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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




The Big Problem With Mac OS X
November 7th, 2000

There was a time during the 1990's when Apple heard something like this:

Cupertino, we have a problem. The present operating system is out of date in both its code and architecture. Even though it works fine on millions of Macs every single day, it lacks many modern features like preemptive multitasking and symmetric multiprocessing and it goes down altogether if an application crashes.

We need a new Mac OS to fix this.

Apple tried to answer the call. Several times. All attempts failed, but it seems that the latest plan, namely Mac OS X, is going to finally provide the desired response.

Everything is swell, isn't it? Actually, if you listen to Mac users and the Mac press, not everything is fine because there are aspects that do not receive everybody's endorsement.

Some of us loathe Aqua, the next generation Mac OS interface. Some are afraid that the new Unix-based operating system will be too complex to understand. Some fear that the learning curve will be acute for neophyte users who may not have highly developed computer skills. Some worry about how smooth the switch will be with software.

"Will my favorite extensions and applications work under Mac OS X?". "Will Office be ready in time?"

All these concerns are genuine and legitimate. It is normal to express concerns when your favorite computer and operating system company proposes to jump from one system to another instead of just following the traditional upgrade path. You never know how smooth the switch can be. There is a more important problem than that, however. That problem is central on the road to Mac OS X.

What is it?

Us. Us, as in us, Mac users. As in other living situations, we begged and yapped for something to happen. When Apple could not deliver it, we grumbled, criticized and protested. We wanted it so bad that, surprise, Apple managed to finally establish THE plan that would make it happen.

Steve Jobs introduced it formally at MACWORLD San Francisco in January 2000. Then we got scared. We are so familiar with our Mac OS and its routines that any change sounds scary, no matter how necessary.

This whole situation deserves a comparison, say, from the world of sports. If you are interested in boxing, you will notice how the contender likes to bait the champion. He tries to challenge them. He uses the media to broadcast his bravado. He tells the champion how he would like to face him and how he would win against him. He does it until the moment when the champion says, "Alright, if you want the title, come and get it."

Once the deal is official and the ink is dry, the contender is so darn happy. He starts training, as confident as always to win. Yeepee yay.

On the night of the fight, the challenger steps in the ring, and sees the undefeated champion known for his mean right hook. In a split second, all that superstar poise, belief and attitude goes away. It gives way to... fear. The champion is on the other side, as prepared as always and ready to kick butt.

The knockout that seemed so easy to visualize suddenly feels quite dangerous to struggle for. The challenger was so damn sure that nothing would stop him, but standing in front of the enemy, he feels that his opponent will stop him, not the other way around.

It is amazing how this compares to various situations where you see yourself as invincible and succeeding in everything you attempt, but things end up in a different way.

I remember a professor telling us that there is a world of difference between thinking about how great you will perform in public speaking and... doing it for real. When you see the crowd, you black out and your game plan goes straight to hell. You forget it all and feel like stuttering instead of electrifying the masses. FUMBLE! as they would say on Monday Night Football.

The same thing is happening with Mac OS X. You wanted it, and now you are about to get it. Actually, a lot of you already have it, thanks to the public beta.

In January, the complaints started to pour in. Many writers illustrated them publicly with their criticism of several aspects of the new operating system.

They exemplified a fear that seizes you when it is time to face the challenge (or change) that you demanded for so long.

Once we saw Mac OS X, strong with its Unix base, protected memory, symmetric multiprocessing, preemptive multitasking and all the changes, panic grabbed many of us.

Will my software be compatible? Will my favorite shareware make it to Carbon or Cocoa? Will Office be ready in time? Am I going to be able to understand the system? I do not have a G3 or G4, what do I do? Will Classic work? Will my files be readable? What about Kaleidoscope? The Apple menu is gone, horror!

This is like the fighter who says, "oh crap, he's coming" when he hears the bell.

You get what you asked for, folks. You will have to deal with it, because it will hit you like a train. I, for one, believe that the switch will be a bumpy ride. However, we will make it.

When I saw a developer preview, I said "yuk" but I promised to take a further look later on. I did. I had the opportunity to get a hold of the public beta on someone else's computer. I toyed with it for a while.

I realized that the new system was different, but in good working condition. Switching to it will be a matter of getting used to its new way to do things. As long as software gets past the hurdle, everything will be fine and dandy, folks.

You will learn how to use Mac OS X and one day, you will wonder why you put up with the old Mac OS for so many years, anyway.

The main problem with Mac OS X is not Aqua. It is not its Unix foundation. It is not backward compatibility, nor is it Classic.

The main problem with Mac OS X is... us. Now that it is in final development stage before hitting the shelves, doubt seizes us and we wonder if we want it anymore.

Let me tell you one thing: everything will be fine. You just have to dive into it once Steve Jobs announces, "Mac OS X is now shipping."

Can you hear it already?

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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