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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Mac OS X: Then And Now
May 21st, 2001

The future is now, or so they say. No matter what the individual reactions have been, the Mac community, as a whole, is rather happy that Apple has delivered Mac OS X, if only because it is a relief to see an end to Apple's "modern OS" jinx.

Before the actual release of Mac OS X, a surprisingly large proportion of Mac aficionados were griping. They hated Aqua, they complained about the public beta's sluggish performance and other weaknesses, they disliked the Classic compatibility environment, etc. Many of us (including me) had mixed feelings since they were thrilled that Apple could move on to a new industrial-strength system, but they were reluctant to head into early adoption since their favorite software was not ready yet. This is still the case for many.

Now that the hype of the initial release has vanished and people's attention is shifting to the brick and mortar Apple Stores, does Mac OS X stand strong in the face of criticism and user experience? Does it measure up to what Apple had made it seem like? Will it successfully take the Mac platform to a new level?

My first observation is to note how the Mac press toned down its criticism. I remember the massively pessimistic opinions when Apple unveiled Aqua and demonstrated the new OS. It became even more sour when the public beta landed on people's drives. If words could kill, I think that many Mac fans' outbursts would have ripped Steve Jobs apart, into small pieces. Mac OS X had a negative aura to many, and the average Web surfer could effortlessly find a great deal of "X hate" literature around the Net.

My daily trips to sites such as MacSurfer, and other dedicated Mac news sites, have brought a slight surprise since March 24. In the Mac OS X sections, as time went by, I found less and less denigrating articles. They seem to have been replaced by praise from those who gave it a shot, and also tons of how-to pieces for everybody to help ease the learning curve.

Not that Mac OS X is perfect. It certainly deserves critical analysis. The number one complaint (or perhaps observation) about X is that it is not ready for prime time yet. The very first official release was not fully responsive. Pulling a menu down was a bit of a pain. Some said that it was the equivalent of a public beta 2, and this point certainly has credibility. The folks who are reluctant to switch often espouse a simple rationale: their favorite software is not compatible with Mac OS X yet. Dan Knight's example is characteristic of people who wish to wait for a while before taking the leap.

In fact, this is exactly what I outlined weeks ago. Apart from this "not ready for prime time" point, the harsh Mac OS X criticism is fewer and farther between than before. This is most probably a good sign, since this shows that the "final" version released in March, and its subsequent maintenance updates have grown on the user's mind. Not only did they grow on us, the releases got increasingly stable and they gained speed. Mac OS X 10.0.3 – I find that new kind of version number amusing – is rather zippy. From simple commands such as pulling a menu down, to application performance, you have to recognize that the OS is improving.

I believe that from this point in time, we are less likely to hate X, and it is going upwards. Not only is Apple going to harness and unleash its underpinnings' power in maintenance updates, but developers are figuring out how to upgrade and update their products. MACWORLD Expo, in New York this July, will probably be a most important historical event for the Macintosh. I bet you that droves of developers are working day and night on X versions of their products, and as they always do, they will reserve the releases for that key moment of the year.

I, myself, have to admit that my resistance to X will not last forever. I am happily using Mac OS 9.1, but I believe that it is only a matter of time before this changes. Just like most writers who expressed their reservations about the current limitations of the new OS, I am pretty sure that the rest of the year will change everything that needs to be changed, bringing more software updates and maintenance releases to smooth things out.

Mac OS X Public Beta was nothing but a work in progress. The 10.0 version was like a boat's first trip to the sea. Its sailors learned how it responded when facing wind and waves, and they learned how to make the adjustments required to get the most out of it. Mac OS X is gaining mileage. I expect a large part of the Mac community to embark on the journey during the next 12 months. Those months will be crucial and the response from developers is likely to be the key to Apple's success in this critical adventure.

The voices of protest seem to soften up these days, and a Mac user who wants his platform to prosper could see this as a good sign. This means that Mac OS X is growing on the Mac community, and that it is, perhaps slowly, gaining maturity. This sounds like what I would expect during such an important transition, and I am pretty sure that this is what Apple itself wants to see.

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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