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Columns & Editorials

October 29th, 1998

Thursday, October 29th

Think 'Review Sections'
Mac OS 8.5: GO FOR IT!

By Michael Lambert

Part I: In The Beginning

(Click on the thumbnails for larger versions)

The hypemeisters in Apple's marketing department are burning the midnight oil these days. After hearing about Mac OS 8.5 non-stop for over a week, you may already be suffering from feature-itis overload. Mac publications and web sites alike are singing the praises of Apple's latest Mac OS upgrade, and you're probably wondering, "Do I really NEED to drop $99 on another upgrade?"

You bet you do. Mac OS 8.5's moniker indicates that this isn't so much an upgrade as it is a refinement of Mac OS 8.0, but OH, what a refinement. We don't usually show our cards so early in a review, but let's cut to the chase: if you have the right Mac (PowerPC machines only -- sorry 680X0 owners), the right amount of RAM (16 MB minimum, but 24 MB of physical/virtual RAM is optimal) and enough hard disk space (anywhere from 50-150 MB), then you are urged to get your hands on Mac OS 8.5, pronto. It really is that good. And rather than roll out 8.5's features line-by-line, here are the main reasons why you should upgrade.

Under-The-Hood Improvements

We've used Mac OS 8.5 for days with no unexpected crashes. That is, we haven't encountered any memory- or bug-related crashes we can yet blame on the OS itself. There are, however, some compatibility issues concerning Mac OS 8.5 and some commercial and shareware applications. Notably, there is a memory leak bug associated with the new version of AppleScript included with OS 8.5. We suggest you read Webintosh's daily news, or consult the MacFixIt or MacInTouch web sites for the latest information on these issues.

Without succumbing to MacBench speed tests that will confirm the obvious, the speed differential between OS 8.5 and all other Mac systems that came before it is phenomenal. Chalk that up to the inclusion of loads more PowerPC-native code in the OS, especially in QuickDraw and QuickDraw Text, which is the part of the Mac OS which displays and draws icons, menus, text, dialog boxes, etc.

Apple is bragging that OS 8.5 is up to five times faster than Windows NT in network copying. (Apple's test involved one 185 MB Photoshop file on a similarly configured Power Mac and Windows NT server.) We noticed that copying in general, whether across networks or within a single disk, seemed much snappier.

The new Navigation Services
Open and Save dialogue box
Some of our favorite new time-savers include the Network Browser and Navigation Services. The Navigation Browser is a small application masquerading as a semi-Chooser (although that dinosaur still resides in the Apple Menu) providing instant access to all other Macs and servers on your network. You'll also notice that the Network Browser resembles the made-over Open/Save dialog box, called Navigation Services (NS). NS makes moving through disks and volumes much easier and intuitive, and includes a "Favorites" button, which displays volumes, applications, or documents you have inside the eponymous folder (located in the Apple Menu Items folder). Nearly any kind of alias can go in the Favorites folder, which will then show up in Navigation Services. Unfortunately, many Mac applications will need to be rewritten to display the beefed-up Open/Save controls.

Perhaps taking a cue from those folks up in Redmond, WA, Apple has finally built an application switching palette into the OS. Though not a formal launching utility (the wretched Launcher control panel is still part of OS 8.5), the palette presents currently open apps, where you can click to make them active, or hit a keyboard combination -- the default is command-tab -- to cycle through open programs. To activate the palette, simply click to drop the Application Menu at the upper right of your screen, hold the mouse button down, then drag downward and "tear" the menu from the menu bar. The palette stays open, and above any other open apps. Furthermore, you can customize (vertical or horizontal orientation, large or small icons) with shift and shift-option clicks on the zoom box. Simple, and way handy.


Continue to Part II: Think Different, My Dear Watson

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