Inside the public beta of Mac OS X

Summary:SCOOP: Sources discussed the ins and outs of Apple's first publicly available, modern OS.

Sources who have gotten an early look at Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X Public Beta tell ZDNet News that while the first end-user version of the new OS is more stable and feature-complete than its pre-release predecessors, it lacks many everyday features Mac users take for granted.

The beta, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has promised to roll out during his Wednesday morning keynote speech at Apple Expo in Paris, will let users try their hands at the new OS' Aqua interface, test a variety of new technologies, and run both traditional Mac applications and software optimized for the new OS.

However, sources cautioned, users won't find a seamless combination of "modern OS" features such as protected memory with the compatibility and user-friendliness of the traditional Mac operating system.

Instead, they said, Mac OS X still retains many of the functions of its progenitor: NeXTstep, the OS Apple purchased in 1996 along with Jobs' NeXT Software Inc.

Some current Mac OS accoutrements -- such as complete Universal Serial Bus, FireWire and AirPort support -- will reportedly await the final release currently slated for early 2001. (Sources said that a number of technologies included in earlier developer builds have been removed for the purposes of the public beta.)

Other features, such as extensive Contextual Menus, the Apple Menu and the Application Switcher, seem to be gone forever.

Apple (aapl) has tweaked the OS' Aqua interface, sources said; a Graphite option tones down the standard GUI's candy colors, for example, and the release has reportedly scaled back and relocated the "single-window" mode included in earlier versions. Otherwise, they said, the new release includes most of the NeXT-derived navigation features Jobs first unveiled at January's Macworld Expo/San Francisco.

Other advances from previous versions include full support for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (sunw) Java 2 standard; OpenGL 3D technology; and the symmetric multiprocessing available to owners of Apple's new, multiprocessor Power Mac G4 desktop systems.

The underpinnings of the Mac OS X beta should impress the tech-savvy: a POSIX-compliant kernel based on Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 3.2; Quartz, a 2D imaging model based on Adobe Systems Inc.'s (adbe) Portable Document Format (PDF); QuickTime support; protected memory; an efficient virtual-memory manager; and true pre-emptive multitasking.

As promised, applications can run in three environments within the beta, depending on how they are built.

Current Mac OS programs exist in the Classic environment, which transparently simulates Mac OS 9. Although there's no loss of function, these Classic applications don't get the benefit of Mac OS X's advanced memory features, and one program crashing can force the whole Classic environment to quit.

Carbon applications have been tweaked to the Carbon APIs, a revised subset of the venerable Mac Toolbox. These programs will take advantage of the new memory-management and other features, and they will take on Mac OS X's Aqua look and feel. Few developers have publicly committed to delivering Carbon versions of their products yet, however.

By contrast, the Cocoa environment requires a complete rewrite of applications but should provide the best support for the new OS' most-advanced features.

Overall, sources said, the beta offers better support for Mac applications than its predecessors; however, the Mac OS X public beta retains a strong flavor of NeXTstep, from the default log-in requirement on booting to the included chess application, to the Unix-like, network-oriented file structure. Even NeXTstep's spinning color wheel for the "wait" cursor is still present, sources said.

Sources who have gotten an early look at Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X Public Beta tell ZDNet News that while the first end-user version of the new OS is more stable and feature-complete than its pre-release predecessors, it lacks many everyday features Mac users take for granted.

The beta, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has promised to roll out during his Wednesday morning keynote speech at Apple Expo in Paris, will let users try their hands at the new OS' Aqua interface, test a variety of new technologies, and run both traditional Mac applications and software optimized for the new OS.

However, sources cautioned, users won't find a seamless combination of "modern OS" features such as protected memory with the compatibility and user-friendliness of the traditional Mac operating system.

Instead, they said, Mac OS X still retains many of the functions of its progenitor: NeXTstep, the OS Apple purchased in 1996 along with Jobs' NeXT Software Inc.

Some current Mac OS accoutrements -- such as complete Universal Serial Bus, FireWire and AirPort support -- will reportedly await the final release currently slated for early 2001. (Sources said that a number of technologies included in earlier developer builds have been removed for the purposes of the public beta.)

Other features, such as extensive Contextual Menus, the Apple Menu and the Application Switcher, seem to be gone forever.

Apple (aapl) has tweaked the OS' Aqua interface, sources said; a Graphite option tones down the standard GUI's candy colors, for example, and the release has reportedly scaled back and relocated the "single-window" mode included in earlier versions. Otherwise, they said, the new release includes most of the NeXT-derived navigation features Jobs first unveiled at January's Macworld Expo/San Francisco.

