Mac OS X 10.1

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  • Editors' rating
    Not yet rated
  • $129.00

Pros

  • Improved performance with new keyboard shortcuts
  • movable Dock
  • support for digital cameras
  • excellent DVD and CD burning
  • built-in Windows file server client and support for Windows network drives.

Cons

  • Few native applications
  • Dock is cluttered.

The release of Mac OS X back in March opened up lots of possibilities for the Macintosh platform, but it simply wasn't finished. Mac OS X 10.1, the long-awaited update, fills the cracks. This version speeds up application launching and fixes OS X's awkward and unresponsive desktop. It also adds new tricks, including DVD support and digital camera integration, compatibility with Windows networks and new Finder tools. If OS X was a release for early adopters, version 10.1 is must-have upgrade for the same crowd. If you're still humming away with OS 9, however, wait to upgrade until key applications such as Microsoft Office X ship.

According to Apple, the company upgraded every bit of Mac OS X, which is why it weighs in at a whopping 622MB -- too big for a download. Instead, you can order the upgrade disc from Apple for a £14 (inc. VAT) handling fee or pick it up free at an Apple retailer -- the full 10.1 release costs £84.26 (ex. VAT; £99.01 inc. VAT). It's such a comprehensive upgrade, in fact, that most major applications -- including IBM ViaVoice for Mac -- use the 10.1 code base and require the upgrade. All the more reason to get this upgrade right away.

The easy 10.1 installation procedure works just like Mac OS X's fresh install and takes about as long (15 to 30 minutes, depending on the speed of your Mac). Once you're up and running, you'll notice that the interface has been tweaked for the better. Version 10.1 looks cleaner and more intuitive than either OS X 10 or OS 9.

For instance, long filenames below icons now wrap to a second line. In a window's column view, you can drag to resize the columns to give you a better view of long filenames -- just hold down the option key while dragging. One of our favourite features, the customisable window toolbar, now offers even more options, including a Burn button for DVDs or CD-R/RWs, an Eject button and a Connect button. The new Finder also runs much faster. Windows and menus respond almost immediately when you resize or select them.

One of our biggest beefs with the original OS X was that it removed handy OS 9 features. Many of these are now back, including Smart Scrolling, which places the two scroll arrows together at the lower right of windows instead of having an up arrow at the top of the window and a down arrow at the bottom. Version 10.1 also fixes annoying OS X bugs. For instance, when you double-click a text, PDF or StuffIt file, OS X launches the appropriate OS X native application -- not the Classic version as it previously did.

Apple now supplies something power users have wanted for years: mouse-free operation. You can turn on keyboard settings that allow you to access everything from menus to palette settings with keyboard shortcuts. For example, just press Ctrl-D to access the Dock (the strip along the bottom of your screen that holds applications and icons), then use up and down arrows to navigate through open applications or use the left arrow to expand menus and control those applications from the Dock.

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Unfortunately, the Dock itself still suffers from a confusing mix of opened and unopened applications and files, but it's a little better than before. For example, you can now move the Dock to the right or left side of the screen so that it doesn't get in the way of open windows. It also features new pop-up menus that let you control certain applications, such as iTunes (you can play songs or skip between them without opening the entire application) and the Dock itself (so you can move, resize, or minimise it). Other software companies can create Dock utility menus for their own applications, and we hope they do.

Even better, 10.1 boasts new System Menus, which give you some of the control and readout functionality of the OS 9 Control Strip, but in a more convenient location -- the menu bar next to the clock. There's even a System Menu that lets you launch your dial-up or DSL Internet connection without opening the Internet Connect utilities. Nice touch.

We still miss the OS 9 application switcher menu, since the only way to move between applications is to use the Dock. For now, a free utility called ASM fills the gap, but we hope Apple catches on in future releases.

