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Upgrade with caution

Mac OS 9.1 paves the way for OS X. Mac Advisor hed: Upgrade with caution dek: Mac OS 9.1 paves the way for OS X. by Dennis Sellers

Mac OS X, Apple’s next-generation operating system, is getting all the attention from Apple, but Mac OS 9.1 was released with little fanfare in January. It may be the last upgrade of the traditional Mac operating system, although there are rumors of one last revision to be dubbed Mac OS 9.5.

Be that as it may, Mac OS 9.1’s changes are subtle, designed mainly to begin transitioning Mac users to OS X, which Apple has plainly called the future of the Mac operating system. OS 9.1 paves the way with somewhat mixed results.

Starting up

The OS upgrade helps relieve some of the fear of upgrading to the next generation OS by providing the ability to use both 9.1 and X on the same computer. After you install Mac OS 9.1, you’ll see a new Startup Disk control panel that lets you choose a specific System Folder for startup. If you plan on installing Mac OS X, you can have both it and Mac OS 9.1 on the same drive, and use the Startup Disk to switch between the two.

The new Startup Disk also displays every volume in a hierarchical list. Unbootable and unavailable volumes, such as FireWire drives or those that don’t have System Folders, appear dimmed. A clickable arrow lets you open a volume and list any System Folders it may contain, as well as the operating-system version number.

Mac OS 9.1 also shuffles items around in your hard drive to make them more X-ish. After the installation, you’ll find that some of your hard-drive files have moved around, and the Applications folder has been renamed “Applications (Mac OS 9)” in a move approximating OS X’s directory structure. The 9.1 installer moves the Internet, Apple Extras, and Utilities folders into the renamed folder. Once that happens, its new moniker can no longer be changed via the Finder. The update also deletes several preferences files, including Finder Preferences.

Mac OS 9.1 also removes items from the Apple Menu Items folder, such as the Note Pad application. But the old Note Pad can be reinstalled into Apple Extras. Meanwhile, OS 9.1 puts things back into the Apple Menu that you may have removed, such as Scrapbook or Stickies. It also puts font files in the Fonts folder, overwriting any existing font files with the same name. All this shuffling can cause problems for aliases and programs that expect to find these files in their previous locations. In other words, you may get errors stating that these files cannot be found.

Apple’s official explanation for this reshuffling: “This version of Mac OS 9 has a new file arrangement that simplifies the root directory and helps to prepare the user for the transition to Mac OS X. The new file layout has fewer folders at the root level. In fact, it has only four: System, Documents, Apple Extras, and Applications (Mac OS 9).”

Installing OS 9.1 also places a Window menu in the Finder (yep, Mac OS X has a Windows menu) that lists all open windows. Those that have been windowshaded are identified with a dash. You windowshade a window by double clicking the title bar to collapse it. The Windowshade feature is an option that can be enabled via the Appearance control panel.

Control panels

Some control panels have also been tweaked. The General Controls panel has a slightly revised look, but works pretty much the same as before. The main change is that it now accounts for multiple users, meaning that each user can now have independent settings on one machine. Missing are the Folder Protection options that provided a measure of security against those who tamper with other users’ settings for the System and Application folders. Why, I’m not sure.

The maximum disk-cache size in the Memory control panel has been increased to 32,736KB from 8160KB. This is meant to help performance when allocating large files on large HFS Plus volumes (220GB and larger) initialized with the prior default allocation block size of 4KB.

You can now share USB printers over Ethernet networks using USB Printer Sharing 1.0. A new Sound Control panel offers a new look and an additional signal-level meter and gain control for whichever input device is chosen.

Finder changes

There also are several enhancements and fixes in the Finder itself. The Get Info windows for applications now allow more flexible editing of the memory partitions. For instance, you can now make changes to either field without the Finder warning you about invalid memory configurations. Pop-up window tabs are now resized appropriately after the screen resolution has been changed.

A new item, Connect to iDisk, has been added to the Shortcuts button in Navigation Services window. And Mac OS 9.1 lets you empty the trash using the Command-Shift-Delete combination.

