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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Will Mac OS X Run Well On A G3?
January 31st, 2000

Have you watched the keynote from MACWORLD Expo in San Francisco from this past January? If so, did you notice what Steve Jobs gloated about when he unveiled Mac OS X for us to drool at?

To make it short, he did an amazing job at presenting Aqua, the kick-butt new interface shipping with Mac OS X due this summer. This little jewel does more than look good and smile at us. It actually combines elements we have been used to for ages and makes the system easy to use for new users. It also includes a very powerful interface with a new Finder that allows "browsing" through your system and hard disks, which should please the power-hungry user.

While Jobs discussed all the ins and outs of Mac OS X and its improved performance, he said (a few times) that we (Apple) had the gigaflop performance inside the G4, so we could afford to make interface changes that require good performance from the computer.

If you own a G4... great! But what if you own a G3? Is Mac OS X going to be right for you? While I have no doubt that it will run on a G3, is it going to run well on a G3? I remember that Apple promised that Mac OS X would be optimized for G3 computers, but now, I am wondering where we stand. The statements from Steve Jobs about gigaflop power didn't alarm me, but they made me wonder.

Now take a look at the Mac OS X home page. After looking at all the graphics, you can easily notice that it will require a bit more effort from the computer to draw the interface than our current Mac OS.

Short Interface 101 class

If you wonder how your computer works when it comes to its graphical interface, here is how to understand it.

When you perform actions - whatever they are - the Mac OS and the applications involved make calls to data and resources to draw what you see on the screen. When the Mac OS draws interface elements such as window borders, backgrounds, scroll bars and menus, it uses a bit of processing time and memory for each exchange. Unless you have a slow Mac, this won't make your life difficult. On a slow Mac, though, your patience can be tested since a slower system takes more time to draw interface elements.

Once it's drawn the first time, it's not over since you are bound to make some changes. You will move your window, collapse and resize it, and maybe use the scroll bar when reading text in a word processor or a Web browser. This forces you computer to redraw each of those interface elements to modify what you see on your screen according to the changes you made. It is a kind of update.

[While at it, I might explain how Kaleidoscope takes over your interface when you use it. It patches the Appearance Manager, which is the part of the Mac OS that manages the Platinum interface as you see it. Kaleidoscope patches it so that it detects it goes and looks for the new elements in the color scheme you selected and replaces the default elements with them. This, too, slows you down because the computer has to redraw the elements before you see them.]

All of this monopolizes some of your computer's performance. If you look at the Mac OS X demo movies offered on Apple's Web site, you will realize that Mac OS X will perform draws and redraws that have never been seen so far on the Macintosh operating system. All of this stuff seems intensive in terms of performance.

Can a G3 handle this? There is no doubt that Steve Jobs' Mac OS X demonstration was done on a G4. Meanwhile, he didn't really tell us about G3 performance on the modern operating system. And he bragged about gigaflops! Was it a sign of the requirements to run Mac OS X with decent performance? I am no beta tester, so I couldn't tell you just how Mac OS X will run on something other than a G4. I refuse to start a scandal and tell you that the Mac operating system of the future won't run on a G3, but I worry about how well it will run on it, and mostly how fast it will run.

Don't get me wrong, I am really excited about Mac OS X, its features and capabilities. After so many painful waiting years, we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel with a system that answers our demands.

I could say "so what?" when looking at Mac OS X because I plan on buying a G4 at the end of 2000 and I could just forget about users who bought a beige G3 in 1997 or 1998. It would be a little selfish, right? I always like to look at the way other people compute and I realize that not everybody can afford to use the latest in hardware or software. Again, let's put things into perspective. I am not saying that Mac OS X should run on a Mac Plus, but I am wondering just how fast it will be for a G3 model when considering all the interface and Finder changes and how Jobs gloated about gigaflops.

If you know more than me about this... send me an e-mail! I'll tell my readers about it.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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