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Mac OS X: Reg box stable – at last…

The future starts here, apparently

Learning to live with Mac OS X This week I finally realised that I was using Mac OS X more than Mac OS 9. After two hard months trying to get Apple's NeXT-generation operating system to work, that realisation came as something of a surprise.

Two issues face anyone migrating to Mac OS X: ensuring the system is sufficiently stable and feature-equipped to be used on a solid, day-to-day basis, and having the applications to do productive work. As reinstall followed crash followed reinstall followed crash, I began to wonder whether I'd even have to worry about the second point.

The problem? Some essential applications - primarily TextEdit, Mail and DiskCopy - and two System Preferences panels would crash as soon as run, dragging the Finder, the Dock and, usually, the entire system down with them and leaving me staring at nothing but a blank, mid-blue screen and a spinning cursor.

I reinstalled the operating system, I upgraded to 10.0.1 then to 10.0.2 and finally to 10.0.3, a couple of times reinstalling them all from scratch. Still no joy. I began to wonder whether Apple's attempt to blend the power and... er... stability of Unix with the Mac OS' ease of use was just a Steve Jobs patent Reality Distortion Field.

It's in the Read Me, Stupid

The solution was obvious, but then they always are, aren't they? ATI's retail release of the Radeon Mac Edition - PCI, for my two-year-old Blue'n'white Power Mac G3 - isn't supported by Mac OS X. Now, as I first read them, Apple's release notes said the OS included drivers for ATI and Nvidia cards. Only closer inspection, I realised only cards shipped by Apple itself are supported.

So, a Radeon in a Power Mac G4, no problemo. But a retail Radeon on a G3? No way, José

Swapping out the Radeon for my old Rage 128 card and suddenly everything's working perfectly. Only Internet Explorer has fallen over so far, and that with nothing more deadly than a polite cough and an 'I'm sorry I've just crashed, you aren't upset are you?' message. I haven't had to reboot yet.

Of course, the reason I replaced the Rage 128 with the Radeon is the that Apple-supplied part hasn't worked properly for six months now. Even were that not the case, I don't like having to downgrade my graphics in order to ensure a stable system. So top marks to ATI for a fine graphics card with plenty more points added for continuing to support PCI, but take most of them away for claiming that the retail card is supported by the OS.

Says ATI's Web site: "Drivers for most ATI Mac products are available in the Mac OS X distribution. No additional software is available from ATI at this time."

Not good enough, guys.

The ever-shrinking 'Applications (Mac OS 9)' folder

But quite apart from exposing the lack of retail Radeon drivers - and, ahem, my inability to read release notes thoroughly - the graphics card swap, more importantly, showed me that Mac OS X is a stable, workable platform.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and in the meantime I've been working through my application needs. If Mac OS X is stable enough to work with on a day-to-day basis, can I actually perform any work with it?

All of Mac OS 9's bundled and Apple-supplied applications have been ported over to the new operating system and thanks to the arrival of iTunes, its updates and the upgrades to the OS itself, I'm pretty much up to where I was with the classic OS.

QuickTime Player, iTunes, Sherlock, TextEdit and the bundled Stuffit Expander all work like they used to under Mac OS 9. But what about third-party applications?

With one exception, Classic proves to work well. You can talk benchmark's till you're blue in the face, but with the exception of the time it takes to load the Classic app and boot up Mac OS 9, it works for me. The programs I use most regularly that have yet to be Carbonised - Office 98's Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and my trusty old Photoshop 4.01 - run just fine. Subjectively as well as they did under Mac OS 9, at any rate.

QuarkXpress seems to run reasonably well too - not that that's saying much; Xpress has never been what you'd call a fast app - though I've not done much with it. Equally, I've yet to run Palm Desktop and HitSync through OS X - from MacFixIt's postings, I suspect I may have problems here. Not being one of those Hawaiian-shirted dweebs who drag a camcorder to kids' parties and everywhere they go on holiday, I've no use for iMovie, even if it did operate under OS X.

The next task is to try the contents of my Games folder though Classic. Now that's going to test the environment.

Classic's biggest failings, for me, are aesthetic. Of course it's not going to use Aqua, but Apple could at least make sure menus are drawn without an ugly white border - not properly adapting the menus to Quartz's menu shading, I suspect - and the way Classic apps don't redraw properly when the Dock changes.

The only troublesome application I have is an old favourite: Macromedia SoundEdit Pro 16 2.0.7, which can't see CDs from which I want it to import data and can't connect to the G3's microphone jack. For now this is one app I will have to reboot into Mac OS 9 to use.

Carbon and on and on

Other apps? Mail is a reasonable alternative to Outlook Express, but its limited functionality may force me to look elsewhere. PowerMail 3.0 and the advertising-fueled Eudora will be worth checking out, I think.

Thorsten Lemke's Graphic Converter, having been Carbonised, is sitting in the Dock and has been banished forever from my 'Applications (Mac OS 9)' folder. Ditto the excellent RealBasic 3.2.

Internet Explorer is about to be exiled from the Dock, leaving OmniWeb 4.0 as my default Web browser because it's... well, frankly, better. OmniWeb isn't perfect - it doesn't like my bank account access page, for example, which is something of a downer - but neither is IE, which isn't yet stable enough to replace the classic version, which I keep for said online banking site. Until an OmniWeb update fixes that problem, IE will stay in my 'Applications (Mac OS 9)'. Then it's history.

Finally, how can you really tell when you've adopted Mac OS X as your main operating system? When you empty your existing Documents folder and put the contents in its Mac OS X equivalent. If there's a better sign of my commitment to the new OS, I can't think of one.

Now, I just have to get the Finder and the Dock to work the way I want to, not the other way round... ®

To Be Continued...

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