Other advances from previous versions include full support for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (sunw) Java 2 standard; OpenGL 3D technology; and the symmetric multiprocessing available to owners of Apple's new, multiprocessor Power Mac G4 desktop systems.

The underpinnings of the Mac OS X beta should impress the tech-savvy: a POSIX-compliant kernel based on Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 3.2; Quartz, a 2D imaging model based on Adobe Systems Inc.'s (adbe) Portable Document Format (PDF); QuickTime support; protected memory; an efficient virtual-memory manager; and true pre-emptive multitasking.

As promised, applications can run in three environments within the beta, depending on how they are built.

Current Mac OS programs exist in the Classic environment, which transparently simulates Mac OS 9. Although there's no loss of function, these Classic applications don't get the benefit of Mac OS X's advanced memory features, and one program crashing can force the whole Classic environment to quit.

Carbon applications have been tweaked to the Carbon APIs, a revised subset of the venerable Mac Toolbox. These programs will take advantage of the new memory-management and other features, and they will take on Mac OS X's Aqua look and feel. Few developers have publicly committed to delivering Carbon versions of their products yet, however.

By contrast, the Cocoa environment requires a complete rewrite of applications but should provide the best support for the new OS' most-advanced features.

Overall, sources said, the beta offers better support for Mac applications than its predecessors; however, the Mac OS X public beta retains a strong flavor of NeXTstep, from the default log-in requirement on booting to the included chess application, to the Unix-like, network-oriented file structure. Even NeXTstep's spinning color wheel for the "wait" cursor is still present, sources said.

Installation is far simpler than NeXTstep, sources said: Using a step-by-step interface familiar to Mac users, the installation application and the Setup Assistant mimic the Mac OS installation procedure.

Sources said the entire installation process will take less than 10 minutes on a typical Mac that meets the installation requirements: any Power Mac G3 or Power Mac G4; any PowerBook G3 other than the first model; and all iMacs or iBooks, provided they have at least 128MB of RAM and 1.5GB of free disk space.

The software also requires video support through internal video or an Apple-supplied ixMicro or ATI (atytf) video card. One source reported that owners of Voodoo 3D accelerator cards from 3dfx Interactive (tdfx) will have to switch back to the video card that shipped with their computers.

The Mac OS X beta installer will let users install the new OS side by side on an existing Mac OS 9 hard drive -- a boon to users who lack multiple or partitioned drives. (The beta will not recognize second AT attachment disks on Power Macs, sources said.)

Side-by-side installation lets users boot back to the Mac OS 9 environment. Even if installed on an empty disk, Mac OS X can run current Mac applications in Classic mode.

Longtime Mac users might be taken aback by the Mac OS X beta's need for a user name and password when starting up or rebooting the computer -- a remnant of NeXTstep, which was designed for a multi-user, networked environment. Users who forget their user name or password may have to reinstall the OS, sources said.

The Mac OS X beta includes both the Aqua interface Jobs demonstrated at Macworld Expo/San Francisco and the Graphite option he announced at August's Seybold San Francisco 2000.

Selecting Graphite changes window controls and other system buttons from multiple, bright colors to gray.

The Dock -- Mac OS X's kitchen-sink replacement for window shades, the Apple Menu, the Application Switcher and more -- has also been slightly tweaked to include changes that didn't even make it into the beta's user guide, sources said.

For example, the user guide notes that open applications are distinguished from inactive ones in the Dock by three dots displayed beneath them; in the beta, a small arrowhead plays the role. What's more, application icons in the Dock "bounce" as that app is launched (although users prone to seasickness can turn off this behavior).

While previous versions of the Dock let users resize it according to the number of icons in it or hide or unhide it (similar to the Auto-Hide function of the Taskbar in Windows), the beta's Dock can be resized simply by vertically dragging along the thin line that separates application icons from icons denoting documents, minimized windows, folders, servers, Web sites and other elements.

Since the Dock is designed "to reduce clutter," in Jobs' words, it can end up containing a virtually uncountable number of nearly indistinguishable icons. Apple's answer: an optional "magnification" feature that expands each tile in the Dock as the cursor passes over it, along with a "tool tip"-like text identification that is also activated by mouse overs.

Installation is far simpler than NeXTstep, sources said: Using a step-by-step interface familiar to Mac users, the installation application and the Setup Assistant mimic the Mac OS installation procedure.

