Hands on with Mac OS 9.0.4

Resident ZDNN Mac-o-phile Adam Gillitt offers his first impressions of Apple's latest OS update.
Written by Adam Gillit on

Apple Computer Inc.'s delivery of Mac OS 9.0.4 this week is sure to gladden the hearts of Mac partisans everywhere.

After all, we've been waiting for this update almost since the day OS 9 was released; the initial release was dogged by several nasty bugs, most notably one that renders the hard drives of iBooks inaccessible.

The 12.5MB download folds in these bug fixes, several previously released updates and some other minor changes; users can access it from Apple's Web site or via Mac OS 9's Software Update control panel.

At least in theory: I tried several times to use the Software Update control panel to download 9.0.4, but each time I tried, I was either rewarded with "Unable to connect to the Internet," or "... Did not find any new or updated versions of your software." So I went to Apple's software-download area to get the file.

According to the Apple site, Mac OS 9.0.4 works with all computers that can handle Mac OS 9. That list includes vintage PowerPC machines from Apple and its erstwhile cloners through February's hardware releases at Macworld Expo/Tokyo.

The new OS boosts support for current Macs' FireWire and Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectivity; enhances networking and power management; and improves audio, video and graphics functionality. (For a minute dissection of each, check out Apple's Technote 1194, which details all the bug fixes and enhancements in Mac OS 9.0.4.)

Once I downloaded the update, the self-mounting image appeared on my desktop. Clicking the installer presents you with the standard license agreement, followed by the now-customary install screen. The only choice available to users other than the install disk is whether or not to update the disk drivers. The whole process took less than three minutes, and I rebooted to OS 9.0.4.

And the result was ... nothing seemed different. No new icons on my desktop, no new colors, no new gadgets. My iMac DV booted exactly the same as before. Curious that nothing was dramatically different, I checked "About This Computer" and found that it indeed said Version: 9.0.4 ... and to the right of it read "PowerPC Enabler 9.0.4." Considering its PowerPC-only bona fides, the inclusion of an enabler seems a little counterintuitive.

However, there's more to this upgrade than meets the eye. Further spelunking into my System folder revealed that several major components of the OS have been patched in this release, including the Audio extension, Sound Manager, and CD/DVD driver. (These sound improvements presumably address a problem that affected audio syncing of the software DVD player.) Also patched are Open Transport, which now registers as Version 2.6.1; FireWire, up to 2.3.3; Energy Saver, now 2.5.5; USB extensions, boosted to 1.4.1; and OpenGL, now at 1.1.3. (You can compare notes on how well the patches work in the ZDNet Community Mac OS Forum.)

Other, lesser upgrades tune Apple Menu Items, AppleShare, CarbonLib, Control Strip, File Synch and Foreign File Access, Iomega drivers, Keyboard, Software Update, Voice Verification, and IRdA for those Macs equipped with an infrared port. Last but not least, a revised System Disk Control Panel affords users direct boot access to the forthcoming Mac OS X,

Once the update was installed, I also downloaded and installed the Apple DVD Player update to 2.2, which is required for DVD-equipped PowerBooks, G4s and slot-loading iMacs. I played a couple DVDs with it and skipped and scanned it forward and backwards; despite my best efforts, I was unable to knock the video and the audio out of sync, other than making it burp when switching between applications.

My experiences so far are pretty positive if unremarkable; installing it on my office G4 cured some minor USB problems I had been experiencing. Everything works as it should, and nothing calls attention to itself. This makes me happy; an unobtrusive OS is a good OS, to my way of thinking.

And Apple has had a lot of time to get OS 9 right. This release marks the penultimate release of the original Mac OS, which debuted with the original 128K Macintosh in 1984. Nevertheless, Apple is rumored to be hard at work on one last update to the classic Mac OS before the summer release of the all-new OS X.

For further information, consult Apple's MacOS 9 Support Page.

Adam Gillitt, interactive designer for ZDNet News, has been following the Macintosh since it was called "Lisa."


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