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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Mac OS X Is REALLY Shipping...
March 13th, 2001

As we observed last week, Mac OS X went Golden Master, meaning that the official version is ready, and has been sent to production where Apple will produce gazillions of CDs and boxes. This is grand for the Mac community, despite what many of us think of the new system. We whined, bitched, hoped, and prayed to get a modern operating system, and guess what… we got it. Whether to upgrade now is not the question at hand, however.

I remember all the doubts that Mac users had during the long years of limbo. Apple's multiple failed attempts to come up with a new OS; the seemingly hopeless odds for the platform to get out of its technology morass; the impatience of many power users who wanted a computer that rarely crashes. Many of us feared that the Macintosh would become a toy with little to brag about, stuck using system software with immovable roots from the mid-eighties. Apple scrambled, Apple failed, Apple fought and finally, Apple found the answer.

After years of trying to make a new OS with projects like Copland, Gershwin and Rhapsody, many were cynical and concerned about Apple's ability to deliver a modern system. Failures and never-ending delays upset industry analysts and Mac fans. A few thought that a great new Mac OS would never see the light of day. During the last couple of years, whenever something would prevent Apple from shipping Mac OS X on the expected date, annoyed users would remember past occurrences and think that Mac OS X would be yet another disappointment.

Now that we have certified confirmation that the official version is now under production, the hopeful, the naysayers and the desperate users can relax. What they asked for is about to land on their desks, finally taking over their computers. It is happening, no matter how impossible it used to sound.

I told you so.

Despite its imperfections, despite the delays and despite some unanswered questions about various aspects of migration (such as availability of native software), Mac OS X is the most serious operating system project that Apple has ever had since the launch of the original Mac. The fact that Steve Jobs pushed hard for it was only one of the things that made Mac OS X more than just a blurry concept. Mr. Jobs is not exactly Mr. Tolerance when it comes to failure and you can presume that the man put some pressure on the folks behind the Mac OS X project. With the future of Apple and the Macintosh at stake, with Wall Street watching and with the fear of falling short, only one word is acceptable: success. It was not the moment to fail, and another delay could have been fatal. Fortunately, the good folks in Cupertino came through.

Now what?

After approximately a decade of promises and letdowns, there is a lot of work ahead despite the achievement! If Apple wants to carry on during the next few years, it will not sit back and say "we're done" after shipping Mac OS X. In fact, that's the last thing they will do.

I would think that the system will be in constant evolution… until Mac OS XI :-) With its Unix base, there are many new possibilities ahead, such as the prospect of conquering a new generation of developers. Think of all the software developed for different Unix flavors that could be ported to the new Mac. Lots of Unix titles are available for free, which can only be good for the platform if their creators or other developers port them. Also, think of what Apple can do with its operating system once the "modernity" problem has been eradicated. If Apple was able to tweak the classic Mac OS and make it better for so long – think of the improvements from 7.5 to 9.1 - imagine what it can do with the industrial strength of Mac OS X!

To be sure, I wish to see some extra polishing. Although it offers superior "under the hood" technology, Mac OS X, to many people, lacks friendliness and other assets that made the Mac such a great environment since 1984. I believe that it is possible for Apple to accommodate folks who ask for modest "look and feel" changes that will make them feel at ease, without sacrificing an inch of power and functionality of the new system. Behind all the negative reactions about Mac OS X, there is the request from users who call for nothing but a bit of polish. Now that we have preemptive multitasking, multithreading, superior virtual memory and symmetric multiprocessing, can we also get small interface changes that would make the difference? It would take very little to silence the loudest voices of protest. A little touch up here and there and Apple could satisfy a good number of users who do not experience the excitement of Mac OS X.

Of course, the whole platform won't just switch on March 24. It will take some time. As I put in plain words on February 19, some of us will be patient until the time for migration is just right, although some will mistake it for reactionary behavior. A bit of patience will be enough. Apple had the necessary skills to deliver the goods regarding the underlying technology. It just needs the icing on the cake; an improved Aqua without the Unix after-taste. This combination sounds just right to me. Pretty, please?

In any case, happy March 24th, and be nice to the FedEx guy when he knocks on your door with a package :-)

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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