Sources said the entire installation process will take less than 10 minutes on a typical Mac that meets the installation requirements: any Power Mac G3 or Power Mac G4; any PowerBook G3 other than the first model; and all iMacs or iBooks, provided they have at least 128MB of RAM and 1.5GB of free disk space.

The software also requires video support through internal video or an Apple-supplied ixMicro or ATI (atytf) video card. One source reported that owners of Voodoo 3D accelerator cards from 3dfx Interactive (tdfx) will have to switch back to the video card that shipped with their computers.

The Mac OS X beta installer will let users install the new OS side by side on an existing Mac OS 9 hard drive -- a boon to users who lack multiple or partitioned drives. (The beta will not recognize second AT attachment disks on Power Macs, sources said.)

Side-by-side installation lets users boot back to the Mac OS 9 environment. Even if installed on an empty disk, Mac OS X can run current Mac applications in Classic mode.

Longtime Mac users might be taken aback by the Mac OS X beta's need for a user name and password when starting up or rebooting the computer -- a remnant of NeXTstep, which was designed for a multi-user, networked environment. Users who forget their user name or password may have to reinstall the OS, sources said.

The Mac OS X beta includes both the Aqua interface Jobs demonstrated at Macworld Expo/San Francisco and the Graphite option he announced at August's Seybold San Francisco 2000.

Selecting Graphite changes window controls and other system buttons from multiple, bright colors to gray.

The Dock -- Mac OS X's kitchen-sink replacement for window shades, the Apple Menu, the Application Switcher and more -- has also been slightly tweaked to include changes that didn't even make it into the beta's user guide, sources said.

For example, the user guide notes that open applications are distinguished from inactive ones in the Dock by three dots displayed beneath them; in the beta, a small arrowhead plays the role. What's more, application icons in the Dock "bounce" as that app is launched (although users prone to seasickness can turn off this behavior).

While previous versions of the Dock let users resize it according to the number of icons in it or hide or unhide it (similar to the Auto-Hide function of the Taskbar in Windows), the beta's Dock can be resized simply by vertically dragging along the thin line that separates application icons from icons denoting documents, minimized windows, folders, servers, Web sites and other elements.

Since the Dock is designed "to reduce clutter," in Jobs' words, it can end up containing a virtually uncountable number of nearly indistinguishable icons. Apple's answer: an optional "magnification" feature that expands each tile in the Dock as the cursor passes over it, along with a "tool tip"-like text identification that is also activated by mouse overs.

Perhaps the most crucial feature of Mac OS X is the Classic environment, which allows users to run their existing software reliably.

In the Mac OS X beta, as in previous versions, opening a Classic Mac OS application first launches the Classic application, which loads a virtual Mac OS 9 environment -- a process sources said takes anywhere from about 10 seconds to several minutes. Alternatively, users can set a preference to have the Classic application launch on startup; the environment then resides in the background until needed.

When the Classic application is in the forefront, the screen's title bar changes to its standard Mac OS 9 appearance, with an Apple Menu in the upper left-hand corner, an Application Switcher in the upper right, no Apple icon in the center and a different font. In Developer Preview 4 of the OS (which was distributed to programmers at May's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif.) there was a more pronounced change in the Desktop background and in other visual cues. However, sources said that the Classic environment in the beta is more stable than DP4's.

In fact, sources said that most programs ran smoothly in the Classic environment, with a few notable exceptions. Connectix Corp.'s Virtual PC 3.0, for example, quit with a message stating that that version is not compatible with Mac OS X. One source reported that popular games, such as the 3D shooters Unreal Tournament and Quake III: Arena (both of which rely heavily on 3D accelerator cards) ran up to 33 percent slower than in Mac OS 9. Other nonstarters included shareware games that force a monitor-resolution change. In addition, some system extensions do not load into the Classic environment when it is launched under the Mac OS X beta.

Sources reported that the Classic environment uses a large proportion of both memory and CPU time and occasionally quits immediately after loading.

Although the Classic environment can be quit (quitting all Classic applications in the process), leaving it running in the background causes only a nominal slowdown when running Mac OS X-native applications, sources said.

Sources said legacy builds of Mac applications such as Microsoft (msft) Word, Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia (macr) Flash and others run flawlessly under the new software, launching as quickly in the Mac OS X beta's Classic environment as they did under Mac OS 9. In addition, sources reported that functions such as Photoshop's Filters ran with only a marginal speed hit.

