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Mac OS X comes to fruition with 10.1

Now that the bugs have been worked out, most will want to rush out and upgrade. Mac Advisor hed: Mac OS X comes to fruition with 10.1 dek: now that the bugs have been worked out, most will want to rush out and upgrade. by Dennis Sellers

With Mac OS X 10.1, the first major (if awkwardly named) upgrade to Apple’s next-generation operating system, Apple’s new operating system is ready for prime time.

Version 10.1 is, for all practical purposes, the first truly complete version of the operating system. It’s what the first released version should have been, and the one that many Mac users (such as yours truly) have been waiting for. It’s replaced Mac OS 9.2 as the default operating system on all my Macs.

As Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised, everything about Mac OS X has seen a performance increase. Applications launch two to three times faster. Aqua menus are about four times faster, and resizing of windows is up to five times faster. File copying is at least twice as fast; in fact, some files copy so fast that I double-check to make sure the copying operating actually occurred. Boot and log-in time is faster in 10.1, as is Java, OpenGL, and file copying.

Even the Classic environment, the most sluggish part of Mac OS X, opens a bit faster in 10.1. When it comes to graphics beyond speed enhancements, Mac OS X 10.1 takes full advantage of the latest PDF version 1.3 with features like 128-bit encryption already adopted from the upcoming 1.4 PDF specification.

The controversial Dock is still there, but it’s now much more flexible. It can be moved from the bottom of your screen (to which it was previously anchored) to the left or right sides of the screen. Apple also added system status icons on the menu bar just to the left of the clock. Users can click on these to control basic system functions like Internet connections or managing the battery of a PowerBook. Application icons in the Dock can now be used to control specific applications. For example, a user can now control iTunes without running the actual application. Just click and hold the iTunes dock icon, and select a command from the menu that pops up. Ken Bereskin, director of Mac OS product marketing, said that this is an application programming interface (API) that Apple provides to developers, and that any application that wishes dock control can easily add it.

Mac OS X 10.1 adds built-in support for burning CDs and DVDs and, at long last, for playing DVD movies. You can now burn DVD-R data discs directly in the Finder on Mac systems equipped with a SuperDrive. There’s also now inherent support for more digital cameras, printers, and other “digital hub” peripherals. For instance, almost all USB printers are now supported. Specific features of most printers are now supported, too, and users can save individual custom settings for printers.

Networking is also much improved. An SMB/CIFS client has been integrated with Mac OS X. Version 10.1 can connect to virtually any network system with support for AFP over TCP/IP, AFP over AppleTalk, SMB/CIFS, NFS, and WebDAV protocols.

Beefed-up iDisk support is now based on the Internet-standard HTTP Web-server extension WebDAV. iDisk is the iTools feature that provides Mac users with online data storage capabilities in capacities from 20MB to 1GB. WebDAV is a multiplatform networking protocol that works on various flavors of Windows and Linux. In fact, Apple says that versions of Windows and Linux running a WebDAV client can access iDisks the same way Mac users can.

Previously, if you mounted your iDisk on your desktop but didn’t actively use it, Apple’s servers would log you off after a period of inactivity. That changes with iDisk under 10.1–now you can have your iDisk mounted indefinitely. And now iDisk is more firewall-savvy; by communicating the same way that a Web browser does, iDisk can operate without any problems behind corporate or personal firewall products-enabling iDisk to work in more secure environments.

Graphics support

If you’re into 3D graphics, you’ll be pleased to know that Mac OS X 10.1 has enhanced 3D graphics performance with updated OpenGL software and full support for the NVIDIA GeForce3 card. Mac OS X 10.1 also comes with ColorSync 4, which packs support for ICC color management and a revised user interface. Mac OS X 10.1 adds fully integrated ColorSync 4. It has automatic monitor detection, and users can embed color profiles to any files created within 10.1. Also, users can add profiles to media downloaded to the Mac, such as photos from a digital camera. Additionally, users can strip profiles if desired. Finally, basic apps like Preview and Mail support ColorSync and will display images properly. One of the benefits of this is that users can e-mail images and be sure of proper color management within Mac OS X 10.1.

