The NeXT Mac OS: Conclusions

Written By: Mike S.

If you've been following this series, and I've done a good job writing, then you should have a pretty good idea of what NEXTSTEP is, what it looks like and how it works. Now, it's time to write a little bit about Mac OS X .

Some Mac users are very nervous because their beloved, easy to use Mac OS is evolving into a "cryptic" Unix based system. While I've been looking forward to this release ever since the Rhapsody project there has always been a small part of me that wondered if Apple could really make Unix as easy to use as a Mac. After trying NEXTSTEP and reading unauthorized reports from DP3 users I believe they already have or least are very close.

When I think about what's great about the Mac OS I realize it's mostly the UI related things I discussed in part three as well as the ability to hold down keys to modify the start-up and the ability to boot into a functional GUI environment from a CD or other removable media. Going by what I've read these abilities are already present in DP3 and NEXTSTEP on NeXT hardware has some similar abilities.

I find it funny that the chief complaints I've heard from users about Mac OS X center around it's "Candy Land" GUI. Perhaps this subject is better left to contributing Unix expert Sean Murphy but I'll take a shot at it anyways. It is my understanding that Quartz is nothing but a really advanced window manager similar to Enlightenment for *nix. Now, Unix is highly customizable by it's nature and most everything can be edited by the user via text files, this includes the UI. If you head over to http://www.themes.org you can see all the various themes available for all of the various window managers. There's wide variety of appearances and even some attempts at Mac OS and Aqua.

Seeing as Aqua itself appears to be nothing but a theme, as is witnessed by the fact that removing a particular file results in a platinum appearance, it would be logical to assume that someone will "crack" the theme format and make available a way to theme the OS. Since this is Unix and everything is modular the format should be much more versatile then Kaleidoscope and not impose any speed penalties. I can only imagine the kind of creative UIs that will be created once someone figures out how to make calls to Quartz's animation routines. Basically, I'm saying don't sweat the UI as it's the most easily replaceable/customizable component in the system. While Apple may not give us theme switching themselves the ability is there unless Apple really doesn't want people changing things and comes up with some kind of lock. I believe that any lock can be broken, however.

Enough about the UI, let's focus on what's really important...the technology. Classic Mac OS has got more barnacles than the Titanic. The OS has horrid memory management, a pathetic virtual memory system, multi-tasking that only works well if software devs program with interoperability in mind (HA!) and it leaves me with the feeling that it can crash at any moment if I dare try to run more than one somewhat complex task at a time.

Think I'm crazy? Think about your daily routine. Do you like to listen to Quicktime streaming as you surf the net? Don't you just hate it when you start to render a complex web site or you launch an app and then the music pauses? How about when you're watching some video and you decide to drop a menu or move the window? Isn't it annoying that your system can't keep playing video as you continue to work? Here's another one. If you've got a recent Mac OS, launch the graphing calculator that's included. Now get a model spinning at a good speed and then click on the desktop. If your system is like mine that spinning has just been reduced to choppy spasm. In my case only simpletext and the Finder are active but both are idle! Neither should be affecting the graphing calc's performance.

The Mac is big in the graphics industry so surly you've come across times when you've set your system to apply a large filter or spooled a large file to a printer. Chances are you're pretty much forced to take a coffee break and wait for the job to complete. This is the year 2000 people, we have really fast hardware being crippled by an OS that was designed to meet the needs of a 1984 computer user.

When Mac OS X arrives these situations will be a thing of the past. You'll be able smoothly multitask because the OS, not the app devs, will determine how much CPU time a program needs. You don't have to worry about system freezes because nothing is able to touch the kernel since it's placing protective memory barriers between itself and apps as well as placing barriers between the apps themselves. Quicktime Player can no longer kill the Finder and Real Player can no longer kill Netscape Communicator. Speaking of killing, you the user will have access to the process manager, A GUI listing of all running apps, services and daemons with the ability to stop them dead in their tracks with the press of a button. The old Force Quit dialog is, to steal a quote from Apple, a paleolithic tool by comparison (there I've said it).

I've read testimonial from a Mac OS X server user that states they've only had to restart their computer three times in two years! One guy said it's never crashed. DP3 devs say they haven't been able to kill the OS even by running some really buggy code they wrote in school. By contrast, my Mac OS 9 system can be frozen by a Quicktime movie. I've had Windows NT 4 go down just from typing in MS Word. Unix stability is legendary.

When it comes to troubleshooting I don't expect any increases in complexity. Since Mac OS X can boot from a CD the old troubleshooting tactics should still apply. I've heard that Apple is making Terminal.app (the command line) a completely optional install and that it may even be available by download only. This would seem to indicate the user will never have to go to a command line for troubleshooting or any other purpose. I never had to dig around in NeXT's Unix folder structure except when I was trying to get DHCP installed. (NeXT didn't support it natively so I had to add it) All things considered I think troubleshooting should remain pretty much as it does with today's Mac OS only with Mac OS X you can activate and deactivate whatever version of extensions it has on the fly without restarts.

Applications should be much easier to manage thanks to packages. Packages are special kinds of folders that appear to the user as an application icon. Within the package are all the apps resources and support files. Want to delete that copy of Real Player? Just drag it's icon to the trash and it's gone. No more searching for support files and folders spread throughout the System Folder. Installation should be just as easy. If you downloaded it decompress and double click and if you got it off of a disk drag it to your hard drive and double click.

There's a lot to look forward too with Mac OS X and very little to be afraid of if Apple does a good job. There may be a slight adjustment period needed to get used to the Dock, new features, replacements for old features and the loss of some current Mac OS elements but this is to be expected and should be painless for most people assuming they are willing to try something new. Mac OS X will allow you to work, learn and play much more effectively while Aqua injects some visual flare and excitement into what would normally be very mundane things like task switching and dialog boxes.

Mac OS X is coming in just a few months and you Mac users with factory shipped G3s or better (maybe those with older machines too) will have a choice to make. Embrace the future and accept Mac OS X with open hard drives or continue putting along with Mac OS 9, it's nice UI and familiar surroundings. If you choose to stay in the past you can expect to find new apps for at least a few more years unless devs suddenly decide Cocoa is a priority but if that were the case then Apple wouldn't have needed to come up with Carbon and we would have been using Rhapsody a long time ago.

I know which way I'm going...legendary Unix stability combined with the famed Mac ease-of- use? Bring on the NeXT Mac OS!


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