Performance and stability improvements

In addition to interface changes, there are under-the-hood revisions, as well. OS 9.1 has a new Process Manager that speeds up event handling, switching between applications, overall system performance, and laptop performance when running on a battery.

The update adds FireWire 2.7 support. This corrects, among other things, a previous crashing problem that could occur when unplugging/replugging devices during QuickTime movie Playback. OS 9.1 also comes with OpenGL 1.2, which adds more Velocity Engine optimizations. (The Velocity Engine, also known as AltiVec, is extra circuitry in Power Macs designed to accelerate multimedia functions).

A new feature called vDSP provides vector and scalar digital-signal processing functions that developers can incorporate into their applications, particularly those involving sound, including MP3 and speech handling, as well as video processing. URL Access, which adds Internet features to applications, now includes 128-bit encryption for high-level security.

System requirements and availability

The 9.1 upgrade requires 350MB of free hard-drive space. And while the installation procedure is similar to that of Mac OS 9.0.4, Apple has made it easier to set up the Multilingual Internet feature, which lets you surf the Web in multiple languages.

Be aware that the Mac OS 9.1 Update and full-install CD don’t install all the same files; the Software Update Mac OS 9.1 only contains a subset of the full 9.1 available on CD. For instance, Mac OS 9.1 installs ColorSync 3.0.3. However, this is missing from the downloadable update. Other items that come with the CD and not the download include such control panels as Date & Time 8.3.1; Keyboard 8.5.3; Sound 8.5.3; and Startup Disk 9.0.1, as well as an updated DVD Player (version 2.5). USB Software goes to version 1.4.8 and FireWire drivers to 2.8 on the CD, but not the download.

OS 9.1 compatibility issues

Mac OS 9.1 fixes several bugs in previous OS 9 versions, improves the overall speed and stability of the system for most users, and sets the stage for OS X. But not surprisingly, there are compatibility issues, involving some applications and peripherals such as scanners.

The snafus are difficult to pin down because few are consistent among users and machines. That’s most likely because of the quantity of control panels, extensions, and drivers that can be used to customize the Mac OS-few people have the same system setup. This should change with Mac OS X, when extensions go the way of the dinosaur, at least for software designed for X.

One problem with Mac OS 9.1 that can be duplicated involves Apple’s AppleScript scripting language. AppleScript’s Remote Access Commands aren’t installed with Mac OS 9.1 since they’re not compatible with Remote Access 4.0. As a result, Remote Access Commands aren’t available to script writers in Mac OS 9.1.

And problems have been reported with Photoshop and Quark, although the nature of the problems can vary. For instance, some folks have reported an intermittent problem with Photoshop and OS 9.1 in opening JPEG files. If you’re experiencing this, try saving the JPEGs as Standard, not Optimized or Progressive. Also, some 9.1 users have found that some Photoshop filters don’t work correctly after they’ve updated their operating system.

Another intermittent problem involves Quark. If you use Quark’s built-in Function key commands (like F7’s turn-on/turn-off guides), the system takes over and says the function keys have yet to be set up by the keyboard control panel. If you want Quark to continue using its own function key commands, you can use the 9.1’s Keyboard 8.5.2 control panel option to turn off “Hot Function Keys.”

Also, if you’re having trouble running Adobe’s Press Ready under Mac OS 9.1, there may be no choice but to reinstall Mac OS 9.0.4. Adobe has stated that it will do no more development work on PressReady.

Some people have experienced Type 2 errors when launching applications such as Quark or Photoshop. But others say they run just fine on their Macs under 9.1. The problem/solution may lie in the configurations of specific Mac hardware systems.

If you’re having problems with graphics/DTP products such as Photoshop, Quark, Illustrator, and PageMaker, make sure that you have the latest version (4.6.1) of the Adobe Type Manager control panel, which you can download from Adobe’s Web site

The best place to get info and solutions about OS 9.1 conflicts and solutions is the MacFixIt Web site

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