The update also provides surprisingly potent improvements to AppleScript (the system-level automation utility), and full support for Internet scripting using SOAP and XML. AppleScript is bigger and better in the new operating system. It offers more scriptable applications, toolbar scripts, QuickTime scripts, and more. For instance, 10.1 beefs up Finder scripting. Scriptable applications now include Print Center, Internet Connect, the Terminal, Image Capture, Mail, Sherlock, and TextEdit, as well as the Finder itself. And a goodie called AppleScript Studio is due later this year. Studio will combine AppleScript with two of Apple’s IDE (Integrated Development Environment) tools: Project Builder and Interface Builder. AppleScript Studio is designed to let users make script applications that look, feel, and act just like Mac OS X applications.

A new automated file extension management capability has been designed to facilitate the sending, receiving, opening, and reading of any file type. It provides options that let users make an extension visible for a single file or for all files on their Mac.

Mac OS X 10.1 now automatically hides and exposes the three-letter file extensions that many other operating systems typically use. When working on your Mac or with another Mac, users don’t see the file extensions. However, if a user of another system that needs those extensions connects to that Mac, he’ll see all the necessary file extensions. In other words, Macs continue to use their own system for identifying file types, but Mac OS X now understands extensions and handles them properly, making it much easier to exchange files between Mac and Windows systems.

Native applications

When 10.1 went on sale Sept. 29, there were still complaints about a dearth of applications. However, the programs are now coming quick and fast. By the time this column sees print, Office X, Microsoft’s Mac OS X-only version of its productivity suite, should be on sale. And Apple should have released its much-anticipated iDVD 2, which is needed for Mac OS X users to take advantage of the SuperDrive that ships on Apple’s midrange and high-end G4 mini-towers. iDVD 1.x won’t run under Mac OS X even in the Classic environment. Without it, you have to reboot into Mac OS X 9.x to make a homegrown DVD.

Of course, those who work in high-end graphics and video are waiting for Mac OS X-native versions of Adobe’s Photoshop and Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro applications. And Palm Desktop, the personal information manager used by lots of Mac users, still isn’t Mac OS X native. According to the folks at Palm, Palm X will arrive sometime before the end of the year.

Shortfalls

While most users praised the ability of the Dock to shut off the “genie” effect, others who aren’t crazy about the Aqua interface’s eye candy wish Apple would take it a step further and offer options to make Aqua buttons stop throbbing, and to shut off or adjust the feature that makes menus and windows semitransparent.

And while the new system-status icons in the menu bar make it easier to perform routine chores, they still don’t offer the clean, convenient Control Strip in the traditional Mac OS. It would be nice if Apple revived the Control Strip. many of my colleagues in the Mac press also miss the “spring-loaded” folders that made it fast and easy to jump through your Mac’s file system.

Something else we’d like to see make a comeback are instant-access keys in the Open dialog box. It was nice to be able to type in a single letter and jump right to that position in the file list. Heck, better yet, I’d love to see Mac OS X’s Open dialog box pack the punch of Power On Software’s Action Files utility for the classic Mac operating system. Use it and you can rename files on the fly, send ’em to the trash, and more. Mac OS X could definitely use that bit of functionality.

One area that needs a speed boost is network performance. It’s still pretty sluggish. Of course, Mac OS X has much more powerful networking capabilities than its predecessors, so some performance hit may be unavoidable.

Though Mac OS X’s Print Center is solid, it still needs some work. If you run into problems getting the OS to recognize a printer (which probably won’t happen), the resulting dialog boxes can be confusing. And there’s no USB printer-sharing feature available.

Finally, gamers such as my son may want to wait a bit longer before making Mac OS X their main operating system. Though most of the games I’ve tried work well in the Classic environment of Mac OS X, there’s still a dearth of X-native entertainment titles. And as I write this, there’s still no joystick or gamepad drivers for the next-generation operating system.

Yes, there are still improvements to be made, and it’s not yet for everyone. After all, Mac OS X is the Mac operating system for the future-at least 15 years, according to Apple. Besides, there are only two kinds of operating systems: works in progress and ones that are dead in the water.

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