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Installation Day: 48 Hours Till OS X Ships

March 22, 2001|JIM HEID |

This weekend, thousands of Mac users will forget the great outdoors and ignore their household chores. Instead, they'll be installing Apple's Mac OS X--the Mac's new system software goes on sale Saturday for $129.

As I've noted in past columns, Mac OS X is Apple's most ambitious operating system yet. Its goal: combine the reliability of Unix with the friendliness of the Mac, while also introducing a glitzy new look and retaining compatibility with pre-OS X programs.

Does it succeed? Apple wouldn't part with the final software in time for me to write this column, but sources familiar with the final version had high praise for it--as well as some complaints about missing software components and setup snags.

According to sources, Mac OS X will include three CD-ROMs. One contains Mac OS X; another has Mac OS 9.1, which OS X uses to run existing Mac software in so-called Classic mode. The third CD contains programmers' tools.

When installing Mac OS X, you can optionally erase your hard drive first. Consider doing so if you're upgrading from an old, pre-OS 9 system. This ensures your hard drive has the latest driver software. Erasing the drive is also prudent if you've been running the OS X public beta. Back up your documents first, even if you don't erase your drive before installing.

Testers I talked to say Mac OS X performs well. OS X reportedly starts up at least as quickly as OS 9.1, and its virtual memory features (which enable the OS to treat the hard drive as an extension of memory) are far faster than in older operating systems. As for memory, Apple recommends 128 megabytes, but 256 MB is more realistic--and essential if you'll be running existing programs in Classic mode.

OS X's setup program walks you through, specifying Internet and other system settings. But users of Excite's @Home cable modem service might be in for extra work because the setup program reportedly doesn't ask for information required by @Home, forcing users to delve into the System Preferences window to enter the information manually. Some DSL subscribers might also fall victim to this flaw.

As for other software, OS X will include Internet Explorer 5.1, an OS X-native version of Microsoft's superb Web browser. You'll also get the final version of Apple's QuickTime 5 multimedia software as well as an e-mail program and other utilities.

What won't be included is also noteworthy. Apple was unable to finish the native versions of iMovie and iTunes in time, but both should be available for downloading within a week or two. If you want to play DVDs under OS X, expect a longer wait--OS X's DVD playback software might not be available until May. Apple's challenge, according to one source, is to implement DVD playback in a way that will make it difficult for DVD pirates to intercept and save DVD content--something that Mac OS X's Unix underpinnings would otherwise make easy.

In the meantime, you can always boot up under Mac OS 9.1 to play DVDs. Indeed, being able to start up under OS 9.1 when necessary helps ease upgrade worries. Upgrade to OS X whenever you're ready--if the products you rely on aren't OS X-native or don't work in its Classic mode, restart under OS 9.1.

Speaking of hardware compatibility, OS X includes a printer driver that reportedly works well with Epson and Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers. FireWire-based hard drives also work, as do USB-based Iomega Zip drives. Third-party CD burners will reportedly require software updates. The first release of OS X is just that, and Apple is already working on a successor that will provide more customizing options and other improvements. Code named Puma, it debuts in July, when Apple plans to pre-install OS X on new Macs.

Apple will host OS X events at retailers nationwide this weekend. For a list of locations, go to and look for the listing at In-Store Events. I'll write about my own experiences with OS X in a few weeks. In the meantime, have a fun weekend.


Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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