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February
2002

The Case for Mac OS X

As a graphic artist, I have used Macintosh computers since 1989. Oh sure, I’ve used other computers with various operating systems—Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, DOS, Solaris—but I never stray far from my Mac. Not just because I’m in one of Apple’s niche markets, but because their computers make sense. I look at computers in a Star Trek sense. I want to walk up, say “Computer!” and get to work. I usually don’t want to have to dork with my computer. The Mac platform has always seemed to be closer to that utopia for me and that is why I am so excited about the recent changes in the Mac OS.

In March of 2001, Apple Computer released the first version of their radically redesigned operating system for Macintosh computers, Mac OS X (pronounced ‘oh-es-ten’ although it is fun to say ‘oh-es-eks’). The previous version of the Mac operating system had been updated continuously since its introduction in 1984, but it lacked many modern features of other operating systems like Windows NT or UNIX. With OS X, Apple finally brings features such as protected memory, preemptive multitasking, advanced memory management, and symmetric multiprocessing to the Mac side of the computer universe.

At the core of OS X is the industrial strength of BSD UNIX, a very popular and widely used operating system. For the hard-core geek, you have complete access to the power of a command-line interface (Fig 1). But true to Apple’s nature, they have built an incredibly user-friendly graphical interface, called Aqua, to harness this horsepower for the rest of us.

Fig. 1

The Aqua interface is very easy on the eyes, with scalable icons, jewel-like buttons and elegant drop shadows. Buttons throb slowly, compelling you to click them. At the bottom of the screen (by default, but movable) is the Dock (Fig 2); an area that keeps icons for commonly used items and currently running programs. Minimize a window and it slips gracefully into the Dock, minimize a movie and it keeps playing in the Dock! Move the mouse over the Dock and the icons magnify hypnotically when the cursor draws near.

Fig. 2

In X, when you are presented with open or save dialog boxes or other messages, they are visually associated with the window to which they are connected (Fig 3). This operating system is chock full of these kind of visual pointers to help streamline your computing experience.

Fig. 3

Mac OS X is basically what advocates of “Linux-on-the-Desktop” have been asking for, an implementation of UNIX with an interface anyone can use. The core kernel of OS X, called Darwin, has been released publicly under Apple’s open source license. You can download source code for many Linux programs and compile them into OS X applications with tools included in the OS X package.
One of the biggest arguments against using Macs has always been the lack of the same software variety as on Windows. With OS X out for less than a year, there are now over 2,500 applications that run natively in X. Since UNIX is at the heart of OS X, it is simple to port over UNIX programs. Mac programmers are rapidly becoming UNIX programmers and vice-versa. Many of your favorite programs are already available for OS X including Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, Quicken Deluxe, America Online, Connectix Virtual PC and Corel Draw. There are also games aplenty including The Sims, Tomb Raider, Wolfenstein and Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds are due out early this year. For applications that have yet to be ported to OS X, Apple includes the older Mac OS 9.2, which will boot up in the background (Fig 4) to run legacy Mac programs.

Fig. 4

Mac OS X is now at version 10.1, with Apple adding features, drivers and improving overall speed and stability. Most hardware drivers have been updated to work with OS X and the few that haven’t are in development. Straight out of the box, OS X can network with Windows and UNIX computers as well as other Macs. Mac OS X only runs on Apple’s G3 or G4 based computers including their iMac and iBook lines. And requires at least 128 MB RAM.
If you have ever thought about trying a Mac, now is a great time. Users new to the Macintosh operating system will probably have an easier transition than will long-time Mac users who have to unlearn some old habits. Mac OS X is built on many standard technologies and is designed to support Macintosh computers throughout the next decade. And, of course, OS X comes with many of Apple’s hot, free programs like iTunes, iMovie and the ultra cool new iPhoto. You can find more info about Mac OS X at www.apple.com/macosx.
Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at paulv@mac.com. OS X is the coolest operating system I have ever used or seen. Color examples can be seen at www.GraphicsGuy.org.
 

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