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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

You Can Live Without Mac OS X
February 19th, 2001

On March 24, Apple Computer will pull the most crucial card from its sleeve, and play it. Named Mac OS X, this card is likely to be the most important puzzle piece to Apple's future. Mac OS X is the next generation of Macintosh operating system, including its new UNIX foundation and all the modern features that brings along with it. Apple will be trying to get everybody, especially developers, to jump on the bandwagon to make the transition to this future a smooth one.

If you are a professional user or any type of power user, however, you may feel reluctant about switching to OS X as soon as it is released. Why? You have been using Macs for several years now. You have been using the same software, from version to version, for ages. As of now, nothing guarantees (at least formally) that if you install Mac OS X on your hard drive in March or April, that 100% of your goodies will be fully compatible, thanks to upgrades made available by your favorite software companies.

As we speak, it is possible that you feel pressured to upgrade. After all, this is one of the most promising releases to come out of Cupertino since the advent of the Mac OS itself. The "under the hood" features are likely to be attractive, and at the same time, the new user interface is nice despite a few trade-offs.

Do you feel reluctant to go ahead and jump on the bandwagon? Should anybody blame you for it?

As important as Mac OS X is for Apple and a large part of the Mac community, you have to think about yourself first. If your revenues depend on the use of your Mac, you have an excellent reason to have reservations. Hey, you cannot afford interruptions of work at any time to find work-arounds for something that should work at all times. If this is the case, you want ANY change to be so smooth that your daily operations could NOT suffer from it in any way. To many of us, migration, if less than perfect, means losses.

If your freelance work or business startup depends on MS Office or other important software titles, you are only right to feel reluctant to buy Mac OS X right away. Nothing guarantees that every single useful piece of software you own will be compatible on March 24. Sure, the Classic environment is nice - I have used it myself when snooping around other people's computers with Mac OS X beta installed - but one fact remains: there are many types of extensions, control panels and other bits and pieces that need to make it to the to-be-beloved operating system for a professional user to feel "X attraction". In addition, not everything works perfectly under Classic at all times for everybody... that would be extremely important for you to switch right away. I know, many of you can testify that Classic works well for you, but I also have hands-on experience of "not so perfect" behavior. This counts, too...

You are likely to hear many other Mac users telling you that you should switch to Mac OS X NOW. It happened to me, and it probably happened to you. Some even said, as a joke, that I was a chicken for not being enthusiastic about X!

The harsh reality - for anyone who tells you that you have to get Mac OS X now - is that anyone can live without upgrading.

I know a few folks who use first generation Power Macs and they are very happy with what they have. The key to their happiness is that they made sure to stay out of the upgrade cycle. Once they got equipped, they stopped watching Steve Jobs keynotes and stopped going to the Web pages for news of the latest versions. They settled for what they already had since it worked fine.

Is this nothing but a fantasy? No, according to many Mac friends of mine. If you manage your Mac smartly and avoid all the changes, your Mac will remain fast and powerful for years to come.

As you probably (and should) know, the biggest trap is to upgrade and update your software continuously. Companies add features in order to improve their software and they increase hardware requirements over time. If you keep upgrading your software over the years, your Mac is likely to feel a speed hit after a certain time. On the first day, it was darn fast. A couple of years and many software upgrades later, it may feel sloppy. Who should you blame? Yourself. You went ahead and bought it all, thinking that the new features would make your life better. Instead, you have a slower Mac.

The point?

You can live without upgrading. This is a very general principle, but if we apply my philosophy to Mac OS X, you can be patient with it for a while. You may have bought a computer in the year 2000. This means that you have owned it for a short period, and you probably own all the software you need to get your work done under Mac OS 9. After investing important sums of money, why would you plunk additional dough on something entirely new along with all the software updates to go with it? If it ain't broke...

Somebody who wishes to be patient with Mac OS X has a point. It will take a while until all major applications are available. It will take a while to reproduce a setup under the new system without consenting to serious trade-offs. All of this leads me to think that if you do not feel like taking the leap, at least at this moment, you should not feel guilty about it.

After all, switching or not switching is your decision. Anybody who says otherwise deserves a reminder that decisions about your personal computer are... personal :-)

I have the impression that there will be three different types of reactions to Mac OS X. The first is from those who will switch instantly. In fact, I know a few users who adopted Mac OS X beta as their main operating system! The second reaction is the one I recommend the most: waiting for every crucial piece of software to be fully compatible, and then taking the leap. It sounds reasonable to me. The third, last, and freakiest one is that of those who will think that Mac OS X is not right, and switch to Windows. As a Mac user, I frankly hope that only a tiny minority will do that.

Many Mac users are likely to wait and see as the dust settles down for Mac OS X to be perfect for them. The harsh fact is, no matter what many bandwagon jumpers will say, is that on the conditions may just not be right when Mac OS X launches on March 24.

Don't get me wrong. Getting with the program and switching to Mac OS X will be a great thing. However, some of us can justifiably be patient. Mac OS X is not 100% ready for everybody, and waiting can be beneficial. If you have doubts about switching in March, waiting could be a viable option. Don't upgrade just because there is pressure to upgrade. Make your own decision.

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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