is responsible for the good grades here, with its iTunes, iMovie and iDVD programs, with OS X's fine DVD playback and digital camera support, and with the iPod portable music player. Some fine third-party programs live here, too, including Panic's Audion MP3 software. And Roxio's Toast CD-burning software should ship very soon.
Graphics: C. Both Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand are shipping, as is Deneba's Canvas and Procreate's Painter 7. There also are fine OS X animation and 3D programs, but the Goliath of graphics, Adobe Photoshop, won't ship until sometime in 2002.
Page layout: D. No major page-layout program is available for OS X, but Adobe's impressive InDesign 2.0 debuts early next year. It's likely to ship well ahead of the OS X version of QuarkXPress, giving Adobe a real shot at capturing the OS X publishing field.
Web design: D+. The most popular Web-design programs, Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Flash, won't be available for OS X until sometime in 2002; ditto for Adobe's GoLive and LiveMotion. The one bright spot: Bare Bones Software's BBEdit, a popular choice among Web designers who hand-code pages.
Audio and video production: C. Bias Inc. is shipping Peak DV, a fine audio editor. The OS X version of Apple's Final Cut Pro video editor ships this month. Adobe's After Effects video-effects program ships early next year, but the huge array of After Effects add-ons will have to be adapted to run under OS X. Also missing in action: OS X versions of major multitrack audio and music-sequencing programs.
Science and engineering: B-. The OS X version of the legendary Mathematica software is available, and Nemetschek is shipping its VectorWorks drafting program. OS X is being embraced by the science and engineering community, thanks to its Unix underpinnings.
Utilities: C+. Connectix is shipping Virtual PC, which runs Windows under OS X. There also are disk and system utilities from Symantec and MicroMat, the Suitcase font-management utility from Extensis and CE Software's QuicKeys automation and keyboard-shortcut utility.
The bottom line: For many of the niches where the Mac is popular, the transition to OS X will take more time. But for mainstream business and Internet use, OS X has reached its stride. I'm using OS X daily, and I'm restarting under OS 9 less often all the time.
Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.