However, there were also reports that various third-party utilities did not work under the Mac OS X beta, especially those that were designed to access the file system under Mac OS 9.

The beta works only with original-equipment video cards -- internal video and Apple-supplied ixMicro or ATI video cards. In addition, support for various peripheral standards is not yet implemented in the beta. The Mac OS X beta cannot be installed on an external SCSI disk attached to a "bronze" PowerBook G3 or on a FireWire or Universal Serial Bus (USB) disk. (The beta will recognize FireWire disks for storage purposes only, but sources reported that these show up as CDs.)

In addition, the beta will not install on systems configured with more than one monitor, and it does not support wireless AirPort networking. On the other hand, a new Print Center feature offers users limited printing controls over USB or networked printers.

Some sources reported incompatibilities between the Mac OS X beta and peripherals such as USB-to-serial printer adapters, portable MP3 players and Harman Multimedia's iSub subwoofer. Sources said the software works with legacy ADB keyboards and mice as well as the newer USB models.

While Apple has declined to comment on pricing and distribution for the OS X beta, sources said it will not be available for download; CD-ROMs of the OS will be available for a nominal charge.

Apple was not immediately available to comment on details of the Mac OS X beta.

Perhaps the most crucial feature of Mac OS X is the Classic environment, which allows users to run their existing software reliably.

In the Mac OS X beta, as in previous versions, opening a Classic Mac OS application first launches the Classic application, which loads a virtual Mac OS 9 environment -- a process sources said takes anywhere from about 10 seconds to several minutes. Alternatively, users can set a preference to have the Classic application launch on startup; the environment then resides in the background until needed.

When the Classic application is in the forefront, the screen's title bar changes to its standard Mac OS 9 appearance, with an Apple Menu in the upper left-hand corner, an Application Switcher in the upper right, no Apple icon in the center and a different font. In Developer Preview 4 of the OS (which was distributed to programmers at May's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif.) there was a more pronounced change in the Desktop background and in other visual cues. However, sources said that the Classic environment in the beta is more stable than DP4's.

In fact, sources said that most programs ran smoothly in the Classic environment, with a few notable exceptions. Connectix Corp.'s Virtual PC 3.0, for example, quit with a message stating that that version is not compatible with Mac OS X. One source reported that popular games, such as the 3D shooters Unreal Tournament and Quake III: Arena (both of which rely heavily on 3D accelerator cards) ran up to 33 percent slower than in Mac OS 9. Other nonstarters included shareware games that force a monitor-resolution change. In addition, some system extensions do not load into the Classic environment when it is launched under the Mac OS X beta.

Sources reported that the Classic environment uses a large proportion of both memory and CPU time and occasionally quits immediately after loading.

Although the Classic environment can be quit (quitting all Classic applications in the process), leaving it running in the background causes only a nominal slowdown when running Mac OS X-native applications, sources said.

Sources said legacy builds of Mac applications such as Microsoft (msft) Word, Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia (macr) Flash and others run flawlessly under the new software, launching as quickly in the Mac OS X beta's Classic environment as they did under Mac OS 9. In addition, sources reported that functions such as Photoshop's Filters ran with only a marginal speed hit.

However, there were also reports that various third-party utilities did not work under the Mac OS X beta, especially those that were designed to access the file system under Mac OS 9.

The beta works only with original-equipment video cards -- internal video and Apple-supplied ixMicro or ATI video cards. In addition, support for various peripheral standards is not yet implemented in the beta. The Mac OS X beta cannot be installed on an external SCSI disk attached to a "bronze" PowerBook G3 or on a FireWire or Universal Serial Bus (USB) disk. (The beta will recognize FireWire disks for storage purposes only, but sources reported that these show up as CDs.)

In addition, the beta will not install on systems configured with more than one monitor, and it does not support wireless AirPort networking. On the other hand, a new Print Center feature offers users limited printing controls over USB or networked printers.

Some sources reported incompatibilities between the Mac OS X beta and peripherals such as USB-to-serial printer adapters, portable MP3 players and Harman Multimedia's iSub subwoofer. Sources said the software works with legacy ADB keyboards and mice as well as the newer USB models.

While Apple has declined to comment on pricing and distribution for the OS X beta, sources said it will not be available for download; CD-ROMs of the OS will be available for a nominal charge.

Apple was not immediately available to comment on details of the Mac OS X beta.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Software

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