OS X's most important missing features the first time around were DVD playback, and DVD and CD burning. Version 10.1 includes both, and they're better than Mac OS 9's versions. Insert a blank DVD disc, and OS X mounts it on the desktop, where you can drag files onto it. Drag the disc to the Trash, and rather than ejecting the DVD, a dialog pops up asking if you want to burn it. It's as easy as copying files to a Zip disk (provided you have a G4 equipped with Apple's new SuperDrive, a combination CD-rewritable/DVD-recordable drive).

DVD movies and music CDs don't skip or hesitate when you access menus, bring the player to the front, or open other applications. You can easily play back a DVD with maximum quality and total smoothness and, at the same time, launch Internet Explorer to find out some facts about the actors in the movie you're watching. OS X can handle it. The redesigned DVD player is rectangular and smaller, taking less screen real estate than OS 9's. DVD-R and CD-R/RW burning is now easier than in any other operating system, thanks to the intuitive Burn button and the ability to burn directly from your desktop.

OS X does an excellent job of managing digital cameras as well. Plug in a camera, and a dialog box asks you to download pictures to the Mac. Click OK, and the pictures move to your Pictures folder, where you can easily find them if you want to set one on your desktop or make a screensaver out of several rotating pictures. Mac OS X now supports most digital cameras -- there are no drivers to install and no transfer utility to run.

OS X already had powerful networking, but 10.1 adds some first-time Mac features. Most important, Mac OS X is now a Windows file-sharing client. You can log on to a Windows file server without any special software on your Mac or on the Windows server itself -- good if you run both platforms in your home, for example, or if you work in an office environment with lots of PCs. You can now also log into legacy Windows NT servers that run services for Macintosh -- Apple has restored AppleShare over AppleTalk -- version 10 removed AppleTalk. So in addition to OS X's original robust Unix networking features, including support for NFS (a Unix standard) and integrated FTP and Web servers, you have maximum networking power and lots of compatibility.

Where OS X 10 was mainly compatible with USB printers, version 10.1 restores complete support of network laser printers -- at least up to OS 9 levels. The Print Center now includes more than 200 PostScript printer page description (PPD) files that simplify printer setup and take advantage of special printer features, including multifunction features such as faxing.

Networking aside, some of 10.1's major improvements are in its performance. Although OS X easily outpaced OS 9 in our original tests, we found that Classic applications ran more slowly and needed some improvement. This time, though, our tests show that Classic applications -- those that are made for OS 9 and earlier -- performed somewhat better. Some Adobe Photoshop tasks, such as the graphics-intensive Gaussian Blur (which applies a filter to an image to make it look out of focus), ran faster in Classic mode in 10.1 than in Mac OS 9. Even native OS X applications improve dramatically under 10.1 -- iMovie 2.0, for example, ran almost twice as fast as before. Our tests also show that adding RAM improves 10.1's performance in certain cases (with iMovie 2.0, for example) -- something that's not true in Mac OS 9.

Overall, 10.1's application performance gains are not huge, and we'd still like to see Classic applications run a bit faster, since so few native OS X programs are currently available. But OS X 10.1's working environment is a lot snappier than before. Menus now open instantly, windows drag around without delay, and applications launch quicker than before. OS X also caches applications -- even Classic ones -- so that they reopen in a few seconds once you've quit. You can speed up minimising windows into the Dock by turning off the Genie effect -- an animation that makes windows appear to shrink as you minimise them -- or by switching to a new Scale effect, which simply snaps windows into the Dock.

Unfortunately, native OS X applications are still slow in coming to the Mac -- probably since many of them were waiting for the 10.1 code base. Office X for Mac is expected in November, for example, but many OS X betas are currently buggy and unstable. When the wave of new native applications hits, 10.1 offers a legitimate reason to upgrade. It's as powerful and pretty as before, but now it's easier to use, faster, and more intuitive.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
System Requirements
Min RAM Size 128 MB
Min Hard Drive Space 2 GB
Additional Requirements USB port
Software
License Type box pack
Version 10.3
License Category shrinkwrap
Operating System
Package Type retail
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Mac OS
Model X Panther
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility Mac
OS Provided
OS Family MacOS
Type Apple MacOS X 10.3
Miscellaneous
Package Type retail

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